Be the Mikveh

JMJ

And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Matthew 8:3
He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’
John 7:38
Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
John 4:14

THEOLOGICAL WRITERS MAKE MUCH OF Jesus “contagious purity“. The laws of Jewish Scriptures assume that something that is impure cannot be touched lest the impurity pass through the touch. If one is in a state of ritual purity and touches something unclean it is the impurity that is contagious: if I touch a corpse it is I who become unclean. Thus men refrain from touching a woman because she may be ritually impure. It is her impurity that is contagious – a man’s ritual purity is very fragile and can be destroyed. Jesus, however, walks around touching things – lepers, the sick, corpses, etc – without fear. Instead of becoming impure himself he makes them pure – healing them, raising the dead, cleansing lepers.

I get why this is important as it’s a huge paradigm shift from Second Temple Judaism. Fear of contagious impurity is what makes the Priest and the Levite out to be the bad guys in the Good Samaritan story. Contagious impurity comes up in other New Testament conversations as well: it’s the heart of the objection that Jesus eats with sinners (becomes contaminated by them). Jesus says that’s not the issue at all. So I get why his purity is hugely important. But I missed the application until September when I was working on a paper for Homiletics, published here.

Finally, the reference to Jewish purification rituals in verse 6. Traditionally such washing had to be done in “living water” which means the ocean, a river, stream, a spring, etc, or from rainwater. Wealthier Jewish homes may have a dedicated pool (called a mikveh) for use by the family. Jewish laws require a certain amount of “living water” to be used but other “normal” water can be brought into contact and – thus ritually purifying all the water to make it acceptable for the ritual. Among other uses, the mikveh was traditional for a bride (and sometimes the groom) to use before the wedding to be in a state of ritual purity. A mikveh requires about 140 gallons of living water or water that had otherwise been purified. (Source retrieved on 9/11/22.)
… There’s something interesting about the use of “living water” in a mikveh and Christ promising streams of living water rising up with the believer (John 7:38). The Greek in 7:38 is the same phrase for “living water” in the LXX for Jeremiah 2:13.

I have been meditating on the “something interesting” for a while now. When I was a kid I thought that living water might mean something alive… like a monster or a water being. I don’t know. I did not think of living water as a class of water opposed to water that is “dead” or “still”. What I think I’m seeing is a promise that – as Jesus has contagious purity, flowing out from him to others around him – we are to have streams of living water (Hebrew מים חיים Mayyim Chayyim) rising up from within us, where this is a contagious purity flowing out to others. This is the promise Jesus makes to believers. What he does, we are to do as well – and ever greater things than he! This living water, welling up from within us, is not our own “Stuff” but rather Jesus.

It’s (another) scriptural promise for absolution in confession: those sins you forgive are forgiven… living water welling up inside of cleanses those around you. When we are open to Jesus’ action in our lives we become mediators of that action to others around us. “Acquire the Holy Spirit,” as St Seraphim of Sarov says. “And thousands around you will be saved.” We do not act for ourselves but for the extension of the Kingdom of God. As Pope Benedict says (in Introduction to Christianity) we’re to be open “on both sides”: to God and to our fellow men, as Jesus was fully for God and for us.

By Grace, we become a source of living water for those around us and they, in turn, become sources of living water as well. The living water flows out from the Tabernacle of the Eucharist until it becomes a flood filling all the world.

The Holy Family

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

JMJ

The assignment was a 7 minute homily on a specific feast in the Advent/Christmas cycle. My assigned day is Holy Family Sunday (which is actually a Friday this year).

Be available to be someone’s chosen family.

WHAT IS THE MOST INTIMATE thing you can do with someone in public? Any guesses? 

It’s eating together. Sharing food is the most intimate thing you can do.

We eat together with our families and our most intimate friends. Yes, we might also eat together at work – team building is important! Dates. Proposals. Business deals. We do these all over food (and drinks, of course).

We see this every day, downstairs, at the Lima Center where guests need not only food but also love, social interaction, and simple human decency.  Come for our famous Chicken Adobo and showers, but stay for the feeling of being one of the family.

As a devotion, the Holy Family enters the Church recently: Showing up in France in the 18th Century. It doesn’t catch on for nearly 200 years, becoming a feast for the whole church only in 1921. 

It’s one of those curious feasts that does not mark an event or date, but rather an idea. The devotion was intended to show families how to be.

Paul calls the steps here:

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, Bearing with and forgiving one another…  in love… and the peace of Christ

This does describe Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but Paul is actually telling us how to live in our own families. 

Who would not want to gather around a table with a family like this? 

 The Holy Family devotion arose at a time when the family as we knew it had been destroyed by the industrial revolution. Gone were the days when multiple generations lived and ate together, caring for each other. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would not have known themselves as a “nukular family” but as part of an extended tribe of support. They become a good aspirational image for how the family could be – despite the changes of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

But what of now? 

San Francisco is a city of broken families. Not only divorce – although certainly that. From the Gold Rush to the Tech Booms, people are called to the City by the siren song of the Petshop Boys.

Go West! 

Everyone goes west. 

Not always happily: sexual choices or drug issues cause families kick out their children. Wives leave their husbands. 

Families crash and break up on one rock or another and the flotsam and jetsom end up here, eating alone. 

Walking away from the past, hopes are high. 

Yet, the dark side is here, too: when things don’t work here, the westernmost city, where else is there to look for  “​​compassion, kindness, and patience”?  

San Francisco had at one time the highest suicide rate in the country (today it’s Las Vegas).

Sociologists see two types of families: “Birth Families” and “families of choice”. San Francisco author, Armistead Maupin, calls them “Biological Families” and “Logical Families”. He suggests folks come to this city – mostly alone – and weave new, Logical Families together to replace the Biological ones back east, in the past. 

What shall we – the Church that dines weekly (or daily) with the Holy Family – do about the flotsam and jetsom? Not just at homeless ministries, but in our homes.

When Christ calls us to welcome the stranger do we imagine them at our family table? 

My Catholic faith has been blessed and strengthened by two Brothers in the Knights of Columbus. Their families have welcomed me into their homes, especially at holidays and family events, helping me at difficult times, and making me feel included. I’m honored their children call me Uncle Huw! 

Is there someone in the pews for you to invite home? Do you have room around your table for a new aunt or uncle from St Dominic’s?

Let me and my Catholic extended family invite you to see the Holy Family as a model for us to be someone’s family in this city of singles. Try weaving Maupin’s phrase, “Logical Family” with one of the Greek titles for Jesus, “The Logos” the word. That’s where “logical” comes from, anyway.  Mary and Joseph are – literally – a family of Jesus’ sovereign choice, the Logos family. 

In the Holy Family we have a beautiful family of choice to emulate. 

Joseph embodies the virtues of strength, family support, and courage, Mary, full of grace, is courageous as well, and loving: a Jewish woman who keeps her home orderly so her husband can raise their son in the faith and traditions of Israel. Jesus is a stranger, not theirs and yet fully their own. And Jesus, one of us in all ways except sin, is almighty God living in humble obedience to his chosen parents. 

When making me part of their Logical Families, my Brother Knights model the Holy Family for me – for all of us.  

We can, through the Holy Family’s intercession, consecrate ourselves as new Logos families gathered around larger tables. Not only at Christmas but year-round. Our Holy Families of Choice can become the places described in the psalm:

Where we can eat the fruit of our handiwork and be blessed.

Extend an invite. Go blessed!

We can choose to build huge, intimate families of uncles and aunts for our children, including us all in the arms of faith and love around our dining tables and around this table where the God of all Love, of all community, of all family, gives himself to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity. 

Let us eat together with God, inviting all the world with us around this Eucharistic Table. 

There’s plenty of room here.

Let us all be the Holy Family!


Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

Other Brands Are Available

JMJ

This is an assignment for my Homiletics class. Randomly picks out of a hat, as it were, it’s a coincidence that these are the readings for last Sunday. Yes, these homily assignments are extremely on-brand for me.

The Readings for the 27th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you.

Luke 17:9-10a

THERE WERE SIX months when I tried my vocation as a Benedictine Monk, 8000 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. 11 inches of snow on May 1st, 2016 and our traditionalist monastic practice seemed to go on forever, like the snow. 

4:30 wake-up, Matins at 5. 45 mins for meditation. The offices of Lauds, and Prime, then a house meeting where we planned out the day. The 3rd hour was sung, then Mass. Then coffee. 

Father Abbot seemed happy for any pious excuse or extra devotion to maximize our liturgy. It kept growing longer.

One day as I was struggling, trying to pray through this telescoping dreamscape of liturgy, a thought came to me:

Remember: you’re a monk. What else do you have to do today?

That was the right idea! I relaxed into the deep end of liturgical traditionalism and began – anew – my monastic struggle in earnest.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The psalmist is not calling us to a beginning but rather into the middle of an ongoing story. The people of Israel are already on their journey. They have heard God’s voice several times.

If today you again hear his voice, harden not your hearts again. Nor tomorrow for that matter.

Jesus speaks of beginnings in our Gospel: Mustard seeds are tiny. Yet, elsewhere, Jesus says the mustard seed grows into the largest of trees and the birds of the air live in the branches.

But here? Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

When a servant finishes one chore, does the master say, “Good job! Come chill out with me!” No. When you’re done with that, the master says to you, here’s another thing to do. And another. There will be rest when I’m done with you.

If you’re married, is there any time you get to say, “For a few moments I shall pretend I’m not married…”

No. There is not.

When we first give our lives to the Lord, we can imagine a one-and-done deal. But the Christian life is not like that at all. There is no minimum for success.

Jesus wants to be the Lord of our entire lives: our sexuality, our piety, our emotions, our politics, our friendships, our social media, our reading, our media consumption, our clothing choices.

Not a day passes when at least once, or more often more than once, Jesus says, “Huw? You forgot to give me that bit over there.”  Yet, when I hear his voice, often my first response is O, now hold up a minute God…

Jesus reminds us today that – like marriage – there is no time in the Christian life when you can pretend you’re not called to holiness,  no time to pretend you’re not in a deeply personal relationship with your Lord; no time to pretend you’re not a Christian. 

We all can recognize when such pretending happens: it’s called sin. We harden our hearts like that all the time. Rejecting his call. Refusing his love. Refusing to share his love with others.

Don’t.  If you hear his voice do not harden your heart!

Jesus reminds us of beginnings, but if a mere seed of faith can move blueberries, imagine how much more power there is when the tree is fully grown and providing shade and home for birds! Even then, Jesus reminds us to say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.”

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

In today’s 2nd Reading, Paul calls Timothy – and us – to “stir into flame the gift of God.” We must – by faith – stir our cooling embers back to full flame. Ask God what is needed and he will show you where to gently puff on the coals, where to stir, where to rake back the ashes.

And when you ask, don’t turn away from what God has for you next! It’s always your salvation. It’s always for your healing. He’s always calling us forward to holiness and sainthood. But, it is work!

Give yourself – entirely – to Jesus again. Invite him at Communion Time to be the Lord of your whole Life again.

Plant your mustard seed then let it grow.

Remember. You’re a Christian. What else do you have to do today?

Whose Wedding?

JMJ

The assignment was a five-minute homily on the stated passage. We began with the exegetical work in an earlier post.

Scripture: John 2:1-11

Today, Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, is calling us to our wedding feast.

A CHALLENGE has come to me three times: in two podcasts and a book. The podcasts are Every Knee Shall Bow and The Bible Project; the book has the very dry title, Elements of Homiletic. The challenge is to read each story or passage in the Bible in such a way as to see the whole Gospel message. Keeping that in mind let’s look again at this wedding story.

Mary is at a wedding to which Jesus and his disciples are called. The bridal families are out of wine and Jesus asks the servants to fill up some jars with water. Jesus changes water into wine. 

Problem solved: Everyone’s happy. 

St John the Evangelist has left some strategically ambiguous openings which allow us to read this wedding as a meditation on our life in Christ.

Notice, first, that Jesus and the disciples are “invited to the wedding”. That’s us – we’re all invited. “Disciple” means “Student”, beginners or advanced, we are all disciples together. If you are here today – even if you’re not yet Catholic – you’re a disciple.

There is another symbol for us: the jars standing empty. We’re called to this feast and we come – beginner or advanced – because recognize that we are empty. There is a God-shaped hole in us craving to be filled.

Any disciple’s first step is turning to God. It’s a step we must take every day as we are all weak. To turn to God is to repent.  The scriptures and Church Fathers call us to weep tears of repentance. We can imagine these tears poured out as the water poured into the jars. 

John says those jars are for “ceremonial washing”. We can think, also, of Baptism when the Church responds to our repentance with the living water of Baptism. 

This is also true each time we are reminded of our Baptism in the confessional. The Byzantine rite refers to confession as the “grace of a second baptism”. Combined with these living waters, our tears become joy.

Did you ever notice that the bridal couple stays off-screen? We never meet them. No name is mentioned and they have no words to say. 

Who does St John want us to imagine is getting married here? 

Mary says, “They are out of wine”.

Jesus asks, “What has that to do with me?”

Mary commands, Do whatever he tells you…

Two wedding guests seem to act as if they are the family at the wedding: as if Jesus is the groom and somehow responsible for the wedding. If Jesus is getting married, then, who is the bride? 

One more thing to notice: the Bible is full of wedding imagery! The Church follows the tradition begun in Ancient Israel (carried in St Paul and the book of Revelation): the intimacy of Matrimony is a sign of how God relates to his people. John, as a storyteller, allows us to see Jesus fulfilling those images. 

Look at the reading again and see: 

Jesus is God coming to his wedding with his people. We are the disciples called to the feast, no longer as students or penitents but as the bride.

The steward says to the groom, “We’ve had good wine already, but you have saved the best wine for last”. 

It is as if the Steward – and through him, the Guests, all of God’s people – are saying that the covenant of the Torah, the first wine, was amazing, and yet suddenly we’ve been given more than we ever dreamed to ask for.

Jesus and his disciples are called to the wedding feast here in this text and, in a few minutes, He will call us to a deeper union with him here at this altar.

This is no mere reception hall – not a feast with Jesus – but a chance to enter into communion with him so deep that we can only compare it to the mystery of marriage. 

Our Savior draws us here into the deepest intimacy of the Holy Trinity. 

Jesus here gives himself like a groom to his bride in fulfillment of the Covenant. 

Hearing this call, this is why we’ve come. If you’re not Catholic yet, you’ve heard it too. Come, see me after Mass! 

All is prepared. Come to the wedding feast and change your life into wine.

Word count: 713

Showing your work

JMJ

For the first assignment in homiletics we were to read the book Elements of Homiletic: A Method for Preparing to Preach by Otis C. Edwards. Then we were to put the method in play using a randomly assigned Gospel pericope. My passage was the Wedding At Cana, St John 2:1-11. The method, by the way, is quite easy to walk through. It sets one up quite well for writing a homily.


THE ASSIGNED TEXT is the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). It follows after the Sunday commemorating the Baptism of Christ although that story is abbreviated in Year C, combining a reference to Jesus’ action with the people’s Baptism.  “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized…” (Luke 6:21). This makes a usable link between these two Sundays because of baptism references in the Cana story.

The first reading for this Sunday is Isaiah 62:1-5 As a young man marries a virgin,  your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. This connects with the marriage reference in the Gospel and refocuses the imagery around being the People of God rather than a specific wedding.

The second reading is I Corinthians 12:4-11 on the different gifts of the Spirit. There might be a connection to follow from Living Water rising up in us to the New and Better Wine, though Pentecost (are these men drunk?) to the Church. 

This story does not appear in other Gospels.

Three things in this story opened up for me: the bride and the groom never appear as actors in the story. The groom is spoken to in verse 10, but never gets any action or words of his own. The bride does not appear at all. (Interesting to note since this is an option at weddings.) Jesus, however, is spoken to as if he were the groom and Mary the mother of the Groom. “There’s not enough wine,” said the Mother to the Groom. “Fix it.” Are we (the readers/hearers) the bride? 

Second, the opening words, on the third day. The Greek can be read as a direct translation of the Hebrew for Tuesday (Yom Shlishi), which reading I rather like. The Complete Jewish Bible actually says, “On Tuesday” here. That said, “Some random Tuesday before Passover…” is not a likely reading. Makes a good “fun fact” though.

My former (Episcopal) pastor noted this phrase in a homily once saying “The only time this phrase gets used in the Bible is to refer to the Resurrection.” He took that to mean the Cana story is only a mystical meditation on the fictional (in his mind) resurrection. The sermon made me angry at the time, but the notes to the Orthodox Study Bible indicate that the phrase sets a “resurrectional tone,” showing that “the marriage of God and His Church will be fulfilled in Christ’s Resurrection”. That turns it into an interesting meditation. Using the Catena App, there are not many commentaries on this phrase. St Bede says it indicates the Third Age of the world (from Creation to Moses, from Moses to Jesus, and from Jesus on). 

This linking of Marriage, Resurrection, and Baptism seems to be the important place if “the entire Gospel” is to be in this – and every – pericope. (Edwards, p. 50 in the Google Play edition).

Finally, the reference to Jewish purification rituals in verse 6. Traditionally such washing had to be done in “living water” which means the ocean, a river, stream, a spring, etc, or from rainwater. Wealthier Jewish homes may have a dedicated pool (called a mikveh) for use by the family. Jewish laws require a certain amount of “living water” to be used but other “normal” water can be brought into contact and – thus ritually purifying all the water to make it acceptable for the ritual. Among other uses, the mikveh was traditional for a bride (and sometimes the groom) to use before the wedding to be in a state of ritual purity. A mikveh requires about 140 gallons of living water or water that had otherwise been purified. (Source retrieved on 9/11/22.) It’s possible the jars are standing empty because the Bride has been to the Mikveh before the wedding. 

Images I’m seeing here: 1) Jesus drawing superabundant life (Wine) from the previously empty jars used for purification after his own baptism. 2) Jesus as Groom and us/church as bride. 3) Post conversion (the baptism last week’s reading) baptism in the Holy Spirit leads to a deeper union with Christ. 4) There’s something interesting about the use of “living water” in a mikveh and Christ promising streams of living water rising up with the believer (John 7:38). The Greek in 7:38 is the same phrase for “living water” in the LXX for Jeremiah 2:13. 

There are several possible messages here: 1) draw a line from the marriage of bride and groom through the Isaiah passage to Christ and the Church; 2) use verse 10 and speak about Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant; and 3) from baptism in last Sunday’s Gospel to (if you will) living wine as a fulfillment in the charisms of the holy spirit. There’s also a longer, more “lectio” type message that could weave all these together fruitfully over a longer presentation.