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Tag Archives: Bible

Reading James Through an American Lens

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A Reading of James 2: 14-17 with a 21st Century,

United States Gun Violence Hermeneutic:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t act on it? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is a victim in a mass shooting, or has had a child shot to death at school, and one of you says to them, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” and you do nothing to oppose the senseless madness of such horrific violence, allowing more madmen to easily acquire weapons of mass destruction, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it doesn’t lead to action, is dead.

The Good Undocumented Mexican

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Once there was a man  driving from Waco, Texas, down to Laredo on business.  When he stopped at a rest area south of San Antonio, a group of carjackers stole his car and beat him to a bloody pulp.  He had barely enough energy to stagger out to the side of the highway, where he collapsed onto the edge of the road.

A car, a really luxurious limousine,  soon approached.  Inside the chauffered vehicle sat the Archbishop of South Texas together with the Mayor of San Antonio, discussing their joint appearance at a La Raza Unida recognition dinner.  They were so busy going over their speech notes, they failed to notice the man lying on the side of the road as they passed by.

Later, a shiny white Cadillac approached.  A prominent tv preacher and his wife were on their way to a huge event at an auditorium where they hoped to save a bunch of souls, while teaching their audience that once they let God into their lives, God would begin to handle all their problems.  They too drove past the man lying on the side of the road.

After a while, another car appeared headed in the opposite direction.  It wasn’t nearly as nice as the others; it was an economy car, obviously in need of a little work.  The driver, a Mexican who had managed to cross the border without documentation, was on his way to find some day labor in San Antonio.  He looked across the highway, saw the body lying on the side of the road and stopped to render aid.  He crossed the highway on foot, being mindful of the traffic. He quickly saw the man had lost some blood and that he’d become dehydrated in the South Texas heat.  The Mexican went back across the highway to his car, from which he took took a jug of water and a clean shirt.  He came back and began to wash the man’s face, giving him a much needed drink of water in the process.  The undocumented Mexican then picked up the guy, crossed the highway, put him gently in the back seat of his car, and in a puff of blue smoke, drove on to San Antonio.  On the outskirts of the city, he spied a Doc-in-the-Box emergency care clinic and pulled his car into the parking lot.  Carrying the wounded Waco businessman in his arms, he walked inside, where a surprised receptionist shouted for the nurse, who immediately directed him to place the wounded man on the padded table in an empty examining room.  When the receptionist brought in the requisite clipboard of forms to be filled out, the undocumented Mexican reached for his wallet and took out ten twenty-dollar bills.  Thrusting them at the nurse, he pointed to the wounded Waco businessman lying unconscious on the examining table.  In broken English he made it clear that if they needed more money, he’d be back this way in about a week and could give them more.  He looked once more at the businessman, made the sign of the cross, turned and left.

Jesus would ask us the question he asked the lawyer of his time:  which of these people was the good citizen and neighbor to the Waco businessman so cruelly victimized by the violent carjackers?

Of course, we would know right off the bat which one, wouldn’t we?  But how would it make us feel to hear the closing advice given to the lawyer?

Go and behave like the Undocumented Mexican.

The Power of the Book

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I accept the criticism that I’m sometimes too locked in on just one book, the Bible.  There are, as Clarence Darrow says in Inherit the Wind, “many other good books.”   True enough.  Shakespeare at his best wrote in ways that suggest some sort of extraordinary inspiration and insight.  Poets like Blake, Eliot and Frost get me to step outside myself and my framed reality while at the same time drawing me into deeper places and frameworks that I would not experience otherwise.

It’s true that the Good Book has been used for No Good more than a few times–which BTW, is one of the reasons I’m committed to studying it, to counteract some of the mischief made with it;  and to hopefully make sure I don’t fall into that same mischief-making trap myself.   It’s a patchwork quilt of prose and poetry, of wisdom and anachronism, of mystery and straightforward message.  It has inspired and continues to inspire literature and art, and its language continues to be drawn upon by the world’s great orators.   Remember Lincoln’s famous “A House Divided” speech?  He lifted the crucial phrase straight out of the New Testament.

Plus, I’d like to see a Pelican Shakespeare anthology do something like this:

It’s my favorite part of that strange film.  Ain’t nobody gonna move that book.  No, sir.  Nobody.

Speaking of that Good Book, I’d best get back to it since I’ll be doing some sermonation with it mañana.

If the Apostle Peter had been a Biblical Fundamentalist

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Chapter 10, verses 9 and following, in the chronicle of the Acts of the Apostles might have unfolded this way:

Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’

But Peter responded, “It is written in Leviticus, chapter 11 and Deuteronomy, chapter 14, that eating these creatures is an abomination.  I will not eat.”

The voice said again, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat.”  But Peter refused, saying, “I am a man of God, kept by the Word of God.  It is written in Deuteronomy 27:26, ‘Cursed be anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by observing them.’  I will not eat.”

The voice said again, “Peter, again, I’m telling you that these creatures are not profane.  Get up, Peter, kill and eat.”  Again Peter refused.  “The scriptures call this a great abomination.  I will not.”

“Peter,” said the voice, “God is doing a new thing and you are part of it.  You’ve been given this vision to prepare you for a visit by emissaries from a man I want you to go visit.  His name is Cornelius.”  Peter stroked his beard.  “That does not sound like the name of a circumcised man of God,” he replied.  “What is his trade?”

The voice, inflected with a barely perceptible trace of irritation, replied, “He is a centurion, of the Roman cohort, but a God-fearing…..”  Peter cut in with a shout: “Occupier!  Foreign devil!  Tool of Satan!  Idolater!  Blasphemer!  Never will I profane myself with the company of such as that one!  I am a man of God!”

“Peter,” said the voice, “I Am the Lord, your God, the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  I Am the God of Jesus, your messiah, whom you saw crucified and resurrected.  I Am the God whose Spirit filled you at Pentecost.  Now, prepare yourself for the journey to Cornelius’ house.  He and his household are ready to be received into the great household I am making in Christ.”

“Lord—if you really are the Lord,” said Peter, “what must I do?  I do not have the skills to circumcise them as your scriptures plainly require.  Is this why you brought me to Simon the tanner’s house?  Should I bring him along to do it?”

“I want you to baptize them with water and with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus instructed you to do” said the voice.  Peter’s eyes flashed with recognition.  “Yes, I remember the instruction.  Then afterwards do we circumcise them, me and Simon, whom you’ve sent me to in order that he might do this task more familiar to his trade?”

“No circumcision, Peter,” replied the voice.  “Just baptism.”

“But, Lord—if you really are the Lord—it’s written that those who are chosen to be your people must be circumcised and must abide by your law–your holy, inerrant, written word– taught and handed down to us since the time of Moses.  Jesus himself was circumcised and was brought up in this inerrant word of life.”  Peter was on a roll, now, as he reached back into his Bible for the coup de grâce.  “As it is written in Psalm 1: ‘Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.’”

There was a sheer stillness as somewhere, there was a pondering of circumstances.

“Peter,” said the voice, “forget about it.  Go back to sleep.  When you awake, go, return to Jerusalem and live among your own people.  I’ll get Paul to handle this one.”

A Quick Shot of Historical Espresso–How We Got the New Testament

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Over at Progressive Involvement, John gives us a concise explication of the formation of New Testament canon.

Very, very nice.

Some Good Wisdom For Our Time

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Those of low estate are but a breath,

those of high estate are a delusion;

in the balances they go up;

they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no confidence in extortion,

and set no vain hopes on robbery;

if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Psalm 62:9-10

2nd Sunday in Advent: Mark’s Shocking Gospel, Part 2

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Continuing the journey through the first 8 verses of the Gospel of Mark:

Mark follows up on his dramatic first verse, “The beginning of the good news* of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,”  by seeming to reach back into the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah.  He does this, but he also combines Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 with Isaiah 40:3 to get this bit of poetry:

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,*
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’….

By the way, some manuscripts merely say “as it is written in the prophets,” without mentioning Isaiah specifically.  But why would Mark do this?    Whassup with Mark here?  Some things to consider: Read the rest of this entry