Friday, December 23, 2016

MATTHEW 3: 13-17 
Matthew in the Margins…Baptism of Our Lord / 1st S. after Epiphany…Revised for 2017 

Jesus comes out to John deliberately seeking baptism. It's not a matter of Jesus going out, liking what he hears, & responding by asking to be baptised. The Divine Initiative is foremost. Is this still the case for today’s baptisms, or, for that matter, our Faith as a whole? Jesus' demand that John baptise Him, & it is a demand, is bad theology, as both know. Theologically speaking, John is right to refuse Jesus, & Jesus knows it. By insisting he demonstrates that there's more going on here than meets the human eye. Faith is not captive to anyone's rules, even theological ones. Only God’s! Dogmatics need to be understood in the light of discernment, inspiration, imagination, & obedience. Not just by Jordan back then! Here. In our country. Now.

In the end, John defers to Jesus. One doesn’t expect John to defer to anyone. But, true to his calling as Prophet, he knows, or is at least pretty sure, Who this really is! John has met his match! MT highlights the dilemma baptising Jesus raises. This bothers the early church a bit, too. The Gospel of the Ebionites1 for instance, pictures John actually kneeling before Jesus, a bit like an extra Magus late on the scene, offering recognition! MT’s account invites us to discern, explore & evaluate our theological stances, rather than accepting them as ‘givens’. Ask instead, ‘Where is God in this? Where am I in this?’ There is also a pastoral question: When do we dig in about some-thing, & when let go & let be, for the sake of God's longer term plan for someone? Even ourself?

Right at the outset of Jesus' ministry MT foreshadows what an enigma He’s going to be, & not only   for John. Is Jesus as Messiah still an enigma to some of us? What of those we deal with who still can’t get their head or their heart round Jesus any more than John canna at this point?

The theophany that follows is right up there with the great theophanies of the Hebrew Bible. An instalment of what will happen on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the Cross, in the Temple. Flat-earth type language will always be inadequate to describe what’s really going on by & in Jordan, on the Holy Mount, on the Cross, in the Resurrection Garden, & beyond. 

Like MK, MT tells us Jesus sees the Spirit coming upon himself after the heavens open. MK uses the term ‘torn open’, as MT does later of the Temple veil. Christian Faith is no spectator sport. It’s a Spirited participation in the things of God! Have we yet found our personal point of entry - even an unusual one - to become a participant? In GN, the Divine Wind hovers over the waters as the Word calls Creation into being. Now, the same Word, but in flesh this time, has the Dove 'land' this time - on the Word. Calling into being a new chapter of God's eternal, ongoing plan for the restoration of a ‘fallen’ people. Dusting off the ‘old, old story’ & telling it on a crucial stage further. Stop, & the story stops with us.

The voice of God acknowledges Jesus as the Beloved Son [PS 2:7], & Servant [IS 42:1, etc.] The connectedness is life-giving for Jesus as He accepts the role of the Anointed One, for the early church, & for us. There’s no ‘either-or’. Not for Jesus. Not for us. As beloved daughters & sons of God, we are also to be servants, suffering ones if necessary. God’s approval is still "I'm delighted!” How are we responding to God's loving enthusiasm for us? His delight in us?’ A relationship with Jesus that lacks enthusiasm is to damn Him with faint praise - or praise him with faint damns. Is there a hymn in that somewhere?

1  4:7, Complete Gospels, Polebridge, SanFrancisco, '94 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

MATTHEW 2: 1-12 
Matthew in the Margins…The Epiphany…Revised for 2017

No wonder it shocks Herod - the ‘Pits’ rather than the ‘Great’ - to the core that strangers turn up asking how to find the real king! God sees through him even if everyone else has to kow-tow to him! These astrologers who don't fit the Hebrew faith-mould, briefly take centre stage in history. What we make of the story depends on whether we're open to God's kind of Magi-c, that isn’t bound by limits we set, or try to. MT probably wants us to connect with the magi-cians of Egypt & their battles with Moses. Now a new & greater Moses is on the scene, & it's a no-contest. These magi-cians submit. As a common  car sticker reminds us, 'Magic Happens’. Don’t let’s leave God out of the wonder of life. Magi-c pays homage & invites us, too, to pay homage to the one who's Lord of every sense, even the inexplicable.

The Magi see the star, comet, or whatever it is because they're searchers after truth, looking in the right place at the right time. So may we all be looking through our spiritual telescopes! The story’s not about the 'follow your star' syndrome which has become part of our culture. The star of Bethlehem leads these astrologers & us  to God come among us. We may use all sorts of theological terms to describe the Epiphany, but ‘magi-c’ gets as close as anything else to explaining the inexplicable. Stars made in our own image are simply black holes sucking us in (& spitting us out?). The God-Star, on the other hand always leads us to journey away from ourselves to seek & find the Most High God. 

Are we ready to set out on the journey we need to make to find & enjoy God? Prepared to find God in some pretty unexpected & unpromising places? Beware, though, of carrying too much gold, frankincense, myrrh, stocks & shares, or other baggage.
'King of the Jews' - not simply ‘Judeans’ - isn't a foray into Jewish religious politics on the part of the Magi. Instead, it’s a feeling for, and entering into, the mysterious ways of God. Something HUGE is on the go. An EVENT of Cosmic Magnitude. That star, real or, ‘magi-cal’ still throws light on God's ways. If the Magi had  not followed the God-Star, what might we all have missed out on seeing with the inner eyes of Faith! 

When Herod's disturbed, everyone takes cover. This is life & death business for anyone who gets in his way! The consultants he calls in, his own ‘wise men’, are doubtless smart enough to know they themselves are in danger, along with this new born King. But what can they do except ‘dob the Holy Family in’? Does fear of someone or something ever affect the quality of decisions we make about ourselves & others & God?
To the disgrace of the Church as a whole, for a long while now we’ve shut our eyes to the abuse of children 
by today’s Herods. People pretending to be little kings. Hard as it may be to tackle this, how to address & redress what’s been going on, would be a proper focus for us on a day that marks Herod’s later abuse of the young boys of Bethlehem. Remember, Jesus would have been among them if one of God’s blessed angels hadn’t warned Joseph to flee with Mary & young Jesus! 

When God opens our eyes to the Messiah, & we pay homage in whatever our way is today, & when we dare to address the issues of abuse, can we as churches do anything other than what the Magi, & the Holy Family do: go home a different way. Feeling our way. Step by risky step!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Matthew in the Margins…Christmas Day…Revised 2016

Matthew isn’t set among the eucharistic readings for Christmas Day. However, the Genealogy has some interesting margins of its own. Read on. Or, go to 

The genealogy may be a bit wobbly, but make the most of it. Everyone in it once had a name, a face, & lived, once, as we live now. If they are Jesus' family then they have to be is some sense our ancestors, our family, too. Can we see any of them mirrored in our own souls? Recognize any of their faces in our own? Some don't get into the story. Then, or now! Forage in the margins for those who are left out. It hurts to be left out. Those pushed out & left to lurk in the background can tell us a lot about those who do the leaving out, too.

The apostolic church connects to Jesus' resurrection, not his birth. The birth stories crystalise later. Some think they're a beat up! Even if you sense beat up, don't use that to beat someone else's faith down! The genealogy wobbles its way along to 'prove' Jesus' royal line & Messiahship, & give him, via  these ancestors, standing in a society described as revolving round poles of honour and shame.1 Both poles are evident in Jesus' line. What about in our own? Are we ashamed of someone, or love to bask in someone's honour? Does one pole colour our story more than the other?

If we could summarise our own genealogy as MT summarises Jesus' in this one verse, would anyone stand out as MT tags David  & Abraham here? Do we have a source, an Abraham? A ‘king’, a David? Can we identify inheriting anything in our make-up from either the original David & Abraham, or their ‘successors’ in the margins of our personal lineage? Abraham stands for a faith that dares adventure & journey for God beyond the margins of his day. David for a faith with warts on it, that should put him outside the margins of God's Rule if that Rule had limits. If we don't have an Abraham or a David, not to worry. What's at stake for us is our faith journey, not theirs. The ancestor we become is more important than the kind we inherit.

1  Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Malina & Rohrbaugh, Fortress, Minneapolis.,’92

Thursday, December 1, 2016

MATTHEW 1: 18-25 
Matthew in the Margins…4th Sunday in Advent…Revised 2016 

The genealogy has staked claim for Jesus’ Messiahship. He is son of Abraham, of David, of Joseph, &, almost as an after-thought, of Mary. The emphasis is on Jesus being born of the Holy Spirit rather than of a virgin. This is God’s doing before it’s either Mary’s or Joseph’s. But we must gaze deeply into this to discern what’s going on, as Mary and Joseph both have to do. After all, they’re not exactly chanting 'conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary' down in the synagogue, are they? Imagine the stage-whispers at the well, across the roof tops, down the alleys of Bethlehem and Nazareth. Shame and blame are no respecters of Mary’s, Joseph’s, or anyone else’s privacy! Any more than social media is today! Joseph’s good name comes tumbling down with Mary's. They are both the butt of innuendo. But he stands by her. Faithfully. As she does by him. And, Him!

What will make Jesus Messiah for most early Christians is neither royal descent, nor virgin birth, but Resurrection. The truth in the Christmas events depends upon our receiving them in faith. (As do the Resurrection events.) What is the faith-truth of the Joseph, Mary, & baby Jesus story for us? If we haven’t discerned that, what we preach may be as unconvincing as most crib scenes.1

Today much of the world is muckier than a stable for new-borns and their parents. Are we focussing on a manger in Bethlehem of old to the exclusion of those for whom there is no room in the inns of today’s hearts? Prayerful, emotional, practical support, ‘all meanly wrapped’ in love, not swaddling bands, is what today's parents & new-borns need, whoever or wherever they are. Oughtn’t it be the destiny of every child to be 'conceived by the Holy Spirit’, if not, 'born of the Virgin Mary’? How can we help bring somebody to birth for God from the world's Marys & Josephs, out of many kinds of muck in today’s ‘stables’? How can we help those in difficult, unpromising, real nativity scenes as distinct from make-believe ones?

Joseph's heart is in love with God. Before Mary, even. He lies awake trying to make sense of what's engulfed him. PS 130 no doubt gets a right going over! Then an angel appears. That doesn't always solve our problems either. Even if our angel appears in some form, we still have to do the going-through-it bit. Joseph's angel telling him, "Don't be afraid" is an encouragement to all of us who have to enter into scary territory to take that next hesitant step. Mary is in love with God, too, before Joseph, even. This has to be true of them both in times when family honour and property rate more highly than love in marriage arrangements. Luke [1:26-31] reports the angel of God tells Mary, “Rejoice” before telling her, too, “Fear not”.  Fear, as much as hate, can be the enemy of love. Rejoicing in God is the triumph of Love over any fear or hatred we have about anybody, anything.

Mary & Joseph, are in a Catch 22 predicament. They must withstand Law, Society, & Gossip to bring Someone to birth for God. Can we find the compassion to be present to people in today's family predicaments? Might we be the human angels God is sending in time of someone’s deep need? Do we not catch on because we're too busily listening for the flapping of wings? Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi is said never to have given his angels wings ‘because they'd never be able to fly with the wings artists insist on drawing on them’! Can we fly with ours, flimsy and human though they be, to the side of vulnerable little ones? Today’s Mary, Joseph, and Jesus? To help bring someone, somewhere, to birth for God? 

1   p.168 of John Irving’s ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ features an amazing crib scene. Ponder it.