Jesus selected a small group of disciples to particularly teach and transform, a very unusual assortment including uneducated fishermen. Choosing a tax collector is striking. Working for the occupying Roman Empire, he was considered a traitor, outcast by the Jewish community. Other disciples would have resisted or been uncomfortable by Jesus’ latest invitation.
Walking along after teaching and healing, likely amid a crowd asking questions, Jesus saw Levi. Jesus paid attention to the periphery and saw those rejected or overlooked. Looking widely, Jesus saw Levi, saw a human with dignity and worth and honored him with a call. Seen and invited, Levi experienced Jesus’ healing mercy.
“Why eat with tax collectors and sinners?” say self-confident and serious religious folk. Condemn traitors. Build barriers. Stick together. Keep clean.
Because the sick need a doctor. “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus comes as Great Physician to those who accept they are sick, who are in need.
Sometimes Jesus healed immediately by touch. Jesus also healed and formed over a long time, teaching and living especially with that small group of disciples. Like a doctor, Jesus offers ways to engage healing, including slowly in community. Here are three: look, honor, and receive.
Look widely. Pay attention not only to those close to you. Look to the periphery, see and welcome the outcast and stranger.
Honor mystery. We Brothers say in our Rule of Life: “… honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies. Only God knows them as they truly are and in silence we learn to let go of the curiosity, presumption and condemnation which pretends to penetrate the mystery of their hearts.”[i]
Receive wisdom. What do others have to teach you, especially companions you didn’t or wouldn’t choose?
Jesus comes offering healing, including through ways to give and receive together. Look widely. Honor mystery. Receive wisdom.
Mt. 1:1-7,(8-16) 17
This is the time of year when the long, dark nights dominate and creep ever further into our waking lives. They obscure ordinarily bright paths and make the late afternoon disappear into dusk as it’s barely begun. Below, the ground is cast in darkness, but above the stars shine out longer and brighter. There are more hours to behold that vast glittering expanse of stars and planets. And, it’s one of my favorite moments when among those stars, the constellations begin to make themselves known. Usually a familiar and bright formation like Orion’s belt catches my eye. With that as a reference point, all sorts of other shapes take form as dimmer, obscure points find their way into a larger picture. It’s a magnificent dance to behold and one that humans have been captivated by since they first gazed up into the glittering dome of sky.
The genealogy of Jesus here in the gospel of Matthew stands out like a bright constellation among the multitudes of God’s human creation. Within it, there are bright familiar figures, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Rahab, Ruth and David. They have rich and vibrant stories of God’s promise and provision. And there are more obscure characters, Salathiel, Abiud, and Matthan. They’re lives were not as abundantly captured in Scripture but that their names stand in line with the rest is what really matters.
Clement of Rome
You’ll get what you give, Jesus says. Forgive and be forgiven. Judge and be judged. Compassion. Accusation. There’s reciprocity in relationship. Don’t give what you don’t want to get, especially with feedback, correction, or teaching, acknowledge your own needs. Keep at own work first. “Take the log out of your own eye so you can even rightly see the speck in your neighbor’s.” You might need help. Logs are heavy. Jesus gives a direct word because community is hard work. We need each other. It’s easy to find fault, to hold onto hurt, distance, and cut off.
Today we remember Clement of Rome, an early church leader. There was division at the church in Corinth when some younger leaders convinced the whole to remove the ruling elders. Clement wrote a pastoral letter calling the community to stick it out and abide together, to keep and listen to its elders. Clement called for maintaining hierarchy and for balance with mutuality. For a couple centuries, some included Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament. Clement wrote: “All work together and are mutually subject for the preservation of the whole body.”
When I was a child, I learned a song about Zaccheus. I won’t sing it for you, but the words went like this:
Zaccheus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see…
The fascination of the story for children, of course, is that this small but important man clamored up a tree to get a better look at the popular preacher who had come to town. He was curious and determined, and he didn’t let his small stature deter him from realizing his goal.
We can picture him running ahead of the crowd, climbing into a tree, and looking down the road as Jesus approached. He hides himself among the leaves, wanting to see the prophet, but not expecting to be seen by him. And yet this is exactly what happens. Jesus stops the procession, looks up into the branches, and summons Zaccheus to come down. He already knows who Zaccheus is – not only that he is a tax collector, but that he is a chief tax collector – but he also perceives that there is far more to this little man than what his title and role might suggest. Perhaps he senses Zaccheus’ present dissatisfaction with his life, or perhaps he recognizes his hunger for God. Whatever it is, he sees something and invites Zaccheus to a life-changing conversation.
Hildegard Von Bingen
Omnis caelestis harmonia speculum divinitatis est,
et homo speculum omnium miraculorum est Dei.
All celestial harmony is a mirror of divinity,
and the human being is a mirror of all the miracles of God.
—Saint Hildegard, Causes and Cures
I recently overheard a very energetic conversation between two young technology enthusiasts while sitting by the Charles River on a sunny Sabbath afternoon. They were clearly very excited by the ideas they discussed, evidenced by the liveliness of their tone. “And, well, just imagine!” said one, “soon we’ll be able to leave behind all the mistakes of previous generations—we’re so close! With enough investment and research, humanity will probably leave this earth and start a new life on some other planet.” “I think you’re right,” replied the other, “we’ve turned a corner here, you know, with the climate and all. We’ll probably have no other option than to start over somewhere else.”
Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
“Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.” I love that line from Psalm 80. God, turn your face toward us. Look at us. See us. See me. A small yet significant request, to be seen. When we are seen in love, when another’s face lights up at seeing ours, we feel love.
Mary set out and went quickly to visit Elizabeth, a normal visit turned extraordinary. By divine power and blessing, now both Mary, a young virgin, and Elizabeth, a barren elder, are pregnant. They also bear the burden of public shame. The scandal since Mary claims pregnancy through the dream of an angel. Who did she think she was? The long years of ridicule for Elizabeth who had never born a child. Rumors swirled about why she was now.
Bearing children and shame, Mary goes to Elizabeth. This holy visit. They both believe, have faith in what they can’t see or explain. Both are filled with Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaims in a loud voice. The baby leaps in her womb. Mary sings her song.
Our Gospel tonight is full of misunderstanding. Jesus and his Disciples are frustrated, confused, and struggling to communicate with one another. To make matters worse, they are all stuck on a boat. It is an unpleasant situation. This Gospel passage would probably not be the best text to choose for a wedding, profession, or any other happy occasion. However, we do get to witness Jesus navigate through this misunderstanding and we have a lot to learn from how he handles it.
Just like any other misunderstanding, the background to this story is important. Jesus and his Disciples had just been confronted by a group of Pharisees. This group of Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform a sign to prove he was the Messiah. Jesus refused and chastised the Pharisees. Then he got on a boat with his Disciples and sailed away.
We’ve all been in similar group situations like this before, when there has just been a major confrontation and tension is in the air. No one is quite sure what to do or say and everyone is on edge. We are also told by the Gospel writer that the Disciples had forgotten to bring any more bread for their boat ride and there was only loaf of bread to split among the thirteen men. This is when the drama begins.
Jesus, still simmering from his confrontation with the Pharisees, tell his Disciples on the boat to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees”. Jesus is offering his Disciples very practical advice here. Jesus is warning his Disciples that the self-righteous mindset of the Pharisees is contagious, and like yeast, just a little bit of it can go a long way and give rise to all sorts of bad.
The Disciples completely misunderstand Jesus’ words. As soon as they hear the word “yeast”, they think Jesus is talking about literal bread. They think Jesus is admonishing them for not bringing any bread for the boat ride. This is common in tense situations, for group members to internalize what tension is in the air and become very self-conscious about what they have or have not done. Telling ourselves we have done something wrong gives us a narrative to hold on to rather than just sitting with the anxiety the group is experiencing.
Jesus, being the talented teacher he is, immediately picks up on his Disciples’ misunderstanding. He tries to explain himself and how ridiculous it would be for him to be angry about having little bread because he can always multiply more. Jesus reminds his Disciples that they have seen him firsthand multiply enough loaves of bread to feed thousands of people.
We have a lot to learn from how Jesus handles this misunderstanding. First of all, Jesus does not ignore the misunderstanding. Not only does Jesus immediately pick up on what his Disciples are confused about, but he also addresses it right away. It’s always tempting in times of misunderstanding to just not want to deal with it, to say you don’t have the time and energy to work through the conflict. Ignoring misunderstanding only leads to more misunderstanding down the road. Jesus does not do this and that takes courage.
Second, Jesus asks questions. In the span of seven verses, Jesus asks nine separate questions. Asking questions can be a powerful way to channel the aggressiveness we may feel during a misunderstanding. Good heartfelt questions can simultaneously get us closer to the truth while still expressing whatever emotions we are feeling.
Third and finally, Jesus moves on. Right after this Gospel passage ends, we are told that Jesus heals a blind man. Holding on to resentments over a misunderstanding is dangerous and gets in the way of us being servants of God. Jesus shows us that we need to constantly be moving on to stay focused on the work in front us, and that work is the will of God.
So tonight let us pray for the strength, patience, and courage to navigate through the misunderstandings in our lives, all for the greater glory of God, amen.
This morning we celebrate the patron saint of nuns, Saint Scholastica. She was born in central Italy sometime in the late fifth century. Her twin brother was Saint Benedict of Nursia.
Scholastica and Benedict were not only twins, they also shared a beautiful lifelong friendship. The religious communities they each founded separately were just a few miles from each other. Scholastica, however, was forbidden by rule to set foot inside of Benedict’s monastery. So once a year, Scholastica and Benedict would arrange to meet in a farmhouse just outside the monastery grounds.
Scholastica and Benedict would use this yearly meeting to pray together and discuss the issues of their lives as religious. There are many beautiful works of art portraying this yearly reunion. I spent the retreat day yesterday praying with some. I noticed that the one thing that nearly all these works of art have in common is that Benedict and Scholastica are always face to face, fully engaged in their conversation. My personal favorite example of this was from a fresco in a Benedictine monastery in Germany. In this fresco, the twins are seated at a table with a Bible and a skull in between them. They are both leaning over the Bible and skull with their hands and faces expressive in mid conversation. You get the feeling that they are both trying to squeeze out as much as they can from their one day a year together.
So what can we learn from this beautiful friendship rooted in God between Scholastica and Benedict? I will name three things:
One, a friendship rooted in God is timeless. I think we have all had the experience of not seeing a friend for many years but when you finally do see them, it feels like no time has passed. It’s a wonderful feeling of timelessness and I think Scholastica and Benedict felt this way when they saw each other each year.
Two, a friendship rooted in God has stamina. Every relationship over time has its peaks and valleys and I think it’s safe to say Scholastica and Benedict’s friendship was no different. The fact that they met every year for their entire lives shows how their friendship was able to endure through the ups and downs we are all subject to.
Third and finally, a friendship rooted in God gives us a foretaste of heaven. The yearly reuniting of Scholastica and Benedict is just a sample of the joyful banquet that awaits all of us in the communion of saints. The joy we will feel being reunited with our loved ones is simply beyond our understanding.
So today let us pray with Saint Scholastica and her Brother Benedict, and give thanks for the joys of friendship. Amen.
I love the Gospel of Mark because of its breathless character. We seem to race from one place or event to another, with little time in between, and less time to catch our breath. In a few short chapters, Mark crams in the whole of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
That breathless quality is displayed in abundance in this morning’s reading as we race around Galilee, following Jesus and the disciples, after the first apostolic mission, when they were sent out two by two, and [given] authority over the unclean spirits.
With so much packed into the reading, the preacher or reader would be forgiven if their attention was drawn to the latter part of the passage, the feeding of the 5000. My attention though is drawn to the beginning, to the regathering of the band of disciples with their leader, following their missionary travels. The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. That is what arrests my attention this morning. I can see this scene perfectly clearly, because I know from experience what that was like
Jesus had twelve Disciples to manage. That means everyday he had twelve personalities to deal with, twelve opinions to listen to, twelve sets of emotional baggage to unpack, and twelve different backgrounds to understand. Jesus and his Disciples were not working remotely. This was not a Monday through Friday, nine to five gig. They were together all the time, and as our Gospel lesson today shows us, they did not always get along.
One might think that having the Son of God as the leader of the Disciples would prevent any conflict from arising. The Gospels show us that this is simply not the case. Despite witnessing Jesus’s miracles firsthand and having front row seats to his preaching, the Disciples still occasionally argued like children fighting over who gets to sit in the front seat of the car.
The drama of our Gospel lesson this morning centered on the Disciples James and John Zebedee. James and John were biological brothers. They were fishermen by trade who famously walked away from their job in the middle of a workday when they first called by Jesus.