St. Mary Magdalene
“I have seen the Lord.” Today we celebrate Mary Magdalene. After his resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Mary. Jesus first sent Mary to share the good news.
We know little of her story, but Jesus chose Mary. Jesus cast out from her seven demons. She experienced release and freedom, love and compassion. Mary traveled with and followed Jesus, witnessing his ministry. Receiving much, she kept coming, as she did even to the tomb.
Weeping, Mary did not recognize nor fear angels as most do. She did not recognize Jesus when he appeared. When Jesus called Mary by name, she turned and recognized him. It’s a brief and beautiful portrait. Hearing, turning, she was found again, seeing her Savior and friend. Jesus sent Mary to tell others the good news of what she saw and heard from Jesus.
Mary Magdalene is, especially for John, the prime example for us of being a Christian. First, Jesus chose Mary and healed her. She followed along and witnessed his teaching. Jesus continued to come, surprise, and reveal including amid deep grief. Jesus sent Mary to share what she knew, first to a small group of men huddled in fear. Mary was apostle to the apostles.
How did you come to know Jesus chose you? How have you experienced healing, divine compassion, and love? How is Jesus further being revealed now, showing up including in your need? Keep sharing the good news of how you see Jesus as did Blessed Mary Magdalene, whom we remember today.
We could infer from this Gospel account that John and Jesus had met for the very first time the day before, when John baptized Jesus. John had said, “I myself did not know him.” Not so. They did know one another. They were cousins. They would have known each other since their births, their impossible-to-believe births, which had been predicted by angels. Angels, no less! Jesus, born to an unmarried mother who insisted she had not had a sexual union; John born to a mother who was old enough to be his great grandmother.
If it was important enough for Mary, while she was pregnant, to travel the 90 miles from Nazareth to the Judean hills to see her pregnant Aunt Elizabeth, John’s mother, it is unimaginable that they would not have visited each other after the births of their miraculous sons.[i] Visited many times. No one in the world could understand one another like these two couples could: Mary and Joseph, and Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah. These two boys, Jesus and John, had to have known one another, and probably looked to each other, befriended each other, confided in each other, shared the burden of their imposed identities with one another. Both of them loved going into the desert. Maybe they camped together? They were cousins, virtually the same age, the only child of their parents. Neither son had married; neither had pursued a profession that was identified; neither, it seems, had found their voice to fulfill the “angelic predictions” until rather late in life. Both of them, at the time of this Gospel account, were about age 30. They had to have known one another. And known each other very well.
St. Andrew the Apostle
In the Eastern Church, St. Andrew is known by the title Protokletos: St. Andrew, the First-Called.
In this first week of Advent, the first week of the liturgical year, today’s feast provides a simple but profound opportunity to return to first principles.
In a contemplative spirit, we can pause to reconsider some fundamental questions about what it means to be called by Jesus, and what it means to be sent.
In the world of spiritual care, there is an oft-quoted adage. It seems especially common in the world of hospital chaplaincy:
“Don’t just do something. Stand there.”
I first heard it from the novelist John Green, whose experience as a hospital chaplain shaped his authorial approach to empathy. During my own months as a chaplain intern last Fall, this deceptively simple reminder kept me centered in the demands of my role. While I in fact did, and said, and asked many things, it was ultimately just standing or sitting there in loving availability that God would use to open a healing space in a patient’s experience.
Allowing ourselves to be loved by God, as Jesus did, also requires some degree of just sitting there, as Mary of Bethany did in Jesus’ presence. But consenting to this transformation at the core of our being is anything but passive: it is our single greatest challenge. To the world, that process looks like nothing. But to Jesus, it is the one thing necessary.
St. Andrew the Apostle
Today has been a day full of celebrations in Scotland, because today is St. Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland. From all the flagpoles has been flying the ‘saltire’, the cross of St. Andrew which is shaped like an X, signifying how, at his own request, Andrew was crucified, deeming himself unworthy to be crucified on the same kind of cross as Jesus. Andrew has always been a very popular saint, and is patron of many countries, as well as Scotland, including Russia and Greece. Not surprisingly he is hugely venerated in the Orthodox Church, where he is called the ‘protokletos’, or ‘first called’, for in John’s Gospel he is the first disciple to be called by Jesus. The Orthodox also regard him as being the first Patriarch of Constantinople.
That all seems so distant from that simple and very beautiful story in our Gospel today from Matthew, where Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew his brother who are casting nets into the sea – ‘for they were fishermen.’ And Jesus says to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.’ I have always loved the story of Jesus calling the fishermen, and when I first visited the Holy Land one of my most moving experiences was of standing quietly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking out over the lake, and imagining Jesus walking up to me and saying to me, ‘Come, follow me.’
But I have also been intrigued by that other story which John tells, about Jesus calling Andrew. In John’s Gospel, in the first chapter, we are told that John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples, as Jesus was walking by. One of these two disciples was Andrew. As Jesus walks by John the Baptist says, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God.’ So, Andrew and the other disciple of John follow Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them following him and says, ‘What are you looking for? They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ And he said to them, ‘Come and See’.
So, we have this story in John about the calling of Andrew, the ‘first called’, and then we have this other story of Andrew’s call by the Sea of Galilee, which took place sometime later. We know it was later because Matthew tells us that John the Baptist had by now been arrested. So, what do we make of these two apparently different stories about the call of Andrew: the earlier one that took place not far from Jerusalem, where John was baptizing, and then the later one in Galilee? What I think it tells us is that the call of Andrew came in stages. It took time. And this certainly fits my own experience of coming to faith.
When Andrew first sees Jesus and hears his teacher John the Baptist describe him as the Lamb of God, he longs to know more and starts to follow this intriguing figure. Jesus turns and looks at him. But he doesn’t say, ‘Follow me.’ At this stage he simply says, ‘Come and See’. Come and spend some time with me. Let’s talk! Andrew stayed with him all day. We can imagine him sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, asking questions. Perhaps by the time Andrew left, he had already decided he wanted to follow Jesus, because he immediately went off to tell his brother Simon what had happened. ‘We’ve found the Messiah! Come and see for yourself.’ Perhaps they both came to faith that day. But it was only later, as they worked their trade on the lakeside in Galilee that they made the decisive step of leaving all and actually following Jesus. For now, Jesus was starting his ministry, and he needed them now. Now, ‘Come, follow me.’ Now was the moment once and for all, to throw in their lot with Jesus. So, they left their nets behind and followed him.
I wonder if this is familiar to you in your experience of coming to faith? Perhaps you too came to faith in stages, perhaps sometimes reluctantly. Perhaps you are, even now, facing the challenge once and for all, to throw in your lot with Jesus. And what would that mean, for you? For Andrew and Simon, it meant leaving their nets, their homes, their families, leavingall behind. For you, for me, we may not be called to leave our families and homes and work behind in the same way. But to follow Jesus we must leave our ‘world’ behind, and enter a new world. To enter this new world, which is the Kingdom, we have to radically change direction. To be a follower of Jesus is to turn around and in the words of Colossians, to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.’ If we choose to follow Jesus each of us will be challenged to completely change direction and to ‘leave our nets behind’. That will mean something different for each one of us. And what I have discovered, after more than twenty years in the monastic life, is that Jesus never stops calling us to follow him. Every morning, at the beginning of every new day, there is this gracious invitation to say ‘yes’, to leave all and ‘Come follow me.’
Today we give thanks to God for St Andrew. We pray that like him we may have grace to say ‘Yes’ every day to the call to follow Jesus. We pray that each day we may lift our eyes ‘to things that are above’, to see the glory which awaits us, and which calls us ever on.
You can interpret a rising cloud to mean rain or a southern wind to mean heat, Jesus says. Why don’t you understand what’s happening right now? Don’t you see what I am doing?
Just before, Jesus said: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! … father against son … mother against daughter … mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law … .”[i] Though shocking now, family was everything, more powerful than in our current western context. Jesus invites radical change, creating a new community contrary to familial, social, and cultural norms. Discipleship invites conflict and division.
Mennonite pastor Melissa Florer-Bixler wrote: “The peacemaking Jesus intends for the disciples invites conflict in every aspect of our lives. Throughout the gospels, Jesus models this in a life of making enemies. The sword of Jesus’ good news is one that pierces natural alliances. Instead of focusing on the family, Jesus draws together those who were separated by ethnic and social hierarchies … .”[ii] God’s kingdom reorders relationships and creates one community where all belong.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
One of my favorite places on the playground at school was the swing set. Today, I still enjoy the gentle sway of the swinging bench in the cloister garden. But, back then, I was interested in a more high-octane version of swinging. I loved to push faster and higher to see how high I could get. I tried on several occasions to swing all the way over the bar and have always been disappointed that physics just weren’t on my side in that endeavor.
As much fun as the swinging itself was, I also discovered the excitement of the dismount. You could just let yourself come to a gradual stop, or drag your feet on the ground to slow things down quicker. Or, you could time it just right and jump! The thrill of being propelled into the air and landing what felt like several yards away was such a rush! But it took a fairly careful calculation to get it just right. Too soon and I’d skid to a halt and faceplant in the gravel, which happened. Too late and I’d just kind of fall straight down and crumple to the ground, which also happened. The best was when I was when I found that sweet spot and launched in a graceful arc and touched down like an eagle. I had to be ready, I had to have momentum, and I had to have the courage to make the leap.
We remember two apostles today, by definition two who were “sent.” We know a few things about Philip and James, we know less… James was the son of Alphaeus and he is always listed among the twelve. Tradition has distinguished him from James the Great, the son of Zebedee, and it’s unclear if he is the same James as in the book of Acts, son of Clopas, the so-called brother of Jesus. But, his relics arrived from the East in Rome at the same time at St. Philips and so they have been joined in remembrance.
It is probably strange to hear this morning’s gospel text in light of the current state of our world. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Scenes of evangelism may be a challenge for us all right now. Rather than being sent out into the world, we find ourselves compelled to remain at home and distance ourselves from those we might otherwise wish to serve, up close and in person. We are not presently going, there are no homes into which we might safely venture, no opportunities for face to face discussion, study, or prayer.
Yet we still hear Jesus’s call, even in the midst of a crisis that would see us shrink back and retreat from the world to which we have been called to bring God’s love. Go.
Thankfully various technologies—especially the internet—have afforded us valuable ways to overcome the sharpness of our physical separation from one another. Although I count myself among the world’s stubborn luddites, I cannot imagine rising to meet the present moment without the advantages of our own community’s presence on social media and other web interfaces. Much like those Christians of the fifteenth century, who experienced for the first time a new kind of evangelistic media (the printing press), we have heretofore unexplored worlds of potential set before us.
Jesus does not sugarcoat his words in today’s Gospel. He tells us that the road we have to walk is hard. There is no way around it. Life will not always be easy. Such brutal honesty from Jesus may seem jarring, but he is preparing his disciples for the long journey ahead of them in which they certainly face hard times.
When I was a senior in college, I went to bed one night with a slight pain in my left leg. I thought I was just sore from exercising. I woke up the next morning and my leg had swollen to the point that I could barely walk. Soon after I started sweating and shivering uncontrollably.
The first doctor I saw in the hospital walked into my room holding the biggest syringe I had ever seen. The syringe looked like a water bottle with a comically oversized needle on one end and a plunger on the other. He explained that he had to drain my leg immediately and there was no time for anesthesia. Then he looked me in the eye and told me that this was going to be painful.
My memories of that week in the hospital are a blur now, but I still remember the tone of voice the doctor used as he lovingly did not sugarcoat telling me what pain I was about to feel. Jesus has the same love for us disciples when he tells us that the road we will walk in his name will be hard. The straight and narrow path will never be pain free.
(The Sending of the Seventy)
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
Given what the gospels report about Jesus’ twelve disciples – how they were often slow to comprehend the message of the kingdom, and repeatedly failed to live by its principles – it seems to me that Jesus is taking quite a risk here in commissioning these seventy to go out as his representatives. If the twelve he had chosen to be his closest friends and companions were having trouble grasping the message, how was this lot supposed to get it right? What training did they have? Who was going to supervise them or hold them accountable? How could he be sure they were capable of representing him, or that they would be faithful to his message? Had he had a chance to test their theology? Had he checked their backgrounds? Had he measured their commitment, or tested their reliability? But here he is, entrusting them with the message of the kingdom and empowering them to heal in his name.
It seems that Jesus was willing to take chances. He was willing to place heavenly treasure in fragile earthen vessels. He was willing to turn them loose, to send them out, to let them speak, without being certain of the outcome. And, not surprisingly, he’s still doing that today – sending each of us out to be messengers of that Good News; asking us, despite our weaknesses and shortcomings, to be his ambassadors in the world; proclaiming, through us, that “the kingdom of God has come near.”