In today’s Gospel reading, Christ miraculously feeds a crowd of hungry people. The people recognize him as a prophet, and gather to bring him to Jerusalem to proclaim him king. Jesus responds by fleeing to the solitude of the mountains.
Let’s rephrase this telling. A crowd of people, living in a country beset by political strife, gather to march on the capital. They are eager to replace their corrupt, ineffectual, incompetent ruling classes, who spend more time arguing about the minutiae of law than they do responding to the hunger of the people for bread and for justice. They have just seen a man whom they regard as a leader, one with power and legitimate claim to authority, and they long for him to lead their movement, to lead them in their resistance to the evils of their day.
Perhaps this telling hits close to home. Gazing out on the political landscape of this country, how many of us long for justice in the face of leaders embroiled in cruelty, corruption, self-importance, and outright malice? How many of us locate in Christ the supreme example of leadership, and, comparing him to the afflictions of our country now, how many of us channel Jesus in our protestations of this state of affairs? Before I came here, I used to want to work in politics. I even ran for public office. The political environment we face at present has awakened a long-held desire of mine to enter the fray, and the convictions of my faith highlight to me just how much injustice, just how much falsehood, we currently face. If the opportunity presented itself, I too would long to crown Christ.
Who is Jesus Christ? This is a question that as Christians we must ask ourselves continuously. Who is this figure that stands at the heart of our faith? There is a tendency, a perfectly natural tendency, to focus on the humanity of Jesus, to see him, as it were, merely as a better version of ourselves. Jesus the good man. Jesus the wise teacher. Jesus the political activist. The one who hates to see injustice. Whilst none of these ideas are necessarily untrue, indeed they’re all right, by their very nature they only tell half the story. They only unveil half the picture.
Our Gospel reading today helps to shine light, perhaps give us some insights, into how the divinity of Jesus is manifested in his humanity. We hear of Jesus the healer. The miracle worker. The one who in raising the sick, and elsewhere in the Gospel of raising the dead, prefigures his own resurrection with the salvific importance that event has for all of creation. We hear of Jesus the cosmic warrior who, in casting out demons, is fighting a sort of proxy war on Earth in the constant, cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. We hear of Jesus Christ seated on his throne of judgment, looking forward to the end of all things when those who will dine at the heavenly banquet will be separated from those who will be cast into the outer darkness where we hear there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth. We hear of Jesus the dynamic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The Messiah. The Christ. The one in whom all the hopes and expectations of Israel are met.
Jesus said to the disciples,“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property… 29And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes…” 10 Luke 16:1-13
We could easily find this Gospel lesson appointed for today either confusing or offending. It seems that Jesus is praising the practices of a dishonest account manager. The manager falsifies the amounts owed to his employer so that when this manager is out of a job – mind you, he’s being fired because of his dishonesty! – these same creditors with whom he is currying illicit favor would admire him or owe him, and ultimately welcome him into their homes!
Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ
Take a moment to remember the last baptism you witnessed. Perhaps you can recall the proud parents and godparents, dressed in their Sunday best, standing around the baptismal font. In their arms they hold their young, freshly-bathed child, hoping that she won’t create a fuss. Before them stands the minister or priest, neatly dressed in suit and tie, or robe, or colorful vestments. The font stands ready. The congregation looks on with curiosity and pleasure, wondering how the child will respond to what is about to happen. The atmosphere is peaceful and serene. It is a family occasion, a beautiful moment that will long be remembered.
Isaiah 60: 1-6
Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3: 1-12
Matthew 2: 1-12
We’ve all had that experience of living “in between” things. As children we lived most of our lives “in between” weekends, or vacations and holidays. We would count off the days until the next holiday came along so that we could escape school, even if just few a few days. Later we lived in that “in between” time between relationships, or jobs or children. Now some of us live “in between” seasons of Downton Abbey, anxiously awaiting the next fix to see what will become of Lady Edith or who Lady Mary will marry next.
In the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome, the power of a name was very real. It was widely assumed that the essence of a being resided in its name, and that if people could gain access to the names of supernatural beings they could manipulate them into serving their own purposes. Magicians and sorcerers abounded who promised to reveal their secrets to common people. Their spells often included dozens of divine names. It was hoped that at least one of them would hit the mark and force a supernatural being to bring about the desired result.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Here Jesus is speaking about following him by becoming a servant, being a slave. It would have been very difficult to hear this teaching in his own day, It is even more difficult for us, here in this culture. We know how Jesus’ teaching and also St. Paul’s writing about servanthood and slavery were twisted in the most appalling ways to justify the most cruel, ignominious practice of slavery of African peoples in our own land. And then there is the subsequent, unconscionable residue of discrimination that has carried into this very day. Hearing Jesus talk about becoming a servant, being a slave-for-Jesus, is very difficult to hear, and should be, given our own history.
A funeral procession winds its way through the center of the village and passes through the city gates, heading for the place outside its bounds where the dead were laid to rest. Hired mourners, weeping and wailing on behalf of the friends and relatives of the dead man, are leading the way, along with musicians with flutes and cymbals sounding their mournful tunes. The mother of the dead man, already a widow, walks ahead of the open-faced coffin, her face worn and weary and her body bent with her double sadness. Then comes the body of the dead man, lying in a long basket carried upon a stretcher and followed by a large crowd from the town, silently shuffling forward.
If we look back two or three chapters in the Gospel of Mark, we can find readings similar to the themes in today’s Gospel lesson. Twice earlier in Mark’s Gospel Jesus had foretold his suffering. When Jesus told the disciples that, they didn’t seem to get the point of why he was telling them.