Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus and a woman whose little daughter was afflicted with an unclean spirit. The woman was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin. This story occurs in only two of the Gospels, the Gospel According to Mark, which we heard this morning, and that of Matthew.
I have been praying with these two versions of that story for several weeks, since I was asked to preach on this lesson.
There are several small differences between the two versions; differences in how those who recorded this event saw it. I think that these differences are of far less importance than the final result. Continue reading →
I have been captivated recently by the icons of Maxim Sheshukov, a Russian iconographer who works in a traditional style but whose icons often depict themes or events from Scripture rarely depicted in icons – Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, or Judas accepting the bag of silver, or the slaying of Abel by Cain, for instance. One icon that has been much fodder for my prayer depicts Christ, his figure almost whimsically tall and slender and slightly bent at the shoulders, standing before an equally tall, dark, and very narrow door. The wooden panel on which the icon is painted is tall and narrow, and is itself highly suggestive of a door. The background is a simple, quiet yellow ochre, the color of sand or wheat. Christ’s right hand – or more precisely, his outstretched, right pointer finger, seems to rest on the face of the door, pointing toward it, perhaps giving it the gentlest tap imaginable. His left hand holds a thin, narrow scroll, its words concealed from view.[i]Continue reading →
I remember very well one particularly horrible Thursday in 2009, it might have even been my worst Thursday ever. I had laid myself down on a couch in the student lounge, barely moving for long stretches of time, eyes staring blankly at nothing in particular, overcome by a very painful depression. Kind-hearted souls would wander by, sitting beside me, offering words of support and encouragement, but I hardly ever glanced at them, let alone responded. It was like being trapped in a deep pit filled only with darkness, suffocated by loneliness, and paralyzed by some unnamable anguish. It felt as though there was not even a sliver of hope, no hope at all for any kind of reprieve, restoration, or healing.
But when it comes to the gospel of Christ, healing and stories of healing seem to go hand in hand with the good news of God’s Kingdom. Wherever Jesus went to spread the gospel, healing seems close at hand. Depending on how they’re counted we can find 30 to 40 healing stories in the gospels. Saint Luke the Evangelist, whom we celebrate today, includes the most which makes sense since Luke is thought to have been a physician, and the healing of body, mind, and spirit would have been crucial elements of his life and writing. He also might have felt a special bond to Jesus since Jesus referred to himself as a physician, ministering and being present for those who were unwell, those needing to be made whole, those suffering and wounded. Continue reading →
When I began studying our gospel lesson for this morning, the first thing I thought of was an event from this past week that made all the major newspapers and has been circulating as a video on social media. The video is of Senator Elizabeth Warren confronting Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf about taking responsibility for fraud committed by his company who then scapegoated lower level employees.[i] Senator Warren’s examination of Mr. Stumpf was scathing and I have to confess I took a slight sadistic pleasure in seeing him wide-eyed and squirming as she fired question after question, admitting damning evidence into public record from what seemed to be this great chasm separating the two. After seeing the video, I couldn’t help but to think how lucky the rich man in our gospel lesson was to have had his interchange with Father Abraham instead of Senator Warren. While Abraham’s interaction with the wealthy man is firm, his tone is at least compassionate. To be honest, I think my curiosity was more the result of my recognition and identification with Mr. Stumpf. Throughout my life, I have at times made poor choices based on selfish motives. I too have had to face up to my shortcomings, ask forgiveness, and make reparations for harm caused to those whom I’d hurt. Perhaps you can relate. Continue reading →
This sermon – originally preached in the wake of the 2015 Charleston church shooting – has a powerful, timely message for us today, as the U.S. still reels from a contentious election season marked by violence and racism. Br. Luke Ditewig encourages, “Though the wind is wild wind and waves crash with threats, though we grieve, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. With their help, we look to Jesus on the cross and there find assurance and confidence that he upholds everyone with love.”
I am impressed by many who cry out to Jesus for help. People in the Bible including blind Bartimaeus who shouts louder and louder when he hears Jesus is nearby; the woman who works her way through the crowd and reaches out to touch Jesus’ clothes; the small group who climb up on a roof to lower their friend in front of Jesus, and the centurion who says: “If you just say the word, my servant will be healed.” Jesus healed them and commended them for their faith.1
In contrast, Jesus’ own disciples are embarrassing and uncomfortably familiar. They spend lots of time with Jesus, see the miracles, witness healing. Yet when a storm rises up, when life gets rough and tough, the disciples freeze in fear. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Continue reading →
Ten lepers called out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, Jesus said: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” As they went, they were made clean.
As they went. Not at the moment Jesus spoke. Not at the moment they met the priests. As they went. As they followed Jesus’ invitation. As they did the next thing asked, as they journeyed. As they went, they were healed. Healing may happen in motion, in process, as we go, as we live, as we follow. During a short walk or over a long journey. At a particular point in time or as a process into which we receive glimpses of insight. Continue reading →
I remember a simple little game I used play with my parents when I was a child. At bedtime I would tell my mom or dad, whoever was tucking me in that night, that I loved them. The response was always, “I love you too,” in which I would reply, “I love you MORE!” That would begin banter ‘ad nauseam’ of “No you don’t, I love YOU more!!!” This would finally end with Mom or Dad saying, “Jimmy, you’ve got school early in the morning, GET TO SLEEP!!!” I would go to sleep with a little smile on my face knowing that I had won the battle of wills. But winning the battle didn’t exactly mean that the sentiment was true. While I did love my parents, I know now as an adult that the love of a mother and father for their child is a love beyond limits or conditions. As I grow older and am starting to see my parents entering the autumn and winter of their lives, roles are switching to the extent they can, and I am concerned with their health and well being. My love grows more and more with the intensity of a parent who is watching their college aged child from afar, hoping that they’re okay and have everything they need. Continue reading →
If any of you were present at the Red Sox’ victory parade in Boston yesterday, you may have some sympathy for Zaccheus, the undersized tax collector who scrambled up a tree to catch a glimpse of a local celebrity as he passed by. It was a bold move, one which would have invited the ridicule of others, but Zaccheus, I think, was used to the ridicule of others. As a chief tax collector, Zaccheus was implicated in the corrupt and oppressive rule of the Romans over the Jews. He was a man on the margins of society, despised by his fellow-Jews and used by the Romans. But some strong desire – perhaps the fruit of his own unhappiness – compels him to look for Jesus, about whom he had undoubtedly heard so much. He climbs a tree to see Jesus, but is surprised when Jesus seeshim, and invites him to come down and share a meal with him, an act of generosity that upsets the crowd. “All that saw it began to grumble, and said, ‘he has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner’” (vs.7). The result of the meeting, however, is a dramatic conversion, in which Zaccheus promises to give half of his worldly goods to the poor, and to make restitution to all those whom he has cheated.
I don’t usually refer to my sermon preparation when I preach, but I will today. For some reason I found this time around particularly challenging: I can’t remember getting so tangled up in words and using the select and delete functions on the computer quite so many times–I’ve nearly worn off the letters on the “delete” key. The subject of the gospel today is prayer—which is the air we breathe around here. But it’s something I rarely preach about.
Think for a moment of the images of Jesus you have seen over the years. Jesus, standing with arms stretched out in welcome, radiating gentleness and peace. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, with a lamb resting contentedly on his shoulders. Jesus, seated, tenderly welcoming little children to come near to him. These images show us a Jesus who is full of compassion, the One who reveals to us a God of compassion, mercy and love. Continue reading →
You might have noticed that the gospel story read this morning contains two healing miracles, not one. What makes them particularly interesting is that they are interwoven – in fact, one story interrupts the other.
We find Jesus surrounded by “a large crowd” just after his return from a healing mission that had taken him across the Sea of Galilee. A man approaches him – not just any man, but a leader of the synagogue, a person of considerable social status and importance. He is desperate with worry and grief and, abandoning all dignity, he falls to the ground at Jesus’ feet and “begs him repeatedly,” the gospel writer tells us, to come and lay his hands on his sick daughter, who is at the point of death. There is a mixture of desperation and hope in his eyes. He is convinced that Jesus has the authority to make her well, if only he will come, and quickly. So Jesus went with him.
Twenty years ago Carl McCunn, a wildlife photographer, travelled into the remote heart of Alaska, intent on spending several months close to nature, hunting and fending for himself. But he miscalculated. He ran out of food, and the weather turned exceptionally bad. He became weaker and weaker, and recorded every day in his diary his growing despair and crippling frostbite.
But friends, who were wondering how he was managing, asked State Troopers to fly over his camp to see if he was OK. Carl ran out, full of excitement, when he heard the plane, and he wrote in his diary that he was so elated to see the plane that “I recall raising my hand, shoulder high, and shaking my fist – it was like a little cheer.” That was a big mistake – for that was the signal for “All OK – do not wait” – and the plane circled around, the pilot waved and flew off, thinking all was well. Carl had given the wrong signal. Three months later he was dead.
There is something haunting in this story. For me, it is a metaphor of life lived in isolation, where your signal of distress is either not noticed or misunderstood. A friend of mine who is a doctor said that isolation is probably the most common disease in America today. So many family units are fractured and more people live alone today than ever before in American history. The lack of interpersonal relationships causes severe loneliness to millions. Please look at me. Talk to me. Continue reading →
When the construction was completed on the Monastery Chapel – I’m not talking about the extensive renovation work this past year but about the original construction completed in 1936 – the trades people and artisans who had labored to build this magnificent chapel gave the gift of these two stained-glass windows to my right, what are called the “Workmen’s Windows.”1 On the left is Saint Joseph the carpenter, pictured in the rondel with the young Jesus as his assistant and his mother nearby. The window on the right pictures Saint Luke the Physician along with the caduceus, the ancient symbol of medicine and healing.2 But what I find most interesting is that Luke is portrayed in the rondel painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary! Now you can find reference in the Gospels about Joseph being a carpenter3; and you can find reference in the epistles about Luke being a physician.4 But Luke the artist? Where did that come from? Not from the scriptures, but from tradition. Continue reading →
The occasion of today’s Gospel story was a festival of the Jews in Jerusalem to which Jesus went up, probably Pentecost, the spring harvest festival. The place where the event in today’s Gospel took place was a pool called either Bethseda, which means House of Mercy, or Beth-zatha, which means House of Olives. Around it were five porticoes where many invalids lay in hope of being cured.
Several years ago when I visited Jerusalem I was taken to see this pool near the site of St. Anne’s Church. Because of the way in which the city grew up around and above that place the actual pool is perhaps 40 or 50 feet beneath ground level. We could see the pool far below us, and what was left of some of the porticoes, with some of the mosaic designs on them, and with pillars that had held up some sort of sheltering roof over the places where those waiting to be healed would be lying in wait of a chance to enter the pool when the waters were periodically troubled by underground surges. Continue reading →
We invite your prayers to the God of compassion in words and images on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the format #prayersof #intercession … you may want to start “I pray for…”
View the prayers of others: prayersofthepeople.org
Br. Geoffrey Tristram offered this homily on the prayer of intercession at the Monastery as part of the Teach Us to Pray series, October 20, 2009.
One of the most wonderful experiences of my life was some years ago when living in England I had a sabbatical, and I spent a few months living in Egypt. Most of the time I lived in Cairo, and the part of Cairo I loved most of all, was not the famous parts with the pyramids and the sphinx, or even the medieval Islamic City of Cairo, but Old Cairo, Al-Qahira, south of the modern city, next to the Nile. The small walled city is Christian, Coptic Christian, and it is full of ancient churches like St. Barbara’s, St. John the Baptist, St. George, St. Mark. Continue reading →
As we brothers have occasion to walk along Memorial Drive, we have often witnessed people, passers by unknown to us as well as our friends, standing on the top steps of the Monastery Church, craning their necks to peer over the fence to see our cloister garden. Some of that is fueled by curiosity about the Brothers, but most of it, I think, is simply a desire to look at something which is quite beautiful. Continue reading →
The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Micah 5:2-5a Psalm 113
Romans 8:28-30 Matthew 1:18-25
Several years ago, quite unexpectedly, a friend and I were invited to join the annual French national healing pilgrimage to Lourdes, to be a part of a contingent of 1,000 malades and 3,000 caregivers to spend a week at the famous holy place of healing. Continue reading →
It’s hard to know quite what to make of this: the “woes” to Chorazin and Bethsaida, the damning to hell of Capernaum. I’m tempted to suspect that this anger actually reflects the concerns of a later generation. Matthew seems to have been written about 50 years after Jesus’ death. Perhaps Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were Jewish communities that resisted conversion to Christianity, or even persecuted Christian Jews. Continue reading →