This week's Living by the Word column focuses on the story of the healing of Naaman the Aramean, one of the most dramatic healing stories in the Bible. But here I want to blog about a small detail of that story as it relates to the other lessons.
You may be better organized than I am, but in my overscheduled life, every once in a while I miss an appointment. Then comes the dreaded e-mail: “I have on my calendar that we were doing lunch today at noon. I looked for you, but didn’t see you. Call me . . .”
Growing up, I watched Saturday morning television cartoons in which a character was making a decision. On one shoulder an angel hovered, saying, "Do the right thing!" But on the other shoulder perched a devil urging the character to do the wrong thing. You already know what happened: as the angel looked increasingly anxious, the cartoon character chose to do the wrong thing.
Paul's Galatians didn't watch TV cartoons, but they probably had a similar model of decision making.
“I have decided to follow Jesus.” These words begin a well-known hymn, but for me they will always be about Gordon and Mary Cosby, cofounders of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. Gordon’s death on March 20, 2013, was not unexpected. He was 95 and had become frail. Knowing that he was dying, Gordon used the time to comfort coworkers, friends and neighbors.
In the state where I live sometimes it's hard to tell which is scarier,
Halloween or election day—a useful reminder that Christians are
constantly besieged both by supernatural powers and by the results of
our own sinfulness, whether individual or communal.
For most of canonical history, Mark's Gospel has been considered an ugly
duckling and its author a clumsy yokel. It can hardly be a coincidence
that this Gospel was recognized as a swan and its author newly
discovered as a literary genius after the development of sophisticated
cinematic technique prepared us to read it better.
In addition to its roundup of book reviews, the Century's fall books issue features works that guest critics consider to be essential reading on three topics: John Calvin, Paul and preaching. A. Katherine Grieb's essential books on Paul are: Paul and His Letters (second edition), The Writings of St. Paul, Our Mother Saint Paul, Rereading Paul Together: Protestant and Catholic Perspectives on Justification, and A Shorter Commentary on Romans. Read her comments here.
Beginning preachers often assume that only after they have built up the
trust of the congregation by assuring them of God's lovingkindness will
they have earned the right to deliver the harder words of scripture.
Preachers who glance at this Gospel lesson and contemplate the delights
of contracting swine flu just before Sunday could be forgiven, but a
second look reveals an opportunity to teach about Christian community
and behaviors that imperil it.
You may share an experience I often have: I enter a room where friends are engaged in a spirited conversation about someone and try to guess who it is that they are describing. If I succeed, it’s usually because they are referencing words or actions that I recognize as familiar. These words and actions form a pattern that I associate with a particular person.
In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More, lord chancellor of England under Henry VIII, attempts to reassure his wife and daughter (who are rightly concerned for his safety) by pointing to himself with the words, “This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.”
"A man had two sons . . .” was a common way to begin a parable, especially one comparing good and bad sons. Matthew uses it to contrast one son, who promises to work in the vineyard but never shows up, with another, who at first adamantly refuses to go to the vineyard but later repents and goes (21:28-32). Which one did the will of his father, asks Jesus? Not the one who talked a good game, but the one who actually followed through with obedient actions.
God will forgive my sins,” quipped Heinrich Heine on his deathbed. “It’s his job.” How different are the viewpoints of Isaiah, Paul and Luke! They note an ongoing theological tension between the assurance of God’s kindness and the call to immediate repentance. Yes, God is merciful, not punishing as we deserve, not automatically correlating our misdeeds with disasters. But there is no room for complacency: if we think we’re standing, we should watch that we do not fall.
Six years ago, in a powerful article in these pages, Ruth Schmidt wrote about how her entire way of perceiving the world changed when she was raped. It was as if everything she had been during her previous 16 years had been thrown away. Since that event, "I see differently. I hear differently. I surely believe differently. I listen to music as a woman who was raped.
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