Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Salvation: Punishment or Grace

Drawing entitled: "The Peaceable Kingdom" depicts the child sitting under a massive tree surrounded by the lion, the ox, the bear, the leopard, the snake, the lamb, the kid, and the wolf -- the outline of a city is far in the background. This artwork illustrates salvation that is outlined in Isaiah. 


"Salvation: Punishment or Grace"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

April 21, 2019 -- Easter Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12




We are all aware by now of the fire that destroyed parts of one of the best-known landmarks of Christendom this past Monday. The Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris is as emblematic to Western Christianity as the world trade towers were to Western Capitalism and the Pentagon is to American Imperial Power. Thankfully the cathedral fire does not appear to have been set deliberately to make a statement. But sadly, it perhaps catalyzed the attacks on four churches in Sri Lanka this morning.
I appreciate the grandeur, beauty, and symbolism of the Gothic cathedrals. I’ve never been to Paris – it’s on my bucket list. I might be sadder, but for two reasons. First, if French President Macron gets his way, the cathedral will reopen within five years. Is it because they are a deeply faithful nation – followers of Jesus? Not likely. Is it because their economy needs tourism to thrive? More likely. Over a billion Euros have already been pledged for the reconstruction. Just imagine what could be done with a billion Euros.
I can hear the echo of Judas voice from two weeks ago. “Why was this expensive ointment not sold and the money used to feed the poor?”



This is the other reason that I’m not as upset as some are about the damage done to such a religious and cultural landmark. Its construction was made possible only by channeling enormous wealth and assets away from the common people. Intangible benefits possibly accrued to the common people. Perhaps civic pride was one such benefit. There was an explicit competition going on for centuries between each major European city to build the tallest, the most light-filled, the greatest cathedral. Notre Dame did not ultimately win any of those contests, but it won the devotion of even the poorest of the poor who sacrificed to contribute their meagre offerings. The most dramatic image from the conflagration was the collapse of its tallest element in flames – the spire over the crossing of the nave and transepts. The video images could have been taken directly from the film “The Lord of the Rings” when the tower of the evil Sauron finally collapsed. The spire itself is only about two hundred years old and was probably financed largely from the profits of colonialism and slave trade. The cathedral, the fire, and the destruction are somehow emblematic of our times. In the effort to preserve the past, its monuments, and its traditions, sometimes we destroy what we intended to protect.
The cathedral will have its own resurrection. It will be saved.



On Easter Sunday we proclaim the resurrection of Christ. There is a temptation as well – in our skeptical, empirical, disenchanted world today – to try to explain the resurrection of Christ as well. I’m not going to try to do that. For one thing, resurrection is inherently and literally beyond mortal understanding. For another, just as with any world-changing event, there is more than one way to understand it. There were many things going on in the resurrection of Christ, and any one of us cannot see and make sense of all of them. Nor do we need to agree on exactly what happened. The Gospel accounts don’t even line up exactly. Resurrection is important – it’s deeply consequential. In fact, it is so important that it holds a superfluity of meaning. The resurrection of Christ is overflowing with meaning. We can never approach or contain its full import.



The apostle Paul said of the resurrection,
“…if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless – and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless. Indeed, we are shown to be false witnesses of God, for we solemnly swore that God raised Christ from the dead … and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of people. But as it is, Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Personally, I think Paul’s argument has never been convincing. It’s as if he is saying, “It must be true, because if it’s not, then we were wrong, and it would be really embarrassing that we have sacrificed so much for this empty promise.”



More interesting to me, and more important than the mechanics of resurrection, is why it happened, and what it was supposed to do. In that sense, resurrection is subsidiary to its objective, which is salvation. We don’t talk much about salvation – for two main reasons, I think. One is that we don’t like to talk about sin, which is the presumed precondition that salvation addresses. We don’t like to talk about sin, in part because it has been used as a justification to enforce a narrow range of acceptable identity and behavior. We reject the idea of sin because it is tethered to intention, and we do not believe that our intentions are wrong. We dismiss sin because we equate it with evil. And even though many of us struggle at times with inadequacy and low self-worth, we just don’t understand ourselves as being captive to sin. We deny that guilt has anything to do with us.
Admission of guilt puts us at risk.
Another reason we don’t talk much about salvation is that most of us here in this room spend most of our lives free from true need or want. Especially in our Western cultural context, which worships self-sufficiency and sees success as a sign of worth, the condition of needing salvation is deeply shameful. We know, for instance, that many who qualify for assistance from the food bank are ashamed of their need – exactly when salvation could bring new life.
Shame diminishes us.
There’s more to why we don’t talk about salvation. We have a warped picture of salvation that often offends or repels us. Part of that warped picture is that humanity is so broken that we can only be rescued and repaired through deicide – that is the death of God. This idea of salvation is built on the presumption of original sin articulated primarily by Augustine, and not until the fourth and fifth centuries. Augustine seems to have been motivated by both guilt and shame. By extension, all humanity is depraved. His understanding of salvation is analogous to the penal system – a system of sin, guilt, conviction, and punishment, with only one hope of release or freedom. It requires the assumption that we are inherently sinful, that our sin is our individual fault, that God operates in a closed system as a judge and punisher, and that the only acquittal – the only release – comes through a prisoner exchange of the highest order. Jesus had to be mortal in order to be executed, and equally had to be divine in order for the execution to freely and fully outweigh all human depravity forever. This punitive paradigm of salvation proposes a system of conviction, imprisonment, and release.



I see it another way, and I think the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, did too. Especially in this year when our Gospel readings have been primarily from Luke, we are reminded that Jesus was constantly overturning expectations. The punitive paradigm was overturned by Jesus, and Wesley keyed in on this in his understanding of grace. The grace understanding of salvation turns the world’s expectations upside down. Instead of conviction, imprisonment, and release, there is blessing, reconciliation, and wholeness. The goal of this paradigm of salvation is to restore wholeness to all creation. The means are to be in community that is equitable and mutual. The starting point is the freedom of the original blessing – of God’s proclamation that creation is good, and, in particular, creation with humanity in it is very good. This picture of salvation is painted beautifully by Isaiah – a peaceable kin-dom in which adversaries are transformed into companions – eating bread side by side. All creation thrives, from the stars to the atoms to living beings and systems.



Listen again:
“For I am about to create
       new heavens and a new earth!
       The things of the past
       will not be remembered or come to mind!
Be glad and rejoice forever and ever in what I create,
       because I now create Jerusalem to be a joy
       and its people to be a delight!
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
       no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it
       or the cry of distress.
No longer will there be in it an infant
       who lives but a few days,
       or old people who do not live out their days.
       They die as mere youths
       who reach but a hundred years,
       and those who fall short of a hundred
       will be thought accursed.



At last they will live in the houses they build,
       and eat the fruit of the vineyard they plant.
They will not build for another to inhabit;
       they will not plant for another to eat.
       For the days of my people
       will be like the days of a tree,
       and my chosen ones will enjoy
       the fruit of their labors.
They will not labor in vain
       or bear children doomed to die;
       for they and their descendants
       are a people blessed by God.
Even before they call upon me, I will answer;
       and while they speak, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed side by side;
       the lion will eat straw like an ox.
       Serpents will be content to crawl on the ground;
       they will not injure or destroy
       in all my holy mountain,” says YHWH.



This is salvation. And why should it wait for the afterlife? Why should the effect of the resurrection have to wait? At the heart of our faith, resurrection is an invitation to salvation now.
Beloved, whatever else the resurrection is, however we understand it or dismiss it, it is a repudiation of the forces of separation and oppression, and an affirmation of God’s unconditional love and the goodness of creation.
Thanks be to God for the miraculous and the mundane.
In Christ we are risen.
Amen.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Showing Up

Drawing entitled "Christ's Entry Into Jerusalem" by Albrecht Durer


















"Showing Up"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

April 14, 2019 -- "Palm" Sunday

Philippians 2:1-13; Luke 19:28-44



We probably all know the Hans Christian Andersen fable called “The Emperor’s New Clothes” or some version of it. A vain, gluttonous, greedy, privileged, oppressive ruler – possibly even “weak” and “fearful” and “angry” – all of those things that we have been talking about during Lent that we would rather not admit, hired two tailors to make him the finest wardrobe ever known. The tailors announced that only the most intelligent and discerning could actually see their work, it was so very fine and exclusive. They were scammers, con-artists, “pretenders” of the highest order. They spent weeks and demanded exorbitant funds in their process. When the ruler could see no evidence of their labors, in fact could see nothing at all, and suspected their duplicity, he brought in expert after expert. All of the experts were too afraid to confirm that there were no fine robes being made. Finally, the tailors announced the robes were ready, and the ruler called for a grand parade to display his finery. Of course, he paraded through the town nearly naked, and only a little child was unafraid to declare the truth – that the king was a fool.
We could probably wring many meanings out of this fable. But what comes to mind for me today is that admitting the things about ourselves that embarrass us is a little like parading around like the ruler. And in some way, this is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. We are called to admit before God and each other that we are not perfect, and to know that we are beloved of God, nonetheless. Even the robes of finest earthly value cannot conceal who we really are before God.
The word “parade” comes from the Latin parare – to prepare or to furnish. It appeared first in English in the mid-seventeenth century from the French “parade” meaning ostentatious display. Literally it means a demonstration. Parades are meant to show something – or “show up” for something. Military parades are meant to demonstrate both to allies and to enemies how strong the military forces are. You might think an Easter parade was intended to demonstrate what fine Christians we are – but instead were more a way to demonstrate what successful and worldly Christians we are – to display how attractive and affluent we are.
In 2006, two leading scholars of the “Jesus Seminar” – Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan – published a book called The Last Week: A Day by Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. I would guess that you’ve heard it referred to often by your Palm Sunday preachers. One of the main points they illustrate in the book is that on the “first” Palm Sunday, there were two parades entering Jerusalem from opposite directions – both of them claiming in some way authority over the children of God. From the west – from the direction of Rome and the Mediterranean – came the Roman Legion. They were riding into Jerusalem in order to quell any insurrection that might arise among the more zealous Judeans, reminded in their celebration of Passover that the Lord God was a liberator from oppression. They were looking for a military leader who could lead them back to sovereignty by overthrowing the Roman occupation. The Legion was coming to be sure that could not happen.
From the other side of town, from the eastern hills of Bethany and Bethphage, there came a different kind of parade – a different kind of showing up. It did not display military prowess, although it seems that Jesus’ followers may still have been hoping that he had some kind of trick up his sleeve – that in the final confrontation he would whip out a secret weapon or unleash the power of the most high upon their oppressors. What Jesus did demonstrate was a deep commitment to the prophetic messages of Zechariah and Micah – of kindness and justice and humility – motivated by deep, abiding, unconditional love.
Each of the Gospel accounts of the day that we have come to call “Palm Sunday” differs in its details. We notice a few significant things about Luke’s account from even a casual reading. First, we noticed that it is a hallmark of Jesus’ disciples to do what he says – they are obedient, at least when his directions are simple and clear. He tells them to go to a certain place and do a certain thing. He prepares them for the resistance they will meet. They go. They obey. They show up. Their preparation is adequate. They return having completed their task. Again, it is a hallmark of Jesus disciples to do as he says. It is also true that sometimes they just don’t get it.
He loves them anyway – because Jesus’ love for them came first – their obedience was merely their response.
The next thing we noticed about Luke’s version is the language of peace. “Blessed is the ruler who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” This mirrors almost exactly the chorus of the heavenly messengers that announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds at the beginning of Luke’s version of the good news. The whole of Jesus’ life is bookended by a heavenly call and earthly response for what? For ­peace! You can tell a book by its cover, and the cover of this book says peace all over it. Between his entry into the flesh and his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus has been all about peace. His life has been a parade – a demonstration of peace– a showing up. And it is not the pax romana – the peace imposed and maintained by the authorities for the benefit of the privileged few. It is the pax communitas – the peace of the beloved community constructed and maintained by all for the benefit of all.
Again, Jesus’ desire for the pax communitas was motivated by the originating cause – unconditional love.
The third thing we noticed was that there are no palms even mentioned in Luke’s version of Palm Sunday! What? How can that be, you say. How can we have Palm Sunday without palms? Maybe we should not even call it Palm Sunday – but Cloak Sunday. Well, I’m being a little facetious. Of course it’s OK to celebrate the traditions that have come down to us. But I think we are missing an opportunity if we don’t acknowledge the differences in the Gospel accounts as well as their harmonies. The crowds that were following Jesus, that were calling for peace on earth as it is in heaven, were casting off their cloaks in order to pave Jesus’ way. Let’s think about that for a moment. In that time and place, it is unlikely that the common folk had more than one cloak. One’s cloak was an important garment that presented one’s identity to the world as well as keeping modesty and protecting one’s health. To cast off your cloak was a deeply sacrificial act. It was not like you could run down to Target and get another one, or even back to your closet to grab another one of your many seasonal cloaks. To take off your cloak and have it trampled by a colt and a throng of disciples was a way of demonstrating who you were and where your loyalties lay – of showing up with your whole self.
Sacrificial allegiance to the Way of Jesus is a response – a demonstration of gratitude for having been loved first.
So what about us? Are we disciples of Jesus Christ? Are we in his parade? Are we willing to shed our cloaks to pave Jesus’ way in the world? This is the last chance to turn aside, to say, “We don’t know this man.” Or, it is the perfect opportunity to show up and take the next step in the journey into the heart of God – to move from observer to actor. Jesus would say that if we don’t, even the stones will rise up.
What comes next may seem a little rough in more way than one. That is in part because it kept me awake much of the night, and I chose to discard the second half of what I was preparing to say for most of the week. Sometimes the Spirit just shows up that way. It’s because of my own fear and vulnerability that I can’t just get up here and wing it. I must write it out ahead of time.
Yesterday there were a couple more parades showing up here on our campus. I’m sure there were many more around town and around the world. These were just the ones that I showed up for. One of them was the parade of people showing up to laud Emma Amiad as she prepares to leave Vashon to find air that she can breathe. We all know she has been instrumental in responding to the parades of troubled and homeless and nearly homeless islanders for more than a decade. Emma has consistently shown up – and even though her religious heritage is Judaism, I would say Emma has been Christ in our midst. She has truly shown up.
Ironically, another parade was the showing up of those who have been residents of our campus for weeks or intermittently for years. Nobody likes the unsightly mess of the junky vehicles or the seeming inability for this parade to pick up after itself. I’m reminded of the little man at the end of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons who shows up with a broom to sweep up after the parade. Every parade leaves litter behind, and there needs to be someone willing to come along and sweep up in the end.
Last night, by my best count, there were five in the parade who showed up here seeking respite or safety or shelter. One, who has been here pretty much continuously since winter hit hard this year, swears that last night was his last. He has a job and an apartment waiting in Auburn. He’s been homeless for over a decade, couch surfing or living in the woods. He’s a good man who has recovered from some bad circumstances and bad decisions. I’ll be sorry he won’t be showing up any more. I won’t miss his neatly-piled, tarp-covered piles of belongings. I will miss his cheerful optimism and role he played in keeping the rest of my parking lot family safe and somewhat in community.
To the best of my knowledge, four women showed up to sleep on our campus last night – one of them with my permission. That one is someone most of you know quite well. She grew up in this congregation. Monday morning on my way to my 5:30 CrossFit session I encountered her there on the doorstep surrounded by deputies and EMTs. She called out to me and I held her hand as they asked her questions and took her vitals. Then they took her away. It turns out she’d had a small stroke. Later in the week sometime, during a confrontation with her daughter, she was shot in the face with a pellet gun. Last night she showed up needing a safe dry place to sleep and something warm to eat. She, too, has been Jesus to me. See, that’s why I have no choice. I must show up.
I know that you show up, too. In many ways – large and small. Obedient. Justice-seeking. Sacrificial. It’s not comfortable. It exposes us for what and who we really are. It’s my prayer that we do show up for the parade, and when we do, if our new clothes are like the emperor’s, and our true selves “show up” – that the child on the sidelines of the parade will smile, and point, and say right out loud, “Look! There goes Jesus!”
As we turn with Jesus to face Jerusalem, Golgotha, Hell, and beyond, on our journey into the heart of God, may our obedience, our justice, and our sacrifice be a true demonstration of the love we have been freely given. May we be so bold. Amen.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Provocation


Photo entitled "Alabaster Jar Spilled". 














"Provocation"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

April 7, 2019

Isaiah 43:15-21; John 11:55-12:8


I am provoked.
I’m provoked by John’s gospel. Every time I encounter it I am provoked – though that does not stop me from welcoming – even seeking out the encounter. I’m provoked because John comes across as being so very anti-Semitic – even though I know that in its original cultural context it was not really anti-Semitic at all. He’s always talking about the Jews, the Jews, the Jews, and in a way that sounds critical, accusatory, and derogatory. Part of the problem is lies in translation. The word in Greek is really Judean – meaning the people of the land of Judea – originally the southern kingdom of the Hebrew people. It refers to the nationality rather than the religion. Not all Judeans were Jewish – just as even at the height of American Christendom not all Americans were Christian – though part of a culture that was deeply shaped and informed by Christian themes and commitments. Today, as we look around our nation, we might wonder what some people who call themselves Christian think that means.
Still, it provokes me and serves to foster misunderstandings about the relationship between Jews and Christians –         which should be congenial. Nearly two millennia later, relations are still often troubled. Provoking. Nonetheless, nearly every time I encounter John it is a redeeming experience, and I begin to see things in a new way.
In addition to this little problem is the more provoking problem of interpretation. John’s language is beautifully poetic – though very straightforward and readable. It all seems to be in plain speech. John speaks of signs rather than parables – as though there is nothing parabolic about John’s gospel. However, John is also the most metaphorical gospel. Every sign, every action, every story is parabolic in some way, layered with meaning upon meaning. John is thought by most biblical scholars to be the most recent gospel in our bible – the furthest removed from the events of Jesus’ life, out of sequence with the other three gospels – called synoptic because they seem to present events with a shared vision. Though recent scholarship is trending toward a simultaneous date with Luke, or perhaps Luke being even a little later.
Certainly John is revisionist – addressing new realities as they arose in the nascent church, even within a century of Jesus’ death. John’s gospel may be more accurate in some of its historicity than the other Gospels, but John is not at all concerned with a documentary type of reportage. Nothing in John is really meant to be taken at face value. Provoking. Nonetheless, nearly every time I encounter John it is a redeeming experience, and I begin to see things in a new way.
I’m also provoked that the Revised Common Lectionary places this text from John at the penultimate Sunday of Lent in the Luke year. We have been building from week to week on Lucan themes, and now John is interposed. Sometimes the lectionary breaks up the narrative this way, and because we mostly get our bible about twenty verses at a time, we lose the overarching thematic connections and the arc of the story each Gospel is trying to build. The composition of the gospel narratives is as important as their contents – each of them in response to a specific context of time and place. And we can thank God that we have the stereo-optic advantage of multiple perspectives. These multiple perspectives invite us to ponder how the gospel message is alive and responsive to every generation and situation.
If we had to summarize the themes of John versus Luke, we might do it this way, borrowing from Gary Wills’ accessible explanation in What the Gospels Meant.[i] Luke is the compassionate gospelist who emphasizes Jesus' solidarity with the outcast and reconciliation between Gentile and Jew. How bitterly ironic, then, that Jesus is himself cast out by the powers-that-be. John is the mystical gospelist who preaches the Body of Christ and focuses on the Light – within and without. John's gospel is a history of the interior community. To jump from one to another is…, provoking. Nonetheless, the contrast helps us to begin to see things in a new way.
There is still more that provokes me. Each of the four gospels includes a story in which a woman anoints Jesus. This suggests to us that there is strong evidence for such an occurrence. But the circumstances are different in each instance. In Matthew and Mark it is Jesus’ head that is anointed with the costly oil. In Luke and John it is much more intimate – his feet are anointed. But there is a great contrast between Luke and John as well. Specifically, in Luke, the woman is one who has spent her life in “sin” – leading to the assumption or tradition that it was Mary of Magdala that anointed him. In John, it is more like a sister or a member of his household that offers him this luxurious and potently symbolic sacrament.
So, while it would be simple to adapt John’s gospel to a screenplay – as many movies and TV series have attempted – it’s more important to ponder, what it might mean that Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, friend and hostess of Jesus, wastes the expensive, fragrant, embalming ointment by wiping it with her hair on Jesus’ feet.
A tension is set up in this story between two of Jesus’ intimate acquaintances – Judas and Mary. Judas expresses concern for the poor – a matter close to my own heart – and Luke’s. But Judas is presented by the omniscient narrator in John as being guilty of embezzlement, deception, and greed. Doubt and criticism are cast upon someone whose rhetoric is close to my heart.
Meanwhile, Mary of Bethany – which literally means the weeping one of the house of the poor or house of misery – is affirmed by Jesus for her extravagant, wasteful, inexplicable act of devotion and adoration. This too is close to my heart – the conviction that God is worthy of our submission and the release of that which is most dear to us. Luke’s gospel and the prophet Isaiah, from which it draws often and deeply, make clear the worship that God desires:
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
         to loose the bonds of injustice,
         to undo the thongs of the yoke,
         to let the oppressed go free,
         and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
         and bring the homeless poor into your house;
         when you see the naked, to cover them,
         and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Provoking.
So how do we reconcile these competing and compelling commitments – you might call them personal piety and social holiness? Let us turn to a more recent narrative to suggest an option that could hold great potential for us today in our time and place. John Steinbeck is known for deliberately crafting his novels around classic literary narratives – just as his contemporary James Joyce did in writing Ulysses, for instance, or, as some scholars believe the gospel of Mark, and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, use the structure of the Homeric epics to subvert Greco-Roman values.
One of Steinbeck’s earliest literary successes was the short story cycle Tortilla Flats. He acknowledged its basis in the Arthurian legend cycle, which in turn has obvious roots in Jesus’ relationships with his disciples and Ulysses’ adventures with his crew. In Tortilla Flats, Danny surrounds himself with the down and out of society, an odd assortment of misfits, providing them a safe place in which to live – a refuge from the harsh world around them. They happen to be unskilled laborers…, like the disciples – and also drunks.
Into this community enters an even odder misfit they call Pirate. Most of this band work only to drink and would rather steal than work. Pirate has a higher motivation. His ailing dog recovers after Pirate prays to St. Francis to heal him. In response, Pirate vows to dedicate a golden candlestick in the church, and he saves his earnings twenty-five cents at a time toward the $250 cost of the candlestick. Eventually the other men get caught up in this project and find themselves on their knees with Pirate in the sanctuary at the dedication.
Is it too much to see in this act an expression of fidelity, community, devotion, and gratitude that has the potential to transform lives? How might the lives of these wayward men be transformed – even redeemed – by this act of worship? I’m not suggesting that the church universal, or any particular church, or even this particular congregation, is the only setting for lives to be transformed by the circumstances that surround an act of sacramental, sacrificial devotion. But what if that were the case?
What if we saw our mission as the reconciliation of these two holy impulses – the love of God and the love of all that God loves? Must we not choose to love Jesus and love the poor? Is this not the discipleship that Jesus’ calls us to – in both Luke and John – in both the compassionate and the mystical gospel?
To provoke literally means to call forth. So I am provoked – called forth – in response to the scandalous worship demonstrated by Mary as well as the scandalous poverty of those who are systemically trapped in cycles of disadvantage, disease, and disempowerment. Most often we are a little too tepid and proper in both our good works and in our good worship, as if there is not quite enough grace to go around.
As I listened to Pastor Leigh’s sermon last week, it occurred to me that the prodigal father’s mysterious and compassionate response to both of his sons only makes sense when we consider the unending abundance of grace. So maybe it’s a good thing and a God thing – the placement of this momentary departure into John’s gospel and the provocation it elicits between Judas and Mary. Following on the heels of the message of extravagant grace, which only appears to be wasteful, is this message that giving ourselves away to poor must be deeply grounded in giving ourselves away to God.
Jesus says, “Follow me.”
“Come and see.”
And then he turns his face toward Jerusalem – to give himself away – to provoke punishment…, and then to provoke grace.




[i] Gary Wills, What the Gospels Meant (New York: Viking, 2007).