Saturday, July 25, 2009

Good Friday Reflection: "I Crucified You"

First published on APRIL 8, 2009 1:50PM


I am posting this reflection now so there will be plenty of time for folks to read it before the end of Good Friday, the 10th of April. Let me make the usual disclaimer that this Reflection is written by a Christian for Christians, for those who are on a spiritual quest and are inquiring about the tenets of Christianity, and for all others who may find value in it if it helps them understand Christian belief a bit better.

Faith is a given in this Reflection. Therefore, there is no intention here to carry on dialogues about the validity of faith, the reality of events, or a general discussion of the merits of faith, or the lack thereof. Such discussions can be originated on other blogs.

It is my belief that Christians belong at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. But it isn't the place where most people want to spend much time, and so Good Friday is also a time when many modern Protestant Churches do not even have services.

This phenomena of mass avoidance of Good Friday and spending time at the Cross is not all that new. In fact, the Bible tells us that most of the disciples were nowhere near the Cross when Jesus died.

Only His mother and the beloved disciple appear to have been close enough to actually hear him from the Cross, and that is told to us in only one of the four Gospels. There were some women who were his followers watching from a distance.

As for the inner core of believers, the ones who would become known as the apostles, most had gone into hiding, fearing that they would be subject to the same fate if they ventured out.

Peter had already denied three times that he even knew Jesus, let alone that he was Jesus' disciple. Peter did that even before he knew that Jesus would be sentenced to death.

The foot of the Cross may not be a comfortable place for a believer. But a believer should be there, comfortable or not. And that is the rub. We do not much like discomfort.

But, if we view it, as too many Christians today do, as simply as history, something that happened long ago, an evil deed perpetrated by others, then while we would not want to waste our time at the Cross, it would not bother us much if we did.

Most Christians are not so callous, and believe that this was a legal murder, this crucifixion, an evil deed perpetrated long, long ago by others. But along with that belief is the unstated idea the his crucifixion has nothing to do with us who were born 2000 years later.

They see us as benefiting from his sacrifice on the Cross. They do not see us as having any role in his death.

After all, didn't Jesus say, quite clearly, from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Yes, he did. Even the most Biblically illiterate Christian knows that much. "Father, forgive them" is exactly what he said.

Hearing that, what should we think? Well, one of the things many Christians have been thinking about for 2000 years is trying to identify just who "them" is. The irony in that, of course, is that Christianity has spent 2000 years concentrating so hard on trying to decide who "them" is, that the true point of his forgiveness is lost on us.

Many of us cannot understand implications of the prayer of forgiveness made by Jesus from the Cross because it never occurs to us that it might be directed at us. After all, Jesus says it is directed at "them," the ones who were killing Him. And that was 2000 years ago!

In our subconscious obsession with distancing ourselves from the Cross even faithful Christians have sought to define "them" as almost anyone other than "us." It takes a courageous Christian to hold a mirror to his face and admit, "them is me!"

Through the centuries many Christians have never actually come to grips with the truth that it is our sin for which he died. Not just for the sin of those who lived back then, but for the sins of the entire world, past, present and future.

The Bible is crystal clear that Jesus came to save not just some people at some particular time and place but to save all people at all times and in all places. And Jesus' prayer from the Cross is proof of that when we understand that we are included in those for whom Jesus asked forgiveness.

But, as a result of our failure to see our own sin, we have, over the centuries, looked for and found scapegoats: , the Romans, Pilate, the Sanhedrein, the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Chief Priests. But, mostly, Christianity has thrown a blanket indictment over one people, "THE JEWS!"

This tragic failure at introspection lead, in the middle of the last century, to the greatest holocaust that the world has ever known. And even today it leads to ungodly prejudice and anti-semitism, spewing bile-filled hatred at the people God called his "chosen."

The Jews were chosen not for themselves alone, but because they believed in the one God who blessed them so that they could be a blessing to all people. Most antisemites conveniently overlook that fact.

Our Jewish Messiah, the one we call the Christ, this Jesus of Nazareth, a simple Jewish rabbi, this Savior we worship and adore, did not blame the Jews. Nor did he condemn Pilate, or the Romans, or the Chief Priests, or any single individual or group.

He could have condemned them. In his place I imagine that we would condemn lots of people. But he said, plainly and clearly, "Father, forgive them."

Yet, to the shame of the Church, we have too often indulged ourselves in our fear of facing the Cross. We have feared looking into the mirror and having to say, "Oh My Lord Jesus, I crucified you!"

Thankfully, a few Christians have thought it through, have figured out that Jesus died for the sins of all of us, have understood that we, in every generation, crucify Jesus by our sin.

Listen to the words of the great 17th century hymnist, Johann Heermann, in his anthem of confession, "Ah, Holy Jesus" written at a time of great tribulation, during the Thirty Years War.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty- Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
'Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life's oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For our atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
We don't sing that song very much in most Churches any more. And in the churches that do, the words are often quite different, taking the sting of our guilt out of the song.
Why do you suppose that is? Does it hit too close to home? I can come up with no other answer than, "Yes. It hits too close to home. And there is no need to discomfort us right before the beauty of Easter."

But, unless we Christians can gather at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, and say with the hymnist, "I Crucified You," then we will never be able to feel the guilt that we need to confess. Neither will we be able to feel the pain Jesus felt on that cross, nor the love he offered to us.

Guilt is not something modern folk like to talk about. Nor is pain. Nor is forgiveness that comes to us through pain. And so, increasingly, much of the Protestant Church today flies through Palm Sunday and skips to Easter Sunday with only a small bow in the direction of the Cross.

One thing I am very pleased with in the Moravian Church that I served for the last five years of my ministry in is the Moravians still hold with the old idea that Holy Week means something.

And so Holy Week Readings are held each evening, up to and including Good Friday, consisting of readings from the Gospels and singing hymns that pull us into an understanding of our participation in the events leading to and ending in the crucifixion.

On that Cross of pain, Jesus, the one we call the Christ, the Messiah, offered us forgiveness of our sin, our personal sin. If we can begin, this Good Friday, to feel the guilt, to comprehend the pain, to sense the love of Christ for us, then we may be privileged to understand the real meaning of his offer of grace.

"Father, forgive them" is a singular act of grace bought for us, once, for all, by one who hung on a Cross and loved us enough to forgive us.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" is also a prayer. Never forget that. It was Jesus' prayer to the One who could grant forgiveness for the sake of His Son. And God heard Jesus' prayer.

By the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the one who loves us enough to forgive us, God, in fact, did forgive us. By raising Jesus, God did reconcile us to Himself through the shed blood of his Son.

I have always thought the the name Good Friday is such an bittersweet name to attach to the day of crucifixion. Bitter in the pain and ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God. But sweet in the fruit of that sacrifice, which is the promise of salvation to those who believe on him.

Through his sacrafice on the Cross, Jesus offers a special grace to those who believe in him. That grace is that they shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.

My Good Friday prayer for myself and for all who call themselves Christians is "Father, forgive us, for we know now what we did."

May all of you, my dear friends on OS, find peace and love, hope and joy, whatever your belief may be.


Financial Disclosure Shows Dr. Summers to be True Insider

First published on APRIL 3, 2009 11:03PM

This is something that you can read the details of on many news sites. That is not why I am posting it.

I have been beating a not so popular drum here for over a month and a half that the President has placed two foxes, Summers and Geithner, into the hen house, and, in turn, Geithner has invited more foxes in to help him keep the hen house in order.

There is nothing quite so clear as having the after the fact release today of Dr. Summers 2008 financial disclosure forms that shows, as Phil Rucker reports in the Washington Post, "Lawrence Summers, the chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, collected roughly $5.2 million in compensation from hedge fund D.E. Shaw over the past year and was paid more than $2.7 million in speaking fees from several troubled Wall Street firms and other organizations."

Not only are the amounts outrageous for giving a speech, some were paid by the very companies that have been and are being bailed out even as you read this. And all of the other firms listed stand to gain enormously IF THE SYSTEM IS PUT BACK ALMOST EXACTLY THE WAY IT WAS BEFORE.

Sam Stein, writing in the Huffington Post, includes the complete released list of recent speaking fees paid by the recipients of the bailout.

Skagen Funds, $60,300, (1/9/2008)

Skagen Funds, $60,300, (1/10/2008)

Skagen Funds, $59,400, (1/11/2008)

JP Morgan, $67,500, (2/1/2008)

Itinera Institute, $62,876 (1/8/2008)

Citigroup, $45,000 (3/3/2008)

Goldman Sachs Co., $135,000, (4/16/2008)

Associon de Bancos de Mexico, $90,000, (4/3/2008)

Lehman Brothers, $67,500, (4/17/2008)

State Street Corporation, $45,000, (4/18/2008)

Siguler Guff & Company, $67,500, (5/7/2008)

Hudson Institute, $10,000, (05/28/2008)

Citigroup, $54,000, (5/30/2008)

Investec Bank, $157,500, (6/13/2008)

Goldman Sachs, $67,500, (6/18/2008)

Lehman Brothers, $67,500, (7/30/2008)

Tata Consultance Services, $67,500, (9/21/2008)

State Street Corporation, $112,500, (10/2/2008)

McKinsey and Company, $135,000, (10/19/2008)

Charles River Ventures LLC, $67,500, (11/112008)

Pricewaterhouse Coopers, $67,500 (9/9/2008)

American Chamber of Commerce In Argentina, $135,000 (10/7/2008)

American Express, $67,500 (5/7/2008)

To refresh your memories, Chase got $25 billion, Citigroup $50 billion, and some other minor players are also listed. On top of this he made $5.2 million in salary from the hedge fund, D. E. Shaw. You will recall that the Treasury has now come up with a program to encourage to hedge and other private funds, like Shaw, to "invest and risk" their money buying distressed or toxic assets from the banks at the wonderful ratio of 7% risk for the purchasing fund, 7% by the Government and the remainder insured by the Government. Pretty sweet deal, eh?

My ire is not just that Dr. Summers made much more in one speech than me and the neighbors on both sides will make in the next year combined, or that he also made over 40 more speeches to schools, trade associations and other interest groups while he was waiting to be part of Obama's transition team, but that this is so clearly a case of putting in positons of great power men who come from and will go back to the very institutions that got us into this mess in the first place.

It is well past time that we stop saying that we need to let the President have the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because we KNOW that the President's policy is being created by the foxes to rebuild the institutions of the other foxes, their friends, that got us into this mess in the first place. And we can be confident that these insiders will get lucrative jobs in those very organizations when they leave government.

We need to take over these banks and AIG and break them up and resell them. Call it what you will. If it is socialism, so be it. It will only be a few months of socialism. But what it really is is TRUST BUSTING. And while we are at it we can seek legislation to turn the Fed into a National Bank and turn Fanny and Freddie into agencies within HUD.

Now, let's say that would not pass muster in Congress. And that we can't break up all those banks. The hell we can't. The laws are on the books to do it. What we need it the political will to throw out the foxes and replace them with people who are not beholden to these oligarchs to reinstate the oligarchy that our financial system has become. Even if we only broke up one or two of them does anyone think for a minute that will not give the President enormous leverage over the remainder?

The President is getting some bad advice and he seems oblivious to the fact that he is playing into the oligarchs hands. We need a complete overhaul, not a program of handing out Thunderbird to a bunch of financial winos.


The Full Monte as interviewed by Cartouche

First published on MARCH 27, 2009 9:06PM

Cartouche writes:

In case you didn’t know, are new to OS, or have been living in a viaduct somewhere, Monte Canfield is the unofficial official pastor, confidante and friend extraordinaire of OS. As a rule, we have a very kind and generous community but nobody epitomizes this more than Monte.

When I first joined OS in late November of 08, I observed him from the sidelines for nearly two months before I had the courage to e-mail him and introduce myself. There you have it; even I have a shy streak sometimes too.

But back to Monte. From the minute we agreed to embark on the journey, he has proven time and again how kind and gentle a spirit he has coupled with a “real” life history, a genuine interest in others, a fabulous liberal streak, a warm heart and an intellect to match. You will find his comments all over OS, and the first thing you will notice is that each of them is always thoughtful.

As with the other interviews, the first section of four questions was “non-negotiable” and all the parties that signed up or agreed to this one (an interview with me) were required to respond to all of them. From there, I presented it like a Chinese menu whereby each person could pick four questions from the remaining two sections. I was hoping Monte would pick the boxer or briefs question but he didn’t so, I have included a couple of bonus questions that you might not find in any other interview with any other member of OS. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Full Monte”.


I got here because I was irritated with the ad page about OS that came up every time I clicked on Salon. Even when I clicked through the OS page, it still took a while to get the Salon page to load and that irritated me even more. Anyway, one day I decided to find out what this Open Salon was that was "destroying my life", and I clicked through to OS. That first time I read posts for four straight hours. And I really wanted to comment on some of them so I joined. It never crossed my mind that I would ever write here. I just wanted to read and comment now and then.

But this was in the middle of the election campaign and I was very worried about the possibility of the assassination of then Sen. Obama. So on October 21 I wrote my first post about how I, a mere 23 year old, was working in the Executive Office of the President the day that President Kennedy was shot, and how I was the one to inform the Budget Director and others, including some White House staff. Having lived through a series of years of one assassination after another I wanted people to understand that it was not an impossibility today.

From that time forward I haven't stopped writing.


I'm not much into being "proud" of anything that I do, but I do think that some things are better than other things I write. I put a lot of research and careful writing into my religious Reflections because I try to write them so lay people can read them easily. I enjoyed writing my Motorcycle Memoirs series because it is true and funny and I lived it just the way I wrote it.

But I really found myself "living within" the series about how my Mom met my step dad toward the end of WWII. I called it "A WWII Romance". I was so into it that I could literally visualize it in my head even as the story left my fingers; and when what I wrote wasn't exactly what I saw in my head, the rewriting and editing were almost instantaneous.

The writing of it surprised me by bringing up emotions that were long suppressed. I knew that I was the only still living person who could tell this story, and that if I didn't tell it then it would be lost, not that anybody else would care if that happened, but I knew I would. To my mind it is one of the great love stories of any time. The characters are very ordinary, and yet also very vulnerable and complex -- but that is exactly how I remember them. So I guess I could be "proud" of that series, but mostly I am thankful that I was able to write it.


The link below is to the last post in the series "A WWII Romance." The links to all the prior posts are at the beginning of that post. While each post can be read on its own, the only way to really understand it and feel the emotion of it is to read it from the beginning.


I think that I have been pretty blessed in terms of readers. Most of my work has been read at about the level which I though it would be read when I posted it. I have no big disappointments in that regard. As I know more people here, and vice verse, my readership has picked up. I am surely glad that it hasn't gone down!

When I first posted what would turn out to be a very long, ten part series on some of my early motorcycle experiences, which is really pretty funny after the first two introductory chapters, considering that a retired pastor wrote it, I was probably hoping for a larger readership of it. But I was also cognizant that motorcycling memoirs, funny or not, would not be everyone's cup of tea. You can see what I mean, can't you? "Ah, yes, nothing I would like more that read a bunch of posts written by a preacher about a couple of drunk bikers. Damn. How did I miss it?"

I called the series "Motorcycles: A Magnificent Obsession." If anyone wants to go back and look at it the link to the first of the ten posts is here:


No one event or person or author has particularly inspired my writing. I am too eclectic for that and my posting reflects it. I say my "posting" because a lot of the stuff, some would say the fluff, that I post really has essentially nothing to do with writing. I do not see my blog as being constrained to just writing. Rather it is a playground for me and my friends.

Nor do I have a plan about what to write. My mind doesn't work that way. I post about life, and I write about life, all facets of life. I write about things that are going on now, things that happened decades ago, and even about things that I hope might happen in the future. And I never know very much in advance what or when I will write. I don't have a style or a writing hero. Nothing like that.

I have co-authored a couple of books and edited a couple dozen more; and have written professional magazine articles, speeches, sermons, testimony before Congress, and innumerable reports to the Congress and to the President. Writing has been a major part of my professional life.

So while I was never employed as a "writer" I would have been fired on the spot if I could not write. And some areas are natural areas for me to write about. I like to write about things I know a lot about. I cannot abide the thought of writing about things that I really haven't a clue about but think that other people should think I do. I see far too much of that phony "expert" writing. That translates into being so full of oneself that you have no real clue as to what the hell you are doing.

So the areas I tend to be comfortable with are politics, economics, government, theology, religion, Christianity, motorcycles, remembrances of times past, personal and family memoirs, OS as a community, and some eras and forms of music. But chances are that, unless it is pure fluff, you will not find me writing about something that I have not studied and/or lived and that I am passionate about.


I am not sure what OS thinks it is, but it is much more than Kerry thinks it is trying to be. I like good writing. But I hate to be told by the writer than he or she is good, and I hate it when writers write drivel and haven't a clue that they just did that. So I think that OS will always be composed of very good writers and clueless hacks and everything in between. That's what being "Open" means. Open means not having any writing standards for membership. You can be as dumb as dirt and get into OS. Or you can be so smart that you actually glow with intelligence and get into OS.

And I believe that since that is true then something more than "writing" has to hold OS together. I believe that something is the sense of community, of family if you will, that grows up within subgroups within OS. We never acknowledge such sub groups since someone is always railing out about cliques, but they exist nonetheless. But they aren't cliques or clubs or even motorcycle gangs. They are just groups of people who like each other for more than just the writing but also for the real life person behind the words.

These groups overlap and change and flow and merge and split. But we all have them and we draw strength and approbation from them, and we can grow as we learn about each other and share our knowledge. If anyone believes that OS does not have this family sense then he or she just isn't looking. When something bad happens to any OSer and they write about it, then just watch the concern, the caring and the feeling, the genuine feeling of solidarity with that person expressed in the comments. And when something good happens, the same thing happens. People are happy for the poster, giving her kudos, and congrats, and virtual pats on the back.

That, for me, is every bit as important a truth about OS as is the writing.


It never outright took a bite out of me. It must have been nibbling and nibbling and I finally decided to scratch the itch. And that just made it worse and I can't stop scratching. First bug that ever tried to infect me by nibbling me into submission that I am glad I didn't kill.


The writer that expresses the sense of the need for a moral imperative to help improve this almost hopeless mess we have made of our God given lives is Walker Percy. Percy died in 1990 but I grew up in an age when I had a standing order at the local bookstore for his next book.

I still see Percy as the next great southern writer after Faulkner. He was deeply influenced by existentialist philosophy and the work of Søren Kierkegaard as well as some of the Russian existentialist writers. Though trained as a medical doctor, after a bout with tuberculosis and the long recovery entailed in that, he decided to write about people's souls rather than try to repair their bodies. At the same time he decided to become a Roman Catholic and was a devout believer that science cannot account for the truly important things that this life reveals to us.

As I write this I can feel how much of what I write about him is what I feel about me. Some of his best works for openly and brutally describing the insanity of human existence, and yet holding on to hope for the better angels within us are The Last Gentleman, The Moviegoer, The Second Coming, and my favorite, The Thanatos Syndrome. These are all fiction pieces.

Of his nonfiction works, many of which are really interviews and copies of his correspondence, two that he actually sat down and wrote stand out for me: How to Be an American Novelist in Spite of Being Southern and Catholic and Novel Writing in an Apocalyptic Time.


Robert B. Parker if you mean a living author. I would spend the entire time trying to understand how he can write such seamless and realistic dialogue. His plots can be thin and sometimes repetitious, but his sense of writing dialogue is a thing of beauty. Nobody alive touches him. And, ironically, because he is a writer of popular crime fiction I would imagine I am the only person on the planet who consciously appreciates how very, very good he is at that part of his craft.

Interestingly, the only writer of dialogue that I think was better than Parker is another crime writer who died in 2005. I worshiped at the alter of his dialogues. Salvatore Albert Lombino wrote his more "serious" work under the name, Evan Hunter. But he sold more of his police procedural 87th Precinct novels under the name of Ed McBain. He was the master of the procedural and nobody has come close to writing police procedurals as well as he did.

But the dialogues in the books written under the Evan Hunter name, such as The Blackboard Jungle, Strangers When We Met, Mothers and Daughters, and Nobody Knew They Were There are pure delight. They are effortless and true to character and subtle in so many ways. They are a feast for the eyes, demand that they be read aloud, and carry me as close to the heaven reserved for great writers of dialogue as I will ever get.

So if it is a living author make it Robert B. Parker. Otherwise, Evan Hunter.


Two times of day are the most likely. In the late morning, after I manage to get down the stairs and take my meds, I head to the Lazy Boy to get my feet up and start getting the swelling out and getting a fan on them so they will begin to cool down while the pain meds start to kick in. That is usually a three hour proposition. So the first period is between 11 am and 2 or 3 pm. Then again after Sue goes to bed I am back on OS from about 11 pm to 3 am.

Both periods are not exclusively OS because I usually am listening to music in the background or watching news shows on TV at the same time. If I notice something new and interesting on TV I will turn up the sound and watch that segment giving it all my attention. When I am on OS I am normally reading and commenting. When I write I do it in the same time periods but I do it in a word processing program so OS is not on. Actually, nothing else is on when I write, just me, my thoughts and my laptop.


Interesting question. For almost 20 years now 100% of what I write is exactly reflective of me in real life. I consider my OS involvement to be a major part of my "real" life. But I am who I seem to be in all the things I do. "What you see is what you get" pretty much covers how I am.

There was a time of almost three decades when I used several different personas, mostly to hide the fact that I was a heavy drinker. So there was the person that drank kept separate from the one who worked and yet a third person that was the face presented to my family. Those never were very successful at hiding my problem once booze had me by the throat, but I tried to keep up the facade. I also realized that I didn't like any of the three people who were 'me" and once free of the booze I promised God and me that I would be just Monte, no hiding, no pretending, no bull. I am a much happier person for having done that.


I would say two things. First, thank you so much for creating and sticking with the OS playground. It has become one of my great loves.

But, second, I would ask them to get serious about making the OS platform much, much more user friendly, paying attention to what we users know that we need. The PM system is primitive beyond description, there are serious glitches just trying to type material into the "new post" boxes, the comment system is a joke, ditto the folder system for keeping track of your PMs. If the PMs in your folders go beyond one page you can't even access behind the first page. You cannot manage your folders at all: alphabetize, drop folders, rename them or change them in any way. Mostly my frustration is that you can send PM after PM to them about a problem and not get even the courtesy of a reply. The Administration/User interface is functionally bankrupt.


There are no keys to my mind kingdom. It is always open to you. If you took a peek inside you would find exactly what you would think you would find. No surprises, no hidden agendas, no changes from what you see now. Rereading that I would have to say that is not 100% true.

The one exception is that over the years as a pastor, a professional counselor and just as a trusted friend, many, many people have confided in me some of the most intimate parts of their lives. Much of this has been done at times when they were very vulnerable and at the end of their rope. I consider that to be a great honor and privilege that they have given me. I have pledged to them that what they said to me stays with me. It always has and I will never violate that trust. So there is that small part of my mind that is off limits. Not because of me, but because that part belongs to them.



The specific answer to this one is "No". I have always felt that what I do in the name of God was far more important than how I got to the place where I could do it. And I no longer remember how long Cliff's Notes are, but I will make this as short an I can. And that is none too short. Sorry. But I blame the question on you! ;-)

The truth is that I was called to go into the ministry a couple of times and turned it down because I was convinced that I could achieve more being in public service. Plus I could not reconcile my alcoholism with being in the ministry. So, after I got sober I was out of government, had had a stint in the NYC/St. Louis corporate world and had owned my own little starving retail business, and I had no more excuses. My business partner retired from our failing business, and then died within a month of that. That woke me up to the shortness of this life and the sometimes unexpectedness of its conclusion.

About a month after that I was lying in bed reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity long after Sue had fallen to sleep and the house was dead still. A voice, as clear as if it were coming from right next to me, said simply, "Its not too late." I about jumped out of my skin and started looking for a radio or TV or something I left on, and at the neighbor's to see if they were up and talking out in their driveway. Nothing.

So I thought about what it could mean and about who it must have come from, and decided, reluctantly over a period of months, that what was "not too late" was to devote the rest of my life to God. I was at that point 50 years old. So I spent the next months going around to people I respected, in the church, friends, former business and government colleagues, telling them about this event; and about my "stupid" idea that it meant that I should devote the rest of my life to God and go to seminary. I got an earful and it was always essentially the same message: "I was wondering why you waited so long."

So, that Fall I enrolled in Eden Theological Seminary, got in the back seat, told God that I had quit driving and that he could take me wherever he wanted me to go. And I never looked back. Lest some think me to be some kind of kook that thinks that God talks directly to me all the time and helps me fill out my grocery list, that was the only time that I have experienced anything like that, never before or since.


Actually, this one is pretty easy and you can read a written version of what I would be preaching on this, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. The words would be quite different because I have found that preparing a sermon and writing a Reflection on the very same thing are quite different exercises. But I would be preaching the third of the four Lenten Reflection themes that I have just published here on OS in the series "The Death of the Messiah."

If anybody is still interested in them, and we aren't through Lent yet so it is quite OK to still read the series and be "timely," the link to the first of the four is below. And this is one series that you really need to read all four of the posts to get a reasonable understanding of what I am talking about.


I don't want to discourage anyone from doing the kinds of things I try to do here on OS and in the rest of my life. I believe that anybody can be empathetic and reach out to others. We all are called to do that by Christ and he would not call everybody to some activity that could not be universally done. And once someone decides to act upon this concept, whether they are Christian, or of another faith, or of no faith at all, they can be taught how to be more effective in their ministry to others.

If one doesn't think about what he or she is doing, for example, it is possible to think that you are really helping people when what they feel is that you are looking down on them, feel that they are inferior, or that they are unable to care for themselves, etc. It is really easy to step all over someone's self esteem and have no clue that you are doing it. So, yes, you can be taught how to respect the integrity of those you serve, and how to love and show concern to people that you may have thought you would not ever feel any positive thing about in your life.

What cannot be taught is the compassion that would drive you to want to reach out to others. I can teach the mind but I cannot teach the heart. Some people have a heart for service and others are clueless. The clueless are not bad people, per se, they just do not have it in their makeup to go that extra yard to help others.

The problem is the sense of sacrifice. If you are unwilling to sacrifice something that you otherwise would be doing, or sacrifice something of yourself, your time, your talent or your treasure, then I cannot teach that. But, if you have a compassionate heart that is inclined to help others, then, absolutely, you can be taught how to do it well.

Thanks, Cartouche, for all the work of doing all of these interviews. It always helps when we can learn about each other just a little more. It helps break down barriers and open up new opportunities for friendship and mutual growth. I salute your efforts. God bless.


Rolling Stone : The Big Takeover: AIG/Wall Street/US Govt.

first published MARCH 21, 2009 5:37PM

Below is a link to an important article in the current Rolling Stone magazine. I was made aware of it by a very close friend, a Republican, who is as sick as I am of the whole fiasco we are now witnessing.

Democrats do not hold a monoply on concern for the nation on this dispicable demonstration of greed not only gone wild, but being rewarded and reinforced by the powers in government that be, be they Republican or Democratic.

Matt Taibbi wrote the article. If you know his work then you know it will be a quality article when you read it. It is clear, understandable and long.

If you think you already know all about the mess, don't read this article.

If you like to talk about the financial mess and don't want to be bothered with the facts: its history or how the arcane details work, don't read this article.

If you wish that you understood better just what the hell is going on, how we got where we are, and what the hell the terms mean in common sense English, then get a cup of coffee or tea, allow yourself a half hour of non-soundbite life and read it. Carefully.

I guarantee you will understand this mess far, far better than you do now. You won't like it, but you will understand. And you will not be as sanguine about what we are doing about it as you might have been.

It isn't pretty. And, unfortunately, it bears out something I have been saying so long that nobody listens any more: Our good President who clearly wants so much to fix the system has been sucked into putting the foxes in charge of the hen house. And the hens are us.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us!" --- Pogo

Let me add one thing. The reason we are in this mess is in part because we have been sucked into believing that all the machinations that have gone on in AIG, the Wall Street banks, the Fed and the Treasury, etc., are just too hard to understand. Over and over Mike points out how people have accepted being rebuffed by the banking and insurance "experts" and by the government experts (who are often essentially the same people) because they accepted the answer "Well, you really won't be able to understand it. Just trust us. We know what we are doing." Time and again people who were obligated to say "Bull Shit!!" just said, "Oh, you are right."


The Economy: What about our PERSONAL GREED?

First published on MARCH 18, 2009 3:45PM

I am not going to spend much time writing this rant. I am posting my "first draft." But this is something that has been building in my gut for weeks now.

The bottom line is that I am getting irritated at ME and a host of other liberals who have targeted the blame of our economic mess almost entirely on Wall Street and the greed of the rich.

I believe that the majority of our economic problems today have to be laid at the feet of the rich and greedy. You will get no argument for me on that. I have loudly joined that chorus. Many times. There is no defense for greed and lying to the public. None. But we helped them to it, big time.

There is no defense for the middle and working classes for listening to the lies and believing them.

If we argue that there was no way we in the classes below the rich had no frigging idea that we were making bad decision after bad decision then we are saying that the vast majority of us are just plain stupid. And maybe we are.

But if we are then how can we lay it all on Wall Street's greed and stupidity?

During the housing bubble there were dozens of people saying that this is a house of cards. The collapse of the housing bubble was not, as so many like to say, unforseen. Go back and read about it before it happened. Many people predicted it. Nobody was listening. Why? Greed. I'll get mine now and let tomorrow fend for itself.

Now I know that we all can cite individual examples where normal people made bad decisions and truly did not know that they were making them.

But are we going to say that the entire nation is that stupid?

Regardless, the entire nation has been on a feeding frenzy:

of cheap credit,

maxing out credit accounts,

buying now and assuming you can pay for it later,

buying houses that the shysters said you could afford when in your gut you knew that you could not,

getting ARM mortgages that there was no chance you could ever hang with the payments when they increased,

refusing to settle for sound, lower paying investments when the big money was in the hedge funds, internet stocks and high risk mutual funds,

assuming that the market and jobs and supply and demand would always increase together indefinitely when that has never happened in history,

unwillingness to defer buying almost anything on credit when you knew that you had absolutely nothing saved,

mortgaging your children's future to a wide screen LC hi def TV and a monster SUV when you should have been putting money aside for their education,

assuming that you were the most valuable employee and that no matter what happened you would never be let go,

assuming, therefore, that you would always have health insurance,

working on the assumption that your 401K was something to play the stock market with instead of realizing that, while it is a poor substitute for a pension, treating it like the pension it is would mean investing in unglamorous but safe investments.

These are just a few that come to mind instantly. You can add dozens more.

Add to that the incorrect assumption that there is no real connection between Wall Street and Main Street and failing to recognize that Main Street has its own "mini-me" developers, speculators and fools who do stupid things like buying up property and converting it into condos assuming that someone will buy them, when the demographics said they would not.

The rich get richer in part because the masses who can do something about that don't try. We are trying now but we have elected a President who wants to change the system very much, but who also put in charge of the change the people who were part of the problem in the first place. That will go down as one of President Obama's greatest mistakes.

And even when working and middle class people do try to change the system, they are simultaneously buying into the current system of buy now, pay later. They are talking one game and living another.

The 95 % never wake up until its too late, and maybe not even then.

Frugality and savings are still dirty words. Buying it when you can pay for it is something too many of us think only fools do.

Instead, having several credit cards and maxing them out even though they carry interest rates from 15 to 30% somehow is the norm.

Deferred gratification is one of the most sophisticated concepts that man has ever devised for living a fruitful and satisfying life. Being able to say no to instant gratification in order to have a greater gratification down the road is an art that we all have lost.

So, bottom line, Wall Street is the blame for much of what has happened to the economy. But we need to take a hard look not only at Wall Street and Main Street but also at the person that looks back at us in the mirror when we get up in the morning.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Death of the Messiah, Part 4, Final Part: Luke's Gospel

First published MARCH 16, 2009 6:18PM


The Death of the Messiah, Part 4: Luke's Gospel

Jesus: "Caring, Compassionate and Concerned"


In Part One I introduced this series on The Death of the Messiah. I pointed out that, while we may think there is only one story of the death of the Messiah, repeated four times, in fact there are four different renditions of the story of Jesus' death, both in the details and in the portrait of Jesus presented. I also said that there is also a fifth rendition: the one that we create from the other four.

These Gospel stories were divinely inspired and God was therefore both mindful of the inconsistencies in the stories, and intentional in his/her inspiration, in that God wants us to be able to see Jesus' death from four unique vantage points.

Therefore, we do not improve on the Gospel accounts by trying to harmonize them, regardless how tempting it is to try to do so. Ultimately, all attempts at harmonizing the Gospels fail and never give a true picture of what God is saying to us in those sacred texts.

This fact, however, gives ulcers to many who believe that the stories of Jesus must all be clear, concise, neat and without factual disagreement.

Part of the problem for such people is that they insist on viewing the Gospels as history, which they are not. They are theology told in narratives, stories, and are kerygma, proclamation of the Good News of Jesus the Christ.

In Part Two, using two major examples of the differences in three of the Gospel accounts of the Death of the Messiah, we explored my contention that it is good to have four differing Gospel accounts.

Having four different depictions of both the narratives of the stories and then seeing how Jesus reacts to essentially the same events allows us to see that Jesus is a far more complex character than the portrait we often hold of him.

In Part Three we looked in some detail at Mark's Gospel portrayal of Jesus and of the events leading up to his Crucifixion. Mark, the earliest Gospel written, portrays a scene of stark human abandonment of Jesus. Mark portrays a very human, very vulnerable Jesus.

His portrayal of Jesus, the disciples, and all of the actors in this drama of death, shows people in all of their human frailty, in their evil plotting and their despicable actions. In the end, Mark shows that we all, even Jesus, have no choice but to depend on God.

, with Part Four, we finish this series of Lenten Reflections looking at the very different portrayal of Jesus and the events leading to his crucifixion in the Gospel according to Luke.

Luke wants us to see a Jesus who is at once aware of his approaching death, but also who clearly worries about others far more than he worries about his own fate. Luke's Jesus is "Caring, Compassionate and Concerned" about others.

Just as we have not looked at Matthew because it is so much like Mark in its portrayal of Jesus, so too we will not look at John because it is so very different than the three "synoptic" Gospel accounts: Mark, Luke and Matthew, that it would take a whole new series to explain it. Perhaps I can do that next year.

In the meantime, hopefully, you now will, using the same methods used here, be able to do your own reading and enhance your appreciation of Matthew and John.

Thus, as we now come to the end of this series, we have learned that each of the four Gospel accounts paint a part of Jesus that appeals to different people, and even to the same person at different stages in his or her life.

The genius of the Gospel accounts of the Death of the Messiah is not that they agree in the details but rather in that they give four different, yet surprisingly clear, portraits of the Messiah that help to broaden our understanding of him.

The Passion as told in the Gospel according to Luke

Sandwiched between the very stark picture of abandonment which is the hallmark of Mark's portrayal of the Death of the Messiah and the triumphal portrayal of Jesus in John's Gospel - is the portrayal of St. Luke. Luke clearly relies heavily on Mark, but many of the details are different.

While Luke shares another common written source with Matthew, called simply "Q," Luke also clearly has his own sources of information which have been handed down by eyewitnesses and others over the decades since the crucifixion. These sources are unknown to either Mark or Matthew.

Molding at least three sources into a coherent Gospel is clearly a task of great importance to Luke. He tells us in the opening of his Gospel that he desires to "write an orderly account" of the events of Jesus' life, that we might know the truth concerning the good news of Jesus Christ. Luke makes it clear right at the beginning that he is writing theology, not history.

And it is clear when reading Luke and comparing his account of the Death of the Messiah with the other gospels that Luke has a different theological agenda than any of the other three.

Luke wants us to see a Christ who is at once aware of his approaching death, but also a Christ who clearly worries about others far more than he worries about his own fate. Luke's Jesus is "Caring, Compassionate and Concerned" about others.

In order to really understand Luke's portrait of Jesus' death it is necessary for us to remember that Luke is a consistent writer. He wrote not only his Gospel account of Jesus but also the only account of the very early church known as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Book of Acts flows seamlessly from the final scenes of the Resurrection at the end of his Gospel.

Nothing about Luke's reporting of the Death of the Messiah is inconsistent with what he has told us about Jesus, his disciples, and the Christian community as reported in both his Gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles.

Thus, the Jesus who is accused by the Jewish leaders of "perverting our nation" is the same Jesus whose infancy and upbringing, Luke tells us, was in total fidelity to the Law of Moses. The Jesus who is accused of "forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar" is the Jesus who has declared the opposite, to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's".

These, and other incidents in his life prior to his arrest, highlight a major theme in Luke's description of the Passion: that Jesus is totally misunderstood by all authorities, is innocent and is unjustly accused and killed.

Likewise, the Jesus who shows such great concern and compassion for others during his Passion is the same Jesus who is already compassionate; showing concern for the widow of Nain and praising in parables the mercy shown by the father to the prodigal son and to the man beset by thieves on the way to Jericho.

Thus, we should not be surprised by the Jesus who shows forgiveness toward those who crucified him.

When we are told by Luke that, after the Temptation, Satan leaves Jesus, "until an opportune time," we should not be surprised that Satan returns to inhabit Judas, his betrayer at the end of Jesus' life.

In Luke it is much more than personal greed and sin that motivates Judas, it is the work of the Devil himself. Luke is so clear about this that one could argue that Judas was innocent of any sin, because, literally, "the devil made him do it."

Unlike Mark, who emphasizes the dullness and failures of the disciples, Luke finds them attentive and trying to learn, if stumbling from time to time. Luke, for example, never mentions that the disciples fled at the time of trial. In fact, while not at the cross itself, Luke places them, with the women, waiting and watching in the distance.

Nor will they flee after his death and head for home in Galilee as in the other Gospels, but they will await his return in Jerusalem, where Jesus will appear. And later, apostles derided in Mark and Matthew will appear as major Christian leaders in the Book of Acts.

Even the way Jesus behaves during his passion will set the example for how others will behave in the future, as first Stephen, and later Paul, endure the same cast of adversaries and will respond in the same way when their time comes to bear their crosses. Luke clearly shows this in the Book of Acts.

Therefore, there is a smooth consistency in doing the will of God from the Law of Moses through Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and, ultimately, to the early Church. This consistency in showing the achieving of God's purposes, first through Jesus and then through the Church, is a major theme in Luke's work.

Looking at the Passion itself we see that the scene of prayer and arrest at Gesthemene as described in Luke is far less dramatic and suspenseful when it comes to the actions of the disciples. No words of rebuke are spoken to them.

In fact, just the opposite, for at the Last Supper Jesus has already told them, "You are those who continued with me in my trials." And Jesus has already assured them of a leadership place in Heaven, including responsibilities for judgment of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Therefore, we can not imagine that the disciples will fall away at this late date; and they do not. Even at Gesthemene he does not separate Himself far from them, going only "a stone's throw away" to pray.

Luke describes them as sleeping while Jesus prays, but not falling asleep three times after being admonished to stay awake. Rather they sleep but once, and then only "out of sorrow."

And, when Jesus finds them sleeping he does not harshly rebuke them but shows his concern for them, telling them to get up and pray that they may not come into their own time of trial. Thus, the drama of the scene focuses not on disloyal or cowardly disciples but on the actions of Jesus, which are quite different than those described in Mark.

Unlike in Mark, this Jesus is not one whose soul is sorrowful unto death. Rather, on his knees he prays in subordination to the will of the Father. And, in Luke, that prayer does not go unanswered, for the Father sends an angel to give him strength.

This brings what has been translated into English as "agony" or "anguish" and great drops of sweat like blood fall from him. But for centuries Christians have greatly misinterpreted this dramatic scene because of poorly translating the Greek word, "agonia."

It means the great preparatory tension of an athlete warming up for a great contest. It does not mean fear or pain, as it is often misinterpreted. The angel has given him strength, not weakness.

And, at the arrest, Jesus is very calm; a calmness that bespeaks a foreknowledge on the part of Jesus of what is going to happen. He addresses Judas by name and is in no way surprised to find him here betraying him.

When the slave's ear is cut off by one of the disciples, Jesus, again showing compassion, heals him, and tells the disciples, "No more of this!" As he has shown compassion to his enemies throughout his ministry, so he shows compassion here.

Jesus knows exactly what is happening and, having been strengthened by the angel, is intent on carrying out what he knows to be the will of the Father.

The struggle is great but Jesus is up to the task. The Devil himself occupies Judas, and no underlings come alone to arrest him as in Mark, but rather the chief priests and elders themselves lead the Temple police.

Jesus knows the evil in this, telling them that this is "their" hour, a time of the power of darkness. Yet he also knows that he will overcome it.

As in Mark they arrest Jesus at night. But they take him not to the Chambers of the Sanhedrin but to the High Priest's house, or perhaps the courtyard of that house; the Greek is ambiguous.

In any case, Luke does not identify to which High Priest the house belonged. Nor is there any Sanhedrin trial that night as in Mark, but rather they hold him there, beating him and mocking him, but not asking him any significant questions.

For Luke the highlight of the evening focuses on Peter who has followed him and, as in Mark, denies him three times. Unlike Mark, however, Luke adds a poignant note: "The Lord turned and looked at Peter." And it was then that Peter remembered Jesus' prediction.

This dramatic look is found only in Luke, and is symbolic of Jesus' continuing care for Peter, as he promised the disciples at the Last Supper. They may deny him but he will always be there for them.

When it is day they lead him to the Sanhedrin Council Chambers and question him. Unlike in Mark, Jesus answers ambiguously, but they read enough into his replies to decide to bring him before Pilate.

Unlike in Mark and Matthew, there is no formal Sanhedrin trial; it is simply an interrogation. There are no witnesses called, false or otherwise, and there are no condemnations issued by the Sanhedrin. All they say is that they have heard enough to take him to Pilate.

Here the Sanhedrin acts as prosecutor and inquisitor, not as judge. In Luke there is but one trial and that is before Pilate.

Through it all Jesus is calm and self-composed. He is not like the majestically supreme Jesus portrayed in John's gospel, but rather he exhibits the serenity of one secure in the knowledge that God is in charge, and he is content in the knowledge that he is wholly innocent.

He is prepared to go to his death, if necessary, secure in the knowledge of his unbreakable union with the Father.

Luke gives us many more details of the trial before Pilate than do Mark and Matthew. The chief priests and scribes make more numerous accusations against Jesus than in the other synoptic Gospels, including both religious and political claims.

And, as Luke describes in Acts, Paul will later encounter an almost identical sequence of actors, issues and events in his trials. Thus, an important point is made in Luke: the tone for the bearing of later Christian crosses by faithful disciples is set by Jesus here.

Pilate comes off well in Luke, even if he is ultimately weak, finally giving in to the demands of the crowd, led here by the chief priests and other Jewish leaders. Initially, having heard their complaints, Pilate tells them that he has examined the charges against Jesus and that he finds Jesus guilty of none of them.

Then, hearing that Jesus is a Galilean, he sends Jesus off to Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee, who is in town for the Passover. This sidebar is only present in Luke.

Herod, oddly, is glad to see Jesus because he has heard of him and wants to see some "sign" from him. Jesus does not oblige; and while the chief priests continue to accuse him before Herod, just as they had before Pilate, Herod finds, as did Pilate, nothing against Jesus.

But Herod is miffed at Jesus' silence, so he mocks Jesus by placing an elegant robe on him, and then returns him to Pilate.

Luke tells us that, ironically, from that day forward Pilate and Herod, heretofore enemies, became friends. Thus, even while under such great duress Jesus is seen to be able to influence the healing of relationships, simply by his presence, even between those who mistreat him.

It is in this final series of scenes of the Death of the Messiah where Luke's account is even more radically different than any of the other three Gospel accounts.

Once again Pilate examines the charges against Jesus, and, once again, tells the Jewish leaders that neither he nor Herod find Jesus guilty of any of the charges. And Pilate boldly tells them that "Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death." Pilate then proposes to have Jesus flogged and released.

All of the accusers, not just the crowd as in Mark, but the chief priests, other Jewish leaders and the people, shout to do away with Jesus and to release Barabbas.

Luke tells us that Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addresses them a second and third time, telling them Jesus is not guilty. However, Luke then tells us that Pilate caves in to the accusers, and "their voices prevailed."

Because Luke contains no scene in Pilate's courtyard of Roman soldiers beating and mocking Jesus, the implication in Luke is that Pilate handed over Jesus to the Jewish leaders who take him to Calvary and crucify him.

Later, however, we hear of soldiers, presumably Roman, along with the leaders also mocked him while he was on the Cross. So, regardless who led Jesus to Golgatha, soldiers were present at his death.

What is far more clear, and clearly different than Mark and Matthew, is that the people who followed Jesus to his crucifixion included a great many who were not hostile to him, particularly women, who were lamenting what was happening to him by beating their breasts and wailing over his fate.

To these Jesus shows great compassion, warning these "daughters of Jerusalem" of the coming trials, telling them not to weep for him, but for themselves.

[Note: This scene is likely influenced by Luke's anachronistic knowledge that Jerusalem was destroyed in the period 68-70 AD when the Romans quelled a Jewish rebellion. At that time many innocents, women and children, were killed, and many, including Christians, fled the persecution in the city. Luke already knew of that event when wrote his Gospel.]

Regardless, Jesus remains calm and concerned for others. Unlike in Mark, the first words uttered by Jesus from the cross are not of his feared abandonment, but rather, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

There is a strong implication here that the Jewish leaders acted out of ignorance, not with deliberate evil and viciousness, as in the other New Testament traditions. Clearly they were ignorant of who Jesus was but this does show how far Jesus is willing to go to find forgiveness of his enemies.

This is a far more humane treatment of the Jewish leaders than in the other Gospels, and is a clear directive to later Christians like us to be gracious toward, and forgiving of, our worst enemies; something that most find nearly impossible to imagine let alone to do.

But Luke, writing much later than Mark, already knows of one who understands Jesus message from the cross, as later, as recorded by Luke in Acts, Stephen will find strength and hope in repeating Jesus' thoughts, praying as he died under their stones, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

And still later, thousands of Christian martyrs will go to their death finding courage in these words from the Cross.

In another major departure from Mark and Matthew, both criminals do not mock him from their crosses. Rather, one of the two thieves acknowledges his own guilt and confesses the innocence of Jesus.

This "good thief" as we often call him, asks to be remembered by Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. And, still filled with compassion, Jesus does him far better than that, promising him that he will be with Jesus in Paradise yet that day.

Many have said that, because of the compassion of Luke's Christ, the "good thief," who offered no confession of his sin nor made any profession of faith, literally stole the keys to the Kingdom. That old saw is not far from the truth.

In the last, dark, hours of Jesus life he does not lose confidence. He does not, as in Mark and Matthew, feel abandoned by the Father. Rather he is calm and at peace, secure in his knowledge of the goodness and justice of the Father.

There is no agony recorded, only the confident giving of his life over to the Father, even as he has given his life to others throughout his ministry. Jesus dies saying, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

Just as the words of forgiveness have given many a martyr courage in their own deaths, so to have these words of confident trust in God given hope not only to martyrs but also to many ordinary Christians at the time of their death.

Luke, unlike the other writers, places the tearing of the curtain of the Temple in two before the death of Jesus. After his death Luke will record only acts of heavenly grace, not justice or retribution.

And, if the innocence of Jesus has not been clear enough for all who read Luke, at the foot of the cross the Roman Centurion says not that Jesus was the Son of God, but that he was "innocent."

Even the crowds who watched share the feeling of Jesus' innocence , returning to their homes in great distress, beating their breasts.

It is not necessary for the Centurian to say the Jesus is the Son of God. By this point in Luke's Gospel we are well aware that Jesus is the Son of God.

Standing at a distance are not only the women, but all of Jesus friends who had followed him from Galilee, including, of course, the disciples, who have not had the courage to go to the foot of the cross, but who clearly have not totally abandoned him as they do in Mark's rendition.

Likewise, Luke clarifies the role of Joseph of Aramathea, saying that he had not agreed to the Sanhedrin's plans. Joseph takes the body and lays it in a fresh tomb. And Luke tells us that the women went home to prepare spices and ointments for his body.

After the Sabbath Luke tells us that they came to the tomb with their preparations, only to find the tomb empty. Later, Peter, who has not gone to ground in Galilee, but who has stayed in Jerusalem, will run to the empty tomb and be amazed by what he sees.

Still later, Luke tells us that the Risen Lord appeared to Peter, thus confirming the truth of Luke's message: Jesus will be with and watch over all of his disciples and followers, even those, who, like Peter, deny him in periods of weakness.

There should be much consolation in that fact for us, because most of us falter in periods of weakness and doubt. But Christ is there for us and will watch over us. He will never abandon us regardless of the strength of our faith at any given moment.

Summary of this Series of Lenten Reflections

And so ends this exploration of The Death of the Messiah. Throughout the world Christians now are in the midst of the Lenten Season.

It continues to be my hope that this brief series will be a help to those who want to understand the Christ and his Passion at a depth that they may not have known before.

I particularly hope that this series has put to rest some of the nonsense about harmonizing and homogenizing the Passion which is so appealing to many but which totally misses the point of having four different Gospels in the first place.

Just as "God don't make no junk," so too God did not send his Spirit to guide the writers of the four very different Gospel accounts of Jesus by accident.

And finally, please remember that the Gospels do not pretend to be history books. Writing history as we know it today was not even a known practice at the time the Gospels were written. To apply today's historical research methods to the Gospels is at best a silly exercise.

Those who search for the "Historical Jesus" will forever get their doctorates, their accolades, and sell their books to those who insist that one and only one portrait of Jesus must be "the right one."

But this is the same mind set that stunts understanding of the four Gospel accounts by insisting on harmonizing the Gospels as if they were simply data sources for the "one" "real" story of Jesus.

But the Gospels cannot yield anything approaching an "true" history of Jesus simply because they were never writen to be what we think of as history. They were always theology, theology told in story, in narrative, form. They are now, and always have been, kerygma, proclamation, of the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Christ. This theology forms the foundation of the Christian faith.

To my Christian readers I offer this hope: that the rest of your Lenten journey may be one of both discovery and peace, secure in the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and our Redeemer and Lord.


Death of the Messiah, Part 3: Mark: Jesus: Denied

First published MARCH 11, 2009 5:44PM


Lenten Reflection: The Death of the Messiah, Part 3: Mark: Jesus: Denied, Defiled, Derided, Despised

Overview: Where we are in this four part series.

In Part One I introduce this series on The Death of the Messiah. I point out that, while we may think there is only one story of the death of the Messiah, repeated four times, in fact there are four different renditions of the story of Jesus' death, both in the details and in the portrait of Jesus presented. I also said that there is also a fifth rendition: the one that we create from the other four.

I point out that these Gospel stories were divinely inspired and that God was therefore, both mindful of the inconsistencies in the stories, and intentional in his/her inspiration, in that God wants us to be able to see Jesus' death from four unique vantage points.

We do not improve on the Gospel accounts by trying to harmonize them, regardless how tempting it is to try to do so. Ultimately, all attempts at harmonizing the Gospels fail and never give a true picture of what God is saying to us in those sacred texts.

This fact, however, gives ulcers to many who believe that the stories of Jesus must all be clear, concise, neat and without factual disagreement. Part of the problem for such people is that they insist on viewing the Gospels as history, which they are not. They are theology told in narratives, stories, and are kerygma, proclamation of the Good News of Jesus the Christ.

In Part Two, using two major examples of the differences in three of the Gospel accounts of the Death of the Messiah, we explored my contention that it is good to have four differing Gospel accounts. Having four different depictions of both the narratives of the stories and then seeing how Jesus reacts to essentially the same events allows us to see that Jesus is a far more complex character than the portrait we often hold of him.

And each of the four Gospel accounts paint a part of Jesus that appeals to different people, and even to the same person at different stages in his or her life.

We finished Part Two looking at a short but profound conclusion by Dr. Raymond Brown: "To choose one portrayal of the crucified Jesus in a manner that would exclude the other portrayals or to harmonize all the Gospel portrayals into one would deprive the cross of much of its meaning. It is important that some be able to see the head bowed in dejection, while others observe the arms outstretched in forgiveness, and still others perceive in the title on the cross the proclamation of a reigning king."

Part Three: The Death of the Messiah in The Gospel according to Mark: Jesus: Denied, Defiled, Derided, Despised"

Today we are going to look at Mark's account of the Death of the Messiah in some detail. As we saw last week, Mark, the earliest Gospel written, portrays a scene of stark human abandonment of Jesus.

And, of all the Gospels, Mark portrays a very human, very vulnerable Jesus. His portrayal of Jesus, the disciples, and all of the actors in this drama of death, shows people in all of their human frailty, in their evil plotting and their despicable actions. In the end, Mark shows that we all, even Jesus, have no choice but to depend on God.

In my opinion, Mark gives us deep insights into the hearts and minds of men and woman, and explores the depths of the human condition like no other Gospel.

So here we are now looking together at a very human and very vulnerable Jesus surrounded by disciples who are ordinary and, usually, not very bright disciples. One professor of mine called the disciples as portrayed in Mark, DUH-ciples.

Some may feel uncomfortable with the intellectually dense disciples portrayed in Mark, and even with the very vulnerable, very human Jesus who feels and acts much like we might in similar circumstances.

Mark's Jesus is very aware of what he must do, but he agonizes over it, and, at one point, begs God to let it pass him by. Mark's Jesus shows great courage in the face of personal fear and doubt and commits himself to God even knowing it will mean his death. In the end he is, in fact, abandoned by all who followed him, and Jesus even despairs that he has been abandoned by God.

Of course, we know that was not so; but Mark gives absolutely no indication that Jesus knew that. Still, he remained faithful to God even to his last breath.

Jesus is aware from the beginning of Mark's Gospel that his preaching of the coming Kingdom of God is going to get him killed. As early as the third chapter, Mark tells us that the Pharisees and Herodians were plotting to destroy him.

Jesus himself predicts His own violent death three times, long before the actual event. Yet the disciples did not understand, failed to understand, refused to understand, and did not want to understand.

Then Jesus arrives in Jerusalem intent on purifying the Temple, and it all comes to a head as the priests and scribes plot to destroy him, exactly as the Pharisees and Herodians had been doing from the beginning.

There are other hints. A woman admirer anoints His body with oil, a sign of preparing him for His death. Judas plots to betray him, and Jesus, aware of the plot, at the Last Supper indicates His willingness to pour out his blood as a sign of the New Covenant God is offering to the people.

Thus, as he leaves the Upper Room and goes to pray on the Mount of Olives, Jesus understands the necessity of his suffering and death. But the disciples do not understand and he knows it, just as he knows that they will all abandon him, telling them that they all will be scattered.

They deny any such possibility, especially Peter. But Jesus tells Peter he will be particularly unfaithful and will deny Jesus three times. On this gloomy note the Passion in Mark begins, and it will only get darker, until, on the following day, Jesus will die with no support at all from those who followed him. He will die alone.

This tragic scenario is almost too much even for Jesus. In Gethsemene Jesus confesses to the disciples, "My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death," and he asks them to stay near him while he goes to pray, admonishing them to stay awake.

Then, he goes and prays, asking God that the cup of death might pass him by; yet saying that he will do the will of the Father regardless. There is no response from God, but Jesus accepts the will of God implied by the silence from heaven, and prepares to meet his enemies, knowing he will die.

He is resigned to his fate, even as he is disturbed that the disciples can not even stay awake while he is in this agony. They are physically present, but already have symbolically abandoned him while they sleep.

His resignation to his fate is clear. Only in Mark does Jesus fail to respond to Judas' kiss, or to the striking of the slave of the High Priest on the ear by a bystander. He does nothing to save himself, saying simply, "Let the Scriptures be fulfilled." The disciples and all the followers flee.

One, a young man, once intent on following him, flees so quickly and in such fear that he leaves his captors clinging to his clothes, running away naked, saving his skin, symbolic of the total abandonment of Jesus by all who intended to follow him.

Jesus will face death, the ultimate evil, alone. That is the clear message of Mark.

The pace now quickens and Mark takes us immediately to the trial by the Sanhedrin, the governing Jewish body in Jerusalem. What goes on in the trial is juxtaposed sharply against what is happening in the courtyard outside the trial chamber.

In the chamber the chief priests, elders and scribes hear testimony against Jesus, which Mark calls "false" testimony, which does not agree on any factual details. We are not told the nature of the false testimony. But the high priest is annoyed by both the ineptitude of the witnesses and the silence of Jesus.

Trying to force an answer from Jesus he asks, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One." And, startlingly, Jesus answers for the first time in this Gospel, "I am." Until now Jesus had made no such claim, although we who have read Mark already know it from what God had said to him at his baptism and to the three disciples at the Transfiguration.

But far more damning to Jesus is that he does not stop there but says that he, the Son of Man, will be seated at God's right hand and will come again on the clouds of heaven. This is too much for the high priest, who declares that statement blasphemy, whereupon all of the members of the Sanhedrin condemn him as deserving of death.

Some then spit on him and blindfold him, beating him and screaming at him to prophesy. All of which is ironic for that is precisely what he has just done, and none of them believed it!

Thus, the themes which have already emerged earlier in the Gospel here coalesce: destroying the Temple, acknowledging Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Yet, in Mark, still, nobody believes it.

In stark contrast to Jesus' faithful willingness to go the last mile for God is the scene outside the chamber of the Sanhedrin, in the court yard, where Peter has hesitantly followed Jesus at a distance. In the chamber, Jesus confesses who he is; while outside his prime disciple denies him.

As predicted by Jesus, Peter denies him not once, but three times, finally swearing an oath that he does not even know Jesus. When the cock crows, Peter realizes his sin, and weeps.

The irony is complete: Jesus is beaten and ordered to prophesy which he has already done but none believed him, and, meanwhile, other of his prophesies are coming true in the court yard.

Rather than kill Jesus themselves by stoning, which was allowed under Jewish law, the Sanhedrin instead bind him and hand him over to Pilate, the Roman Governor. Mark gives us no indication why.

But the effect is dramatic and interesting, if usually unnoticed. Up to now the condemnations against Jesus have been theological: "Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?" "Do you intend to destroy the Temple?" These are religious questions.

Pilate knows about and cares nothing about such questions. His concerns are strictly political, reflecting the concern of the Roman occupying force for stability in this conquered land: "Are you the King of the Jews?"

Now, neither Jesus nor anyone else has ever before made such a claim. Jesus refuses to take the bait, answering only "You say so;" which really isn't an answer because Pilate has actually not said that he thought that to be true. Pilate pushes him to say something, to answer the many charges the Jewish leaders have brought against him. But Jesus says nothing.

At this point there is no indication that the Sanhedrin has convinced Pilate to do anything with Jesus; but it is here that the crowd comes into play. It was the custom to release one prisoner to the crowd at Passover and Pilate asked did they wish to have the "King of the Jews," Jesus, released, or Barabbas, a rebel, part of an insurrection against Roman rule. The crowd demanded Barabbas.

Pilate, wishing perhaps to remove the decision from himself, asks them what to do with Jesus and they all shout "Crucify him!" And Pilate, apparently surprised at the harshness of their verdict says, "Why? What evil has he done?" They gave no answer; shouting again, "Crucify him?"

Mark tells us nothing of Pilate's thoughts but only that, to satisfy the crowd, he released Jesus to be flogged and then crucified.

Once again, in this scene as in the others, no one looks good except Jesus. Pilate appears weak, almost threatened by the crowd. He makes no attempt to get to the bottom of the issue; certainly makes no attempt to achieve any kind of justice: he simply wants to pacify the crowd.

First the disciple, Judas, betrays him, then the disciples all run away; Peter denies him; witnesses accuse him falsely; the high priest condemns him, as does the whole Sanhedrin to a man; the crowd turns against him, Pilate sentences him to flogging and crucifixion; the soldiers beat him, mock him, spit on him (as had the Sanhedrin) and lead him to his death.

Thus, both trials end in betrayal and mockery. And all: disciple, Jewish leaders, crowd, Roman Governor, and Roman soldiers share in the shame and guilt of desertion, betrayal, accusation, and condemnation of the Son of God. Mark wants to drive that point home and does so with dramatic clarity.

The soldiers enlist Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross, implying that the beating had made it impossible for Jesus to carry it Himself. On reaching Golgotha they offer him a bitter drink, which he refuses, and then they crucify him.

Mark, who often aligns things in threes, divides the time on the cross into three periods. They crucify him at 9 in the morning, darkness overcomes the land at noon, and at 3 in the afternoon Jesus dies.

The title, "King of the Jews" is mockingly nailed to the Cross; but Mark does not see it as an ironic symbol, but rather calls it "a charge against him." For the first three hours no human being shows Jesus the slightest sympathy, not the soldiers, nor the crowd, nor the passers-by, nor the chief priests and scribes who came to watch the spectacle.

All mocked him, telling him to save Himself and come down from the cross, if he be the Messiah. Even the two bandits crucified with him taunted him. Not one of his disciples came to the cross to be with him in his last hours.

Even nature itself seemed to abandon him, as the sun was overcome and darkness fell over the whole of the land for the next three hours. And in the darkness Jesus hung there alone, abandoned by all who ever claimed to love him.

And finally, mercifully, it is over, as, at 3 o'clock, Jesus cries out with a loud voice the only words Mark reports: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" These words are not new to Jesus. They are the opening words to Psalm 22.

We should not try to soften these words, as hard as it might be for us to believe that Jesus could possibly feel abandoned by his own Father. But the words are there; God wants us to hear them.

Shortly thereafter Jesus lets out a loud cry, not of words, just of agony, and dies. Jesus dies, alone, abandoned by his friends, seemingly abandoned by God. Mark is quite clear that Jesus thought God had forsaken him.

This made the other Gospel writers very nervous, even as it might make some of us nervous even now. And so they changed the final scene considerably from what Mark reports.

Our job now is to hear those words and to ponder them; not to try to rewrite the Bible or to try to justify them, saying that he didn't mean them or coming up with some other such nonsense to correct Mark. Our job is to try to understand the depths of despair that Jesus felt; this very brave, very faithful, very human Jesus we see here hanging on that tree.

God's reply to Jesus' death is immediate, abrupt: the moment Jesus dies the curtain of the temple is split in two, from top to bottom, a violent rending, symbolic of Jesus' claim that he would tear down this Temple "made with hands."

This huge, dense curtain was actually a mammoth drapery, over a foot thick, and was to keep everyone except the High Priest from going into the inner sanctum said to be where God dwelt.

Here Mark, not with words, but with the mental picture of the Temple Curtain, had created a significant theological picture. Rending that Curtain in two symbolizes that no more will access to God be restricted to a chosen few allowed to enter the "Holy of Holies."

From that time forward people will come to a new temple, one "not made with hands," but rather one build upon the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus is the new Temple, built to receive those who show faith in the One who died to save us from ourselves, and from the sin within us.

Mark seldom speaks of directly in theological terms, rather he lets the theology be found in the mental pictures his writing portrays. Thus he moves quickly to another great theological truth that he lets someone else speak.

Startlingly, an outsider comes immediately into the picture of the Crucifixion, not a disciple, not even a Jew, in no way an "insider," but a Gentile, a Roman centurion, who stands at the foot of the cross and says what no man, disciple or priest, had ever before figured out in the entire telling of Mark's Gospel: "Truly, this man was the Son of God."

In a single moment God has vindicated Jesus; replacing the Temple as the center of worship and offering in its place Gods' own Son, who will be confessed as Lord, by Jew and Gentile alike.

And, as irony piles on irony, we are told that while the disciples, who were all men, fled in cowardly retreat, standing in the distance are three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and Salome; three who had followed him in Galilee and had provided for him when he was going about his ministry.

Unlike the core group of male disciples, these three female disciples, and some other women, while not coming to the Cross to share his agony with Jesus, at least looked on, waited and watched. They did not flee and totally abandon him as did the others.

And there was one other, Joseph of Arimathea, who showed some courage, which only Mark sees that way. Indeed, it must have been courage and perhaps some remorse, because Mark has told us that all of the Sanhedrin, of which Joseph was a member, had found Jesus deserving of death.

But Mark tells us now that Joseph went "boldly" to Pilate to ask for Jesus' body. Only in Mark does Pilate question whether Jesus is really dead; and, assured by the centurion that he is dead, he granted the body to Joseph for burial.

Joseph took the body down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a rock hewn tomb. Then he rolled a stone in front of the tomb entrance. Preparing us for the resurrection, Mark tells us that the two Marys followed and saw where the body was laid.

On Sunday morning they will return to the tomb and find it empty. For Mark, the story of Jesus' death can not end with his burial, but with his resurrection.

Mark, more than any of the other Gospel writers, emphasizes the importance of the Passion. The Roman centurion's words dramatize the very Marcan idea that people cannot truly know who Jesus is until the death of the Messiah. As reported by Mark, People may think they know; and they can guess, but, until the death of Jesus, no one really knows who he is.

Mark clearly implies that one can become a true disciple, a faithful and brave disciple, only through understanding the suffering symbolized by a Cross which strips away all human support systems and makes one totally dependent upon God. To Mark, keeping the faith is this recognition of our total dependence on God.

For Mark salvation comes not from "coming down from the cross" as Jesus was taunted to do; but from acceptance of the cross and all that entails.

Mark's community was one suffering from great persecution. As Dr. Brown says, "the gospel or 'Good News' for them was that this trial and suffering was not a defeat but a salvific example of taking up the cross and following Jesus."

Most of us do not live in suffering and persecuted communities. So perhaps an additional question for us is whether we can, accustomed as we are to great material pleasure, and not being used to suffering for the sake of Christ, find in Mark's description of the Passion a passion of our own for taking up our cross and carrying it in his name.

While we may not know such suffering ourselves, we do not have to look far to find millions who do suffer from the burdens of their own unjust crosses. Doing something about that can be a way we can begin to know what it means to others who, though innocent, to this day bear crosses not of their own making.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer once said that Jesus calls us to "come die with me." We are far removed from such drastic action in our every day lives. But there are many who do die without help or hope. And so the call remains. "Take up you cross and follow me" is still the word to us from the Christ.

Part Four, the final part, on Luke, will be posted in a week.

God bless you all.