Today I attended Mass at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church on Main Street in Amherst, New York. The church was packed and the service was lovely. For much of this week I have had the recurring thought of the mission of Jesus or maybe the omission of Jesus.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
 because he has anointed me
 to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
 and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus provides the mission statement for his ministry and throughout the rest of the gospels regardless of the author there is one instance after another where Jesus does exactly what is spelled out in Luke. In Matthew 4:19 he says, “Come, follow me.” In Matthew 25:35-36 he says, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

Jesus provides loads of examples of what kinds of behavior he expects of his followers. Nonetheless his whole impact of Western Christianity is reduced to the crucifixion and resurrection. He was crucified because he welcomed the stranger, he reached out to those on the margins. If you ask most Christians about Jesus they will say, “He died for our sins.” They mention nothing of the kind of life he lived nor what he expected of his followers.

This stems from the doctrine of original sin which was never mentioned by Jesus. St. Augustine was the first to use the term original sin. St. Augustine was also the author of the “just war” theory. Jesus said, “I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

I guess it is just easier to say he died for your sins and then you don’t have to be one of his followers which is much more difficult.

The Sheep and the Goats

Earlier today I came upon a quote from Matthew 25 which sums up the Jesus message.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

~Matthew 25:35

The Jesus message which is often overlooked is about relationships. Too often the emphasis is on his death on the cross. Many if not most Christians believe in the doctrine of ‘original sin.’ Jesus never talked about original sin in any of the Gospels nor is it mentioned per se in the New Testament. So much emphasis has been placed on original sin that the relationship message of Jesus is given short shrift. I recently participated in a class where the emphasis for many was on ‘the fall.’ You know the story I’m sure about how Eve gave Adam the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and then it was all down hill from there.

The idea that people are damned because Eve gave Adam an apple in a metaphorical allusion in a mythological explanation of the creation story was always something I questioned. Why would a supreme being create a cosmos that was flawed in such a manner to exclude that same creation from fulfillment. It doesn’t make any sense. Nearly twenty years ago I heard about the theology of John Duns Scotus and later St. Bonaventure both of whom were inspired by their seraphic father St. Francis that posited an alternative. In short the reason for the incarnation was to demonstrate the creator’s love for creation. Jesus never excludes anyone from the banquet. In fact the more sinful you are the more welcome you are at the banquet. He welcomed prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners. It was the church people who crucified him. His preaching was too scandalous for them. He upset the status quo with this radical message of relationship.

In Matthew 25 he articulates clearly that what you do for the least of your fellows is what earns you the reward of eternal life. Getting baptized, saying that you accept Jesus as your Lord and savior and then turning a blind eye to the injustices that surround us is not going to get you into the kingdom according to what is written in Matthew 25:31-46. That’s always been my favorite verse in the New Testament. The golden rule is the recipe for happiness in this life and the next.

All the statues are white

I’m at St. Mary Parish in Arcade, NY for Eucharistic Adoration and I’m facing a statue of St. Joseph. I’ve come here many times but today I’m struck by the flesh tones of the statue. I grew up in this parish. I served Mass here on this altar many times and I never really appreciated that all the depictions of the of the stained glass, statues, paintings and even the crucifix are of a white person. I’m currently enrolled in a class at Houghton College. It’s “Racism and American Protestant Christianity.” One of my classmates shared on our class Moodle site that they had grown up in a segregated community and attended segregated schools. That’s when the scales fell from my eyes. I too grew up in such a community. We weren’t segregated by law but by the fact we had no non-whites in our church or our school. Our church was for white people and we didn’t even know it. We worshipped a white God. Did I ever think of God as anything other than white. No of course not. How could I?

St. Joseph the White Carpenter

The Life of Jesus Reimagined

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A remarkable book of historical fiction. I always enjoy Sue Monk Kidd’s work and this was true to form another great read. This will drive some of the fundamentalists crazy but it’s interesting to reimagine Jesus as he might have actually live in the first century. There is so much about the historical Jesus that we really don’t know. One of my favorite quotes in the author’s notes at the end of the book is the following.

“Claims that Jesus was not married first began in the second century. They arose as Christianity absorbed ideas of asceticism and Greek dualism, which devalued the body and the physicality of the world in favor of the spirit. Closely identified with the body, women were also devalued, silenced, and marginalized, losing roles of leadership they’d possessed within first-century Christianity.”

Sue Monk Kidd

Hope for today

“I’ve never fully understood how Christianity became quite so tame and respectable, given its origins among drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors….Jesus could have hung out in the high-end religious scene of his day, but instead he scoffed at all that, choosing instead to laugh at the powerful, befriend whores, kiss sinners, and eat with all the wrong people. He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy. And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love.”

― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

Last summer while I was recuperating from prostate cancer surgery I came across this wonderful book. The title captured my imagination right away. I took a chance and downloaded it on Kindle. After that I couldn’t put it down and eventually read all of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s books. I listened to her on YouTube and followed her on Twitter. I find her a refreshing alternative in contemporary Christianity. Last night I was watching the Netflix series Messiah and was taken how charismatic and inviting the protagonist is. The sanitized Jesus that has become the stereotype of contemporary religion would not have attracted much of a following. Being a human is certainly a celebration of imperfection. That is what makes us whole and holy.


A painting at Abbey of the Genesee

I stopped by Abbey of the Genesee earlier today and this was one of the paintings displayed in the foyer. It’s probably not completely accurate as Jesus and those he hung out with looked less like Europeans than the images here. Nonetheless,I was struck by the simple relationship they were enjoying sharing a meal together. It’s really too bad that religion can’t be more about simple relationships and less about authoritarian rule keeping. One invites while the other repels. I’ve often thought how powerful it would have been to hang out with the historical Jesus. He must have been a remarkably charismatic individual. It’s too bad that his message of peaceful relationships has been overshadowed by systems that seek more to control than to embrace and accept.

Unscripted Pontiff

I was reading an article tonight at National Catholic Reporter about the perils of an un-scripted Pope. Apparently Pope Francis extemporaneous comments in his homilies have the Vatican scampering around doing what some might call damage control. I for one am glad we have a Pope who is not scripted. I don’t think Jesus was scripted and neither was St. Francis of Assisi. The politically inclined are often so afraid to express what’s really on their hearts that they miss opportunities to be helpful. Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air and I hope he keeps up with these unscripted, from the heart homilies and interactions with the faithful. He’s been an answer to my prayers. We need a living breathing faith and practice of faith that mirrors life. Keep up the good work, Holy Father! Keep those who would contain and package you into a commodity at arms length.

The Spirit of the Lord

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” — Luke 4:18

Does that sound like current political rhetoric? No, it’s radically different. Jesus was not a member of the Chamber of Commerce, nor would he have been at home in either political party. He loved everyone and wanted us to do the same. He had a special place in his heart for the poor and disenfranchised. His message is and was active and provocative. He ate with tax collectors, sinners of all kinds including prostitutes and nowhere in any Gospel does he demonize anyone even the Romans who murdered Jews for blood-sport during his lifetime on earth. The quote at the beginning of this reflection is recorded in Luke’s Gospel at the beginning of his ministry. I don’t know when he actually said it, but more importantly he proclaimed it with his life and even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus was about radical mercy and forgiveness. That’s a trait we need more of not less. The historical Jesus was a Jew, but the transcendent Jesus is neither Jew, Christian, Muslim, slave or free.  The mystical Jesus lives in our hearts and his message is beyond dogma. He is the Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the world. You don’t have to decide for Jesus. It’s already been decided.  He is the alpha and the omega.

Thoughts on yesterday

Yesterday as I sat in our kitchen reading and listening to Gregorian Chant on Pandora the horrific events that happened in Tucson, AZ began to unfold. First as a tweet from @npr on Twitter  and then eventually to breaking news on Huffington Post to CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CSPAN and all around the world wide web. As I sat there in stunned grief and anguish for people I had never known nor perhaps will ever meet my heart was breaking for our country. I’m not a knee jerk liberal. I’d describe myself as  socially progressive and fiscally conservative. I’m a pro-peace veteran of the United States Navy. I love my country and I’m patriotic too. I even say the pledge to the flag in the morning with the students at the school I work at.

There are some on the left who want to ascribe all of yesterday to vitriol emanating from the right wing and there are those on the right who want to blame the left. I want to blame no one but to examine our conscience as a nation and say where to do we go from here? In the words of Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along.”  We have differences and that is what makes us strong. We need to celebrate those differences but in a way that encourages each other. I’m a Secular Franciscan and I don’t really wear that on my sleeve. In fact I go out of my way to not make statements about my faith. Instead I prefer to live what I believe. Tonight in surfing along the web I came upon a short talk by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM who is one of my favorite authors. Richard like our seraphic father St. Francis issues a clarion call that goes beyond the boundaries of any faith and instead speaks to the heart of the message of Jesus. I hope you enjoy it.