Have mercy on me, O God, for my enemies are hounding me; all day long they assault and oppress me.
We can feel oppressed and assaulted by the news we read or see on TV or online, and it’s important for us to set aside some time each day to still our minds and to pray, to take a walk, or to sit outdoors and revel in the beauty that God has created.
‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
At some point we must acknowledge what we are becoming as a nation, and decide if that is acceptable to us. Will we withhold food and medical care from those who cannot afford it? Are we a people who’s conscience allows us to watch others suffer and do nothing to help? Will we no longer welcome the stranger? We are not our governments policies, but if we do nothing to oppose policies which hurt people then we are endorsing them by default.
As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Every congregation has Marthas, they come in all shapes sizes and genders. They work quietly, preparing meals for and cleaning up after church functions. Once in a while they might get a bit indignant because offers of help aren’t forthcoming from other members of the parish. Let’s share the burden and make sure that the Marthas in our lives aren’t overworked or under appreciated. If we share all the parts then no one is excluded from choosing the better part.
Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.
Upon reading this passage, I’m wondering whether the early Church fathers would have thought that meat which is factory farmed and slaughtered in large mechanized abattoirs is spiritually polluted. In the past I’ve thought about this issue in the realm of ethics and sustainability, but perhaps there is a scriptural factor that I ought to consider as well.
“My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
So often it comes down to them and us. It may be Gentile and Jew, gay and straight, black and white or conservative and liberal; we are always finding ways to label groups of people who are not us. In God’s eyes we are all us, but as a Jew and a convert and a gay man of faith, I find that I am a ‘them’ more often than I am an ‘us’. God loves all of us as we are, no matter who we are. Perhaps it’s time that we try that as well.
On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
When I was in art school I bought a Mahalia Jackson album and one of the songs which I loved and played often was, He Calmed The Ocean, and it comes to mind now while I think about this passage, in part because when I listened to that song in my twenties, it felt to me like Mahalia was singing about life. Life is stormy, and at times we may encounter situations which leave us feeling overcome by fear and anxiety but, like the ocean, our troubled minds can be calmed when we trust in the Lord.
The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Most of us aspire to being able to drink of the cup from which Jesus drank, but few of us will ever need to find out whether we are able or not. Saint James, of course, did drink of that cup. We read in Acts that King Herod had Saint James killed with a sword. He was the first of the Apostles to be martyred. Recently two heroes were martyred in Portland, Oregon while protecting two teenage Muslim girls from an escalating attack by a white supremacist. Taliessin Myrddin Namke-Meche and Ricky John Best lost their lives on May 26th 2017.
Happy are they who consider the poor and needy! the Lord will deliver them in the time of trouble.
There are senators and members of congress who consider the poor and the needy and champion the rights and the welfare of all Americans, and there are senators and members of congress who do neither. It’s up to us as individuals to decide whether we will express our concern for the poor and needy each time we cast our vote.
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We can have hope without having patience, but if we do then we grow frustrated and risk losing hope. If we have patience it seems likely that we have hope because if there is nothing for which we wait we don’t need to have patience.
Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary Magdalene has been much maligned over the centuries, but in some ways I think that has actually made her even more relatable. She is a saint with whom any one of us with a checkered past can identify. Whether or not her reputation as a woman of ill repute was manufactured by popes is almost irrelevant at this point. She was a woman beloved by Jesus, and he favored her with the gift of being the first of the disciples to encounter him once he had risen. If the intention of patriarchal clerics to portray her as a whore was meant to belittle her, as some recent scholarship suggests, it has in my eyes at least, backfired. Part of what makes her so inspiring is that in her we see that we are not the sum of our sins; we are loved by Christ, and it is never too late to turn the focus of our lives toward him.