You know, not only is the Monday Morning Exegete dead useful and chockful of research and insight, it’s also awfully pretty. After doing it for a month, I’m no less excited every Monday when I sit down and roll up my sleeves. Go figure–I might be a church geek. Anyway, I wanted to share some of the pretty with you.
This was my first effort as a monday morning exegete and was for the penultimate Sunday of Epiphany. This first time it took me an entire week to produce, but now that I’ve got the kinks out of the system I can do it in one very full day.
One of the main themes of this issue was taken from the portion of Isaiah assigned to that Sunday, “See, I have you inscribed on the palms of my hands,” God says of his people, and he said this by way of saying that he would never, not ever, not slightly or even a little bit forget us. God with his love tattooed, or if you prefer, etched, on his hands… that’s kind of a compelling image, don’t you think? And so I found pictures – a woman with Henna on her fingers to make her hands more beautiful, someone with ‘Sweden Forever’ tattooed on their arm to proclaim a lifelong devotion, and Boston’s Holocaust Memorial which includes among other things, the following: “My number is 174517. I will carry the tattoo on my left arm until I die.” Tattoos… clearly they are used for all sorts of different things.
The wordstudy of this issue is ‘oligopistos’, meaning ‘of little faith’ in Greek. I chose this word because the collect (prayer) for the day directly connects fear with faithlessness: “Protect us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties…” Isaiah is all about God’s refusal to forget us, the Psalm is about resting in God, the Epistle about being in this deep and trustworthy relationship with God, and the Gospel is about choosing God or choosing worldly fears and wealth which seems to hinge on faith, or lack thereof. Curious?
The second week (yep, this one I finished in a day rather than a week) was much more fun than the first, as I’d done the hard part of customizing a template just so.
The main theme that I chose for this issue for the last sunday of Epiphany (or Transfiguration Sunday, if you will) was fear; fear of change, fear as a gut response to God, fear of who we are and who we could be. The reading from the gospels was all about this crazy-wonderful mystical experience that is chockfull of meaning that may or may not be readily accessible to the average joe reading it, but it also has the gut reaction of Jesus’ nearest and dearest to this mystical moment. This is where assuming the fetal position comes in…
This week’s wordstudy was ‘metamorpho’ which is Greek for ‘transfigure’. I chose this word because as I was pondering the Transfiguration from every conceivable angle in the deepening of our faith and the enlightening and inspiration of others, I was also pondering what the word actually means. Why this word? Why now? Why did Luke choose not to use it? (The gospel reading was from Matthew, and Mark also used metamorpho.)
But you know, it’s also striking to me that while the normal human reaction to mystical moments, seeing God, seeing angels, might be abject terror, it’s also clear to me that the first words out of angels mouths usually is some variation on ‘Do not fear.’ It’s certainly what Jesus says to his friends as they’re cowering on the ground. Perhaps cowering in the presence of God isn’t actually what God wants. Interested?
You might not be surprised to find out that when I did an initial search through my favorite free-domain photographic archive from whence all my delightful photography has come thus far, and when I typed in ‘Temptation’… It was sex that came up on the screen. Not literally hardcore pornography; it was mostly tasteful pictures that made it clear that the temptation was sex. Largely it was beautiful women being alluring or provocative, but you get the idea. But I was looking for what really was tempting to people, which changes, depending on the person. For Eve, Snow White, and Bella Swan, an apple would do the trick. For Jesus? An infinite food source, invulnerability and world domination, please. With a side of fries. Don’t forget the ketchup.
Obviously, Temptation was the theme of Issue 3. It was the beginning of Lent and the reading is always Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. Tempted? :)
The second Sunday of Lent had as one of its main themes Nicodemus, the religious elder who knew the truth but was too afraid to actually acknowledge it in broad daylight. :ahem: Sound like anyone you know?
There are times when most of us, even people in authority, swallow back what we know to be right or what we feel to be true. We do this for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s tact, or a misplaced sense of politeness. Perhaps it’s because we think we are helping the situation, protecting others from information. Maybe it’s because we don’t have the courage of our conviction to say the words that may have people rounding on us with barbed tongues, pink slips and automatic weaponry, depending on our environment.
I was reminded of a carving that is next to the front door of my Seminary’s library. I’m trying to unearth a picture of it that I have permission to use, but I haven’t been successful yet. It may need to wait until I go back and take the picture myself, next week. Anyway, it’s a quote and it goes like this. (And I can’t remember who said it. I apologize. I’ll research this.) “Seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will.” It’s a profound thought on which I’ve spent some time meditating. The truth may come from unauthorized sources, from people you don’t like and don’t respect, from people who hold opposite views from you, from people who are different from you. And the truth–acknowledging it, embracing it, living it, proclaiming it–may cost you something to do. It may cost you the esteem of fools. It may cost you the high powered job that was two more ulcers away from killing you. It may cost you your life, in a world where we have great satisfaction in killing truth-tellers and then proclaiming them martyrs and saints once their blood is on our hands, as if that makes it better. (The good news is that the truth also brings a peace that passes all understanding. J/S) Bold enough?
Volume 1, Issue 5
The gospel reading for the third sunday in Lent this year is the Samaritan Woman at the Well, which whether or not you take it as a metaphor and Johannine propaganda (a very valid reading of the passage), or if you take it as an encounter that Jesus did in fact have, the end result is the same: These prejudices we have against one another, you know the ones, the politics and religion ones? They don’t mean squat. Whether that means republican vs. democrat, American vs. Libyan, Orthodox vs. Catholic vs. Protestant, Shiite vs. Suni, anarchist vs. progressive vs. liberal vs. conservative vs. fundamentalist vs. anarchist…
Jesus did not give two figs. And this from the man who said the most important thing we can possibly do in this lifetime is to love God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I suppose it makes sense. How can I love you when I’m busy putting a ‘vs.’ in between your name and mine?
But as it was pointed out to me by a reader of this blog just yesterday, there are a whole lot of my religious brothers and sisters who tout the Summary of the Law (love god, love neighbor, love self) and then also tout their road rage, their impatience with children and the elderly, their distain for all who disagree with them, their disgust with all who are in a socioeconomic bracket lower than themselves, their hatred of their employers and employees, and their general lack of love. The reader made a good point. A lot of us, religious and not, talk a good line but have no integrity to back it up. (Literally. Think of integrity, in this sense, as our actions following our words and beliefs. Hypocrisy would be our actions going in the opposite direction to the things we say are important to us.) Still. It’s what I teach, it’s what I preach, it’s what I try to live. Kind of like Christianity on the whole, I won’t give it up just because some people seem to be abusing it. What about you?