It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Monday, March 5, 2018

John 18:28-40

Pilate's questions: Are you the King of the Jews? What have you done that has caused you to be arrested?

Pilate's job is to protect his government and he wants to know if this man Jesus is a threat to peace and stability.

Jesus responds that he is not the kind of king that Pilate has been trained to watch out for. He doesn't have an army, for example.

Pilate asks again: Are you a king? Jesus responds "That's what you say," then adds some remarks that I think would have been unintelligible to Pilate:
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
And, isn't it hard to understand how truth can prevail without having an army? without being a threat to powerful people? How can we defend ourselves against truth, anyway?
After all, Jesus didn't say that his followers were going to withdraw from the world. He said that it wasn't the world that gave him his authority.
Pilate sentenced him to death.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reflection on John 13:1-17

Jesus willingly performed the actions of a servant. He told that this was an example for them to follow. How hard could it be?

He had also metaphorized the foot washing by adding that not all of them were clean. At dinner later, he pointed out who he meant.

Monday, February 19, 2018

How Disciples Will Be Recognized, a Reflection on John 13:1-17

Jesus knows that on this Passover, his hour has come. He knows of his upcoming death and of the betrayal by one close to him.

On this last Passover, with the memory of what happened on the first one and what has happened to his people since, Jesus chooses to wash the feet of his disciples.

Peter considers this unseemly, but Jesus insists, "You'll understand later."

We, the church, are living in the later. I'm wondering which is harder to understand--that I am to allow Jesus to stoop down and perform the work of a lowly servant, or, that Jesus is asking me to emulate him, that I'm expected to stoop down and perform servant work.

Jesus tells them how his disciples will be recognized. They will be the ones who have love for one another.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Believing, a Reflection on John 11

Her brother Lazarus had died four days before Jesus arrived. Martha said, "If you had been here, he wouldn't have died." But, as she gives him the responsibility for not having already saved her brother, she adds, "But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him."

Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha responds that she already knows about future resurrections. Jesus says to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."

Then he asks her the question, "Do you believe this?" She responds, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

Martha believes based on what Jesus has told her. She already believes although she is speaking at a time when Lazarus is still in the tomb. She is speaking when Jesus' death and resurrection have not yet ocurred.

Martha goes back to the house to tell Mary that Jesus wants to speak to her. When Mary rushes out of the house, the mourners there follow her because they think she is going to the tomb.

When Mary sees Jesus, she also says to him, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the mourners who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved. He asked, "Where have you laid him?"

Charles Cousar, in Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary based on the NRSV-Year A, says:

He "was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved (11:33, 38). The Greek terms carry the notion of anger and distress. It is more than a statement of Jesus' empathy with grieving friends. He is troubled. He perceives the evidences of death all about and knows that its power is still very much in place. He sees the sharp opposition that cannot tolerate the giving of life, the religious authorities who are threatened by his transforming deeds....

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reflection on John 10

We are in the period of Jesus' ministry before the last supper but during a time when he is performing many miracles--displeasing his opponents, the religious authorities. Jesus said that he had come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don't see can and those who see will become blind." His opponents responded, "Surely we aren't blind, are we?"

So, are Jesus' words in chapter 10 an answer to that question? Is Jesus talking to his followers or his enemies when he describes himself as the shepherd?

Whether he is talking to them or not, isn't he talking about them when he contrasts his own role as the shepherd with that of the thief and bandit?

He has healed a blind man; they have criticized him because he did it on the sabbath. Wouldn't a shepherd have been concerned enough about the sheep in his care not to look on the calendar before helping it?

The sheep can tell the difference between the true shepherd and the false one. They know which one to follow.

John was writing about Pharisees, but they weren't the last false shepherds. Christians must continue to distinguish between the voices speaking to them. Jesus says that the sheep can tell the difference. Is that still true of today's sheep? Do we recognize the voice of the shepherd or are we likely to follow some other attraction?

Jesus offers assurances to his listeners: "I am the gate." I am the way in for those who are in need.

He's still using the metaphor of sheep, so we imagine a flock of sheep pushing against the fence, needing the comforts offered inside and needing protection from the dangers out there where they now are.

Until they can find the gate that will let them in, they are stuck there outside.

Jesus says, "I am the gate." I am the way that the sheep can escape dangers and get into the pasture.

Let's not restrict Jesus' promise to afterlife only. He's telling us sheep that there is a way out of our troubles and a way into what we need now.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Belief and Judgment, a Reflection on John 9:35-41

The respectable religious insiders, perceiving a threat, had been investigating the claims that someone not authorized by them was able to perform miracles. They interviewed the man whose life had been changed by Jesus. When he responded to their queries by asking them, "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing," they accused him of heresy and expelled him.

Jesus returns. We don't know where he has been in the meantime. In verses 6 and 7, he had given the man instructions which the man followed in verse 8. But then, the narrative shifts to the reaction of the people to the man whose blindness has been healed. The reaction had not been positive.

Jesus had been walking along when he first saw the man. Now he comes in response to the news that this healed man has been driven out of his community. Jesus asks him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" The man asks to know who this is so he can believe in him. When Jesus says, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he," he responds, "Lord, I believe."

This man who has been excluded from regular life because of one kind of difference--blindness--and then ousted because of another--refusal to give in to the religious hierarchy now admits what he seems to have already figured out (see verses 30-33).

This man can see that Jesus is from God; the religious authorities are blind to this. But, they do seem to have some uncertainty, at least. They ask Jesus, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus judges that they are. We Christians still have a similar difficulty in accepting that God can send help and love to people who aren't part of our select group, who don't follow the rules that we think are essential.

All of us religious types need to contemplate what Jesus is trying to get across to us when he says, "But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains." Let us ask what it is that we can see so clearly that our sight has become an occasion of our sin.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What We Know, a Reflection on John 9:24-34

It's wasn't just back then that people who are used to being in charge didn't like anybody doing something that disturbs their authority. They weren't willing to accept that this new guy, this Jesus, was able to accomplish something that they themselves hadn't even thought to try to do.

"In the first place," they insisted, "you shouldn't give the credit to anyone that we don't approve of. Credit belongs to God." The man who had been healed refused to enter the controversy. Theology wasn't the topic that concerned him at the moment. He, with some irony, asked why were they so concerned with the procedure that Jesus had used for healing, "Why do you want to know more about him? Are you considering becoming one of his followers?"

They responded negatively and huffily, "We know what true religion is like, and we don't know anything about this new guy."

"What else do you need to know?" he replied to their criticism. "He healed me. Only if he were from God, could that have happened." The religious authorities had had enough of arguing. They expelled the man.

In discussing this episode in her commentary on John, Written that You May Believe, Sharon Schneiders says:
The reader is, of course, supposed to identify with the man born blind. But do we, perhaps, but become sophisticated evaders when that confession has consequences for our reputation or job or safety? Even worse, are we religious authority figures whose first allegiance is to the institution and who are willing to suppress the prophets among us when their testimony to their experience calls that institution or our position within it into question?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Investigation after the Miracle, a Reflection on John 9:13-23

John gives us a look at how religious people can behave. When confronted with a miracle, they asked some questions then pronounced their opinion that this Jesus could not have accomplished what was purported for him to have done. Their rationale--some of them asserted that he was not scrupulous enough in following the rules of their religion. Others categorized Jesus as a sinner and remarked that sinners weren't able to do the kinds of things that had been credited to him.

Since they weren't able to agree among themselves, they interviewed the once-blind man himself. He said "He is a prophet." Not yet satisfied, they then interviewed his parents. Because of their fear of what would be thought of them, they refused to say what they thought. Instead, they merely repeated what their son had told them. "If you want to know what he says that happened, ask him, not us."

As we consider the evangelism efforts of our particular local churches or our denomination, we might consider who represents us in this story. Are we the official religious types that can judge whether someone has been able to do the work that God wants to be done or even who is eligible to try? Are we the parents who are so afraid of others' opinions that we are incapable of admitting the good that God has done in our lives, how people close to us have been helped? Or, are we like the man who had been healed--able to recognize what has been done for us and willing to say so?

How much blindness is self-inflicted? How much blindness is protective when we really don't want to see something anyway?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Blindness, a Reflection on John 9:1-12

Theological reflection (that I find troubling so I'm going to skip over) followed by action. Jesus sees a problem that needs to be solved, so he gets to work immediately.

Notice that the blind man did not ask Jesus for help.

Onlookers don't accept that a miracle has occurred. Their responses include questioning whether it happened at all to asking how it did happen. When the no-longer-blind man tells them that and how Jesus cured his blindness, they wanted to know where Jesus was now.

Did they want to thank him? Did they want him to do something for them now? Did they want to learn how to help other people who needed it?

Do we recognize miracles?

What is our reaction to someone's being healed? What do we want to know? Why?

Can we remember (or imagine) being brought out of something as difficult as blindness?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Circle Widens, a Reflection on John 4:39-42

She had been an unlikely choice for evangelist--a woman when women weren't supposed to do public things and a member of an ethic group that was considered not to be one that they would have anything to do with anyway. Yet, having met Jesus, she listened to him, and she believed him enough to go around telling other people what she had heard. And many of them believed in him because of her testimony. Because they believed, they invited Jesus to stay with them. And many more believed because of his word.

We don't have to do all the work ourselves. We don't have to do all the proving and convincing. We can trust that the word of Jesus is still convincing. Yet, we do need to do some work, some telling what we have heard, what we have experienced. Let us remember that we don't even have to be fully convinced in order to be convincing.