Good Friday Meditation Year A

John Michael Gutierrez, Ph.D.

One of the crucified lamented….

Jesus can you throw me a line….
         All I wanted was something better for us
                 My wife, my loving heart
                         We were so poor
                         But you so rich
                                 Your eyes sparkle silver in the starry night
                                 Your face glows golden in the day’s sunset
                 And now… and now… this is the end
Jesus can you throw a dying man a line….

Jesus can you throw me a line….
         My son, my only son, won’t you remember me
         I can’t be with you any longer
                 A freedom fighter’s life is never free
                 It’s getting dark, too dark to see
Jesus can you throw a dying man a line….

Jesus can you throw me a line…
         All I wanted was peace on earth
                 I hold my breath for as long as I can
                 Waves of pain roll over my face
                 I pray for the strength not to want to breath
                 Fluid fills my lungs, I want to collapse
         All I wanted was peace on earth
Jesus can you throw a dying man a line….

Jesus can you throw me a line..
         I asked questions I didn’t want answered
                 Voices in my head, voices in my heart
                 Nails in my wrists, nails in my ankles
         All I wanted was peace on earth
Jesus can you throw a dying man a line…

Jesus can you throw me a line….
         My god, there’s a red river flowing away from me
                 It’s separating me from all I know and love
                 My name isn’t even written above my head
         I’ll be lost to everyone’s memory soon
Jesus can you throw a dying man a line….

Jesus can you throw a dying man hope?
Jesus can you throw a dying man faith?
Jesus can you throw a dying man love?
Jesus king of the Jews remember me!

And Jesus answered
         You didn’t have to go it alone
         I could have taken some of the blows
         You could have given some of the pain to me
Give it to me now!
Truly I tell you Today you will be with me in paradise

John 9.1-41 | Lent 4A

John Michael Gutierrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” 10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. 11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. 17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” 18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” 26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not

from God, he could do nothing.” 34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

The Gospel of the Lord

When you read and/or study the Fourth Gospel, it doesn’t take long to realize it’s a narrative with sophisticated literary organization and complex theology. Our Gospel lesson, covering the entire ninth chapter, is widely regarded as a masterpiece in storytelling. So at this point we as readers should not be surprised other literary-theological strands have been woven into a substantial cable. It will benefit us to unravel the cable a bit here and there. Ch. 9 begins by telling us Jesus heals a blind beggar on a Sabbath in Jerusalem. But this is only one lengthy scene in a wider context. The actual context stretches from ch. 5 to 10, and is staged mostly in Jerusalem, sometimes in the Temple, during three festivals: Passover, Sukkoth, aka Pentecost and Dedication, aka Hanukkah. This single block of five chapters narrates a “dust up” played out between Jesus, Temple and Pharisaic religious leadership, collectively identified as the “Judeans” (9.18), festival crowds and some of Jerusalem’s residents. The conflict simmers in chs. 5,6,7, then power boils in ch. 8 and 9, then boils over in ch. 10. From ch. 11 onward, the scenes are setting the stage for the final rejection of Jesus and his mission. May I say to you at the outset: this is a limited “family” dust up. A dispute carried on between Jesus and some religious leaders and other Jewish folk, not all religious leaders or folk, either then or for all time.

Readers enter the scene as the disciples and Jesus are about to pass by a blind beggar on a Jerusalem street. We know how begging usually works, then and now. With difficulty, daily, he makes his way to some spot on a road and calls out to passers-by for spare change. But a blind man cannot “see” his prospective donors coming so he has to listen very carefully for the sounds of people passing by. The blind man hears footsteps stop in front of him. He has been seen! He can feel it in his bones. We are not told he asks for spare change. But why wouldn’t he? He listens to voices talking about him in the third person. Nothing unusual here – Everyone talks about him as if he was invisible. To most folk, he was a nuisance, and the way to avoid him was to not “see” him. So why should this day be different? Little does he realize how different this day and many others will be! Then a voice questions: “Rabbi, who sinned, this one or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9.1-2). I doubt whoever raises the issue of sin, my money is on Philip and Andrew, does it under their breath. So the blind man overhears the question. Then another Voice rejects the “sin” reasons. Listen to the Voice’s rejection in Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. It’s insightful: “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. See instead what God can do.” The Voice says blindness

is not about the parent’s sin or even his own sin. He had not gotten what he deserved. (b. Shabb. 55a). The Voice says: “what is about to happen is a sign that the Lord sees (9.3).

Doing God’s work involves “seeing” while there is opportunity to act. Doing God’s work is about making a difference in someone’s life. The Voice will say “I am the light of the world” set down into the midst of people’s lives in vs. 5. But notice the writerly skill—before the “I” there is a “we” in vs. 4 “we must do the work of him who sent me”. Anyone, you and I, anywhere, on any street, can be of service, meeting needs, treating people right.

Then the Voice acts. The blind man hears someone spit. He flinches at the sound then realizes he hasn’t been spit upon. He thinks triumphantly “Hah, Missed!” At first sight, what must surely feel cruel to him, mud is being put on his eyes. Then the Voice tells him to go over to the Siloam pool and wash his eyes. The Voice promises nothing and says nothing further. As he turns to go, he hears the Voice’s footsteps going the other way. Arriving at the pool, he washes the mud off his eyes. He can see light. He can see people. He can see for the first time in his life!

As the now sighted man enters his neighborhood, a new cast of characters enters the story—”neighbors” who knew him primarily through his blindness. And others who knew him primarily as a beggar. In his first telling, he eagerly contrasts his sight gift with the gross way it started. “I heard this person, Jesus, spit, then felt a wet, gritty mud anoint my eyes. Then he told me to go wash the mud off, and then I could see!” (vs. 11). We don’t know how he knows Jesus’ name. He cannot say much about Jesus other than calling him a person. But the neighbors are now uncertain as to his identity. Note carefully, there’s no joy in this hood. Rather than seeing smiles the first time he ever sees his neighbor’s faces or hearing sounds of celebration, he sees frowns and mouths arguing whether it’s actually him. What should have been a restoration of social relationships has been turned upside down. He is made to defend himself. There’s only questions about his being a “blind impersonator”, demands to identify who did this and, finally, demands about where this person “Jesus” can be found (vss. 8-12).They could understand, they could live with sin or supposed sin that led to his blindness, sin that led to a breakdown in social relationships. But this, this healing, it doesn’t fit into their worldview. Watching the awkward debate about whether or not he is who he says he is, he pleads “it’s me, for heaven’s sake!”(vs. 9). Deflecting his plea, they want to know where this person, Jesus is. He says, “I don’t know” (vs. 12). The neighborhood is thinking: How can a miracle worker disappear so quickly? Why didn’t he stick around to have his picture taken for the Daily Prophet?

The heated neighborhood conflict hits power boil when the now sighted man, and soon after his parents, are brought before religious leadership, Pharisees and temple authorities, named collectively “the Judeans” in vs. 18. The tension is ratched up at least a couple more notches when the narrator informs us “Jesus made mud on a sabbath”(vs. 14).

The once-blind man tells them a clearly edited version of the incident. He no longer says that Jesus “anointed” his eyes only that he merely “put” mud on them. Neither does he name Jesus and says nothing about washing at the Siloam pool. But from what he does tell them, they determine Jesus did things which were not “lawful” on a Sabbath: spitting to make mud, anointing and allowing washing (b. Yoma 84b; p. Shabb. 14, 14d, 17ff; b. Av. Zar. 28b; m. Shabb. 7.2).

They hear evidence of his restored sight and now “see” he is able to “see”. Yet they turn to debate about the nature and timing of the healing. They argue over Jesus’ authority to make mud, to heal on a Sabbath. Just as there’s no joy in the neighborhood; there’s no joy in this synod. Instead we hear their “voiced” belief-conflicted dilemma: some of them argue, theoretically, a godly person could do a healing but others argue only a sinner would ever do this kind of act on a Sabbath (vs. 16). Don’t miss the point of their dilemma: both want to preserve supervision authority over ritual and behavior. So fast forward to vs. 28. “We are disciples of Moses”. Here we need to unravel a theological cable. Why does “making mud and healing on a Sabbath” make Jesus a sinner? It’s because he disregards their Oral Torah. In the Second Temple period Oral Torah was an evolving collection of supposed “original” interpretations passed down from Moses. The Pharisees were describing the Oral Torah as a “fence” around the Sinai Torah (m. Avoth 1.1; m. Shabb, 7.2, 8.1). They were in the process of elevating this collection to co-status with Sinai’s Torah. Their interpretations, the Oral Torah, are a way of clothing the covenantal experience of obedience with a regulated, supervised conformity. For the Pharisees, a fence keeps things out. But as Jesus repeatedly confronts this pharisaic remodeling project in all four gospels, he keeps pointing out that “traditions of men” not only keep ideas out, but the “fence” keeps the authoritative Torah from getting out also. The pushback is especially acute in the 4th Gospel right from the first chapter where Jesus, identified as the Word, is theologically presented as the authoritative, the only Oral Torah who was born and moved into the neighborhood (1.14).

The formerly blind man knows he has experienced something mysterious, transforming. For him, Jesus is now a prophet not merely a person and by the end of the story he will be Lord (vs. 17, cf. vs. 11, vs. 38). Then the authorities make another move. In order to confirm that he was born blind they bring in his parents. They ask “Is this your boy, who, you say, was born blind? How is he able to see?” (notice boy not man!). But they will only confirm he was born blind. They don’t know who did this or how it happened. And they back out of the scene (vs. 21). The narrator tells us the reason for their departure: the Judeans were threatening anyone who confessed Jesus as messiah (vs. 22). The parents were not prepared to deal with such a threat. But what’s such a threat to this man? He’s been an outcast, on the edges of social religious relationships his whole life. He won’t be bullied by their increased hostility.

In vss. 25-33, the now sighted man tweaks the Judeans’ nose “Why do you want to hear it again? I’ve already told you twice and you haven’t listened”. He slyly asks, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” He delivers a pointed theological lecture. Again Eugene Peterson “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

Their rage explodes, “How dare you lecture us!” In their anger, they spit “You were steeped in sin at birth” (vs. 34). And the man thinks triumphantly “Hah, Missed!”. The Voice already rejected that reason. (vs. 3). The synod scene exposes how deeply the authorities were threatened by Jesus. Gales force winds are gusting down upon their “fencing” project. The religious leaders were unable to accept the healing. This healing doesn’t conform to their understanding of religious propriety. The Lord doesn’t heal on a Sabbath, they assert. Healing only occurs in prescribed ways and times, they claim. Anything else cannot come from the Lord, they believe. At this point, the religious leaders have flat out rejected the healing as the Lord’s act. They’ve returned to their understanding of the man’s blindness as a product of sin and nothing more.

And they give him the left foot of fellowship. And Jesus heard they expelled him, goes looking for and finds the man (vs. 35). Vss. 39-41 tells us the story has flipped. We thought this is a story about the hardships of, and judgments about blindness. Only to find out it’s criticism about the judgements of social and religious blindness to how the Lord acts. And we realize John’s storytelling can’t get any better than this.

As for me, sometimes I get stuck when I “see” the Lord being/acting contrary. I don’t like it when the Lord goes rogue. I like the Lord to color between the lines, to drive the speed limit, in fact, to stay in the far right lane. But it’s Gospel lessons like this that let me “see” the Lord likes to speed, sometimes likes to change lanes – without signalling. Not only does the Lord not color between the lines; it sometimes appears that he doesn’t even know that the lines are there. The authority, the position involved in mediating access to divine knowledge is seductive, not only for the Judeans. When I “see” the Lord and his acts in the world through my interpretation of how he could or should behave, I have “fenced” him in. Chasing that which I cannot capture, I have created, in the words of the Anglican Bible translator JB Phillips, “a God who is too small”.

Lenten Peace, my Beloved.

Matthew 17.1-9 | Transfiguration A

John Michael Guiterrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mathew

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Gospel of the Lord

This is the seventh Sunday of Epiphany and in lectionary arithmetic it’s named Quinquagesima counting down 50 days until Easter. The vision scene described in this morning’s Gospel lesson, the transfiguration, found in three of the four gospels, has been a regular visitor to lectionaries since the Fourth Century. And through various prayer book revisions has found what seems to be its permanent position as the last Sunday of Epiphany. It’s brilliance has been positioned as a theological bookend to the brilliance of the resurrection. The transfiguration is something of a good Cliff’s Notes introduction presenting a clear discussion of Matthew’s Gospel thought and its significance about the stories of Jesus’ suffering and death that fill out the bookshelf in-between. We can get a library card in three days—Ash Wednesday.

Previously Jesus and his entourage departed from the familiar sights and sounds of the north shore of Lake Galilee walking NE to the agricultural/urban area around Caesarea Philippi. We don’t know much about his movements. Roughly, whichever owl you choose, he was now about 25 miles north of Capernaum and about 120 miles north of Jerusalem. Matthew tells us Jesus was wildly popular. Ordinary folk gathered around him as he passed through villages. The crowds kept getting bigger and bigger. Matthew also tells us he had come under the critical religious surveillance of the Temple authorities as well as the Pharisees. What Matthew also tells us, “now” is the turning point. Here is the “come to Jerusalem” moment for Jesus: 16.21 “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Here is also the “come to Jesus” moment for any would-be disciples:16.24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The road ahead for both will run through suffering and for some, death.

So heading across the EW road to the NS crossroad as they approach a village named Meron close to the slope of the 4000 ft Mt Meron, they slow down, then stop. Three fishermen, Peter, James and John don’t know it yet but they’re going to climb that mountain with Jesus.

If we pause to look briefly to the end of the scene, vs. 9, we read Jesus instructs them not to mention this event until after his Resurrection. And they were pretty tight lipped about what happened. But I suspect they couldn’t think of much else for days. Like when you stare at the sun for even a moment, and for a long time afterward, when you close your eyes, the imprint of that dazzling sun is still there. We don’t know how long it took for Matthew to pry the details out of them. I suppose it took careful conversations and after that careful wording to edit it into a Gospel narrative.

Now circle the scene with me. Leaving the crowds and the other disciples, they set off not really knowing what to expect. But I do think they hoped they might have a chance to talk Jesus out of all that strange, scary stuff he had been saying about suffering and dying, about saving or losing lives.

On the climb, somewhere, all of a sudden Jesus’ face started to shine brighter than the sun making the day feel dark. He was changed before them quite literally. The thin veil of this earthy setting was pulled away so that a presence could be seen in all its essential transcendance: Jesus—God with us—wrapped in light as in an overcoat. And the overcoat was not royal blues, like those Roman pretenders to the title “Lord”, nor multi-colored robes worn by the Temple hierarchy but simple white cloth.

Matthew winks knowingly at the readers.They had come up here to be alone, but once on the mountain, here comes company. Matthew doesn’t give us any clues how they know it’s Moses and Elijah appearing beside Jesus but notice in the scene the presence of Peter, James and John is ignored in this mystical proceeding. For their part, they might feel they have stumbled upon something they were not supposed to see. In this instant of transfigured clarity, however, they see the humanity of Jesus infused with divine presence. Quick on the uptake they may have the impression from Jesus talking with the two great figures of Jewish faith that the kingdom had arrived. For a moment they may have even contemplated that this glorious, shining, dazzling super-human Messiah will wipe away all opposition. What a spectacle they could make on the journey to Jerusalem. Think of the advertising possibilities—Jesus with Moses and Elijah. What a sight when they enter the city.

Peter finds his voice and speaks to Jesus “Lord, it is good for us to be here” but his words are little more than a plea to be useful: If you wish, I will put up three sanctuaries: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” It seems reasonable to me his proposal refers to the modular sanctuary positioned in the midst of the 12 clans. A sanctuary that shielded Israel from the shekinah brilliance of YHWH’s presence during the Wilderness treks. Here’s what I think Peter wants to do. He wants to shield/cover this shekinah-like brilliance, to package it in order to take it down the mountain and on the road trip to Jerusalem.

But he only gets it partly right—shippable sanctuaries might be ok for Moses and Elijah but Matthew has positioned us as readers to know that this supernatural vision confirms once again Jesus is “God in the midst of us” and that already his body is the transporting sanctuary.

Now you may be thinking. And you’re right. Here’s where I’m supposed to say to you: Peter is a dufus. That’s a useful theological term you might want to hang onto. When I look back on the privilege, the deep mysterious gift of my British education, I realize it was partly my American mentor who positioned me to be in the midst of one of the most significant turn-arounds in Biblical Studies. There have been three significant, lasting developments: 1) the fundamental orientation of the Bible’s theological library is Jewish, 2) close reading of the Bible’s final form is foundational to developing its meaning and 3) the original author influences how the literatures are to be read by choosing a literary form or, in the case of the Gospels, creating one.

Privilege in christian terms comes as responsibility. To whom much is given much is required is the guiding text of privilege. If you and I are deeply privileged then we are called to real responsibility. May I say to you allowing Matthew to have a controlling, a teaching interest in this scene and in the disciples’ and Peter’s characterizations direct us to look more responsibly at his discipleship theme.

As I mentioned the conventional expectation is to get in with the twitter mob and pile on Peter for always blurting out ideas without thinking, always good at missing the point, always looking at things from a human perspective. All the while we act as though we’re more knowing, more enlightened, to stay with the imagery of our brightly lit scene. Usually at some point, feeling self conscious about being so hard on him, we try to find a way to bind up the bruises and wounds – his and ours.

I want to propose a more balanced way to understand the disciples’ and Peter’s characterization. Specifically Matthew’s intentions for discipleship are best viewed from a wider characterization. Please allow me to take us back to chapter 16 for two very important incidents that complement this transfiguration scene

In the first scene, 16.13-20, Matthew has Jesus question all the disciples. The effect is to show us that they are very much engaged in the hustle/bustle around Caesarea Philippi. They’re tracking with the events and listening to the various conversations. Initially he asks them “what’s the ‘word on the street’?”, that is, what’s the buzz about me? (vs. 13-14). Then he narrows the focus “who do you, disciples, say I am?” Matthew has Peter answer for them “You are the Messiah, YHWH’s son”(vs. 15-16). We might think. Right. No more phone calls. We have a winner. Then Jesus’ first qualification is heard: Peter is right but his prompt comes from Fatherly help “ for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (vs. 17). For your consideration I suggest Matthew is here prompting us, who would-be disciples, not to evaluate Peter or the other disciples’ lack of understanding or insight as a “negative” characterization. It simply reflects a disciple’s condition in general. We are always in need of divine, that is, fatherly revelation. Then Matthew emphasizes the positive value of the scene: Peter’s name is changed by Jesus. But as with all plays-on-words, there is slippery-ness. And you and I can talk at length about the Roman Catholic route where the pun between rock and stone is Peter himself as the founder of that church or the Patristic-Reformation route where the pun between rock and stone makes the Messianic identification the building block of the church. Whichever one you choose, I still expect you to pay for my lunch. Then Jesus’ second qualification is heard: Don’t spread this “Messiah” identification stuff around (vs. 20).

Bottom line for Matthew, unless there is revelation from the Father about, say, “why the Messiah must die and rise again”, even a perceptive disciple will probably not connect the dots. So in the second scene, 16.21-23 Matthew again shows us the disciples are engaged with Jesus’ conversations. His ministry is swinging around toward Jerusalem. So He begins to speak about the road ahead “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life” (vs. 21). The high point of acknowledging Jesus as Messiah is now muddied by his talk of dying. Matthew has arranged this scene to follow the previous one in order to shatter any supposed triumph with the actual difficult path that lies ahead. The disciples fail to grasp the significance. Matthew positions Peter to express their confusion with a plea-like, “Mercy, no!” or “May YHWH in his mercy prevent this from happening to you.” Matthew implies that the disciples speaking through Peter could not perceive any way YHWH’s will could be accomplished by Jesus’ death. Then Matthew lines up Peter for another business card. Taking the more Jewish meaning of the word “satan”, Jesus says “Get back, who appointed you, my adversary”? This time there was no divine, no revealing prompt from the Father.

The disciples’ characterizations in ch. 16 along with those in the transfiguration scene matter enormously. Matthew’s Gospel holds in tension transcendance with the mediation of a living, dynamic, reciprocal relationship in which Jesus and the Father emerge from the mists of divine mystery. As “God with us”, Jesus makes it possible to stand in the Father’s presence, to know and be known, without being overwhelmed by the gap between us and a loving, yet holy person. Matthew intends to draw us into this relationship through Peter’s and the disciple’s characterizations. These scenes are intended to teach us that sometimes circumstances are quite overwhelming and yet we should try to find our footing in them. Sometimes in the ordinariness of life we make that discovery. Sometimes circumstances will remain mysterious, unanswered. In Matthew’s wider teaching intentions, disciples should be creating a community setting in which all can/should speak up. Sometimes you, perhaps I, will get it right. Sometimes I, perhaps you, will get it wrong. Sometimes you, perhaps I, will get it partly right. And sometimes I, perhaps you, won’t get it at all. The implication of Matthew’s intention for disciples: you/I should be teachable, that is, open to a divine prompt, a new direction, a new instruction, even correction sometimes. These scenes show every disciple that Peter and the others are wrapped up in human limitations and understandings, which in itself is not a negative thing, just a normal thing, a disciple thing.

The divine voiceover “this is my son, my beloved one. I am pleased with him. Listen to him” brings us back to the scene. May I suggest Matthew has verbally joined the two most profound stories in all the Bible. We know Matthew has linked this scene to Jesus’ turning toward Jerusalem and the cross (ch. 16.). And now the voiceover undergirds this turning by weaving in a father-son relationship. Matthew has subtly front-loaded another father-son relationship. In the genealogy that begins the Gospel he has referred to Jesus as Abraham’s son along with Isaac (1.1-2). The voiceover here “my son, my beloved one” echoes the resonance of Abraham and YHWH’S conversation: “Take, pray, ​your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac,….and offer him up as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen. 22.2-3)​. I suggest Matthew’s narrative genius has deliberately woven a dramatic burden into his Gospel. Specifically, like Abraham and Isaac, as Jesus, the favored son, the beloved son, the only son walks toward the sacrifice mountain, he will not be alone but be accompanied by the Father. It is appropriate for us to consider that YHWH walks with Jesus toward the calvary mountain and for us to consider Abraham’s theological realization is ours also “On YHWH’s mountain, he will be seen.”(Gen. 22.14). Beginning today, Matthew, and in three days our Anglican tradition, will ask each of us: Am I/Are you ready to walk the walk with the Father and the Son? Am I/Are you/Are we ready to walk the walk with each other? Remember Jesus exhorts us the discipleship road is costly. It will transform us, individually and corporately. May I suggest everything/everyone you will need for a Lenten journey is here now. So choose wisely.

Now, my beloved, may the word of the Lord richly dwell in us in all wisdom. Amen

Matthew 4.12-22 | Epiphany 3A

John Michael Gutierrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

The Gospel of the Lord

Consistently during the Sundays of Advent through Christmas, Matthew’s Gospel readings develop the complexity of Jesus’ messianic identity through dreams, the shaping presence of the Spirit, speeches, angelic appearances, probing questions and geography. During Epiphany’s Sundays, the climax of the Advent/Christmas season, the complexity of Jesus’ mission is developed through dreams, the shaping presence of the Spirit, speeches, angelic appearances, probing questions and geography. This morning’s lectionary brings the core ideas of Jesus’ identity and mission in the two seasons together around the Baptizer. In Advent 3’s Gospel John sent some of his disciples from his imprisonment to Jesus with probing questions intended to clarify his messianic identity. This morning’s Gospel reading, Epiphany 3, takes us back before John’s arrest to Jesus’ response to the first news about that arrest. As it turns out the Baptizer’s arrest signals for Matthew the beginning of Jesus’ mission and his assembling a nucleus of followers to share in the task of reaching Jews and Gentiles with the kingdom message.

This Sunday’s Gospel, a mere 11 sentences, needs close reading in order to unpack its key features. So allow me to pause for a public service announcement: One of the ways to enrich our personal study of Matthew’s Gospel in this year is to place a map next to our Bible. For it seems to me that Matthew reckons we are familiar with the geography of the Land. Because what Matthew does involves more than Google maps. Woven into the fabric of the Gospel’s narrative is his distinctive intention to teach us the Geography of the Spirit.

Now, a bit of a road trip. Our Gospel reading on the first Sunday of Epiphany gave us a sense of the Land, and a few other ideas. So let’s backtrack to Jesus’ geographical path in ch. 3. Jesus decided to leave his home, Nazareth in the Galilee, walking SoEast through the Decapolis and Perea into Judea. He enters the Jordan delta to meet up with the Baptizer’s kingdom renewal movement. Once there, he was baptized and then “spirited” into the Judean wilderness. Now our Epiphany 3 reading tells us Jesus, still in Judea, hears that the Baptizer has been arrested. So he decides to retrace his path back to the Galilee. He wades back through the Jordan river, the approximately 90 miles to his home, Nazareth. But he doesn’t stay there long, In a strategic decision, he leaves to reside in Capernaum – a harbor village on Lake Galilee, 30 miles to the NE. Now a 100 mile plus journey may not sound like much to us, who are accustomed to driving 70 miles an hour plus (may the Lord have mercy on us!), but in a day when nothing moved faster than you could walk,100 miles plus was quite a bit more than a stroll. Only after reading further into Mathew’s Gospel, will we discover that Jesus’ taking himself very far away from Judea, from Jerusalem and its temple was a spirit driven necessity. We will learn, also, that Matthew’s Jesus, although residing in Capernaum, is, nonetheless, a nomadic wanderer having embraced the Lord’s call. And there is in this- a detail I would like us to hold on to: before Jesus asks anyone to leave their home or family and follow him, he has already left his home and family in Nazareth.

Capernaum was one of a dozen back water fishing anchorages along the northwest lake shore. Magdala was the largest village but Capernaum had the largest harbor. Boats came and went regularly, plying their trade. While not on the main road, Roman roads still made it a trade center. In the Galilee during Herod Antipas’s reign the economic situation was largely one of heavy taxation due to his increased building projects. State control over commerce and fishing was imposed by tax collectors and toll rates. It is not without a good reason that the word “debt” keeps popping up in this Gospel.

But now Matthew inserts a snippet of an oracle from a prophetic heavyweight – Isaiah- moving us to consider that charting Jesus’ path involves more, much more than geography. The quote is a marker that geography has a theological dimension. These covenant-evoking names, Naphtali and Zebublun, frame the land as a divine gift yet this land is occupied by imperial powers- previously by Assyria but presently by Rome so much so that it has changed its name “Galilee of the Gentiles”. The hovering “shadow of death” that covers the land that engulfs both Jew and Gentile is not creation’s daily rhythm. This darkness is a human creation. Imagining light shining into that darkness images the Lord’s action to save Jew, Gentile and the Land. On the one hand, Matthew positions Jesus in Capernaum at the beginning of his ministry as someone who has become “God with us”by becoming a neighbor, On the other hand, Matthew positions Jesus as YHWH’s light, his saving presence, shining into that darkness. Matthew wants us to expand our perspective about mission so that when we come to the end of the gospel, Ch. 28, we are primed to hear Jesus’ voice not Isaiah’s, say “Go, Make disciples of all the nations”. Divine geography ripples out from Galilee into the farthest borders of the Roman Empire. Right from the start Jew and Gentile are co-recipients of salvation through Jesus.

Moved by John’s arrest, having settled in Capernaum, Jesus began preaching in Galilee the very message his predecessor preached in Judea. “Repent, for the kingdom has come near.” He has found his voice. Repent is a geographical word, an action word. It has the sense of turning around and going in a different direction. Repent means to do spring cleaning, to clear that path of debris and stuff so that there is a clear, straight path for the Lord to enter and direct my life. It has the sense of reversing the way I look at the world and carry myself in it. It draws a line between whatever is happening out there and what most needs to happen inside me. Jesus’ message also makes use of imperial language – kingdom/empire. The Biblical idea is YHWH is a great king who asserts authority over Israel and the nations. But as Matthew unpacks YHWH’s authority it will be redefined in scenes of healing, service, compassion, and dramatically, resurrection, that repair Imperial damage. It will be the kind of kingdom that empowers and restores, bringing individuals into community relationships. This Kingdom becomes the hope that the current kingdom of this world is not final.

“As Jesus was walking along the lakeshore…”, he tosses out “Come on. After me.”. He doesn’t pitch any ideas or persuade anyone. This One with a Davidic ancestry doesn’t ask questions about ancestry, education, abilities, even the availability for an extended time away from the job. He seems merely to look for what gets tangled up in a verbal net. And he catches two sets of brothers hard at work – fishing. On the surface, each has little reason to leave their current way of life. Each seemingly has a steady job and, more importantly, familial ties to their vocations.

Now I do most of my fishing at the Olde Ship pub in Fullerton so my understanding is limited to reading primary and secondary sources. Fishing was an important part of the Galilean economy. Sea-fairing communities ebb and flow to a rhythm of daily and seasonal life, developing a hard won body of navigational skills above and below the waterline. In short they live in a world very different from farmers and urban dwellers. Being a first century seaman was no day at the beach, so to speak. A fisherman’s life was a seasonal occupation, full of extremely hard work and long hours. Although there are a number of ways to fish in the ancient world, the overwhelming choice is netting. The two most common methods of net fishing involve either repeatedly tossing a net overboard and slowly rowing, hauling the net in, sometimes catching nothing to reward the effort or standing in the shallows and tossing out a weighted net hoping all the while to trap fish under it. It seems, however, that fishing had such a strong pull that while there may be other work during the off season fishing always pulled the fisherman back. On the one hand, then, from the background of fishing, we can understand why maybe the two sets of brothers willingly leave their nets when Jesus called. But on the other, from Matthew’s perspective, the two sets of brothers illustrate the seriousness of responding to Jesus’ call to change direction. Leaving their vocation and family illustrates obedience is not merely a suggestion.

“And I will send you out to fish for people” is a brilliant repurposing of a cultural image for a second life in ironic opposition to its original intention. The purpose of fishing is to capture and kill fish to use for food mostly. But in “Jesus fishing” people are “netted” in order to bring them into a renewed Israel, a believing community and give them life. “Change direction” was only half the equation. “Follow me” means do not expect to stay the same. The point is to create a sense of identity through adapting their skills to a new environment from land/sea to land/village. Their world is about to be turned right-side-up. Their vocation with its skills now comes under Jesus’ direction and guidance. Becoming a “fisher for people” is going to bring these Galilean seamen not only into relationship with Jesus, but into changed relationships with others. Simon Peter and Andrew highlight Jesus’ call to a new vocation. James and John highlight Jesus’ call takes priority over family commitments – a startling idea when family responsibility was rooted in oral tradition and Torah.These brothers were ordinary individuals called to an extraordinary task. They would not have completely understood what it meant to become fishers of people. Little did they realize how significant the change in direction would be from land/sea to the hustle/bustle of land/village. Yet they followed without hesitation. In the coming days they will often fail both to understand and to obey him. And little did they know that Jesus is about to bring another shipmate on board from Capernaum – a tax collector!

One of the most dangerous /anxiety producing things for me in reading/studying the Bible is that just when I think everything’s OK it turns and begins to read/study me! As those fishermen knew, a vocation takes time and work to develop. Today’s Gospel reading shows me, in a glimpse, that ministry is viewed through vocation. That ministry is developed out of vocational skills. In other words, ministry is found where I am found in my life. It seems to me that when I look back over my life – Jesus chose me not because I’m soooo skilled that he just can’t help but have me around. But in reflection because he saw potential in my vocational skills like he saw in some fishermen. And the question was the same: was I willing to change the direction of my life to follow him? Was I willing to become a small working model of the kingdom? And along that same line, little did I understand how difficult it would be to be consistently obedient to the stewardship of that change in direction. It seems to me there are a couple of takeaways from this reading for us. You and I have some acquired talents/skills over time but only when we change direction and follow Jesus will they be transformed into spiritual gifts. Gifts that will be effectively used in the community of faith. The very character of a vocation/ministry means that you and I are necessarily and continuously entangled in the netting of life with others. So the stewardship of our vocation/ministry with and for people is not a matter of catching but of gathering in. It’s a different mindset. It’s a different way of doing tasks. The stewardship of our vocation/ministry for and with Jesus means when we cast a net – It’s a different kind. It’s one that frees rather than captures. Our spirit gifted vocation is not easy. Sometimes there are heavy and painful burdens. Sometimes you just can’t find the fish. Sometimes you’re just exhausted.. As G.K. Chesterton observed “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried”.

Long ago, on the other side of the Atlantic, I was a shipmate on an Anglican boat. Now near the Pacific, I find myself in the shallows of St. Stephen’s Anglican. My desire is to bring my skills to this community to be transformed into spiritual gifts. To go fishing here by faith as the Lord makes possible. My prayer for each of us is that we “fish” together in serving this parish expressing an Anglican identity in ways that demonstrate to others that we are tangled up, netted with each other. And that we invite others to get tangled up, netted with us. What about you?

Now, my beloved, may the word of the Lord richly dwell in us in all wisdom. Amen

Matthew 1.18-25 | Advent 4A

John Michael Gutierrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

The Gospel of the Lord

Miriam, Hey, Miriam. there’s someone at the gate. Can you see who it is? I’m starting to fit a plow together. Matthew, a tax collector, you say. Tell him to come back next month. I’ll have finished the roof and stairs in Sepphoris and have some money then. What? not a tax collector. Oh, Matthew, it’s you. Sorry, don’t you know tax collectors, and all that. Please. Sit there while I finish up. There’s some water for your hands and feet.

Oh gosh, Matthew, where to begin. I’ve had a lot of years to think about that time in my life. Well, Ok, this is my view on how the events around Jesus’ birth unfolded.

In those years Nazareth was a small, poor village like so many others in the Galilee. But because it was close to Herod’s Galilean capital Sepphoris with its roman garrison, our village supplied skilled labor for the building projects. I was apprenticed in the family construction business. Through construction work our family and others in the village were working more than we had been in a long time. Although, as you well know, Roman taxation practices required exhausting, physical labor merely for survival. Everyone here experienced varying levels of poverty and bad health. But it was also a time to strengthen ties between the village’s clans. The elders and relatives of our families negotiated the first steps of the marriage and made the betrothal arrangements for Miriam and me. While our families come from the same village, we only saw each other on occasion. Really not much opportunity to get to know each other. I would begin the process of constructing a room in the family house and she would remain in her father’s household. But in the intervening months, before I could get a room built I had no idea how much things were about to change.

I could and did visit Miriam from time to time. On one of those times she was standing behind me. I whirled around so fast I lost my balance. Our conversation was stopped short. You’re what? – pregnant! pregnant by YHWH’s spirit! It swept me off my feet. I didn’t know her very well. I didn’t have a reason to distrust her. Did our families take too much for granted? Did we get our signals crossed? Please – tell me the truth. I tried to listen to her. I tried not to blame her. But that one word built a wall between us. Something had been lost. I felt that my undivided affection with Miriam had been stolen. Not another word was spoken between us that day. Things weren’t going as planned, not as I had planned anyway, and not as things were supposed to go. Boy, oh boy, did that one word ever change things and set in motion a most improbable, dare I say, miraculous series of events.

Look around this workshop, as you can see, I’m a tradesman, poor and someone of no consequence. Yet when I think back on that time, I realize I was being led by the Lord in a way that would transform my life in ways I would never have imagined.

It’s safe to say that my days and nights were filled with anxiety and exhausting flights of emotion. I was out of my mind. Night after night as I lay in the dark, as I pulled the blanket up over my head – I hoped that in the morning it would all be gone- just a bad dream. But I woke up every morning with a headful of ideas that were driving me insane. Could I take the risk? How do I remain faithfully obedient to the Lord? What kind of person will I become? What will others think of me? I don’t know if I can do this Lord. I need some help here.

On the other hand, should I leave her to deal with the unborn child? Would she be driven to despair, feeling abandoned? As I was thinking over Miriam’s explanations, what if they were true? Do any decisions need to be seen in a different way? What if Miriam came into the family? Could I let this child be raised as if he/she were my own? Admittedly, there were more than a few moments when I believed she had been unfaithful but it took another event (more about that in a few minutes) and years of reflection to gain a more even-handed understanding of Jesus’ birth.

And then, there were the questions, so many questions: Do I risk disobedience, becoming an outcast to the family? How should I tell the elders? What would they decide? Should I have a plan to present to them? Culturally, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. The religious traditions are simply too strong. Upon such a revelation, a response is required. The betrothal had been damaged, a violation of trust. It is a matter of personal/family honor and shame. This pregnancy, well, it’s proof that this marriage was a wrong decision. Understandably some in the family, on both sides, were outraged and would have kicked her to the curb. But I had to find some way to repair the family boundaries, to put off feuding and an endless getting even.

And do I risk becoming an outcast in the village? Will word of the pregnancy burn like a wildfire through our village? If I went ahead with the betrothal, then folk would think I had gotten her pregnant. That might be a lot easier. The town folk would have fewer reasons to question our commitment to each other. I was trying to handle this with a minimum of damage. A public divorce would bring shame and dishonor. It would have been messy. If I decided it would be simpler to break the betrothal privately then only two witnesses would be required before the elders. Although nothing is ever really private in a small village! I figured that for the rest of our life, we will be surrounded by scandal if we followed through with the betrothal. I realized I was juggling how to set things right for the child and his/her upbringing in the village. I was trying to shield him/her. I was hanging onto every bit of hope that I could muster that I could put up with the sideways glances and the gossip. I would try to protect her and the child from what I could. I would try to protect myself from what I could. Maybe I would just be angry about what has happened and maybe I would just let people talk.

I have always been careful to faithfully observe Torah and by grace I will continue. But how could I be faithful to Torah and be righteous in this situation? Leading with my heart, caring about Miriam’s vulnerability, I decided to break the betrothal privately. Ah, but that decision didn’t settle things. I still yearned for assurance that what I decided was the right thing among Torah’s options. Now all that was about to be turned upside down. Honestly, Matthew, sometimes I do lose sight of my faith. But the Lord is always there, waiting for me to come to him with my weaknesses.

But the Lord didn’t wait for me this time. He intervened with a luminous dream, cutting short the nightmare visions of accusation and estrangement playing in the theater of my dreams – unveiling the truth, – speaking to the depths of my heart, – revealing what my reasoning had failed to grasp, – plunging me back into the village.

The angelic messenger instructs me to do something more daring than a private or public dismissal of Miriam. He tells me to embrace Miriam’s pregnancy as an act of YHWH’s spirit. It’s a boy, Joe Davidson. And you will name him Jesus. Although not the father, as a Davidson, I’m to name the boy so he can take up his place in king David’s ancestry. I’m to parent this child who is the divine presence in Israel. I’m to commit myself to participating with Miriam in YHWH’s plan.

YHWH certainly is the Lord of mystery. So this is how the messiah would slip in among us – wrapped in a scandal, wrapped, also, in a miraculous act of the spirit. Through Miriam, the messiah’s destiny was set in motion. Wrapped up in Jesus, hope and deliverance came to Israel. He would not be a political or military ruler but an antidote to sin, the spiritual and moral virus which infects everything, of all the – moral, emotional, physical, intellectual – stuff in our lives and culture that just doesn’t work. He gained his power by embracing the failures.

The angel called me Joseph Davidson in the dream and that pushed me to go back and climb up my royal family tree. I found four branches, each of them, a woman, who had something of the same honor/shame shadow cast over them that makes their inclusion in Davidic ancestry extraordinary. In David’s monarchy, itself, there is Bathsheba who sprouted a branch under circumstances viewed by many as unsuitable to the dignity of royal lineage. Then there was David’s great-grandmother, the Moabite, Ruth who sprouted Jesse – the royal branch itself. And at the conquest of land, a Canaanite prostitute, Rahab was grafted in becoming Ruth’s mother-in-law. Lastly, way up in the canopy, the honor/shame incident with the patriarch Judah, himself, and Tamar, the Aramaean. To the participants in these ancestral events, things must have looked like a scandal, but when I look back now, YHWH’s hand is visible, steady and sure.

These weren’t the only women or times in my family’s royal history when events remained outside the hands of human management. I hope this isn’t too subtle. But think back with me for a moment, Matthew, to consider an event in the monarchy of Ahaz, the 10th king of Judah. Threatened by the armies of Syria and Assyria, Ahaz needed to learn that fortified cities don’t protect. Sooner or later they’re smashed down. YHWH points out a young woman to Ahaz. A young woman whose imminent birth of a Davidic princeling named “God with us” will offer Ahaz a sign of hope that the dreaded kings would be put down.

“God with us” Now I want you to consider for a moment the profound meaning cascading down upon me in that name.This child, Jesus, conceived in a virgin, Miriam, by YHWH’s spirit, is “God with us”, the real presence. Although merely a description for Jesus “God with us” is the sign of hope that underscores the surprise, the excitement, the wonderful mixing of the miraculous, the unexpected, the divine, the human. This child, Jesus, “God with us” sets in motion the accomplishment of YHWH’s saving act in his death, as a ransom for people from every clan and nation, by his resurrection and reaches its climax when he sits beside the Ancient of Days to judge Israel and the nations.

So I finished building the room in the family house. The child was born. I held him ever so lovingly in my arms. Miriam completed her mothering ritual. At his circumcision he was named Jesus. By naming the child I became his legal father and he sprouted his branch in the royal family tree. After a road trip to Egypt we returned to Nazareth and Miriam brought all her belongings to set up our household. I fed him, walked him around the room until he fell asleep on my shoulder. He squeezed my finger tightly as he took his first steps. I took him to the synagogue on the Sabbaths. I apprenticed him into the building trades. I listened to his hopes and dreams as we worked side by side. And then, one day – he was gone.

And may I say to you, Matthew, you know more about that part of his life than I do.

Now, my beloved, may the word of the Lord richly dwell in us in all wisdom. Amen