Friday, January 28, 2011

Mr. Aggravation

This post is linked to Sunday Snippets

Y'all remember last week we covered a couple of Jesus' first miracles, such as...making wine from the water, yes, and...healing the paralyzed man. Yes. You may remember, in that story Jesus aggravated the scribes...why? Because they said he couldn't forgive sins. Yes; and by working the physical miracle, Jesus showed he had authority to work the...spiritual miracle, yes, which was...forgiving sins!  Yes.

Jesus aggravated a lot of people over the 3 years of his public ministry, but they were aggravated because Jesus told the truth. But even average people could get angry with Jesus, not just scribes and Pharisees; let's look at an example.

After John baptized Jesus, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and preparing for his mission. While he was out of the public eye, people would have talked about John the Baptist fussing over Jesus at the Jordan: all that Lamb of God business, and the dove. So in Luke's Gospel, after Jesus leaves the desert he pays a visit to his hometown...Beth...Nazareth! Yes, and he goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Everyone is pleased to see the famous local boy, and he is invited to read from the Torah, like the way lectors read from the Bible at Mass. Jesus reads a bit from his favorite prophet, Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord." And he closed the book...and he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke well of him, and they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" The scripture reading sounds like good news: healing the blind, maybe some prophesying, Jesus saying he's anointed, the scripture is fulfilled...this ain't no ordinary Saturday! Now tell me, what's the Hebrew word for anointed? Messiah? Yes. Who gets anointed? Kings...yes, and...people like Elijah...prophets? Yes. So Jesus must be...a king or a prophet? Yes...or both. And in those days who was in charge of Judea? Caesar? Yes, who was...a banana...ha, the Roman emperor! Yes, and did the Jews enjoy being subjects of the emperor? No! Because? He took their money and stuff! Yes, the Jews were oppressed, but they remembered when Israel was independent, and they were waiting for a...Messiah, yes, an Anointed One, in Greek a Christos, a King like...David! Yes, or...Solomon!  Yes, to "set at liberty those who are oppressed." When Jesus said that, who did the people at the synagogue think were the oppressed people who would be set at liberty? Themselves! Yes, that'd be nice news! No more Caesar and his taxes and soldiers. Everybody's feelin' alright.

But then Jesus says, "I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow." Tell me that story, we've had it in class. She was starving but let him have some of her food so he made a miracle and she never ran out. Yes. God had Elijah miraculously help a pagan woman, not one of the starving Chosen People in Israel.

And Jesus went on: "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." Tell it please. He washed in the river 7 times and he wasn't a leper anymore. Yes, so even though "there were many lepers in Israel," God saw fit to have Elisha miraculously heal a pagan.

"When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away." (all from Luke 4) One minute Jesus is the hometown boy, the next minute they're gonna throw him off a cliff! Why's that? No guesses? That's ok, even grownups don't always figure this out. Jesus is telling them that the good news he's proclaiming about liberation from oppression and so forth may not apply to them even though they're "Sons of Abraham," as John the Baptist would say. Jesus is saying that in the past, sometimes God gave miracles to pagans instead of Jews. Jesus is reminding everyone that God rewards people not because of who they are, their status, but by...what they do!  Yes. Isaiah used to say this same thing; he aggravated people, too. And both Jesus and John would tell people a tree is judged good or bad by the fruits it produces: "for the tree is known by its fruit." Of course they're talking about...people, and the fruits are...what you do. Yes. We're made of a...body'n'soul, uh-huh, and if we do good things, then...our souls are good. Yes. Unless you're being deceitful, which of course is a sin.

What's the 3rd Commandment? Huh? Topic change, tell me please. Don't use the Lord's name in vain? Close, that's #2. Keep holy the Lord's Day? That's it! Let's see...for the first 6 days what did God do? Make everything! Yes, and then? He rested! Yes. On the 7th day, God shabbated, he...rested. Yes, because he was tired? No, so we would rest. Yes, he set the example, just like Jesus. Well, if I'm shabbating, resting on the Sabbath, can I cut the grass? Yes. Can I wash the car? Yes. Can I fix a bicycle? I think so. Suppose I hate to fix bikes or do yard work? I don't know. Go to the office? I don't think so. See, deciding what work is can be tricky; and the Jews had 39 rules for the Sabbath so they could be absolutely positive they were resting and not doing any work. And the Pharisees took all these rules very seriously. They'd busybody other people and say, "hey darlin' you can't be patching those pants on the Sabbath" or "don't sharpen that knife on the Sabbath." The Pharisees were obsessed with the rules. I can't imagine feeling restful by checking 39 rules. Anyway, one Sabbath day Jesus and the apostles were walking, and were hungry. So they picked some wheat, and as they walked they were rubbing the grains hard between their hands like this to get the chaff off; chaff's the hard outside that people usually don't eat. "But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath." They meant that rubbing the wheat was preparing a meal, which is work. "He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?"  When David was on the run from King Saul, he and his men were allowed to eat bread that had been saved in the Temple for God. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that he has as much authority as David. Then he says, "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here." And the only thing more important than God's temple would be...God? Yes, so Jesus is saying in a roundabout way that he is God. And he ices the cake by saying, "For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath." (all Matthew 12) Uh-oh, Jesus means his judgement about what counts for work on the Sabbath is more authoritative than the 39 rules and the Pharisees. So they...are...aggravated! Yes! But they could've listened to Jesus and thought about what the point is of a day of rest, and whether so many rules really help or are just a burden. But their pride prevented them.

And "he went on from there, and entered their synagogue. And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?" so that they might accuse him." If a doctor heals someone on the Sabbath, then he's working, so they want to trip Jesus up. They ask him a simple, direct question, "but He said to them, "What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, whole like the other. But the Pharisees went out and [discussed] how to destroy him.

This time Jesus aggravates the Pharisees by not answering their picky question about the 39 rules; instead he says there is a higher law, "to do good on the sabbath," and heals the man. Jesus is teaching a good lesson about God and rules, but they don't want to listen. And like those people at the Nazareth synagogue, they are angry enough to kill him.

A couple more aggravation stories and we'll move on. Jesus was in Jerusalem, and healed a man who was sick and lying on a pallet. A pallet is a thin little mattress you can carry. "Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the sabbath. So the [Pharisees] said to the man who was cured, "It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet." Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you." I like this line, because the man was sick for 38 years; but what does Jesus think is worse than that? Sinning? Yes. Jesus is reminding the man that spiritual sickness, sin, is worse than physical sickness. Then "The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working still, and I am working." Now let's think a bit: in Genesis, God worked for...6 days...then...rested! Yes, and did he just shabbat for all eternity after those 6 days? Well? That sounds weird. Yes, it does, and Jesus said his father is still working, so he must be. Tell me, how did God make light? Did he make a fire? No, he just said let there be light. And...then there was light. Yes, so if God thinks about something existing exists!  Yes. For God, to think of something is to create it. Jesus said once that we are each so precious to God that he knows every hair on our heads; but how does the hair exist in the first place? God thinks about it? Yes, God knows every hair because he is thinking about each one all the time. Suppose he just forgot about my hair one day...what would happen to my hair?'d disappear! Yes. Actually there's a place on the back of my head where I think he's forgetting...oh well. So what is the work that God is still doing? Thinking about everything! So keeps existing? Yes. One way I think about Jesus saying his Father is still working is that the Universe is made of the energy of God thinking about how much he loves his Creation in general, and us in particular. So if God still does good work all the time, even on the Sabbath, it's ok for us "to do good on the sabbath" without checking 39 rules.

"This was why the [Pharisees] sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God." Once again, Jesus' critics want to protect their positions of authority, and would rather get rid of him than listen to him.

Now in addition to healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus healed lots of other people. For example there was a man named Jairus, whose daughter was deathly sick. Do you you suppose he stayed home and prayed? No he went and got Jesus!  Yes! "Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue; and falling at Jesus' feet he besought him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying." So what did Jesus do? He went to their house! Yes.

 "As he went, the people pressed round him. And a woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years and had spent all her money upon physicians, and could not be healed by anyone came up behind him, and touched the tassel of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased." Do y'all know the word 'hemorrhage'? No? It's a Greek word that means 'blood-flow' in the sense of uncontrolled bleeding that's hard to stop. So...did the woman stay home and pray? No she went to find Jesus and touch him. Yes, and she didn't actually touch him, but touched the tassel of his cloak. But "...Jesus said, "Who was it that touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!" So there's a crowd pressing against Jesus, but Jesus means he particularly felt someone touch him; that is he felt someone touch the tassel of his cloak. But how could he feel such a tiny touch amidst all these people?  "Jesus said, "Someone touched me; for I know that power has gone out of me." (I pull out my chicken bone relic.) What's this? Elijah's bone! Close, Elisha's bone. Tell it to me. The dead man fell on his bones and he came back to life. Yes, so God's life-giving power went through...the bones! Yes. So it would be reasonable that God's healing power could go through Jesus, who wasn't even dead like Elisha. But I like how the power in this case went from God, through Jesus, through the cloak, down to the little tassel, and then into the woman and healed her. The power went through stuff, not just a holy person. And nowadays even though Jesus is in Heaven, God's power still goes through stuff, like, well, you tell me. Tell me about the stuff that we have in Sacraments. Water? Yes, for...Baptism? Yes. Another please. Bread and wine. Yes, which become...Jesus' body'n'blood. Yes. And we have oil at Confirmation and at Ordinations.

"And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace." But her faith wasn't just what she believed, but...what she did. Yes, she acted in faith because body and soul...go together. Yes. Faith alone, faith by itself isn't enough, we have to act on our faith.
Back to Jairus' sick daughter: "While he was still speaking, a man from the ruler's house came and said, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more." But Jesus on hearing this answered him, "Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well."  Jesus doesn't want Jairus' faith to fade even though his daughter has died. "And when he came to the house...all were weeping and bewailing her; but he said, "Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, "Child, arise." And her spirit returned, and she got up at once; and he directed that something should be given her to eat." So Jesus touched her, and she came back to life. (all Luke 9)

Now Jairus had faith, but he was like most people, who wanted Jesus to go with them to heal the sick child, or the possessed person, or the leper. They believed in Jesus, but still, it helped their faith to be able to see Jesus have a physical encounter with the afflicted person. We might say, hey Jairus, don'tcha have any faith? Jesus doesn't have to grab your daughter to heal her. And he'd say, "Sure, I have faith...but I'm afraid to go home without him...what if I get home by myself and she isn't better?" Our faith isn't as strong as we'd like it to be.

One more healing and we're done for tonight.

"As [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him  and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress."  What's a centurion? A soldier. Yes, from China? No, a Roman soldier. Yes. [centurion goes on the board] How many men does he command? 100! How do you know? 'Cause c-e-n-t means a hundred! Yes, in what language? Latin? Yes, so how many cents are in a dollar? 100! Years in a century? 100! ¿Cómo se llama hundred in Español? Cien! Yes, and in Italian, it's cento ("chento"). So this officer is important, he orders soldiers around all day long. And being in the occupying army, he can order Jesus around too if he feels like like it. But instead of saying "Hey you Jewish healer, go fix my sick servant," he calls Jesus Lord. So what does that tell you? That he thinks Jesus is important. Yes. The Roman officer knows Jesus has more power than he does. "And [Jesus] said to him, "I will come and heal him."  Jesus knows people want to see him do the healing with their own eyes. "But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed." Where've you heard that before? Mass! Yes, and when we get to the Mass later this year, y'all remember this story. Why doesn't the centurion feel like Jesus needs to hike over to his house? " Cause he has faith? Yes, lots of faith. The centurion says, "For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."  What does he mean? That he knows you don't have to see everything to know it will happen? Yes. He knows how authority works, and that Jesus has authority. "When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even  in Israel have I found such faith." Jesus means that this pagan soldier, who just takes Jesus at his word, has more faith than the Jews, who ought to know better than a Roman. Then he aggravates everyone, just like he did at the synagogue: "I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." People who come from from east and west are foreigners, like the Roman. Who are the "the sons of the kingdom"? The Jews? Yes, the Chosen People. Like Isaiah, Jesus is reminding them that God may choose people who aren't Sons of Abraham to dine at the heavenly feast; while those who counted on getting in just because they were Chosen may be thrown out.

 "And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment." (all Matthew 8) I love that story. I'd like to have the centurion's faith; but I'm more like Jairus.

Hey we still have a couple of minutes, we could get started on the Loaves and the Fishes miracle...ehhh, it'll be better to cover it all in one class next week. I guess y'all get out a couple of minutes early.

Class over! Aren't we gonna do the new prayer? I forgot! Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever! Yes; now class is really over!