The Truth

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© May 23, 2017

John 14:15-21 ~ as told by Deborah

“Jesus said, “If you love me, you will hold my teachings in your hearts. And I will ask the Father, who will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth, invisible and inaccessible to the world, but which you will see and know, for it lives within you.

“I won’t leave you orphaned; I’ll be right back. In a little while the world won’t see me — but you will. Because I live, you also will live.

“That’s when you’ll realize that I am within my Father, and you are within me, and I am within you.

“Those who cherish my instructions love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

A Remarkable Guide

Jesus says that his followers are given “the Spirit of Truth” to guide us.

That’s pretty cool. Truth is the last word: the truth. The end-all, be all: what really is; the opposite of false.

And so, in the spirit of truthfulness, we can go forth, convinced that we are right. And of course, when you are right — you cannot possibly be wrong. Right?

Unless, of course, you are mistaken, confused, misinformed, or misled.

That can happen, as all of us are well aware. Human beings are not perfect. We make mistakes and can get excited and emotional and angry and fearful and generally foul up. We can be wrong.

We can be not-right.

That can happen when we mistake the “Spirit of truth” for a guarantee of accuracy; when we become convinced that our faith and belief assures us of a lack of mistakenness. We can believe the Gospel and still be wrong about some things.

There’s a difference between truth and being right.

There’s even a difference between truth and righteousness. The Truth — Christ’s truth — can lead us to righteousness; it can guide us toward compassion, to a striving-after kindness, to acts of generosity and gentleness. But being “right” is a whole different kettle of fish.

Perceiving ourselves as right inspires hubris: an inflated sense of authority and command — and conceit. If I know what is “right” then there is no room for discussion or argument; my word is the last word. If I’m “right” then those who disagree …. are wrong.

And anyone who is wrong (that is, holding an opposing view) is either stupid, stubborn, dangerous, or evil. They need to be convinced or controlled — or eliminated.

Being convinced that you are “right” can lead to attacks against others of the sort tragically enacted in Manchester, England last night. Innocent people, many of them children, died because, in the mind of one man, he was right — and they (their government, their religion?) were wrong.

Being convinced of one’s “righteousness” can lead to horrible, unconscionable acts. It can be used as a license to judge, condemn — and even to destroy.

The Truth that Christ spoke of is very different. Remember that what He sent wasn’t a concrete object, it wasn’t a concept written in parchment or carved in stone — the Truth was a spirit; the Holy Spirit.

Christ’s Truth is a living thing; it lives and breathes in us. It is Christ’s teachings incarnated in our lives: it is us living as our Lord lived. It is the Spirit of Holiness embodied in our world — in our bodies. It is love at work.

That is Christ’s truth — that living, breathing, inspiring Spirit: embodied love at work in our world.

This love isn’t soppy romantic twaddle; it is fiercely compassionate, determinedly kind, deeply committed to Wisdom — an intelligence that goes beyond “school smarts” and instead looks to understand: to learn with our hearts as much as with our heads.

That Spirit of Truth is needed in our world more than ever. We need to look to it, to listen to it, and to let it guide us in the Way we should go.

These are difficult times. It is not easy to follow the Lord when all around us voices are being raised, inciting us to react: to pursue “vengeance,” to prove our “right” with might, to condemn, control, and to destroy.

Our hearts are filled with sorrow, our minds overcome by the magnitude of hurt and destructive violence, and we grieve. We grieve for the injured, for those who mourn, and for all those whose passion to be right blinds them to the Truth.

Gracious, eternal God, fill our hearts with that Spirit that will guide us to holy living and lead our world to peace. Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:

Pray to receive the Spirit of Truth. And to live accordingly.

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I Will Prepare a Place for You…

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© May 15, 2017

John 14:1-6 ~ as told by Deborah

“Don’t go crazy with worry because I’m leaving. Have faith in God, and in me, too. There’s a lot of room in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true; after all, I’ve told you that I am going to prepare a place for you.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me, so that we’ll be together. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

“But Lord,” Thomas said, “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

The Housekeepers Fan Club

I love hospital cleaning ladies. Or “housekeeping staff,” as they are called these days. By any name, they hold a special place in my heart.

The housekeeping staff are the rarely noticed and seldom recognized lynchpins of our health care system. They stand alongside nurses in my pantheon of medical heroes.

Their work is not only demanding, it is often dangerous. Housekeepers are exposed to contaminated needle-sticks (when a rushed or thoughtless medico tosses a used syringe into the trash), infectious diseases, every kind of human waste and discharge, broken glass, bloody bandages — all the while dealing with rude patients, contemptuous visitors, self-absorbed physicians, and administrators whose major interest and concern is how to reduce their hours.

The housekeeping staff are the ones who restore the Emergency treatment room to sterile conditions after a stabbing victim has been brought in, and they clean the O.R. after every surgery. They replace the linens on the beds, mop the floors — and wash down the walls — when patients have vomited, had diarrhea, or hemorrhaged.

Not pleasant to imagine; and far less pleasant when encountered in real life. These are aspects of the housekeepers’ everyday working lives.

But not many people notice.

Steep Learning Curve

My appreciation for these amazing ladies (and gentlemen) began in earnest many years ago when I was employed at a large metropolitan hospital — while I was still pursuing my first career. The nurses’ union had called a strike which other unions were honoring by refusing to cross the picket lines. “Exempt” employees were called in to support the minimum professional staff required to keep the hospital functioning. So I, along with other paper-pushers like me, were sent to the floors to prepare the rooms for incoming patients.

It was an awakening.

I managed to clean two rooms and part of a third before I stumbled down to the cafeteria where I sat, weeping over a cup of tea. I had never been so physically exhausted in my entire life. Nor so emotionally drained.

Rolling the cleaning cart along the hall, I had passed a family engaged in a heated argument over the responsibility for their ailing mother, saw a colleague wheeled into the ICU after cancer surgery, and rode down the service elevator alongside the body of an elderly man who had died on one of the medical floors. All this after I had changed linens, cleaned toilets, and mopped the floors (twice).

And nobody noticed.

Oh, the admitting office knew — they knew a room was available; but they knew nothing about the original condition of the room, or the outcome of the patient who’d been in it. She might have gone home with one of her squabbling children, or he might have been the man I accompanied on his final elevator ride; life or death was all the same: both resulted in a room that needed to be made available to a new patient.

Yet there, beneath it all — behind it all? above it all? — stand the cleaning ladies; making everything new again with persistent, back-breaking labor. We rarely think about them, and they do much of their work out of sight, but patients, staff, and visitors alike owe our lives to them.

The Lesson Continues

Fortunately for all concerned, the strike was resolved in a little over a week. Shortly afterwards I made a trip down to the Housekeeping Department to tell them how much I appreciated what they did. It seemed to me that their work didn’t receive adequate recognition (as it certainly hadn’t, from me, until a couple of weeks prior!). What I discovered there that morning surprised me even more.

I arrived early in order to catch the day shift before they set off on their morning rounds. The door was open and I could hear low voices inside. I passed through the outer office, glancing at the corkboard fluttering with safety precautions, job postings, and daily assignment sheets, and took note of the ancient green-metal desks and filing cabinets (this department had clearly missed out on the furniture upgrades our “upper” offices had recently enjoyed). The interior room held a table and several chairs, but no one was sitting in them. Instead, a small circle of women were standing to one side, holding hands and murmuring softly.

They stopped when they saw me, and Inez looked up, “Just a minute, dear, and I’ll be right with you.” I sank into one of the chairs and listened as they continued. They were praying. These ladies were praying for the patients — they were praying for their patients; some by name, but all were included. Then they prayed for the the health care teams and, last (but not least), for the hospital administration.

I remember fighting back tears. Never once had it occurred to me to pray for those who entered the hospital; not as I read the transcripts of grievous injuries and critical ER admissions, not when ambulances screamed into the drive, or Codes were called — not even when I saw my co-worker transported, pale and weak, out of Surgery. Although I considered myself relatively religious, while I was at work, I was focused on my job: this was business — it had never occurred to me to pray.

Taking the Work Seriously 

These women took their work seriously — not just their jobs as cleaning staff, but their calling to be Christians. They rightfully understood that our walk of faith is not “provincial”: it is not constrained by times or locations; it is not limited to Sundays or evening prayers, it is not confined to churches or chapels: wherever we are, we are to live as faithful, believing followers of our Lord. We are to walk in his Way. Always. Everywhere.

And ever since The Lesson of the Cleaning Ladies, I have been blessed to be able to hear that Jesus “prepares a room for us” with new ears. He’s been a member of the hospital housekeeping staff ever since.

The Way

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Jesus is the Way we are to live — every day, wherever we are.

Many Christians tend to treat the American ideal of “the separation of church and state” as an Iron Curtain between our secular lives and our private ones. When we are home or in church, prayer is fine and dandy; when we are at work, our faith and belief is set aside — pushed into the background, and basically forgotten.

Imagine having access to a gift that can comfort and heal and bless — and not using it!

This failure impacts our own lives as much as any others: when we set aside our call to Be Compassionate, our actions may not be kind. When we postpone following the Lord until 5 p.m., we may instead find ourselves following the money.

I am in no way suggesting that we should go out into the workplace and proselytize. Nobody wants to be preached at or harangued or “invited” to an evening Bible study. It is enough, surely, to Walk in His Way; to be thoughtful, kindhearted, merciful, generous, and gentle. Those are, I can assure you, rare qualities in our present world.

If we live as our Lord taught, life will change — our lives, certainly, but others as well. Our attitude and our actions will reflect the radiance of Christ; tensions will be reduced, peace will become a possibility, hope will start to blossom. Remember how it was with our early forebears: in a world of violence and chaos, their abundant courage and persistent love amazed and inspired those around them, “What is the cause of their hope?”

Our hope is in the Lord.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:  Remember to pray.

 

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Psalm 23: a Song of Strength & Courage

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© May 8, 2017

Psalm 23 ~ New King James Translation

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures:
He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies:
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Caution: the first two paragraphs refer to end of life issues that some may find upsetting.

The Terrible Cycle

My mother-in-law is in the middle of what I call “the Hospital Cycle.” Those of you who have had elderly relatives or friends with advanced heart disease know the steps in this process: the trip to the emergency room, the scans, the tests, the hospital admission, the IVs, the oxygen line, the heart monitor, the soft-spoken, sympathetic nurses whose eyes tell you far more than words can say… Then the return home, or to a skilled nursing facility where, before long, the cycle repeats. It is the systematic, increasingly heroic effort to keep us alive, long after our strength has faded and our spirits have wearied.

Despite it all, the darkwinged angel waits patiently, knowingly. And so, in time, we die amid beeping monitors and blinking screens, our bodies perforated with wires and tubes and hoses, the scent of ammonia in our nostrils, our vision blocked by a privacy screen. The American Way of Death.

It’s not what anyone wants; yet it is the way we so often choose — or become swept up in: fighting the inevitable with every weapon in our considerable arsenal. We behave as though medicines and machines will give us eternal life; yet, in the end, medical miracles have their limits, and even the young may grow weak, and the strong will stumble and fall. (Isaiah 40:30)

We are mortal. That’s the inconvenient truth we have such trouble accepting.

Perhaps that’s why Psalm Twenty-three is so abidingly popular. It’s an image of tranquility, of calm confidence even as we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

The Big Valley

That valley is not the exclusive province of the ill or the aged; each one of us walks through it, every day. As thinking, aware creatures, we understand that life is fragile and finite. Unlike dogs or cats or the squirrels who turn merry somersaults across the lawn, we know that our time here is limited. There is no guarantee of tomorrow, not for us or for anyone.

It is how we deal with that knowledge that matters.

And, with the remarkable creativity of our species, there is a large variety of options for doing so — primarily in ways of distracting us or disguising the fact of our mortality.

We can succumb to these temptations to lie to ourselves quite innocently; unknowingly, hardly realizing them as pale substitutes for hope or faith. Allowing these silly artifices to obscure what is truly important, we miss out on living our lives fully, meaningfully.

Temptations Galore

Jesus said, “What is the benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” ~ Matthew 16:26

We may find ourselves drawn into virtual reality; living our lives on-line, engaging in (irresolvable) political debates, signing petitions, focusing on “out there,” rather than in our own lives. While it is important to be a knowledgeable and involved citizen, how much time is “enough,” and what are we not seeing/hearing/doing while on the internet?

It’s equally easy to distract ourselves with stuff — most notably through the infamous “retail therapy” method. Shopping is easy, stores are filled with sights and sounds and smells and people: there’s no time to think, but simply be entertained. Equally we may become “collectors”: stamps, coins, shoes, lawn ornaments, teacups, bottle caps, ancient manuscripts, figurines…. the world is large, there is much to choose from! Having an outside interest should add spice to our lives, not be a substitute for them.

The Danger Zone

For some, the fact of our mortality is treated as a challenge. These are the folks who engage in dangerous behaviors, take unnecessary (“death defying”) risks, repeatedly putting their lives on the line; playing dodge-ball with the Grim Reaper. In the young this attitude may be simple foolishness, but “cheating death” can become an obsession — each success adds to the addiction, the thrill of the game and the conviction that one more round can be won.

Then there are the ways in which the desire to live forever can poison other people’s lives. There are the spiritual Svengalis who seek to control those around them by innuendo, intimidation, and threats; the clergy who preach damnation rather than the Gospel, proclaiming their own prejudices to be divine mandates; the parents who demand that their children excel in every field and endeavor, focused on “success” — never happiness, mining their children’s souls for the material to build for themselves a “lasting legacy.”

Most alarmingly, we may decide that the only reasonable choice in a world where death lurks around every corner is to shelter in place. Seeking safety first, we avoid all possible dangers and unpleasantness, any exposure to sickness or suffering; other people are too “high risk” for us to get involved. Timidly, fearfully, we tremble and watch life unfold from the sidelines like mice at a cat jamboree. And that is truly tragic.

Back to Basics

“Do not be afraid.” This admonition is repeated over and over and over throughout the Holy Scriptures. It must be in there for a reason.

Perhaps that is because fear poses a greater risk to us than all other dangers combined. Fear can make us do crazy things. It can drive us to make terrible choices; to hurt, to wound, to destroy. It can cloud our thinking and close our hearts, shutting out all compassion, sympathy, and mercy. Fear can squeeze the life out of us. It can poison our souls.

The solution is to live fearlessly; to greet each new day with tranquil courage and great expectations; to live in the moment cheerfully, certain that, whatever may come, All Will Be Well.

Of course that’s easy to say… much harder to do.

That’s where our Psalm comes in. It is a testament to tranquility, that not only speaks of peace, but brings it about as we take in the words. Here is my contemporary interpretation:

God is in charge; I will be ok;
I see beauty all around me,
I breathe deep, and relax.

My soul awakens.

I walk with grace and compassion because I am beloved.

Death is a mere shadow, it has no substance,
I will pass through it into the Light of God;
my life is sacred to the Lord, there is no cause for fear.

Abundant treasures are mine, that no one can take from me;
I am a priest, my soul God’s holy temple;
I am rich beyond compare.

All is well, now and forever,
God’s love and mercy are everlasting,
I dwell in peace, I am the Lord’s.

All is well, all is well, all will be well. We have nothing to fear. Not even death itself — least of all, death. The darkwinged angel is not an enemy, simply an escort who leads us through the shadow and into the radiant, eternal Light. And the angel serves, too, as a reminder: Live this life fully — with courage, joy, and compassion, and do not be afraid.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Rev. Deb  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:  Spend time with the Twenty-Third Psalm. Let it speak to your soul.

 

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Give Us Eyes to See

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© May 1, 2017

Luke 24:13-35 ~ interpreted by Deborah

The same day that the women found the tomb empty, two of Jesus’ disciples headed to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along, they debated what had happened.

They were so involved in their discussion that when Jesus joined them, they didn’t recognize him.

“What are you talking about that’s so absorbing?” he asked. That stopped them in their tracks.

“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been going on there over the past week?” the one named Cleopas asked.

“What things?” he asked.

They both started talking at once: “About Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet sent from God!” “He was a powerful healer who stirred up a lot of people.” “Our priests handed him over to the Romans.” “It was one of his own followers who betrayed him.” “We had hoped that he would restore our people.”

“It’s been three days since it all went down.” Cleopas went on, “And now, to top it off, some of the women in our group are saying crazy things.”

“They went to the tomb at the crack of dawn,” the other continued, “And when his body wasn’t there, they came back insisting that they’d seen a vision of angels who told them that he was alive.”

“Some others went to the tomb and found it empty, too,” Cleopas added, “Just as the women said it was.”

“But they didn’t see him.” the other disciple sighed.

“What a clueless lot you are!” Jesus laughed, “as slow as snails to pick up on what is right before your eyes! Don’t you realize that the Messiah had to endure these things in order to come into the fullness of his power?”

Then, starting with the Pentateuch through the prophets, he interpreted all the things that the Scriptures revealed about himself.

As they approached the town, he walked ahead as if to pass by. But they insisted that he join them, “Stay with us; it’s getting dark and the day will soon be over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he sat down with them for supper, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

It was then that they were able to recognize him; but he vanished from their sight.

They both agreed: “We must have been blind!” Why didn’t we see it right away?” “Of course! We were alight with hope while he spoke to us on the road, when he was interpreting the Scriptures to us.”

Within the hour they were heading back to Jerusalem. When they got there the other disciples told them, “It’s really true: the Lord has risen, and he has appeared to Simon!”

Then these two shared their story of what happened on the road, and how his presence had been revealed to them in the shared meal.

He was Right There!

What the heck was wrong with those disciples? How could they fail to recognize Jesus when he was walking along right beside them?

Were they blind?

Or was it just a dream — or hallucination? After all, once they realized it was Jesus sitting there at the dinner table with them, he disappeared! Maybe he was never really there.

Or maybe there is a whole lot more to the story. Maybe it’s a bigger message than Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead. (Yes, bigger than that.) Maybe it is a lesson about how it is that we, his followers, can learn to recognize the Lord.

And how we fail to see him, even when he is in our midst.

“We Really Thought He was a Contender”

We are introduced to these two as they are walking away from Jerusalem. They hadn’t been among the Lord’s closest companions (“the twelve” — now down to eleven), but were faithful to the extent that the author describes them as “disciples.” They had believed in Jesus’ message, had followed him — literally: attending his sermons, witnessing his work among the people, supporting his ministry by their presence, and perhaps with their money. They had had great hopes for this “powerful, God-sent prophet,” even imagining that he would restore the Jewish nation; freeing it from Roman domination.

Now they were leaving all of that behind.

It can’t have been a very pleasant walk.

Disappointed, frustrated, confused — and probably frightened that they might be rounded up as followers of “that Jesus” — they were heading home. Trudging along the path that had once seemed so bright and filled with promise, they argued about what had happened.

The text tells us the two “debated” the issue, but I wonder if that’s not a kindly gloss. It’s probable that the discussion was energetic, possibly heated; maybe tinged with acrimony and accusations: “This was all your idea.” “I knew that guy would lead to trouble.” “There’s a week of my life I’ll never get back.” “Now what are we going to do?” “We should have stayed in Jerusalem.” “And gotten killed?” “Maybe the women were right — maybe he’s not really dead.” “Are you crazy?!”

So away they went, squabbling and blaming and calculating their losses. They were so involved in their argument that they failed to see that Jesus was right there with them. And yet something happened; something changed in the way they spoke and in the words they said.

What are You Talking About? 

In the middle of their heated discussion, Jesus intervenes, “What happened to get you two so wound up?” That simple question stopped them in their tracks.

It was a moment of silent awakening. It brought a stillness, a shelter from the storm of noise and worry.

And then they started to talk about what they had experienced: they described the glorious beginnings, the dreams, the desires, the betrayals, the horror, the disappointment, the seeming madness of those who remained. They spoke to the Lord from their hearts: the truth, unadorned. They made no claim to be faithful, or trusting. For them, it was as if all hope was gone.

Then, in the voice of a stranger, Jesus taught them to understand his mission and ministry in the light of the holy Scriptures. He was not the militant messiah whose armies would overthrow the Roman legions, but the Shepherd whose flocks would overcome hatred and violence with love. His words must have dazzled them; to speak of compassion instead of vengeance, to call for peace rather than declaring war after all that they had endured, sounded impossible, improbable, unlikely in the extreme.

And yet….

My Peace I Give to You

And yet the idea of a reign of kindness and cooperation was so comforting, such a relief from the anger and resentment that had been boiling up in their hearts; seething and toxic, spilling over into their dealings with one another — poisoning their friendship and their souls. The very notion was a balm to their spirits: restoring hope and courage; inspiring a new kind of belief.

Before long they reached the village; the two who had been at odds had been silent: listening, learning, reflecting. The stranger started to walk on ahead, as if to follow a different path, but the disciples called out — as if with a single voice, “Stay! Stay with us! It is nearly dark; come and share a meal with us.”

Was it then? Was it then that they began to discern the first traces of the Lord — as they offered hospitality to a stranger? In the gathering shadows did Cleopas do a double-take, thinking, for an instant, that the man looked somehow familiar?

The Revelation

From that point on there was no further “discussion” between the two disciples, no argument or blame or fearful plotting; they simply went to work, side by side, preparing a meal for their visitor. Perhaps one went into the garden to pick some vegetables, the other built a fire, a cup of wine was offered to their guest, the table was set with some unleavened bread — for there had been no time to bake.

Then they sat down together to share a meal. Simple food, unremarkable surroundings, no servants or silver; just the two — and their guest, whom they had welcomed with open hearts.

He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave some to each of them.

As in that first meeting on the road, the disciples were stopped in their tracks: struck, silent and amazed. They saw, suddenly and with blazing clarity, the Lord Christ revealed in his glory. He was not dead, but alive — present, powerful and life-transforming: the Voice that counseled kindness, the Stranger, the Friend, the Teacher, the Restorer of Hope, Eternal Compassion, Undying Love.

And they had recognized him “in the breaking of the bread.”

Afterwards

But then, in that same instant, “the Lord vanished from their sight.” Yet his sudden disappearance did not affect the disciples; they didn’t freak out or search for him under the table or in another room. They didn’t spend any time looking for his body. They recognized that what they had seen was the Reality that transcends mere appearances.

What these two had seen was what truly matters: Christ with us and within us; in how we act, in what we say, what we do, what we hope for, pray for, and believe in.

The disciples immediately began to say to one another, “Of course! That’s it! We should have seen Him all along!”

They had recognized Christ in the gift of hospitality — not only to their guest — but to each other. They saw the Lord not in squabbling or self-righteousness, but in gratitude and prayer. He could be found by reflecting on the Scriptures, and in remembering His words. And acting accordingly.

We do not come to know the Lord or see him in our world until we open our eyes — and our hearts — to his Way. When we are blinded by anger or fear or resentment, we won’t recognize Him even when he is standing right in front of us. Yet he is there, walking alongside us, every step of the way, hoping that we will invite him into our lives.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise: What if, instead of “Love one another,” we understood Jesus’ teaching as: “Be kind to one another.” ?

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Peace?

Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 24, 2017

John 20:19-31 ~ interpreted by Deborah

The evening of the day that Mary Magdalene saw the Risen Lord, the disciples were huddled together with the doors locked, afraid of being found out — and Jesus came into their midst.

“Peace be with you,” he said.

Then he showed them his hands and his side — and the disciples were thrilled to see the Lord for themselves.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus repeated, “As I was an apostle of the Father, so now I send you as apostles.” Then he breathed upon them, as God had breathed life to the clay at creation, as Spirit’s breath enlivened the dried bones in Elijah’s vision.

“Accept the Holy Spirit,” he said, “If you banish anyone’s guilt, it is gone; if you hold on to the guilt, it stays.”

But Thomas wasn’t there at the time, so, when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he shook his head, “Unless I see the wounds of the nails in his hands, and press my hand into his side, I can’t believe it.”

A week later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut tight, Jesus came into their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Here: touch my hands and see; put your hand in my side. Don’t doubt — but have faith.”

In response Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “You believe because you have seen me. Those who believe without having seen me have true joy.”

The disciples saw Jesus do a bunch of other miraculous things — too many to be included in this book. But I’ve written about these so that you will come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through that faith you will have life in him.

The Situation

Pity the poor disciples, huddled together in terror: traumatized by the death of the Lord, scared out of their wits that they will be prosecuted for being his followers, and fearing for the sanity of several of their number. Peter and the other one are babbling about an empty tomb and claiming to have talked to an angel, Mary Magdalene is insisting that Jesus is alive and well and disguised as a gardener… it was a crazy time. No one knew what to do, what to think, or what to believe.

It must have seemed as if the whole group was going to pieces. Some of the disciples had already packed their bags and were getting ready to leave.

But then Jesus appeared in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” And everything was fine, ever after.

Seriously? That’s it? “Peace be with you”?? If it were me, I’d need a bit more reassurance than that — a lot more, in fact; a few encouraging words, maybe a short explanation of what the heck was going on….

And yet it seems, for Jesus’ disciples who were there, that was enough: “Peace be with you.” (Although he did have to say it twice.)

What Can It Mean?

To paraphrase Shakespeare: what’s in a word? What was it that brought calm to the previous chaos? The effect was almost magical, like “abracadabra”: those who doubted were convinced, those who were frightened were relieved, mourning was turned into gladness. Certainly the transformation was due in large part to the fact that the Risen Lord spoke those words — that the disciples saw him, face to face — and yet I am convinced there is more to the story.

Peace is a nice idea, and to call for it the midst of a stressful or distressing experience is a standard practice in the helping professions: “Imagine being at peace; take a deep breath and think of yourself sitting beside a gently flowing stream….” Yes, but. If you’re anything like me, it’s not terribly effective or long-lasting; worry repeatedly swoops in like a bat in the twilight, carrying fearsome shadows on its wings.

That kind of peace is transient, likely to break in an instant, as fragile as ice on a frozen lake. And who can truly envision “peace”? Who has known what that is — now or ever — in a world of warring tribes and nations; when violence stalks our cities and streets and even our homes; when our nerves are on edge, and our hearts are angry? We cry, “Peace! Peace!” but there is no peace.

We don’t even know what the word means.

Shalom

Jesus’ greeting to his disciples was almost certainly “shalom.” The word served as both welcome and farewell, like ciao for Italians, or aloha for Hawaiians. As with so many commonplace phrases, its meaning may have come to be trivialized; as inconsequential as “How are you?” in modern America — to which nobody expects an honest reply.

On the other hand, the very first words spoken by the Risen Lord weren’t said by accident. They were fraught with meaning and power; and they were remembered, repeated, and immortalized (!) by the Christ-followers then, and in the centuries to follow.

Shalom was associated with the idea of perfection, similar to the Greek teleos: the completion of God’s will for the world. For individuals it was health, comfort, tranquility of mind and spirit; for communities it was peace and prosperity, harmony among people and between nations. Most powerfully, it signified a “blessed harmony” between the people and their God.

Shalom meant “all is well, and all is well, and all things shall be well.”

The Peace of the Lord

In the midst of the worst experience of their lives; when they were grief-stricken, frightened, and confused, the Lord appeared to his disciples with words of assurance. Despite the ferocity of the worldly powers, no matter what plots evil-doers devised, whatever destruction they tried to inflict, their successes were short-lived and hollow, their victories mere illusions. Always and in all things God’s word was the last word — and that Word was Jesus the Christ: the embodiment and exemplar of love, light, and life.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you — not as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid.” ~ John 14:27

Christ’s peace surpasses understanding; it is not the mere cessation of hostilities, but the active presence of comfort and joy. Christ’s peace is not limited or fragile; it is lasting and resilient, life-giving and hopeful, whatever may come. It is a fearless, joyful confidence; a faith-filled conviction that God’s love is greater than all our sins and shortcomings, all of our hatred and resentments, all of our hurts and woundings. Christ’s peace is our assurance and assertion that the path of love is the holy, life-redeeming Way.

Results and Responsibilities

The Risen Lord’s first — and repeated — message to his followers was a blessing and a consecration: Shalom: Peace be with you and within you. Jesus had been God’s apostle, carrying the Gospel wherever he went, in all that he did and said, and now he was sending them forth as apostles: envoys who did not merely talk about peace, but lived it.

Perhaps the Gospel is another word for shalom: the Good News of God’s great plan and desire and endless working toward the redemption of all people; for a world ruled by kindness and compassion, where goodness and mercy hold sway over all that was evil. Shalom — like the Good News, or the Gospel — isn’t a magical incantation like “abracadabra”; it holds no power in itself. It is only in the faithful living of that concept, in our daily efforts to be people of the Way — that that glorious Reality can fully come into being in our world.

Jesus the Christ showed us the Way; now it is up to us to follow it. May we be inspired and guided to follow that Way in all that we do and say, all that we hope for, pray for, and believe.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Shalom! Let peace abide with you and within you. Believe in the Good News of God and be a faithful apostle of the holy Gospel. Be peace: be kind and caring, gentle and joyful, compassionate and courageous.

 

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The Gospel Tragedy

Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 14, 2017

Matthew 26:14-16, 20-25, 48-50, 55-56 ~ as told by Deborah

When Judas realized that Jesus had been condemned to be executed, he was filled with remorse. He went back to the priests and elders to return the thirty pieces of silver.

He said, “I have sinned by handing over an innocent man!”

But they said, “What’s that got to do with us? Deal with it.”

Flinging the pieces of silver into the temple, he went away and hanged himself.

Too Late!

Too little, too late. If only Judas had resisted the temptation to turn Jesus in, surely things would have been different! His story has always seemed to me the great tragedy of the Gospels: the one who strayed, who fell away — doomed to an eternity of grief.

Yet was it really his fault that Jesus was crucified? What about those wicked priests and scribes, who were endlessly seeking to destroy the Lord?

Depicted as blind to Jesus’ true nature, jealously protective of their authority, violent and stealthy, they set a bounty on the head of an innocent man, and willingly hand him over to the Roman governor to be brutally killed.

Not a pretty picture, and not a fair one, either. Certainly it is true that Jesus was held in suspicion and dislike by the priestly class — he was definitely an outlier, and they may indeed have conspired to have him arrested, but they didn’t act alone.

Bad Choices

At any point throughout the Last Days of the Lord, his arrest, conviction, and crucifixion could have been averted. It was all a matter of choice. And it seems that everyone chose badly.

We are told that Pilate, a cog in the wheel of the Roman machine, offered the populace a choice as to who would be released back into their community: Jesus, called “the anointed one of God,” or a different sort of Jesus: Barabbas — one known to be a man of violence. Incited by others, caught up in the excitement of the moment, drawn by the allure of danger, the mob shouted their support for the criminal, and eagerly condemned the man who came in peace.

Ah, such fools! So easily led, so thoughtless; so utterly ignorant of the healing, life-giving gospel. If only they had chosen differently!

Of course we never choose violence over peace, do we? Hmmm. Except for the television programs we watch. And the movies we see. And when we cheer when the quarterback gets sacked, when hockey teams fight, when an umpire’s call ends up in a skirmish that clears the benches. That’s just innocent entertainment, right? Of course there are also the times when we delight to learn that our candidate “crushes the opposition”, when we take comfort in hearing that “bad guys,” are killed, and when “the enemy” is destroyed.

No, we never choose violence over peace.

Political Expediency — or Wisdom?

Pilate, of course, could have refused to get involved in the whole Jesus business. After all, it seems the Lord was a minor troublemaker at best: yes, there were a bunch of Galileans who’d come to town to celebrate the Passover, and the remarkable parade that heralded this fellow’s entry did stir things up a bit. Probably nothing to worry about.

And yet…  a small spark can ignite a wildfire. There had been riots and insurrections in the past; the army had been called in, battles were waged; people died, sometimes many people died: men, women, children. In the desperate, frantic last hours, men murdered their wives and children and mothers strangled their own infants rather than surrender. Evil times.

And these religious festivals could be tricky; people’s emotions were high, sweet wine flowed in the market stalls, the population swelled with pilgrims and tourists and troublemakers. If Pilate didn’t intervene, the situation might go critical, harming the people and hurting his career. The reasonable choice was to eliminate the risk: get rid of problem before it started; err on the side of caution.

What else could he do? What choice did he have? Another Israelite uprising might have brought the whole weight of the Roman empire down on their heads; the whole people might have been wiped out, or exiled from their land. (As the high priest Caiaphas reasoned, “It is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” John 11:51.)

Did these things have to happen as they did?

Was there really any choice at all?

The Villain of the Piece?

Jesus seems to have been convinced that the outcome was a fore-ordained conclusion. Repeatedly he told his followers that “my Time has come,” “Now we must return to Jerusalem,” “So must it be,” “This will fulfill the prophets’ predictions,” and — most alarmingly — “One of you will betray me.” He said these words as a done deal; there was no “maybe” or “might.” And that statement brings us to perhaps the greatest mystery of all.

Judas. The servant of Satan, the great betrayer, the sinner beyond redemption, the permanent, eternally punished, endlessly suffering resident of Hell. Or a fallible, pitiful human being deserving of our compassion?

Why is Judas singled out? None of the disciples were deserving of a hero’s crown. While Jesus was weeping and praying in the garden, his closest companions dozed off. At his arrest, every last one of the disciples abandoned the Lord and fled. Peter denied that he even knew the Jesus on three separate times in a single night.

And there is that kiss. Was it a horribly ironic, fiendish gesture: to betray by a show of affection — or was it was a sign between them that this apparently-hurtful action was not what it seemed? Strange, disturbing, unexplained and inexplicable, it is mentioned in all three synoptic gospels. Would you kiss someone you’ve come to hate?

As Things Must Be

Does Judas really deserve condemnation above all others for his misconduct — whether it was fueled by anger, or resentment, greed, or frustration (or even, possibly, love)? And there is the troubling fact that, according to all that Jesus had said, the betrayal was a deed that had to be done: “So that the Scriptures will be fulfilled,” “It had to happen this way.” “In keeping with the words of the prophets.” “The Son of Man will be betrayed…”

The word usually given as “betray” can also be interpreted as: “hand over.” While it still denotes a consignment into danger, it might also be understood as the act of passing along — as in a relay race when one runner hands off the baton to the next one along the track.

Is Judas simply “doing his part,” in the great chain of reality that will bring Jesus to where he needs to be? Does all that happens on the road to Calvary “have to be,” because, in our humanness, our neediness, our confusion, our failings and our foolishness, there could be no other outcome?

The Ultimate Power

While the priests, the people, the disciples, Judas, Pilate, and the centurions, all share responsibility in bringing Jesus to Golgotha, the only one who could have prevented his death on the cross was the Lord himself — and that was never a part of the plan. Jesus clearly, intentionally, fearlessly “set his face toward Jerusalem.” He came into this world to confront the powers and principalities, knowing what lay ahead: trials and tribulations, suffering and sorrow, rejection, outrage, and betrayal.

But, above all else, Jesus knew and believed utterly in God’s everlasting, abundant grace and redeeming love. Would this Compassionate Shepherd condemn for all eternity an old companion who’d lost his way, a sinful human whose grief was so overwhelming that he died from grief? No, in the Lord Christ we have the fount of Mercy, the divine healer who restores life, light, and joy.

Jesus said, “I’m telling you: people will be forgiven for every evil act and thought and word, but defaming the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, not in this age or the next.” ~ Matthew 12:31-32

What is unforgivable is to deny God’s power to redeem.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:

Pray for all those who have lost their way.

 

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An Unexpected Messiah

based on the Gospel of Matthew 21:1-11
Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 9, 2017

Shoshana’s Story

It had been an odd sort of week, filled with unexpected happenings — but I guess that’s how it goes once you become a mother. As my master’s wife says, “Babies change things.”

My little Sarah certainly changed my life, almost from the moment she was born. Suddenly the master (people call him “Levi”) took great interest in me and her, telling his wife, “It’s time! This must be the sign! Now, at last!” Which was a completely silly thing to say, since my labor was finished by then: Sarah was already on her feet — a little wobbly, perhaps, but that’s to be expected! — and my pregnancy hadn’t lasted any longer than average for a donkey. But humans can be funny creatures.

Of course I was proud of my little girl, and glad to see that Levi was, too. But his reaction seemed extreme: within the week he was parading us through the village, and every day he would leave us on display, tethered to a post just inside the city gate. It was a nice location; Sarah and I got lots of pats and compliments — and who knew that so many people carried apples and radishes in their pockets! (Although you have to be careful about radishes; too many will give you indigestion.)

Every morning when the sun was just beginning to warm the straw, Levi would come into the barn and slip a bridle over my nose, “OK, girls! Let’s get started. This might be the day!” And we’d head off down the path and across the village square, past the interesting smells and tastes of morning: porridge, toasted bread, melons, grapes, tea and honey, applesauce… Those delightful fragrances that tickle my nose and make me lick the air. Yum!

But were are other smells: dogs, goats, cows, camels, cats. Cats — such unpredictable creatures! Take Lilith, for example: she will spend many quiet, companionable evening hours with me in the barn and then suddenly go into a murderous frenzy. You’ve never seen such violence! Then she leaves, carrying her victim’s carcass. I used to wonder she did with their bodies — until the morning the master’s wife fled from the house, shrieking, holding one of her shoes at arm’s length. A long gray tail was clearly visible hanging out the back. An odd burial practice, don’t you think?

Please forgive my digression, but the unpredictability of the world is weighing on my mind today. Lilith is just one example, but it shows up everywhere: what begins as a celebration becomes a cause for mourning, laughter turns to tears, joy turns into sorrow, friends become enemies, those you trust betray you. I’ve seen so much that I do not understand.

Anyway, after a week or more of “Today might be the day,” finally it was the day. We were in our usual spot — I was in a gentle, daydreamy half-asleep, floating along like a cloud, and Sarah was snoozing in the straw at my feet — when two men I’d never seen before came down the road. The shorter one, slim and dark and beardless, looked over at me and smiled.

Tugging on his friend’s arm, he pointed to us, “Over there! Aren’t they beautiful!” he whispered (remember, with my lovely long ears, I can hear what’s being said from a great distance). I liked him right away; clearly a good judge of …. donkey flesh — which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is much nicer than horseflesh.

As they approached I raised my nose, demonstrating my friendliness — as well as my willingness to accept a plum or three from the ones the older fellow was carrying in his bag. The younger man gave me an appreciative pat and told me to my face what a lovely creature I am (I told you this guy had good taste) then knelt down to admire Sarah, who was blinking herself awake.

And again the utterly unexpected happened. Instead of continuing on their way as everyone else had done, these fellows untied me and began to lead me back down the road along the way they’d come.

At first I was a uncertain about going with them, and was starting to dig in my heels, but just then my master arrived — later I found out that someone had gone to tell him that we were being stolen. And then another turnabout! As soon as he got there — panting, despite the distance being quite short — the older man told him, “The Lord needs them.”

Rather than being upset or trying to stop them from taking me, Levi clapped his hands together, “Yes!” he shouted, “I knew it would be soon! The Messiah is on his way!” Then my master turned and ran back toward our house, shouting for his wife, while the two men led me away — and little Sarah followed along (donkey infants always stay close to their mothers).

As we walked down the road, the older man said, “You know what this means?”

The young man (who was called “Thomas”) shook his head, “No, Rocky, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

“It’s what the ancient prophet said about the arrival of the Messiah,” Rocky closed his eyes (which humans sometimes do, to help themselves remember things) and then said,

“Tell My downtrodden people
‘Raise your eyes from your lowly estate.
Look, your king is on his way,
unpretentious, unassuming;
riding a donkey,
the offspring of a donkey.’”

I nearly tripped — and that never happens. A king riding a donkey. Usually — no, not usually: always, invariably a king rode on a big, shiny, flashy warhorse snorting and stamping its feet; looking down on those around him, scaring small children. What a difference for a king to choose one of us from the peaceful side of the family: short, sturdy, sociable, sure-footed. Extraordinary!

It was at about this point that I began to realize how topsy-turvy the situation was.

Soon we met up with a small group of men and women camped near the road that leads to the Mount of Olives, like mourners preparing to ascend the hill. Despite my steadfast nature, I shivered; there is a strange darkness to that place where humans plant their dead. Even on the brightest summer morning a cloud of sadness surrounds it, a sort of grayness, as if the people buried there have cast their shadows back into the world.

Yet here, at the foot of the mountain of sorrow, there was a giddy, celebratory atmosphere. Instead of hushed voices and whispered prayers, the air was filled with laughter and loud songs. Innocent or ignorant or oblivious? To this day I cannot decide; I simply know that there was only One in their midst who understood.

Once, when I was little more than a foal, my master and his wife traveled to see her parents. Along the way we crossed over mountains so tall that they actually touched the clouds. When we came to an outcrop and looked down, there was a tremendous pull; as if the ground were calling out, summoning me in some strange way. That is the closest description I can give you to the way that Man affected me. I was drawn in; I wanted to be by his side.

This was the king Rocky had talked about, the Messiah my master had long-awaited. So different, so unlike what kings are “supposed” to be. He carried no weapons, wore no armor, had no soldiers or guards surrounding him; he was simply, gently, and beautifully a human being — in an amazing, indescribable way, at once fully human and more than human.

You see what I mean about “the unexpected”?

The same was true for the members of Jesus’ community: they were as unlike royalty as I have ever seen. They were dressed very plainly, in simple, everyday clothes; no purple, no silk, no embroidery, no jewels or furs. These were not the elite, not the powerful, but regular men and women; believing, joyful, and anxious to celebrate the coronation of this man.

And so we started out, Jesus — this astonishing, unexpected king — riding on my back, my little Sarah at our side, leaving from the foot of the mount of sorrows, heading to Jerusalem.

May the glory of Life surround and sustain you,

Shoshana the donkey     (Shoshana is Hebrew for “Lily”)

 

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:

How does the Gospel of Jesus turn our expectations upside down?

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