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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Born Blind

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 27, 2017

John 9:1-10 ~ as told by Deborah

As Jesus was walking along with his disciples, they saw a man blind from birth.

“Rabbi, who sinned?” they asked, “Was it this man or his parents that caused him to be born blind?”

Jesus frowned, “Nobody sinned; this has nothing to do with sin. This man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

“We must do the work of the One who sent me while we can — but there is no time to waste. I am the Light that illuminates everything.”

Saying this, he spit on the ground to make mud which he smeared on the man’s eyes. “Now go,” he told him, “Wash in the pool of Siloam.”

The man did as the Lord said and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him begging on the street started saying, “Wait a minute, isn’t this the guy who used to sit in the market and beg?”

Some said, “Yep. It’s him all right.” Others said, “No, it’s just somebody who looks like him.”

Meanwhile, the man himself kept repeating, “It’s me!”

But they kept asking him, “Then how is it that you can see?”

A Distressing Memory

As my mother’s final illness worsened, she had to rely on a wheelchair to get around, and I can’t tell you how many times when we were out together that people would speak to me as if my mom wasn’t there at all — or as if she were mentally deficient: as if her weakened body had affected her mind as well. “Does she need this in a different size?” “Do you want to take her to the elevator?” “What does she want to eat?”

It was hurtful and irrational, and never ceased to surprise me. Here was a lively, sociable woman who was bright, articulate, and well read; but these people were blind to all those things: all they saw was her disability. When they looked at my mom, they saw the wheelchair, not the woman.

I was reminded of that in this story of the man born blind; when he was given his sight many people didn’t recognize him. There was confusion and disagreement among neighbors and local people who should have known him well — yet, without his handicap, they weren’t sure who he was. They didn’t ever really look at him as a person, but saw him only as “that blind guy.”

When Jesus gave the man sight, it revealed the blindness of those around him. The people who had focused on the disability — not the man — couldn’t tell if it was him, despite his repeated declaration: “It’s me!” For oh-so-many years, the people around him had been as much in the dark as the man who was born blind.

Blind to the Miracle

And, even after being confronted with a miracle of epic proportions, these sightless ones remain attached to their blindness. No one rejoices with the man. Instead, his new-found vision is treated with suspicion and distrust: “Is it really you?” “Were you really blind?” “How could this happen?” “Who did this thing?”

What they’re really saying is: “Who turned our neatly-ordered worldview upside down?”

Until this event they knew how things stood: they knew who to blame for the blindness (the sinful acts of “this man or his parents”), and therefore who stood condemned. They felt safe and sanctimonious when their lives were going well, and zealously avoided those who were down on their luck, diseased, or disabled — as if their misfortune might be contagious.

But then that Jesus fellow set all of those comforting lies aside with his extraordinary, troubling claim: “No one has sinned. This man was born blind so that God’s grace and power may be seen.”

In the Dark

How could a disability contribute to the furtherance of God’s goodness? Isn’t it a punishment for a sin — or, as we say nowadays, the result of bad choices: didn’t he or his parents eat the wrong foods, drink too much, take drugs, go to the wrong places, do the wrong things? Perhaps they were exposed to a toxic chemical. Surely there is someone or something to blame.

And, regardless of its cause, we consider a disability a problem to be solved; a wrong that needs to be righted, a flaw to be mended. The person is “less than” whole. We focus on the limitations, on what is missing, rather than the strengths and possibilities. Too often, what we see is the disability or the disease, not the individual.

Despite our modern, “rational” worldview, we may be just as blind as ever.

Is there not a potential for something holy and good to come forth from those who are disabled, as much as from anyone else? Cannot God’s grace shine forth with equal brightness from the lame as from the long-distance runner? from the blind as from the eagle-eyed? from the mute as the multi-lingual? from the weak as from the strong?

Why is it that most traditional stained-glass windows, statuary, and icons present the saints as sound of body and sturdy of limb — as well as attractive and well-dressed? How spiritually blind we are to have overlooked the countless holy folk who had less than perfect physiques! Where is the depiction of the virtuous Christian in a wheelchair? the saint with a prosthetic arm? the angel wearing a hearing aid?

Holiness is not the sole domain of the healthy and the strong.

The Light that Shines on Everything

Perhaps the real miracle in this story isn’t the giving of sight to the blind man, but giving insight to Jesus’ disciples and the people around the blind man. A disability isn’t punishment, it doesn’t define a person, it doesn’t make a person less than whole — or less than holy.

The Light of the World arrives in the village and illuminates the ignorance and hard-heartedness of those who had shunned and avoided the man born blind. Now they recognize him as a person, speak to him directly, and look to him for answers. Now those who were blinded by their fears and prejudices have been given eyes to see.

That is most assuredly a miracle.

So that God’s Works Might Be Revealed

And what of the man born blind? Meeting Jesus seems to have empowered him; before his eyes were opened we never hear him speak. Now he clearly and accurately (and repeatedly) reports all that happened; later, when interrogated by the Pharisees, he is firm and direct in his replies — and keeps his sense of humor, too. (When they ask him who he thinks this Jesus is, he tells them “he’s a seer.”)

It is easy to see that the man is intelligent and funny; someone you’d like to know. How sad for those who had always hurried past “that blind guy” to have missed out on all of that! How tragic it is — for us — when we fail to recognize others as fully human. We condemn ourselves to live in the shadows when we ignore and avoid certain “kinds” of people, when we see  only a single aspect of someone, when we categorize whole communities based on a shared characteristic. So much wisdom, insight, humor, love — and light — remains hidden from us through our own unwillingness to look at one another with truly Christ-like eyes.

Jesus said, “I came into this world to bring right-minded judgment: so that the blind may see, and that those with eyes may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees heard what he said, and asked him, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?” ~ John 9:39-40

Surely we aren’t blind, are we?

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercises

Who don’t you see?

How might you open your eyes to see the holy potential in those you ignore or avoid?

 

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The Samaritan Woman Tells Her Story

inspired by the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, verses 5-29 and 39

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 20, 2017

He was like a vision, a dream come to life sitting beside the well; his hair flowing over his shoulders like a gleaming river, his eyes as deep as the night, his smile inviting.

I stopped when I saw this stranger who had stopped to rest on his journey; it reminded me of the story of our ancestor Jacob meeting Rachel at a well: something deep and divinely destined. Or at least that’s how it seems, now.

He wasn’t really handsome, but profoundly attractive; the kind of man you would have noticed, even if he hadn’t been sitting there, all alone. The other women kept a ladylike distance, clustered together in groups of two or three, whispering and casting doe-eyes in his direction.

It was midday, and the sun was brightly shining, not a cloud in the sky — and I was thirsty. It was too warm to waste time gazing at this otherworldly apparition. I walked up to the well and began to lower the bucket.

“Would you give me a drink of water?” the man asked.

I was so surprised that I let go of the rope and heard the bucket splash down into the water below. His voice was soft and pleasant, but from his accent it was clear that he came from the province of Galilee.

“Excuse me?” I said, “Why would you, a Jew, ask me — a Samaritan woman — for a drink?” Everybody knows that those holier-than-thou purists look down their noses at us Samaritans — and a woman? come on, they think we’re the lowest of the low.

The man smiled — a genuine smile, not a sneer, “Ah,” he looked up at the sky and leaned back, “If you knew what God has on offer, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you fresh water.”

“Oh yeah? How’s that going to work?” I glanced down into the well as I began to pull the bucket up, “I don’t see you carrying any water jars. Where will you get that fresh-flowing water? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who provided us with this well — who even drank from it himself, whose family drank from this well, who watered his flocks here?”

I admit it; I got a bit carried away in defending our tradition; but it just makes me so angry that those people look down on us as if they’re so superior. We’re every bit as good as they are! Besides, we’re all from the same family, originally.

“Here’s the thing,” the man said, nodding toward the bucket that I had filled and set down on the stone beside him, “Everyone who drinks water from this well will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up into endless life.”

I ran my tongue across my dry lips, tasting dust. Now that would be something: never being thirsty again, and never having to schlep this water jug back and forth again.

In the distance I heard my man calling my name.

Making a small curtsey I held out my water jar, “That sounds wonderful, sir. Please give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty again.”

“Go get your husband and then come back.” The man had also heard Caleb’s voice, and seen my reaction.

Oh God, not that again. I set my jaw firmly and looked straight into the man’s face, “I don’t have a husband.”

The man nodded, “That’s very true. You don’t have a husband: you’ve had five men; and the one you’re with now isn’t your husband.”

“Ah,” I said, “I get it: you’re a traveling soothsayer.” This guy was just another scam artist: purporting to read your mind and tell you about your past. Next he’d offer to predict my future and provide a few drops of that magical elixir he was talking about — for a fee, of course.

I sighed and brushed the hair away from my face; the wind had come up, swirling around us. Torn between disappointment and annoyance, I decided to challenge this charlatan.

“So,” I gestured toward Mount Gerizim, “Our ancestors believed that mountain to be where God should be worshipped, yet you people say that it is Jerusalem. What is the ‘truth’ of that?”

The man leaned forward with a sudden intensity, his eyes shining, “Lady, I’m telling you: the time is coming when God won’t be worshipped on that mountain or in Jerusalem. You worship blindly, we worship what we have witnessed: for salvation comes from us Jews. But any minute — even now — the faithful will worship the Father fully, freely, honestly, openly; just as He desires. God cannot be contained or limited, but is with us, even now, right where we are — and those who love him will worship Him accordingly.”

“I know, I know: ‘Some day the Messiah will come.’” I raised my arms to the heavens in mock piety, “And — when he does, all will be revealed.” I looked back at the man and shrugged my shoulders.

Jesus — for it was he — said, “It’s me. The one right in front of you.”

He said more — much more. He told me everything I had ever done: every pain I had endured, every mistake I had made, every evil, every fear, every burden I had carried, every secret I had kept. And he spoke words of compassion and understanding, words of comfort and assurance, words that to this day fill my heart and lift my soul as if carried upon an ever-flowing stream.

I have no idea how long I was there. It was as if time stopped, as if the sun stood still — as if all the earth stood still, as if it were only we two, alone, together. And I felt, rising within me, a joy unlike any I had ever known. And I wept! How I wept — with relief and gratitude, washing the Lord’s feet with my tears.

His disciples arrived, bearing food and frowns; but Jesus smiled at me and gently shook his head, “They do not understand what you already know.”

I ran from that place, rushing to the village to share the good news with everyone I met: “Can it be that the Messiah has come? This man told me everything I have ever done. Everything.” And everything — absolutely everything and everyone — is infused with God’s loving grace.

Now I am telling you what I have heard and seen and felt and touched: the Word of Life. This life — this glorious, eternal life — was revealed to me: I’m telling you truly. I want you to know, to experience it, to join with me in fellowship with God and the radiant, redeeming Lord Jesus Christ so that my joy may be complete.

Christ’s peace be with you and within you,

The Apostle to the Samaritans ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:
Allow yourself to feel the glorious joy of God’s love filling your heart and lifting your spirit as if carried upon an ever-flowing stream.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

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St. Patrick’s Shield

The Lorica of Saint Patrick, reinterpreted

I arise today
through the gracious power
of the Eternal:
Creator,
Redeemer,
Enlivening Spirit
breathing into me,
lifting me up,
strengthening my faith
and my courage.

I arise today
inspired by the life,
death
and resurrection
of Christ Jesus, my redeemer;
by the wisdom of his teachings,
by the depth of his compassion,
by the strength of his faith,
by the extent of his healing power,
by the abundance of his transforming love.

I arise today
in the company
of the joyful cherubim,
the radiant seraphim,
the vigilant angels,
the mighty archangels.

I arise today
a descendant
of the women at the tomb,
the apostles,
martyrs,
saints and strivers,
the merciful and righteous;
the great cloud of witnesses
who came before me
and whose faith and courage
challenge me
to follow Christ’s holy Way.

I arise today
through the power of heaven;
radiance of the sun,
splendor of fire,
speed of lightning,
suppleness of the wind,
depth of the sea,
expanse of the sky,
stability of the earth,
firmness of the rock.

I arise today
with divine wisdom to guide me;
holy strength to sustain me,
Christ’s vision within my eyes,
Christ’s hearing within my ears,
Christ’s words within my mouth,
Christ’s thoughts within my mind,
Christ’s gentleness within my touch,
Christ’s love within my heart.

I arise today
with God’s power to guard me,
God’s grace to shield me,
God’s angels to protect me
from the snares of the wicked,
from temptations and torments,
from any who wish me ill,
whether far or near,
whether many or few.

I call forth today
all the power of heaven
to stand between me and evil,
against every cruel and merciless force
that would harm my body or soul,
confuse my mind,
or grieve my spirit,
against hatred, envy, and evil intentions,
against wounding, deception, and lies;
Christ shield me today
and guide me in all that I do,
in all that I am.

Christ above me, Christ below me,
Christ to my left and my right;
Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ with me by day and by night;
Christ in my awakening, Christ as I sleep;
Christ in the heart of all who think of me,
Christ in the mouth of all who speaks
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
through a mighty strength,
the gracious power
of the Eternal:
Creator,
Redeemer,
Enlivening Spirit,
breathing into me,
lifting me up,
strengthening my faith
and my courage.

Amen.

Deborah Beach Giordano
St. Patrick’s Day 2017

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Temptation

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 6, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11 ~ retold by Deborah

After his baptism by John, Jesus was lead by the Spirit out into the wilderness to face temptation.

After he had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was famished — so hungry that the rocks began to look like loaves of bread. And the tempter spoke, “If you really are the Son of God, you could command these rocks to turn into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered, “Bread nourishes the body, but God’s word gives life.”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the roof of the temple, “If you really are the Son of God,” he said, “Jump off. For surely ‘He will order His angels to watch over you,’ and ‘They will lift you up so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a pebble.’”

Jesus said to him, “No way! ‘We are not to put the Lord God to the test.’”

So then the devil took him to the top of a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their all of their wealth; and said to him, “This can all be yours: fame, fortune, success, if you will worship me.”

Jesus said, “Get out of here, Satan! As the scriptures say, ‘Love and serve the Eternal, the Gracious One, and no other.’”

At that the tempter vanished, and immediately angels came and comforted the Lord.

Humility 1A

This past Friday I tumbled down the hill behind our house. I was clearing away some fallen branches when the rain-soaked earth gave out from under me; I hit the ground and rolled sideways for some distance before I met up with a tree trunk which interrupted my downward progress.

As I fell I let go of the bucket I was carrying, which bounced several times, dropped about ten feet, and landed with a splash into the creek below — where it promptly lodged against a boulder. (If that had been me rather than the bucket, I’d be dealing with more than the few aches and scrapes and bruises that I have now.)

After wallowing in the mud for several minutes trying to regain my footing, I eventually ended up crawling part of the way back up the hillside. It was an in-depth experience in humility.

The Aftermath

As I sit here, licking my wounds (actually, I’m applying Neosporin to them) you might think that I would have given up any thought of another risky trek down the hill. But, no: instead I have been plotting ways to reach the creekside and retrieve that bucket.

A foolish notion, to say the least. It is not worth risking life and limb for a $2.98 Home Depot bucket. And I know that, logically.

And yet….

And yet, darned if I’m not positively enthralled, enticed, (almost) irresistibly tempted by the idea of going back down there.

You probably know the feeling. Even in the face of disaster — particularly in the face of disaster — there is something that rises up within us; we yearn to prove that, indeed, whatever it is, we can do it. Nothing will stop us. We will do it.

You just watch! I won’t let that hillside get the better of me. Never mind that it’s steep and slippery and that I nearly broke my neck the last time — and that there is another, identical bucket sitting in the garage. I will get that bucket back.

Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it?

And yet….

Good and Evil

It reminds me of the story of Adam and Eve: we know both good and evil … but we can’t always differentiate between them.

We think of a great idea, start a project that sounds amazing, and carry on, regardless — even when it turns out badly, or becomes hurtful or harmful or possibly life-threatening. We stubbornly persist “against all odds,” because we like the sound of that: we like thinking of ourselves as heroic, as powerful; as great, noble, and admirable characters.

Remember when the devil tempted Jesus by promising him notoriety, fame and fortune — all of those ego-enhancements? The Lord had the wisdom to resist.

There is great danger in being swept up by appearances: when we are focused on how we look (good/right/helpful/determined) rather than what we hope to accomplish. The “means” becomes confused with the “end,” and suddenly it is all about us — not about what is good or worthwhile. The original goal is forgotten or, worse, undermined.

What Matters

Enthusiasm, resilience, and commitment make it possible for us to achieve great things. Repeated efforts despite multiple failures and disappointments have brought us electric light, air travel, artificial heart valves, and ramen noodles. However, a too-narrow focus has given us antibiotic-resistant bacteria, massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and the recent near-collapse of the Oroville dam here in California.

It’s easy to get distracted from our ultimate purpose. Our egotism (traditionally called the sin of “pride”) can lead us astray, far from what is right and good toward foolishness, failure, and outright harm. We forget what is important while we chase after the insignificant: wasting hours searching for a plastic bucket (“the one that got away”); finding fault rather than seeking common ground; zealously defending our past instead of embracing the opportunities of today. We are absorbed by the headlines and ignore the Gospel.

There is a terrible temptation to uphold our sense of self-righteousness, even when it leads to terrible trouble. It may be cloaked as “integrity,” or “consistency,” or “determination,” when it is, in fact, simple stubbornness. To insist on our own way without mindful, prayerful consideration is a form of spiritual blindness. It is shutting our eyes to the possibility that God may have a different plan. In our determination to prove ourselves, we may be lead astray, far from what truly matters.

Let us work and pray to keep our focus on what is ultimately important: on what is great and good and lasting. In all we say and do — in all that we hope for and dream of, all we plan for and pray for — may we truly follow the Way of our Lord Christ: “Love and serve the Eternal, the Gracious One, and no other.”

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:
What is your issue of primary concern? (What — above all else — do you hope for?)
How is your life oriented toward this?
Who is this in service to?
What distracts you?

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