Helping the Poor Isn’t Biblical. . .But Serving Them Is!

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I spent five years of my ministry among the poor.  The first three were as an authority figure in a homeless shelter.  The next two were as a rural pastor in one of the poorer counties in the country.  It was with weeping but with a deep sense of calling that I left those settings to move to a wealthy suburb to pastor mostly wealthy people where I have now been for two years.

It will come as no surprise to any of you that the number one thing I have learned is that the wealthy are clueless when it comes to poverty.  And it isn’t their fault.  Our society is built to separate the poor from the rich at every level.  Our culture has named politicians who do not know the poor as our poverty experts.  Our TV shows, novels, movies and songs all confirm our deepest stereotypes about poor people.  We have been brainwashed to believe on a very deep level that the poor are worthless sinners.

We are taught that those with money  are perfect in every way.  Those without money are flawed.  The “have’s” are godly.  The “have-nots” are worthless.  The rich are smart.  The poor are dumb.  The wealthy work really hard.  The poor are lazy.  Even if we consciously know this to be untrue, we (and yes, even I) still act in ways that show we do believe it.

As long as we don’t know the names of the poor, it is easy to continue to believe these things.  One of the great ironies of our hypocrisy is that we claim to know everything about the poverty but very few of us can even tell you their names and the names of their children and their favorite ice cream and sporting team!

In the last few decades, the Evangelical church has discovered a very clever way of baptizing this ignorance.  We have very casually changed one of Scripture’s most important words.  Scripture tells us to “serve the poor.”  We have interpreted that as “help the poor.”  Over the last couple weeks I have done a survey of Scripture’s most prominent poverty passages and books (The Good Samaritan, James 1, Joel, Hosea, Job etc.) and have discovered that “help” is not there nor is it implied.  But through that little four letter word “help” a lot of evil has entered into our thinking and tainted our otherwise loving acts of service.

The word “help” implies I am the rescuer.  It means I am here to save you.  The word “help” confirms our biased suspicions that I have IT all together and you have none of IT together.  I am the knight on the white steed.  You are the damsel in distress.  I am worthwhile and you are worthless.  Lucky for you God sent me here to show you how to be like me.

With that thinking in mind, it is not surprising that there are tons of books on “helping” the poor.  Ironically, all those books begin with telling us that Jesus was wrong.  The first chapters of those books explain that “We know that Jesus said, ‘Give to everybody who asks of you’ but God surely wouldn’t want you to do that.  What if they spend the money on drugs?  What if they waste your gift?  You don’t want YOUR money going to drugs do you?  We know Jesus said God shows kindness to the wicked (Luke 6:35) and gives rain to the just and the unjust (Matthew 6:45) but you shouldn’t do that.  What if they ruin your rain or take advantage of you?  Jesus doesn’t want you to be taken advantage of.  It’s not like he was taken advantage of and crucified or anything!  So Jesus was wrong and we wrote our book to tell you the true way that God wants you to ‘help the poor.’  Step 1: Ignore everything Jesus said.”

Then they go on to talk about “tough love” which is neither patient nor kind nor biblical.  But it turns the impoverished poor people into responsible, white, American capitalist citizens!

The problem with “tough love” is that it doesn’t come from Scripture but from Darwinism, and a very archaic Darwinism at that.  It comes from the idea that only the fit and the strong survive.  So it is my job to help you become fit so that you can survive.   I have to be tough because the theory of evolution only chooses the tough!  So I can save you by teaching you to save yourself so that we can continue thriving and evolving.

That ancient form of Darwinism isn’t even alive in science any more but we have sure preserved it in the church. And it is not Biblical.  In Scripture the fit do not survive.  They perish.  The righteous and the faithful, those who call on the name of the Lord survive and thrive.  The crucified criminals are saved.  The poor and the down and the out and the beggar at Lazarus’ gate survive and thrive.  The wealthy, the fit, the pretty only are saved as they empty themselves of all but love and admit their own horrific sinfulness and wretchedness and fall on the throne of grace.  Of course, that is how the poor are saved as well but it is so much easier for them to do.

We do not help the poor.  But we do serve them.  We do wash their feet.  We do associate with them (Romans 12:16).

And we do this as a means of allowing God to help us and to save us from our pride and our arrogance and our wretchedness.

So what’s the difference between helping and serving?  Let me give a few examples:

Helping says, “Can I tell you why what you are doing is wrong?”

Serving says, “What do you need me to do for you today?”

Helping lectures.

Serving listens.

Helping gives money to a local service organization.

Serving spends money to take the poor out to eat.

Helping invites them to your self help event, or easier still, just gives them a self help book.

Serving enters their home and laughs with them around a dinner table.

Helping gives them a list of criteria by which they can be accepted.

Serving accepts and associates with them regardless.

Helping tells them your personal success story as if it could be easily replicated.

Serving tells them about this gracious God who gives to all who ask.

And finally,

Helping doesn’t care about their name.

Serving learns their name.

In closing here is a quote from Soong Chan Rah’s book “Prophetic Lament” which helps me incredibly as I try to purify myself from my suburban wretchedness and associate anew with the lowly:

I was listening to the speaker before me when he dropped this little gem: “It’s not about a handout, but a hand up.”  Actually it’s not about either.  A handout means you think you are better than me and you’re handing me something.  A hand up means you think you’re better than me and you’re trying to lift me up from a bad place to your wonderful place.  Actually if it’s a choice, I would rather have the hand out.  If you’re going to be condescending, I might as well get a direct benefit out of it instead of being told I need to become like you.  Forget the handout or the hand up.  Just reach a hand across.  Let’s be equals and partners.  I don’t need you to rescue me, just like you don’t think you need rescuing by me.  My rescuer is a Jewish carpenter.”

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A Sermon Somewhere: Parents at the Swimming Pool

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For whatever reason my daughter’s preschool decided to take the three to six year old’s to the local swimming pool this morning.  As ridiculous as this sounds, they weren’t entirely foolish.  They also decreed that every child had to have a parent tag along.  So I spent the morning waddling around water that was a foot deep with fifty parents and fifty preschoolers, reassuring my screaming 3 year old that if he just stood up he wouldn’t be drowning.

As much fun as that was, it was even more fun to watch the parents. Many of them weren’t even dressed in swimming suits.  They wore business casual and stood in a line off to the side, frowning every time they got splashed and otherwise looking at their smart phones.  I just hope they weren’t texting each other.  The most prominent of this group was wearing a tight fitting dress that came down to her knees, boots with six inch heels and she had her hair done up with a good, thick layer of makeup.  She apparently misread the invitation, though I don’t know how.  “Swim Day” is pretty self explanatory.  The only time she looked up from her phone was when her daughter did something cute that she soon captured on the camera on her smartphone.

Then there was the hot tub crowd.  They camped out there as if it was the steam room at a local 5 star resort.  Their faces were furrowed as they dialogued with each other about politics, theology and the meaning of life, the universe and everything in it.  Their children may as well have been hundreds of miles away, out of sight and out of mind.  If I had cigars and vodka I could have made a killing selling them poolside to this crowd.

Then there were the lounge chair parents.  Unlike the business casual crowd, they were at least dressed in bathing suits but they sprawled out on the long chairs as if they were not actually inside an overly chlorinated facility but outside on some beach somewhere getting a tan.  Much like the business casual crew, they were looking at their smartphones and trying to ignore the background noise.  Once again, I could have made a killing selling them poolsides daiquiris.

Then, of course, you had the helicopter parents.  They were actually in the water, seemingly enjoying themselves with their children.  Imagine all the stuff they missed on their smart phones!

Don’t get me wrong, this group had some standout characters.  First, there was the poor father who ended up manning the short tunnel slide that led down to the water.  He stood there all morning arguing with five year olds about who and who couldn’t go first.  At times I couldn’t tell who the five year old was.

One of my closer friends, and heroes, spent the morning arguing with the lifeguards about the ridiculous pool policies.  The pool had a piping network that shot water everywhere which they had strangely refused to turn on.  There was also a giant water slide that they weren’t letting anybody use.  My friend thought all this was an absurd injustice and I totally agree.  He entered into strict negotiations on behalf of the rest of us and, not surprisingly, gained some ground.

Then there was that other parent who mistakenly thought he was one of the life guards.  He stood at the water’s edge, off to the side of the business casual crowd, fully ready to yell at anybody who broke even the tiniest rule, even if the rule only existed in his head.  I think at one point the lifeguards told him to tone it down and that splashing in the water is actually not against the rules.  He blew his whistle at the lifeguards and gave them a penalty flag for not having adequate rules.

As for me, well, I won’t tell you which one of these people I was.  I will tell you that at one point my daughter’s teacher passed by me and said, “Oh I always love it when the dads actually get in the water and play with the children.”  I beamed with pride, assuming that meant I got an A for the day, which is one of my life goals.

But I didn’t get the highest grade in the class.  That prize goes to my 5 year old friend Bridger’s mom.  She went through several rounds of chemo therapy over the winter to try to fight off a dangerous and life threatening cancer.  She is a veterinarian who had to close down her prominent practice to fight the disease.  I am not sure if the cancer is officially in remission or not but she was there today.  The scars of the surgeries were evident all over her body, made more obvious by the fact she was wearing a bathing suit.  Her face looked taut and worn.  Her scarred, wrinkled body looked frail.  But she was right down there in the water with her son, laughing and splashing and enjoying every moment of being alive.

And as I watched her and her son, that got me thinking that well, perhaps there is a sermon in that water somewhere.

 

The Hidden Humor of Mark’s Gospel

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Happy Low Easter everybody!  Our Low Easter Celebration began low but ended fairly high which I badly needed.  I hope yours went fantastic as well.

As promised, here is the follow up to my post from last week about Mark’s gospel.  I continue to have amazing discussions with those who watched my performance and were inspired.  I hope to do it again some day.

In those conversations I have remarked several times how much fun Mark was to memorize and perform.  Mark is full of intense action verbs that lend themselves to sweeping arm gestures.  More than that, Mark is funny.  It is a hilarious book.  While I cannot now discuss that humor in depth, here are 11 or so of my favorite bits of humor from the book:

I do add one caveat.  I am not entirely sure all of these were meant to be funny or even were funny in the 1st century.  But all of them are funny to my 21st century ears.

  1. A Demon in a Synagogue? (Chapter 1):  This first one isn’t laugh out loud funny but it is a wonderful bit of irony that kicks off Jesus’ ministry.  With all the emphasis in 1st century Judaism about purity and keeping things holy, especially on the Sabbath, its pretty funny that a demon somehow still sneaked into synagogue.  Lepers weren’t even allowed in but somehow a demon got through.  But I can’t judge.  Some of the churches I’ve been to have had their fair share of demons too!
  2. Simon.  .  .the Zealot? (Chapter 4):  I have heard some great sermons on Jesus’ 12 apostles as they are listed in the gospels.  Mark wins for most creative and ironic listing.  First, Jesus renames Simon, giving him the name “rock” or as I like to say, “Rockface!”  Then the sons of Zebedee are given a name in an obscure dialectic which Mark translates, “Sons of Thunder!”  You can hear that in a guttural sports announcer voice.  But he saves the best for second to last.  Simon the Zealot, which is a nice way of saying “terrorist.”  Yep Simon the violent terrorist.  Is this a group of responsible, well dressed clergy members or Robin Hood’s band of merry men, or worse, Peter Pan’s group of lost boys?  “You’re ROCKFACE!  You two are Thundersons!  And you are an evil zealot who wants to cause terror wherever you go?  Well we may as well take you!”
  3. Who Cares about Pigs? (Chapter 5):  This is probably the best told story in Mark’s gospel.  The entire narrative is dripping with humor and irony which leads up to the devastatingly sad ending.  First off, this guy is possessed by a legion of demons which are giving him both super strength and super crazy.  Second, the demons ask to go into pigs and Jesus lets them!  Third, pigs are unclean food and if you farmed them and made money off of them you were highly suspect.  Your vocation was right down there with prostitute.  All of these realities make this story so funny on many levels.  But the ending is heart breaking.  The people are terrified of Jesus’ power, and mad about losing their 2,000 pigs.  So they beg him to leave.
  4. “He couldn’t do any miracles.  .  .except to lay hands on a few sick people and cure them!” (Chapter 6:5):  I love that little line from the narrative about Jesus’ hometown.  Angry though Jesus was, of course he went ahead and healed a few people.  He wasn’t completely heartless!  I’ve had those days where I am so angry I can’t do anything, except give my waiter a big tip, giggle with my children, clean the house for my wife and have a pleasant conversation with a stranger on the side of the road.  But I am still ANGRY!  This line is even funnier since it is followed by a very snide retort, “And HE was amazed at THEIR lack of faith!”
  5. “When Herod heard John the Baptist talk he was greatly perplexed.  .  .but he still enjoyed listening to him!” (Chapter 6:20):  This probably ranks as my favorite.  My two year annual review was a month ago and my board said something almost identical to my DS about my sermons.  “We have no idea what he is talking but man, those sermons are fun!”
  6. The Pharisees wash their cup furniture! (Chapter 7): In the entire prologue to Jesus’ instruction about “clean and unclean” Mark is heartlessly sarcastic.  The Pharisees are portrayed as absolute morons and this culminates in that line above.  Some translations say “kettles” but a few early editions of Mark replaced it with “cup furniture.”  For the record I observe those traditions too.  It’s called a dishwasher!
  7. Even the dogs under the table get the children’s crumbs. (Chapter 7:28):  This is a weird passage and has been interpreted various ways.  Jesus’ sing song rebuke to the Greek woman is almost cruel, since she is on her knees begging him to heal her daughter.  But this very well may have been a popular song that the Jewish people sung as a taunt against Greeks.  Jesus’ motives are anybody’s guess but regardless, the woman’s reply is incredibly witty and profound.  You can almost hear Jesus laughing as he says, “For such a reply you may go!  The demon’s left your daughter!”
  8. Peter didn’t know what to say at the transfiguration.  He was so frightened! (Chapter 9):  Again I can relate.  The best thing, of course, is to say nothing at all because fear and talking don’t go well together.
  9. Shoving a camel through the eye of a needle (Chapter 10):  Jesus loved exaggeration and this is a very funny one.  I just love picturing it in my head.  Before you all start talking about rock arches and gates named “Needle” that was a completely unfounded myth.  Jesus really meant a sewing needle.
  10. Jesus curses a fig tree.  .  .and his disciples heard him say it! (Chapter 11): We have all thrown temper tantrums in public and so can relate.  It is even funnier when the next day Jesus uses it as an object lesson about prayer.  “Remember that one time I sassed a fig tree?  Well you should pray more!”
  11. Which is the greatest commandment? (Chapter 12):  This is like asking someone with a PhD in Mathematics, “What is 2+2?  I bet you’ll never guess!”  Every single Jewish person living during that day knew what the greatest commandment was.  All day the authorities pestered Jesus about widows and brothers, paying taxes and proof of authority.  The fact that they are now resorting to such easy questions shows how completely lost they all were to find anything wrong with Jesus or his teaching.  Mark adds to the irony by telling us that after Jesus hit the easy ball, “nobody dared ask him any more questions.”

Performing the Scriptures: Mark’s Gospel

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A couple years ago, when last the lectionary was in Mark I stumbled upon some Youtube videos of people doing dramatic performances of Mark’s gospel in its entirety.  At the time, I thought, “This is something I could do” and put it on the back burner of my brain until January 1st of this year when I decided to go ahead and memorize Mark and perform it dramatically for Tenebrae Friday.

I went about the arduous task of memorizing Mark passage by passage.  As I did I came clever audience interaction bits and props.  As I memorized it out loud I rehearsed various ways of saying every single sentence.  Some I tried sad and then happy and then sarcastic to see which I felt worked best and also conveyed the tone that I thought Mark used.

The performance was last Friday night and, though I am relieved to be done with Mark’s gospel, I am also grateful for the amount of wisdom and knowledge I gained over the last several months.  So it is my pleasure here to share with you some of those insights I have learned during this journey:

  1. I am more convinced than ever that Mark’s gospel was meant to be spoken and performed, not read.  The high amount of intense action verbs make this obvious.  The heavens do not open.  They are TORN open.  People do not kneel.  They fall down at his feet.  Nobody “asks” anything, (well, except the boring bad guys).  Instead, they plead or beg.  These verbs lend themselves to broad hand and arm gestures and overly dramatic facial expressions, making this a very fun gospel to read out loud.  You can almost imagine an elderly Peter performing this for a younger Mark and then a young Mark in turn performing it for his younger disciples.
  2. Sarcasm and irony permeate this text.  I am going to write a follow up post in the next day or two about my favorite bits of humor in Mark but moments of irony carry the gospel along.  The scene with the legion of demons and the large herd of pigs is hilarious, making its sad ending very poignant.  Jesus’ use of the prophet Isaiah and the commands of Moses to insult the Pharisees and teachers of the law is brilliant and funny.  And who can forget Jesus getting mad at a fig tree when it didn’t have figs in the middle of Spring!  I will talk more about the humor later but it sure made Mark fun to memorize and perform.
  3. Mark’s over-use of the word “immediately” is not what a lot of people try to make of it.  The word “immediately” appears over 15 times in Mark, more than one a chapter.  Other “hurry” words like “just then,” “as soon as,” “at once” and the like appear just as often.  Therefore, some argue that Jesus in Mark is in a hurry and doesn’t slow down.  I don’t think that is true.  The word “immediately” very rarely describes Jesus.  Instead it comes up most often during miracles.  When Jesus speaks immediately the leprosy leaves, the bleeding stops and the demon flees.  The word doesn’t convey a Jesus in a hurry.  It conveys the darkness and evil of our world in a hurry to get of Jesus’ way.
  4. Right around chapter 7 the entire tone of the gospel changes.  Somewhere in chapter 7, the hurry words disappear.  The strong action verbs get a little bit weaker.  The humor fades.  Chapters 8-10 were the hardest to memorize because they weren’t as dramatic or fun.  But these are the chapters which focus heavily on the demand for followers of Jesus to live humble and sacrificial lives.  It is as if Mark used the humor, intensity and hurry to get your attention but once he had it, he slowed things way down so that you could really hear the core message of the book which is.  .  .
  5. HUMILITY.  This guy Jesus has all the power in the world but doesn’t want people to talk about it.  The person Mark labels in the very first verse as the “Son of God” comes from middle of nowhere Nazareth and hangs out in forgotten Galilee for 2/3rds of the Gospel.  He then hurries back out to Galilee right after the Resurrection.  This popular teacher spends his time running away from crowds and hiding in houses.  He demands both demons and those healed to keep their mouths shut about him and in chapter 9 he is transfigured and then immediately tells the eyewitnesses not to go blabbing.  In chapter 8, right around the time the tone changes, he begins to teach that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected.  Then he starts talking about how he didn’t come to be served but to serve.  He begins teaching his disciples to do the same thing.  The first will be last.  The one who wants to be great will be the slave of all.  Those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven must do so with one eye, one hand, one foot and with the posture of a little child.  Then the rich man goes away sad because he has great wealth.  But blind Bartimaus is filled with joy because he just wanted to see.  And in the parable of the sower some receive the word but because of the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things, the word is choked and they are unfruitful.  Mark has much to teach us about the path of salvation and he illustrates it to us as the path of sacrificial humility.  This climaxes at the Resurrection scene.  Many commentators have pointed out that it is a young man dressed in white who gets to proclaim the resurrection news in the empty tomb.  There was another young man in white you fled naked and in shame at the arrest.  It is quite probable that Mark did this on purpose to illustrate that those of us who humble ourselves completely, leaving everything, even our clothes, in order to follow Jesus will receive so much more from God!

Oh that we would learn that lesson and learn it well and join Bartimaus and the young man in white on the road to the cross and then to the empty tomb!

Resurrection Sunday Reflection: Going Back to Galilee!

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Well, I made it.  We made it!  It is now Easter again.  Such a remarkable day, yet an exhausting one for a pastor.  It began around 5am this morning, as Easter’s usually do for me.  The Lord blessed me with a full bladder right around the time I had to get out of bed which I wish would happen every day–He is risen indeed!

And after a day of much glorious celebrating and feasting and festivities here I sit pondering Jesus’ first words post-tomb.  Maybe for the first time in my life, I am reading the Resurrection story in Matthew 28 and realizing how remarkable it is that angels tell the good news but Jesus has something different in mind.  “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matt. 28:10)

Wait, what?  I mean, I like the “don’t be afraid” part.  That’ll always preach.  But the next part isn’t very inspiring.  It isn’t very eye catching.  It isn’t very thrilling.  “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee?”  Jesus, shouldn’t we at least first talk about how you are still alive?  Shouldn’t you tell us what it all means?  Shouldn’t we do some theology?  Shouldn’t we at least sing some songs about forgiveness, grace, mercy and the like?  Shouldn’t you tell us what God the Father is doing/thinking/wanting?  In fact, shouldn’t we talk about anything other than Galilee?

We sang around 6 songs about Jesus’ Resurrection this morning.  By the end of the Easter liturgical season we will have exhausted many more.  All of them are more melodic and poetic than, “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee!”  Kindergartners write better poetry than that!

But for those of you who do not know, Galilee held a pretty unique spot in the Roman Empire.  Don’t let my word choice of “unique” trick you.  Unique here does not mean special and it certainly does not mean glorious.  Instead it means weird.  Galilee was a weird place for so many reasons.  They were like the Puerto Rico of Rome.  They were totally a part of the country but everybody kind of forgot they existed.  (No offense to the Puerto Ricans.  In fact you have my humble apologies!)

Beyond that, Galilee had its own government, kind of.  In fact, their kings were kind of a drag.  The citizens were too.  They were farmers and fishermen and shepherds.  They didn’t have the temple, or really many great buildings at all.  They were Jewish but not always faithful ones.  They were also Romans but not always loyal ones.  They were simple, slightly uneducated and, as I all ready said, mostly forgotten.

Yet Galilee is where Jesus lived.  Galilee is where he ministered.  Galilee is where he made his namesake and Galilee is where he began the revolution of love against sin and evil.  And Galilee was where he apparently couldn’t wait to get to after defeating death and all that.

That’s right, Galilee.

That might be the most awkward part of any Easter liturgy:

He is risen!

He is risen INDEED!

He is going to Galilee!

He is going to.  .  .wait.  .  .Galilee?   Um, indeed.   .  .Galilee indeed?

Yet where else would he go?  In fact, what better place to go?  He is not just risen.  He is risen and going back to Galilee.  He is risen and going back to the forgotten, poor, rural communities.  He is risen and journeying back to those who are marginalized, weak and foolish.  He is risen and you will find him where you were always able to find him, in Galilee.

So as I sit here after a full and wonderful but exhausting day and wonder where this Easter might take me or might take you, I find myself hoping that the resurrection of the Lord will find us in the Galilee’s!

Happy Easter!  He is risen (and in Galilee) indeed!

Saturday Vigil Reflection: The Lamb Before Its Shearers Is Silent

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I never know what to feel on Holy Saturday.  The liturgical Holy Week is brilliantly designed to take us through the emotions of Jesus’ last week.  Palm Sunday lifts our spirits.  Jesus’ teachings on Monday through Wednesday confuse and frustrate us.  The foot washing and Eucharist of Maundy Thursday comfort us.  The cross on Friday saddens us.

But then what?  What is Saturday supposed to do to us?  I have no idea.

My home church growing up did an Easter egg hunt on Saturday before Easter.  I protested one year, claiming it was wildly out of place and such festivities should wait for Sunday.  My pastor rebutted that it was strangely fitting.  When else should we have an Easter egg hunt?  The Saturday after Good Friday represents life returning to normal after a rather disappointing and absurd Friday.  Easter egg hunts, with their complete lack of any sort of sacramental backing, show the absurdity of it all in ways nothing else can.  I don’t know if he really believed this, or if he was trying to keep the peace with people who were not as liturgically minded as us and so came up with a clever logical argument to justify their silliness.

But his argument resonated with me and still does today.  What else should we do on this Holy Saturday?  Hunting eggs with chocolate in them seems almost as absurd as the fact that yesterday we just killed God so why not.  .  .

And today, a decade later I am getting a haircut and cleaning my house.  What other ways are there to commemorate this day of silence?

Speaking (or writing) of this day of silence, after a week spent studying Jesus’ final teachings, it is worth noting that right before his death he was silent as well.  Matthew 26:53 reads, “But Jesus remained silent.”  He did so again before Pilate.  Now Jesus was not exactly silent.  He did speak a few words but his silence was a response to the accusations.  He gave no defense.  He called no witnesses.  He sat there and took their accusations.  He rested his case before even offering one.  He remained silent and gave no answer.

This is quite profound.  On Palm Sunday he was called, “prophet.”  He spent the week teaching in the temple courts.  Particularly in Matthew, Jesus never was lacking for words to say.  But now he has nothing left to say, no logical argument to make, no defense.  Just silence.

There are different arguments for why he remained silent.  The most shallow argues that he was just fulfilling prophecy and nothing else.  The most elaborate has to do with legal rules and precedents.  Everything you say and do can and will be used against you after all.

However, I think he was silent because of the absurdity of it all.  What else can you say when you are the adult in a room full of angry children?  To speak is to play by their rules and to stoop to their level.  They will always beat you there.  At least by remaining silent in the midst of their childishness, Jesus remained adult.  At least thousands of years later we can say, “See how mature he was.  See how resolute in the face of absurdity!”

And like the centurion, we can look at the silent dignity he portrayed while being crucified and say, “Surely he was the son of God.”

So here on this silent Saturday may we recover in ourselves some of the dignity that Jesus portrayed.  In the face of the ridiculousness of Good Friday, may we be silently dignified as we go through the motions of yet one more Sabbath day.  Tomorrow, like the women, we will put ourselves together and bring spices to the tomb to finish off what the authorities started.  The linens themselves are signs of dignity in the face of absurdity.  It was as if the women were saying to each other, “They killed him for no reason but at least we can adorn him for the sake of respect.”

But before we join them there, let us lift our heads, hunt silly eggs, get haircuts, clean our house and rest a bit while we wait to see if hope just might break through again tomorrow.  .  .

Tenebrae Friday Reflection: The Crowd With Their Clubs and Us With Our Swords

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As I sit writing the sky is blue outside my window.  There are some puffy clouds dotting the horizon which accent the beauty of a nice, Spring day.  That is if you are inside looking out.  Outside is a whole other story.  It is 20 degrees cooler than it was yesterday.  A strong wind gusted throughout the afternoon bringing with it a cold front which returned the chill to the air.  The trees are still waving, showing the last vestiges of a cold, bitter wind.

So too this bright Spring day is also tainted by the darkness of what we ironically, but appropriately call “Good Friday.”  It is a day commemorating the capture of the one who was good.  This good one was arrested.  He was tried.  He was beaten.  He was stripped naked.  He was crucified.

The climax of all this begins in a garden.  Many have portrayed this scene in movies, depicting it as chaotic with a quiet Jesus standing in the middle of it all.  His disciples are fleeing.  One leaves behind his only garment, running away naked.  The crowds are clamoring to arrest whoever they can.  Judas is counting his coins.  Another of Jesus’ disciples draws a sword and starts slashing about.  Jesus remains calm and resolute.

The only words he gives, the only teaching he offers is a question with two sentences.  The sentence and first question read:  “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs to arrest me?  Every day I was with you teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me.” (Matthew 26:55)

All it is is one question and one statement and yet again Jesus is fairly incriminating.  With that question and that statement he has again revealed the goats for who they are.  They are cowardly.  They are fickle.  They are trite.  In fact, they are quite ridiculous.  That they came at night to a secluded spot and that they are just hired men, not the authorities themselves, merely sent by the authorities, shows everything about them is absurd.  Swords and clubs??  Really??  For what rebellion?  And if Jesus’ teachings were that dangerous, why not arrest him on the spot instead of letting his harm continue?

This is all quite dumb and Jesus knows it and bluntly says it.

So too, as I have been writing all week, the cross of Christ reveals our absurdity.  We are dumb.  We change our minds at a moment’s notice.  We love God until God won’t do what we want or need.  We betray our friends.  We gossip.  We lie.  We clamor for titles and wealth that unnecessarily complicate our lives.  We worship every new product or movie that flits across our eyes.  We flock to polls to elect false Messiahs by the dozens.  We pledge our allegiance to anything and everything that is not God.  We come with swords and clubs to arrest the Prince of Peace.

Yet, there is a third sentence to Jesus’ retort.  He says, “But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”

I hope you hear that third sentence for what it truly represents.  In so many words Jesus said, “But God’s got this!”  It isn’t about us or our evil.  It isn’t even about them and their evil.  It isn’t about what we do.  It is not about how absurd we are.  Instead, God just might use this in a way that the prophets are fulfilled.

It is about this incredible God who is able to take our pettiness, our absurdity, our fickleness and our violent nature and make something great and gorgeous and beautiful with it.  It isn’t about our shortcomings or our weaknesses or our sins.  It is about a God who says, “I see your swords and clubs and I raise you forgiveness, love and grace.”  “I see your stupidity and I raise you the wisdom of love!”  “I see your sin and I raise you sacrificial love!”

“Your swords, clubs, betrayal and denial have all taken place so that the prophets might be fulfilled.”

Then the bad Friday, the dark Friday, the cold Friday becomes the Good Friday.