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What Should We Do About Jesus?

There’s an ominous tone that starts to bubble up in the liturgical readings of the last days of Lent.  It begins to surface as the gospels shift from an almost exclusive focus on the teaching and ministry of Jesus.  Slowly the curtain opens to reveal the anxiety that grips the religious elite of Jerusalem.  That anxiety then morphs into paranoia and finally into panic, as they wonder what in the world to do about Jesus.

Like many others, I take some little comfort in thinking that evil is identifiable and that we can point our fingers at it.  In my own mind the evil is in the officials standing in the shadows, worried.  That image remains a comfort to me until the awful truth dawns on me.  I could very well be standing there alongside them once in a while.  The fact of the matter is, along with them I too sometimes wonder what I’m supposed to do about Jesus.

8985B3D8-DF16-4E76-BCC0-2255DB78502EEvery time I try to take consolation in the thought that the bad guys in the gospel story were the religious authorities, I need to pinch myself.  The reality of it is, Jesus had no quibble with authority in and of itself.  What did irritate him to no end were those who used religion in order to control other people.  Jesus was absolutely consistent in his condemnation of those who would use the spiritual as leverage over others.

I shudder when I realize that I’ve probably done that myself.  Each time I point out the sins of others in light of my own stellar behavior, then I’ve done it.  Each time I dismiss the good intentions of others, I’ve done it.  Each time I exalt myself at the expense of others, then I’ve done it.  Those are all times when I quietly slip over to join the religious leaders in their collective self-satisfaction.

Like the religious leaders in the gospel, I too sometimes wonder about Jesus.  In my case, however, I wonder what he might be asking of me.  I’m challenged as I try to figure out how well or how poorly I’m following in his steps.

Thankfully there’s something in the story of Lent and Holy Week that is ironically reassuring.  For one thing, in my doubts and in my struggles, I’m in surprisingly good company.  After all, I stand in the company of the brightest religious minds in Jerusalem, who felt threatened by Jesus.  I’m also in the company of Peter, who denied Jesus three times.  And certainly least of it but not the last of it, I’m in the company of the disciples, who all ran away when the chips were down.

Together with them I sometimes wonder what I will do about Jesus.  Then I recall the second reassurance we take from the gospel story.  We may wonder what we should do about Jesus.  But thankfully, Jesus never wonders for a second about what he will do with the likes of us.

3E172A00-EB0A-4846-B2CE-318D492AC382NOTES

+On March 16th I presided at the abbey Mass.  Today’s post is an expanded version of the sermon that I delivered that day.

+On March 17th I spoke on The Saint John’s Bible to ninety students from St. Olaf College, who spent the day with us at Saint John’s.

+On March 18th I presided at Vespers in the abbey church.

+Last week I wrote about difficulties with my iPad, and my frustration at the Apple Store in Naples, FL.  On Thursday I resolved them with a visit to the Apple Store in Minneapolis.  In addition to the problems that I could list, the analyst found something that truly surprised him, and he traded my old iPad for a brand new one.  He then sent my old one to the Apple labs for an autopsy.  I shed no tears as I said goodbye.

+This was the week for one other challenge.  My office at Saint John’s had sent a box to me while I was in Florida, which was intended to be given as a gift of appreciation to someone.  It was scheduled to arrive in Naples on Monday.  On Tuesday I drove forty-five minutes to pick it up, only to discover that it had not arrived.  Worse still, a search of the US Post Office tracking number turned up nothing — it was nowhere.  On Friday, however, the box turned up in New Jersey.  No explanation was forthcoming as to why it chose to go there.

+This week I finished Candice Millard’s book entitled Hero of the Empire (Doubleday, 2016).  In it she details the exploits of Winston Churchill’s escapades in the Boer War in South Africa at the end of the 19th century.  It’s a great read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys history as well as adventure.

+In the liturgical calendar for Benedictines there is a trifecta of feasts that have always provided a mid-Lenten time-out in the monastic horarium and table.  On March 17th we enjoy the feast of Saint Patrick.  On March 19th we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph.  And on March 21 we commemorate Saint Benedict.  The stained glass in today’s post are windows from the Great Hall at Saint John’s, built in 1879 as the abbey church.

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No Need for an Appointment with God

I know it’s not a good idea to attribute human qualities to an iPad.  For one thing, it’s not human.  Nor does it share in the effects of original sin.  And  to my knowledge it’s entirely devoid of human emotions like joy, sadness or depression.  And despite the fact that I really do love my iPad, I know it’s not a healthy relationship for the simple fact that the love is not mutual.  My iPad will always remain entirely aloof from me.

On the other hand my iPad does seem to share a few human traits, and that’s what makes me nervous sometimes.  Every now and again, for instance, I get a notice that my iPad has a bug.  It’s news I ignore at my peril, because that can lead to something far worse.  I also know that my iPad can come down with its version of the flu, just like people.  That seems to be its latest problem, and that’s what has me worried right now.  Lately, it will not charge up unless it feels like it — leaving me to wonder if it will be comatose by the end of the day.  On top of that, it ignores the keyboard at really inconvenient times.  That means I can get a message but can’t respond.  And finally, there are times lately when it’s a challenge to wake it from its sleeping mode.  If it were a teenager, that would be okay.  But it’s not.

F3BFFD73-7D34-4D54-A8EC-F702E3940384Anyway, I took my iPad to see the iPad doctor at the Apple Store in Naples, FL, last week, and my experience there was akin to using the National Health in the UK.  It was spring break, and thousands of kids had flown south to Florida for the chance to visit an Apple Store in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops.  It was exhilarating for them, but it was a nightmare for me.  I was desperate as I got in line to speak to someone about making an appointment to speak with someone about my sick iPad.  But the minimum wait to see the iPad doctor was two hours.  So I left mad — mad at the tech world, and mad especially at my iPad for putting me through all this.

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but my experience with the iPad does have the potential for allegorical interpretation.  No doubt about it, my iPad does wonderful things, when it feels like it.  But it also comes with bugs and illnesses that are particular to its talents.  In this case its primary talent is the access it gives me to connect with people all over the world.  But conversely it comes with the ability to deny that access, and that’s when it hurts.  That’s when I feel especially helpless.

084E680C-92A9-4C1F-9CEF-5FA128F6E162Therein might be the angle that Jesus might exploit to turn this into a parable.  As is the case with computers, you and I are blessed with an abundance of apps and capacities and other gifts.  We have the ability to do amazing things.  But we also have bugs that need tending to, lest they grow and get out of control.  We can also have issues with reliability, and our friends and colleagues can share stories of how we have let them down in the course of their lives.  That’s the effect of sin.

No computer is ever perfect, nor will we ever be perfect.  We, like the machines we rely upon, need maintenance;  we need updates;  we need rebooting; and sometimes we need a major overhaul.  All of that requires self-awareness, and it’s better to be self-aware long before the bugs get out of control.

Of course I can’t discuss any of this with my iPad.  But I’m privileged to have other options.  So when I feel the effects of bugs in my life, and when I sense that I’m about to crash, it’s important to seize the opportunity to talk with friends and colleagues, and especially with God.  That’s what they’re there for.  And in the case of God, there’s never a need for an appointment.  And as busy as God might seem to be, there’s never a two-hour wait.

FBC76FD1-ED8A-44B9-8326-A776FB63BFB5NOTES

+On March 5th I flew from Minneapolis to Fort Myers, FL.  I was fortunate to get away, just as a major winter storm was about to hit the airport in Minneapolis.  At Saint John’s we had nearly ten inches of snow, and I was sorry to miss the vision of that — but not sorry enough to turn around and try and get back to see it before it melts.

+On March 6th I attended a reception in Naples, FL, that served to introduce our Immokalee Scholarship Program to potential supporters.  Present were Alex and Osbaldo, two of our students from Immokalee.  They each gave fine presentations to the assembled friends of Saint John’s.

+On March 10th I gave a day of reflection to members of the Seattle Area of the Order of Malta.  I’ve been privileged to give this retreat day for several years running, and it takes place at the Catholic student center at the University of Washington.

+The photos in today’s post show scenes from the life of Jesus, from an altar retable now housed in the Museum of Catalán Art in Barcelona.  It was made by Jaume Serra for the Monastery of Santa Maria de Sixena, ca. 1370.  From the top the panels depict The Last Supper, The Child Jesus Teaching in the Temple, The Baptism of Jesus, The Crufixion, and The Dormition of Mary.

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