My cousin Ellen, who lives a great distance from our once big, close, Catholic family, recently wrote that she has trouble understanding and sharing the Bible with those who don’t believe it. To her, the Old Testament God seemed punitive, not connected to Jesus all that much. So, in a rather playful yet serious burst of reflection (leap-frogging through scriptural time), I tried to off my take on Tale and Truth. As Catholic girls raised in the 50s, we heard of Noah and young David, then memorized the Rosary Mysteries. THE BIBLE as a whole? Not so much. So let me offer this hop-scotch through the Bible act as PART II of my evolving STORYTELLING Ministry this Advent:
During a meeting with Moses, God describes God’s self as I AM. So let’s imagine I AM creating the world in steps. FYI, the Church now sees creation as metaphorical – not 6 literal days. Finally, God rested, teaching us to stop and rest, savor the gifts of I AM. Genesis shows us God through creation’s beauty, its majestic evolutionary ways, its stars and black holes and – then – in several stories with some sweet, lovable, but misguided, egotistical people. Genesis is an amazing dance of human and divine – our likeness to yet chosen separateness from God. In this first book we see God yearning for humanity and humans not quite trusting in God’s providence. Eventually God chooses Abraham and Sarah, offering these two very old people the impossible – descendants as numerous as the stars. Thus, our ancestors in faith, the Hebrew people begin. (The Muslim people too but that story doesn’t unfold for many years.) God’s initial covenant sounds something like: I’ve chosen YOU to carry the message. I AM is all powerful (not that I’ll fix your every woe), nurturing, providing Teacher. I’ll LOVE YOU without limit, send prophets and elders galore, make you prosperous beyond your imaginings. All I ask in return is keep turning to me…NOTICE I’m here. THANK me for creation. RESPECT that I am your guide. And God sent deliverance from oppression, rules for the road, even a promised milk and honey land.
But…for those good but miss-the-mark humans, that was just too good to be true. Soon they were whining, “Can’t we just have a KING – one who FIGHTS for us and wins? Brings us wealth and the spoils of war? You know, like all the other tribal people? Can’t you hear God sigh? Our great I AM, our Mother/Father/Mystery/Wisdom/Parent shook God’s head and said…OK, if that’s what you really WANT. Don’t say I didn’t warn you (through Samuel, God’s spokesman at the time). Human kings can be pretty horrible when they forget I AM! So Saul became the first king that the PEOPLE chose and God said, “OK I’ll bless that king, but he’d better remember I AM. Saul turned out to be not all that devoted to God. (He grew jealous at just the sight of young David and tried to KILL him! You can understand how God did not like that!)
Yet, God saw something special in young David, Jesse’s youngest boy, out there in the fields playing his lyre. So I AM thought, “This one just might make a truly great king.” David, like some humans, got full of himself and made some less-than-wise choices (Bathsheba). But, God’s teacher Nathan set David straight, and he turned to God (good move!) wisely and humbly saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” He wrote the top ten songs to God we call Psalms, and straightened himself out. So God gave David a brilliant son named Solomon who, again humbly, asked for WISDOM! God thought, “Good choice! Just maybe this king thing WILL work.” But Solomon got greedy and arrogant. He thought he’d be famous for THE BEST EVER TEMPLE for God and turned lots of God’s chosen people into slaves to build it. Then he taxed to death the rest to balance the budget. Not so wise. He also partied with concubines galore. Frankly, after that, hardly any earthly king could keep the Hebrew people close to God for a very long time.
The rest of the Old Testament is full of nasty kings, partying and fighting and foolishly building gold statues to OTHER gods like Baal, messing with “sacred” prostitutes and even sacrificing children. BAD IDEA! Poor I AM is now sighing and frowning. Wouldn’t YOU be? God started sending prophets to say, “You don’t get it! Where’s the LOVE AND RESPECT God asks for? Where’s the help for the poor, widows, orphans? And what is it with these not-even-real gods! God commanded us to spread the word about I AM, the only one!
Soooo finally God called some prophets to give a picture of what a truly great king looks like…NOT militaristic, NOT partying wildly (though he will have some good times with friends), NOT warring with factions, NOT overly stuck on himself or even on the law. God’s prophets warned the people and a lot of destruction came to wake the people up. Part of the message was “Imagine God sending a new kind of KING, as a shoot from Jesse’s tree, from the line of David, yes, but a king who will be about LOVE. Yes, LOVE of God and LOVE of others, especially the poor and downtrodden. Why, lions will lay down with lambs. Children will play with cobras. This King will be about justice and service and kindness and peace. THIS KING will GET GOD, see God as the Providential FATHER that I AM has always been for his people. Akin to David and Solomon and the better Kings (Hezekiah and Josiah), he will humbly lead like a Good Shepherd and bring back the lost of the fold.
So God sent Jesus, who truly GOT GOD, who is God, who became GOD’s WORD to the world. Jesus’ whole life spoke of what God wants for and from his people – LOVE. God had made humans hard-wired for communal, loving living! God made them to be generous not greedy, service-minded not overly-selfish, hopeful not despairing. (Not that despair is wrong, it’s just a feeling.) God simply wanted people to TURN TO GOD. Jesus did. NOTICE I AM with you! Jesus did. CRY OUT for help. The humble, broken, Jesus did and showed us how to stay connected to God.
Honor God as Father. Keep Holy God’s name. REST and turn back to God as the commandments long taught. Don’t get overly picky about humanly designed laws, lording them over those who struggle. Don’t cheat the poor. Walk with them. Stay humble. See the children as teachers of innocence and purity. Allow yourselves to be vulnerable. Depend on God. Turn to I AM for all your fears and needs. SEE the widows, the lame, the blind, the demonized. Never turn away in disgust or fear. Offer compassion toward the down-hearted. Lend a hand till they are out of trouble. Walk WITH them, as God has always walked with you. KNOW the Father. Be still and listen in prayer. Give thanks. Sing. Dance. Play the lyre, as David did. You don’t need another King. Remember my promise: YOU are MY PEOPLE and I AM your God.
1st READING – 2 SAMUEL 5: 1-3
David was not perfect. David was a sinner, yet he would be the one Israel would remember as leader of their splendid past. Doesn’t that give us all hope? God comes to us as we are and can create in us a light for the world, if we let God shine through us.
As a sense of messianic hope developed in Israel, it was logical that the messiah-to-be would be referred to as the Son of David. This king is a ruler who is in solidarity with is people. Thus, king as benevolent ruler and as shepherd are primary motifs in the first Old Testament theology of kingship (W&W, Birmingham, p. 540).
We are your “bone and flesh” – what is meant here? Reflect on what it means for our messianic king to be bone and flesh WITH us…
2ND READING — COLOSSIANS 1: 12-20
This is from a Christian hymn probably used at baptisms. What do some of these phrases mean to you . . .
Scholars suggest that this letter was written most likely in the 80’s A.D. in reaction to false teachers among the Christian groups. Influenced by the Greek culture of their day, there were beliefs that regarded angels and other ‘spirits’ as rulers of the universe. They were associated with stars and new moons and pagan rituals. These people wanted Jesus to be seen as subordinate to these ‘deities,’ since by his incarnation they viewed him as being contaminated by human ‘flesh.’ This writer firmly tries to correct this view with imagery that is profound and beautiful. (Celebration, Nov. 2001)
The word ‘transferred’ has a special purpose in this reading. In the ancient world, when one empire won a victory over another, it was the custom to take the population of the defeated country and transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the conqueror’s land. Thus the people of the northern kingdom were taken away to Assyria, and the people of the southern kingdom were taken away to Babylon. So Paul says that God has transferred the Christian to his own kingdom. From darkness to light…from slavery to freedom…from condemnation to forgiveness…from the power of Satan to the power of God (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 111-112).
THE GOSPEL — LUKE 23: 35-45
What two reactions to Jesus are seen here? Who is the only one to call Jesus by name? What does this mean to you? How is this a story of conversion? What kind of Kingship do we see here? Why does the Church give us this picture of Christ, the King?
Jesus chose to exercise his authority as service and forgiveness. He reigns not from a throne, but from the cross. The Jesus who is worshipped today as Lord of lords and King of kings does not Lord it over others, but, rather, he loves and leads all who will follow him to the kingdom of eternal life, peace, and glory. (Celebration, Nov. 2001)
The word ‘Paradise’ is a Persian word meaning a walled garden. When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honor he made him a companion of the garden, and he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king. It was more than immortality that Jesus promised the penitent thief. He promised him the honored place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven. Surely this story tells us above all things that it is never too late to turn to Christ (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 299-300).
Christ the King was designated a holy day 1925 after World War I by Pope Pius XI. There was a strong desire to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly kings and wealth (Knipper, Hungry and You Fed Me, p. 287). Don’t we always need to remember where our allegiance lies?