A blessed Holy Week to you!
I have three friends — two women and a priest — with whom I have been friends for many years. We are all theologically minded geeks. Years ago, when we all lived in the same city, we were able to meet for coffee to talk for hours and hours about how everything imaginable related to Christ. Sadly, we have been apart for years. But not long ago, we came up with a wonderful idea: Group-text threads of limitless and unending theo-dialogues.
We have had many remarkable theological exchanges, filled with deepest profundity and lol humor, and I always come away filled with new insights and with joy and challenge. It convinces me even more how absolutely imperative it is for people of faith to be connected to other people of faith, with whom they can talk about how everything and anything is affected by our faith in Jesus. The story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and entering a vigorous debate with them, is the model of how faith moves from confused and searching to burning like a raging fire.
In fact, this Blog, which is for me a transcript of my life’s ongoing dialogue with countless people, authors, nature, God, and you all has been for me a gift of inestimable value for growing my faith, hope and love. I am most sincerely indebted to those who read here, who draw from me visions that never would have come to me without you. Thank you. Deo gratias.
We call our group iYeshiva — Yeshiva is a Jewish school/seminary. All Christian theology is at heart Jewish.
I asked the group today if I could post a selection of our exchange just from this week. They graciously agreed. I thought: If people are able to endure what I write here at N.O., they will enjoy what we text about! So here it goes. I name the priest “Father,” the women “W1, W2” and myself “Me.” W2 is not as prolific here as she usually is in our threads, but she is the real sage of our group, cutting through marrow to the core.
Though I did not edit our grammatical missteps or typos, I cut out lots of the funny little quips here and there so as to not make this too long! I hope you enjoy.
Father: Today’s gospel reveals how provocative Jesus identity is. The lengthy interchange between Jesus and the Jews in the temple begins with them described as believers and then ends with them attempting to stone Jesus. That which is revealed from above destabilizes human constructs, reputations, religious perception and so unleashes untold Cain-like hatred. The glory of the Father unveils a new paternity into our world through the Son exposing human pride as concealed hatred for God.
W1: I love this reference to Cain. It also reveals the trappings of knowledge that go all the way back to the garden of Eden. “We know who our father is.” – no you dont. Knowledge is once again a stumbling block that keeps them from recognizing God.
Me: It really reveals the fact that the Gospel contains an irreconcilable instability that always requires a critical distance between the Kingdom and the progress of history. The Church is stuck restlessly in the middle of the consecration hoping it will finally transgress the bounded bread and wine and finally confect the whole of time and space. It’s when the Church tries to relieve those incomplete tensions by seeking compromised assimilation or sectarian isolation that she’s dead in the water; so to speak:) Or some other such esoteric interpretation of what you said
W2: You mean we have to feel like we’re in charge?
Me: Semitic economy of expression (you), Hellenic prolixity (me)
Father: Ahh, so the Church, too, must journey through the wilderness of temptations where her Lord dared to tread
W1: Doing some work on Bathsheba, and came across this quote by John Berger (artist/poet). “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her. Then you put a mirror in her hand and called the painting “Vanity” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”
Me: As I shared with you before, [W2], it is why I find Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah so troubling (as much as I find it an aesthetic masterpiece); the way it portrays Bathsheba as the one who brought David down. Certainly was not prophet Nathan’s take! She didn’t break his throne, he broke her home
Father: Whoa! This could have come from Oscar Wilde. How often moralists exonerate themselves of their forbidden desires by condemning others. It’s called displacement and it’s damage is unquantifiable
Me: And I often think how marvelous it is that God chose the descendent of David, [St.] Joseph, who was absolutely powerless as kingdoms go — to raise his Son to the throne of David. And who treated his bride with such justice, love and dignity, not exposing her to shame.
Father: Amen. And he begins in part by freeing the woman at the well and the woman about to be stoned. What a repudiation of power abused. My last text tonight is this canticle of love from St Francis of Assisi that I discovered while putting together this week’s Stations:
“I’ve given all for love alone,
Bartered the world and self away;
Were all created thing my own
I’d yield them up without delay.
And yet by love I’m outdone,
Where I’m led I cannot say.
By love I’m outdone,
Counted a fool by all;
For, having sold my all,
My worth is wholly gone.”
W2: What a moving way to cap the evening. Thank you.
Father: This morning’s gospel reminded me of Tom’s brilliant text on the Church’s place amidst consecration. What does it mean for God the Father to have consecrated the Son and send him into the world (which we hear in today’s Gospel)? Christ, our high priest, sacrificed outside the city gates, crucified among criminals, praying for the forgiveness for all. Christ consecrating humanity, confects, assembles, brings together a new creation from out of the old.
Ah, the things that come to mind at the altar.
Me: As my daughters would when they are wowed by something: FhdR&gdQhkgff€hkIYF¥DCB•
Again and again I repeat that this forum of exchange between us is absolutely singular and graced. Thank you, Father!
W1: So interesting! Ive always thought of the “outside the gates” as the ultimate rejection. But in the logic of God, the place where Christ is sacrificed is now sanctified as the holiest of holy places. That which is “outside” the holy city is now holier than the city itself. (eg.Do you swear by the gold or the altar which sanctifies). By their rejection of the holy one, they sent him to the “outside” never again able to confine salvation to those already in the holy city!
Great altar reflection, Father! Thank you for sharing those glimpses from your vantage point at the eternal portal. Its really amazing.
Me: Yes! Awesome, [W2]!!
And now that the human body has become the locus-temple of the divine Spirit, the naos, the interior castle, the altar, priest and sacrifice, in which are the roads to Zion, there’s no telling what will get consecrated in the course of any given day as these unmoored temples meander outside the city walls into Twenty One Pilots concerts, prisons, classrooms, soup kitchens, slums, offices, mortuaries, Barnes, Black Dog Café or – gasp! – the Eucharistic Table where the whole un-bloody, life-gathered material of offering gets taken up and deposited in Heaven at the hands of Alter Christus so the exalted Lord can finish preparing a place for us.
Thank you for your hands, Father!
Father: Singular and graced for me as well. Delighted I have dear friends to share with.
Right, [W1]: the irony that as the Father sent the Son into the world for its redemption, so Israel sent him outside the gates to be sacrificed for the world, though unwittingly.
And…Yes, Tom!!! Beautiful! The altar, the sanctuary as a Penn Station of sorts.
W1: Tom, that was AWESOME. A piece of poetry. Loved that. Even fish Fridays, a point of “fasting” as we prepare for the Passion, anticipates in the before, the provision of the risen Christ, preparing food on the shore for His weary disciples. The symbolism is really everywhere. Happy Friday to you all.
Me: [teaching recently] I tried to use the line in John’s Gospel when Jesus says, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” as a key for linking all of the Genesis encounters with God and his providential action with the Paschal mystery. And then tried to use real life stories to illustrate how people of faith can discover and reveal to others God “laboring to love them” by prayerfully internalizing the Genesis and holy week stories. And the longer I prayed and thought about it the more I thought about the limitless connections. Obvious, I know! But I am slow:) Although I didn’t develop it, I was especially blown away by the connections between Joseph [in Genesis] and Jesus. Joseph, seemingly the only faithful monogamist male in the entire Old Testament, is typology-packed! The Fathers really exploit that. I meant Joseph is the only monogamist we hear the whole life story of “till death does he part” [from his Egyptian wife, Asenath].
W2: We are a sum of our whole history even as that history continues to be made. We can’t help but not bring the OT forward in our selves. We belong to Christ and his history is of old.
And in honor of the iYeshiva: