Lent 3B: Standing With Fools

jesus drives out the- money-changersOLD TESTAMENT: Exodus 20: 1-17

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

This seems at first to be an odd passage to read in the middle of Lent. But keep in mind that the whole of Exodus shows the people how to stay in relationship with God and, for us, that is the whole idea of Lent. This version of the Ten Commandments in Exodus was probably written and edited in light of the exile in Babylon. It is important to see them in that context. This is hard. The people are journeying through the wilderness. Food is in short supply and nerves are raw. They have quarreled and tested God but until now, they have had no real identity, no real purpose. This is the place where they are finally aware of the intention that God has for them as a people. This is the place where their lives and their journey becomes meaningful. And God gives them this covenant. The specific laws would have been selected from among the many social and moral laws over many generations. It is probable that they did not magically drop out of the sky but rather grew out of a people’s understanding of who God was.

The people are first reminded that God has already saved them before, bringing them out of slavery, bringing them into relationship with God. But you can’t help noticing that these commandments are formative of who one is before God and how one lives in response to God. The first four commandments related to one’s relationship with God and the remaining six have to do with the relationship between human beings. It is really very simple: You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (with all that you are, with every essence of your being) And…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But God’s grace, as we are reminded, happened before any of these laws were laid down. It is expected, then, that in response to the salvific nature of God, the people will want to respond and stay in relationship with God. In Hebrew, these laws are known as the “ten words”, and for the most part are expressed in brief sentences. Tradition says that God gave these words directly to the people and then later Moses is summoned to receive the tablets on which they are written for posterity. (Exodus 24: 12-18) Torah, or “law”, is really more about teaching and positive instruction rather than a list of rules, the way we would normally interpret “laws”. Think of it more like the law that we talk about when we say “natural laws” or “the laws of nature”. It is the way things are; it is the way order, rather than chaos and relationship, rather than separation ensues. It is the way that God draws us into God. This reading continues the theme of covenant that we have had the last two weeks. The purpose of the “law”, here is to choose life. And that choice is easy to see how it relates to us in our walk to the cross and Easter.

But in our modern-day society, there are those who have tried to make these words “law” in the judicial sense, simply by displaying them in courthouses or public buildings. But they are missing the fact that these are not laws to obey but the natural way that we are called to respond to the freedom of God. In fact, these laws, unlike many others, do not sanction a certain type of government or a specific king. Rather than dictating what we should do, they depict who we are as a people of God. They are less about behavior than they are about identity—who God is, who the people are, and who we are as people of God. It is about how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, and, even, how we provide sustenance and nourishment for our faith journey. And regardless of whether or not we believe they actually dropped out of the sky, they are like manna in the wilderness, providing sustenance and life. Think of them as declarations of freedom to become who we are called to be, rather than a set of rules or regulations that force us into becoming what someone else wants us to be.

Now, admittedly, I don’t think they belong on the courthouse lawn or on the walls of a schoolroom. I think they’re bigger than that and I don’t think they can be contained. They are, yet again, the very breath and essence of the God who dances with us rather than holds court over us to make sure we follow the rules. The Decalogue is, once again, God with us. And this Season of Lent is not about following the rules or being burdened with regulations; it is about experiencing the freedom of this God who dances with us—this one God, who, alone, drives our life with a Spirit of steadfast love and the integrity of respect; this one God who offers us rest and reflection that we might delight in Creation and that we might enjoy the best that it has to offer; this one God who knows that we can only understand the love we are given if we love in return, if we honor the ones from whom we came, if we honor life and love and all of Creation; if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, and if we want the very best for our brothers and sisters. In this way we will understand this God who offers us life and all that it entails.


  • What is your response to this passage?
  • What meaning for covenant do you see here?
  • In what ways (if any) are these commandments formative for you?
  • What does that definitive difference between burdens and freedom mean to you?
  • What is your experience of The Ten Commandments? 



NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

In the earlier part of this chapter, Paul has been bemoaning the divisions in the Corinthian church community. He starts here not really taking sides, but addressing the issue of wisdom and pointing out that wisdom in Christ is not the same as the wisdom of the world. Now, he is not attacking being “wise”, but is calling them to a more profound wisdom.

Think about it. The ugly sight of a mangled human body hanging on a cross confronts normal worldly values. In fact, in the first century, this was not a death of martyrs; this was a death of criminals and outcasts. There was nothing heroic about it. In fact, in terms of society, it would have been downright embarrassing. But these are not worldly values. And this first century church, no less than we, have tried to “clean up” this image and fit it into something that makes sense within the normalcy of the world. Paul is warning against the structures and intentions of the world that crucified Jesus and that are now trying to make it “presentable”. Because Paul is reminding us that for those wise in the ways of God, the cross is salvation.

In this Season of Lent, as we come closer and closer to the cross, we get a better and better sense of its meaning. You know, Paul’s really the only one that really ever dared to speak of the foolishness of the Cross, of the foolishness of God. And he’s right, because in terms of the world, the Cross is utter foolishness. The world says “mind your own business”; Jesus says “there is no such thing as your own business”. The world says “buy low, sell high”; Jesus says “give it all away”. The world says “take care of your health”; Jesus says “surrender your life to me”. The world says “Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own”; Jesus says “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The world says “get what you are due”; Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself”.

In his book, The Faces of Jesus, Frederick Buechner says that “if the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party…In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under delusion.” (Buechner, The Faces of Jesus, p. 61) Think about it. It is really pretty ludicrous. Here in this season, called to enter Christ’s suffering, called to follow Christ to the Cross. Are we nuts? That could kill someone!

But Paul says that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” That is why we are called to rest in God’s foolishness and relinquish our strength to God. Because, you see, God raises us up far beyond the wisdom of this world in which we live and takes our weakness unto God’s self that we might finally rely on God’s strength.

Life is not ever what we plan for it to be. It is because life is not a sterile existence that is never touched by illness or grief or hardship or suffering or deep and profound loss. Life is just Life. Perhaps it would be easier to live in a bubble or in some other sort of “Stepford-type” existence, but then that wouldn’t really be Life, now would it?   God gave us life and gave it abundantly. In terms of the world, that is sheer foolishness, but in terms of the wisdom of God, that is life.

This is the power of the cross. Maybe sometimes we make the mistake of cleaning it up too soon, of trying to wash away the wreak of death that it still holds. But the power of the cross IS the power over death. It did not just wash it away, but turned it into life. In the Byzantine tradition, this third Sunday of Lent is devoted to the Adoration of the Cross. A tray of flowers and sweet basil bears a cross in its center and is then processed around the nave as the hymn is sung: “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.”–sheer foolishness if you look at it through the eyes of the world. But if you look at the Cross and recognize God’s power to make all things new, it begins to look a little different.

One of the dangers of being in church as often as I am is that it all starts to make sense. I speak of the Christian faith so casually and effortlessly that I begin to think, “Fine thing, this Christianity. Makes good sense.” And then I find myself believing all sorts of things in church that I wouldn’t let anyone put over on me in the real world. That which people would choke on in everyday speech, they will swallow if it’s in a sermon. That’s a blessing for those of us who get paid to preach Christ crucified.

And so Kierkegaard could say, “Christianity has taken a giant stride into the absurd,” and again, “Remove from Christianity its ability to shock and it is altogether destroyed. It then becomes a tiny superficial thing, capable neither of inflicting deep wounds nor of healing them.” It’s when the absurd starts to sound reasonable that we should begin to worry. “Blessed are the meek. . . .” “Thou shalt not kill.” “Love your enemies.” “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor.” Be honest now. Blessed are the meek? Try being meek tomorrow at work and see how far you get. Meekness is fine for church, but in the real world the meek get to go home early with a pink slip and a pat on the back. Blessed are those who are peacemakers; they shall get done to them what they are loath to do to others. Blessed are the merciful; they shall get it done to them a second time. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; they shall be called fanatics. As Paul says, when you hear the gospel not with Sunday-morning ears but with Monday-morning ears, it can sound foolish indeed — tragically foolish or comically foolish, depending upon one’s point of view…

Along with the world, we expected to see a savior coming to take charge on our terms. Then the parade comes, and we find that we are standing in the wrong place to get a good view. Here comes the carpenter’s son, bouncing on the back of a donkey — not coming for breakfast with [the president and his wife], or dinner with Congress, or consultations at 475 Riverside Drive. The smart ones, the ones who are well adjusted to the status quo, the ones in the know, neither see nor know — so the story goes. Here is a messiah who does not make sense. Only the very young, the very old, the women and the simpletons see him. They are standing in the right place to get a proper view. Along with the poor, the maimed, the blind, the lame, the prisoners and the poor old crazed men like Paul, these “fools” see things as they really are. As for us smart ones, we know better. We know that if we work hard, achieve, get advanced degrees, adjust to the way things are, and act sensibly, we shall be in the know. It all depends on how you look at it. (From “Looking Like Fools”, by Bishop William Willimon, in The Christian Century, March 10, 1982., available at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1288, accessed 5 March, 2012)

  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What image does the cross hold for you?
  • In what ways do you think we try to “fit” God into our worldly values?
  • What is your notion of the “foolishness of the cross”?
  • What is your notion of the “power of the cross.”?


GOSPEL: John 2: 13-22

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

This is always sort of an odd passage for us because we don’t usually think of Jesus getting angry. Here, as he approaches the temple, there is all this activity blocking his way. There are those who are exchanging currencies so that people can purchase animals to be sacrificed (because foreign currency was considered “unclean” and had to first be exchanged.) (and, of course, making a little money on the side!) So he “turns the tables”—literally and figuratively. Jesus cleared the temple not because they were necessarily doing anything wrong but because the temple should be pure, clear of all merchandising, all bargaining, and reward-earning. Now before we discount this with our “God doesn’t just live in the sanctuary” bit, remember that for these first century Jewish followers, that was exactly where God lived. Just as Solomon had intended when he constructed the first temple, this second temple was THE place where God dwelled. This was the House of God. And in the inner holies of the temple was the Ark of the Covenant, the very dwelling of God. So, I think Jesus probably did mean this to be taken literally to remind people that God was the master here, that this was God’s house, God’s dwelling place.

So, fast forward…our theology tells us that God dwells everywhere in our lives. Really? Everywhere? Are you sure? The temple is a metaphor for our souls, the temple where God should indeed be the master. But think about our own society. Our lives are reward-driven and because of it we live with the idea that we should get what is “due” to us. We believe that by working hard and doing the right things we will be rewarded. And often that carries into our spiritual lives. How many of us do the things we do because we think we should, because we think that it will in some way earn us points with God, or, even, because we think that we are the only ones that can do them? It is our own way of merchandising. What do we do because we love God and what do we do because we think that will reap a reward?

Meister Eckhart (13th-14th century German mystic) said that “as long as we to get something from God on some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God.” Eckhart then exhorts us to “live as if you do not exist…then God alone dwells there.”

So, where, then, do we encounter God? Where do you expect to meet God? Where do you love God? If we really take all this journey stuff seriously, in what parts of our life are we aware of God and in what parts do we fall a little short? After all, if God dwells within our souls, if our souls are the temple for God, then why is this even a question? A life of faith is supposed to be just that—a LIFE of faith. This is not a trade-off. There is no such thing as “of the world” and “of God”. God is not locked in the sanctuary and we are not seeking some reward for a job well done. Our encounter with God in the sanctuary should, in essence, propel us into the world, carrying that encounter with us. God dwells with us. The Holiest of Holies is deep within our souls. That is how we connect with God—by growing our relationship with God.

When this Gospel version by the writer that we know as John was written, it was probably already late in the first century. Paul had written his letters and was gone. The writers of the synoptic Gospels were gone. And, more importantly, this temple would have been destroyed ten or twenty years earlier in 70 C.E. during the Siege of Jerusalem. (The Temple has never been rebuilt. After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th century, the Dome of the Rock, or al-Aqsa Mosque, was built on the temple mount. And even though Jews are now allowed to pray at the Temple Mount—actually the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall—the mount itself is under the administrative control of the Muslim Waqf.)   So, the Christian tradition holds that the temple is not needed, that Christ and we as followers of Christ are to become God’s dwelling place in the world.  Boy, that Jesus was a troublemaker wasn’t he? Look at that…he just turned everything over on our lives. So what do we do now?


  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What does it mean for you to be a “temple” of God?
  • What would it mean to “live as if you do not exist”?
  • Do we live our lives the way we do (or should!) because we want to please God or because we love God?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

 The world dies whenever reality demands absolute dominion. (Amery, on the wall of the Israel Holocaust Museum)

 Spirituality is the ability to live with ambiguity. (Ray Anderson)

 We are what we repeatedly do. (Aristotle)




Going through Lent is a listening, When we listen to the word, we hear where we are so blatantly unloving. If we listen to the word, and hallow it into our lives, we hear how we can so abundantly live again.

 Lord, teach us to listen. Teach us to be quiet. Teach us to hear. Amen.

(Paraphrased from “A Listening”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, by Ann Weems, p. 33)


Proper 18A: The Holiest of Tensions

TensionOLD TESTAMENT: Exodus 12: 1-14

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

This reading gives the instructions to the Israelites as they prepared to flee from the Pharaoh and Egypt. It follows and interrupts the narrative about the plagues that came upon Egypt. After Moses’ numerous objections to his calling, he finally returns to Egypt with his brother Aaron. Pharaoh rejects Moses’ pleas for leniency to the Israelites. Throughout this story, there is an underlying question of whether or not the Israelites will return to the worship of the God who gave them life or turn to the powers that be, the way of life to which they have become accustomed in this time of bondage.

The story of the Passover actually begins in the preceding chapter with Yahweh declaring that he will pass through the land and the first born of every house (both human and animal) will die. This is the tenth plague. Only the Israelites will be spared. The description of the festival itself more than likely comes from a later period once the festival was established.

The symbolic acts of eating the lamb, cooked as directed, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs all serve to remind of that event that God initiated, even though it was questionable as to whether they deserved it. The selection of the sacrifice is to be a perfect specimen. Nothing is to be left. The animal is wholly consecrated for a sacred purpose. The whole act of celebrating the Passover is an act of participation. It implies a full participation in what God offers. (We would call is discipleship.)

Most importantly, the Israelites are released from bondage. And this shows that God will go to all lengths to save a people, challenging the powers of earth. The story teaches us the most fundamental truth about God—this is the God who has brought you out of Egypt, whatever that may be. So each Spring from then on, in the first month on the fourteenth day of the month, each household is to set aside a kid (either a lamb or a young goat), butcher it, roast it, and eat it. And the blood of that lamb is to be smeared on the two doorposts and the lintel of the doorway as a sign of God’s saving grace then and now. And all who partake in this remembrance will also participate in the freedom that God offers—from sin, from bondage, from all of those things that hinder one’s relationship with God.

Later in this chapter, the writer of Exodus says, “And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this observance?” you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses. And the people bowed down and worshiped.” As we are told in our Gospel accounts, it is thought by most people that Jesus was participating in this Passover feast on that last night before his Crucifixion. It was his last supper. It was the way that he focused himself and reoriented himself before God. And each time we take the bread, each time we drink of the common cup, we do the same. We remember the freedom that we as Christians have been shown through Christ—freedom from sin, freedom from bondage, freedom from all of those things that hinder one’s relationship with God. “Do this in remembrance of me… And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this observance?” you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses. And the people bowed down and worshiped.”

When I was in Israel, our guide told us that there were three “defining moments” in history for the Jewish people, three points at which their identity as people of God was solidified and renewed before God—the first was the Passover, the second was Masada, (look at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/masada.html ) and the third was the Holocaust. They are all looked upon as symbols of freedom and survival (even in the face of death and destruction). They are all symbols of God’s eternal grace and presence. They are all, in essence, accounts of Crucifixion and the freedom to which it led. It is the beginning of a whole new identity in which we participate.

 Can you imagine the logistical nightmare that Moses was handed? He had to tell the entire nation of Israel that they each had to 1) take a perfect year-old lamb, 2) on the 10th of the month, 3) and slaughter it on the 14th of the month at twilight, 4) roast it with bitter herbs, 5) don’t have any leftovers, 6) and eat with sandals and staff, 7) hurriedly. Oh, and by-the-way don’t forget to put some of the lamb’s blood on your doorpost—or the angel of death with snuff you out. I can’t even imagine standing in front of a congregation of 150 people and giving those instructions, and expecting anyone to really take me seriously.

Someone in the church would think they had a better lamb recipe—there’s a great one in the parish cookbook, you know. Someone else always hates to be in a hurry, and prefers to jabber through meals. (We all know who that is…) And, someone would check the calendar on their iPhone and realize that they have a conference call on the 14th at twilight—how’s the 15th work for you?

Low ball estimates for the population of the Israelites, come in around 20-40,000.

That’s a lot of people to get a recipe to. In fact, that’s a lot of lambs being slaughtered at the same time. Why all the attention to detail? Why the logistical nightmare? Because this meal is the beginning point of a whole new identity for this community, the People of God.

“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.” It’s a whole new beginning, for a people who needed a do-over. These were the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—they are the children and inheritors of the Promise of God, the Covenant—and they had been reduced to brick-making-slaves. They needed something to help them begin to break away from everything they knew, and start over. Like a wedding reception. Like a 50th surprise birthday party. Like a baby shower. Only bigger. Life on the other side of the split sea, on the other side of slavery, would be completely different—and they were going to do it together—and with the help of God.

This meal would begin to form them into a new kind of people, almost like a group process exercise on a high ropes course. And, the fact that God would ask them to have this meal over and over again into perpetuity would solidify their new identity.

Until, of course, the People of God needed another do-over. And so on the night before Jesus died, he sat down at table to have this meal once again, and offered his own Body and Blood. (Fr. Rick Morley, “Dinner and a Do-Over”, available at http://www.rickmorley.com/archives/807?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proper18aot, accessed 30 August, 2011.) 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. Why do you think this story is so significant?
  3. What does this story mean for you?
  4. What does the term “liberation” mean for you?
  5. What does Communion mean for you in the context of this passage?


NEW TESTAMENT: Romans 13: 8-14


This text lifts up the importance of love as the law’s fulfillment. But it sets up love not as an “ought” but because God’s love is about to dawn. Love is the fulfillment of what will be. Paul offers the rule of “love your neighbor as yourself” as the example of God’s righteousness revealed in Christ. Such love would never violate any human law, never do wrong to a neighbor.

His purpose for writing here is probably to avoid anarchy in the Christian community and unnecessary persecution by the Roman government. But Paul also assumes that all who read this share with him the view that history is reaching its climax and coming upon the return of Christ. Essentially, Paul is saying that love is bigger than all the observances and all the commandments.

This is not meant to be some sort of passive, “lie down and take it” type of love. I don’t think Paul would be so overly sentimental (Have you read Paul???) as to compel people to just take what the Roman Empire hands them in love. He’s saying, rather, that you are to be different. God’s justice and God’s Kingdom do not fit with the “rules” of this world. It is different. It is the way we are called to be. And, according to Paul, it is about to dawn. It is time to get ready now, to BE part of that Kingdom even now. It does not mean just putting your head down and paying your taxes and shutting up; it means bringing the Kingdom of God to be. Paul is acknowledging that it is hard to live in the Empire, to live in a place that, if you really become who you should be, is one in which you do not “fit”. But the verb here that the NRSV translates as “put on” is similar to “putting on” clothes, in essence clothing oneself in Christ and looking toward the dawn. (It means that if you really shape yourself to “put on” the clothes of Christ, the “old clothes” will no longer fit!)

We cannot view the word “owe” here in material, “of this world” terms. It is not getting one’s “due” or getting justice in terms of this world and the way we define justice. It is bigger. It means realizing that you are called out to be God’s Kingdom, whether or not that is fair or just or even seemingly possible in this world. We are connected to a deeper and more abiding allegiance, a deeper and more eternal freedom. It is more than just “loving one’s neighbor” the way we think in terms of this world. It means entering that love and journeying toward the dawn together. It means “putting on” a new identity, “putting on” the image of Christ. 

The world is, to a degree at least, the way we imagine it. When we think it to be godless and soulless, it becomes for us precisely that. And we ourselves are then made over into the image of godless and soulless selves. If we want to be made over into the image of God—to become what God created us to be—then we need to purge our souls of materialism and of other worldviews that block us from realizing the life God so eagerly wants us to have…The Powers are inextricably locked into God’s system, whose human face is revealed by Jesus. They are answerable to God. And that means that every subsystem in the world is, in principle, redeemable…The gospel, then, is not a message about the salvation of individuals from the world, but news about a world transfigured, right down to its basic structures. (From The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millenium, by Walter Wink (1998), p. 8, 33, 36.)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How do you hold this writing against the Passover passage in Exodus?
  3. How does this passage speak to unity?
  4. How does this passage speak to us about the “empire” in which we live?


GOSPEL: Matthew 18: 15-20

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

The passage that we read begins by telling us how to deal with those who sin against us. Now keep in mind, this is not talking about those who merely disagree. It is giving us a directive for talking to someone who has wronged us—first talk to them alone, then with some others present, and if that doesn’t work, just let it go. Here, the offended person is to take the initiative. Perhaps, it implies, the person doesn’t even realize what they did. You will notice that this is not an act of revenge or “getting even”. There is nothing personal implied here. This is instead a reconciliatory act on behalf of the community. It is an act of holy conversation.

According to the passage, when it is all said and done, all decisions and acts are ratified, all judgments are made by that which is divine. The important thing here is not the winner or the loser of the argument but, rather, the unity and reconciliation of the community. Because it is through community, through the gathering of even two or three, that the presence of Christ, that the heart of God, is found.

The older, albeit “non-inclusive”, translations of this passage began, “If your brother sins against you…” In some way, that is more poignant. It implies someone with whom you have a relationship, a sort of intimacy. It is not just some unnamed person. It is someone that really hurt. If THAT person sins against you, then talk to them. Don’t let it fester. Don’t, under any conditions, let it destroy the relationship. That is what community is about.

But notice that it also doesn’t say that you have to agree with each other. Where did we ever get in our church life or our church tradition that we had to agree? The directive here is calling for a sort of “holy conversation”, a holy tension, if you will. Have you ever made bread? I don’t mean the stuff out of that can that I have to pound on the corner of my front step to open. I mean real yeast bread. Once you get the dough all mixed up, you don’t just pour it into a pan. You have to knead it, digging deep into its very core and turning it this way and that so that it softens and clings together. Then you let it rest. You let it go. Then you do it again and perhaps again, coming up with much softer more supple dough. Once you form the dough into a loaf, you pinch all the ends tightly to create a seal. You know what that does? It creates a tension so that the gas from the yeast expands up and out evenly. Otherwise the dough just lays flat in the pan. It is the tension that allows it to form into what it is supposed to be. It is that holy tension that forms us into community and into what we are supposed to be.

It is not about orthodoxy; it is not about “church law”; it’s not even about the United Methodist Discipline! (Aghast!, you proclaim!) In fact, it’s not even, I would contend, what the Bible “says”. (After all, the Bible according to whom—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Micah, the Prophet Isaiah, those followers and disciples who stuck other’s names on their work, or that old sage we call “oral tradition”.) The point is, the Bible is all of those. It’s a holy conversation filled with holy tension. It’s about relationship. It’s about realizing how God’s vision of us and of this community we call the world engages and understands God’s Presence. And to do that we have to understand it through historical tradition, out and out reason, and our own experience. (Hmmm! Scripture…tradition…reason…experience—someone should write that down!) Most importantly, it’s about our relationship as a community of faith, the community that is indeed clothed in Christ.


Matthew 18:15-20 is one of many scripture texts that have been used to harm others. These six verses are not meant to be a declaration of power, nor do these verses mean that if two or three people agree on something, then they can ignore others and do whatever they want. These six verses are about listening and accountability and about a larger vision of God’s kingdom…We must listen to and read texts like these carefully and honor the questions and tensions they raise for us. If we listen with “new ears” we always will hear something different from what we expect. That’s why Jesus uses hyperbole: to help the disciples hear the gospel of God’s love indifferent ways, through different experiences, with different language and images. If the Bible is a closed word and merely an answer book, then we’re in trouble. We’ll continue to use scripture to attack others and thus perpetuate violence against one another and justify such harm in God’s name. In this, we will limit God. That’s not an exaggeration.

Jesus could have used his power to tell the disciples exactly what he thought of their question, but he chose to listen, to open up conversation and to teach. The Bible invites us to enter into an ongoing conversation of Christians who struggle with what it means to live faithfully in relationship and to look beyond ourselves. Jesus’ exaggeration in this text goes beyond what the disciples can comprehend and what we can comprehend: it goes beyond the tokenism of inclusiveness to a radical inclusivity where we take the other seriously, listen to the other, and dare trust that he or she belongs in God’s love as much as we do. (From “A Careful Read”, by Deanna Langle, in The Christian Century, August 23, 2005, available at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3263, accessed 30 August 2011.)



  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How, then, do we deal with conflict in a community?
  3. What does it mean to call ourselves a “community of faith” or a “community clothed in Christ”?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

 Religion is about transcendence, and spirituality is about finding meaning in the mundane. (Joan Chittister, In Search of Belief)


I think we’re living in one of the most significant historical moments ever. We are living at a time in which we must recognize both the limits and the opportunities of the modern world view. The modern world view, particularly in the past hundred years or so, has lured the Western mind away from its spirit. Our attention has been diverted away from the inner domains, the realms of true religion and spirituality, to the outer world. The technological world view, a scientifically-based world view, a rational world view has become the dominant ethos of our times. Many people feel that far too often organized religions, particularly in this country, have in fact been a little too seduced by that materialistic force. Many people have felt that in our churches and in our synagogues, we’ve found more talk, more attention paid to the external aspects of life, to the hierarchy of a religion, or to the rules of the outer world, than to the inner experience of religion itself. (Marianne Williamson, in The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World)


Christianity is not being destroyed by the confusions and concussions of the time; it is being discovered. (Hugh E. Brown)




Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?


Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?


Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sigh and touch and sound in you and you in me?


Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me. (“The Summons”, words by John Bell, The Faith We Sing # 2130)