A Small Detail of Culture and Economics

healing of maryAfter this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 8:1-3 (NIV)

I mentioned last week that I appreciate Luke for the small details he researched and added into his telling of Jesus’ story. The opening of today’s chapter is an example. Luke is careful to point out that Jesus was accompanied, not only by the twelve, but also by some women whom Jesus had healed. When reading “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household,” Luke’s contemporaries would have read that description and immediately understood that Joanna was a woman of means. Herod was a regional king ruling under the authority of the Roman Empire, and managing Herod’s household would have been a well paying position. Luke points out that the women were traveling with Jesus and helping to support Jesus ministry financially. This little detail fascinates me.

In Jesus day, women in Palestine had very low social status. The Jewish culture at that time, it can be argued, was misogynistic. Women were treated with contempt and good Jewish men could be heard reciting ritual prayers thanking God that they had not been born Gentiles (non-Jews), dogs, or women. I can’t imagine how that made women feel when they heard their husbands reciting such a thing.

Jesus, however, cut against the grain of the contemporary culture. He spoke with women in public which scandalous in that day. He socialized with broken women of ill-repute and treated them with love, compassion, and forgiveness. He did not discriminate in performing miracles. He was not only seen publicly healing men, but also touching and healing women of their infirmities both physical and spiritual. Jesus didn’t fear wrath and ridicule for these things, and He received a generous dose of both. Jesus did what was right in the face of popular culture and treated women with the love, honor, and respect that is due to all daughters of Eve. THAT is the Jesus I follow and strive to be like.

In giving us this detail, Luke also clues us in to how Jesus’ traveling ministry operated financially. At least part of the funds required to support Jesus and his followers came from the financial means of his followers, women of means in particular. The principle here is simple. Jesus followers and those whom He healed gave out of their gratitude to support Him and His ministry. It should be no different today. I give regularly to the on-going work of Jesus, not out of blind obedience, guilt, or shame, but out of gratitude for what Jesus has done in my own life.

Another thing this little detail makes me think about is the case of Joanna. Her money was coming directly from Herod’s palace. Herod was a corrupt, evil, murderous tyrant. I can hear the conversations of Jesus’ followers around the fire at night arguing whether Jesus should accept such “dirty” money. Doesn’t that come from evil means? Isn’t accepting that money just a vote of support for Herod and his evil ways? There is no mention of Jesus having any qualms about accepting Joanna’s gifts, despite the fact that it flowed from Herod’s coffers.

There is a timeless, on-going debate about the financial inequalities among peoples and social groups. Financial inequalities existed in Jesus’ day. In fact, it can be argued that the inequalities were even more extreme than what we experience in modern western culture. Yet Jesus’ own ministry would not have been possible were it not for the financial support of followers who were among the rich of that day. I find it interesting that while Jesus taught constantly about money, the teaching was almost always focused on the spiritual connection between individuals and their finances. Jesus never spoke out about the corrupt Roman tax system, but He spoke to individual tax collectors about not using the system to extort money from others. Jesus did not condemn the rich for having money, but He did warn individuals that their love of money was leading them down a spiritual path to condemnation. The only time Jesus made any kind of broader statement was with regard to the extortion racket being carried out by the religious leaders in the temple.

This morning I’m thinking about Jesus, who showed love and compassion to those His culture did not love. I’m thinking about Jesus, who was not as concerned about the macro economic and political issues of this world, as He was about the micro-spiritual connection between our money and our hearts. I’m thinking about Jesus, whom I want to emulate in my thoughts, words and actions this day.

The Pious Host and “That Woman”

Detail from The St. John's Bible
Detail from The St. John’s Bible

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47 (NIV)

The further I get in life’s journey, the more I appreciate certain stories from God’s Message. I love this story from today’s chapter. Jesus is invited to dine with one of the pious, upstanding elders of the local church. Respectable, he is; Keeping his house in order the way he self-righteously keeps his life. He’s intrigued by this young rabbi everyone has been talking about, and figures he’ll ask the new celebrity to dinner. It will look good for this religious elder to be seen reaching out to the young man creating all the stir.

In the same town is this woman. She’s that woman. Everyone in town knows about her. To the thinking of good religious men of that day, the men like Jesus’ host, all women were on a societal level lower than dogs. This woman, however, sets a new standard for the definition of low-life. The entire town knew how she survived.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Guess who I saw coming out of her place last night?” one asks as the crowd outside parts, not wanting to touch the dirty woman as she shockingly makes her way into the church elder’s home.

No surprise,” says another disdainfully, wondering what the wayward woman is carrying. “Half the men in town have been in her bed.

Only half?” mocks the first.

Okay, it’s more like three quarters,” answers the other, “but let’s face it: there are some men in town it’s best you just turn a blind eye and forget you saw them with her. You don’t want to be on his bad side.”

What an amazing contrast. The self-righteously, spic-and-span household of the church elder and the dirty town slut makes her way in to where Jesus sits next to His pious host. Weeping, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. She dries them with her hair, anoints them with expensive perfume, and kisses them.

In the societal culture of that day it was appalling. Jesus could read the subtext in his host’s face: “We don’t associate with such filth, Rabbi. Keep away from women like that. She will contaminate you. Haven’t you read Proverbs, Jesus? Stay far away from her. That’s the wise thing to do! I know you’re riding a wave of popularity at the moment, but I can’t continue to support you if you’re going to associate with people like this. It’s bad for your image. Trust me, I know. You’ve got to brand yourself differently.

In the culture of God’s Kingdom, however, it was a holy moment.

Whoever is forgiven little – loves little.

In the economics of God’s Kingdom there is a relationship between our willingness to know, acknowledge and accept the depth of our flaws and our knowledge of what a precious gift we’ve been given through Jesus’ sacrifice, grace and forgiveness. The more readily we accept the former, the more grateful we are for the latter. The more we deny the former, the more the latter eludes us. Without an increasing knowledge of the latter, we cannot progress far in our spiritual journey.

My Quirky Passions and Illuminated Manuscript

The Chi Rho monogram from the Book of Kells is...
The Chi Rho monogram from the Book of Kells is the most lavish such monogram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Besides a love of family and an arguably tragic loyalty to the Cubs and Vikings, I have realized that God instilled in me three passions/interests in this life journey:

  1. God
  2. Art
  3. History

In retrospect, it is no wonder that I was mesmerized when in I walked into the library of Trinity College in Dublin and first gazed on The Book of Kells. I can’t believe I had never heard of it, but I am eternally grateful for my travel companion who insisted we visit the ancient, handwritten copy of the Gospels. It was my first real introduction to the world of illuminated manuscripts, and in that fateful moment I experienced a harmonic convergence of my passions. Here was the Word of God presented in an obvious work of art that was steeped in the rich stories and context of history. I have been fascinated by illuminated manuscripts ever since.

Before the invention of the printing press, both scriptures and books of common prayer were affectionately and painstakingly copied by hand. Often, these handwritten copies were the work of monks who embellished the written word with beautiful and colorful illustrations. In the case of The Book of Kells, the illustrations included mysterious symbols and celtic imagery. The printing press and moveable type changed history forever. Books could be quickly and efficiently published and copied. Handwritten illuminated manuscripts were a thing of the past.

Last year I stumbled upon news of The St. John’s Bible. For the first time in hundreds of years, a team of calligraphers and artists began working on a completely handwritten and illuminated copy of the Bible commissioned by St. John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota. I discovered that high resolution copies of the modern manuscript were available in multiple volumes and this past Christmas I received two of the volumes: The Pentateuch and The Gospels and Acts. Since then I’ve added The Books of History. I also, by the way, received a copy of Bernard Meehan’s gorgeous history and analysis of The Book of Kells for Christmas.

So, each morning I’ve been opening and reading a chapter from the gorgeous copy of the handwritten St. John’s Bible. I’ve been blown away by the incredible effort, craftsmanship and artistry involved, along with the textual nuances of the Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version in which it was written. One of these days on a trip up to the Twin Cities I hope to make the trek up I-94 to St. John’s and see the original for myself.

 

Urban Legend in a Small Town

source: simpleinsomnia via Flickr
source: simpleinsomnia via Flickr

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

My town is a fascinating place. Founded by a charismatic Pastor from the Netherlands, his talented child bride, and hundreds of his staunch Dutch Calvinist followers, I am continually amazed at how its founders continue to mold and influence our present. If you move to Pella you will likely be warned by someone not to mow your lawn on Sunday or to be prepared to face the social and religious wrath of your neighbors. I’m not sure if you can all it an urban legend in a town our size. Legends are often rooted in some truth, and at one time I know that mowing on Sunday would incur a neighbors wrath – though I’ve not found that to be the case today.

For good, or for ill, you’ll find religious conviction still plays a huge role in our community. As President of our local community theatre I get to read and respond to the letters our merry stage troupe receives each time we offend one of religion’s perturbed minions. A few years ago Wendy and I were in a play about a radio station in northern Minnesota that was run out of a corner of the local tap, called Carl & Lena’s Place for Beer. The commercials for this small station were jingles sung live on the air and, in our production, the jingles were all sung to the tune of old hymns. Apparently, some of our religious audience members were offended in “hard liquor” being served on stage and the sacrilege of the “great hymns of the faith” being parodied to sell Ole’s ice hole augers.

In my graciously worded responses, I explained that no hard liquor is served on stage (it’s usually ice tea or apple juice). I also tried to provide a history lesson. The truth is that many “great hymns of the faith” started out as bar songs which the hymn writers stole because they were catchy tunes and the they wanted to appeal to guys like Sven sitting down at Carl & Lena’s Place for Beer. In a way, we were simply paying homage to the original source of some of those hymns and besides, I did not add, it was really funny!

I’m quite sure my letter was unappreciated, and my history lesson fell to blind eyes.

Jesus was dealing with the same kind of staunch religiosity back in his day. Religion has a way of obfuscating the simple, productive intent of God’s prescriptions for life and churning them into a weighty, prohibitive volume of institutional regulations. The religious rule keepers of Jesus day were more concerned with his “working” to heal someone on the Sabbath day than they were with the fact that a paralyzed man was healed.

The truth is, I don’t mow my lawn on Sunday unless there’s some extenuating circumstance. This is not because I’m afraid of the religious wrath of my neighbors, but because I’ve come to really appreciate the quiet on Sundays. I like taking naps during the Cubs game and it’s nice not having the din of a hundred mowers disturbing me. Jesus also said in today’s chapter, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” I try to respect the Sunday naps of my neighbors.

 

Homecoming and a Belated Birthday Celebration

Cubbies Win!
(Photo credit: Tom Vander Well)

After a long week on a business trip to Texas, I returned home on Friday evening to an empty house. Our local community theatre opened their production of Seussical the Musical on Friday night and Wendy was taking care of Front of House and the Patron Lounge for the show. Suzanna is in the show as one of the bird girls. Wendy was home by intermission but I was pooped from my trip and Wendy was feeling the start of a summer cold coming on.

Saturday was a day for getting some things done. Wendy and I had finished clearing out an old drop ceiling in the basement a week ago and I took a load of debris to the dump while Wendy finished up some work.

It was a gorgeous day and after lunch we headed out to the lot where our new house will be built. The builder had staked out the footprint of the house on the lot so we could see where it will be. It was kind of fun to have neighbors come over to greet us and we ended up spending a lot more time out there chatting than we had expected. If all goes according to plan, we should be breaking ground in the next week or two.

Saturday evening we both helped with Front of House for Seussical before heading home to grab a George’s pizza. Wendy’s cold was getting much worse as the day progressed on Saturday, so we called it an early night.

Sunday morning things were not much better and we opted to play hooky from church. About noon we headed to Des Moines to meet Kev and Beck. For my birthday this year, Kev and Beck wanted to take Wendy and me to an Iowa Cubs game and this Sunday afternoon double header was about all that we could work into the summer schedule. So, Happy Birthday to me three months later! 🙂

It was a gorgeous afternoon for a double header, though our beloved local boys dropped both games to the Memphis Redbirds. It was very annoying. There were way too many St. Louis Cardinal fans at the ballpark. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the sun, the hot dogs, the popcorn, and the beer. After the game we picked up some burgers from B-Bops and settled in at Kev and Beck’s house for some enjoyable conversation. Taylor was not there, as she and some friends are at the lake this weekend.

Wendy’s cold was still plaguing her, so we called it an earlier night than normal with Kev and Beck and headed back home. A busy week ahead work-wise and a four-show weekend for Seussical with family coming to see Suzanna. We’ve got a lot to accomplish before heading to the lake for a couple of weeks!

 

Big Catch at the Right Time

This was one of Dad's and my better catches.
This was one of Dad’s and my better catches.

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:5-7 (NIV)

I did a lot of fishing with my dad and siblings when I was a kid. There was nothing worse than being out all day, and not catching a darn thing. For a kid, it was torture. I can only imagine how much worse it was for Simon when it was all night he’d been out and fishing was his livelihood. As I read this morning, I so identified with the discouragement Simon had to be feeling. He was tired. He was depressed. The last thing on earth he wanted to do in that moment was go back out on the water and, to top it all off, he’d just been washing his nets. Going back out meant that he’d have to come back and wash them all over again. Ugh!

I have often found, along life’s road, that God’s timing and my timing are not always the same. As frustrating and discouraging as it can get waiting on God’s timing, I have not been discouraged in the long run. The adrenaline rush that Simon must have felt when he realized his nets held the largest catch he’d ever experienced pushed away any weariness he felt. The catch served to teach him that this teacher from Nazareth really was a man of God, and was what Simon needed to convince him to leave his nets and follow the young rabbi. Finally, the catch would have provided Simon and the boys the funds they would need to provide for their families and their new life as disciples of Jesus.

Like Simon, I have found that God’s timing usually comes through, not when I want it, but right when I need it, and it provides God’s best when I need it the most on multiple levels.

Solitude Loving Extravert

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Morning quiet at the lake (Photo credit: Tom Vander Well)

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.
Luke 4:42 (NIV)

When our daughters were in high school our family took the Myers-Briggs personality inventory together. We then spent a few hours with my friend, who is a marriage and family therapist, talking about the results. It was fascinating, not only to see each others results (I’m an ENFP), but also to understand our perceptions of one another. I remember that Madison was shocked to discover that I was an extrovert, and I was shocked that she would think I was an introvert.

“But every morning,” she explained, “you get up and spend time alone in quiet.” Based on that daily observation, she assumed that I was introverted. I’ve learned that extraversion and introversion are really about personal energy rather than being particularly social or shy. As an extrovert, I get energized by being around people and social situations. In fact, just the other week I shared with Wendy that being alone together at the lake for days on end had my personal energy tank on reserve. Spending a few hours at the pool around a crowd of people helped fill me up.

The truth is, my time of solitude each morning is not about recharging my personal batteries (in fact, it often causes me to miss out on much needed sleep) as much as it’s about keeping myself centered and finding balance. My entire day feels off-kilter when I miss my time of quiet to read, think, write, and have conversations of spirit with God. Sleeping in, for me, has always been accompanied with the grief of missing my time of solitude.

This morning’s chapter reminds me that Jesus liked his morning solitude, too. This morning, as I type this post in the early morning quiet of my hotel room, I am taking selfish pleasure in this trivial connection; Jesus and I have a mutual appreciation and understanding of morning solitude.