DESERT ISLAND DEVOTION

A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning.  It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.

What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island.  You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem.  The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you.  It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “Psalm 126” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.

Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.

Which five would you take?  It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being.  So which ones?  If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.

  1. Psalms.  Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
  2. Isaiah.  It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
  3. Exodus.  I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
  4. LukeJohnLuke.  John.  See, this one is tough.  Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard.  I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
  5. Romans.  Of course it is Romans.  Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.

I sure hope I never have to make this choice.  I would be interested to know what choices you would make?

WHO WAS JOHN THE EVANGELIST?

I read nice little article on the Gospel of John this morning on the website of Biblical Archaeology Review (my favorite magazine, but I missed a month because of the move–drats!) that roots around at Johannine authorship.  John never self-identifies, but maintains literary distance by describing himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” or the “beloved disciple.”  The article is nice, but it doesn’t explore some of the nuances of John the person.  Here is my brief profile of this very influential theologian and historian.

1.  Before he followed Jesus, he was a follower of John the Baptist.

2.  His brother James died very early in the Christian movement, leaving him as the only “Son of Thunder” that remained.

3.  He had a pushy mom and apparently a well known father, for why else would his parentage be so well attested to.

4.  He was young when he started following Jesus.

5.  Somehow he had access to the high priest (John 18) so maybe he was related.

6.  As the only Gospel writer who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ entire ministry he holds a place of historical priority.

7.  Jerusalem, Jewish festivals, and Jewish symbolism meant more to John than to the other evangelists.  As such, he was a revolutionary with a traditionalist streak.  That indicates an affinity for the Essenes.

8.  He was probably related to Jesus, therefore he was related to John the Baptist.  Note, this means that Jesus was related to James and Zebedee and the pushy mother.

9.  John wrote the Fourth Gospel as well as 1 John.  I’m not so certain about 2nd and 3rd John.

Number 8 is the touchy one.  I once mentioned this in a sermon and was subsequently challenged by my deacons of its veracity.  Below is the biblical exegesis that I gave them in a piece called “There is Something About Mary” and it is a simple exegesis of the visitors to the Tomb and the people at the cross and who they must be and how they are related.  Pay careful attention to the end, where I include the numerical tag to note the person it is talking about.  All of this is very confusing because apparently every third woman in 1st Century Palestine was named Mary.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

If we can assume some type of eyewitness consistency, and there is no reason we can’t, then there is no reason why we cannot deduce the following about who visited the tomb.

1.  Mary the mother of Jesus was there.

2.  Mary Magdalene was there.

3.  Mary the mother of James and Joses was there.

4.  Mary the wife of Clopas (could be the mother of James and Joses-not necessarily but probably)

5.  Salome was there.

6.  The mother of Zebedee’s sons was there (who could be Salome).

7.  Jesus’ mother’s sister was there (who could be Salome)

Marking the Text:

1=Mary Magdalene,

2=Mary the mother of James and Joses and the wife of Clopas,

3=Salome the mother of Zebedee’s sons and the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Now, let’s look at it again with the text tagged.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses (2), and Salome (3).”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James and Joses (2), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (3)”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (4), his mother’s sister (3), Mary the wife of Clopas (2), and Mary Magdalene. (1)”

There is a good bet that Jesus and John were related, which gives extra insight into the way Jesus talked to John at the cross about the care of Mary his mother, who was probably his aunt.

A LENTEN PRAYER

Dear Lord, I think we are about half-way through Lent.  It certainly feels like this year Lent will never end.  I can’t wait for Easter.  Part of my anticipation of Easter is because I love celebrating the Resurrection.  But, if I may be honest for a moment, a big part of it is that Lent so far has been very trying.

In what way?  Well, let’s start with my fasting this year.  (By the way, why is it called a fast when it goes so slowly?  I’ve heard that question asked before, but I’ve never discovered a good answer.)    Without going into specifics, this year the fasting seems much more difficult than in times past.  I hope this does not mean I’ve gotten too “at home” in the world.  If so, then help me to correct it.  Part of me thinks that it is just because I’m older and those fleshly habits are harder to purge.  I’ve always read that it is young people who have more spiritual fervor.  After all, all the great awakenings started out with young people praying in odd places like haystacks.  I’m beginning to think that the older I get, the less dedicated I may be.  Please reverse this in me.  I want my faith to always be fresh and young.

Then there are the Bible readings that I’ve been in.  In my personal life I’m reading the Psalms—and wouldn’t you know I’m in the 40’s and 50’s.  To me these are the hardest of all the psalms to work through because they are so temperamental.  As I’m reading the Proverbs it feels like my own biography—Tales of a Foolish Sluggard.  But mostly I’m thinking about the book of John.  Jesus—I know that John is Scripture and all, but does it have to be so nosey and intrusive into my personal life?  Why is that in this Fourth Gospel you deal so much with one-on-one interaction.  And why does poor old religiously befuddled Nicodemus remind me so much of me.

Most of all it seems like my mood is sour.  Wednesday I was very frustrated, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.  Are you trying to tell me something about dependence upon you and waiting for your timing?  Is there some secret code about patience you’re teaching me?  If so, please hurry up with it.

I realize that what I need to do is confess that sin of frustration—but as we are in Lent and all, Lord, I’ve been spending a lot of time confessing.  Is it just that I’m noticing it more, or is my mouth getting out of control lately?  I hear things coming out of from between my lips which I know shouldn’t be, but I can’t seem to stop it.  Please help only sweet water come from flapping tongue.

Perhaps by the end of Lent—maybe by Palm Sunday or perhaps Good Friday, I will have gotten a better grasp of my wanton worldliness.  I at least hope to be further along in my process of being conformed to your image.  But I know that I will be forever in need of grace and forgiveness.  Maybe that is why Lent means so much to me.  It is during this time when you heighten my awareness of you, my longing for intimacy in the fellowship of your suffering, and the spiritual poverty that is only elevated by your Holy Spirit.

But just between you and me Lord, I can’t wait for Easter.  Amen.