It does NOT always make sense.

     “Why? Why do I have to make daily journal entries?” he complained again. “I don’t like to do it; I’ve never liked to do it. I don’t see how it does my any good.”

     “So, why don’t you go ask the master, instead of complaining to us?” Jeremy said to Marcus. “The master is the one who gave us the discipline. Our job is to just lovingly hear one another’s confession. And you complain, more than confess, about this part of the master’s prescription every time we gather. Of course, I only say that in love, you know.”

     “Got it,” Marcus replied, with obvious belief in Jeremy’s sincerity. “And, you know, maybe I should. Maybe I should go ask the master why I need to do this. I really don’t see the point of it. Not at all. Not at all.”

     So later in the week, when Marcus had his monthly appointment with the master, he resolved that he would address the issue.

     “Abba,” why do I need to keep a journal each day?”

     “Why do you ask, my son,” queried the Master, who was famous for answering questions with another question.

     “I know that you have given it to us as part of our spiritual discipline. But it is something with which I have always struggled. And, with all due respect, I don’t see the purpose of it for me. It may be good for the others, but I just don’t feel any good coming out of it.”

     “You do it every day, and you find nothing good coming from it?” asked the Master.

     “Oh, well … I don’t do it EVERY day. If I just understood why I was doing it, then maybe I’d do better about keeping the discipline,” answered Marcus, with complete sincerity.

     “Oh. I see. Let me ask you: has it ever hurt you to do this?”

     “No, my lord. It doesn’t hurt me.”

     “Have you ever felt like your keeping of this discipline was harmful, in any way, to other beloved children of God?” repeated the questioning Abba.

     “Well, of course not. It’s just that ….”

     The Abba cut him off, gently, but firmly, “Do you not have faith in the one who gave you the discipline?”

     Somewhat embarrassed now, Marcus tilted his head downward from their eye to eye contact, and somewhat mumbled, “Of course not, good father. It’s not that at all. It’s just that ….”

     “It’s just that you feel like it’s not working for YOU ….”

     This time Marcus unintentionally interrupted, “Exactly!”

     The Master gently made Marcus’ interruption apparent, when he repeated and finished his prior statement: “It’s just hat you feel like it’s not working for YOU … simply because you can’t figure it out ahead of time, and because you haven’t felt the results yet.

     “Let me tell you a story:

     “Once upon a time (as all good stories begin, for they are timeless) my namesake Ananias was working for a rabbi in Jerusalem.

     “Ananias was learning the way of Kabbalah from his master. He did whatever the master told him. At least, he tried to.

     “But there was this one week, where Ananias’ master told him early in the morning to go outside and fill a large jug of water – 20 gallons full – and to walk into the street, turning right, and to carry it to the end of the street. Then he was supposed to set the jug down and rest. Then he was to pick up the jug and retrace it steps and beyond their house until he got to the market place, where the street ended. Then he was to put the jug down and rest again. He was instructed to repeat this pattern all day long, and then come back home in time for supper.

     “Ananias did as his master directed. After midday, he began to wonder why he was doing this. He thought that perhaps he should be praying as he did his walking and carrying. And so he earnestly prayed as he walked and carried, for the next two hours. Then he thought that, instead of praying, maybe he should be paying attention to every detail in his journey up and down the street. He had been told by the master before that if he knew what was in front of his face, then what was hidden from him would be revealed unto him.

     “But, by the end of the day, nothing had happened. The next morning, the master told Ananias to do the same thing again for the duration of that next day. And, again, he did as he was told. But ‘nothing’ happened. That evening, he asked his master why he was doing this.

     “And his master asked Ananias, ‘Has it ever hurt you to do this?’ When Ananias replied, ‘No,’ his master asked him, ‘Have you ever felt like your keeping of this discipline was harmful, in any way, to other beloved children of God?’ Ananias replied, ‘Of course not.’ And then his master asked Ananias, ‘Do you not have faith in the one who gave you the discipline?’”

     At this point, Marcus’ head, which had returned to eye level for his master’s story, felt his gaze began to wander downward again when he recognized these same three questions from just a few moments ago in their own conversation.

     Abba continued: “So the master said to Ananias, ‘Well, I suggest you continue, then, just as you have been instructed, even again today. But, if you should encounter two men, and if they decide to follow you, listen to whatever they may ask of you. If, after they have followed you, these disciples ask where their Teacher may celebrate the Passover, then show them to our upper room, and do whatever they ask to assist them in their preparations.

     “And, so it was. About mid-afternoon, Ananias encountered the two men who asked the question his master had predicted. And Ananias did as he was told. And later that night Ananias was the only one of his household who was invited to be a part of the Passover celebration in that upper room. And Ananias was included in the bread and the cup received by each person there from the very hands of Jesus.”

    With that Marcus’ spiritual father said no more. Silence hung in the air for moments. Then:

     “Yes, Abba. I will keep my journal. Thank you, Abba.”

© March 15, 2013 

     The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 14:12-16, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

 

Mark 14:12-16  The Man with a Jar of Water

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, ‘Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? ’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

How easily we forget, even the really good stuff.

    There are some days when I just wish I had never gotten out of bed. From the time I got up, it seemed that something has gone wrong, on top of something else going wrong. My wife irritated me before an hour of my day had expired. I don’t even know what it was that she said or did, but it just set me off. I tried to not respond meanly, or even angrily. But then something else happened and then another thing, and before I knew it, it was just some little tipping point that set me off. And she happened to be right there to catch the full force of my venom release.

    I felt bad right away, but didn’t know what to do. I left home not long after that, but things just did not improve. It seemed that wherever I went, whatever I did, there was going to be something that would go wrong. I ended up being like a bear with a sore head. I didn’t like how anybody did anything, and I certainly did not like how I was acting. I wouldn’t have wanted to be around me either. But I had no choice, and neither did they. We were just going to have to get through the day and hope that tomorrow would be better.

    I got home that night, after resolving on the way home to do better, to make amends for the morning gone wrong. When I walked in the door, my wife looked at me, and I looked at her. I wasn’t sure how this evening was going to go, but I surely could not stand a repetition of how the whole day had gone. “God! why are some days like this?!”

    “You forgot something this morning.”

    Oh, yeah, the kiss. We made it our daily ritual to kiss each other good-bye as we parted each morning, the same as our habit each night before we went to bed. “Sorry,” I said, and I gave her a peck on the cheek.

    “No, besides that,” she said.

    “What?” I ended up saying a little more sharply that I intended, or even meant.

    She just pointed. She pointed over to the corner. To the mat. The mat rolled up and leaning against the wall in the corner.

    “Oh.” Oh, yes, the mat. She was right. I had forgotten. Forgotten to look at it. Forgotten that it was there. Forgotten to allow it to shape my day.

    It was the mat that once had been my daily home. Then one day, five years ago, I had “a day that I would never forget.” At least that’s what I used to think.

    It was the last day that I lived as a paralytic. It was the day that those crazy friends of mine, Asher, David, Asa, and Levi picked me up, clutching the four corners of my mat, cut through the thatched roof on Jesus’ house and lowered me down on hemp ropes. I was scared to death: that I would fall and break my neck, that Jesus was be really angry for us messing up his roof, that everyone was going to laugh at me, that Jesus really was a fraud and that I would look like an idiot. I didn’t even believe in this guy, but my friends did.

    And apparently that was enough. A man who is awake to see night turn into day may not have believed in “sunrise,” but the reality of belief must give way to the reality of truth. I hadn’t believed that this man Jesus had the power to forgive sins or to provide healing. But the arrogance of that belief was humbled when my legs began to work and I got up and walked. Before I left him, though, he gave me one final instruction: roll up your mat and take it home with you. Since that day it has sat rolled up, there in the corner, a talisman to remind me of Jesus’ power and of my natural response of gratitude.

    That kind of gratitude and recognition of power changes everything about life. As long as I remembered.

    Time passed and some days I forgot to look at the mat. Forgot to remember my blessings. Forgot to remember what Jesus did for me. And on those days … well, they were like today. It’s strange how something so great can just “be forgotten.” But my wise wife reminded me: look into the corner; see the rolled up mat. Remember.

    Remembrance of Jesus’ power. Remembrance of the power of gratefulness framing a day.

    I looked at the mat, remembered, and gave her a kiss.

© March 9, 2013 

     The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 2:1-12, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

 

Mark 2:1-12 Jesus Heals a Paralytic

 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

 

HOW WILL YOU BE REMEMBERED? WHAT’S YOUR LEGACY?

     When the day comes to draw our last breath, what will be the story from all our breaths that will most be remembered? What will be our legacy? 

     I haven’t always thought of such things. I used to only live for the pleasure of each day, and to make sure that others were impressed by me. Most of all, I wanted my Mama to be proud of me. I wanted her to love me as much as she loved the men, all the men in her life., She’s the one who taught me how to be a woman, from the time I was just a girl. She taught me how to carry myself, how to hold my head; how to posture my body. She knew all the ways that a woman can make a man do whatever she wanted.

     I used to dance like she taught me. I practiced in front of the girls my age, and it made them sneer. They were jealous of me; that’s what Mama told me. I practiced my dancing in front of the boys my age, and they were rapt in their attention, but that didn’t do anything for me.

      But when I danced for the men, for all the men that Mama held in her hand, that’s when I felt the power. That’s when I knew that I had control over them, and the thrill of that power was stronger than any feeling I’d ever had.

      One night, Mama talked my stepfather, the king, into letting me dance for him and all his important friends. I moved slowly, passionately, powerfully. I made each one of my seven veils draw the men in as each one fell to the floor. I had them!

      When the dance was over, my stepfather was looking at me like I’d never seen. He just sat there and stared, seemingly unable to say a word. Finally, the words came out. He promised me the moon. Whatever I wanted, he told me, was mine. I felt so powerful; I felt so weak.

      I lost my composure and acted like a child; I ran out of the room to my Mama. I didn’t have to go far. She was right outside the door, where she had been watching me. She glowed. She hugged me.

      “What do you think, Mama? Did I do well?”

    “Oh, baby. I’ve never done better. Now, you can have anything.”

      “What do I ask for, Mama?”

      For just a second, she looked puzzled, and then I saw a light appear from the back of her eyes. As it moved to the front, the corners of her mouth drew up in mounting pleasure. She leaned down and whispered into my ear. Then she hugged me again, told me how proud she was of me, and pushed me back into the room.

      I was fully composed now. I had these men in my power. My Mama loved me more than she ever had. The was the finest moment of my life. I told my stepfather exactly what Mama had whispered into my ear.

      And then, just as I had seen the light grow in her eyes, I saw the color drain from her husband’s face. He was not pleased. I began to wonder if I had done wrong. I just stood there and he just sat there. It was only a moment, but it seemed so long. Then he snapped his fingers and one of his men came over.

      He bowed down and the king whispered into his ear. Then the man nodded and left the room.

      The king motioned for me to come sit on a chair beside him. And everyone else in the room went back to their party – eating, drinking, talking, drinking, laughing.

      It was probably half an hour later, when that man came back into the room. He was carrying a plate in his hands. As he moved between the revelers, they parted to form an aisle to the king and me. As the aisle formed, silence came in its wake. Then I saw it.

      It was what I had asked for. But the sight was more than I could have imagined. There was a man’s head, blood congealed on the plate and still dripping. The man’s eyes were open. I could see the terror captured in them.

      “Your majesty,” he said as he bowed, and the plate with the head came lower, close to the floor with the depth of the bow.

      The king simply nodded and tilted his head toward me. “There it is, Salome. Take what you asked for. Take it and give it to your mother.”

      I didn’t want to take the plate, but it was pushed into my hands. I held it as far away from my body as my shaking arms would allow, without dropping it. I practically ran from the room. My Mama was in the same place I’d last seen her, just outside the door. She was delighted as she took the plate from my hands, and said over her shoulder, as she walked away, “That’s my baby; that’s my good little girl.”

      Is that my memory? Is that the one thing in my life for which I will be remembered after I take my last breath?

      I saw another man die. He was a cousin to the first one. The one I killed was John. The second one was Jesus. Although I had killed him, I never knew the first one. The second one forgave me for what I did to John. His forgiveness was more powerful than anything I had done that night of dancing. His forgiveness saved me from my memory, from my hatred of myself and of my family. His forgiveness gave me the power of love.

      And I was there when they killed him. And I was there when we found out that he was risen from the dead. In his kindness, John Mark told my story as part of Jesus’ story. He didn’t mention my name in the first part, but he did in the second parts.

      I am the same Salome. But when I take my last breath, it will be the forgiveness and the new life that Jesus gave me that will be remembered of Salome. That, thanks be to God, is my legacy. It is the gift that I have passed on with everyone who has heard my story. It is more powerful than the worst thing any of us can ever do. This I know.

 (c) March 5, 2013

     The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 6:17-28, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

     Mark 6:17-28

     For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

See also Mark 15:40 (There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.)

 and Mark 16:1 (When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”) 

I ALWAYS [THOUGHT I] WANTED TO BE SOMEBODY SPECIAL

     I have always wanted to be somebody. I knew that I could be somebody, somebody special, somebody that people looked up to. I just needed the right formula in the right circumstance, with the right people, at the right time. That’s all. I feel that I was made to be somebody important.

     My problem is that others don’t recognize it in me.

     I’ve tried several things, but nobody seems to want to give me a break to do things in a big way. I keep saying to myself, “This is ‘hero time.’ This is where the real leaders will shine.” But something seems to always go wrong, regardless of how I plan and prepare. Something beyond my control seems to always step forward out of the dark shadows and trip me, right when I’m picking up speed.

     Last month, there was a guy who came to our little town of Magdala. You could tell that he was really special. People followed him. People listened to him. He moved people.  My sister Mary said that he had touched her in a way that nobody else ever had. She’s about half-crazy, so I didn’t pay her much mind. But after she told me that, I noticed that she didn’t seem quite so crazy, at all, at all.

     At Mary’s insistence, I went to see him one day. He was teaching people down by the shore. After I listened for awhile, I saw that this was somebody special, and he didn’t even try to be special. It just came out of him. I followed him around for two days. I got a feel for how he moved people, but I never saw him doing anything designed to arouse their emotions, their passions. People just responded to his presence. I also saw that there were people who simply touched him and were never the same again. I think my sister Mary was one of them.

     His name, she told me, was Jesus. He left town after a few days, and she decided to follow him. At least as far as Capernaum. I told her that people would talk, if she just took up and followed a man and his little band of disciples. She looked downward, and then while her head was tilted downward, looked up at me through the tops of her eyes and said, “Really? Do you think after all they’ve said about me over these past years (“Crazy Mary!” “Demon possessed Mary!” etc., etc.) that I worry about what people say. This man has given me my life back.

     And so, she went. People kept talking about that Jesus after he left. I heard them. I heard them tell about how he had healed people. I even heard whispering about “He made Crazy Mary well.”

     I began to wish that I had gone with Mary. I wished that I could see what was his secret. He was able to do what I knew was always my destiny. And then, I thought, “Well, why can’t I do what he did?” It really began as an accident. I was coming home from the market one day, and I saw a Roman soldier go by me on a chariot – traveling much too fast. The little neighbor boy didn’t see or hear the chariot in time; he was too busy playing. And the chariot hit, and ran over, the little boy. That lousy guy just kept on going; he never even stopped.

     I ran up to the boy and he was hurting a lot. I thought he would cry, but instead the boy passed out. I was afraid he was going to die. It just wasn’t right. He never did anything to hurt anyone. I wanted to chase down that soldier and … and what? I didn’t have any power. I couldn’t do anything.

     I’ve never had any power. I’ve never been able to do anything. I just sat there in the dirt and held that boy in my arms. I could feel him, could feel his body doing something. Was he dying? I just closed my eyes, and held they boy close to my chest. I just held him and opened by whole heart up to God. I don’t think I prayed for anything. I just was as clear and unfettered in my connection to God as I have ever been.

     I don’t know how long that lasted: me there on the ground holding that little boy, with absolutely no thought in my head. And then the word, “Jesus” came to mind, out of nowhere, it seemed.

     “Jesus.” That’s all. “Jesus.” I said it. And then I stopped. Stopped and remained very, very still. And the little boy opened his eyes, and opened his mouth, and screamed so loudly! But he was alive, and he was alright.

     I didn’t know what to do. He scrambled out of my arms and ran down the road screaming his head off, all the way to his home. Nobody saw anything. Just me, the little boy, and Jesus – the name “Jesus.” He wasn’t there. Jesus had left with my sister and the others yesterday.

     I was going to tell somebody. But I didn’t know what to say. So I just kept it to myself.

     I never breathed a word about this to anyone. But, apparently the little boy did. His father came to me a couple of days later. He asked me if I was doing magic. He asked me where my crazy sister Mary was. I didn’t want to be special anymore. I just wanted to be. I knew that I had always been special.

     It’s happened a couple of times since then. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I was able to go once more into that really pure, pure prayer place. And when the name “Jesus” comes to mind, I say it. And miracles happen.

     I can’t explain it. I don’t try. It’s just real. And that’s all I can tell you.

(c) February 21, 2013

The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 9:38-41, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

 Mark 9:38-41:

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

 

Jesus Got Into My Head and Got Me Out

When the only sound you ever hear is the sound of your own voice, life is pretty self-oriented. It’s hard to get out of your own head. That’s the only place where you really feel at home; the only place where you are fully understood. At least that’s the way it used to be for me.

I used to hear many other sounds. I remember the sounds my mother and father used to make. They called me by name: Ephraim. I learned how to speak. They told me that I was a bright boy. I used to believe them.

Then there was the day of the rock slide out on the edge of town. I was only five years old. One of the big rocks hit my head as I was running away, and they told me I was knocked out for more than a day. After that, the only sound I could hear was the sound of my own speaking. I couldn’t really hear the sound of my speaking – just the vibrations that my speaking made inside my head. They sounded something like words used to sound to me. That’s the only way I was able to speak at all, but I suspect that I may have not sounded as good as I used to.

Funny how for those first 5 years of my life I talked and listened, listened and talked, and never paid any attention to how it all worked. For the next 20 years, I was never unaware of how speaking and hearing worked, or, better put, failed to work.

They told me when I was a small child that my name, Ephraim, means “fruitful.” I used to wonder what kind of fruit my life would bear. After I lost my hearing, I began to realize that like a barren fig tree, no one was going to want me. I just had nothing to offer. I had nothing that anyone wanted, because they didn’t know how to get it out of me.

Oh, I was fine to work. I was a hard worker, a good worker, a careful worker. But it was hard for me to receive directions of what work was to be done, and how it was to be done. So, other than the most basic working tasks, like a donkey could do, I wasn’t much use.

I cursed the day I lost my hearing. I cursed the day I lost my living.

Something about deaf people seems to just make other people angry. They feel like that if they yell loud enough I can somehow hear them. But yelling just makes their face distorted; I can’t hear them any better. And the effort seems to always make them angry. Blind people are given sympathy. People who have lost a hand or foot are given consideration. Deaf people are just shunned, because we are too frustrating, even though we look “normal.”

Then, one day I met Jonathan. [Meet Jonathan in earlier blog, “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus.”] He came to town as a stranger one day. He seemed to gather a crowd of people wherever he went. He would talk about something and people would gather to listen. I could not hear what he said. But I was drawn to the crowds, nonetheless, because I had never seen anyone who was not a soldier or a ruler get people to come to him and listen to him. I wished I could know what he was talking about, for his stories seemed to make other people feel good.

On the second day Jonathan noticed me, standing there on the edge of the group which had gathered. He bent down and spoke quietly to someone, while never taking his eyes off me. He bent down, because he was such a big man. Then he came up to me and put a finger up to his lips, as though to silence me from talking. That made me smile. Then he put his big hands over his ears, as though he could not hear me. That made me laugh. Then he, too, laughed and gave me a big hug, like a lion would hold a cub: gently, but strongly.

He invited me to come to his home – or, at least, to the place where he was staying. I learned later that he did not have a home, but that he just wandered about from town to town in our Decapolis, telling his stories. But I get ahead of myself.

We had dinner together. He and I spoke and heard one another by making hand signs. He must have known deaf people before, because he seemed to be very comfortable in communicating like this. He signaled that he wanted me to come back to see him again on the next day – about the time the sun was highest in the sky. I nodded my assent.

The next day I met Jonathan in the center of town. He was standing in a crowd listening, much like people had stood in a crowd listening to him the day before. They were all listening to a short man, at least who seemed short compared to Jonathan. Jonathan saw me and motioned for me to come over. Then as I was walking toward him, he stepped forward into the center of the circle and leaned down to talk into the ear of the man who had been speaking.

They both smiled. Jonathan got down on one knee in front of the other man and again motioned me to come forward. The other man smiled, and put his hand on my shoulder. The this other man guided me out of the center of the circle, away from the crowd, his hand still on my shoulder.

He turned and looked straight at me. It looked to me like he said my name, “Ephraim.” I assumed Jonathan had given him my name. They told me later that this was not what he said. But I answered him, “Yes, my lord.” And then he put both hands on my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes and said that word again. This time I could see he said something other than my name. I don’t know what. But, after just a second or two, I realized that there was something new going on all around me. I could hear the crowd.

I could HEAR the crowd. The sound of their speaking was so very, very loud. I turned and looked at them. They were all looking at the man and at me and talking excitedly.

And then I turned my head back to stare at the man, who had said something I couldn’t hear, but after which I could hear everything. This time he DID say my name: “Ephraim, go bear fruit, but don’t tell anyone what just happened.” At least that’s what I think he said. There was so much noise pouring into my ears now, I had a hard time separating all of the sounds.

I said, “Thank you. Please tell me your name.”

He said, “Jesus.” And then he turned and was gone. He and Jonathan walked away from me.

I never saw him again, not Jesus anyway. But Jonathan and I have spent our time together ever since that day. We travel together, all around the Decapolis and beyond, telling people about Jesus, and how he changed both of our lives. I think that what we have done has indeed borne fruit, for there are many who have heard our stories and have gone to find out more about this wonderful man who said my name, and opened my life.

 

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man (Mark 7:31-37)

 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

 

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When Did THAT Happen?

Read Mark 3:1-6  

Aside from my circumcision, I don’t suppose there are too many changes in my body that I remember exactly when they happened. Like many things in life, we might remember when we first noticed the change, but not when the change itself happened.

Like my withered hand. I can no longer type. One hand works, but the other one just won’t respond. I used to be good at typing. No secretary ever had job security based merely on typing skills, for I always was a better typist. It was a matter of pride.

It came on slowly; I can’t even tell you when it began. Typing along and I looked up and saw the spell check color underlining splayed out across the document like some sort of “modern art.”  It eventually occurred to me that the mistakes were all the fault of my left hand.

I looked at it. Nothing at first. But, over time, I noticed that when I laid the left hand down on top of the right one, I could see the right one sticking out — the left hand was smaller.

It got worse over time. Smaller, smaller. And, I swear, the skin seemed to shrivel up, like you see the peeling on an orange that has stayed in the fruit basket too long. You don’t realize when that peel first began to shrivel, but there it was. Oranges are one thing; hands are quite another. I usually throw the orange away and go get another.

I began to fear that the same would happen to my hand; I would have to throw it away. No! It may be shriveled up, and it may not work like it used to, but it’s been part of me for my whole life. It’s been a good hand! Even when things lose their usefulness, you don’t just throw them away – fruit maybe, but not people’s body parts.

And it’s MY body part. Other people may feel differently. They may decide that if I can’t carry my share of the load – or if I’m too unpleasant to look at – then maybe I should be thrown away. It’s not THEIR body part. Some people only care about productivity. Just look at how they treat older folks who can’t keep up, at women who need to take time off to have the babies their men impregnated them to carry.

I just have to work harder, produce more, make myself indispensable.

It didn’t work. Hard as I tried, I could not keep up.

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t hide the deformity. People tried (mostly) to not stare, but I kept catching them – looking from one hand to the other, wondering what I had done to bring this condition on myself.

Hard as I tried, I could not help the fact that I did not feel like a man – not a whole man – not a man with full worth.

And then, one day in the synagogue, I met Jesus. Yes, there’s another time when I remember exactly when my body changed. When I met Jesus.

I just never could figure out why his healing me would make some of those people so angry. What was more important to them: my hand or their teaching? I bet it would have been different if it had been THEIR hand and not merely MINE.

 

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THE WOMAN WITH COSTLY OINTMENT another unexpected encounter with Jesus

Expectancy Living – the name of this blog, points to a way of living, contrasted to Living in ExpectaTION. (See “About” on blog home page.)

Expectancy Living – is also a lifestyle regularly visited by surprise missed by many, because of the blinders of expectaTION.

Surprises were part of the joy and mystery of Midrash, in the Jewish tradition. Midrash looks at familiar scripture with the head cocked a few degrees to the side.

Two weeks ago, I blogged a midrash about the Gerasene demoniac, who had been infected with a legion of demons. (“Midrash” is also defined in the January 14, 2013 “Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

There are quite a few “unnamed characters” in Mark’s Gospel, whose anonymity keeps them out of the annals of historical research. But, they were not two dimensional characters. They were real flesh and blood people, with hopes, dreams and fears, just like you and I have. The ones about whom I will share a midrash in this blog are (a) unnamed, (b) identified as a singular person (i.e. not one of a pair, like on the road to Emmaus), and (c) are usually, but not necessarily, one of the socially marginalized people.

Midrash provides insight into their being, and, maybe, into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here’s another midrashic Unexpected Encounter with Jesus – the Woman with Costly Ointment (Mark 14:3-9):

“Mary,” called her mother, Miriam. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, mother. But please let me help. I know that I can do it. I just know that I can.”

Miriam was torn. She so wanted to make a good impression on Him. At the same time she also wanted to encourage her fifteen year old daughter. Young Mary was afflicted, in the way of teenage girls who are delayed in their development. To put it plainly, she was a Klutz – you know: clumsy. So often she would trip or spill or drop.

So what to do – make sure that it was done right and make a good impression — or give Mary a chance, and show confidence in her – help her self-image? After all, Mary was the one who had told her about Him coming.

“OK, Mary. You may do it. But please be careful.”

Mary and Miriam arrived just in time to see Him come for the dinner. They stood back for awhile and watched to see what would happen. Finally, Miriam handed Mary the container. It was an expensive alabaster jar, and it held the finest of ointments – not anything that they could afford now, but it had been handed down to Miriam by her mother, who had gotten it from her mother – back in the days when the family’s resources were not so meager.

“Just go up and pour some out on His feet to anoint them. Thank Him. And then come back to me.”

Mary did as she was told. She was so excited. And then – just as she got up close to Him, her toe caught on something, and – once again – she tripped. The alabaster jar slipped from her hands and fell right by His feet, shattering into pieces – with ALL of the ointment pouring out – not just enough to anoint His feet, but enough to anoint everyone’s feet in the room, if it hadn’t all spilled out on Him.

Mary heard her mother gasp. Oh, no! She had messed it up. Before she could do a thing, she felt the hot tears welling up in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks, and now dripping into the ointment on His feet.

“Oh, I’m such a klutz! I can’t do anything right,” was all she could think.

Things were happening all in a whirl now. The other men at the table got up and came over to see what was the commotion. She heard her mother coming up behind her to rescue her. She was frozen in her spot, not knowing what to do.

And then she looked at Him. She looked right into His eyes. And everything slowed down. Nobody was speeding toward her anymore.

That moment of when she looked into His eyes – it was just a moment – was enough to last her a lifetime. He didn’t say anything to her; He didn’t have to. His eyes said everything. They said: “You are so beautiful. I know what you intended. I am so grateful. I love you.”

And then, without even thinking twice, she knew what to do. She fell to her knees and began to do what she had come to do; she began to anoint his feet with the costly anointment. There was so much there.

She had no cloth, so, without even thinking, she began to rub the ointment into his feet with her hair. Her tears mingled with the ointment, but no longer were they tears of shame. She was crying big tears of joy. Her very worst moment had been transformed and He treated her like she was special, like she was beautiful. Oh glory!

The slow motion of the moment ended. The men continued to come over and made a big fuss about what happened. But Mary didn’t even hear what was being said. Her mother, Miriam did. Miriam had seen what happened when Mary’s eyes met His. And she stopped coming forward to rescue her daughter. It was no longer necessary.

But she heard (and later told Mary) what was said. The men had made such a fuss, and He had turned it around on them, saying that what Mary had done was such a beautiful thing. He had said that people would always remember what happened in that moment, and would tell about it whenever they told the story about Him.

She told Mary what He had said. But Mary didn’t need to hear that. She knew that He thought she was beautiful, not a klutz. He had told her that with her eyes. She didn’t know if anybody would ever remember or tell about what happened. All she knew was that she would never forget, nor ever be the same.  

 

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