“The Sprinter” Charles Albert Lopez. Cast 1907. Public Domain.
"Jogging is very beneficial. It's good for your legs and your feet. It's also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed." Charles Schulz
Generally, Biblical scholars see the book of Hebrews as a selection of sermons written to encourage a community that was undergoing some form of oppressive state-sponsored persecution. Physical violence forced evictions, and imprisonment of Jews and Jewish Christians was widespread in the late first century CE. Over time, this book of encouraging sermons was passed along to other distressed communities all over the eastern Mediterranean.
A new sermon about maintaining fidelity and endurance during difficult times begins in chapter 11, verse 1, and runs to chapter 12, verse 17. Chapter 11 provides examples of faithful individuals from the Scriptures. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rehab, and many others make the cut. These folks are seen as faithful because they exemplified endurance through hardship, loss, abuse, disaster.
Endurance continues to be the theme in chapter 12, as the author uses running as a metaphor for faithful endurance.
“Get rid of the weights that would slow us down and run the race well.”
It’s a little stilly that the Greek word for “race” here is agōn, which refers to any athletic event, but most commonly a competitive footrace. It’s the root of our word “agony,” which will resonate with many – running is some form of agony. But the idea here is simple enough: It’s even more challenging to run a race when we are weighed down by things we can shed.
The weight and sin that “just won’t let go” (CEV) is not specified in the original Greek. The “weight” may refer to body fat on runners, clothing that encumbers or merely a heavy load. “Sin” is also generic and relates to detrimental lifestyle choices. For competitive runners, it might be a poor diet, failing to address an injury or insufficient training.
Today's lesson is a good message for us as we experience the continued challenges of the pandemic. While our challenge is unique in many ways, people throughout the centuries have experienced unique challenges and endured. We have examples of folks in our lives that have relied on their faith to weather grief, hardship, and disaster. We do well to remember those folks when we face difficult times and draw inspiration.
Difficult times also require us to be well prepared. It’s time to let go of those things that are slowing us down or making a hard time even harder. What weighty responsibilities, costs, or worries can we put down for the time being? Are their practices that we need to amend in this interim so we can be a little lighter on our feet?
“Wheat Seed” International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Creative Common (CC) licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0.
John 12:20-36 Contemporary English Version
20 Some Greeks had gone to Jerusalem to worship during Passover. 21 Philip from Bethsaida in Galilee was there too. So, they went to him and said, “Sir, we would like to meet Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew. Then the two of them went to Jesus and told him.
23 Jesus said: “The time has come for the Son of Man to be given his glory. 24 I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. 25 If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. 26 If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honor you.”
27 “Now I am deeply troubled, and I don’t know what to say. But I must not ask my Father to keep me from this time of suffering. In fact, I came into the world to suffer. 28 So Father, bring glory to yourself.” A voice from heaven then said, “I have already brought glory to myself, and I will do it again!” 29 When the crowd heard the voice, some of them thought it was thunder. Others thought an angel had spoken to Jesus.
30 Then Jesus told the crowd, “That voice spoke to help you, not me. 31 This world’s people are now being judged, and the ruler of this world is already being thrown out! 32 If I am lifted up above the earth, I will make everyone want to come to me.” 33 Jesus was talking about the way he would be put to death.
34 The crowd said to Jesus, “The Scriptures teach that the Messiah will live forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus answered, “The light will be with you for only a little longer. Walk in the light while you can. Then you won’t be caught walking blindly in the dark. 36 Have faith in the light while it is with you, and you will be children of the light.” After Jesus had said these things, he left and went into hiding.
Around 17,000 years ago, much of the Northern Hemisphere was stuck in an Ice Age. Cooler weather and glaciation reduced the available game for our ancient hunter-gatherer human ancestors. In the fertile Crescent, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern-day Iraq, humans began to do something that would mark the beginnings of civilization – they took the grains they gathered and started to plant them. Around 17,000 years ago, the first grains of wheat were intentionally planted for agriculture.
A member of the grass family, these early wheat seeds would prove vital for the growth of humanity. One kernel contains very little nutrition. It takes about eight kernels to make one calorie and about 15,000 to make one loaf of whole wheat bread.
A single grain, standing on its own doesn’t do much. Yet, it has some pretty incredible yields when planted. Today, a single seed planted in the ground yields just over 100 kernels, and if we were to take the pound of wheat seed and plant them, we would have enough wheat to make 100 loaves of bread in just a few months. This was the early math our ancient ancestors thought through as they collected wheat kernels and saved the best for seed. They realized that growing their food was one way of providing stability in their lives and the hope for future generations.
Today’s gospel lesson is Jesus’ last public discourse in the gospel of John. He has just entered Jerusalem for Pentecost when some Greeks (Jews living in the diaspora – perhaps something like ex-patriots today) come to see Jesus. Maybe they wish to hear some words of comfort. Instead, Jesus’ words are difficult. His time is up. There was a plot to kill Jesus in chapter 11 after Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. Mary has anointed Jesus at the beginning of chapter 12. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Passover, coming as a king or perhaps offering a politically critical satire of kingship and empire. And now Greeks, representatives of the entire world in John’s gospel, come to see Jesus. This Jesus movement was not just a local phenomenon. It is not the story of a wandering backwater holy man that was killed one Passover in Jerusalem. No, this story has global, even cosmic elements to it.
So, what’s Jesus’ message to this audience that represents that entire world? “Do not love this life, but hate it. In hating it, serve me.” The language is difficult and problematic. But Jesus is not saying that his followers should hate themselves or give into the self-hate – a way that this passage has been read so destructively for centuries. Instead, Jesus wants his disciples to choose how they orient themselves in the world.
The world can promote injustice, lift the wealthy while crushing the poor, and can maintain power through violence and coercion. All of this strip away the inherent dignity and sacredness of all living things. This is the part of the world that Jesus wants his disciples to hate, to feel so profoundly unsettled by the awful parts that they are willing to instigate change. Jesus wants his disciples to be an unsettled people, choosing not to be complicit in a world that hurts those that God loves.
We can think back on our ancient ancestors. Some hated hunger so much that they made the difficult choice to hold back kernels that could have been eaten at that moment to ensure future abundance. And year after year it got a little better. And troubles came, but the practice was embedded in humanity and made lasting, positive change.
Jesus says that his followers will challenge those things in this world that kill and destroy. His followers will be more than a single kernel, ground, and used up. They will be seeds planted for the benefit of future generations.
What is God planting in us today? What places in this world make us unsettled enough to change?
Illustration of Nardostachys grandiflora (spikenard) by Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) – Curtis’s botanical magazine vol. 107 series 3. Public Domain.
A reflection on John 12:1-8 posted on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast page for Lent 5C entitled “Beautiful Reflection on this passage from Iona Community in Scotland”:
It was on the Wednesday that they called him a waster. The place smelled like the perfume department of a mall. It was as if somebody had bumped their elbow against a bottle and sent it crashing to the floor, setting off the most expensive stink bomb on earth. But it happened in a house, not a shop. And the woman who broke the bottle was no casual afternoon shopper. She was the penniless poorest of the poor, giving away the only precious thing she had. And he sat still while she poured the liquid all over his head... as unnecessary as aftershave on a full crop of hair and a bearded chin. And those who smelled it, and those who saw it, and those who remembered that he was against extravagance, called him a waster. They forgot that he was also the poorest of the poor. And they who had much and who had given him nothing, objected to a pauper giving him everything. Jealousy was in the air when a poor woman's generosity became an embarrassment to their tight-fistedness... That was on the Wednesday, when they called him a waster. -Iona Community, Scotland
"The Object of economic effort is not money, but livelihood," Wrote, Scott Nearing in his celebrated book Living the Good Life. First published in 1954 chronicles Scott and Helen Nearing's back to the land ideal of living as two folks that moved from New York City to the Green Mountains of Winhall, Vermont. They aimed to live a life of simplicity, healthy living, and to do so in community. They sought to grow and raise as much of their food as possible, barter more than buy, heat with wood cut themselves (because it warms you twice that way), and have as property only what is necessary.
It's safe to assume that each of us has a definition of what it means to live a good life. And while there may be a few general principles that we can hold in common, what defines a good life for each of us is as personalized as taste, preference, and upbringing. Perhaps it means living close to family and getting together as much as possible. Maybe it means having a perfect job that pays well. Perhaps it means being able to provide fun experiences for your children or having the flexibility to watch your children grow up. Maybe it means staying busy, eating healthy, or making time for creativity or reading or singing or whatever is life-giving. And accordingly, this is where we spend our money.
Today's gospel reading is about the good life and money. Prior to our lesson, something big has just happened. Jesus had very close friends – Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus had been ill for some time and news was sent from the sisters that Lazarus was near death. As Jesus travelled to them, Lazarus died. But Jesus continues on, arrive four days after Lazarus has been put to rest. He goes to his tomb and calls Lazarus to "come out." And that's that, humanity's most significant problem erased. The dead are raised. Lazarus comes out still dressed in his funeral clothes. Later on, as Jesus and his troupe travel to Jerusalem for Passover for the last time, they stop in Bethany and are welcomed by Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. At the party, Mary anointed Jesus' feet with pure nard and wiped his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the nard filled the house.
Nard, also called spikenard or muskroot, was expensive. It would have been imported from India or China. The gospel of Mark has the nard contained in an alabaster jar. Judas takes exception to this show of extravagance. The perfume, according to Judas, is worth a year's wages for a day laborer. Should not it have been sold and the money given to the poor? The lesson betrays Judas' real concern, that he didn't care for the poor, but handled the money bag and often took from it.
"Leave her alone; this is for my burial," Jesus says. Spikenard, was used for many things. One of its uses was to anoint the dead. The line is a little difficult to understand because it seems premature. Jesus isn't dead yet. Perhaps this was a "Bring My Flowers Now" (see Explore Further) move by Mary. Or, we might hope that the aroma stayed with Jesus throughout the week, even while he was being crucified as a reminder that in a time of oppressing sorrow and grief, someone cared deeply for him.
The added wrinkle to this passage is his next statement to Judas. "The poor you will always have with you, but you not always have me with you." This statement doesn't sound much like Jesus. This is the same Jesus that tells the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor. This is the same Jesus that when sending out twelve disciples, he commanded them to take no money, no bread, and no supplies. He once said that it was easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. This is the same Jesus that was born in a stable and laid in a food trough for a crib. And here – his feet are being anointed with expensive perfume. Maybe Jesus has gone corporate.
Or maybe this is part of his rebuke of Judas and his impoverished economy. The scholar Dorothy Lee points out the Judas was "surrounded by those from whom he takes, victims of his self-centered greed." Judas' economy was based on scarcity, thievery, and death. The poor will always exist in this type of economy. Standing in opposition is Mary's economy of abundance, resurrection, and new life. It resists monetizing sacred and reverent acts or putting a price on human life.
Many of us are affected by the economic shutdown stemming from the Coronavirus pandemic these days. Some of us have been laid off, and nearly all of us have family members or friends that are no longer working. Some who already lived in poverty find themselves today in dire situations. At the same time, at least three of our politicians are under investigation for insider trading for selling off millions of dollars in stocks after a closed-door briefing on the coronavirus.
Eventually, the economy will return, and many who are laid off will return to their jobs. But what if we did it better the next go-round? What if we resisted our "Judas" economy and strived for something more like Mary's? What if we resisted the notions of scarcity, inequality, and tribalism, the foundation for statements like 'the poor will always be with you?" What if we embraced principles like needing less, honoring all life, and living abundantly? It seems worth exploring.
Whatever our situation, may you find yourself living a good life today.
Palmesel (15th Century). Public Domain. The word Palmesel is German for “palm donkey.” Although this looks like a child’s toy, this statue as larger than life and was used during Palm Sunday processions in German-speaking regions until the Reformation.
Matthew 21:1-11 (12-17) New Revised Standard Version
1When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” 14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
Imagine that you were there. Your culture and traditions call you to travel to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the great Passover feast. A long time ago, this ceremony was used to ward off evil spirits from your house and call on the gods to bestow blessings on the community. In your day, it was a festival that commemorates the story of Moses leading your ancestors out of slavery in Egypt.
Perhaps you live in a nearby city or have come from a local village. Or maybe you have come from as far away as Ethiopia or modern-day Turkey. Regardless, you are here because your parents brought you when you were little. And their parents brought them and so it has been for generations and generations. You look forward to this pilgrimage every year because it reminds you of your history, your community and because you get to see old friends.
If you are a farmer, you brought your own lamb on the pilgrimage to be slaughtered at the temple. Otherwise, you needed to buy a lamb at the temple – at a marked-up price, of course – and have it butchered. If you are poor and have no lamb or cannot afford to buy a lamb, you needed to purchase doves to have sacrificed by the temple priests. The priests would take a portion and burn it on the altar in the temple, and take a little of the choice cuts for themselves. They package up everything else, and you take it to the place you are staying for the week, perhaps a distance cousin’s home in the city. This sanctified meat saved and prepared later for the Passover meal.
So far, the week has been pretty quiet. You’ve visited with old friends, heard the reading of the scriptures and preaching at the temple. You sang some of the Psalms and other familiar tunes that you learned when you were little. You’ve visited the markets where folks are selling things like apples, dates, and honey, unleavened bread, and other provisions. The streets always seem packed. The city is crowded to begin with, but as the week wears on, the city swells with another 200,000 or even 300,000 people here to celebrate Passover. It can get a little dicey when this many people show up, and you’ve experienced Passovers in the past that exploded with chaos.
As you walk about today, cautiously passing Roman soldiers, hearing calls from beggars, and moving aside so wealthy folks could pass by, you notice the smells. It’s overwhelming. The smell of people and animals and of blood from the temple mingling with the aromas of cooked meat, baked goods, and incense. But something snaps you out of your reflection. There’s a great commotion – At one of the gates, some people are stirring a crowd by proclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
Hosanna was a liturgical word, a word of prayer – literally meaning “please help” But now it has come to be a word used to proclaim salvation, even liberation. Shouted in the streets, it was a dangerous word, a challenging word, one that could get you in trouble with both the ruling elites and the occupying Romans.
You want to know what’s happening, so you walk toward the crowd. You expect a strong man – riding a horse and perhaps even a small band of rebels. Instead, you see a man riding a donkey, perhaps, as this gospel tells us with the donkey’s colt beside him. And you remember your scriptures and recall a passage about a king coming to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the humble king riding on a lowly animal. This man doesn’t look like a strong man, at least he doesn’t really dress like one or carry himself like one. But some people are getting into it – they are laying down palm branches and even their own cloaks to cover the roads.
You turn to the person next to you and ask, “Who this person?” And the stranger replies – “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” You’ve heard of him, and begin to tense up. There were strange rumors about his birth and about his ability to heal people. Your cousins were talking about him back at the house. They said that he has angered local synagogue officials just about everywhere he goes. They even got into an argument about whether his teachings were liberating or heresy.
You know that Passover in Jerusalem is already a tense time – a time when Rome handles the larger than usual crowds with an iron fist – where any rebel-rousing is met with the swift and brutal violence of the state. Yet you follow this parade because you want to know what this is all about.
Jesus and the crowd go to the temple courtyard. And in the large courtyard, there are merchants selling animals for sacrifice and money changers. You always hated the money changers. The temple in Jerusalem had its own currency, and you had to change your money with them to pay for your animal to be slaughtered or buy your sacrifice. And the deal never seemed right to you – like you were getting ripped off somehow. Jesus went directly to the money changers table and got into an argument with them. By now, you can only hear the raised voices as the crowd has gotten larger, and you can no longer see. “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers,” you hear someone say. And then pushing and movement. “He’s chasing away the money changers!” Someone in the crowd shouted. Although you never saw it, someone else said he had a weapon, a cat of nine tails with him that he used to chase them away.
And in the aftermath of these tense moments, sick people began coming to him - Those who could not see and those who had various disabilities. And you saw him help these people. And the crowd, including children, began chanting once again, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” And you began to worry because of what had just happened. You worried that this would not be a peaceful Passover in Jerusalem.
Ulysses at the Table of Circe – After John Flaxman (1805) Public Domain
Farewell Song (Man of Constant Sorrow) Traditional American Folk Song Published 1913 by Dick Burnett
I am a man of constant sorrow, I’ve seen trouble all my day. I bid farewell to old Kentucky, The place where I was born and raised. (The place where he was born and raised ) For six long years I’ve been in trouble, No pleasures here on earth I found. For in this world I’m bound to ramble, I have no friends to help me now. (He has no friends to help him now.) It’s fare thee well my old lover. I never expect to see you again. For I’m bound to ride that northern railroad, Perhaps I’ll die upon this train. (Perhaps he’ll die upon this train.) You can bury me in some deep valley, For many years where I may lay. Then you may learn to love another, While I am sleeping in my grave. (While he is sleeping in his grave.) Maybe your friends think I’m just a stranger My face, you’ll never see no more. But there is one promise that is given I’ll meet you on God’s golden shore. (He’ll meet you on God’s golden shore.)
Regardless of age, most of us were required to The Odyssey by Homer in high school English. The story traces the misadventures of Odysseus (sometimes rendered Ulysses) as he ventures home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. Because he has offended Poseidon, the god of the sea, the journey takes ten long years. Throughout Odysseus endures lose, treachery, and troubles of all kinds. In fact, the name Odysseus means something like “trouble” in Greek.
One of the central themes in The Odyssey is Odysseus’ oscillation between self-pity and despair to self-confidence and bravery. Self-pity is a common emotion when Odysseus reflects on his tribulations and when he speaks of missing his family. The self-pity often serves as a motivational tool as he prepares himself for new challenges. No wonder Homer’s Odyssey has been used by Vermont veterans to handle the stresses of returning home (see Explore Further).
Self-pity in Homer also does something larger. As Odysseus reflects on his own misfortunes, his mind turns to the Fall of Troy, and the Trojan victims of suffering and grief. His ability to reflect on his own grief has made him more responsive to the grief of others.
Self-pity gets a bum rap. It’s defined as something like “a feeling of sorrow for one’s personal suffering or predicament.” Often, however, self-pity can be defined more negatively: “a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes.” We tend to go with the more negative definition and try to avoid self-pity all together.
There’s a lot of self-pity in Psalm 31:9-16, and Mark Stamm, Professor of Christian Worship at the Perkins School of Theology pushes on our dis-ease with a passage like this:
We live in a society that chronically minimizes grief and looks away from suffering. Lament is not encouraged. It is bad for business, and not a good church-growth strategy. We need to keep things upbeat and positive, say the marketing analysts. Perhaps we should just stop having funerals. We barely know what to do when we hear lamentation, and most of us do not know how to pray it. Can we allow this psalm to call us back to a way of praying that we have largely forgotten? (Daily Feast; 2012, p. 215f).
Self-pity and its close cousin, lamentation, are reflective tools used for coping with life’s most difficult times. When these tools are used properly, they help us by providing an accurate physical and emotional picture of our current troubles. Far from self-indulgent, self-pity helps us to move forward and consider the plight of others. Homer knew this well nearly three thousand years ago.
Take stock of the ways COVID-19 has affected you negatively. Write down the challenges you are facing today or mention them when you pray. This practice could go a long way in being able to move forward with courage and strength. It can also provide connection to those that are also undergoing the negative effects of this pandemic.
May God bless you and keep you through these hard times.
Little clown, my heart Spangled again and lopsided, Handstands and Peking pirouettes, Backflips snapping open like A carpenter’s hinged ruler,
Little gimp-footed hurray, Paper parasol of pleasures, Fleshly undertongue of sorrows, Sweet potato plant of my addictions,
Acapulco cliff-diver corazón, Fine as an obsidian dagger, Alley-oop and here we go Into the froth, my life, Into the flames!
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a gem. From the very beginning, it is evident that Paul and the community of faith at Philippi share a mutual affection not present in other Pauline epistles. In today's reading, Paul gushes about his love and joy for this community, almost to the point of embarrassment. Previously, Paul had spent significant time in the Macedonian city of Philippi as he traveled the Via Egnatia across Greece. There, he and his companions were well received and supported. Over time, Philippi even served as a “home-base” for Paul’s missionary work in the region. This time clearly left a lasting impression on Paul, and it’s clear that he misses the Philippians. The letter focuses on thanksgiving, shared joy, and an appeal to continued righteousness and unity. Paul also wishes to alleviate the concerns the Philippians have for his wellbeing, as he is now in prison.
Maintaining connections through written correspondence was a vital part of Paul’s ministry. Paul and the communities he shepherded wrote back and forth often. Unfortunately, we only have Paul’s side of these connections, but there are many. By his hand, or by an amanuensis, he is responsible for as many as 14 New Testament’s books in the Bible. Today, biblical scholars see books like 2 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians as collections of letters. Still, Paul has other letters that we know have been lost to history.
Many of us are learning new ways to connect. My children use Zoom to meet virtually with their classes, WhatsApp to talk with their cousins and Facetime to have their evening story read by grandpa. We use GoToMeeting at UCH to host community check-Ins and will celebrate Palm Sunday this Sunday using the same platform. I tend to be a Luddite with technology, but I am calling folks more, texting more, and emailing more.
We are still community but in different ways these days. The affection of Paul’s letter demonstrates a closeness that cannot be disrupted by long distances apart. Paul’s friends in Philippi make him happy, and he shares his feelings in words.
Who could use words of joy and a reminder of our deep and joyful connection today? Take some time to reach out to someone that makes you happy and let them know it.
Daily Readings from the Revised Common Lectionary
Psalm 143; Jeremiah 32:1-9, 36-41; Matthew 22:23-33*
Matthew 22:22-33 Contemporary English Version
23 The Sadducees did not believe that people would rise to life after death. So that same day some of the Sadducees came to Jesus and said: 24“Teacher, Moses wrote that if a married man dies and has no children, his brother should marry the widow. Their first son would then be thought of as the son of the dead brother. 25 Once there were seven brothers who lived here. The first one married, but died without having any children. So, his wife was left to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brothers and finally to all seven of them. 27 At last the woman died. 28 When God raises people from death, whose wife will this woman be? She had been married to all seven brothers.”
29 Jesus answered: “You are completely wrong! You don’t know what the Scriptures teach. And you don’t know anything about the power of God. 30 When God raises people to life, they won’t marry. They will be like the angels in heaven. 31 And as for people being raised to life, God was speaking to you when he said, 32 ‘I am the God worshiped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ He isn’t the God of the dead, but of the living.”
33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching.
I had a beautiful moment yesterday evening. I was boiling sap in the yard after a long day. I was also listening to a podcast with my earphones, trying to get a few minutes to myself. Then I heard giggling, none-stop, contagious giggling. Across the yard, my seven-year-old and four-year-old sons were lying on the ground while our new baby goats took turns jumping on them. Obi, Pickles, and Merlin are four-week-old alpine goats that we got from Howdy Russell’s last week. They’ve been a great source of fun, but this was over the top. My sons laughed and laughed as the goats took turns standing on the boys, bleating all the while. For a moment, all my worries took a backseat to joy.
It’s April Fool’s Day, a day associated with pranking and “kidding” around. The tradition was first mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from 1392. The pandemic has affected this day, and some might say that there’s no place for laughter during such a grievous time. I wonder if finding those places to laugh and moments to enjoy are actually vital to our health and wellbeing as we are all stuck in our homes.
Our gospel story is a humorous one. The Sadducees, an elite, deistic group of religious leaders, confront Jesus with an absurd situation, and Jesus laughs at it. “You’ve got it all wrong!” Here, Jesus uses a local humorous idiom to address the confrontation. He answers the question with some seriousness, but is also playful throughout, something that can get a lost in our translations.
Numerous studies have reported on the role humor plays in combating anxiety, fear, stress, or cynicism. Accordingly, humor is generally known to contribute to higher subjective wellbeing – both physical and psychological.
Perhaps, not so oddly, not all humor has shown to be effective in overall wellbeing. Aggressive humor – racist or sexist jokes, sarcasm, and jokes that disparage others, negatively affect overall health. So does self-defeating humor – these are self-disparaging jokes used for gain social acceptance.
A 1990 study by Yovetich, Dale, and Hudak was designed to test the effects humor might have on relieving anxiety. Study subjects were told that they would be given an electric shock, without specifying when. One group was exposed to humorous content while awaiting, while the other was not. The anxiety levels were measured through self-report measures as well as the heart rate. Subjects that were exposed to humorous content while they waited for the impending shock reported lower anxiety, while those that were not exposed to humorous context reported higher levels. Shocking results…
I think one of the problems we face today is anxiety. The brilliant theologian Paul Tillich described the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is something you know is dangerous; anxiety is the unknown danger. We fear getting Coronavirus. We are anxious about how long the pandemic and the restrictions will last. We are anxious about what these changes mean for our jobs, our families, our future. We are anxious about running out things to watch on Netflix and not having enough toilet paper.
We have to find ways to laugh during this pandemic. Not at it. Not at the expense of others. But with the confidence that even now, there is enough good in life to enjoy and celebrate.
The Explore Further section today is filled with humorous clips and readings. They’re religious, so they are extra cheesy.