Seeing Beyond

Posted: March 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

Matthew 26: 6-13

Seeing Beyond

Rex Hunt of whom I have often spoken and referred to or quoted noted a poem called “Contact lenses” that he thought spoke as contemporary context to today’s gospel story as told by the teller we call Matthew.

“Lacking what they want to see
makes my eyes hungry
and eyes can feel
only pain.

“Once I lived behind thick walls of glass
and my eyes belonged
to a different ethic
timidly rubbing the edges
of whatever turned them on.
Seeing usually
was a matter of what was
in front of my eyes
matching what was
behind my brain.
Now my eyes have become
a part of me exposed
quick risky and open
to all the same dangers.

“I see much
better now
and my eyes hurt.”

(E S Fiorenza).

Rex also noted that he had never preached on this biblical story as told by Matthew. Whereas the rendition of this story, as told by Luke, he has. He went on to note the differences Matthew offers as opposed to Luke

Matthew says the story happened in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany, just before Jesus’ death whereas Luke says it all happened in the home of Simon the pharisee, in Galilee. Luke says it was Simon who objected to the unnamed woman’s actions.
In Matthew, it was ‘the disciples. In Matthew, the objection revolves around the extravagance of the anointing. In Luke, Simon’s objection centres on the woman’s so-called ‘sinful past’.

Rex also notes that for many reasons, the whole of biblical narrative tradition seems to have been adversely influenced by Luke’s story conclusion. The sinfulness of the woman.

To compound this conclusion further, some storytellers and commentators suggest the woman was a prostitute. But there is absolutely nothing in Matthew’s story to confirm or suggest this. And even if you want to push Luke’s story to the extreme edges, his mention of the woman being a ‘sinner’ does not point to her being a prostitute. The New Testament scholar Barbara Reid suggests that “…this woman need only have been ill or disabled or have frequent contact with Gentiles to be considered a sinner” (Reid 2000:97).

“It is remarkable,” she says that neither commentator nor Bible translator “has thought to point the reader to the way Jesus perceives her by entitling [the story]: ‘A woman who shows great love’” (Reid.

So, we ask; what is Matthew’s special take, via his storytelling? I like Rex want to suggests that it is about having a new perspective – on life and others. And that’s what the poem is about.

‘Once I lived behind thick walls of glass…
‘Now my eyes have become a part of me exposed…
‘I see much better now… beyond usually.

Can Matthew’s hearers, and now we…

Can all of us move from behind our ‘thick walls of glass’ that has shaped our seeing and hearing of this story. To ‘see’ the woman’s humanity as well as her great love?
To ‘see’ Jesus’ humanity and his re-imagining of the world?

Generally speaking, women had a leading role in the early Jesus movement. Women had access to financial resources they used for ministering to Jesus. Women journeyed with Jesus. Women were often unnamed. Our Lenten mentor, Jewish new testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine, suggests: “Women followed Jesus then, and women follow him now, for the same reasons that men did: because they found something in his person and his message that spoke to their hearts…”  (Levine 2006:143).

But, Levine cautions, while many can and do find that inspirational, you “do not have to construct a negative view of Judaism in order to do so” (Levine 2006: 143). On the other hand, neither do we have to turn Jesus into some misogynist, as some church leaders have done and still do, to support their farcical arguments that women cannot be ordained or have leadership positions, because Jesus (apparently) didn’t appoint any women to his inner circle!

We need to stop bearing ‘false witness’. Such action when it happens must be denounced. And denounced by Christian theology. Especially when such claims come from the modern habit of quoting proof-texts to legitimize policies and rulings and opinions. And in a world where right is a commodity to be owned, bought and sold.

But of-course Matthew’s story and our reflection on it, could also have gone beyond ‘women’, and been about asylum seekers, corporate developers’ bribes, homosexuality, the continuing wars around the globe. In this world today in the wake of the Trump election and questions about the social influencing and the social impact, the false news, to wide interpretations of what might be considered truth. And now in the think of a global pandemic where the world is poised to change, be it tighten up on freedoms, abolish privacy monetize humanity or provide space for a new thing a world where common sense banishes hate, intolerance, power seeking, and people live and breathe as though we all matter. Where we do more than give lip service to love and explore the depths of humanity that come from such empathetic, valued individuality and actions.

Matthew’s context for this particular story is not the same as Luke’s more popular one but rather appears in its context to be a lead up to Jesus death. Which also fits in with our current season of Lent. And it also fits without current world situation, poised on the edge of change of apocalyptic proportion. The death of what we have known and the birth of a new age. Jesus’ death mattered to Matthew.  Indeed, to all those early storytellers. But only because his life mattered more. Many spoke of his death in ways that affirmed his life (Patterson 2004). And how their own small communities could embrace life, not be scared of it.

So, my invitation to you all today is similar: Do not deny that the situation we find ourselves in is disastrous, death bringing, fearful, life-threatening and deeply horrific. Do not push it away either as God’s punishment of a bad world nor deny it just as part of evolution of the species. But see it as the call of Jesus to embrace life, all of life, and not be scared of it. Step out from behind the thick walls of glass and see much better, now…Step out of the fear and the blaming and the seeking to find who did it and work together in love for each other,

Prayer to an ‘Almost’ God

Just when we think we have it all figured out,
things change again. I am ‘almost’ there.

It is as if the rug is pulled out from under my feet,

I don’t know where to put my foot,

 But I am ‘almost there and I need to take the step.
When will I be able to rest
in the comfort of knowing what comes next?

When will my ‘almost’ become my reaching the ‘next’?

I see the ‘almost’ that transcends all time,
that created the stars and set them in place,

My ‘almost’ is so huge that it belittles and confuses my ‘Almighty’

I see the ‘almost’ that is never there yet already present,

The ‘almost that is ageless yet known in every age,
The ‘almost’ that authenticates ‘promise’ and confirms the grace that accepts
being there but not yet, the changes that are about to invite the freedom and the possible, the almost that is already present in the now.

 The ‘almost enables an emptiness of heart shaped by anxiety,
and fills it instead with wonder and awe, and beauty and possibility and hope.
The ‘almost’ releases me from the maybe and pushes aside the chains of complacency,
and binds us to an ever-present, ever-moving Spirit of transformation by imagination

 The ‘almost’ takes the things I believed to be permanent and stable
and leaves them by the way side as markers of the impossible

That without ‘almost’,

the impossible would founder on the edges of the possible
And keep us away from being enfolded in a quantum like unquenchable love

‘Almost’ reminds us that memory of the dynamic,

ever-moving, evolving, unfolding, emerging is entry into

The possibility of a world without a fear that paralyzes,
and with a way into and out of a grief that cripples us with anger
that imprisons us in a loss of what had been.

‘Almost’ by incarnation becomes angels arriving to gently move us
over that frightening edge into the unknown,
inviting us to enter the realm of trust.

Self-worth, human flourishing, life is grounded because,

‘Almost’ is always eternal. Always enduring and everlasting.

In ‘almost’ restlessness finds peace, meaning finds purpose

And in ‘almost’ evolution, creation, and imagination

Become finite within infinity

Yes! and amen.

Doug Lendrum

Levine, A-J. 2006.  The Misunderstood Jew. The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. NY: New York. HarperOne.
Patterson, S. J. 2004.  Beyond the Passion. Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. MN: Minneapolis. Fortress Press.
Reid, B. E. 2000.  Parables for Preachers. Year C. MN: Collegeville. The Liturgical Press.

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