November 13, 2022
Today’s gospel opens with how people around Jesus were gushing over how amazing the Temple looked. It was a spectacular architectural marvel, really. The Temple was over 150 feet tall, made with stones sometimes fifteen feet long. It was decorated with the kind of fervor and splendor you’d expect from the physical location of God’s presence on Earth. All around the Temple was the Temple Mount—a huge platform bigger than the Roman Forum—and that was ringed with 100-foot-high walls. The whole thing had taken eighty years to renovate. It was, honestly, an amazing sight to behold.
But all this gawking and fawning of the Temple happened right after Jesus had spent several chapters teaching about God’s gracious provision for the poor; about the justice of God that lifts the oppressed; about the call God gives to serve faithfully, not just to go through the motions of sacrifices. As soon as he heard the crowds complimenting the Temple, he issued the warning that it was all going to come crashing down. Not a stone would be left on stone.
All Saints Sunday
November 6, 2022
All Saints Day is celebrated in different ways around the world. One celebration I’ve loved for a long time is the Mexican Day of the Dead. There’s something about the way the holiday turns death into this bright, flowery, multicolored experience that fascinates me. In 2017, Pixar put out a movie that talked about the Day of the Dead, Coco, which followed the story of a boy named Miguel who magically finds himself in the land of the dead as he pursues his dream of becoming a musician like his great-great-grandfather.
The whole movie is a phantasmagoria of colors and songs that gives this particular view of the afterlife where the dead are sustained by the offerings of their living relatives and friends. Famous people like Miguel’s purported great-great grandfather, a famous musician, had a giant mansion on a hill and enough offerings from his adoring living fans to throw a massive party. Meanwhile, a guy named Hector who agrees to help Miguel lives with his friends, half-forgotten, in shacks and shanties on the edges of the land of the dead. And it’s an interesting take, because in so many ways, the land of the dead looks remarkably like the world of the living, once you take away the fact that they’re all talking skeletons.
October 30, 2022
Zacchaeus is an interesting character in the gospel story. He is only mentioned this one time, in this one chapter, only in Luke’s gospel—and yet, we all know about him! It’s crazy what a simple song can do to make something or someone easy to remember. Like the smell of lutefisk, a catchy tune lingers. And when we learn it in our childhood, it really sticks! But here we are, hearing the story of Zacchaeus—what do we know about him?
Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector of the region in and around Jericho. Now, obviously that meant he was in charge of collecting taxes—but not like some regional IRS agent. Instead, Roman taxes were “farmed out.” Rome would invite the richest men of the region to bid on how much money they could raise in taxes, and whoever could raise the most was given the contract—and Roman power—to collect those taxes. They put down the cash to cover the whole tax bill for a region, and in return they were given the legal right to collect that tax money from the population and pocket it. Plus, they could collect whatever more they could get away with on top of that. Zacchaeus was the guy in charge of that racket.
October 23, 2022
I was reading a story the other day about a situation at an airport. There was a flight that was cancelled, and so everyone was asked to come to the ticket desk to reschedule their flight. People formed up a line, but then this one guy in a business suit pushed his way to the front, slammed his ticket down on the desk, and demanded that the ticket agent book him before anyone else. He insisted he was very important, and besides, he had a first class ticket! When the ticket agent politely reminded him he had to get in line like everyone else, the man responded:
“Do you know who I am?!”
Without missing a beat, the ticket agent turned on the microphone and announced to the airport, “We have a gentleman here who does not know who he is. If you are missing someone, please come to the desk to retrieve him!”