Imagining Reality

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

For many years now, with varied consistency, I’ve begun my day with the Morning Prayer office of the Book of Common Prayer. At the end of that prayer service there are a few options of closing benedictions, but more often than not I skip to the final one:

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

It is not always conscious, but praying these verses from Ephesians changes how I go about my day as I dwell with the knowledge that God is doing more than I can “ask or imagine”. Knowing that God is always doing infinitely more, I’m invited to ask and imagine more boldly and live in the humble realization that I don’t really understand the whole of reality.

Jesus invites his disciples into this same kind of work in our Gospel reading from John. Discipleship is about learning to live into a constant conversation with God (asking) and learning to see, even if through a glass darkly, the reality of God’s reign. Since much of this reality is imperceptible through the usual means of our senses, it is only through imagination that we can properly get even a glimpse of what is really happening.

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The More You Get, the More You Have

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 14:13-21

And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Immediately before the story of the feeding of the five thousand is a description of a very different sort of meal: John the Baptizer’s head on a platter. And just as women and children are included among the multitude fed on the beach (a detail unique to Matthew’s version of the story), the female sex is also represented in the account of John’s demise: Herodias, sister-in-law of Herod, asks for the head of the Baptist; her nameless daughter, with no detectable squeamishness, delivers the request to the king and serves up the plated head to her mother. (That women in all of their moral complexity are present throughout Matthew’s gospel — recall also the women who appear in the genealogy of Jesus in chapter one – is an observation worthy of closer scrutiny. See, for instance, Jane Kopas’s 1990 essay in Theology Today).

Also interesting is the juxtaposition of fear and death (in the story of John’s beheading) with that of fulfillment and abundance in the feeding narrative. The murder of John the Baptist is a result of power confronted and hypocrisy exposed. Where fear reigns, violence cannot be far behind. Herod’s birthday party is an occasion for the casual disregard of human life to come to a head (forgive the pun) in the expedient execution of a political troublemaker. And while this blood-tinged birthday banquet represents the old order with its fear-mongering and death-dealing ways, the feeding of the five thousand heralds the new order: fullness of life and health for all (even women and children). Read more