Lectionary Commentaries for July 25, 2010
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 11:1-13

David Lose

Prayer is not only at the heart of the Christian life, it is also at the heart of a lot of Christian frustration, misunderstanding, and even pain.

How do we pray? How does God answer prayer? Why does God sometimes seem to ignore my prayers? These questions will be roiling just beneath the placid countenance most of our hearers will bring to our sermon this Sunday. With this in mind, could there be a better – or more challenging – passage to preach on prayer than Luke’s depiction of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray?

An immediate challenge is how much Luke packs into these thirteen verses: the Lord’s prayer, a parable on prayer, and then several sayings about prayer. The preacher will therefore need to make a decision: deal with one section in detail, cover all three, or teach more broadly on prayer referencing specific elements. I’ll work through the sections following Luke’s narrative and then offer a few homiletical suggestions at the end.

The Disciples’ Prayer
Coming just after the visit with Mary and Martha, this scene begins with Jesus again at prayer. Luke, more than any other evangelist, stresses the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life (see 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 10:21-22, 11:1, 22:41-4, 23:46). Given the disciples exposure to Jesus’ practice, and their awareness that John had taught his disciples to pray, it’s only natural that they would ask him for instruction. Luke’s version of Jesus’ response – what we call the Lord’s Prayer but, given the intended audience and use might be better named the Disciples’ Prayer – is briefer and simpler than that found in Matthew. While it shares elements of the eschatological nature of the Matthean rendering – “your kingdom come,” “do not bring us to the time of trial” – it also tempers these by omitting some phrases – God’s “earthly and heavenly will” and “deliverance from the evil one” – thereby emphasizing the more down-to-earth concerns of securing “bread for tomorrow” and tending a community formed by shared forgiveness. Thoroughly Jewish in character – doxology followed by petition – Jesus invites us to address the Holy One of Israel as pater, “Father.”  One addresses God, that is, akin to the way a child would ask a parent something of dear need and desire.

A Parable on Prayer
The temptation is to interpret Jesus’ parable as indication that God needs cajoling, or at least that the hallmark of Christian prayer is persistence. The Greek anaideia, however, is better translated “shamelessness” than “persistence,” and so implies a boldness that comes from familiarity. Note that the parable’s breadless host asks only once, making bold to count on his neighbor’s conformity to the duties of hospitality. He is in this sense “shameless,” counting on his friend’s desire not fail communal expectations. So also, Jesus intimates, should we make bold to offer our petitions to God, shamelessly calling on God to keep God’s promises.

Sayings About Prayer
Next comes one of the more familiar commands of Jesus: ask, search, knock. Popular piety has again interpreted this as a call to persistence (rendering it “ask and keep asking” and so forth). It might be more helpful, though, to read Jesus’ instruction as inviting trust – ask, search, knock…confident that you will receive what you ask.  Of course there is no one among those listening who would give a snake or a scorpion to a beseeching child, so how then, Jesus implies, can we not trust that God as divine parent will give us all that we need, including and especially the Holy Spirit?

Preaching on Prayer
We – preachers and hearers alike – tend to fixate on the mechanics of prayer: how, why, when. Jesus’ instructions to his followers, however, focus on a different question: who. This is not to imply that the questions we bring are in any way unworthy of being asked. Given the numerous challenges of daily life and acknowledging the deeply felt and too often unmet needs we carry with us, our questions about mechanics are incredibly understandable and deserve a hearing. Yet while it is important to acknowledge the validity of our questions, it’s also important to recognize that Jesus seems more interested, at this point, in invitation than explanation. In this passage, that is, Jesus invites us into relationship with God through prayer, offering us the opportunity to approach the God whose name is too holy to speak and whose countenance too terrible to behold with the familiarity, boldness, and trust of a young child running to her parent for both provision and protection.

Prayer, according to both this passage and Luke’s larger portrait of Jesus, is not primarily about getting things from God but rather about the relationship we have with God. Hence, after a life and ministry of prayer, Jesus prays yet again while hanging on the cross (23:46). Similarly, we are invited to make all of our needs, wants, hurts, hopes, and desires known to God. While at other places in Scripture we are told that God knows our needs without being asked (Mt. 6:8), here we are invited to make them known, to speak them into existence in the confidence that whatever may happen, this relationship can bear hearing these things and may actually even depend upon hearing them.

Anne Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies that our two best prayers are, “help me, help me, help me” and “thank you, thank you, thank you” (p. 82). I think Jesus might agree, as there rests in Jesus’ words to his disciples then and now an invitation, above all else, to honesty, the candor that comes from intimacy, where oversensitivity to each other’s feelings is put to the side not out of contempt but from trust. So while no matter carefully you craft your sermon you will not be able to address all of our questions about the “hows” and “whys” of prayer, you will be able to invite us into a deeper, more honest, and more trusting relationship with the God who desires to be known chiefly as loving parent, provider of all that is good and protector of all in need. While this may not give us everything we want, it at least gives us what we most need. Give us this day our daily bread; indeed.

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 18:20-32

Jacqueline E. Lapsley

What I love about this passage is the way in which Abraham appeals to God’s better nature, as one does when one is trying to persuade someone with power to do the right thing.

Abraham’s determination is quite striking, to say nothing of his skills in knowing how to approach someone in power to the best effect. Even as the men, the visitors who had arrived with the announcement that a son will be born to Abraham and Sarah, even as they turn away and head toward Sodom (to set up the dreadful events of chapter 19), Abraham remains standing before the LORD (verse 22).

The verb seems like a minor detail, but a picture begins to form: Abraham remains behind with the LORD (okay, this part of the picture is fuzzy), and then he “draws near,” to say: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (verses 23-24). The way Abraham phrases this question implies that such an action would be beneath the character of the one to whom he is speaking.

What does Abraham know of God’s character at this point in the story? While God has made specific, and seemingly absurd, promises to Abraham about land and descendants, God has also promised to work blessing for all the families of the earth through Abraham’s family (12:3). These re-iterated promises are basically the sum total of what Abraham knows of God’s character, and it is on such a basis that he appeals to God’s character as one who would not disregard the lives of the righteous even as a city faces judgment.

This question recurs throughout Israel’s history and in its theological reflection. Ezekiel 18 explicitly takes it up, for example: “A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own” (Ezekiel 18:20). After a lengthy reflection on the justice of God, the passage concludes: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 18:32).

Yet elsewhere in Ezekiel, it seems that the innocent (though it is a real question in Ezekiel whether anyone is innocent), and even the land itself, suffer the consequences of divine judgment on the wicked (see Ezekiel 5 and 6, for example). This tension in Ezekiel is reflected within Israel’s life and theology more broadly: God does not desire the death of anyone, but the empirical evidence suggests that not infrequently the innocent suffer on account of the actions and inactions of the wicked.

The explicit appeal to God’s better nature appears in 18:25: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” The expression, “far be it from…” is an idiomatic usage of the word chalil (repeated twice in the verse), which is associated with what is profane. Though it is idiomatic, the root meaning is suggestive: it would be a profanation of God’s character to slay the righteous with the wicked, to be inattentive to innocence in the administration of justice.

Abraham’s characterization of God as the “judge of all the earth” is interesting in the context of Genesis, which usually presents YHWH as a kind of local deity, one among other deities in the larger region. Thus, the claim is particularly bold, and canonically speaking, suggests that Abraham is making bolder, more sweeping claims about YHWH than is typical in Genesis. For Abraham everything hangs on whether this god can make good on the promises offered, and whether this god is big enough, in every imaginable way, to pull them off. He is strongly motivated to set high expectations for YHWH’s character, and to appeal to those expectations directly in his encounters with God.

Thus begins the famous bargaining session between God and Abraham. God starts at fifty, if there are fifty righteous men, Sodom will not be destroyed, and Abraham gradually brings God down to ten. A subtle difference pops up in the way God speaks of the matter: in most of the chapter, God says that if a certain number of righteous persons are found in the city, God will not destroy it (verses 28-32). But the first time God speaks, after Abraham has rested his case on the basis of the righteous fifty, God does not say “I will not destroy it,” but that “I will forgive the whole place for their sake” (18:26).

Apparently in the rest of the passage forgiveness of all is equated with restraint in destroying the city. Subtly introduced early in the Old Testament, then, is the idea that God can forgive whole swaths of undeserving folks, if there are but ten considered righteous. Of course, Sodom, famous for its violent disregard of the norms of hospitality (the story has nothing to do with homosexuality), cannot produce even one righteous soul to fend off destruction, and so succumbs.

This story, with its emphasis on the scope and limits of the mercy of God, might fruitfully be put in conversation with the book of Jonah, where the deep well of God’s mercy to foreigners is also on display (a source of considerable irritation to Jonah). In both stories, God’s desire is for a violent humanity to put an end to its violence, and if God’s graceful mercy is the way to affect that, then that is infinitely preferable (perhaps ten persons are enough to turn the city around). But if, as in the case of Sodom, that is not possible, then God cares enough about the creation as a whole (for would not the rest of the world suffer if the “customs” of Sodom were to flourish?) to judge such sinfulness and to do something about it.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 1:2-10

J. Clinton McCann, Jr.

Hosea 1:2-10 introduces the metaphor that occupies chapters 1-2 and that resonates throughout the book — a bad marriage that is saved by the loving forgiveness of the faithful partner.

The metaphor is full of both possibilities and problems. On the one hand, it communicates poignantly the consequences of infidelity, as well as the gracious, merciful, unfailingly loving character of God. On the other hand, it derives from a patriarchal context in which men were in charge, while women and children were subjugated. Thus, if not interpreted very carefully, the text may appear to authorize patriarchy and even to sanction the mistreatment of women and children.

Extreme caution is necessary, and some interpreters conclude that even the most sensitive exercise of caution is not sufficient to address the dangerous implications of the marriage metaphor in our social context. Katherine Sakenfeld articulates a mediating position: “Perhaps we need not abandon this metaphor; but we need to be more explicit about which aspects of the comparison are significant and which we should discount or reject as inappropriate.”1

Hosea lived the metaphor (verses 2-3), although exactly what happened with “the historical Hosea” and his family life remains unclear. What we have in Hosea 1 is an interpretive retelling, not a biography. In any case, Gomer’s infidelity represents Israel’s unfaithfulness (see “whoredom” in verse 2). The traditional take on Hosea is that he called eighth-century Israel to repentance and reform in the religious sphere — that is, away from the worship of Baal and the fertility rites that allegedly accompanied such idolatry — whereas Amos, Hosea’s contemporary, called Israel to repentance and reform in the social arena. But the contrast is overdrawn. As Ellen Davis points out, right religion and social justice belonged together in ancient Israel (and they still should).

In particular, the participation by priests (see Hosea 4) and the royal bureaucracy in the Baalistic system had the effect of promoting agricultural productivity — that is, fertility — to a position of ultimate importance. The Israelite shrines became centers of economic activity and excess, benefitting the priests and the royal house at the expense of ordinary Israelite farmers. Hosea’s opposition to Baal was grounded as much in what we would call economics as it was in theology. Davis contends that Amos and Hosea “were probably the world’s first agrarian writers,” and she concludes, “Hosea is as much a prophet of social justice as is Amos, and he is equally concerned with the separation of farm families from their land.”2

The result of Israel’s theological/economic unfaithfulness was the rupture of the covenant bond between the people and God. The matter was not that God was punishing Israel, but rather that Israel had abandoned God. The reality of broken covenant is captured in the names of Gomer and Hosea’s children (verses 4-9). The name “Jezreel” although pleasant-sounding enough (“he sows”), virtually drips blood. Not only was it the site of “Jehu’s purge” (see 2 Kings 9-10), which is alluded to in verse 4 (and which involved the deaths of both the kings of Israel and Judah), but it was also the site of Naboth’s vineyard (and Naboth was killed as a result of King Ahab’s excessive desire for more land — see 1 Kings 21 and above). To be sure, Jehu had the support of the prophet Elisha, but apparently, the prophet Hosea had seen enough of the violent consequences of royal oppression. He announced that divine sanction had been withdrawn.

The name of the daughter involves nothing short of what we would call child abuse. “Lo-ruhamah” is often translated “Not Pitied” (see “pity” twice in verses 6-7); but this is much too nice a translation. The Hebrew root in its noun form means “womb,” so the name connotes something like “Not Motherly Loved,” or perhaps even something like “Neglected” or “Abused.” It is shocking, matched only perhaps by Israel’s shocking rejection of God and God’s will. Verse 7 seems to be a Judean redaction of an earlier formulation.

The third child’s name, “Not My People,” is an explicit reversal of the covenant formula (see “my people” in Exodus 3:7, 10; 6:7). The explanation of the name in verse 9 is more literally, “for you are not my people; and as for me, not ‘I am’ to you” — thus another poignant allusion to the Exodus (see Exodus 3:14) and an indication of the rupture of the covenant relationship.

But immediately, bad news is followed by good news in 1:10. The effect is not to cancel the consequences articulated in verse 4-9, as if to say that grace is cheap. After all, the northern kingdom was destroyed in 722 BCE. Rather, the juxtaposition of judgment and promise is testimony to the character of God. The God of Israel does not will to punish, but rather to restore, because God is essentially gracious, merciful, and loving. The “punishment” amounts to the destructive consequences of Israel’s unfaithful choices. It should be noted that the juxtaposition of judgment and promise is characteristic not only of the book of Hosea (see the same pattern in chapters 2 and 3, and note additional expressions of hope in chapters 11 and 14, following blocks of judgment in chapters 4-10 and 12-13), but also of virtually all the prophetic books in their final forms.

There are no Baal worshipers among us, but there are plenty of people devoted to economic “progress” that is yielding a decadent excess in the United States, while billions of people around the world (including some in the United States) are hungry and malnourished, and while “the land” (verse 2) — that is, the environment — is suffering mightily (see Hosea 4:1-3). Despite the unsustainability of this situation, many people persist in interpreting the excess as God’s “blessing.” Hosea would recognize what is happening among us, and he would not be pleased. Neither is God pleased with such unsustainability. Through the ancient words of Hosea, God continues to speak.

1Just Wives? Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 106.
2Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 120, 131.


Commentary on Psalm 138

Joel LeMon

Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving and trust. The text is comprised of three main sections.

•Verses 1-3 contain confident proclamations of God’s greatness and God’s faithfulness to the psalmist in the past.
•Verses 4-6 describe the implications of God’s faithfulness: systems of power are turned on their heads.
•Verses 7-9 acknowledge the reality that trouble can befall those who trust God. Even so, the psalmist remains reliant.

A Faithful Witness to a Faithful God (verses 1-3)
The psalm begins with expansive, full-throated praise for God’s mighty saving acts on behalf of the psalmist. The psalmist pours out his/her “whole heart” (verse 1) in thanksgiving. Nothing is held back.

To praise the Lord “before the gods” (verse 1) is to exalt the Lord above these other lesser deities. The psalmist acknowledges the gods whom others worship only to declare that the Lord deserves praise over and against them.

As it was for the psalmist, so it is with us today. Praising God with our whole heart has an effect on our systems of loyalties. When we praise the Lord with all we have, other gods–those things competing for our trust and veneration–recede into the background as the glory of God overwhelms them.

Indeed, the glory of God overwhelms the psalmist as well. The psalmist bows down (verse 2) in a gesture of submission and gratitude. What prompts this gratitude? God’s faithfulness and steadfast love (verse 2), two characteristics of the Lord that are paired throughout the Psalter (e.g., Psalm 26:3; 40:10-11; 57:3; 86:15).

These characteristics are not just abstractions; the psalmist has seen God’s faithfulness and steadfast love in action. When the psalmist cried out to the Lord, the Lord answered (verse 3). God’s saving answer buoys the soul of the psalmist.

Moreover, all of us who hear this account of salvation find our hearts strengthened and our faith confirmed when we reckon God’s long-established reputation of answering God’s people when they cry out to him.

The Glorious New World Order (verses 4-6)
In the central section of the psalm, the psalmist moves from describing his/her own relationship with God to descriptions about how God relates to the systems of power that govern the world. Throughout these verses, the psalmist presents an alternate vision of the world order.

In this world, God is the ultimate sovereign. God has complete authority. This authority is on display though the shouts of praise issuing from the lips of “all the kings of the earth” (verse 4). These kings–who have their own gods (cf. verse 1)–will nevertheless praise God just like the psalmist has done.

The psalmist concludes this section by reflecting on a paradox of God’s power (verse 6). God is high, yet he cares for those who are low. This care actually has the effect of exalting the lowly. Indeed, these humble folks experience a change in position because of God.

Yet the haughty, those who are “high on themselves” and their own abilities, enjoy no proximity to God. God, the most high, is far away from the haughty, and those who are far away from God cannot experience God’s saving presence (see e.g., Psalm 10:1; 22:1, 11; 38:21; cf. Proverbs 15:29).

In this section, the psalmist has painted a picture in which systems of power are overturned. All kings praise the Lord and thus show their subordination to God. Moreover, the haughty and powerful are far away from God, while the lowly enjoy God’s undivided attention and care.

An Expectation for God’s Deliverance (verses 7-8)
If we are honest, this picture of the world order, as presented in verses 4-5, does not seem to square with many of our experiences of human power structures. When the wicked succeed and the weak suffer, it sure does seem that God favors the haughty and that no one cares for the lowly. It seems that rulers have their own way and operate with unchecked power. The final verses of the psalm acknowledge the fact that indeed trouble does befall the faithful ones (verse 7), and that mighty enemies rage against the psalmist, threatening to overwhelm the psalmist.

Having granted that the world is a difficult place for the faithful to live, the psalmist nevertheless relies upon God’s power for deliverance. The psalmist has made an affirmation of faith, that God is the highest power in the universe (verses 1-6). Now the psalmist relies on God to see him/her through this journey, “through the midst of trouble.”

At the end of the psalm we find its first and only petition: “Do not forsake the work of your hands,” (verse 8) ­– a petition that God’s saving activity on behalf of the psalmist (verse 7) will always continue, just as Yahweh’s steadfast love endures forever (cf. Psalm 136).

Conclusion: Binding Faithful Affirmations with Honest Pleas
Psalm 138 presents a model for bringing together honesty and faithfulness to God through prayer. When faced with tragedy or suffering, many Christians utter statements like “God’s got a plan” or “God is in control.” Verses 4-5 make similar confessions about God’s sovereignty: God’s power trumps all others.

Yet this psalm juxtaposes these confessions with an honest assessment that the psalmist is currently facing hardships (verse 7). There is tension in that juxtaposition, for it would seem that if God really were “in control,” the psalmist would not be in such dire straits. The concluding petition highlights the tension further: “do not forsake the work of your hands!” (verse 8).

This psalm shows us that affirmations about God’s sovereignty can and should be uttered alongside honest expressions of anxiety and even doubt. However, this is often not the case when we pray. When prayer is faithful but not honest, confessions about God’s power become little more than effete bromides.

In light of the description of trouble and the petition at the conclusion of the psalm, the psalmist’s confessions about God’s authority and character become particularly compelling. In sum, the witness of the psalmist provides encouragement for all of us who “walk in the midst of trouble.”

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]

Karl Jacobson

Re-thinking, re-imagining, and even re-casting our ideas about who God is, apparently, nothing new.

As Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) put it, “Christ didn’t come to Earth to give us the willies… He came to help us out. He was a booster. And it is with that take on our Lord in mind that we’ve come up with a new, more inspiring sigil. … I give you… The Buddy Christ. … Doesn’t it…pop?”1

This (or something like it) is what seems to be at issue in the Colossian church. There are some whose understanding of who Jesus is and what Jesus means for us is in conflict with the Colossian Christology as expressed in the Christ-hymn of 1:15-20. This part of Colossians urges the listener/reader to “continue,” “be rooted in,” and “abound” in Christ, and this in a particular way, “as you were taught” (2:7).

Two very different ideas, or worldviews, are presented as rivals. On the one hand there is “philosophy” which is characterized as “empty deceit,” locked in the jaws of “human tradition” (2:8). On the other hand there is the “true word of the gospel” (1:5), “the knowledge of God” and “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9). These competing worldviews might be paired up as three opposites:

    philosophy           true word of the gospel
    empty deceit        knowledge of God
    human tradition     spiritual wisdom and understanding

If your college philosophy course was anything like mine (If God is the source of all things, then it stands to reason that God is in all things, and if God is in all things then God is in this chair, this table…Yuck.), you might be inclined to take Colossians and run with it, but with the exception of the middle pair these are not necessarily diametric opposites. What they are is different.

Philosophy is not gospel, nor are human traditions–even (and maybe especially) religious, church-related traditions–the same thing as spiritual wisdom or understanding. Still, philosophy and the gospel need not be in opposition; nor are human traditions in and of themselves hurdles to wisdom and understanding. When philosophy attacks the gospel, or human tradition becomes a burden to faith (cf. Colossians 2:16-19) they must be set aside, but when they serve the church and the proclamation of the gospel they may be embraced (to put this in terms familiar to Lutherans, this is the question of adiaphora). It is only deceit and the knowledge of God which are in pure opposition of each other.

The tension in Colossians lies in what the governing influence in one’s life is. The headings above these two series of “opposites” might be, on the left, “the elemental spirits of the universe” and on the right “the Christ,” and it is here that the real tension comes to the fore. Does one orient faith and daily living according to:

the elemental spirits          the whole fullness of
of the universe(1:8)   OR   deity which is in Christ
philosophy                        true word of the gospel
empty deceit                     knowledge of God
human tradition                  spiritual wisdom and

At the risk of over simplifying these two “camps,” what we have here is not so much the tension of extreme opposites as a question of priorities. The word translated as “elemental spirits,” stoicheion in Greek, is used in the New Testament for the major forces which contend with God and the gospel (cf. 2 Peter 3:10, 12), but more often it is used to summarize the basics, the simplest parts of something (cf. Hebrews 5:12, “the basic elements of the oracles of God”; Galatians 4:9, “how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?”); this is how the word stoicheion is employed in Greek mathematics, these are sequences, steps, ordered things.

What Colossians maintains here is a higher Christology. The basics of life–philosophical reflection, human traditions–are not to take the place of the gospel. The basics of life are, in the big picture, an empty deceit compared to the fullness of God which is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. Theology was once considered the “queen of the sciences,” a stance which Colossians maintains.

There may be any number of points of contact for us as we preach Colossians 2. Each congregation will have its own issues which might threaten the primacy of the gospel. I will offer two possibilities, two mismatched examples of philosophy/human tradition which vie with the gospel according to Colossians.

1. Other Gospels
I often joke in my college Bible courses that if I had been thinking straight, I would have studied the Gospels of Peter, or Mary Magdalene, or Judas, instead of the Old and New Testaments. The money is a lot better there these days. The Gnostic “Gospels” are big business; they present alternate views of Jesus which are characterized as “silenced voices” of the early church, misrepresented, under-represented, and marginalized. But these alternative views of Jesus, these other Christologies, other so-called-gospels, are not simply “other,” they are opposite to the gospel of Colossians, or Romans, or Mark. They reduce Jesus to something less than “the fullness of deity” dwelling bodily in Christ. Other gospels are just this, other, and when compared to the biblical gospel, they are empty deceits.

2. Who is buried in Lincoln’s Tomb? What is nailed to the cross and who nailed it there?

These are not trick questions, but the answer given is often wrong. For Colossians it is not our actions which nail Jesus to the cross, as if our sins are daily acts of re-crucifixion. Nor is it even the powers of this world which crucify the Christ. Colossians is much more Johannine is this sense. It is Jesus who takes our sin–our trespasses, our uncircumcision, the record which stands against us (2:13-14)–and he nails them to the cross. To make of the cross and Christ’s death upon it anything other is, again, a reduction of gospel truth to empty deceit.

What the movie Dogma gets at, albeit somewhat sacrilegiously (and perhaps unintentionally), is a problem the church faces in every generation, and apparently faced in its first generation. There are some, even within the church, who think it would be more convenient or better or more attractive or less offensive or less of a burden if God and/or Jesus looked different.

To quote Cardinal Carlin again, “People find the Bible obtuse…even hokey. … For example, the crucifix. While it has been a time honored symbol of our faith, Holy Mother Church has decided to retire this highly recognizable, yet wholly depressing image of our Lord crucified.”2

Colossians 2 exhorts us to remain steadfast in the gospel which we have been taught. Will we, like Esau, chase after potage and ignore our birthright? Will we pursue an imaginary renewed cultural relevancy through a re-imaging Jesus? Or will we continue to live our lives, build our churches, and make our proclamation as we have received it, “rooted, built up, established in the faith” of Christ Jesus, in whom the whole fullness of God dwells, and in whom we too have our fullness?

1Dogma, Dir. Kevin Smith, Lions Gate Entertainment, 1999.