Monday, August 14, 2017

Mercy for All – 20 August 2017 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 20

Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

It is too easy to take Jesus' teaching to his disciples, about what goes in and what comes out of the mouth and the consequential disqualifications for worship, as a rejection of the Law. Rather, we can look at this as a preferred interpretation of the Law. . . Jesus' words are a corrective making the Law's fulfillment once again a matter of faithful relationship—covenant relationship—with God. The covenant reality is the faithful relationship that the Law describes, and of which Jesus himself is the salvific embodiment.

The Canaanite woman. . . comes to Jesus knowing who he is and seeking his deliverance for her daughter, crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” How odd to find the messianic address coming out of the mouth of this Canaanite woman. Then too, her daughter is possessed by a demon, putting matters directly within the realm of Jesus' calling and expertise, the contest and deliverance of evil. . . .

The woman keeps coming back after Jesus' rebuffs and is adroit in her response. . . .  Her appeal is to him alone with a faith that recognizes him as master and knows the breadth and depth of his authority and purpose. The substance of her faith is remarkable. . . . This gentile woman knows who Jesus is and her faith, in accordance with who Jesus is, is fully recognized by him. She. . . brings a troubling acuity in contrast to the response of the lost sheep of Israel.

The powerful point is here established: the Messiah is in the world and there are those who can receive him with the reality and hope of salvation. The reconciling communication is bringing a measure of success to the divine-human relationship. It is this hopeful reality that puts Israel's relationship to it in new perspective. Because of the Canaanite woman, we know that nothing hangs on Israel's response. What matters is the presence of Christ and the grace that is present for those who see and hear and respond, and gloriously some do. –– John E. Smith

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Part of this message. . . means the reinterpretation of Israel's role as a chosen and servant people: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” There is a widening of Israel's self-understanding and an inclusion of the foreigner. . . if only they will hold fast to the covenant.

Certainly, it is the salvation of Israel that is imminent, but wrapped up in this salvation is God's larger purpose in calling Israel in the first place: All nations are to know God, serve him, and worship him. In this common restoration to worship of God lies peace between enemies and nations. –– John E. Smith

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Truly, there is now no distinction between Jew and gentile in either need or access to grace. All need mercy and together are offered mercy in the grace established for them. Furthering the argument, the mercy shown to the gentiles and received by them becomes the proof-in-the-pudding witness of God's mercy being made available to the Jews as well: “So they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy.” –– John E. Smith

John E. Smith has served as a Methodist pastor for many years.

Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 155-166.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A 21st-century Cathedral as an Image of Pilgrimage

Following the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony proposed to demolish the damaged 1876 cathedral to build a new cathedral downtown.

The new cathedral is built on a former parking lot, a sloping precipice that straddles the extremely busy north-south U.S. Highway 101. . . historically known as El Camino Real (The Royal Road). . . through. . . Washington, Oregon, and California. It approximates the old Mission Trail that linked Spanish and Mexican missions, pueblos, and military settlements. Twenty-one mission establishments were constructed every thirty miles or so along this 600-mile route. Before the development of the modern freeway system and accompanying signage, the Mission Trail was marked by bells hung on armatures that looked like a shepherd’s crook. Hundreds of replicated bells and staffs can be found along the trail today.

The Pritzker Award-winning architect, José Rafael Moneo, was chosen to be the principal designer for the new cathedral. After participating in the selection of the site, Moneo remarked, in so many words, that this new house of worship (which today overlooks and looms large over the 101 Freeway) would serve as a beacon of hope for thousands of drivers commuting along this modern-day mission trail. Interestingly, only one of the original twenty-one missions is actually visible from the freeway, making the cathedral even more emblematic of its missionary roots.

Professor Moneo’s plan celebrates Cardinal Mahony’s idea that the cathedral should be a place of pilgrimage and light (John 8:12). These two characteristics provided a spiritual foundation for the building.  

In this sense, this postmodern cathedral provides the same sense of journey and illumination that the soaring medieval Gothic cathedrals and churches once did. The analogous connection with pilgrim-like missionaries who built mission churches and paved the original—albeit dusty—Mission Trail, is obvious.

. . . There are no right angles anywhere in this asymmetrical building. The pilgrim’s way is seldom straight. Twenty-seven thousand square feet of thinly veined Spanish alabaster windows bathe the interior with natural light. The cathedral, built of finely honed architectural concrete reinforced with 6,000 tons of steel, actually floats on forty-seven slider base isolators. It would be, probably, one of the safest places in Los Angeles during an earthquake.

. . . The pilgrimage journey to the cathedral begins by entering through sliding perforated gates on Temple Street designed by the architect. In John’s Gospel, Jesus referred to himself as “the sheep gate” (John 10). Above this welcoming entrance, facing Temple Street, is a carillon of thirty-six bells programmed to ring out during the day, calling people to worship or reminding them to pause and pray. . . .  

Once inside the cathedral precinct, a major principle of Christian tradition is apparent—hospitality. All peoples are welcome to the cathedral regardless of their faith tradition, race, or ethnicity. Lita Albuquerque designed the gateway pool located on the ground level of the entryway. The theme for the gushing waterfall and the bouncing fountain of water, which flows over the edge of a large disc, is taken from the story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at the well. Although Samaritans were at odds with Jews, Jesus. . . cut across barriers of race and gender that separated them socially and religiously.

More from this essay will be posted on August 25, 2017. The complete text of this essay and references are available at

Richard S. Vosko, PhD, Hon. AIA, and a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Albany, has worked as a sacred space planner since 1970. His portfolio includes fifteen cathedral projects and other award-winning houses of worship in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Richard S. Vosko, “The Way of Pilgrims in a Twenty-First-Century Cathedral,” Liturgy 32, no. 3 (2017): 47-57.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Danger and Fear Meet Salvation – 13 August 2017 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 19

Matthew 14:22-33

 Still seeking solitude (cf. 14:13), Jesus went up the mountain alone to pray; the narrator repeats that he was still there alone when evening came. Two forces came down the mountain toward the disciples in the boat: first the wind, and they battled it fiercely. . . But when they saw a man walking through that storm toward them, they were convinced they were really in trouble. . .  They cried out in fear, but Jesus identified himself and said, “do not be afraid.”

. . . Peter was at once doubtful and confident: “If it is you,” he said. . .  Jesus did not chastise him for the test, but invited him to come, and so Peter did…until a strong blast of the wind slapped him in the face and brought him back. Perfect fear drives out faith, but not entirely: Peter cried out for salvation and Jesus' hand found him.

For the second time Jesus questioned a disciple's “little faith,” this time asking, “why did you doubt?” Once again the wind stopped, but this time the disciples do not ask who it might be, rather they worshipped the “Son of God.” –– Paul E. Koptak

1 Kings 19:9-18

Alone on the mountain and afraid of political and religious forces that are out to get him, Elijah waits for the Lord to come. He looks in all the wrong places for God’s presence: wind, earthquake, and fire. But the Lord was not in the powerful and destructive energies that visit Earth regularly. Instead, the Lord was in the silence which Elijah could “hear” and it caused him to recoil by covering his face.

Prof. Robert E. Bornemann, who taught Old Testament at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia held that the literal translation of the Hebrew for “sound of sheer silence” is “the sound of silence pulverized.” That is, God’s presence came to Elijah in less than silence, in crushed silence, in sound––even sound!––that was broken.

In the broken “voices” of this world, we find the presence of God. And from out of that brokenness, the voice of the Lord spoke to Elijah with assurance that his people would remain and survive.

The voice at the mouth of the cave gives Elijah the command to appoint new leaders with the assurance that he is not alone: a remnant of seven thousand remain and will survive judgment (1 Kgs 19:13–18). –– Paul E. Koptak

Romans 10:5-15

Paul draws from Hebrew scripture to support his claim that “Christ is the end of the law [telos can mean the termination or the goal. . . ] so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (v 10:4).

Each half of that claim is taken in turn; the “righteousness of faith” marks the telos of the law in the righteous life of Christ, and so it is offered to all. Paul quotes Moses from Leviticus 18:5, “the person who does these things will live by them,” thought by many to refer to Christ, the fulfillment of the “righteousness that comes from the law.” He then draws from Deuteronomy 30:11–14 to show that the “righteousness that comes by faith” neither brings Christ down from heaven nor up from the grave. Those works belong to God. . .  

In a mirror repetition of verse 9, Paul adds that one believes with the heart and is justified. . . and one confesses with the mouth and is saved (v 10). The righteousness of faith is for everyone, Paul says three times: he quotes Isaiah 28:16 in verse 11, affirms one Lord of Jew and Greek in verse 12, and quotes Joel 2:32 in verse 13.

. . . Isaiah thought messengers of good news ran on beautiful feet (Isa 52:7), even though he knew that not everyone would believe. So the church finds its great commission in evangelism and worship: “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples” (Ps. 105:1). –– Paul E. Koptak

Paul E. Koptak is professor of communication and biblical interpretation at North Park University Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 145-154.