Jesus Comes to His Hometown

When Jesus visits Nazareth, his neighbors don’t know what to make of him. 

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The gospels (Matthew 13:53-58, Mark 6:1-6, Luke 4:14-30) tell us that after his baptism, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. Here everyone must have known Jesus. He after all had grown up among them. He had probably played with the other Nazareth children as a child. He had undoubtedly provided his carpentry services to the village residents.

But the visit does not end in any celebration of a hometown boy who has done good. Instead the villagers drive him out of town and even try to kill him. It is a grim story of rejection.

Father Eric Hollas, a monk at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, takes up this gospel story and extracts from it a very thoughtful sermon. I want to commend it to you for your reading. He titles it Are We Citizens of Nazareth? It gives a very contemporary and practical take upon the Biblical story.

Father Hollas writes a blog called A Monk’s Chronicle. I find it nourishing reading. You may want to check it out.

He is also a talented photographer. So every blog posting comes with a selection of his photographs, taken during his frequent travels. If you delight in stunning views of ecclesiastical architecture or of landscapes and gardens or of close-ups of flowers and paintings, you might find them as much of a delight as I do.

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Remember Lot’s Wife

When memory does not serve us right.

Every now and then, another reader of the Bible calls my attention to a small detail in the text that I have never noticed before. Often that happens with a text that I have read many times.

One blog I follow regularly is A Monk’s Chronicle. The author is Fr. Eric Hollas, a Benedictine monk with St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. I enjoy reading it, and I commend it to you.

In his most recent posting Fr. Hollas notes that in Luke 17:32, Jesus tells his disciples, “Remember Lot’s Wife.” It is an admonition within Luke’s telling of Jesus’ eschatological discourse, where Jesus responds to a question on when the Kingdom of God will come. I’ve never noticed this sentence before until Fr. Hollas called my attention to it.

The line alludes back to the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah told in Genesis 19. God rescues Abraham’s nephew Lot, his wife, and his two daughters by commanding them to leave the city hastily before God destroys it. They are also ordered not to look back as they flee. Lot’s wife, however, does, and is instantly turned into a pillar of salt.

Is there an insight for us in this tragic story? Fr. Hollas believes there is, and I found it an interesting take on the story. I suggest you read his whole posting.

Veiled Glory

Sometimes an image captures a theological truth better than words.

This past weekend, my wife and I made a visit to St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. One purpose was to view the St. John’s Bible. This is a contemporary illuminated manuscript production of the Scriptures. It has been created in the tradition of and in tribute to the many illuminated manuscripts of the Bible that were produced in monastic scriptoria during the Middle Ages. It is the first such Benedictine-commissioned manuscript Bible in the last 500 years.

The Bible is written on vellum skins in an elegant, but very readable contemporary calligraphic script. Scattered throughout the pages are magnificent illuminations of the text. Some are small graceful decorations of the text. Others are small vignettes that relate to the text. Still others are full-page paintings.

One of those full-page paintings stunned me. It is a rendition of the crucifixion that is positioned opposite to Luke 23, which recounts the story in words. (I am sorry I can’t run a picture of it on my blog. I could not find any digital images of the page I could use that did not have copyright restrictions. But if you wish to see the page, I suggest you click on the posting for Good Friday, March 25, 2013, on the blog A Monk’s Chronicle. There you will find an image that you can click on to enlarge.)

The illumination pictures Jesus’ crucifixion. The body of Jesus is a bit indistinct, but you can still discern it. What strikes me about this image is the explosion of glorious light that emanates from this cross. The light is conveyed through gold leaf on the page. The glowing light seems not only to envelop the body of Jesus, but also to be expanding out from that body like an exploding supernova.

Often we see the crucifixion depicted in all its blood-and-guts violence and realism. No one has matched that vision quite like another favorite image of mine, the image of the crucifixion in Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece. But in the St. John’s image, the crucifixion is all light and glory, even though on the edge of the image the darkness seems to be trying to stab into the light with deadly dagger thrusts.

What stunned me about the St. John’s image is that it captures a recurrent theme in the Gospel of John. This is the theme that the crucifixion is the moment when Jesus is glorified. A couple of quotations from John illustrate that theme as the gospel recounts the final days before the crucifixion:

John 12:23

[Speaking of his upcoming death], Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

John 17:1

[In the context of the Last Supper], After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you….

So strong is this theme in John’s Gospel that scholars call the second portion of his gospel (John 13-21) the Book of Glory.

I have always had a hard time grasping how John could see the ugly crucifixion as the moment of Jesus’ glorification, and, for that matter, of God’s glorification. Were not the resurrection and the ascension really the moments of glorification? The crucifixion has seemed to me to be the moment of greatest degradation.

I could never understand this viewpoint of John’s Gospel until I saw this image in the St. John’s Bible. Here is the glory of Jesus shining brightly in the very moment of the crucifixion. The glory is there, but is veiled to our uncleansed eyes. For it is at this moment that the love of God for humanity and for all creation reaches its moment of greatest depth. The love of God is the glory of God, and that love reaches its ultimate expression in the death on the cross.

Christianity has a long history of iconoclasm where the word is exalted as far superior to the image in conveying theological truth. It has provoked moments of tragic destruction of Christian visual art. In the Protestant churches where I grew up it was especially strong.

But it is a false dichotomy. Sometimes images convey a spiritual insight far better than do words. That certainly happened for me as I viewed this image of the crucifixion from the St. John’s Bible. The image was a divine revelation. For that I am deeply grateful to the artist, Donald Jackson.