Monday, October 17, 2011

Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum

Monday, October 17, 2011 -- Week of Proper 24, Year One
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and Martyr, c. 115

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 988)
Psalms 25 (morning)    //     9, 15 (evening)
Jeremiah 44:1-14 
1 Corinthians 15:30-41 
Matthew 11:16-24

Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  ...And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?  No, you will be brought down to Hades.  For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.
Sometimes I've wondered how I might have responded had I lived in Galilee during Jesus' ministry.  Would I have paid attention to him and to his movement?  Would I have listened and responded? 

Had I been a fellow fisherman with Peter, James and John, I probably would have reacted to Jewsus in a way that depended entirely of my opinion of his companions.  Had the mercurial Peter and the "sons of thunder" ticked me off sometime in the past, I probably would have painted Jesus with their annoying, over-reactive brush.  Had I been comfortable and settled, prosperous and blessed, I probably would have been suspicious of the potential for his movement to overturn the status quo.  Had I been with the Roman occupiers or one of their Jewish collaborators, I would have judged Jesus from a guarded perspective, dependent upon my own sense of threat or stability.

Had I lived in Chorazin, thought to be a synagogue following the stricter teaching of Rabbi Shammai, I probably would have seen Jesus as a heretic and a threat to good religion.  Had I lived in Capernaum, said to be allied to the milder teaching of Rabbi Hillel, I probably would have been more open to Jesus' message as it seemed compatible with what I would have grown up with. 

I don't know whether I would have recognized and appreciated the opportunity to see him face to face, to know him personally, had I had the good fortune to live in one of the towns where he taught.  I might have just been too busy to pay attention, too preoccupied with my own affairs.  I might have been too embarrassed to risk association with one whose reputation was so mixed.  I might have been too dull of spirit to recognize how this teacher was different.  (I'm still haunted that I didn't hound my parents, like some of my friends did, to let me go to the Beatles concert in 1964.  I didn't sense, as some of them did, what a big deal it was.)

Our context shapes so much of our character, opinions, vision, and potential.  It limits and it opens possibilities to us.

The people of Tyre and Sidon did not have the same opportunities of those in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum -- to hear and respond to the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus tells his Galilean neighbors that the foreigners would have responded more energetically. 

Sometimes I wonder how much of my response to Jesus is cultural because I have been raised in an Episcopalian home, and how much is my own heartfelt and creative embrace of his being.  I'm sure that if I were raised in Islamabad, I would be a Muslim today.  I imagine I would be a Muslim there in something of the same manner that I am a Christian here.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in the environment that raised me.  But I wonder what I haven't seen and known simply because of my own cultural blindness.  I wonder if other people from other cultures, if given my opportunities, might do much more and be far more faithful than I have been. 

I'm always bothered by proud expressions of American exceptionalism, phrases like "the United States is the greatest country in the world; America is Number 1."  Yes, we have been given so much -- natural resources, the protection of two oceans, a heritage of liberty.  But I wonder, if some other tribe or people had been given these gifts, might they have done better with them than we have?  I know there are cultures where people take care of each other and mitigate suffering with a profound sense of communal obligation.  I wonder if our ancestors had been from some of those cultures, would we be a more just and loving nation?

Elsewhere, in Luke, we hear Jesus say, "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded."  (Luke 12:48b)

Jesus says to his listeners, "Just because you're from Capernaum and enjoyed my synagogue teaching doesn't mean you're more virtuous than the ancient people of Sodom."  That message has teeth for us too.


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Nancy H said...

I've often wondered the same thing, which you articulate so well here.

And just for the record, Americans weren't "given" their resources; they took them through expansion and an attitude of Manifest Destiny. Talk about entitlements!

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

America is the greatest country! I don't say that from a place of pride, but out of love for my country. Patriotism is of the heart and is not an egoistic position.

I have been to around ten services at St. Paul's and there has not yet been a time when personal views of politics wasn't mentioned. Although I have many of the same views, I would much prefer to learn about Jesus and how to love others, than political ramblinigs, whatever the persuasion. Most people who attend the Episcopal Church are already liberals, so political sermons are seemingly an unnecessary indulgence.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thank you for both of your comments, Anonymous.

First, I'm glad you have come to services at St. Paul's. And I guess I'm not surprised that personal views of politics have frequently been a topic of conversation. Ours is a politically active congregation, and Episcopalians tend to take their civic responsibilities seriously.

I am careful not to keep political comments rare from the pulpit. And when I do, as I did this week, I try to express my conviction that good people (good Christians) can and do disagree about such things. When I preach, I try to teach about Jesus, about the Scriptures, and I try always to ground that in the love of God.

Rarely in my sermons will you find political commentary. This week's sermon was an exception.

In my newspaper column I try to connect the Christian experience with contemporary events.

In my blog, I do a bit of both.

"America is the greatest country!" I can accept that if it is said in the same way I might say "My wife is the best wife in the world," or "the University of Arkansas is the greatest college in the world." That is an appropriate expression of pride and love.

But it moves from pride to hubris when one embraces a sense of superiority because one is from the U.S. or married to my wife or a graduate of the U. of A. Those are all good things, but there are other great countries, wives and universities. It is right for us to respect them, and to respect the love and pride others may have for them.


At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me guess which other great countries you are talking about. First there is . . . and then . . . and don't forget. . . . Oh yeah, the rest pretty much suck.

And to previous Anon,If you want to learn about Jesus, read the Bible, if you want to learn about Lowell's version of Jesus, go to St. Pauls.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Dear Anonymous #2

My best friend growing up now lives in Sweden with his wife who is from there. He's lived in both countries a long while. He would tell you, that from dozens of perspective Sweden is a far more happy, healthy, loving, joyful, and moral country. He grieves for his home and for so many problems we have failed to address as constructively as Sweden has.

In June Art Hobson wrote a column in the Northwest Arkansas Times about some of the areas that the U.S. trails badly when comparted with other developed countries. I couldn't pull it up online, but he referenced it in his most recent column that is still posted, with this quote: "in categories such as health, poverty, mortality, homicides, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage abortions, income disparity, marriage duration, transportation, and incarceration, we’re not even in the top 15" in the world's rankings.

Every foreign country I've visited (and I've been fortunate to travel a lot) has qualities I admire and would wish for my country, and I always find new ways to appreciate my home nation whenever I'm away. They don't "pretty much suck."

As to your last little diss. It's fine with me for you to say how you might disagree with my interpretation of Jesus or of scripture. I'm doing exactly what you suggest -- I'm reading the scripture every day to learn about Jesus. I hope you do the same. Tell me what you think.


At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My last comment was not a diss, it is a fact. Every preacher reads the Bible and gives their interpretation. If your anon want to know the Jesus of the Bible all he has to do is read it, if he wants your version then he goes to St. Paul's. We are to be Bereans after we hear a sermon.

Maybe we should all move to Sweden, lol. I really don't like America very much right now to be honest, tho there is nowhere else for me right now. No country that kills its most vulnerable can be considered good or moral.

At 12:32 PM, Anonymous turkish translation services said...

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