Sermons from Outside the Walls- 2

He Called Our Mother a Dog

June 5, 2018

If a sermon does nothing but make you feel good, why bother with it?

Nobody goes to a gym to sit in an easy chair, open a beer, and smoke a cigar while watching the big screen TV. No! If they want a return on their monthly fees, they want to sweat and be out of breath for an hour, then go home sore. They want to lose weight, or tone muscle, or increase the capacities of their cardiovascular system and that doesn’t happen by osmosis or being pampered. It happens with hard work- being intentionally uncomfortable for awhile, so that you can live stronger and healthier for more years than you might have lived otherwise.

The same with learning about your place in the kingdom of God. And, time out: while we’re at it, right now, let’s put that word “kingdom” aside for the rest of this series. “Kingdom” is a word which is loaded, after 20 centuries of military maneuvers, royal trappings of royal weddings, and seven seasons of “Game of Thrones” with so much gold, blood, land-grabbing, and intrigue that it is misleading to a tragic degree in imagining anything Jesus intended for it to mean when he was referring to the community God wanted for humans to live within on earth.

So, from here on out, we’re going to use the word “Community.” The Community of God, as in “thy Community come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” etc. OK? “KIngdom” was only a metaphor, anyway- a word used to help humans imagine something they did not know, by comparing that something to what they did have experience with. The word “kingdom” in the year 30 would have been imagined in a very different way than we can imagine it today; therefore, let’s get it out of the way.

(If you’re stuck on thinking of Jesus as a PRINCE of Peace, like a Prince Charles or Prince Harry, remember that on Palm Sunday he came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a little three foot high donkey. In doing so, by dragging his feet on either side of that bumpy little donkey, Jesus was, if anything, demonstrating himself to be the exact opposite of anything princely, regal, or royal. He was just a guy, just like all the people, people like me and maybe like you on that road that day who were cheering his arrival even as they were thinking, “what the..?” Little did they know of the extraordinary events of the coming few days. Little did they know what Jesus would be called upon to do, or that by doing so, he would be demonstrating the extraordinary things they- we!- are also capable of doing.)

OK..now, back to learning about “your place in the Community of God.”

I’m going to point something out here that you might not like- not at first, anyway:

Jesus didn’t do what he did, say what he said, or go where he went for people like me, a gentile. In fact, for much of the time after we first meet him in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, he had his back to the gentiles. His message was for his people, the people of Israel- the Jewish people. If gentiles heard him, it was accidentally. For a Jewish man to have contact with gentiles was not a good thing by the Jewish standards of the day. By some of those standards, it was even a dirty thing to do, especially when it came to sick, dead, or female gentiles. Yikes!

And Jesus was, make no mistake about it, Jewish. A Jewish man. And he proves it right here:

Mark 7: 24-30 (Common English Bible)

24 Jesus..went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

Jesus called the gentile immigrant woman a “dog.” Try to dress that word up or soften it a little as many biblical commentators have tried to do over the centuries and it’s still a dog. It’s what a Jewish man of the year 30 or so would have called an immigrant woman. It was a default word, an unthinking but common word, a go-to word- like we might hear the words ‘wet back,’ or ‘illegal,’ or ‘hoe,’ or worse. That kind of word. You can’t soften it, it’s too sharp, and it usually leaves a scar.

This uppity gentile Greek woman was being pushy by speaking up when she had not even been invited into the room! She didn’t know her place and, indeed, there wouldn’t have been a place for her in a roomful of Jewish men! So, when Jesus was interrupted by her, when she deliberately threw herself in front of him, Jesus was spiritually, culturally, and personally upset.

syrophoenician woman“Dog!” he says, and we can only imagine the murmured agreement from others who had just witnessed this woman.

But, the woman persists! She insisted and persisted that Jesus pay attention to her. She loved her young daughter more than she cared about her own low status, so she persisted..

And Jesus’ eyes were opened. His eyes were opened by this woman in ways that revealed to him just how big this Community of God he preached about, really was. In her speaking up to him and daring to speak back to him, he heard her desperate cry of need, and he understood that God’s love did extend beyond the Jewish people “in front” of him.

There were others with ears to hear. There were others living desperately at the edges of life who also needed to know God’s love for them. In the woman’s plea, he heard for the first time, the gentiles who had, so far, been “outside” of his community. When said to her, in surprise, “Good answer!” he was, in effect, inviting her into that community. He was inviting her to stand in front of him!

But not only her. One by one, other gentiles began to come to Jesus- and were seen now by Jesus. God’s chosen people, through the example first shown by Jesus himself, were now able to witness others besides themselves hearing Jesus, being seen by Jesus, and being accepted by Jesus as people worthy of God’s love, too. No longer would “those people”  have to pick up mere crumbs!

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is regarded by many as the holy Mother of us all. And she is worthy of the honor and love shown her- she raised a really good kid, after all! But for those of us who are of the gentile persuasion- and that includes everyone who is not Jewish- isn’t this unnamed, brash, pushy, but loved Syro-phoenician Greek woman our true mother in the faith?

gentiles2

We who were not worthy in the eyes of Jewish legalists were made worthy by invitation to join and become a part of the Community of God being gathered together by Jesus. On our part, there is room for no emotions other than humility and gratitude when we accept that invitation. There is nothing for us to brag about, or to congratulate each other about. We may lead some people within the Community, but we are not leaders of the Community.

The leader remains a man, a very Jewish man. He is an Israeli man, and our cues should always be taken from him and not from false teachers who try constantly to usurp his role or make the United States or England or any other country or culture the “shining city on a hill” Jesus referred to in his sermon on the mount.

His invitation was for the woman, and us, to stand in front of him, and then to follow him. And how close and how far are we to follow?

When Jesus was on the cross, nailed, bleeding, in pain, and suffocating, among the last persons he would have seen as his head tilted forward for the last time, were the group of gentile Roman soldiers gathered below him- the ones who had lifted him onto the cross, secured him there, threw dice for his discarded robe, and finally stuck a sword in his belly to hurry his dying. His words as he looked down on them?

“Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.”

How far are we to follow?

That far.

David B. Weber

syrophoenician woman

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Spiritual Mentors: Etty Hillesum

I met a remarkable person about ten years ago in two too-short collections of her letters and journal entries. 2014 is the centennial of her birth. She died when she was only 29. As I read from the two books which contain her writings, my heart simultaneously breaks and soars. My tiny gift to her memory and legacy is to pass her enormous gift on to others who may not yet know of her.

In the context of the late 1930s and early 1940s, she was a young woman with modern attitudes. Her professional endeavors were intellectual ones, in research and psychology. Her lifestyle was decidedly outside the narrower views of morality which predominated in Western cultures of the time. Perhaps it was the untypical themes in her life before the rise of Nazi Europe that were the fertile soil in which the great spiritual fruits of her life were able to grow. My only hope here in this offering is to pique the interest of some to spend more time with her in her writings and, in so doing, know something new and more of the God that Etty came to adore.

aa hillesum 1

In 1941, Etty Hillesum, then a 27-year-old Jewish woman living in Amsterdam, began to write a journal, portions of which were finally published in 1983. The journal covers the period from March, 1941, to October, 1942- not a very long time. But, with the Third Reich in Europe at the time serving as a terrifying backdrop, the journal records the spiritual transformation of a somewhat self-absorbed intellectual into someone in deep communion with the God of her understanding. Etty has been called the Mystic of the Holocaust, but any attempt, however well intended, to categorize her spirituality is diminishing of it.
Her writings span that time period from when the Nazi oppression in the Netherlands began to worsen, and continue through to her family’s relocation to Westerbork, a holding camp for various “undesirables” being shipped weekly to Auschwitz in Germany. The last record we have of her writing is a postcard she threw from the train which carried her from Westerbork to Auschwitz. It was found by some farmers along the train’s route and mailed and mailed to the address penned on it by Etty. On the postcard were written her words, “We have left the camp singing.” Odd words, one might conclude, to have been written by someone who knew well what that train ride to Auschwitz meant. But they were words written after months of profound and wonderful discoveries about God, even in the midst of circumstances that were destroying the faith of many others.
As she had months earlier watched the intentional and cruel destruction of the Jewish ghetto in Amsterdam, she wrote in the journal she kept at the time:
“The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days, its white blossoms are floating about in muddy black pools on the low garage roof. But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed, just as profusely and delicately as it ever did. And it spreads its scent round the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You. I bring you not only my tears and my forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring you scented jasmine.. I shall try to make you at home always. Even if I should be locked up in a narrow cell and a cloud should drift past my small barred window, then I shall bring you that cloud, oh God, while there is still the strength in me to do so.”
After several months at Westerbork, where conditions became more and more crowded and more deplorable as more and more Jews were passed through its gates, Etty wrote these words of almost unimaginable meaning:
“You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue. .At night, when I lie in my bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer.”

Etty, her parents, and a brother and sister died at Auschwitz in November, 1943. The diaries and journals written by Etty before and during her time at Westerbork were not discovered until 1981. They have been published under the title An Interrupted Life-The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. The book has since been translated into 14 languages and deserves to be read by many others for years to come. Others, many others, need to know that, even in the worst of circumstances, it is possible to leave “the camp singing.”
________________________________________________________________________
Here are some other quotations from Etty Hillesum’s journals. They are part of a spiritual feast, served by Etty, which will be nourishment for spiritual seekers for generations to come:
“ALAS, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.”
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”
“We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.”

~~ aa Etty-Hillesum(Books: Etty Hillesum- ‘An Interrupted Life’, Pantheon, 1983 and ‘Letters From Westerbrook’)

“Wow!” the 4th Sunday Advent Message

This message will be finished on Christmas Eve, so if you are unable to be here Friday night (at 6 p.m.), you may want to watch on line. (http://ourchurchvideos.com/76458/jacksborofumc)

Wow!”

The fourth Sunday in Advent, 2010

December 19, 2010

David B. Weber, Pastor, First UMC, Jacksboro, TX

I really do believe this gospel story is “Wow!”

I believe this story is still unfolding, still producing new “Wows!”

And I believe we have been waiting in wonder and with wisdom now1, and that we are about to see something new.

We know the gospel story, the nativity story. We know it so well that it feels like settling into a comfortable old chair when we hear those opening words from Luke: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed..”

But my intentions this year have not been to get comfortable again with the story, but to look again at this story as a Thin Place this time- a place where, like the shepherds and the magi, we could encounter the divine nearby- as close as the condensing breath of a baby on the chilly night air.

So, in wonder, with no preconceived, prejudiced, expected or “historically traditional and acceptable” answers at the ready, I asked myself these questions:

1.What have I missed before in this story of Jesus’ birth?

2.Is there still more to be learned or to be known about the story?

Pulling from the wisdom then of a lifetime of authors, teachers, and my very own reflections; authors old and new, many Christian but not all, I am seeing Light. It’s a Light which is leading me to a place in my heart, in my soul..maybe in ways Light has led others to their encounters with the divine.

Here’s what is becoming so firm for me, so manifest, so apparent, so obvious that I am finally beginning to be able to articulate it:

The Word became flesh. And just as everything else in Creation was, once upon a time, described described as Good- that Word, that Word made flesh was also pronounced by God to be “Good.” (As in “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.”) This world, this universe, the earth, the sky, the stars, the animals- God said, “That’s Good.”

Goodness. That is what I am perceiving being revealed.

So from the scene of the stable and the manger, let’s move outward now and look at an always-becoming-larger picture:

Look first at Mary, a young woman, most likely 16, 17, 18 years old. We know nothing about her before the angel Gabriel came knocking. Nobody would have looked at her askance if she had looked out the peephole and hollered, “Get out of here!” But no, her response after the plans of God from the angel was, “Let it be.” She was a good young woman.

Joseph, Mary’s fiance. He could legally have had Mary taken to the edge of town and stoned. And who would have blamed him? His manhood had been insulted. His girlfriend was pregnant, and not by him! But he takes Mary as his wife, and raises her son as his own. Joseph was a good man.

And Elizabeth, Mary’s older cousin who Mary goes immediately to stay with at the beginning of her pregnancy. Does Elizabeth judge her cousin? Does she make Mary jump through moral hoops in return for a favor, or dictate dogma about unwed motherhood to her before she extends an invitation to stay? No, Elizabeth says to Mary, with no hesitation, “Come in, come in.” And then they sing together! Elizabeth was a good woman!

The shepherds..these were the tough guys of their day..the guys who could kill a bear or a lion with their fists and a knife. But they’re knocked over by the beauty of an angelic chorus; they’re made new by the gentleness of a baby’s presence. The shepherds were good men!

The wise men, the magi.. Riding across the property of Imperialist Rome, into the land of the puppet king Herod. The magi, following Wisdom- the Light, saw the prophecies of ancient oracles coming true and they risked their lives, their fortunes to keep that great news from the evil king Herod. They too were good men!

Most of what we have studied and understood about Christianity has been to understand the necessity of Jesus coming as the son of God to take away our sinfulness, our awfulness, our human badness. It seems as if that is how Jesus is most understood- as goodness standing in stark contrast to our badness?!

I’m here today to say something very different. I don’t believe Jesus came to make us ashamed of ourselves, or to stand in bright contrast to our dark-hardened heartlessness. On the contrary, I do believe Jesus enables us to rediscover, celebrate, and to more fully and abundantly live our human goodness. And I think today that I will probably spend the rest of my life understanding and sharing that. It is the Light that is filling my eyes, and it is also the wonderful wisdom I have waited a long time for- a Light that is also filling my heart and mind.

Have we been looking at the manger, at the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ from too many wrong and dark angles?

Have we been missing the covered-over goodness in ourselves and others that Jesus, from the time he was a baby, uncovered in all who came near him?

God looked out on God’s Creation- on the earth, the seas, the sky, the moon, the stars, animals, Adam and Eve and said, “That’s good.” God sent his son to demonstrate, to affirm that it’s still good- that it never stopped being good, and we never stopped being created in a good God’s image!

On Christmas Eve I’ll say more and tell you a story that reveals this truth- a story you will never forget.

And this is a theme you will hear me preach and teach often in the new year. But let this begin to sink in, beginning right now:

You have come near the Christ, you have reached toward Jesus, because you are good. We have been invited to the manger in Bethlehem; more importantly, we have been invited to the cross at Golgotha, because we are good.

Because we are good and we have always been good, but we have also been forgetful. And God, in the son, wants us to remember, to know, to live: we are good people.

Amen

1The three previous Advent messages have been about Thin Places, similar to the Celtic definition of them but concentrating on mental and emotional states rather than places. Wonder, Wisdom, and Waiting have been those states of being.

Things without names preclude titles for them, too

There is no name that I am aware of for this:

When an adult has a baby- a little baby, a 2 month, 3 month, maybe 6 month old baby..

When an adult- and it doesn’t matter, woman or man- when an adult

has a little baby in their lap and the baby is a little bit awake or not at all,

the adult will softly wiggle, almost without thinking, the first knuckle of their little finger into the baby’s fist.

There is no name for that wiggling of the little finger into the smaller much smaller hand,

nor has there been, nor will there be..

there shouldn’t be, mustn’t ever be

because to name that moment or minute or whole naptime (it doesn’t matter)

to name that time would be to shrink, subdue, even subjugate that time into meanings

understood only (maybe) by the adult so squeezed when, in fact,

the baby- no matter how small, even a day, even an hour- has begun with the adult

to change

history;

to make all things

new.

Because that’s how important such an encounter is, even one like this that is nameless.

The adult and the baby..

(stop here and remember, not with your mind but with the skin of your little fingertip, the last time that wiggle-then-squeeze happened. If your fingertip doesn’t remember then bring the memory up from the ancestral imagination that you were born with and that was unlocked the first time forever when you squeezed that impossibly warm handful of someone’s little finger however many years ago that was. Either way, remember without words, without meaning, just feel).

The adult separates the softclenched baby’s fist with a softmaneuvering fingertip. Why?

Because the wave spills onto the beach and reaches into the sands there as deeply as it can;

Because flower petals spread in the heat of the sun to gather as much sunlight as possible;

Because the crow lifts its head then it its wings to the updraft blowing to nowhere but lifting joy.

That’s why: it is the only reason why it has to be the only way it is that humans can be.

A stillpoint in the history of the universe. Touch, squeeze………

now..and pause.

Pause, don’t breathe for a moment. Pause.

The dance ends and the dance begins, the dance of everything that was, becomes the dance of everything that will be and both halves of eternity rest now in this moment where stories end and stories begin and where spirit wiggles and spirit squeezes and it is a single action that reverberates in all that is

including God.

Or maybe that single action-wiggle/squeeze, squeeze/wiggle- is God,

or maybe not.

There is no word that I am aware of for this.1

1 The difference in the ages of the participants in this..dance, shall we call it?..means this: not much. The adult, thus squeezed, will never separate from the baby squeezing and will, if asked, if the need is known, if privileged to, die even violently rather than know the baby is to be harmed in almost any way if such sacrificial action does not occur. Adults so touched, part of the eternal stillpoint, will lose part of themselves- their indefinable wordless selves- forever, willingly, in the baby’s fist and the baby, even without the cognitive ability to recall anything specific about the adult, or even know that the warmth squeezed was an adult will, nonetheless, hold that adult within the deepest part of their historic memory, that part of memory which belongs to the ages and always will.

@David Weber, December,2010

Reality in Tidy Boxes

Reality in Tidy Boxes*
by Tzvi Freeman, from Daily Dose, published by chabad.org)
image
Tell me you found G-d in a tidy package,
I will tell you that is not G-d, that is Mind.
Tell me you found G-d in the limitless beyond-beyond space, beyond
time-
that too is not G-d. That too is Mind.

 

image
Where the boundless dwells within a bounded space,
where darkness shines, where silence sings,
where bitterness is sweet and a moment lives forever-
there is G-d; there is the essence of all that is real.

~ ~ ~ ~

Listen up here now, I’ve some good advice for you, if you’ll listen. Are you listening? First, we put God in a box- one that we can carry around and talk about within the confines of our limited vocabulary. It has to fit in the trunk of our car, or at least in the glove compartment of our imaginations; otherwise, it will be too unwieldy and take too long to talk about. Times waits for no man, not even for  God when you get right down to it!

Next– and this might be, probably will be, necessary: others might come along claiming their god is better than our god. They might even have other names for God, or have God doing all sorts of special stunts and titillating tricks. In that case, we’ll need a little more pizazz, a little more hat, a lot more shiny paper! Look, God just isn’t that fun to look at since there’s nothing to see, so it’s not going to hurt anything or anyone or anyOne to dress God up a little. A little lipstick goes a long way- you know what they say. Hey! I’m not saying God’s a girl! I am saying that a little color, a little sway- the crowds like those things! Catch their eyes, make ‘em want to come back the next time you come to town..!

 

image

Be extravagant!  Take your time! Nothing’s too good for God! And once you’ve got the package all figured out and put together, you can use it over and over and over again! The people expect a bedazzlement! And you’re ready to give them what they want! Go get ‘em, Tiger!

(Pssst..hey! Over here.. Y’know there are those interlopers- those charlatans in the thread-bare suits who will tell you that God is bigger than you can imagine, closer than a brother, blowing in the wind, and all kinds of things. They’ll tell you God is in the flowers, in the fields, or up in the air with the birds. They’ll try to make God out to be something they can’t get hold of but something they can’t let go of, both at the same time! They say God’s coming and going, here and there, and all kinds of stuff that doesn’t make any sense. Stuff they just made up, sounds like to me! They usually don’t want to talk about money at all..imagine that! Anyway, I’m just telling you about them so you can watch out for them. They’ll try to take your market away from you, count on it!

Sometimes you might have to get really rough with ‘em. It’s been know for a few of them to get invited out to the woods and then they get themselves lost..if you know what I mean?)

God bless ya, son. You’re going to do well ! Get out there and give ‘em hell..

 

 

*thanks and a tip of the hat to Ilyse Kazar there on the lower East side of Manhattan where she watches us daily on WNYC!

Your Love, This Love, A Silent Prayer

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place  in the family of things.

© Mary Oliver

And one day, when we expect it least, or when we need it most, we see. We see beyond the confines of our imaginations, we see past the accumulated knowledge that has blocked our seeing before this day, these moments.  We see, and we know. We know that Our Name and Your Name are are without end or beginning. We reach for the edges of our understanding and there are none; nor, we know now, will there ever be the need for them again.

We are without words and so we look beseechingly to the sky, the geese, the summer winds for syntax and syllable, for punctuation and paragraph, and we hear instead the trees laughing and the clouds remembering when they, too, sought to reduce love, This Love, to language.

© David Weber

Zachariah’s Song. A Christmas Journey..

Zachariah was a priest. Married to Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. They were childless until they, like Mary, had one of those – (pregnant pause)- visits from the angel Gabriel. Then, Elizabeth and Zachariah, at the ages of 60 or 70 or so, became the proud, however old, parents of John. John who would grow up and become known as John the Baptist.

When Mary felt Jesus kick from within, she sang a song. When Zachariah saw his son, he sang a song, too. (Which may be a lesson for new mothers: remember, while you’ve been feeling that little kicker somersaulting for months; daddy’s just now holding the child,  feeling/experiencing  him/her in extraordinarily intimate ways for the first time. Forgive dad his initial blubbering.) Anyway, here is Zach’s song (remember to put a tune behind it!).

Luke 1

76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

image

St.Zachariah, as depicted on an Orthodox icon, a subject worth a whole blog’s worth of discussion some day. But here’s a preview: that is gold leaf behind St. Zach, and it has been hammered into position. Each stroke of the hammer was accompanied by a prayer, a specific prayer. Literally, sometimes prayers are the sounds of a hammer.

Note that Zachariah, as written about by Luke, is associating the story he’s become a part of to the ancient and well-known Hebrew story. Just as Mary sang of her being used to continue the covenant  between Abraham and YHWH, Zachariah’s song establishes his son John as a continuation of the prophetic  tradition in Israel- a tradition that has been silent, since the days of Malachi, for 600 years!

As all prophets do, John will be preparing the way, clearing the path, establishing a route for another who will follow- in this case, Jesus. And as all prophets also seem to do, John will die for having done a good job. John’s character will, about 1900 years after his birth, play a prominent role in the opera, “Salome,” by Richard Strauss, where he was represented, in a final shocking scene,  as a severed head.

Zachariah, though, the real subject of this piece, did his job and did it well. He would have died a happy man, having had an offspring. Thus, he had fulfilled the long-proscribed roles of husband, father, and priest very well. We are, after all, talking about him even at this moment, some 1980 years after Salome danced with his son for real!

Zachariah may have been one of the minor players in the drama of Jesus’ birth, but his presence helped establish Jesus in the Jewish mainstream, past and present. What Jesus said, did, and lived his whole life was as a Jew. He learned about his faith, as did all all Jewish children, from his parents and the other adults in his world. Cousin Zach, a priest, would certainly have been one of those persons he learned much from, and Jesus would have spent much of his growing-up years with his six month older cousin John.

It takes a village..yes?  And Jesus had one, made up of real people who cared for him as a child, son, and relative first, before they ever fully knew him as a Messiah. That “village love” would have been a huge part of his decision to accept the call on his life made by God. It had been there since before he was born, and he’d grown up surrounded by it. So it was natural that Jesus went first to a family member- John the Baptizer-when he came out of his Messiah closet.

He knew he would be accepted and safe in those first moments of his declaration. Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Joseph, and Mary: what a village it was!