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Lenten Reflections: A Time to Ponder Conundrums?

'Ocean and sky' photo (c) 2005, Franco Vallejos - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Friday, March 8, 2013

Lectionary readings:

Ecclesiastes 2:1-16
Mark 6:47-56
Colossians 1:11-20

By Spencer Gibbins

The readings for today left me with a sense of bewilderment, but with the assurance that I was joining with others in the centuries-old Christian community in pondering these mysteries. It brought back two familiar adages to mind: that the more I learn, the less I know; and, as Lucy in Peanuts told Charlie Brown, “Stand up for your right to be wishy washy!” (in what I think I know).

It begins with the Book of Ecclesiastes, attributed to King Solomon, but more likely written long after Solomon’s time by a “teacher” to focus on the limits and contradictions of life in order to teach wisdom. The author describes the life of a “king” who masters everything in his environment, only to conclude that “all is vanity”. Ecclesiastes 16: "For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools?"

Even in Mark and the relatively familiar story of Jesus walking on the storm-tossed water to join the disciples in a boat, I found new puzzles. As Jesus walked out on the sea, he saw the disciples and "He intended to pass them by" (Mark 6:48). He joined them only after seeing how terrified they were of him (a ghost?) and the storm. My commentary suggests this may allude to God’s veiled self-disclosure to Moses: "[A]nd you shall see my back but my face shall not be seen" (Exodus 33:23).

The story continues to say that the disciples were "astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves ...but their hearts were hardened" (Mark 6:52). The disciples themselves were confused, not knowing what to believe, though Mark goes on to describe the local inhabitants of the region, then rushing about to bring all the sick to Jesus to be healed by touching Jesus’ garment. For them, there seemed to be no confusion.

In the final reading for today, the entire book of Colossians, which purports to be a letter from Paul to a gentile congregation in Colossae in present day Turkey, turns out to be probably written by someone else. Biblical scholars doubt that Paul wrote it, based both upon some of its theological content (contrary to much of what Paul wrote in more authenticated letters) and its literary style. The author of this letter seems to be making a case that what had been accomplished in Christ gave believers access to God and wisdom. Others felt that access to God was gained only through visions and special relationships with angels. He also describes Christ thusly: "He is the image of the invisible God" (v.15). Think about it, the image of the invisible. Is that not a conundrum?

All of these scriptures leave me feeling a bit befuddled and confused. I join with the Old Testament “king” and with the disciples in pondering the conundrum which is everyday life. When you think of it, the very basis of our New Testament belief system is full of such seeming contradictions. You must lose your life in order to save it. The last shall be first. Perhaps Lent is a good time to sit still and just “be” with these seeming contradictions in our experiences in life and in our beliefs. We are, after all, preparing for the greatest event and conundrum of all, the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Prayer: Almighty God, hear us in our confusion as we live in our daily contradictions. Guide us, calm us and help us find the faith of those who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Amen                                                                                             

Spencer Gibbins is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.


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