A few weeks ago, I met with the owners of an estate sale company to try to arrange for the disposal of items remaining in my late mother’s home. No sooner had the men sat down than one of them said, “I’m sorry, but we can’t help you. What you have here is just ordinary stuff.” Their clientele was not going to be interested in buying figurines, purses, and a few pieces of vintage furniture. The men could not justify the expense of hiring help, advertising, and so on; there was no promise of profit.

Fortunately, they had advice for me about to whom I might turn whose business handled the sorts of things I had to offer. But even as I proceeded with plans with the recommended company, the man’s phrase kept bumping around in my head and heart: “ordinary stuff.”

It wasn’t long before my thoughts turned to theology. (No surprise.) It is the ordinary stuff of our lives that interests God, isn’t it? At the very heart of Christian faith is the Incarnation, the affirmation that God became truly human in Jesus. He was a typical Jewish male of his day, in whom God shone and dwelt in a unique and noticeable way. He talked about everyday things in his parables—eating, sweeping, animals, birds, employment, farming, partying—and it was through such that he revealed to us the nature of the kingdom of God. Today we remember him through the sharing of bread and wine, and we unite with him and our sisters and brothers in faith through a ritual of water, the very essence of life.

Whatever is routine, usual, quotidian, repeated daily, ordinary is the stuff in and through which God speaks and acts. As Frederick Buechner said, God’s word is incarnate in “the flesh and blood of ourselves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys.”

Neither my mother nor I had or have much that is extraordinary when it comes to possessions. But thanks be to God, he took the ordinariness of her life, and he takes mine and yours and shows his glory and love through it.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

Advertisements

Last Tuesday, Harvard professor Karen King revealed an ancient (4th century CE) scrap of papyrus in which Jesus, in a conversation with his disciples, refers to his “wife” and says that “she will be able to be my disciple.” (For the whole story, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/20/jesus-wife-5-big-question_n_1898524.html).

It sounds like something out of The DaVinci Code, and I guess some people might be upset that some early Christians were even talking about Jesus being married. As King suggested, merely the thought that such a conversation took place could shake up centuries-old traditions.

I, for one, frankly wonder what the problem is. Why couldn’t/shouldn’t Jesus have been married? Actually, we know very little about his personal life from the gospels, which were never intended to be biographies or histories in any modern sense, but theological, persuasive documents, edited according to the author’s purpose and not intended to include every detail (see, e.g., John 20:30,31). So, the texts neither affirm nor deny that Jesus was wed anymore than they let us know what his favorite foods were or what he actually did for a living (carpentry is merely an assumption based on the customs of the day) or what his house looked like (and yes, he lived in house and had a home of his own; see Mark 2:1). We can say, based on the typical practices of the day, that rabbis, such as Jesus, were expected to be married, and it would have been odd indeed for a man of his age and calling not to have a wife.

The Catholic hierarchy apparently said all they intend to say during the controversy surrounding the Dan Brown book and movie back when, which as you know affirmed that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and that they had a daughter named Sarah. But if people are upset by this latest discovery, I believe it will be because of the skewed notions about sexuality and marriage that have grown up over the centuries, primarily in the Roman tradition. These are ideas that distrust the body, regarding it as evil (as the Greeks said) rather than the gift of God (as Judaism affirmed). Nothing divine could ever have any contact with something so fleshly as marital intimacy, so if Jesus was indeed God, he couldn’t possibly be married. And also, his mother had to have been immaculately conceived, because sin is transmitted through the “concupiscence” attendant upon intercourse, even in marriage. Desire is bad. Sex is wrong, wordly, always in some way sinful. At least according to this thinking. So of course, Mary the mother of Jesus remained a virgin her whole life (despite biblical evidence to the contrary, Matthew 1:25). Priests cannot be married, but must be single and celibate.

The irony of all this is that it implicitly denies one of the central tenets of the Christian faith, in the name of the Christian faith! I mean the notion that “God became flesh,” incarnate, and thus makes holy the human experience, affirms that it is through our expression of full humanity that we encounter God, who undergirds and sustains all that we have and are as the “Ground of Being” (Tillich).

How sad and misguided is it when the Church, of any stripe, doesn’t even understand and affirm the teaching of its own scriptures?

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

Jay: “Well, this is fate! She’s divorced, we don’t want to redo the cabinets, and you need a wife. What do they call it when everything intersects?”
Sam Baldwin: “The Bermuda Triangle.”–Sleepless in Seattle

“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

*****

I was writing a check the other day (yeah, I’m old-fashioned) and noticed that the amount of the bill–$40.55—matched the number of the check I was writing for it—4055. How strange! But also how evocative, because that little surprise reminded me of how sometimes events happen and people come together in the providence of God for salutary effect.

Surely it is not coincidence when scientists on opposite sides of the globe make the same discoveries at much the same moment. When circumstances bring together two people who normally would not have met (a la Sleepless in Seattle).When your friend or spouse says the very thing you were thinking, without your prompting. Or when events in the ancient world came together to create the kairos moment for the Incarnation.

My friend the artist Jane Dalrymple-Hollo (www.janedalrymplehollo.com) talks about those moments when “the universe is being perfectly choreographed” for some purpose. We can all point to them; we have all experienced them. They are as quotidian as my owed bill and check number having the same figures and as gloriously unique and significant as the coming of the Savior. They are the perhaps paradoxical intersection of our choices and an unseen hand  guiding us. They are mysterious. They are real. They are the holy convergences that save and heal and delight.

We come to them and they come to us for such a time as this.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham