Friday, February 26, 2021

The Fascinating Wedding Feast at Cana

 One of the most fascinating episodes in the gospels is the wedding feast at Cana. We learn two very interesting lessons from this story. First, Jesus had no intention of performing a miracle. When Mary told Him the wine had run out, He said, “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”


But because Mary asked Him, He changed His plans and turned the water into wine, and saved the party. So remember this the next time you ask your friends at church to pray for you. Make sure you also ask Mary to intercede with her Son on your behalf. Because after all, a good obedient Son always does what His momma asks, right?
The second thing we learn from this story is that Jesus and His friends drank alcohol. Now, for some people that’s no surprise. But for other folks in the Christian world, especially those in the Bible Belt denominations down south, they teach that alcohol consumption is always wrong. In their view, Jesus never drank, which means the wedding feast at Cana story is all about grape juice. The host was about to be humiliated because they ran out of grape juice, and Jesus saved the day by turning water into grape juice.

With all due respect to our faithful friends down south, that’s a bunch of baloney. (And no, they did not serve baloney at the wedding feast.)

Yes, alcohol ABUSE is a sin. But the drinking of alcoholic beverages is not prohibited by the Bible. If they only served non-alcoholic grape juice at the wedding feast at Cana, it would not have been a big problem when they ran out. Come to think of it, they never would’ve run out in the first place, because I suspect a lot of guests would’ve left right after dinner.

This story in John’s gospel is fairly short. I often wonder what other details John edited out. Jesus brought all twelve of His disciples to the party, and have you ever been to a wedding where the drinks are flowing freely and one table has 13 young men? I suspect that was one of the more boisterous tables in the entire banquet hall.
And John doesn’t really record much of the conversation between Mary and Jesus. When she told Him the wine ran out, I wonder if she looked at the dozen guys at His table—who probably were feeling no pain at that point—and raised her eyebrow slightly, as if to say, “I guess we should’ve seen THAT coming.” Maybe Jesus performed the unplanned miracle because it was His friends who caused the shortage in the first place.

After Jesus changed water into wine and saved the father of the bride from a terrible disgrace, I’m sure he thanked Jesus profusely and said, “How can I ever repay you?” I wonder if Jesus smiled and said, “Wait’ll you get my bill.”

Then when He laughed and told the man He was just kidding, I can imagine Jesus asking, “How’s the food supply? Are you running low on loaves and fishes?”

Only Jesus would’ve gotten that joke, but months later, when He fed 5,000 people, Peter probably turned to Andrew and exclaimed, “Hey, wait a minute! Remember what he said at the wedding feast? Now I get it. That’s funny!” 
The fascinating wedding feast at Cana tells us a lot about Jesus. He changed his plans at the request of His mother. His first public miracle was to make sure a joyful party could continue. He and His apostles surely joined in the festivities and had a wonderful time. And it was NOT grape juice.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Pharisees Deserve a Second Look

 A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Pharisees, those religious leaders back in the first century who disliked Jesus and plotted to have Him arrested. The Pharisees are mentioned often in the gospels, and hardly ever in a good light. Jesus said a lot of harsh things about the Pharisees, often right to their faces.


But who exactly were the Pharisees? Were they really that terrible? That well-known religious history book, Wikipedia, says there were about 6,000 Pharisees during the time Jesus walked the earth, and towards the end of the first century, “Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical, and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism.”
The Pharisees were popular among common Jewish folk, compared to a different group of religious leaders, the Sadducees, who represented the priestly caste and were in many ways upper class elitists. The Pharisees resisted Greek cultural influences, while the Sadducees moved away from their Jewish roots and embraced the foreign and trendy ways of the Greeks.

Regarding religious beliefs and practices, the Pharisees were rather zealous and strict. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were progressive and modern, even to the point of denying life after death. Using today’s labels, we could say the Pharisees were conservative and the Sadducees were liberal.

Even though many unnamed Pharisees are described in the Bible as vehemently opposed to Jesus and His followers, some Pharisees are mentioned in a good light, including Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Gamaliel.

Here in the 21st century, it’s easy to look back and label all the Pharisees as a hate-filled mob masquerading as religious leaders, who did nothing but make everyone’s life miserable, in addition to causing Jesus’ crucifixion. The word “Pharisee” is often used nowadays as a pejorative term, when we want to label someone as nasty and judgmental. The word is practically a synonym for hypocrite. That’s how I used the term “Pharisee” a few weeks ago.

If we read through the gospels carefully, we notice a clear pattern in the way Jesus interacted with people. To put it in classroom terms, the Lord graded on a curve. For example, if someone was hurting — a leper, a paralyzed man, a woman about to be killed because she committed adultery — Jesus was very gentle and compassionate. Also, if a person didn’t know much about God and religion, Jesus was not harsh.
However, the more comfortable a person was, and especially if that person was educated in the Law of Moses, Jesus was a no-nonsense demanding teacher. The Pharisees were both comfortable and educated. So, Jesus did not cut them any slack. He graded on a curve, and those guys had to get every question right before Jesus would even consider giving them an “A.”
 
Jesus did not repeatedly get into arguments with the Pharisees because they were a bunch of hateful jerks. No, He argued with them because they knew so much about God and were so close to the correct understanding of what God wants from humanity, but refused to be open-minded toward Jesus’ message. They stubbornly clung to their own power and prestige.

The reason Jesus argued so much with the Pharisees was because He loved them. He truly desired for them to open their eyes and understand that the kingdom of God was based on forgiveness and joy and love, rather than rules and rituals and sterile traditions. 

To put it in modern terms, Jesus was like a basketball coach who yells at the most talented players when they don’t try very hard, but is gentle with the lesser talented players when they give their all. Don’t forget: to those who have been given much, much will be expected. The Pharisees were given much — religious knowledge, esteemed positions in the community, and economic prosperity — therefore, much was expected of them.
Instead of looking down our noses at the Pharisees, or using them to illustrate hypocrisy, we should look at them as both an example and a warning. They loved God and were zealous in their desire to serve Him. We should emulate that. But they also were stubborn, hard-hearted, and extremely critical of anyone who did not measure up to their high religious standards. Raise your hand if that describes you. (Good thing you can’t see my hand right now.)

The Pharisees are often labeled as the bad guys of the New Testament. But that’s somewhat unfair. We can learn a lot from them, and at the same time avoid the mistakes they made.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Call a Plumber — Part 2

 A few weeks ago, I offered a little advice to homeowners. I said, “Please call a plumber.” Based on years of personal (painful) experience, I simply was trying to share some wisdom with young, ambitious guys, especially the ones who recently received a new tool box for Christmas, and therefore truly believe they can tackle any home improvement or repair project.


After that column appeared in the newspaper, my good friend Mickey Blarney told me his lovely bride was annoyed with me. It seems Belinda Blarney took exception to the fact my column was directed only to men. “What about women who do plumbing projects?” Mickey said, quoting his wife.

“Um, it never occurred to me,” I replied. “I don’t know any women who do home plumbing projects. Probably because they’re too smart to wreak the kind of havoc we fellas often do.”
“Well, she told me that a lady she works with installed a new toilet in her house,” Mickey said.
“Really?” I replied. “Can you get me her phone number? I might want to hire her for a couple of projects I’ve been putting off.”

I wasn’t trying to be sexist when I focused my column only on male homeowners. I suppose there are plenty of women who can successfully replace a faucet or solder some copper pipe or, yes, install a new toilet. I’ve just never met one. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever met any men who can do those tasks without turning a small leak into a raging flood. That’s why I wrote the original essay in the first place, with the sincere request, “Please call a plumber.”

I also suppose there are women plumbers with their P-1 license who are working for plumbing and heating contractors. Or maybe they own their own contracting companies. But again, I’ve never met one, at least if you don’t count Ralph on the TV program “Green Acres.” I’m starting to suspect that “Green Acres” was not a very realistic show, so maybe Mary Grace Canfield, the actress who played Ralph, was not a licensed contractor after all. On the other hand, I am certain that Eva Gabor’s character, Lisa, was spot-on realistic. I mean, there are Hungarian-born socialites living in Manhattan who move to rural pig farms all the time, right? Especially if there are pigs living there as smart as Arnold Ziffel.
(Uh, where did that “Green Acres” riff just come from? Apparently, there’s a lot of weird stuff crammed into the far recesses of my brain, mostly from 1960s and ‘70s sitcoms. Don’t even get me started on “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “M*A*S*H,” or else we’ll be here all day.)

Again, as I mentioned, when I wrote that column I was not trying to be sexist. Go ahead and say it: “You don’t even have to try, Bill.”

Speaking of old sitcoms and being sexist, go back and watch some episodes of “M*A*S*H,” especially from the earlier seasons, and tell me Hawkeye’s behavior toward women was just cute. Uh huh. Ol’ lovable Hawkeye was kind of the Harvey Weinstein of Korea, wasn’t he?

Anyway, if any other women out there besides Belinda Blarney were offended that my “Call a plumber” column was directed solely toward men, I apologize. If there are female homeowners who do plumbing projects, that’s great. No, wait. That’s not great. My main point still applies: call a plumber. After all, a woman wielding a pipe wrench can create just as big a leak as a man. 
Don’t be upset. I’m just trying to share a little wisdom, even though I’m not nearly as wise as Uncle Jed Clampett. Well doggies!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Apostles Call in Air Strike on ‘Enemies’

 During Jesus’ earthly ministry, there was a time when He and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, and they went through a Samaritan village. Samaritans and Jews did not get along very well, and when the locals found out that Jesus was heading for Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, they did not offer Him any hospitality. When two of Jesus’ apostles, James and John, saw this, they said to Him, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from Heaven to consume them?” (Luke 9:54).


Whoa, wait a minute. The apostles wanted to KILL the Samaritans just because they were not friendly. They wanted to call in an air strike on the enemy position! Sheesh, those guys must’ve just finished watching a Rambo movie marathon. 
Exactly what crime did the Samaritans commit that deserved the death penalty? Well, they were rude toward Jesus. OK. If rudeness is an acceptable reason to kill someone, then just about everyone on Facebook deserves to get zapped.

It sounds like those two apostles would fit right in with our modern, politically fractured culture. No longer do people express their views with the hope of convincing others to understand, and then “agree to disagree” if they don’t see eye-to-eye. Oh no. Nowadays, whoever does not hold our exact viewpoint is immediately labeled as “the enemy.” And if they’re the enemy, then they are dangerous. And if they’re dangerous, then the proper thing to do is eliminate them — for the good of society, of course.

This way of thinking allows people to loot stores and then set them on fire. Why? Because those stores are owned by “the enemy.” It allows people to storm the Capitol building and search for politicians to execute. Why? Because those particular politicians are “the enemy.” It allows someone to post total lies on social media and ruin another person’s life. Why? Because that other person is “the enemy.” And it allowed the apostles to desire that molten lava should fall from the sky and incinerate Samaritans. Why? Because those Samaritans were “the enemy.”
It’s not as if the apostles spent the previous few years holed up in a rural compound, stockpiling guns and ammo, and absorbing every extremist conspiracy theory that spewed forth from the bowels of the internet. Their ability to reason had not been clouded by nasty propaganda. Instead, they spent the previous few years traveling with Jesus, and listening to Him preach a message of forgiveness and love and peace.

So, where in the world did these guys get such a powerful urge to fry Samaritans? Well, that’s exactly where it came from: the world. That is, it came from mankind’s sinful nature. If you haven’t noticed lately, we human beings can be quite cruel quite often. And especially whenever we’re worked up into an “us vs. them” lather, the atrocities occur with frightening speed.

After James and John asked if it was OK to charbroil the Samaritans, the Bible explains, “Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village” (Luke 9:55-56).

Wait, that’s it? Boy, I wish Luke had offered more details when writing his gospel. Saying that Jesus “turned and rebuked them” is so brief and rather tame. I suspect that Jesus’ response was really intense, really prolonged, and contained whatever was the first century version of, “Are you out of your freakin’ MIND?!!”
The apostles lived day-in and day-out with the Prince of Peace, and yet they did not hesitate to seek violence against their perceived “enemies.” To make matters worse, they actually thought their “fire from Heaven” idea was holy and righteous. This should be a sobering lesson for those of us who may be caught up in the “us vs. them” mindset that demonizes anyone with differing views and beliefs.

I’m not sure exactly how Jesus “rebuked” James and John. I bet it was quite vehement and harsh. Let’s be careful tossing around that “enemy” label. After all, who wants to be on the receiving end of the Lord’s rebuke? 

New Cable Provider Causes Xtreme Pain

A couple of months ago, it dawned on me that I had not smashed a hammer into my thumb in quite a long time, which meant I was overdue for some self-inflicted pain. So, unable to locate my hammer, I decided to do something equally as painful: switch to a different cable TV provider. To prevent corporate lawyers from coming down on me like a load of bowling balls dropped from the Goodyear blimp, I will not mention the name of the cable company, other than to say it may or may not rhyme with the word “Bombast.”

They actually have a different brand name for their cable service, which for legal reasons I also will not mention. But if you remember from math class, the letter “X” stands for an unknown, while the term “infinity” means something that is endless. So, if you combine an unknown with infinity, you will get both the brand name plus the answer to this question: “How long will I have to wait on-hold to speak with a Bombast customer service representative?”
My intention was to sign up at least for high-speed internet, and if the price was reasonable, add on a basic cable TV package. If the TV price was too high, I planned to get only the internet and subscribe to a streaming service like Hulu or YouTube TV.

After waiting on-hold for approximately three-and-a-half infinities, a customer service rep finally got on the line. I explained to him what I wanted. He said they had a special offer just for me: high-speed internet plus the basic cable package with over 100 channels for only $89.99 per month. When I asked what internet alone would cost, he said $1,000 per month. (No, I’m kidding. I forgot the exact amount, but it was not much less than $89, making the internet-only and separate streaming service not an economically wise option.)

Then I asked him a question that seemed to catch him by surprise. “So, you’re saying,” I began, “that my total bill each month — the TOTAL amount I have to pay — will be exactly $89.99 and not a penny more, correct?”
 
“Well, um,” he hesitated, “that is the price of our special offer.”

“But is that the total amount of money out of my pocket, or are there additional charges?” I asked.
After going back and forth for a couple more infinities, he finally acknowledged there sometimes are additional fees and charges. (He was, of course, using the definition of the word “sometimes” that means: every single stinkin' time.)

At that point, it was way past my bedtime. My head was throbbing. I remember having this thought: “I wish my hammer wasn’t missing. The pain in my thumb would’ve subsided by now.”

I finally gave in and agreed to sign up for a two-year plan with, quote, “Great features and a super low price!” My best estimate is that it would cost me about $140 per month.

So, a few weeks later, I received my first invoice: $233.84. What?! Once again I called customer service, this time to complain. After waiting on-hold for the requisite three-and-a-half infinities, a different representative explained there was a one-time $75 installation charge included in the amount. “You mean for the guy in the van who plugged in the cable box and the wifi modem, and then left three minutes after he got here?” I asked.

“Exactly!” the representative cheerfully replied.
It turns out the regular monthly charge will be $161.25, which is probably not terrible for high-speed internet and over 100 TV channels. 

But for that kind of money, I could’ve bought a lot of hammers. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Doctor Jesus Has the Cure

In this week’s gospel reading, a leper came to Jesus, kneeled down before Him and begged, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 

Jesus was moved with pity, and stretched out his hand to touch the leper. He said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 

Scripture says, “The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.” 
Nowadays leprosy is very rare, as are many other diseases that once struck terror into people’s hearts. We take our health problems to medical doctors, who, all in all, do a tremendous job of curing our afflictions and illnesses. The advances in science and medicine in just the last 75 years are breath-taking compared to the previous 5,000 years of recorded history. 

The vast majority of the population today would never think of bringing their physical problems to Jesus, figuring that a doctor would be much more effective. On the one hand, this makes sense. I mean, if I accidentally cut my hand with a power saw, I would head straight for the emergency room rather than my parish rectory. (Besides, my pastor would be upset if I gushed blood all over the carpeting.) In this case, I’m sure it would be God’s will that I seek out a doctor rather than have someone pray over my bleeding hand. 

I don’t remember the exact details, but many years ago a family in Massachusetts refused to bring their sick child to a doctor, convinced that prayer alone could cure him. A bowel obstruction, which could have been fixed easily by surgery, ended up killing the youngster. There’s no way this course of action was God’s will. These folks, in my view, were very foolish. 

On the other hand, many people today assume that physical healings via spiritual means are impossible. We think that God is either not capable or not interested, even to the point of thinking that the miracles described in Scripture are fables made up years after the fact. 
This, too, is a foolish point of view. God is the master physician. He created us; He certainly is capable of curing us. The spiritual gift of healing did not die out with the first century believers. There is far too much evidence, there are far too many first-person accounts, simply to dismiss the power of prayer. People have been miraculously cured through healing Masses and other prayerful methods. 

Although medical science has made remarkable advances — our life expectancy keeps rising despite the fact we work overtime to ruin our health (“Hey honey, I’m running out to the store to buy some Slim Jims and cigarettes, you need anything?”) — there are a couple of diseases doctors have been unable to cure. Medical science is powerless to address the problems of sin and death. 

Oh sure, we try to deal with these ailments. We pretend there is no such thing as sin, and we completely ignore death. But refusing to face these problems does not make them go away. 

Sin is like spiritual cancer. If left unchecked, it eats away at our soul until we are no longer recognizable. And death, of course, is always lurking out there, waiting to snatch each and every last one of us away from this life. 

The only physician who can heal us of these deadly diseases is Dr. Jesus. Only he has the power to truly forgive our sins and make us clean. Only Jesus can offer us the gift of eternal life so that when our time in this world is through, our souls can live with Him forever in Heaven.

So, whenever you have a health problem, by all means go to a doctor. It’s God’s will that we use our collective knowledge and wisdom and science to make our lives better here on earth. But don’t neglect prayer. God does have the power to work miracles. And certainly don’t neglect our two most chronic ailments: sin and death. Make an appointment with Dr. Jesus right now. He has the cure. 

Eureka! It’s Time to Move Some Stuff

 Sometimes “Eureka!” moments happen when we least expect it. The original “Eureka!” happened to good ol’ Archimedes when he climbed into a bubble bath and splashed soapy water all over the bathroom floor. This caused Mrs. Archimedes to exclaim, “Eureka my butt! Who’s gonna clean up this mess?!”

Another “Eureka!” moment occurred many centuries later when an apple fell onto Sir Isaac Newton’s head. When that happened, the brilliant scientist yelled, “Eureka! Good thing I wasn’t sitting under a watermelon tree!”

I had a “Eureka!” moment the other day, and luckily for me it did not involve flooding the bathroom or getting hit in the head with falling fruit. I was chatting with my friend Mickey Blarney, who just sold his house and downsized to a condo. Mickey was telling me what an ordeal it was to move, and surprisingly, his story hardly mentioned the things I assumed were important: real estate agents, lawyers, money, and mortgages. Here are the main words he used repeatedly to tell me of his adventure: attic, basement, closets, industrial sized dumpster, Goodwill, storage unit, moving company, furniture, hand truck, ropes, blankets, bungee cords, borrowed pick-up truck, boxes, bags, bubblewrap, and bins. Lots of bins, that is, those large plastic ones they sell at Target and Walmart. Mickey lost count of the number of bins he and Mrs. Blarney purchased to make their move. All he knows is that right now each room of his condo has a couple of bins in the corner, and the storage unit he had to rent is stacked to the rafters with bins.

As Mickey continued to talk, I suddenly had my “Eureka!” moment. The profound thought that popped into my head was this: “Three-quarters of all human activity involves moving stuff.”
Just think about it. We spend at least 75% of our waking hours moving our possessions from one spot to another. Here are some common expressions heard in every household: “Wash the dishes.” “Take out the trash.” “Clean up your room.” “Put away your clothes.” Each of these activities causes stuff to be moved.

Or these frequent statements: “Where’s the remote?” “I can’t find my boots.” “Have you seen my keys?” “Do we have any cookies?” Whenever these questions are asked, some items are about to be searched for, and when found, moved. Or in the case of the cookies, if none are present, very soon some will be moved from the grocery store to the house.

Which companies are experiencing record sales these days? FedEx, UPS, and Amazon. Why? Because they move stuff.

On a personal level, just think of how many times during a typical day we move things. No matter what occupation we write down on our tax returns — sales, construction, management, attorney, teacher, plumber, etc. — each and every one of us is in the shipping business. We could write down “delivery driver” and not be lying. Or if you want a little classier description, go with “logistics coordinator.”
After having my “Eureka!” moment while talking with Mickey, I went home, took a good look around my house, and said to myself, “We have WAY too much stuff in here. It’s time to get rid of some of it.”

The process of moving excess stuff out of the house should require about 75% of my time during the next few months. It will be a lot of work, but I know it will get done because I’m a human being, which means my primary occupation is “logistics coordinator.”

I just need to make sure I don’t move a bunch of soapy water onto the bathroom floor, or my “Mrs. Archimedes” will Eureka my butt.