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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

Dayenu on the Way to Emmaus

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Homily preached the Third Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2001 at the Church of the Good Shepherd

You may have noticed that the banners outside the front door of our church have a Hebrew word at the bottom. Probably a lot of you figured out that the Hebrew is a sort of subtitle to the word above it: “Alleluia.” If that’s what you think, you’re right. Alleluia is a Latin transliteration of the Hebrew hallelujah, which means “Praise the Lord.”

Like hallelujah, this season of Easter and Passover is also associated with another important Hebrew word that has a special significance for today’s Gospel reading.

That word is dayenu. (more…)

“You shall love the alien as yourself”

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

A parishioner wrote me a very kind and thoughtful letter that took issue with my remarks on immigration in a recent homily. Because I knew him to be an educated and professional person, I decided to respond with a rather comprehensive explanation of how our Catholic tradition views immigration. Because I feel that others may benefit from the letter I sent to this parishioner, I am posting it here, although it is a bit longer than the usual blog post: (more…)

Holy Chaos

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Pentecost homily preached at Good Shepherd Church, Beverly Hills, May 23, 1010

I am a web developer. I work in Hollywood and live in Miracle Mile. So Wednesday evening I was driving south on La Brea. As you know, there are many Orthodox synagogues in that area, and the streets were filled with faithful Jews walking to synagogue. Whole families, everywhere you looked. Probably hundreds of people, all celebrating.

Wednesday was the great Jewish harvest festival called Shavuot, also called the Feast of Weeks because it is celebrated 50 days after Passover. At the time of Jesus, Shavuot was a pilgrimage feast, which meant that everyone came to the Temple in Jerusalem. Many came from distant lands, the conquered peoples of many nations. These Jews of the Diaspora spoke Greek as the international language of business and government; they even read the Jewish scriptures in Greek. They had a Greek name for this festival as well. They called it Pentecost.

Jerusalem was filled to capacity for this harvest festival. There were crowds everywhere, festive meals and parties. And in the midst of this chaos, something extraordinary happened. (more…)

The Binding of Isaac

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

The story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son is certainly one of the most debated stories of  human history.

In this story from the 22nd chapter of Genesis, God tells Abraham that because of his willingness to sacrifice his own son, Abraham’s descendants shall be as countless as the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore, and that all the nations of the earth shall find blessing from them. And God’s promise has come true. Abraham’s descendants, the followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have brought the truth of the One God to every corner of the world. Today, half the world’s population sees Abraham as its spiritual father.

And the interpretations of the Binding of Isaac, in Hebrew the Akedah, are as varied as the three religions who claim Abraham as their father.

Once in an interfaith gathering as an exercise we attempted to condense the viewpoint of each of the Abrahamic faiths to one word. Islam was easy: literally it means “submission,” so the essence of Islam is submission to the Will of God. Judaism also gives a clue in the name of the patriarch Israel: it means “he who struggles with God,” so the Jewish viewpoint is one of struggle to understand God. Christianity, centered on the life and ministry of Jesus, is about the challenges represented by the idea of God living among humanity; it is about various interpretations of what Incarnation means in our own life.

So we have struggle, incarnation and submission. And each tradition has interpreted the Akedah from its own viewpoint. The Apostle Paul tells us that the story of the Akedah is about faith on the part of Abraham (and parenthetically about Isaac not resisting, as Jesus did not resist death). The Qur’an sees the Akedah as the primordial story of submission to the will of God (with the featured son being Ishmael rather than Isaac). And Judaism is conflicted, with many rabbinical interpretations of the Akedah that reflect millennia of struggle to deal with the implications of this story.

Among the many interpretations Jews have proposed for the meaning of the Akedah are: the most obvious one, that of a test of faith; that Abraham was tested, but the test was actually whether he would argue with God about the morality of killing his son; that the Akedah is an ancient story that explains how the Israelites came to reject the human sacrifice practiced by their neighbors.

To view the story from the viewpoint of Abraham is to become entangled in thousands of years of exegesis. So how are we to understand this story for our own lives? Perhaps we can gain something by shifting our focus from Abraham to Isaac. What was Isaac thinking?

For Isaac, this experience must have been dreadful. His own father tied him up and laid him on a stone altar, wielding a knife above his chest. To Isaac, the issue of faith was distant. To him, the experience was about trust. Bound and powerless, he could only trust his father and God.

We rarely have to demonstrate our faith to the extent that Abraham does in the story of the Binding. But we can all identify with Isaac. Seemingly powerless and unable to influence events that affect us, such as the current economic crisis, we can only trust that God will provide. We don’t have the answers, we may not really understand what is going on. But trust we do. We trust that no matter how bleak things may seem, God will find a way to bring something good out of it for us. And if we are not always the masters of our own fate, then it is good to rely on God to solve problems that seem unsolvable.

An Interfaith Pilgrimage

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Tomorrow I’m leaving for Istanbul as the first stop in an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This will be our third annual trip we’ve organized as part of the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council here in Los Angeles, and it’s unusual among interfaith pilgrimages in that it includes Jews, Christians and Muslims.

After a few days in Istanbul, our group of 39 pilgrims will travel to the Holy Land, beginning with Sunday Eucharist in the Nazareth Synagogue Church, where Jesus began his public ministry. We’ll then walk over the the Basilica of the Annunciation for one of those wonderful eye-opening moments that we’ve come to expect: the Muslim pilgrims will be just as awed by being in the place of the Annunciation as the Christian pilgrims. Muslims hold Our Lady in great veneration, and we’ll hear the account of the Annunciation from the Qur’an.

This is only one example of commonalities between the three religions that we’ll encounter along the way. One reason we’re there is to learn about what unites us as well as what divides us, rather than relying on assumptions. One of our central themes in this pilgrimage is our common heritage in Abraham, the father of all three religions. Here’s a photo of his tomb in Hebron that I took last year.

Tomb of Abraham in Hebron

Pilgrimage is a form of prayer common to all three Abrahamic traditions.

From the time of the Second Temple and well before, the ancient Jews observed three festival pilgrimages when the devout would come to Jerusalem: Pesach (Passover), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Shavout (Pentecost). For modern Jews, the concept of pilgrimage is expressed in the terminology of aliyah, or “ascent” to the Holy City.

Christianity preserved the Jewish custom of pilgrimage. Among the chief places of pilgrimage for early Christians were Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Rome, the shrine of the apostle Peter. Later popular pilgrimage sites were the shrine of the apostle James in Spain and Marian shrines in México City and Lourdes (France) as well as numerous other sites that continue to attract millions each year. In Roman Catholicism, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) described the Body of Christ as “the Pilgrim Church,” learning from every culture we encounter as we travel through every time and place to proclaim the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) directed Muslims to practice pilgrimage (hajj) as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The three major Islamic places of pilgrimage are Mecca (the site of Abraham’s temple to the one true God), Medina (the location of the first ummah, or Muslim community, where the Islamic tradition is considered to have begun in the year 622) and Jerusalem. Muslims are also known to make pilgrimages to the Catholic Marian shrines. Foremost among the Islamic places of pilgrimage is Mecca, which attracts millions each year, whose faith is renewed by this act of travel.

So our pilgrimage is, above all, prayer. In this pilgrimage we do not practice syncretism (the idea that all religions are basically the same). We offer all pilgrims opportunities to experience worship in authentic Jewish, Christian and Islamic forms. At times they are challenged to participate in worship that is different from their own tradition. We encourage them to participate in those aspects they feel comfortable with and not to participate in those which make them uncomfortable according to their beliefs.

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