Tuesday, February 16, 2016

James Babbs writes

Jesus Is the Lighthouse

Jesus tears off his halo and 
shoves it into this pocket 
before turning away from me 
he says 
he’s tired of feeling like 
some damn lighthouse and 
he walks over to the couch 
and sits down in front of the TV 
I can see the faint glow 
through the fabric of his jeans 
I’m waiting for him to 
tell me another parable 
something along the lines of 
how we’re all lost ships 
sailing through dark and 
stormy waters and 
he’s the lighthouse 
guiding us to the shore 
but he just sits there 
his arms crossed in front of him 
I ask him 
if he wants a beer 
he runs his hand through his long hair 
says sure 
before getting up and 
heading toward the bathroom 
but first he says 
I need to part the red sea 
one of his dumb jokes 
that always makes me laugh

Jesus our lighthouse


  1. The Feast of Tabernacles (or sometimes the Feast of the Ingathering) is the English name for the seven-day Sukkot (Feast of Booths), one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals which Jews, including Jesus, were required to celebrate at the Temple in Jerusalem. It was held sometime between late September and late October and originally marked the end of the harvest year, but eventually commemorated the Exodus and the Jews' dependence on the will of God. (The "sukkōt" were the walled temporary structures covered with "the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook" in which the pilgrims would live for the week, the same name as the shelters farmers lived in during the harvest, and were intended to symbolize the Jews' dwellings during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, during which time their leader Moses, and his priestly brother Aaron, gave them their laws and religious rules; they were saved from the Egyptian army when the waters of the Red Sea parted to let them pass then rushed back to normal and destroyed the Egyptians.) Throughout the holiday, Psalms 118:25 ("Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!") was recited, but to understand the drama surrounding Jesus at the feast, the entire psalm forms the necessary background:

    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
    Let Israel say:
    "His love endures forever."
    Let the house of Aaron say:
    "His love endures forever."
    Let those who fear the Lord say:
    "His love endures forever."
    When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
    he brought me into a spacious place.
    The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?
    The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I look in triumph on my enemies.
    It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in humans.
    It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
    All the nations surrounded me,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
    They surrounded me on every side,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
    They swarmed around me like bees,
    but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
    I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
    The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.
    Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
    "The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
    The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!"
    I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
    The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
    Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
    This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
    I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.
    The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
    the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
    The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.
    Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!
    Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
    The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
    With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.
    You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.
    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
    [New International Version]

  2. In the light of this ubiquitous prayer, the events of John 7-8 become clearer:

    After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, "Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

    Therefore Jesus told them, "My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come."

    After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, "Where is he?" Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, "He is a good man." Others replied, "No, he deceives the people." But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

    Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, "How did this man get such learning without having been taught?"

    Jesus answered, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?"

    "You are demon-possessed," the crowd answered. "Who is trying to kill you?"

    Jesus said to them, "I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly."

    At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, "Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from."

    Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, "Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me."

    At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, "When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?"

    The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

  3. Jesus said, "I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come."

    The Jews said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, 'You will look for me, but you will not find me,' and 'Where I am, you cannot come'?"

    On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

    On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Messiah." Still others asked, "How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

    Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn’t you bring him in?"

    "No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards replied.

    "You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law — there is a curse on them."

    Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, "Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?"

    They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee."

    Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.

    The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

    At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

    "No one, sir," she said.

    "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

    When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

  4. The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid."

    Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me."

    Then they asked him, "Where is your father?"

    "You do not know me or my Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also." He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.

    Once more Jesus said to them, "I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come."

    This made the Jews ask, "Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, 'Where I go, you cannot come'?"

    But he continued, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins."

    "Who are you?" they asked.

    "Just what I have been telling you from the beginning," Jesus replied. "I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world."

    They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."

  5. Even as he spoke, many believed in him. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

    They answered him, "We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"

    Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

    "Abraham is our father," they answered.

    "If you were Abraham’s children," said Jesus, "then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father."

    "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself."

    Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

    The Jews answered him, "Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?"

    "I am not possessed by a demon," said Jesus, "but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death."

    At this they exclaimed, "Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?"

    Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."

    "You are not yet fifty years old," they said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!"

    "Very truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"

    At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

    [New International Version]

  6. At least part of the message given by Jesus during the last half of the festival was in response to the ritual concerns expressed in Psalms. But the traditions connected with the final day of the proceedings, and the day afterward, also provide an important context. The seventh day of Sukkot was Hoshana Rabbah ("Great Hoshana/Supplication"). The roofs of the booths were made of the same plant products which were ceremonially carried around the Temple each day (and seven times on the last day). These were ritual demonstrations of gratitude for a fruitful year. They also represented tearing down the wall that separated the Jews from their God, as Joshua's encircling of Jericho caused its walls to fall down in the period immediately after the Exodus. Jews believed that, although the judgment for the new year was "sealed" on New Year's day (Rosh Hashana),10 days later Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, was held, and Sukkot began five days after that, so the judgment was not "delivered" until the end of Sukkot, after a period of reflection and repentance provided a possibility that the original verdict could be improved. Celebrants would routinely wish each other "a good note" in hopes for a positive outcome. The benedictions of Jesus outlined his ideas on what that entailed. As part of the proceedings, a "hoshana" would be recited in honor of each patriarch (Abraham,Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David (the ancestor of Jesus; these hoshanot were accompanied by a series of liturgical verses that expressed hope for the speedy coming of the Messiah (HaMashiach, "anointed one" or "anointed king"), the mystical concept of a future righteous ruler, a descendant of king David who would reunify the tribes of Israel in a single Jewish state and usher in an age of universal peace. But the establishment did not approve of trying to predict when that figure would arrive because of concern it would weaken the people's faith. The term was derived from the use of holy oil as a consecration ritual in conjunction with kings, priests, prophets, the Temple, its utensils, unleavened bread, and even king Cyrus of Persia due to his decree to rebuild the Temple. (It would be translated into Greek as "Khristós," but Christians redefined the figure as a divine spiritual savior and assigned the role to Jesus.) After the liturgical poems were recited, five willow branches were beaten on the ground as a prayer for rain and success in agriculture as well as to symbolize the elimination of sin. So, on "the last and greatest day of the festival," Jesus proclaimed, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink."

  7. Shemini Atzeret (the "Eighth [day of] Assembly"), the day after Sukkot, was devoted to the festival's spiritual aspects. It served to "guard" the previous week's activities, to recapitulate its message in an effort to retain it through the coming year. In addition, though "atzeret" meant "assembly," it shared a linguistic root with "atzor" ("stop" or "tarry"), reflecting people's propensity to spend an additional day with God and with friends. People continued to eat in the sukkah but stopped sleeping in them. The seven processions around the Temple were repeated, but without the ritual objects that were reserved for Sukkah. Selections from the books of the Prophets were read, a practice that was perhaps instituted against the Samaritans, who denied the canonicity of those books, and the "entire" Torah (actually, all of Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17) was read because the passages referred to the separation of agricultural gifts (like tithes and terumah), which were due at that time of the year. Since the feast marked the traditional end of pleasant weather and the beginning of the wet winter, religious leaders began praying for rain during the holiday and would continue to insert these prayers until Passover in the spring. It was on this day that Jesus began his open challenge to the authorities, defiantly setting his message against the traditional one on the very occasion that was set aside to reinforce it.


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