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The Women Around Jesus

On Sunday July 31, 2006 I had the honor to deliver the Homily for the All Souls Universal Catholic Church in Allen, Texas. The title of the Homily was “The Women Around Jesus” based on the Gospel of John 4:19-26, The Samaritan Woman At The Well.

All Souls Universal Catholic Church Altar

 

Sheila Graham

Sheila GrahamSheila Graham worked for Grace Communion International as a writer and editor. She has a master’s degree in theology.

Hurley, James B. Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective.Man and Woman In Biblical Perspective

Shawna R. B. Atteberry

Shawna R.B. Atteberry

 

I am an author, speaker, and theologian. I write both feminist theology and urban fantasy. My first book What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down was released in February 2013. I am now working on my second book, a compilation of sermons on the women in the Bible, and I recently finished my first novel, Mutability, a feminist vampire story (go to S. R. Atteberry to find out more about my fiction). I also speak at churches & conferences as well as preach. I have 15 years of experience in both writing and editing. I am an ordained minister. I have 17 years of experience as a pastor holding various associate positions and as a laypastor. My specialties are Biblical Studies, Feminist Theology, Spiritual Formation, and Christian Formation and Education. I hold an M. A. Theological Studies, and I’ve been writing on the women in the Bible and women in church history for the last 15 years.

 

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There May be Hell To Pay, Just Not Hell To Stay

On Sunday last  All Souls Catholic Church, Allen, Texas – a Universal Catholic Church – had a guest preacher, Deacon Marti Martison who is a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) Deacon-Cannon.  Certain phrases or sentences popped out at me, such as:

There may be hell to pay, just not hell to stay.

God’s ways are surely not our ways, but let not man make a tyrant
of God.

No soul is forever lost from the love of God

L to R: Frederic L. Milliken, Jim Kviatkofsky, Bishop Tony Howard, Deacon Marti Martinson

L to R: Frederic L. Milliken, Jim Kviatkofsky, Bishop Tony Howard, Deacon Marti Martinson

Here is the message he brought us:

Luke and the Great Commission

by

Deacon Marti Martinson

Before concentrating directly on the universalist message in today’s Gospel reading,
I’d like to give some background details on the Gospel of Luke. Luke is third in the New
Testament canon of scripture, and may have been written at about the same time as the
Gospel of Matthew, around the 80s of the common era. Mark, second in the canon, is
actually believed to have been written first, possibly in the 70s. John, the last in canonical
order, may also have been written last, in about the 90s. Luke is believed to have been a
companion of Paul, a Greek, and a physician, as well as the author of the Book of Acts.
These are attested to in the Pauline epistles Colossians, Philemon, and Titus. It would be
too difficult to go into here, but it should be noted that Colossians AND Titus are DISPUTED
Pauline texts: some scholars do not believe Paul wrote Colossians and MOST scholars are
sure Paul did NOT write Titus. Or Timothy.

Getting back to Luke: Luke and Matthew contain common stories; Luke contains its
own L stories, and Matthew contains its own M stories. The common stories are believed to
have been from a now-lost document called Q for quelle, or German for “source”; for it was
German theologians who devised this. The complete gospel of Luke is themed somewhat as
follows:

 firstly, the universality of the “Good News” from Jesus – not just to the Jews, but to
Gentiles and all others on whom the favor of God rests;

 secondly, concern for social “outcasts” – Jesus’ own first sermon as recorded in Luke
cites Isaiah’s mission to the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed;

 thirdly, repentance – which leads us to a reorientation toward God and, hence,
reconciles us to one another;

 and fourthly, the ethical aspects of wealth – sharing it, properly accounting for it, and
earning it justly.

After the Easter Resurrection, and after his appearance to the two on the road to
Emmaus, Jesus appeared to all of his disciples just prior to his ascension. So says the Gospel
of Luke. Chapter 24 of this Gospel is, in fact, the last chapter of Luke and does contain the
Resurrection, the road to Emmaus, the Appearance, and the Ascension. Embedded within
the Appearance is “the great commission”:

that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name
to all nations

This scene is also mentioned in Acts 1:3-8, and in a sentence in Corinthians (1 Cor 15:7),
which is an undisputed Pauline text.

The universal message in Luke, again,

that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name
to all nations

was a very important point in the history of my denomination. It was taken as instruction
AND promise, in that it was being PREACHED because it was going to HAPPEN to everyone.

As you have been undoubtedly warned, I am not a Universal Catholic; I am a Unitarian
Universalist. I actually WAS a Liberal Catholic for a time and “feared and trembled” under
the yoke of your Bishop, then Seminary Chancellor. But that was another life ago…..

Actually tracing its theological past to the Alexandrian theologian Origen who
promoted the idea of “ultimate, universal salvation”, the Universalist Church of America
was independent before its merger with the Unitarian Church. It did not lose its “Christocentric focus” after the merger, and historically it contained clergy and congregants who believed in the wide range of immediate salvation after death FOR EVERYONE to limited punishment FOR EVERYONE after death, both still having a fervent hope “that no soul is forever lost from the love of God”.

In support of this, Thomas Whittemore, a man whom Hosea Ballou, a prominent
Minister in the history of my denomination, convinced (cajoled, really) to become a Minister,
penned five “points” of universalist Christian theology. They are somewhat reminiscent of
the Four Solas developed by early Protestant theologians to differentiate themselves from
the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The Solas were, and are, Scripture Alone,
Faith Alone, Grace Alone, and Christ Alone, while the Whittemore “points” can easily be
summed up:

What God wills – is purposed.
What God purposes – is promised.
What God promises – is oathed.
What God oaths – is sent.
What God sends – is accomplished!

If God’s activities included all these, willing and purposing and promising and oathing
and sending, what accomplishment is there in the Calvinist pre-destination? Why even send
a messenger to preach repentance and forgiveness in his name unto all the nations? Why
would Jesus have to die for the sins of ONLY those who are going to be forgiven, justified,
and redeemed anyway? God’s ways are surely not our ways, but let not man make a tyrant
of God.

Biblical interpretation can take many forms, but at least seven have been identified
by Bishop Robert McGinnis of the independent and theologically-universalist Liberal
Catholic Church. The McGinnis text is not exhaustive of every book of the Bible. It is,
however, a serious attempt to present scripture as NEITHER infallible nor inerrant, but the inspired search for God. Among the seven forms he included systematic, dogmatic,linguistic, literal, spiritual, and prophetic. Proof-texting, which will be explained in a moment, is a “negative” form, in that it can often generate an incomplete picture. I offer these:

John 3:17 – For God SENT not the Son into the world to condemn it; but that the world
through Him might be saved.
Titus 2:11 – For the Grace of God has APPEARED, bringing salvation to all.
Lam 3:31 – The LORD will not cast off forever.

Pulling out passages without any sense of the surrounding ones, can lead to things
being taken out of context. But when such a recurrent theme, via a systematic approach to
interpretation, is displayed among disparate instances, and even ages of time, there is a
prudent basis for the “fervent hope” that, literally, “no soul is forever lost from the love of
God” due to “the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins unto all the nations”.

There may be hell to pay, just not hell to stay.

The Book of Promises, a Universalist compendium of bible verses supporting
universal salvation, also contained the universalist sentiments of a Methodist, the first
Methodist – none other than the founder John Wesley himself:

O, why should any be violent against us because we hope for universal
deliverance? From that very hope a degree of salvation springs. We pray that
none may be angry with us, even if they consider us to be in mistake; for such a
temper is not justifiable in any case. Rather let them wait and see if the Lord . . .
will not have all to be saved and come unto the knowledge of truth.

Let us be attentive to the preaching of repentance and forgiveness, with our minds and in
our hearts and by our actions. Amen, and may it be.

 

 

 

The First Pentecost

Wikipedia describes the First Pentecost as follows:

The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. Present were about one hundred and twenty followers of Christ (Acts 1:15), including the Twelve Apostles (i.e. the Eleven faithful disciples and Matthias who was Judas’ replacement) (Acts 1:13, 26), his mother Mary, various other women disciples and his brothers (Acts 1:14).[4]

Their reception of Baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room is recounted in Acts 2:1–6:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.[5]

While those on whom the Spirit had descended were speaking in many languages, the Apostle Peter stood up with the eleven and proclaimed to the crowd that this event was the fulfillment of the prophecy (“I will pour out my spirit”).[6] In Acts 2:17, it reads: “‘And in the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.” He also mentions (2:15) that it was the third hour of the day (about 9:00 AM). Acts 2:41 then reports: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”[7]

Peter stated that this event was the beginning of a continual outpouring that would be available to all believers from that point on, Jews and Gentiles alike

Bishop Tony Howard

Bishop Tony Howard

But Bishop Tony Howard of the All Souls Catholic Church, Allen, Texas – a Universal Catholic Church will tell you that the First Pentecost occurred earlier right here:

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20: 19-23

The key here is the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit – And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is where the Holy Spirit makes its first appearance.

The other question that is sometimes asked is where in the Bible does it say lay people, or anybody for that matter, can forgive sins – Bishop Tony says well it does so right here in this scripture –  ” I am sending you …  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

St. Clement Of Alexandria Reorganized As All Souls Universal Catholic Church

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All Souls Universal Catholic Church—serving all souls, remembering all souls. An independent chapel in the Liberal Catholic tradition, our worship is formal, yet open to all seekers, reflecting an attitude of mystical devotion to the Holy Trinity as well as a profound respect for humanity, made in the image of God. Spiritual seekers will find here a haven of peace and a sanctuary for regeneration in the midst of an increasingly fragmented, uncharitable, and chaotic world.

202 North Allen Dr., Suite E * Allen, Texas  75013  972.377.3828

http://allsoulsuniversalcatholic.org/

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The Universal Catholic Church exists to forward the work of her Master, Jesus Christ, and to feed His flock in the world. It is a self-governing body, independent from the Church of Rome. The Church is called Universal Catholic because its outlook is both universalist and catholic; it combines the Catholic form of worship—its stately ritual, its deep mysticism, and its abiding witness to the reality of sacramental grace—with a wide measure of intellectual liberty and respect for the individual conscience. The crippling fear of God’s wrath, the attitude of abject self-degradation, and the haunting fear of eternal hell play no part in Universal Catholic thought. We believe that such beliefs are contrary to the image of a loving Heavenly Father reflected in the Gospels.

Our mission is to grow in holiness. St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) wrote: “The Logos of God became man so that you may learn from man how man may become God.” The Christian life, therefore, is one of theosis, of becoming more and more like our Teacher, Jesus Christ. Salvation is a process, not a product. Come grow in holiness with us through worship and mutual affection .

“His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life. . . that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature.” 2 Peter 1:3-4

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Come Worship With Us, All Are Welcome

Meeting Address: 202 North Allen Dr., Ste. E

Allen, Texas  75013

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 2145 * Allen, Texas 75013

Email: bishoptony@allsoulsuniversalcatholic.org

The Most Rev. Tony Howard, M.A., M.L.A.

Pastor & Bishop of the Diocese of  Texas

The Rev. Jerry Sullivan, Ph.D., Deacon

Cathedral Chapel of St. Clement of Alexandria (Universal Catholic) Easter Message

I think we see in Bishop Tony Howard the right man for the right job in the right place at the right time. I say that because in St. Clement’s Easter service he once again said. “I am not a preacher.” All of us who attend St. Clement are really glad that he is not a preacher, because that is not what the Catholic church is all about, Liberal, Universal or otherwise. And those of us who are Catholics by choice know that. We are a sacramental church not a church of the word. The Eucharist is where it’s at . Any homily is frosting on the cake, but it’s not the cake. So Bishop Tony you don’t have to apologize to us. We love you just the way you are.

 

Bishop Tony the floor is yours:

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Here’s a copy of the Easter homily of St. John Chrysostom I intend to deliver Sunday. I find Easter homilies vexing. Short of saying, “Christ is risen,” I don’t know what else to do that doesn’t sound pretentious or pious. As I said in the introduction to A Month of Sundays, I’m not a preacher. When the mass is rightly understood and well celebrated, it does more good than a zillion words. Even so, I know folks expect to hear a sermon on Easter. One could certainly do far worse than share a classic from a Patriarch whose name means “golden tongue.”

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)

 

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The Hardest Parable

The Hardest Parable

The Unjust Steward

 

 

 GOSPEL READING

 

Luke 16: 1-13

 

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property

He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you?

Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’

The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?

I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.

I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’

He called in his master’s debtors one by one.

To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’

He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.

Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’

Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’

He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’

The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note, write one for eighty.’

And the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently.

“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.

If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?

If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?

No servant can serve two masters.

He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.

You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

 

The parable of The Unjust Steward always needs a lengthy explanation for it is not clear right away who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. That is why it was so interesting to go to two Masses and listen to two different interpretations of the same scripture.

At the Roman Catholic Mass Father Danny saw the steward’s doctoring of the books as an attempt to curry favor with those who owed his Master a debt. In this interpretation Father Danny sees the master as commending the steward for his cleverness.

But then he asks, if you can be clever for what is wrong why cannot you be equally clever for good? God gave us wisdom. Instead of abusing that gift cannot we use it for the betterment of humankind?

Do we use our God given wisdom to make bigger and better weapons or for more effective medicine?

In the end Father Danny still saw the steward as the bad guy and the master as blameless in this account.

At the Universal Catholic Church Bishop Tony asks, “Who do we identify with – the steward, the rich man or those who got a huge discount?”

This parable, continued Bishop Tony, is similar to another parable where a large debt is forgiven in the hope that the forgiven would do likewise, forgive the debts of those who owe him. This similar parable is forgiveness from the top down.

But in the case of the Unjust Steward forgiveness comes from the bottom up.

Bishop Tony then introduced us to another book this week – “The Parables of Grace” – reading some of the chapter titled “The Hardest Parable”.

In doing so he pointed out a few of the concepts introduced by its author Robert Farrar Capon.

1) Grace works only on those it finds dead enough to raise.

2) Grace cannot come from respectability

3) The unjust steward can be seen as a Christ figure

Here is a major portion of that chapter “The Hardest Parable” from the book “The Parables Of Grace”.

The Parables Of Grace

The Parables Of Grace

In any case, it all boils down to the fact that there are basically just two ways of interpreting this parable: you can make the steward out to be a hero or you can make him out to be a villain. Obviously, if you decide to read the parable as verses 1-8, the white-hat interpretation will be your natural choice; but if you read it as verses 1-13, the black hat will seem to fit better. It’s worth noting, though, that each interpretation has a price to pay. If you make the steward a bad guy, several things don’t make sense. In the first place, the heavily moralized parable that that gives you consists ill not only with the preceding parable in Luke but with the entire tone of the final journey to Jerusalem. Jesus has been on a grace trip for seven chapters now: he has been talking lastness, lostness, death, and resurrection, and he has again and again made it clear that the bookkeeping department’s heyday is a thing of the past. Why, then, at this stage of the game, would he poke in a parable that has none of the above as its main point – that amounts to little more than a surgeon general’s warning that “shady dealing is hazardous to your soul’s health”? Above all, why on earth would he put into the parable verse 8 (“And the Lord praised the unjust steward because he had acted shrewdly…”) – a verse which, unless it is taken as pure sarcasm, makes no sense whatsoever if you take the steward as a plain old bounder?

On the other hand, if you make the steward a good guy, verse 8 becomes the principal support for your interpretation – so much so, that you are willing (as I am) to lop off the rest of the passage in order to do justice to its decisiveness. Even at that price, though, the steward-as-hero interpretation seems preferable: it is, as you will see, consonant with the whole thrust of the parables of grace; in particular, it allows the parable to voice once again the theme of forgiveness-by-resurrection-from-the-dead that is the burden of so much of what Jesus has been saying. It even allows you to entertain the most bizarre and fruitful notion of all, namely, that of the unjust steward as Christ-figure. But more of that shortly. time now to expound the parable in order.

It begins with some nameless informant telling a certain rich man that his steward has been wasting (diaskorpizon) his money (hyparchonta, possessions). Score one fascinating point right there for a “grace” rather than a “morality” interpretation of this parable: diaskorpizein is the same verb used in the Prodigal Son to describe the boy’s “wasting” of his substance in the far country. From Jesus’ very choice of words, therefore, we are given a hint of continuity. Next, the master – without any trial or even fair inquiry – simply reads the steward the riot act: “What’s this I hear? You’re a disgrace! Turn in your books! You’re fired!” Score yet another point for continuity: just as with the Prodigal Son, death enters this parable early, and as a pivotal consideration. The son found himself dead in the far country; the steward comes out of his master’s office with none of his old life left at all.

But at this point, the parable of the Unjust Steward diverges from the Prodiagal Son and begins to look more like an upside-down version of the Unforgiving Servant. Watch “So the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do now that my master has taken away my manager ship? I’m not strong enough to work as a laborer. I’m too proud to be a beggar. Aha! I’ve got it! I’ll use my brains and ace out that unforgiving tyrant. So he wants to play letter-of-the-law games, does he? He would like me to turn in my books, eh? Well, I’ll do just that – after I’ve made a few … adjustments.'”

What he does, of course, is call in his master’s debtors and settle accounts with them at considerable write-offs: he knocks the bill of one of them down by half, the bill of another by a fifth. all of which might produce a number of different results, depending on how you estimate it. On the one hand, it might at one and the same time make him look bad to his master and good to the debtors. If the master ever remembers any of the originally owed amounts he could be so furious over being gypped that the presence of cash in the till would hardly be enough to mollify him. But then, if the debtors thought kindly of the steward’s write-offs, they might, as he hooped, “receive him into their houses” after he was officially fired.  On the other hand, his sharp dealing could, with even more logic, be read as making him look good to his master and bad to his debtors. For all we know, the master may have been overjoyed to get even fifty cents on the dollar from deadbeats like those. Likewise, for all we know, deadbeats like those could very likely have spotted the steward as no better than themselves and refused to give him office space.

But whichever of those readings or combination of them you decide to go with, the deciding factor remains verse 8. “And the Lord praised the unjust steward, for the children of this age are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” Somehow, between verse 2 (“What’s this? You’re fired”) and verse 8 (“My beamish boy! You’re a genius! I never thought I’d see even a nickel from those accounts!”), the master of the steward has turned from an unforgiving bookkeeper to a happy-go-lucky celebrator of any new interest that comes along. And what happened to him, can, as I have said, be best understood by comparing this parable with that of the Unforgiving Servant.

In that parable, forgiveness starts from the top down: the Lord, who is owed ten million dollars by one of his servants, simply drops dead to his own claim and absolves the debt. His intention, of course, is that the servant will take the hint and likewise drop dead to the hundred dollars owed to him by a fellow servant. But as Jesus tells the story, things do not work out that way – the forgiven servant chooses a bookkeeper’s life rather than a spendthrift’s death and thus short-circuits the working of forgiveness. Still, the point of the parable remains unchanged: grace works only on those it finds dead enough to raise.

Exactly the same point is made in the parable of the Unjust Steward, but by a reversal of the story’s device: forgiveness in this parable starts from the bottom up. Here, it is the lord of the steward who starts out unwilling to drop dead to any of his bookkeeping: He will not die to the steward’s peculations, and he will not die to the accounts past due that he has never succeeded in collecting. The steward, however, does die; and because he is freed by his death to think things he could not have thought before, he is the one who, from the bottom of the heap, as it were, becomes somehow the sight of a loser bringing off a coup like this in the very thick of his losses finally loosens the old boy up: ‘My God!” the master says, “My whole life has been a joke, and only now I learn to laugh at it!” But the steward is also able to be the resurrection of his lord’s debtors because they wouldn’t consent to deal with anyone but a crook like themselves: they would never have gone near him if they hadn’t been convinced he was dead to all the laws of respectable bookkeeping.

As far as I am concerned, therefore, the unjust steward is nothing less than the Christ-figure in this parable, a dead ringer for Jesus himself. First of all, he dies and rises, like Jesus. Second, by his death and resurrection, he raises others, like Jesus. But third and most important of all, the unjust steward is the Christ-figure because he is a crook, like Jesus. The unique contribution of this parable to our understanding of Jesus is its insistence that grace cannot come to the world through respectability. Respectability regards only life, success, winning; it will have no truck with the grace that works by death and losing – which is the only kind of grace there is.

The parable, therefore, says in story form what Jesus himself said by his life. He was not respectable. He broke the sabbath. He consorted with crooks. And he died as a criminal. Now at last, in the light of this parable, we see why he refused to be respectable: he did it to catch a world that respectability could only terrify and condemn. He became sin for us sinners, weak for us weaklings, lost for us losers, and dead for us dead. Crux muscipulum diaboli, St Augustine said: the cross is the devil’s mousetrap, baited with Jesus’ disreputable death. And it is a mousetrap for us, too. Jesus baits us criminals with his own criminality: as the shabby debtors in the parable were willing to deal only with the crooked steward and not with the upright lord, so we find ourselves drawn by the bait of a Jesus who winks at iniquity and makes friends of sinners – of us crooks, that is – and of all the losers who would never in a million years go near a God who knew what was expected of himself and insisted on what he expected of others.

You don’t like that? You think it lowers standards and threatens good order? You bet it does! And if you will cast your mind back, you will recall that is exactly why the forces of righteousness got rid of Jesus. Unfortunately, though, the church has never been able for very long to leave Jesus looking like the attractively crummy character he is: it can hardly resist the temptation to gussy him up into a respectable citizen. Even more unfortunately, it can almost never resist the temptation to gussy itself up into a bunch of supposedly perfect peaches, too good for the riffraff to sink their teeth into. But for all that, Jesus remains the only real peach – too fuzzy on the outside, nowhere near as sweet as we expected on the inside, and with the jaw breaking stone of his death right smack in the middle. And therefore he is the only mediator and advocate the likes of us will ever be able to trust, because like the unjust steward, he is the only one who has even a chance of getting the Lord God to give us a kind word.

“And the lord praised  the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly”: “This is my beloved Son, Hear him” (Mark 9:7).

“For the children of this world are shrewder in their generation than the children of light”: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth (John 1:14)…and his own people did not receive him (John 1:11). He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant …and finding himself merely human, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death – death on the cross. Therefore God himself exalted him and graced him with a name that is above any other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2: 7-11).

Lucky for us we don’t have to deal with a just steward.

Universal Catholic Church

Universal Catholic Church

St. Clement of Alexandria

St Clement of Alexandria is part of the Universal Catholic Church , Bishop Tony Howard, Pastor. Here is a church that is very traditional in its worship service. Mass is very close to the original Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass with a little more joy inserted and some Anglican flavor added. The Universal Catholic Church is a continuation of the Liberal Catholic Church.

While worship is traditional, all the baggage that comes along with Roman Catholicism has been dropped – the politics, the judgments and the necessity to control personal actions. Bishop Tony Howard says, “the Universal Catholic church offers the beauty of Mass while allowing absolute freedom of conscience.”

This congregation is located in Allen Texas. Please visit the website at http://www.scalcc.org