“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Come and get it.
Breakfast’s ready. Lunch and dinner, too.
This kitchen serves it up 24-7.
Open all day. Open all night.
Never a second when the door is closed and none of the doors have locks.
And there’s a place around the table for everyone.
Yes, come and taste and see that Lord is good.
In fact, the Lord is something quite special.
Delicious and sustaining.
A meal unto itself.
“Taste the Lord.”
What an extraordinary invitation the psalmist extends to us.
We aren’t invited to read something and think about it.
We aren’t asked to lock ourselves away in deep meditation in hopes a revelation will come to us.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Merriam-Webster’s definitions of “taste” are telling:
“To ascertain the flavor.”
“To perceive or recognize.”
“To become acquainted with by experience.”
And all of these definitions directly apply to the invitation to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Ascertain the flavor of Love.
Become acquainted with Love by experiencing it.
I mean, really, what more could we possibly want?
After all, this love is all we need.
And for that we can thank Jesus and the door he opened to the Trinity of Love and our relationship with it.
The concept of the Trinity can be difficult to wrap our heads around. Let’s leave our heads out of it and use the taste buds of our soul, instead.
Think of the Trinity as the most incredible meal in the history of the world. The Holy Spirit is the wondrous scent that whets our appetites. We can’t see it or taste it, but we know it’s there, invisible but palpable. Jesus is this Love made manifest among us. The sight of this Love. The voice of it. The touch and feel of it. And it is Jesus who leads our souls to a direct place at the table with this Love:
“I in them and you and me, may they be perfectly one,” he prays to Love in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John.
A prayer that was answered.
God’s Love is already deep inside our soul. Taste this miraculous truth.
Swallow it. And inwardly digest the feast.
“One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about 5,000 in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”
—The Gospel of John
The hero of this parable isn’t Andrew. And, despite this legendary miracle, the hero isn’t Jesus, either.
The heroic figure in this story is the anonymous the boy.
But perhaps we know more about him than we think.
We know that he came to see Jesus, and apparently alone because there is no mention of any parent or adult with him. So he is brave, questing and probably quite spiritual. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a youth.
And he brought five barley loaves and two fish. Nobody else in the crowd had any food readily visible. Why did the boy have the loaves and fishes? If he had traveled far, the bread and fish might have been all the food he had to survive the journey. Or, if he’d come only a short distance, the boy might have arrived prepared to share his food with others. For that is what he certainly did.
Either way, he is also of a giving, compassionate nature. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a boy. And that makes me wonder.
I especially wonder what Jesus said to the boy as Andrew and the other disciples were telling 5,000 people to sit down. Jesus didn’t just walk up and take the five barley loaves and two fish from the youngster. Of course not. He would have spoken to the boy about the hunger of the people all around him, and the wondrous possibilities if the boy gave him the loaves and fishes.
Jesus once said that unless one becomes like a little child it will be impossible for them to enter the kingdom of heaven. This parable shows us what he meant by that.
The boy didn’t make a fuss about giving Jesus all of the food he’d brought with him. There was no argument. Their conversation attracted nobody’s attention because there is nothing written about it. All the words were spoken quietly between Jesus and the boy.
Nor did the boy question Jesus’ ability to feed so many people with so little food. No, Andrew, the adult, had done that. The boy simply gave Jesus the five loaves and two fish, fully expecting Jesus to feed everyone there.
The boy clearly had the strong faith of innocence, the kind of faith that could walk on water. I wonder if Jesus saw himself in the boy, recognized a kindred spirit. I suspect that he did.
No, there would have been no famous miracle without this unknown boy who knew the kingdom of heaven when he saw it. And, standing there with Jesus, that child made the kingdom of heaven manifest to the 5,000. And to us.
I wonder where in the world that boy is today.
Here’s a thought:
You’ve got a barley loaf. I have a fish. Let’s go in search of him.
After all, he may be waiting somewhere for us with Jesus.
And if we do undertake this journey and do somehow find him, we will also find ourselves.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.”
—the Gospel of Mark
The apostles’ energy reserves were drained to the dregs.
They’d walked everywhere telling as many people as they could about the Kingdom of Heaven. They had blisters on their feet and aches and pains all over.
Jesus heard the fatigue in their voices.
Saw the lines of weariness on their faces.
Discerned the stoop of shoulders.
Jesus had been there and felt all of that.
He understood the danger of burning up all of one’s physical, spiritual and emotional fuel without pausing to re-fill the tank.
Such self-neglect could have dire consequences to them personally and to their mission.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus regularly went off “to a lonely place” by himself, re-charging his batteries through prayer, contemplation and just plain rest.
He knew the prescription the Apostles needed to have filled for their rejuvenation: Go off to that lonely place and rest.
Jesus’ advice is timelessly wise. But going off to a lonely place can be nearly impossible because most of us carry the crowded world and all of its incessant distractions everywhere with us:
Smart phones. The digital umbilical cord connecting us to static chatter and hubbub.
Can’t live with them.
Can’t live without them.
When the Apostles went off to that quiet hillside by the sea for their spiritual retreat, they did not take the compulsive demands of social media with them.
Texts and emails did not call upon their time. The only tweets came from the birds singing among the trees at dawn. There were no incoming Instagram messages to respond to. If you’d said “Facebook” to them, they would have wondered what in the world you were talking about.
Yes, the apostles could have found effective ways to incorporate social media into their mission, spreading The Gospel by streaming Jesus live, putting the Sermon on the Mount on YouTube.
Just as all of us are fortunate to have social media as a useful tool to expand our ability to communicate and connect. As you and I are doing now. But we need to manage our social media rather than be managed by it.
Today, Jesus would have this additional piece of advice for his Apostles: “Oh, yes, and before you go off to that lonely place to rest, leave your smart phones with me. Otherwise, you will never find a lonely place. Every hillside, shaded glen and mountaintop will be filled to overflowing with the world and its distractions.”
We’d be wise to listen to him. Our lonely place might be a quiet room in the house, the shade of a tree in the back yard, the sanctuary of our church on a Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon, or some favorite trail at a local state park.
When we go to those lonely places to re-charge, let’s turn our smart phones off and leave them behind. Without the world’s siren song, we can better hear the small, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit in our soul.
And take it back with us into the world when our rest is done and there is more work to do.
I’ve had some faithful companions wonder how to pronounce the Aramaic translation of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” that is in this week’s blog, The Language Of Love. A very good question and I should have stated how I pronounce the words, as a helpful hint for those who want to join in speaking the words of Jesus in his own language as part of their daily prayer. Here goes:
“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”
I pronounce it:
Saulshahnee emmasawyou lahtbearee leebah tubahone lahbeel deeknown itbahyune
A handful of years ago, I bought an English/Aramaic dictionary because I wanted to learn something of the language of Jesus.
Feel how some of the words that he spoke felt on my lips and tongue.
How they sounded in my voice, but imagining I was able to hear him, instead.
If we were able to journey back in time to the hillsides, shore and mountains along the Sea of Galilee, of course, we wouldn’t understand a word that Jesus was saying.
We’d have to decipher the meaning by listening carefully to the timbre of his voice.
By the look in his eyes toward us as he spoke them.
And from the reaction by those around us who understood the language but were, in many cases, stunned by the meaning of what Jesus was saying.
All of his words were turning the world upside down and inside out in ways that were as unexpectedly hopeful as a second sunrise on a day that had promised only total eclipse.
So, I decided to translate one of The Beatitudes from English into Aramaic. I don’t know how successful I was but I do know the words are genuinely Aramaic. They are the language Jesus spoke every day.
I don’t have a pronunciation guide for the vowels and combinations of consonants, so I guess at the exact sound of the words, just as you may do now:
“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”
Or: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
I have written that sentence at the end of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer by my bedside. I read Compline every night and the last words I speak, quietly but aloud, are those that Jesus spoke.
It is a humble exercise. I only want to ensure that at least once, somewhere in this world, the language of Jesus is heard speaking one of Christ’s sentences of love.
It would be beautiful if you’d join me so that we can become a chorus, speaking the language of love. Jot them down. Put them in your prayer book or Bible. Speak them some time.
Whatever the words say—even if I’ve botched the translation—what they mean to us as we speak them in remembrance of him is all that matters.
And maybe speaking with Jesus’ voice will help us walk those words out into the world with greater strength and purpose in the morning.
I do know that hearing them every night brings Jesus a little closer to me as I turn out the light and let the stars above shine wherever they can to all who are praying in the darkness to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to them.
Jesus answering our own quiet prayer in the suddenly bright night.
“He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
At some point in our lives, we’ve all wanted to shake someone’s dust off our feet. Perhaps we are trying to do so at this very moment.
Nobody goes through life without encountering somebody who, in one way or another, doesn’t welcome us and refuses to hear us. Such hurtful encounters can leave us covered in the metaphorical “dust” of that moment.
We come home from work and we bring that dust with us.
We bring the rudeness home.
We bring the refusal to listen.
And we tell our family all about it.
“You would not believe how rude this so-and-so was today!” we report, feeling our tension and anger rise all over again.
That so-and-so isn’t literally at the dinner table with us, but that so-and-so’s dust is all over our feet, so to speak.
In fact, we can sometimes feel like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comicstrip. Pig-Pen was a mess. A walking cloud of dust and dirt. And we can be just like him.
That so-and-so’s dust isn’t just on the soles of our feet. That so-and-so’s dust covers us from head to foot. It gets on the furniture, embedded in rug fibers, covers the dog, collects on lampshades, dimming the light.
Sometimes, it can even feel like some of it is dusting our soul.
And that’s not good. It’s not what Jesus wanted for his disciples as he sent them out to preach about the kingdom of heaven. And it’s not what Jesus wants for us.
That’s why Jesus gave them—and us—really good advice.
What better way for the disciples to leave an unfriendly place completely behind than by ensuring they don’t carry any part of the unfriendliness with them as they journey forward.
Not even the dust.
But Jesus was talking about more than literal dust. He was talking about that metaphorical dust, too.
Jesus knew from personal experience that someone’s “dust” on our feet can soon feel like “baggage” in our heart, our mind and our soul. A burden we carry around, weighing us down with a whole menagerie of negative emotions.
Who needs that?
It is important to share key moments of our lives with our loved ones. The happy moments of fulfillment and the “dusty” encounters of frustration and disappointment. Doing so can be part of the process of shaking that so-and-so’s dust off our feet.
But it doesn’t work if, in our minds, we turn right back around and walk through that so-and-so’s dust all over again. Which, being human, is so easy to do. Been there. Done that.
But I’d rather be Linus than Pig-Pen.
So, let’s you and I stop lugging that so-and-so’s “baggage” around on a backwards journey.
Let’s shake that dust right off of our feet and keep on moving forward.
Day by day.
Soon enough, our soles will feel the warm, soft touch of green pastures.
An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream, bringing a warning.“Get up now,” the angel told Joseph. “Take your son and your wife. Escape this very moment.”
Death was sure to come if they returned home, the angel told them. “Flee now to the safety and sanctuary of Egypt. Herod is manically searching for your son,” the angel said, “and if he finds Jesus he will kill him.”
So Joseph and Mary and Jesus journeyed to Egypt.
But they found no sanctuary there.
They found walls and barbed wire, instead.
They were confronted by armed guards and detention centers.
They heard the heart-rending lamentations of mothers as their children—even breast-feeding infants—were torn from their arms and taken away.
They had found the gospel of Zero Tolerance.
Mary clutched Jesus tightly as Joseph made the only decision possible. “We will travel along the border until we find a safe entry into Egypt. We will find a way to do what the angel said,” he told her. “We will protect our son and we will remain a family.”
But they never did find a way.
They were found by Herod, instead.
The infant Jesus was put to death, the anonymous victim of a madman.
And that is where the New Testament ends. There is nothing more to the Bible.
It’s as if Jesus was never even born.
Simon was never called Peter. He and his brother, Andrew, remained fishermen.
There was no Sermon on the Mount.
Nobody ever said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Nobody learned to turn the other cheek. It remained an eye for an eye.
Who knew they were the light of the world?
The blind never saw. The lame never walked.
Nobody ever said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
The Holy Spirit never came.
The meek had nothing.
The poor in spirit were left in desolation.
Those who mourned were lost in depression.
Those hungering for righteousness starved.
The merciful were beaten.
The pure in heart were ridiculed.
The peacemakers were locked away.
No light came to those living in the shadow of death.
Crucifixions remained in the world but there was no resurrection.
And all of us are surrounded by eternal and impenetrable darkness.
In fact, you’re not even reading this because it was never written.
Jesus is just the name of someone living south of our border.
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was dead calm.”
—The Gospel of Mark
I would have been freaking out, too. No question.
The Sea of Galilee is notorious for the ferocity and sudden onslaught of its storms. I’ve read that the surrounding mountains focus the force of the wind in a particularly demonstrative way.
Peace one moment, then all heck breaks loose.
My voice would have broken loose, too, joining the panicky chorus of the other disciples in the boat with Jesus.
“Hey!” I would have shouted, shaking Jesus by the shoulders with both hands, “don’t you care that this storm threatens my very existence?!?!”
We’ve all been there, experiencing a sudden difficulty that rises up over the top of our lives and threatens to swamp and sink us.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to sleep through the sudden storms in my life and simply wake up when the passing trouble—whatever it might be—had gone.
How comforting to possess the ability to rebuke the wind and say to the sea—and have the sea listen and obey—“Peace! Be still!”
If only I could be like Jesus, I think to myself, before realizing that I do have the ability shush the wind and end the storm.
In a way. But not in a way that would co-star me with cartoon superheroes who save the world.
I am incapable of being Thor and thundering back at my storms. But I don’t have to be like Jesus, either.
I simply need to recall one vital fact.
I just need to remember that in every circumstance I am with Jesus.
That Jesus is in my boat. Wherever my boat is and no matter the weather.
And if Jesus is in my boat then I cannot sink. But even if I do sink then Jesus will raise me up.
Remembering that, of course, is not always so very easy for me. Anxieties come calling and I too often invite them in and make them really comfortable. So very comfortable that they don’t want to leave, preferring to stay right where they are and take up residency in my life. I start getting their mail and answering their phone calls.
But—finally—I remember that Jesus is in my boat. And I repeat that to myself: “Jesus is in my boat.” Over and over.
And, when I do, I feel a sudden peace. Every single time.
I feel the wind dropping and the waves growing smaller and smaller.
Soon enough there is dead calm all around.
Even if the waves remain, however, I just don’t feel them as strongly.
Or fear them.
The skies lighten. Birds begin to sing. I feel a rainbow inside me.
The rainbow of Jesus in my boat.
Together we reach the shore that I’d been searching for and sailing towards.
Even when, physically, I haven’t moved an inch.
Because the deepest journeys are way inside me and the storms can’t go that far.
“He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
We are all mustard seeds.
A mustard seed in the womb.
And then a mustard seed in this world.
One small piece of God’s dream for love and peace on Earth.
A punctuation mark in the great unending novel of humanity and its journey through darkness into light.
But, we are not just mustard seeds. This isn’t a case of having to settle for only being a mustard seed.
There is nothing “only” or “just” about being a mustard seed and a mark of punctuation.
Because punctuation makes all the difference.
And so can we.
Which is what Jesus wants us to understand.
What could be smaller than a period, comma or semicolon?
But, what has more potential?
A period, and something ends.
A comma, and something continues.
A semicolon, and two things are joined together.
We are all sown into this world as completely helpless babies. Totally vulnerable mustard seeds. Not even aware of our own two hands and unable to hold up our head.
But, oh, how that changes. How that mustard seed grows through the years until we truly do have the power to make things end or continue, and the ability to join things together.
For better or for worse.
How fortunate—given our ability to build up with love or break down with hate—that each of us human mustard seeds has the ultimate mustard seed inside us:
And, man, how that mustard seed can grow.
Our souls can become gigantic Redwood Trees of compassion and towering Sequoias of peace and reconciliation.
And when that happens we are able to provide “shade” for so much more than nesting birds.
Human beings can find shelter in our acts of determined kindness toward one another. Especially when we put our mustard seeds together.
When two or more of us gather together to address the world’s great need for love, that is how we become an entire forest of “shade” for those abandoned in the tree-less wilderness of indifference.
Wonderfully, however long we live we never grow up and out of our “mustard seed-ness.”
When we keep our hearts tuned to the Holy Spirit, we can remain mustard seeds until the day we die, able to put our comma, our period or our semicolon in just the right place to completely change the story.
Because the mustard seed inside us is the kingdom of God.
“A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mothers and my brothers?’ And looking at those who were around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
The most wonderful thing might just be that we are never alone in this world.
Even when we’re all by ourselves.
Perhaps most especially when the solitude seems to be all that’s left.
In fact, our loneliness might just bring us closer to the one who never leaves our side.
No, we don’t see our brother.
And the world is so crazy and filled with so much noise and flashing distractions that we don’t often feel his presence unless we do find a quiet corner of our soul to pull a chair up beside him.
Or a tree to lean against together.
A moment looking out the window at the sunrise.
Or the utter darkness of midnight when the moon feels gone.
But our brother is there.
When we open our hearts, we find he’s never, ever left us.
It’s only us that lose track of him amid the roiling boil of emotions that can mask the sublime peace of his presence.
And, in our humanity, sometimes we seem to want to embrace an emotion that has nothing to do with that peace that passes all understanding.
We’d much rather be angry.
We’d rather be hurt.
Pinned down by a grudge.
Filled with a joy that can’t possibly last.
Tuned into the latest insane news story in a world that too often feels like an asylum.
But our brother is there beside us.
Even in the madhouse.
Especially in the despair of compassion falling apart in this corner of the world and being blown apart in that corner over there.
Our brother is waiting for us to realize that he is there.
Always has been.
Ever shall be.
Moonlight that never wanes.
A midnight sun.
The aurora borealis in our soul.
Vesper whispers at dawn.
Sunrise sanctuary in the gloaming.
The slightest touch on our shoulder that might have been a gentle breeze.
Was it really him?
Yes, it was.