Jesus’s Last Wish

As Kay and I walked through the passion narrative in the Gospel according to John Friday night in the quiet of our living room, we paused a number of times to share questions or observations about what we were reading.

Few of the church’s traditional “seven last words” from the cross appear in John, the last written of the New Testament Four Gospels. Four of the “words” we expect to hear from having read Matthew, Mark, and Luke are missing in John:

  1. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. (Luke 23:34)
  2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
  3. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
  4. Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)

The first three are altogether missing. A fourth “word” – the seventh of the traditional last words, becomes a third person description by the narrator, as it had been in Mark and Matthew: “. . .  he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”


“What Jesus saw from the cross” – James Tissot

But while John’s Gospel offers less of what we have come to expect in light of the earlier Synoptic Gospels, it adds three words:

1.”I thirst,”

2.”It is finished,” and

3. this strikingly intimate conversation with his mother and an un-named “disciple whom he loved” within the hearing of “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas (i.e. Jesus’s aunt), and Mary Magdalene:

“‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the un-named disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John. 19:27-28)

This startling exchange – this strangely intimate “last wish” normally reserved for the bedside of a dying patient – shifts the focus of John’s crucifixion narrative from the horror of Jesus’s torment to the primacy of the community: the familial bond between his mother and the beloved disciple which would survive him.

It is this beloved and loving community which carries forward the teaching and ministry of the Logos, the Word made flesh in him and in us, by the creative working of the Spirit of the Living God. “Woman, behold your son!” “Disciple, Behold your mother!”

The Good Friday conversation in our living room shifted from the anticipated tears of torment to the hope that rises whenever the invitation from the cross becomes reality, whenever we, in our time, become the beloved community of the un-named disciple: the transformed and transforming home for Mary and all her un-named children.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 18, 2017.




Toward a Deeper Self-Knowledge

In two days Christian churches will observe Maundy Thursday, focusing on Jesus’s last meal with this disciples, “the Last Supper”.


Reading the Gospel texts afresh each year often raises new questions and, occasionally, yields fresh insight. This year it was a line in Matthew’s text.

Jesus and the twelve apostles are at table. They have all washed their hands before the meal, a ritual practice before the meal. They will all use their hands to eat and share the food in common. All hands must be clean. Or, perhaps, Matthew is referring to the bowl of herbs and spices into which they had all dipped their hands.

Jesus has been speaking of betrayal. “‘Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were greatly distressed and they began to say him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ He answered,

“‘the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.'” – Matthew 26:21-23 NRSV.

ONE? Only ONE?

All of them – all 12 – had dipped their hands into the bowl.

Matthew does not say “One of you.” It says “the one.”

The reply “Surely not I, Lord,” assumes innocence. “Not I!”


The Greek word we translate into English as ‘betray’ has multiple meanings: hand over/arrest/betray. “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will hand me over” or “. . .  arrest me” are alternative translations to the “. . . betray me” preferred by Christian translators.

But, whereas Judas alone asks the question that begs a positive reply – “Is it I, Lord?” – the story that follows shows all the apostles handing him over. The possible exception is Peter who cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant at Jesus’s arrest, but following the arrest, Peter, like Judas, betrays him. “I do not know the man!” he says three times in the the High Priest’s courtyard.

Only Judas at the last supper responds in a way that indicates guilt. “Is it I, Lord?”

Jesus responds, “You have said so.”


The dominant interpretations of Judas’s act of handing Jesus over to the authorities single him out as the one betrayer, the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl. But is it not worth considering that Matthew’s narrative offers every one of us a somber reflection on universal culpability and a window into one’s own denial and lack of self-knowledge?

Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.” – John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter 1.

“The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.”

“Is it I, Lord? Is it I?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Tuesday of Holy Week, April 11, 2017.



Sermon from Baltimore

This sermon by Robert Hoch of First and Franklin Presbyterian Church in Baltimore applies the meaning of the Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11 (the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness) to current events in Baltimore and the United States.

Click Finding Water to read the sermon.

Then post a comment here on Views from the Edge.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 19, 2017.


Why a Manger?

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” [Gospel of Luke]


Tintoretto, 1518-1594. The Nativity from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Why a manger, the animals’ feeding trough? Why does Tintoretto’s babe seem to be so interested in the animals? Why are the animals so comfortable around him?

Luke is doing theology, which is not everyone’s cup of tea! But we all engage in it. It’s about Reality and what we believe most deeply about it.

“Good” theology — if we may be permitted to use the word in a world which is of the opinion that one opinion is just as “good” as another — seeks to connect the dots between the past, the present, and the future. Traditional Christian theology arcs back to the “goodness” of the beginning (creation) and anticipates the redemption of all things in light of the Christ-event – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

As often happens, I heard Luke’s birth narrative this year in ways I had yet to put into words.

Could Luke himself have been arguing for what we now know in light of climate change: that we humans are of the same order as the cows, the chickens, goats, and sheep among whom Jesus of Nazareth was born? That is, we are not a superior species. We are not the exception to nature. And the redemption of reality itself includes the entirety of nature — the rescuing of nature from its despair and destruction by human hands.

So it was to poor shepherds, tending their flocks by night that the angel said,

“Do not be afraid; for see -I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Joyous Nowell, Merry Christmas, Happy Earth Day,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Christas Day, Dec. 25, 2016.


Love – Lisa Larges’s statement of faith

After years of struggle, Lisa Larges will be ordained and installed October 10 at Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. Here Statement of Faith is unusually creative and spot on. Last Tuesday, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area approved her call to ordination with standing applause. Here’s Lisa’s statement of faith:


And from love grace.

And through grace we claim what is beyond us to know:

That the source of all that is, is for us.

And that this source, expressed love, is sovereign over

all of life and death, all that is, has been, and is yet

to be.

And because love is not in itself alone, therefore love


In love, through love, by love, we were created.

Created together with the whole world.

And not world, worlds.

So that star and worm, soil and sea, rock
and leopard – life known to us and life unknown was

claimed by the Holy and called by the Holy,


And still there is this in us:

Something that fights life.

Something broken, even yes, violent.

Call it sin.

Sin in me, in this world.

In this world, but also in me.

So that love, and by love grace Must come in to this


Must be here in the midst of us.

Abiding in this broken, wrecked world, to bring life,

restoration, wholeness.

So call this love, this grace, God.

And this breaking in to the world, call Christ.

Christ in a person who was Jesus.

And this Jesus among us, healing, teaching, confronting,


In everything, one of us. In everything, holy.

And then, death came.

Because death comes.

Christ. The resurrection of Jesus.

And, that restoration, that wholeness, that life, call it


And we now, seeking in the Way,

We have the gift of one another.

Call that gift church – “God’s provisional demonstration”

For he was love in a time of terror.

And love is always a threat to usurped power.

So by injustice, fear, and force, he was put to death.

Death came.
– – – – –

Then life came.

Then life came.

Then, life came.

Life the last word.

Life, the Word.

Life for us, for freedom, for love.

Life that is resurrection, the resurrection of the

of the holy intention for all living things.

And we learn with and through one another forgiveness

and reconciliation, repentance, and beginning again.

And this love in us, this capacity to turn to one another,

to learn and forgive, is grace at work in us – and

that work is the mystery we call the Holy Spirit.

And together we enact the eternal promise of welcome

and belonging, of community and service, and

enactment we call sacrament: Baptism and

Communion, by which community is made with

and through us.

So that by this love, and through this grace, and in the

gift of the spirit and by the tending of community and

the call to lay our hearts down in service, we may be

love for this world.

This world that God so loved.


Thee years before the decision, Lisa wrote a long description of her personal journey as a very public focus of church debate and discussion. An excerpt is republished here:

My friend and mentor Janie Spahr has counseled many LGBT folks like me struggling with the questions of whether to stay in the church, whether to pursue a call in our church, or come out to their congregation. The question she will ask is, “Are you willing to be curriculum for the church?”

All of the ups-and-downs and ins-and-outs of this long judicial process have been part of what it means to be curriculum for the church. We have to learn together, and we don’t seem to learn well in the abstract. And I can’t say that it’s been anything but a privilege to do this work. At the same time, even as I understand in a deep way that the whole of this journey, and the good work of being “curriculum” has been a part of my sense of calling, this judicial process has also been personally painful. The many delays, and the waiting, have exacted a cost. There’s a kind of spiritual pain here that I’m still figuring out. Suffice it to say that our judicial process, as necessary as it may be, is hard on everyone, from the commissioners to the legal counsels on both sides, to the individuals whose lives are directly affected.

But we believe in a God who is the redeemer of time, and we strive for that equanimity of thanksgiving that Paul speaks of and practiced in his own life. “Gratitude in good times,” Calvin said, “patience in adversity, and [most of all] a wonderful security respecting the future.”





The Trinity is about Us!

Click HERE to listen to Devon Anderson’s Trinity Sunday Sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, MN. If you think sermons are boring… and you’re willing to consider the thought that sometimes humor is the closest thing to faith, tune in!

  • Gordon


Verse – Cries and Whispers

If all our time is present time to God,
our moans and screams of rage are heard not in
the quiet of primordial time, but heard
right now–just as we feel the blaze of pain
ourselves. So in cacophony of grunts,
of cries and whispers, gasps, expiring sighs,
our tiniest mew cuts through and joins the dance
of horror in the mind of God. The days
we suffer isolated from the world…
the hours of rejection, perfidy,
and lies… the minutes, seconds, that we bleed
from the real steel of surgeon, soldier…are shared.
We cry we are forsaken–our cry is heard;
Our tears run rivers down the face of God.

Steven Shoemaker, Urbana, Illinois

[Previously published in Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, & ecumenical publications.]

Building Walls instead of Bridges

buchananThis post by John Buchanan’s “Hold to the Good” is well worth the read IMHO. John is Pastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago, past Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, and recently retired Publisher of The Christian Century.

Thank you, John, for your fine work than and now.

  • Gordon and Steve

Hold to the Good

I simply do not know what to say about Donald Trump. I grew up in a home where what was going on in the world and in the nation was talked about regularly at the dinner table. Politics was often a spirited discussion between my father, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and conservative in almost all his opinions and positions, and my mother who I realized was a lot less ideological and more liberal. He didn’t have much good to say about President Roosevelt and Eleanor but she liked them a lot. Dad used to brag that the first words I spoke as a toddler were “Wendell Wilkie”, the Republican presidential candidate in the 1940 election, an election FDR won handily. I still have his Republican campaign lapel pin bearing Wilkie’s picture from that election. Robert Taft, Harold Stassen, Earl Warren, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Nelson Rockefeller, were familiar names to…

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A Reflection on Terrorism


Copyright 1996 The Cincinnati Enquirer

A sermonic reflection on Luke 13:1-9

Ordinary citizens are not terrorists, are we?  We didn’t bring down the World Trade Center, kill and maim marathon runners and spectators at the Boston Marathon, or kill innocent co-workers in San Bernadino. The Rev. Maurice McCrackin answered that we are and we have, for reasons we’ll explain later.

Mac was informed by today’s Gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9) where Jesus addresses terrorism and urges his hearers to turn. “Unless you all repent, you will all … perish.”

It happens when some people inform Jesus “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate has mingled with their sacrifices.” The speakers seem to be contrasting the Galileans – known for their armed resistance to Roman rule, i.e. guerilla warfare – and the Jerusalemites.
Remember, Jesus himself is a Galilean!

The non-Galileans are putting him to the test. As he so often does so ably, Jesus, the Galilean Jewish rabbi, begins strangely by appearing to agree with their anti-Galilean prejudice. He asks whether these violent Galileans were any different from the rest of the Galileans. One can almost hear the applause from the more sophisticated, non-terroristic Jerusalemites.

Then he quickly shifts their attention to a scene in Jerusalem. He asks them if the eighteen saboteurs “upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them, do you think they were worse sinners than all others in Jerusalem?”

“No,” he says, “but unless you (plural) repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Sometimes reading a familiar text in a form much closer to the original context of Jesus’ linguistic-religious-cultural-political-economic context serves to awaken us to hear it differently.

Now … there were some present reporting to Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach about the men of the Galil whose blood Pilate mixed with their zevakhim (sacrifices).

And, in reply, Moshiach said, Do you think that these men of the Galil were greater chote’im (sinners) than all others of the Galil, because they suffered this shud (misfortune)?

Lo (no), I say, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.
Or do you think that those shmonah asar (eighteen) upon whom the migdal (tower) in Shiloach fell and killed them, do you think that they were greater chote’im (sinners) than all the Bnei Adam living in Yerushalayim?

Lo (no), I tell you, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.
And Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach was speaking this mashal. A certain man had an etz te’enah (fig tree) which had been planted in his kerem, and he came seeking pri (fruit) on it, and he did not find any. [YESHAYAH 5:2; YIRMEYAH 8:13]

So he said to the keeper of the kerem, Hinei shalosh shanim (three years) I come seeking pri on this etz te’enah (fig tree) and I do not find any. Therefore, cut it down! Why is it even using up the adamah (ground)?

But in reply he says to him, Adoni, leave it also this year, until I may dig around it and may throw fertilizer [dung] on it,

And if indeed it produces pri in the future, tov me’od (very well); otherwise, you will cut down it [Ro 11:23].

The Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB) Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011 by Artists for Israel International.

The ‘mashal’ (a familiar proverb or parable) he re-interprets is already part of his and his hearers’ self-understanding from Isaiah 5:2 and Jeremiah 8:13:

Jesus is speaking about collective social life – politics, economics, religion, resistance, keeping the faith – a whole society, a culture, a nation. He is calling for thorough-going societal transformation – turning from blaming others (the Galileans) to looking in the mirror to see the log that is in every eye: the underlying pervasive violence in our way of being in the world, taking up “ground” on this beautiful planet.

In Hebrew Scripture the human species, Adam, is derived from Adamah – earth, soil, dirt, ground. Humans, created in the image of God,  are to produce sweet figs. But the Owner of the vineyard with the barren fig tree shows two traits: deep disappointment – “Why is it even using up the ground?” – and an over-riding patience that allows it more time to produce the sweet figs it was intended to bring forth from the dirt (adamah).

As I look out the window this morning to the world outside, I feel a tiny shiver of God’s frustration and long-suffering. I read the paper, read my emails, look in the mirror, and take my morning shower wondering what it will take before we see the violence of terrorists in ourselves.

The Rev. Maurice McCrackin is the one soul I know who really dared to live what Rabbi Jesus preached about teshuvah (repentance).  Mac was Pastor of St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church, by far the poorest church in the poorest section of Cincinnati, until he was removed. But it wasn’t his daily work among the poor that brought him attention. Mac was a war tax resister. He refused to pay federal taxes -not because he didn’t believe in taxes. He did! In the name of crucified Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Mac refused to join in funding a “defense” budget that was, in fact, a war budget that supported state-sponsored international terrorism. “Ordinary citizens aren’t terrorists, are we?” Mac said we are, and, in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace,  and he was carried off to jail again and again and again. “To give financial support to war while at the same time preaching against it is, to me, no longer a tenable position.” His spirit was as free as anyone I’ve ever known.

Now … there were some present reporting to Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach about the men of the Galil whose blood Pilate mixed with their zevakhim (sacrifices).

And, in reply, Moshiach said, Do you think that these men of the Galil were greater chote’im (sinners) than all others of the Galil, because they suffered this shud (misfortune)?

Lo (no), I say, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.

How shall we make teshuvah?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 27, 2016