Monday, July 21, 2014

ST. MARY MAGDALENE AND LISTENING CORN

The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene, Alexander Ivanov, c. 1835

St. Mary Magdalene (or Magdala) was born some time around the birth of Jesus Christ in the first century A.D., possibly in the small city of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mary Magdalene appears by name many times in the Gospels, she is known as the Apostle to the Apostles, and is remembered for working with Jesus and staying with him during his crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and beyond. She died in either Sainte-Maximin-la-Sante-Baume in Provence, France, or Ephesus in modern-day Turkey, on an unrecorded date.

She is honored in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, and other Protestant Churches, as well as in the Bahá’i Faith. Her feast day is July 22 and is celebrated in the Western tradition with Madeleine cookies and in the Eastern tradition with red-dyed eggs.

We have two main sources of historical documents on the life of St. Mary Magdalene -- the New Testament Gospels and the Gnostic Gospels. The following is a combined narrative from the New Testament Gospels and then an introduction and some passages from the Gnostic Gospels.

Before beginning, let’s clear up a rumor or saintly stereotype – St. Mary Magdalene was NOT a prostitute. The medieval Church patriarchy tried to sell that one based on the interpretation of some passages with much innuendo and by combining her character with another unnamed character.

Alternatively, some scholars believe that John’s Gospel split Mary Magdalene’s characteristics into several women including Mary and Martha of Bethany to diffuse her importance to Jesus.

However, most believe that Mary and Martha of Bethany were real people who, along with their brother Lazareth, provided Jesus with much needed friendship and a home of rest, refuge, and restoration. 

Also, because the actions of the woman in the next passage don’t fit her quiet nature, many do not believe her to be Mary of Bethany. So she is either a random unnamed woman with an alabaster jar, or she is Mary Magdalene:

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came in with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone: why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you will always have the poor with you, and can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body before its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
                                        Mark 14:3-9

This could be the first time Jesus met Mary Magdalene and they began their journey together. Perhaps he saw that she was on to something in anointing.

Anointing with holy oil remains a significant part of catholic worship today especially during healing services and unctions. (St. Joan of Arc gave up her whole everything for the sake of the Holy Anointing of Charles VII as King of France.) 

Here's the first passage in which she is named:

Soon afterwards he went on through the cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities:  Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for him out of their resources.
                                                         Luke 8:1-3

Mary Magdalene probably had some long-term illness or mental/emotional issues that were literally or symbolically caused by seven demons. Just to be clear, “seven demons” does not translate to “prostitution” in any language.

Now, let’s say Mary Magdalene was a sinner before Jesus healed her. Perhaps her sin was that she did not honor her mother and father by agreeing to an arranged marriage. Perhaps she took her dowry and left home to follow the one of whom she heard spreading so much goodness.

She’s named next at the Crucifixion:

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing besides her, he said to his mother, “Women, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour, the disciple took her into his home.
                                                       John 19:25-27

According to the literary norms of his times, the author doesn’t name himself, but it’s understood that “the disciple whom he loved” is John. It could be argued; however, that Mary Magdalene was the “disciple whom he loved” and in whose care Jesus placed his mother. Historians have shown that John's Gospel was edited shortly after his death. Perhaps the above paragraph was tweaked and history rewritten.

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this he breathed his last.

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent. And when all the crowds who had gathered there for the spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.

But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
                                                    Luke 23:44-49

Whether Mary Magdalene was at the foot of the cross or watching from a distance, she was there. The male disciples were hiding in valid fear of arrest. Except, according to the above and a bit illogically, for John.  

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
                                                       Matthew 27:57-61

The above sentence is left out of the Good Friday liturgy in many churches. Nevertheless, it’s significant that Mary Magdalene was there with Jesus’ body at the tomb. Her love for him overpowered her grief and gave her the strength to do those tasks a beloved does for her Love.

She either remained there keeping watch or she left and returned after the Sabbath. Then:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the wrapping but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Then the disciples returned to their homes.
                                                     John 20: 1-10

The disciples spend a lot of time standing around and shrugging. Literary device, I know, I know. When it’s explained to them, it’s explained to us. But still. 

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
                                                                John 20:11-16

When Jesus said her name, she recognized him and the entirety of the miracle of his being alive and standing before her. When he said her name, perhaps she heard also -- I see you. I hear you. I love you, too.

And whether she embraced him fully as one human with another, or dropped to her knees to cling to his feet to worship him, his response was the same:

Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he said these things to her.
                                                    John 20: 17-18

It’s this passage that particularly shows that Mary Magdalene was the Apostle to the Apostles. Her Risen Lord gave her the mission that she would fully become.

Of course, the disciples didn’t believe her until Jesus showed up and made them apostles:

When it was evening on that day, the first of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace is with you as the Father has sent me. So I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
                                                            John 20:19-23

To truly understand St. Mary Magdalene, we have to study her spiritual relationship with Jesus. Dearworthy readers, it was not an easy task for me to research for the next section because this stuff is simply difficult to understand. But it IS understandable. And it’s worth the effort.

In the words of Robert Hunter, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” This is one of those times. Ready? Let’s do it!    

Now we move on to the metaphysics of Christianity, a realm or place of being beyond the New Testament and our contemporary world. Referred to as Heaven on Earth, God Within, and other names, it’s the state of being one achieves when one sacrifices or empties one of self for the sake of God or one's Love.

Jesus alluded to this plane of existence in the Gospel of Mark when a scribe asked him which commandment is the most important:

Jesus answered, “The first is ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other;’ and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
                                                      Mark 12:29-34

In my post about St. Mark, we learned that the Gospel of Mark was most likely written as a how-to manual for apostles including important stories of Jesus’ life, his messages, and why they should be shared. In Mark 4:3-9, Jesus told the Parable of the Sower and ended with the phrase: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Before Mark wrote Jesus’ explanation of this particular parable, he wrote Jesus’ stated purpose for the telling of parables:

When he was alone, those who were with him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables in order that

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand,
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”
                                 Mark 4:10-12

By using a verse from Scripture, Jesus explains that not everyone has the ability or desire to understand beyond their five senses.

After Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower, in Mark 13:20:

He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
                                                          Mark 4:21-25

In other words, how carefully we listen to (or read) Jesus’ message is directly proportional to how much we’ll benefit from the message. And if we don’t give any consideration to the message, not only will we not benefit from the message, we’ll lose what we’ve already learned by closing ourselves off. For example, when we cover our ears and sing, “la, la, la, la,” we become annoying and people walk away from us.

Many times, though, even when we are listening (or reading) as carefully as we can, we still don’t get it, or we don’t get all of it. I advise patience, baby steps, and perseverance. Also, of course, I understand that some of my dearworthy readers already know all about the next bit due to your own studies and readings. It's new to me. Although, I remember having heard whispers of it here and there throughout my life. Okay, enough tee-up:

In 1896, a scroll was discovered at an archaeological site in Cairo. It was a Coptic Egyptian translation of a Greek manuscript written some time around 150 A.D. Titled the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, she is the honorary author of this Gnostic or Near Eastern Gospel written on her behalf in the style of a spiritual conversation.

In 1945, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip were discovered in a large urn in a desert cave near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. These scrolls have been dated from some time around 480 A.D., and are most likely material that was edited out of the official New Testament Canon.

These writings were left out of the Canon, not only because they are evidence of the strong leadership role that Mary Magdalene shared with her beloved teacher, Jesus, but because they are difficult to understand as they take place in the metaphysical plane well beyond our five senses.

Yet, this type of Holy Wisdom thinking has not been hidden away all the time these particular scrolls were stored away in history. In fact, it’s been flourishing in other traditions, teachings, and philosophies for eons. (See Sources and Recommendations below for titles of other Holy Wisdom writings.)

For now, let’s look into the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the content of which is repeated in different ways in The Gospels of Thomas and Philip, much like the New Testament Gospels tell the same story in different ways. This spiritual conversation appears to have taken place between the Resurrection and the Ascension, within the upper room but beyond the upper room, metaphysically speaking.

Accounting for the missing pages in the original manuscript and sticking to some key parts, we start somewhat in the middle:

Then Peter asked Jesus, “Since you have explained everything to us, tell us one more thing. What is sin of this world?

The Savior replied:

“Sin as such does not exist. You only bring it into manifestation when you act in ways that are adulterous in nature. It is for this very reason that the Good has come among you pursuing its own essence within nature in order to reunite everything to origin.

Those with ears let them hear this:

Peace be with you, May my peace reside within you. Guard carefully that no one misleads you saying, ‘Look, he is here,’ or ‘He’s over there.’ For the Son of humanity already exists within you. Follow him, for those who seek him there will find him. Go forth, now, and proclaim the Good News concerning the Kingdom. Beyond what I have already given you, do not lay down any further rules nor issue laws as the Lawgiver, least you too be dominated by them.”

Having said this, he departed.
                                                               Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Dialogue 1

His students grieved and mourned greatly saying:

How are we to go into the rest of the world proclaiming the Good News about the Son of Humanity’s Realm? If they did not spare him, how will they ever leave us alone?

Mary arose, then, embracing them all and began to address them as her brothers and sisters saying:

Do not weep and grieve nor let your hearts remain in doubt, for his grace will be with all of you, sustaining and protecting you. Rather, let us give praise to his greatness which has prepared us so that we might become fully human.

Peter said, “Sister, we know that the Savior greatly loved you above all other women, so tell us what you remember of his words that we ourselves do not know or perhaps have never heard.”

And she began to express these things to them:

“I saw the Master in a vision and I said to him, ‘Lord, I see you now in a vision.’

And he answered me. ‘You are blessed, Mary, since the sight of me does not disturb you. For where the heart is, there is the treasure.’”
                                                   Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Dialogue 2

Mary Magdalene had reached a new level of relationship between herself and God and her beloved teacher on earth. It’s a unique combined role for her, similar to the unique combined role of the Blessed Virgin Mary as mother of the Son of God -- unique for them, but a level not unattainable to us.

We have within us the ability to become one with a fellow human being that we love deeply, as well as becoming one with God. We do this by emptying or sacrificing our self and filling our self with the other. Seems I have heard that before in a variety of ways. Here’s one:

To be with you, once more, to be with you,
with our bodies close together
let the world go by, like the clouds a’streamin’
to lay me down, one last time, to lay me down.
                                          Robert Hunter

That's just another of the myriad of ways to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love your neighbor as if you give up your self for him/her. Your neighbor being your Love for whom you sacrifice or "lay down" your everything. Loving God above all else can be attained individually or in combination with your human Love or soul mate.

Mary speaking now from the combined soul of Jesus and herself said:

What has bound me has been slain. What encompassed me has been vanquished. Desire has reached its end, and I am freed from Ignorance. I left one world behind with the aid of another, and now as Image I have been freed from the analog. I am liberated from the chains of forgetfulness which have existed in time. From this moment onward, I go forward into the season of the Great Age, the Aeon, and there, where time rests in stillness in the Eternity of time, I will repose in silence.”

And having said this Mary fell silent since it was to this point that the Savior had brought her.
                                              Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Dialogue 3

Even in the spirit realm where this conversation took place, some refused to understand:

Andrew’s response was to say to the rest of the brothers:

“Say what you will about all that she has said to us, I for one do not believe that the Savior said such things to her, for they are strange and appear to differ from the rest of his teachings.”

After consideration, Peter’s response was similar:

“Would the Savior speak these things to a woman in private without openly sharing them so that we too might hear? Should we listen to her at all, and did he choose her over us because she is more worthy than we are?”

Then Mary began to weep, saying to Peter:

“My brother, what are you thinking? Do you imagine that I have made these things up myself with my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?”

Speaking to Peter, Levi also answered him:

“You have always been quick to anger, Peter, and now you are questioning her exactly that same manner, treating this woman as if she was an enemy. If the Savior considered her worthy, who are you to reject her? He knew her completely and loved her faithfully.

We should be ashamed of ourselves! As he taught us, we should be clothed instead with the cloak of True Humanity, and following his command announce Good News without burdening it further with rules or laws he himself did not give us.”

After Levi had said this, they too departed and began to teach, proclaiming the Good News.
                                                   Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Dialogue 4

Eastern Orthodox tradition holds that after Pentecost, Mary Magdalene traveled with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostle John to Ephesus, Turkey, where she preached for many years and later died. In the western tradition, many believe that Mary Magdalene traveled by boat to France where she preached for many years and later died.

Although I lean more towards the authenticity of the Ephesus story, I can get behind the idea that Mary Magdalene’s spiritual presence is strong near her basilica in Provence, France, simply because pilgrims and believers draw her presence to the site.

(This is a similar effect that occurs at replicas of shrines. Many healing miracles have occurred at replicas of the Grotto of Lourdes around the world and not just at the particular site where  St. Bernadette experienced visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.) 

Whether or not St. Mary Magdalene had a physical relationship with Jesus, it’s clear that He loved her and she loved Him above all others and more than her self.

When we achieve that deep connection with our Loves on earth, it cannot be broken even through death. And when we achieve that deep connection with God, the Holy Spirit flows through us, and we become one with God, a unique human being through whom God does Good.

Hmmmm, that sounds a lot like a saint:

They lived not only in ages past,
there are hundreds of thousands still,
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school,
or in lanes, or at sea, in church,
or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.
                                     Lesbia Scott, Episcopal Hymnal, Number 293

Sometimes when I focus on the life of a saint, I end up giving pointers on how to emulate the saints in our journey towards God but forget to add the most important part:

God is always and forever journeying toward us. When Jesus sacrificed Himself for us on the Cross, He met us much more than halfway. He gave up His self (and since time has no meaning in the metaphysical realm, He continues to do so) for us – every stinking one of us. We ARE worthy. We are God's Love.

Let anyone with ears to hear listen.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.
                                                              Collect, Holy Women, Holy Men

…………………………………………………………………………………

Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ workmate. She provided needed funds to pay for food, but she did not prepare meals. Nor is there mention of any food she may have eaten in the Gospels.

So in honor of the ears which hear our Lord, let’s make:

LISTENING CORN


Ingredients:

FRESH, local, organic, corn-on-the-cob, one or two per person
Water
Butter (optional)
Salt (optional)

Instructions:

 1. Place a large pot of water on the stove over high heat. Bring to a boil.
 2. Husk the corn, pull off the threads, cut out any blemishes, and invite the corn worms to move along.
 3. Carefully drop the corn into the boiling water.
 4. Cover the pot for five minutes.
 5. Turn off heat. Wait for five minutes.
 6. Serve with optional butter and optional salt of the earth.
 7. Because it’s difficult to speak while eating corn-on-the-cob, take the opportunity to listen.

Enjoy!
……………………………………………………………………………………….

SOURCES:

HOLY BIBLE: THE NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION

THE MEANING OF MARY MAGDALENE: DISCOVERING THE WOMAN AT THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY by Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault

HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN: CELEBRATING THE SAINTS

STARS IN A DARK WORLD: STORIES OF THE SAINTS AND HOLY DAYS OF THE LITURGY by Fr. John-Julian, OJN

ALL SAINTS: DAILY REFLECTIONS ON SAINTS, PROPHETS, AND WITNESSES FOR OUR TIME by Robert Ellsberg

BUTLER’S LIVES OF THE SAINTS, CONCISE, MODERNIZED EDITION edited by Bernard Bangley

BRIGHTEST AND BEST: A COMPANION TO THE LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS by Sam Portaro

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Aside from THE MEANING OF MARY MAGDALENE: DISCOVERING THE WOMAN AT THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY by Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault which was a source for this post and contains a lot more valuable information which I didn’t touch upon, I also recommend the following works on Holy Wisdom:

Other titles by Rev. Cynthia Bougheault
THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALA by Karen King
THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS by Elaine Pagels

MERE CHRISTIANITY by St. C.S. (Jack) Lewis - In this work, St. Jack has a way of baby stepping a path from disbelief all the way to Holy Wisdom using concrete examples from England during the post WWII years. It may be dated and ever so slightly foreign, but it’s easy on the ol’ noggin and I highly recommend it.

GODSPELL: A MUSICAL BASED UPON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW – It includes song lyrics from the Episcopal Hymnal as well as songs of Holy Wisdom with lyrics adapted by philosophers, Socrates and Jean Paul Sartre.

THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown and the movie version starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou – I regret that I allowed some patriarchal pompiety to dissuade me from reading this novel and watching the movie. It’s a work of fiction that touches upon the Gnostic Gospels, as well as the idea that Mary Magdalene and Jesus left French descendants or something. Key word - fiction. Now I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the novel first and then the movie!

And since many Christians regularly practice Buddhism, I also recommend the works of Richard Bach, author of JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL.

Any dearworthy readers have other recommendations? Please add them to the Comments. Thanks!

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Bonus Material:




Monday, June 23, 2014

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST & HONEY-SPICED LOCUST

St. John the Baptist, Bernardo Strozzi, 1620

St. John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus Christ on June 24 early in the first century A.D., in Herodian, Judea. John, a relative of Jesus, was known for baptizing in water for the forgiveness of sins. He’s also remembered as the prophet who introduced Jesus to the world in their own time. John was beheaded by King Herod Antipas soon after Jesus began his public ministry (31-36 A.D. depending on the calendar) in Machaerus, Perea.

St. John is honored in Anglican, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Aglipayan, and Assyrian churches, as well as in the Mandeanism, Bahái, and Islamic faiths. He’s the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Jordan, Puerto Rico, French Canada, Newfoundland, Florence and Genoa in Italy, and many other places. Although Roman Catholics also celebrate the date of his death (as we do with most saints) on August 29, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24 is the more commonly celebrated feast day throughout the world.

We have two main sources of historical documents on the life of St. John the Baptist, a book called JEWISH ANTIQUITIES by Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus written around 93 A.D., and the gospels. The gospels are so chock full of narrative about St. John the Baptist, that I'll have to sum up most of it because blog posts are supposed to be short. (I am trying.)

In Luke 1:5-25, the birth of John the Baptist was foretold to his father, Zachariah, a prominent priest, in the temple, by Gabriel the Archangel. Zachariah expressed disbelief that his elderly, barren wife could become pregnant. For his lack of faith, Zachariah was struck dumb until the prediction came true. 

Six months later, Gabriel made the Annunciation to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Son of God.

Mary then traveled to visit her relative Elizabeth:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
                                                     Luke 1:41-42

Later (in Luke 1:57-66), eight days after Elizabeth gave birth, at the circumcision ceremony, the people said it was proper to name the baby after his father. Zechariah motioned for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And immediately thereafter he could speak and he prophesied:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”
                                                      Luke 1:76-77

John’s parents prepared him be a holy man by serving him no wine or bread. Historians believed he joined the Essenes, one of the three Jewish sects that was much smaller than the Pharisees and Sadducees sects. Essenes lived and prayed communally and were dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, and daily immersion. It’s quite possible that John was part of a group located in the desert.                                                                  

In those days, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locust and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

St. John the Baptist Baptizes the People, Nicolas Poussin, 1635

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor, for I tell you, God is able from these stories to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

I baptize you with the water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear the threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaft he will burn with unquenchable fire.

                                              Matthew 3:1-17

In other words, don’t fake your repentance. Someone much more powerful than me will be here soon and he’ll know whose repentance is real and whose is just for show and unworthy of heaven.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

                                          Matthew 3:13-17

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

(His) two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”

They said to him, “Rabbi, (which translated means Teacher) where are you staying?”

He said to them, “Come and see.”

                                       John 1:35-39

And they followed him. (Click here to read more about this passage from the point of view of St. Andrew.)

After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean Countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aeon near Salim because water was abundant there: and people kept coming and were being baptized -- John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John’s disciples and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

                                                  John 3:22-30

Soon after John was arrested by soldiers of King Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who threatened the baby Jesus and killed the Holy Innocents.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
                                           Matthew 4:12

John’s disciples visited him in prison and told him of all of Jesus’ healing miracles. It seems likely that John was discouraged in prison and had been relying on Jesus to change the world immediately. He sent messengers to Jesus to ask if he was really the Messiah or if that was someone else.

Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen, and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
                                                   Luke 7:20-23

Jesus explained that John’s expectations of him are different than what He’s to do on earth. Yet, his actions are done without insult to John. He then praises John for all to hear: 

“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!

                                                  Matthew 11:8-19

In reciting scripture, Jesus showed that John’s presence along side his own connects the Old Testament prophesies to the reality of the New Testament. 

Why was John in prison?

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed: and yet he liked to listen to him.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet to his courtiers and officers and leaders of Galilee. When his (step-daughter/niece, Salome) came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me. I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”

She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”

She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”

Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for his guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately, the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

                                                       Mark 6:17-29

(Flavius Josephus wrote that because Harod Antipas had divorced his first wife, the daughter of King Aretas of Damascus, a war with Damascus soon broke out. Harod's army was destroyed and many believed it was a just punishment from God for killing John the Baptist.) 

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowd heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

                                                                 Matthew 13:13-14

It’s a good thing to read all the gospels to get to the whole story of a particular event. I’ve posted twice about the Feeding of the Five Thousand (in St. Andrew & Barley Bread and St. Philip and St. James, Apostles and Homemade Pita Bread), but I've never before noticed this important transition between Jesus’ act of grief over one whom he held in such high esteem and his miraculous feeding of the crowd.

Jesus grieved. Then, he got back to his works. And then, perhaps in honor of John's memory, he took his works to the next level. 

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
            Collect, Book of Common Prayer                                                   

Sources:

HOLY BIBLE: NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION
HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN: CELEBRATING THE SAINTS
BUTLER’S LIVES OF THE SAINTS: COMPLETE EDITION, Volumes II and III, revised and Edited by Herbert J. Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater
LIVES OF THE SAINTS by Richard P. McBrien
BRIGHTEST AND BEST: A COMPANION TO THE LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS by Sam Portaro
STARS IN A DARK WORLD: STORIES OF THE SAINTS AND HOLY DAYS OF THE LITURGY by F. John-Julian, OJN

……………………………………………………………………………

I originally chose to study the life of St. John the Baptist because he's my son Don’s birthday saint, and today (6/24/2014) is Don’s eighteenth birthday. The similarity between Don and St. John the Baptist is that they are both astute in their character judgment and have little patience for vice and insincerity. 

But as always happens when I study the life of a particular saint, I learned something completely different from what I expected. St. John the Baptist was indeed a learned man, a powerful prophet, and a holy martyr for Christ. 

By digging deeper we find more than the saintly human being. Just as St. John would want us to, we find God.  

It’s in the bit where after Jesus answered the messengers of John from prison, He went on to sing John’s praises and announced that John was the greatest person on earth. That’s a joyous thing – to really know that God is pleased with you because He actually said it aloud. 

Would some of us seek external validation from anyone and everyone so feverishly if we heard these words about ourselves from the mouth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

Here’s the thing, God says it to each and every one of us all the time – in Baptism when we enter the Communion of Saints, in the breaking and sharing of the Bread, in the sunrise and the sunset, in the flutter of a butterfly and the glide of a pterodactyl, in the yellow dandelion and the red sequoia, in the smallest shrimp and the largest leviathan, and in the eyes of the cutest baby boy glancing out at you from your full-grown son.

God’s saying it to us all the time, “To me, you are the greatest person on earth and I love you.”

Take a deep breathe, slowly let it out, and listen.

………………………………………………………………………………………

In honor of St. John the Baptist, let’s make:

HONEY-SPICED LOCUST

Photo and recipe from The Inn at the Crossroads Blog

(Locusts, other types of grasshoppers, and crickets are considered an excellent source of protein and are regularly consumed in many parts of the world. As Princess Jazira says in the movie, Hidalgo, "Fear not the locusts. They are a gift from above. Not a plague, as you might believe.")  

Ingredients:

¼ cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cleaned grasshoppers
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, mixed in with the honey

Instructions:

 1. Purchase box of live grasshoppers from a reputable online source. For more information, see Girl Meets Bug, the blog of Daniella Martin, author of EDIBLE: AN ADVENTURE INTO THE WORLD OF INSECTS AND THE LAST GREAT HOPE TO SAVE THE PLANET (an excellent gift for new graduates).
 2. Pay for overnight shipping so grasshoppers can purge but will still be alive when they reach you.
 3. Place unopened box directly in freezer for 24 hours.
 4. Rinse grasshoppers.
 5. Remove head and legs of each – optional but highly recommended.
 6. Melt butter in a pan over medium heat.
 7. Add the grasshoppers and salt, stir gently for around 10 minutes.
 8. When the grasshoppers are suitably crisped, drizzle the spiced honey over them and stir a bit more.
 9. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
10. Bake for 10 minutes at 200 degrees F. until grasshoppers are no longer quite so sticky.

Enjoy!


What’s that I hear? Is it my dearworthy readers saying, “You’ve got to be kidding?”

Heck yeah, I’m kidding. There is no way on God’s green earth  . . .  at least not yet. 

I'm pretty sure that St. John the Baptist will still let us honor him with the traditional Italian:

HONEY-GLAZED ZEPPOLE (Doughnuts)


(More photos below.)

Ingredients:

About 2 quarts vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Instructions:

 1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
 2. Stir in eggs, ricotta cheese, and vanilla. Mix gently with spoon until blended into a sticky batter.
 3. Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 375 degrees F. Or use a large sauce pot over medium heat. The oil should measure about two inches in depth. If you do not have a deep-fry thermometer, roll up a small piece of bread and drop in hot oil to test the temperature. When bread ball attracts lots of bubbles, it’s ready.
 4. Carefully, drop batter by tablespoons into the hot oil, about five or six per batch. Watch astounded as the zeppole plunge to the bottom, rise up, and turn themselves over a few times. (Sometimes they need a nudge with a spoon.)
 5. Fry until golden brown, about four or five minutes.
 6. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tray with two layers of paper towels to drain.
 7. Whisk honey, water, and cinnamon in medium pot over medium-high heat until glaze comes to a boil.
 8. Remove pan from heat.
 9. Dip warm zeppole into honey glaze with a slotted spoon and pile onto a platter.

Best served warm. (The fried zeppole can rest for up to 6 hours on the counter before dipping into the hot honey and still be absolutely scrumptious.)

Enjoy!

Photos:










Bonus Material: