The Bible verse that's puzzling me during the pandemic

The Bible verse that's puzzling me during the pandemic

There is one verse in the New Testament of the Bible that puzzles me these days — more than others, and in a way it didn’t before last March. I ran across it during this morning’s reading, so I can cite it and write about it without the large amount of hunting that I’d have to do other days.

That verse is Matthew 18:20 — “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” That’s Jesus speaking to his followers. The wording doesn’t change much across different English translations, but for those interested in comparing closely and easily, here is biblestudytools.com’s list of different versions.

To some degree, this is a mystery — not a detective story, but something we cannot solve in this world. But as the pandemic goes on, and I “go to church” in the same chair (and via the same computer) where I’m writing this, I’m troubled by several words in just one verse.

What’s “gathering”? I know that J. in Michigan, C. in Idaho and many friends in Chicago are watching the same pastors broadcasting services that I watch. But are we truly gathered? Does concentrating our minds and souls count?

How big is “in the midst of” us? It’s easy to think of a church congregation being together — which is at the root of the meaning of the word “congregation” — and its Lord being there in the midst of them. But are we being as obedient as we can be when “in the midst of” us is such a big place, because we aren’t gathering in the same place?

There have been times when I’ve written in my diary about “what I did at church today” without meaning the time I went to help with the scripture readings (just once since the closing). But there have been many others when I catch myself writing “I heard,” “I watched,” or “I ‘went’ to church.”

I know that the pandemic is at its worst so far. More than 4,000 people died in the U.S. the day before I wrote this. But is the church really being effective by keeping out the vast majority of its members and keeping us from even a glimpse of the people around us? I am left wondering too often.

I miss S. across the aisle, who likes to come as early as I do to hear the choir practice before the early service. I miss the choir practice before the early service! (But I’m glad that they aren’t risking one another’s health.) I miss G. in my usual pew, six from the front, who teases me if I get the count wrong and wind up in a different pew.

I miss L. in the choir and several different Cs around her. I miss J. playing the organ — oh, I hear him over the computer, but I miss being in the same room and feeling the hairs move on my arms because so much air is moving through the organ pipes.

I may not want Matthew 18:20 once we can gather in church again, but it might hit the spot. I do know the Psalm I’d like to hear read and sung — I’ll even read it myself — once we are allowed back in church. It’s Psalm 122, beginning “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.”

I’m not reading that much right now, but I hope I can read and hear it soon.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. 

 

 

 

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  • It takes 10 to make a minion, and about 5 a,m. this morning I was asleep and at services at some facility on Central Road in Evanston. Jesus wasn't at either.

  • In reply to jack:

    If he were, he'd know exactly how to pray.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Not necessarily. One was based on 18th Century C.E. mysticism, and the other was Reform. Also, I wonder if he could say that what He said (or what Matthew said he said) was The Word of the Lord, as Cardinal Cupich says every Sunday on Channel 7.

    The best that can be said is that some of the Aramaic would be familiar to Him. Also, while the first I mentioned would not say an Aramaic prayer on Zoom, the second would.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, I always appreciate your blend of language and theology to challenge my mind. Here's a return challenge, I hope: I studied theology and journalism at the same time, and I wound up looking at the stories of various events from immediate witnesses, varying in some ways and just the same in others. I'll bet you were thinking that I was looking at two different stories, journalistic and theological -- but I mean my description to apply to both disciplines. The similarity in accounts, despite the vagaries of translations, always impresses me in the Gospel accounts. The writers were writing for different audiences and reasons, but about the same events.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    To whom the Gospels were written were not within my ken.

  • In reply to jack:

    That's all right. Anyone who loves words is welcome here.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I get the feeling he'd start with "Daaaad!"

  • In reply to jack:

    So said your eyes, Jack. Allow me the space to wonder, please.

  • There are limits to how far one can go in finding original intent. I suppose one could begin by trying to determine what Jesus actually said to Matthew in Aramaic. But I suspect that, even if Jesus had said whether and how he would appear in the midst of a Zoom broadcast, Matthew would not have understood and therefore could not report. At certain points all documents important to us must be interpreted in light of their overall purposes and spirit.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I don't remember Scalia being among the Apostles.

  • In reply to jack:

    Clever, Jack. Well done. I'd do well to think of Justice Scalia's "original intent" more often in cases (!!) like this.

  • In reply to jack:

    Not among the original ones, but I am sure Scalia considered himself on a short list.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Well put, jnorto. Thank you. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the stories that I forget details like time.

  • Not being particularly religious (don't get me started) I cannot speak to whether there was an edict to be in physical communion with each other -- and if there was, how much of that was dictated by the technology of the time -- and how much of Jesus's saying was to the spiritual.

    The command to not be "unevenly yoked" came from Paul, not Jesus. Words are merely sounds in context. If your desire to share your faith with like-minded believers leaves you emotionally wanting due to social distancing, then you have to ask whether one's sharing was physical or spiritual. No one demands that we be ascetics. We can however, recognize the demands of the flesh and make due scope according to our understandings of the Cosmic Muffin

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    Thanks, Grundoon. No need to get anybody started on anything but words here. The demands of the flesh, as you aptly put it, require social distancing (at least at my home church and some others). I guess I'm working on allowing the technology of this time to try to build the spiritual life that was once easier to feel.

  • " I guess I'm working on allowing the technology of this time to try to build the spiritual life that was once easier to feel."
    ---------------------
    Ms. Laing, that is one of the most eloquently put statements of faith (which by necessity include service to doubt) I have heard in many years.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    Thank you, Grundoon. That was one of the more eloquent comments I've had in more than six years of writing this blog.

  • Speaking of doubt, I seem to recall that Mother Teresa admitted she constantly struggled with it.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    To the best of my own recall, my friend, she said that she did.

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