The Fourth Watch


The book of Matthew, first gospel in a set of four, says that Jesus came to the disciples on the fourth watch. His disciples, fishermen by trade, had gone fishing and a storm came on what had been a calm sea. 

The Romans divided the night into four three-hour segments and the Jews had adopted these divisions. The fourth watch was the last part of the night between three and six in the morning. This was the last watch, the end of the night.

The fourth watch is that point where you wake up and it is so dark, you look at the clock beside your bed, and you sigh deeply – you can still sleep for another 2 hours. Or it’s the time when you have to be at the airport for the early morning flight, that flight that leaves at 6 am, passengers sporting only sleep-blurred eyes and coffee breath.

Or it’s the “darkest before dawn” part of the night.

It meant this storm on the sea of Galilee had raged all night long. It meant that the disciples were exhausted and defeated, that they had battled a critical weather event with every ounce of their human strength – but it was not enough. The storm was going to defeat them.

Until Jesus came and spoke words that calmed the sea.

The fourth watch. My mind fills with questions: Why did Jesus wait so long? Why did this miracle worker not intervene sooner? Why, when it was at their last bit of strength, did he suddenly appear – a ghost-like figure walking on the stormy seas?

My questions will never be answered and even as I write them I know these questions reflect my heart – a heart that finds faith hard, that sometimes thinks God waits too long to intervene. Too long to move hearts and souls, too long to change circumstances. I want him to come on the first watch, not the fourth.

The death count in Gaza, the civil war in Syria, the conflict in the Ukraine, and terrible persecution of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq — all of it feels like the fourth watch. It’s gone on too long. When will peace come? When will evil be conquered? When will God intervene?

Because the world is waiting for the fourth watch.

*The story relayed is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. It was our Gospel reading this past week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since

Invitation to Breakfast

I love eating breakfast out at restaurants. Perhaps it’s because I rarely do it, but when I do, it’s always a vacation feel – a sense of the unexpected.

Israel, Sea of Galilee (Lake of Tiberias)

So it was with new eyes that I read the line “Come have breakfast” in the gospel of John.

The verse comes after Jesus has been crucified and has risen, appearing to different people. First he is seen by Mary, then by the disciples and finally by others. He’s on the banks of the Sea of Galilee watching the disciples fishing in a boat on the sea. They have fished the entire night and they’ve caught nothing. Their nets and stomachs are empty. But this man on the banks of the sea tells them “Just try it one more time.”

Just one more time.

So they do it. Weary, frustrated, hungry – they still try one more time. And the result does not disappoint. They catch so many fish that they can’t even bring the full net in. It’s too heavy. You can picture it – fish jumping around in the net, strong men trying with all their muscles to hold the net but they have to throw some back.

And that piece is amazing – this picture of trying one more time and filling a net.

But the compelling piece is on shore where Jesus takes the fish and fixes it for them – those hungry, weary humans. Those men who he has eaten with, walked with, stayed with for three years. He knows them. He knows their frame, he hears their hearts – and he invites them to breakfast.

“Come and have breakfast!”*

Said with full knowledge of all that the invitation means. Come rest. Come sit. Come and be filled. Come – have breakfast!

It’s an early morning here in Boston. The quiet of the city morning is broken by a raucous group of homeless who are waking to the day. Except for coffee shops and a brand new Walgreens that boasts a 24-hour day, all businesses are still closed, their steel barriers down from the day before.

And I have an invitation to breakfast from One who will give rest on a weary Monday.

Maybe you haven’t fished all night – but maybe it’s something else. Maybe your worries have kept you up to the wee hours, your mind occupied with so much that concerns. Maybe something else has kept you up all night – tears flowing because it’s safe when no one can see them. No matter – you have an invitation to breakfast from One who gives rest.

*John 21:12

The Gospel in a Psych Ward

My first (known) experience with mental illness came during my psych rotation of nursing school. In that rotation 20 of us — innocent, young, female students, unaware of some of the tragedies and vices of mental illness — were plopped into a veterans psych hospital.

We were plopped there having practiced “therapeutic communication” for a total of one week. We were dumped there knowing the phrases “Tell me more about how you feel” or “What was that like for you?” or “What did you feel like after that happened?”. We were told never to contradict.

We were told to ‘be safe’.

The first person I met looked at me and introduced himself as Jesus Christ. “Oh no you’re not” I said! My instructor looked at me in horror, and pulled me aside. “You’re not supposed to contradict!” She said with strength and warning in her tone. “But he’s NOT Jesus Christ!” I said to her indignantly. “That’s ridiculous!” She sighed. “We’ll talk later….”

During that semester the world as I knew it was destroyed. From depression to suicide to abuse to transvestites to domestic violence to teen drug use to schizophrenia it changed. My world was shaken to the core and I didn’t know what to do.

So I came down with a rash. That seemed the only way to cope. Hives took me to the emergency room where I was safely treated for a ‘physical symptom’. I could escape the psychological symptoms for a time through Benadryl and cleaning my drawers.

But sooner or later I had to return.

This was the beginning of realizing that my faith, the gospel, the truth of the ‘I Am who I Am’ is nothing if it can’t penetrate the psych ward. If my faith wasn’t strong enough for this….I didn’t want anything to do with it. If my Jesus was not somehow present in all of this – no. I didn’t want Him.

There had to be a light that could shine bright enough, reach deep enough, be strong enough. A light that could shine into troubled hearts and tortured minds, go into the living hell of some of these patients.

If there was redemption, a redemptive process, I had to know it was strong enough for this.

Red from scratching the raised bumps of hives, I sat on my bed and frantically looked for a gospel story that could shed some light, offer a hope to the world that I was confronting. And I found it in the story of Legion.

20130103-083146.jpgJesus is in the Galilee walking with his disciples and comes across a man who is tortured in body, mind, and soul. The man lives in tombs, has the strength to tear chains off his body, and cuts himself with stones. If there is hell on earth, he was living it. But in all of this, he recognizes who Jesus is and falls on his knees. When Jesus asks the man his name, he responds: “Legion, because there are many of us”. And Jesus takes this tortured soul, sets it free, sends this legion of demons into a herd of pigs that run into the lake and drown.

Jesus doesn’t turn away, he enters into this pain and frees the man.

In no way am I suggesting that mental illness is demon possession. But I am suggesting that the pain and torture described in this story are what many people with mental illness feel. They are in their own living hell.

Since that time I have had many encounters with mental illness. I’ve walked beside people into emergency rooms and counselors offices; I’ve sat with people as they’ve described their manic thoughts and desire to end it all, as they’ve tried to deal with the hurt of a mind that has betrayed them. I’ve been present with the family members of those who have chosen suicide.

I have witnessed redemption through proper medication and counsel, holy moments of healing during crisis, a God whose presence can fill the psych ward or the therapists office.

But it was the story of Legion that first gave me hope – that my gospel can and does belong in a psych ward. That healing and ‘therapeutic’ communication can come as balms of holy oil to the one who suffers. That this gospel, this good news that I love, is strong enough to reach into tortured souls and living hell.

The Galilee Scandal (aka Swimming Nude in the Sea)

Israel, Sea of Galilee (Lake of Tiberias)

Along with Todd Akin’s asinine choice of words we have ourselves another scandal – only this one is so much more fun!

Enter the Swimming nude in the Sea of Galilee Scandal of the Summer.

After a long, hot day in Israel, Republican lawmakers along with some of their families and staff decided to jump into the Sea of Galilee. Many jumped in fully clothed but one free-spirited Republican bared more than his opinions, stripping down and swimming sans clothes in the beautiful sea. He may be the first elected official from the United States to do so, but believe me – swimming nude in the Galilee is a bipartisan activity that has been enjoyed by many.

One group in particular comes to mind. The Middle East Studies Program that began in 1993 under my husband’s leadership brought students from all over the United States to study in Egypt for a semester. Included in this study abroad program was a trip to Israel/Palestine. A good motto for one most semesters would have been “What happens in Galilee stays in Galilee”, for it was a bit more racy than fishes and loaves. On a night with clear sky, a slivered moon and twinkling stars the guys in one group decided to experience the sea in a more intimate way – they swam nude (skinny dipped if you want to use the vernacular) While one of the women in the group guarded their clothes, the men enjoyed a memorable evening. It should be noted that their fearless leader was a full participant in the scandal.

So what do I think of elected officials doing the same? Good for them! Personally I don’t equate nude bathing to having affairs and sending pictures of private parts to anonymous ladies that you meet over the internet.

These people live under a microscope, their every word and sentence questioned, parsed, and diced. Within one day their lot can change– so argue their politics all you want, but for God’s sake let them frolic in the sea! Who on earth did they hurt?

And if, in the process one of them brings back some drops of water for a baptism, good for him! It’s a story their child will never forget.