had known Pat Wickham since our undergraduate days in the Religion
Department at Montclair State College. Then I was a defensive
fundamentalist and she was rejoicing to run in the broad fields of faith
opened up to her by a college major in Religious Studies. Our paths
intersected again and again along the way, and at length we wound up, by
hook and by crook, as members of the same church, of which some years
later I am pastor.
I had the privilege of
assisting Pat in her ordination process, reviewing her theological
position paper, across which I scrawled the words "Shockingly orthodox!"
Indeed much had changed in the intervening years, though in Pat's case it
was the same Christlike Spirit simply assuming different theological
garments as old ones came no longer to fit her.
Now in the wake of her
loss, it is not a biblical text that looms large in my mind, but rather
one from the Talmud. As Joachim Jeremias summarizes it in his great book
The Parables of Jesus, here is the story:
scholar, Rabbi Bun bar Hijja, died at an early age. His former teachers,
who had become his colleagues, assembled to pay him the last honors, and
one of them, Rabbi Zera, pronounced his funeral oration in the form of a
parable. He began by saying that the situation was like that of a king
who had hired a great number of labourers. Two hours after the work
began, the king inspected the labourers. He saw that one of them
surpassed the others in industry and skill. He took him by the hand and
walked up and down with him till the evening. When the labourers came to
receive their wages, each of them received the same amount as all the
others. Then they murmured and said, 'We have worked the whole day, and
this man only two hours, yet you have paid him the full day's wages.'
The king replied, 'I have not wronged you; this labourer has done more
in two hours than you have done during the whole day.' So likewise,
concluded the funeral oration, has Rabbi Bun bar Hijja accomplished more
in his short life of twenty-eight years than many a great scholar in a
hundred years. Therefore, after so brief a span of labor, God has taken
him by the hand and gathered him to himself."
So with Pat Wickham. She
had pastoral gifts that I would labor in vain for a century to possess.
And I have no doubt that her labor on behalf of God's reign already
surpassed anything I may yet do for it.
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