April 29, 2005

The Witness

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

Jesus' power is apparent, not only because of the miraculous events he influenced, but also because he claims equality with God - a blasphemous notion to the Jewish leader's point of view. Lazarus is quite symbolic of Jesus' power, an actual living witness. If he is put to death, the witness is silenced, and he becomes less of a risk of attracting more Jewish followers. Because "many Jews were going away and believing in Jesus", the Jewish leaders were threatened, and wanted to put Jesus and his witness to death.

If there is a call to 'heart' in this passage, it must be with poor old Lazarus - the power of the witness.

Focus of Love

John 12: 1-8

This passage depicts Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointing Jesus with expensive oil, sacrificing great expense to show her adoration. Earlier, Jesus had commended her for sitting near him and listening. Mary openly offers sacrifice and adulation to Jesus, whom she recognized as God incarnate, over spending on the poor or even her family. Jesus praises Mary for this, although I cannot believe he was speaking from his own point of view as Jesus when he did this, but rather from the point of view of God. Jesus was not attached to his body or to any luxury or extravagance, and from this viewpoint would likely not have allowed this lavishness to be bestowed upon him. Perhaps the symbolism of the extravagance here is to encourage us to love God as unselfishly as possible, to bestow upon God all that which we feel is most precious to us – our attention and our tenderness.

Giving to the poor, humanitarian efforts are obviously virtuous, yet they do not supercede our love and gratitude to God. God is most worthy of our self sacrificing and of receiving our most reverent focus of love.

April 28, 2005

reflections on John 12:9-11

Not much to say here -- certianly not of a religious or spiritual nature.

It is a short transitional passage leading up to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. From a narrative standpoint it escalates the dramatic tension. From the old us vs. them motif that John seems to revel in -- its another nail in the Pharisee's coffin lid -- so to speak.

I also thing in its anachronistic. It presents the leaders of the Jewish people so upset about folks deserting the faith to follow Jesus that they are willing to arrange an assassination of Lazarus over it.

But at this point -- Jesus is a Jewish preacher. I'm not saying the events did not happen. I'm saying teh way they are framed seems to me to refelct the perspective of a later point in history -- when Jews and Christians are at least starting see themselves as different faiths or at least different communities.

It is important to me that Christians not lose their sense of Jewish roots. Passages like this encourage us to see "the Jews" as a different group hostile to our "true faith". Christians run into trouble everytime we forget that we are a minor Jewish sect.

April 27, 2005

Plot to Kill Jesus (oops -- Lazarus)

Because this is a short passage I have offered multiple translations:

Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

AV 1611

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.


When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

Revised Standard

April 25, 2005

Jesus' feet / C

Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was filled with the scent of the ointment.

... this is the same Mary who sat at Jesus' feet while Martha did housework. She seems to be quite the devotee.

Then Judas Iscariot -- one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him-said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contents.

... John looks back after the crucifixion and reads into Judas' words the motivation he assumes must have been in a traitor's heart? Perhaps Judas was jelouse of the close relationship between Jesus and Mary.

So Jesus said, 'Leave her alone; let her keep it for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.'

... I've heard this line used by some to justify not working against poverty ... what's the point, it will always be with us. I disagree, as Jesus often told people to give to the poor. Maybe Jesus, forseeing his death, can be allowed a moment to sadly treasure the devotion of Mary in the face of his mortality ... he was human as well as divine.

BTW - the online version of the New American bible says about the annointing of J's feet and his response ... Jesus' response reflects the rabbinical discussion of what was the greatest act of mercy, almsgiving or burying the dead. Those who favored proper burial of the dead thought it an essential condition for sharing in the resurrection.

April 24, 2005

Give the Money to the Poor (John 12:1-8)

I look at a story like this and ask -- what is this doing here? John has included this story to make some sort of point. What is going on?

Mary buys an expensive jar of ointment to anoint Jesus' feet. Judas Iscariot objects -- give the money to the poor. John says Judas was only being greedy -- he was the treasurer and was embezzling funds. Jesus blesses Mary's action -- this anointing is an anointing for burial -- a prophetic act heralding his crucifixion.

It seems likely to me there was tension in the early Christian community about money and about the common purse. Luke mentions this in Acts. The disciples saw a common purse -- sharing all possessions in common -- as the most faithful application of the gospel. Problems developed. In Acts we hear that the disciples -- Peter, James, and John were not being just in their distribution of funds to the poor. The poor they knew personally were getting the lion share. And here in John -- the call to not waste money on expensive extravagances is placed on the lips of Judas Iscariot - the one who betrayed Jesus -- and just for good measure -- is accused of theft.

Clearly there were deep resentments about money running through these communities.

How we make out money and our expenditures spiritual is an interesting question for me. I look at my life -- I look at what we have done without -- and the extravagances we have spent on. My television set is 18 years old. I do not own a car. But I do buy a new computer every few years. I pay for high speed internet connections. I buy books. I do not tithe. We go to restaurants fairly frequently. I eat too much chocolate. The choices we make about how we will spend our money reflects who we are.

You can weep and fast and pray but who you are and what you believe is writ large on your VISA statement.

The Poor? (John 12:1-8)

"You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me." But we do have him, and the poor.

Matthew 25:35:
"I was an hungred [hungry], and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
25:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." and 25:40:
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Friends, he is here, with us!!!

Housekeeping/Roll Call

Just thought I'd put in a place for folks to check in. I know a few folks have reduced their activities here. I'm only posting the scripture passages on Wednesday and Sunday -- to give more reflection time for folks. Wondering if anything else can be done to make this a more helpful place.

I know for myself -- this is getting a bit wearing in at least two ways. Firstly, I'm finding my comments getting increasingly neck up. I'm not sure how much of this is the material and how much of this is me. I was hoping a pattern of less frequent posting would allow me to be more reflective and more meditative in my approach but it ain't happening.

Secondly, I'm finding the basic message of this gospel is getting repetitive. I also know the gospel is gearing up for the entry into Jerusalem with Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet so I am expecting things to change that way soon.

Also -- its almost May. Is anyone planning a summer vacation far away from the WWW? Do we need to retire the study for July or August?

Where is everyone else on this?

Mary Anoints Jesus (John 12:1-8)

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was filled with the scent of the ointment.

Then Judas Iscariot -- one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him-said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contents.

So Jesus said, 'Leave her alone; let her keep it for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.'

April 21, 2005

John 11: 45-57 / Crystal

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

... one of the reasons I think Jesus really did literally raise Lazarus from the dead is because of the reaction of the religious leaders to this act ... many rabbis healed the sick and if this had just been another healing I doubt it would have driven them to the conclusion that Jesus was the messiah (or was being perceived as the messiah) and must die.

If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come 10 and take away both our land and our nation.

... ironically, their solution to this terrible possibility didn't avert it, as the Romans did come in after Jesus' death.

it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish

... scapegoat stuff, I guess.

since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

... did the high priest forsee that Jesus' death would unite the world? That seems odd.

Politics and Religion (Larry)

The section of John 11 (45-57) is a completely political scene. Mythopoeically it represents the collision of two visions of religion: the worldly vision of the Sanhedrin and the spiritual vision of Jesus.

The taboo against mixing religion and politics is unfounded. Jesus' message was quintessentially political. 'Feed the hungry' is political in the most ultimate sense. Love your enemy (or your neighbor!) is completely a political matter. Politics is primarily about human relationships.

Of course unscrupulous politicians posing as religiously motivated are a different thing entirely. Speaking of Christian politics there is a true and false kind like everything else. (Here is a thoughtful discussion of the second kind.)

If you try to divorce your faith from politics, you are simply not heeding the basic message of Jesus. For example going to war is thought to be a political decision; more basically its a spiritual decision.

The high priest in this story is the antitype of Jesus (in the second meaning of the word).
It would not be an exaggeration to refer to him as a servant of the devil. No doubt he was perfectly sincere (and some people are foolish enough to equate sincerity with religion!)

I'm closing my rant here, for the time being.

Politics & Faith (david's comments on John 11:45-57)

We like to imagine that the spiritual is above the political. But it isn't. The spiritual calls us to integrity of belief and action and guides us in how we will live with others. These are areas ruled by politics.

In this passage the Jews are not presented as dullards or as willfully antagonistic in the way they have been thus far:

'Here is this man working all these signs,' they said, 'and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and suppress the Holy Place and our nation.'

This is real fear being expressed. Someone in the Sanhedrin has listened to what Jesus has to say and concluded that if enough people believe then the Romans will have no other choice but to send troops into Jerusalem and start killing people.

What is it in Jesus' message that would prompt such an action on the part of the Romans?

His claims that he and the Father are one. His claims of messiah. If he is the True Shepherd then the Jewish collaborators with Roman occupation are the hireling shepherds and Rome is the thief who does not come in through the gate -- and only to murder and steal.

We want to interpret the raising of Lazarus as spiritual -- personal transformation. But the allegory stated in an occupied nation -- the allegory can also be read politically.

And the conclusions this Jewish council reaches?

One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, 'You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish.'

Kill him before its too late. A not unreasonable conclusion under the circumstances. Frightening in its implications. But nevertheless one that sincere people have felt forced into from time to time.

There was considerable support for George Bush's attack on Iraq from Christian leaders. Despite the unjust execution of Jesus -- the majority of professing Christians historically have been in favour of capital punishment. Dietrich Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

What do we do with this? We can try to remain true to our vision of God's ways. But when pushed into a corner -- what we would we do?

April 20, 2005

Plot Against Jesus (John 11:45-57)

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done.

Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. 'Here is this man working all these signs,' they said, 'and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and suppress the Holy Place and our nation.'

One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, 'You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish.' He did not speak in his own person, but as high priest of that year he was prophesying that Jesus was to die for the nation - and not for the nation only, but also to gather together into one the scattered children of God.

From that day onwards they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples. The Jewish Passover was drawing near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves were looking out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, 'What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?'

The chief priests and Pharisees had by now given their orders: anyone who knew where he was must inform them so that they could arrest him.

April 19, 2005

Lazarus Come Out!

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

This scene resonates so powerfully its hard to stay with the literal sense for long. Here God sees us dead and buried and calls to us even so and we hear and we stumble from the open tomb still bound by our graveclothes.

Whatever happened on that day this event stands as a sign to us of the possibilities for personal transformation in our little lives now and for resurrection on the last day.


April 18, 2005

Jesus Wept

I really haven't understood much of this Lazarus story, but this I understand; Jesus wept when he witnessed Mary's sorrow. I imagined this scene in my mind, and felt Jesus' great compassion in witnessing and knowing of another's sorrow. It seemed to be his tender heart actually feeling the overwhelming grief that Mary and Martha and their friends felt, and he wanted to bring solace and comfort to these friends who were in such pain. This is the hallmark of compassion.

One of my favorite mystics, Mechtild of Magdeburg wrote:

"When you drink the waters of sorrow
You shall kindle the fire of love."

This part of the Lazarus story touches me deeply, and reminds me of a time when I once had a terrible loss. Several months following my loss, I saw a friend who had not heard. When I shared with her the sad events that had taken place, she immediately welled with tears; she was able to so quickly comprehend and share my sorrow. We talked for a while, me mostly, while she listened with an acute empathy that was so loving. I was overcome with gratitude for her natural ability to deeply understand to some degree the pain I was feeling. Her compassion was tangible, and with it she brought me much solace that mere words from others had been unable to reach. I feel a special bond with this friend that remains to this day.

In this Lazarus story, I have been trying hard to comprehend the resurrection, the miracle if you will, wondering all the while, what are we to learn from it? What meaning does Jesus resurrecting a deceased person have for our lives today? Our loved ones will surely not be resurrected, even though we may want to believe it might be possible. If I consider this story from a mythological standpoint, it begins to read and sit a little differently for me. In mythology, this could happen, and embedded within the story is a lesson to be learned or an experience to identified with.

Mythologically speaking, Lazarus's resurrection speaks to me of an eternal dimension, where it is possible that time does not exist, death is not forever, and dreams really do come true... In this dimension, fate could be altered, God 'always' hears us, and for 'he that believed in me' anything is possible. Perhaps this is the supernaturalism Crystal writes about. It must occur in a different dimension than the one we live in, because anyone who has suffered great loss knows that just praying or wishing it could be different does not make it so.

So, back to what are we to learn? What is the take-home message? I would say it might be this: When Jesus says, "I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believed in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die," we are given a powerful message. I read that in this sense resurrection indicates the elevation of consciousness from lower to higher states, especially from identifying as a personality and a body to a kind of superconsciousness such as Jesus had. Even if a person is physically or spiritually dead, their soul, not identified with bodily life or ego, remains very much alive, especially in the hearts of those who loved them, indeed of God, and in this way they are elevated in spiritual consciousness.

As I think about my experience, it is rare that when someone dies, I only remember my pain or how awful it was. This seems true for others, too. Don't we always seem to elevate the person who passed, almost holding them as if on a pedestal to look up to and remember fondly? Even if we do not initially feel this way, time has a way of softening our memories, easing our pain, bringing peace and closure to losses of all kinds. This is true in my experience. For this, I am very grateful, and have been truly blessed. This is a compassionate God who walks the ground of our Being - nurturing both inner and outer compassion. This is the gift we give to one another, and to ourselves. It truly kindles the fires of love.

April 17, 2005


At last - the perfect scriptural passage to illustrate the tension between what I think of as "supernaturalism" and "Deism" :-)

Supernaturalism accepts a metaphysical dimension that supercedes nature, and is not subject to direct observation. Theism is intrinsically supernatural. If we believe in God at all, we must accept the idea that the supernatural exists, since God is, by definition, supernatural.

One definition of Deism ... is the classical view that the universe was created by a God who then makes no further intervention in its affairs, often expressed by the metaphor of the "Divine Watchmaker" with creation being self-regulating. In this view, the reason God does not intervene in the world (via miracles) is not simply that he does not care, but rather that he has already created the best of all possible worlds and any intervention could not improve it.

One area of difference between Deism and supernaturalism is the acceptance/denial of miracles like the raising of Lazarus. What is a miracle?

Thomas Aquinas says ... those things are properly called miracles which are done by divine agency beyond the order commonly observed in nature (praeter ordinem communiter observatum in rebus),

A Deist viewpoint of miracles might be summed up by the thoughts of Spinoza (1670) who believed that they do not occur as nothing happens contrary to the eternal and unchangeable order of nature which God has set up.

I guess you guys know which I am - a supernaturalist. I believe the miracles in the NT did occur and, like CS Lewis, I don't think there's a contradiction between a miracle and the laws of nature. As he says ...

By definition, miracles must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature; but if they are real they must, in the very act of so doing, assert all the more the unity and self-consistency of total reality at some deeper level. ... In calling them miracles we do not mean that they are contradictions or outrages; we mean that, left to her [Nature] own resources, she could never produce them.

All of this is, of course, just the hashing about of ideas and beliefs ... I know mine are no more valid than anyone else's ... it's just fun sometimes to talk about them :-)

Jesus Raises Lazarus (John 11: 28-44)

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."

And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?"

They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep.

So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone."

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."

Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

April 15, 2005

Life from Death

That's the name of Sanford's chapter on The Raising of Lazarus (John 11). He points out that the Greek language has two distinct words for life: bios and zoe. The first of course refers to physical life and the second to spiritual: it is a spiritual state in which a person begins to participate, here and now, in this earthly existence" as well as in the beyond. It's opposite is spiritual death, and we are always moving toward one or the other.

This movement and opposition runs like a thread throughout the Bible: in the garden the tree of life stands there, but the primal two (representing all of us) choose the tree of death.

Deut 30:19 "Today, I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then..."

Proverbs 8:35-6: "whoever find me finds life, and obtains the favour of Yahweh;
but whoever misses me harms himself, all who hate me are in love with death."

And on and on it goes: with our spiritual eyes open, we may see it wherever we look. Sanford says that this (John 11), next to the death and resurrection of Jesus, is the "most important statement John makes on this theme", but there are many others.

April 13, 2005

Jesus and Martha (John 11:17-27) / C

I've been thinking about this story a lot, trying to reconcile my feelings about who Jesus is with the fact that he waited, causing his friends some mental anguish.
This is just conjecture, but ...
Although Jesus raised at least a couple of other people from the dead, this instance seems to be the only one where he knew the people well - the gospel says he loved them. Maybe he'd known them even before he came out of the "spiritual closet" and started his public ministry. Mary seems to have accepted Jesus as the messiah, but did Martha and Lazarus? Perhaps it was particularly important to Jesus to prove to those he loved that he was more than just as a healer?

This is making Jesus out to be very human but there are other places in scripture where he lets his feelings out (like the cleansing of the temple). I guess "God only knows" why he waited ... my old spiritual director would have said ... "Just ask him!" :-)

Jesus and Nazareth

The primary significance of this story for me is the metaphoric dimension. We may dwell on the actuality or factuality or historicity of the story, but the meaning is spiritual rather than materialistic.

The N.T. has redefined life and death. Death is living without God, and life is being in Christ. You will find these two words juxtaposed innumerable times in the epistles, representing the life of the primitive church.

Lazarus was in Christ and death could not hold him. That is the essence of the story, and that is pretty much what I want to focus on. Are you in Christ? Are you alive?

If you had been here, he would not have died

I like Martha.

This is the same Martha who in the Synoptics told Jesus to make Mary help her in the kitchen.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

-- Luke 10: 38-42 (NRSV)

She calls him Lord and affirms that he is the Messiah and witnesses miracles and believes in an ultimate resurrection of those who believe. And yet still she has the gumption to berate him when she thinks he's being unfair or not doing what she thinks he ought to be. A little like Abraham haggling with God over the fate of Sodom for the sake of his brother Lot.

Maybe for all our piety and grand notions of God and spirituality and faith God would rather we wrestled with him over matters that are important to us. Maybe keeping our hands clean and solemnly trusting God in all things is bad faith. Maybe we (I) need to take the risk of saying NO! to the creator of heaven and earth every once in a while.

Jesus and Martha (John 11:17-27)

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

April 12, 2005

Signs and Wonders

So Jesus deliberately allows Lazarus to die so the miracle will be more dramatic.

Now as someone who reads scripture as constructed narrative I know this was not the intended sense of this passage. This was to demonstrate the power of God through Jesus -- to establish Christian claims against the unreasonable Jews. To inspire faith and commitment.

But as a modern reader. I cannot escape it. Jesus allowed Lazarus - his friend to die. So the miracle would look good in front of mourners and other witnesses.

And it is hard not to apply this to my own life situation(s). Feeling stuck and in a cul de sac. Waiting for a miracle while I wrestle with my own grave clothes. And I know change is inevitable. I know there will be resurrections and other deaths and other lives. That's how life works.

But what this passage seems to be saying from the muddle of all that is delays in the inevitable change in the wind is so I'll feel more grateful when it happens. And knowing that and knowing me -- it will likely have the opposite effect.

April 10, 2005

Why did Jesus wait? - Crystal

I've always been intrigued by this whole passage :-) ... it isn't in the other gospels, although Jesus does, I think, raise others from the dead elsewhere. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Lazarus was later murdered to get rid of the evidence of Jesus' works.

Therefore his sisters sent unto him (Jesus), saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

.... this shows the deep relationship between Jesus and Lazarus - he is referred to not by name but as the one that Jesus loves. Some scholars have speculated that perhaps Lazarus was the "beloved disciple" rather than John.

When he (Jesus) had heard therefore that he (Lazarus) was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.

... why did Jesus wait, when he cared so much about Lazarus? I get that it is more amazing to raise someone from the dead than to simply heal them, but the idea of Jesus making PR decisions leaves me cold.

Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

... this reminds me of another line in John where Jesus mentions that one must work while there is light. I wonder if he meant that he must do what he can now, before his death?

Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.

... Jesus has precognition.

Let us also go, that we may die with him.

... whew! ... it's not easy to be a disciple!

Lazarus Sickens and Dies (John 11:1-16)

Those of you attending churches reading from the Common Lectionary will recall this one -- I think it was read just last week.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."

But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."

The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?"

Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him."

The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

April 09, 2005

Chapter Ten Again

In the 50's, after an illuminating religious experience, I was a seminary student, for the first time keenly interested in theological and biblical matters. One of the books that came into my hands was a small treatment of John by a man named Ingle or Ingalls or some such name, emanating from the Univ. of Chicago, I believe. He expressed negative feelings about John, which I found shocking; it was the only discordant note I had seen in the midst of much adulatory material. He felt that John had altered the shape of Christianity, away from the purer synoptic gospels.

50 years later I can appreciate his feelings better than I could then. I've come to believe that the Trinity and the Nicene Creed, supported to a large degree by John, came forth in the 4th Century and appear to have been politically motivated theological instruments.

I wish I could remember that man's name; his book was once in my library, but that was long ago.

I frequently quote Blake's reply to Crabbe Robinson's(?) query whether Jesus was the son of God: Yes he was, and so am I, and so are you. My eastern oriented friends (notably Meredith) have helped me see how Jesus was one with God (in essence) without ever claiming that he was God.

Ellie reminded me that John Sanford's Mystical Christianity is here (A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John). Reading his treatment of Chapter 10 has to a large extent relieved my feelings about the Trinity and the Nicene Creed.
What I object to (the same thing the Unitarians and Mohammed objected to) is the implication that Jesus was God in the sheerest, most actual and material sense as the Father.

Sanford pointed out (p 215) that the idea of deification was important in the early church: "Biblical references in support of the idea include all those passages that refer to the spiritual life as the completion of the soul", and he named specifically Heb 4:12-16, 2 Peter 1:4, Luke 20-35-36, Romans 8:29 and Gal 4:9. He seems to be saying that all these passages (and many others) refer to the 'christification' or deification of you- and me.

Athanasius: "he was made man that we might be made God."
Gregory of Nazianzen: "We become like Christ, since Christ also became like us; we become gods on his account since he also became man for our sake."
"Gregory of Nyssa also expounded the same idea in his great work "On the Soul and the Resurrection" (there it is, Crystel).

What this means to me: I can stop kicking the Nicene Creed and proclaiming myself a unitarian. That's real progress, and you have all played a part in this conversion. Thank you for being my friend.

April 08, 2005

Other sheep, not of this fold

"10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold"- always one of my favorites. It implies universalism, at least something better than the virulent exclusivism that has cursed the church so long.

I remind myself of a poor old friend in Quaker circles, born a Catholic, and for the last 40 years having to testify about all the damage they did to his psyche. Our oldest son took us severely to task for our immoderate political views; he shares our position but doesn't feel the need to fight all these demons of the past.

The fundies have never done anything to me. Why do they bother me so much? I think the same reason that the 'physically challenged' and the obese bother me so much, I shake my fist at God.

Their faith has been so abused, misused, so exclusivistic, tribalistic, harmful. But maybe the same thing can be said of mine. God have mercy on me, a sinner. (That man, too is one of my favorites- Luke 18:13.)

Jesus the Mystic

John 10:1-42

In this chapter I love the way Jesus is portrayed as the mystic. Jesus states, “I am the door” and “I am the good shepherd,” This is so poetic, so beautiful.

That Jesus identifies himself purely as an identity of divinity is clear in these statements, as well as suggesting that we are all souls made in the pure image of God: “Ye are Gods.”

As a fully realized spiritual being Jesus did not speak of his human nature as God; he did not identify his human ego as “I am God.” But rather, “I and my father are one.” Jesus and his father are not the same person, but they are one in essence and nature. His divine works also testify to this: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me…” and “I have shown you many good works from the Father.” In Jesus’ manner of presenting himself, he manifested the realization of his consciousness as having derived from God. This is also exemplified in this statement: “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” I take this line to mean that by knowing God our lives, our very Being-ness, becomes rich, deep, and abundant in the ultimate, spiritual, non-time oriented dimension, not necessarily so that we may live abundantly or richly or long in the historical dimension. Indeed, the truths that open from Jesus’ speaking with the consciousness of Christ seem to lead us deeper and deeper into God. This is truly abundant life!
When Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me,” I recall that feeling of being roused by an internal voice, and at the same time seeing with a clarity I had never experienced previously. Hearing and seeing in this way left no doubt within me about the presence of spirit, of grace, of divinity surrounding me, and of a pure ”knowing.” Since that experience, I continue to feel compelled to listen for this voice, and to see with ‘pure eyes’.

Is Jesus God or a man infused with Christ Consciousness, the omniscient intelligence of God? I wonder if there is truly a difference. Divine nature shows itself in a multitude of ways – from qualities of inward light, including benevolence, innocence, wisdom, loving kindness, humor, and compassion in human forms, and within the millions of natural wonders of the universe.

As much as I enjoyed contemplating these concepts from these passages from John, I could also see the seeds of pejorative attitudes that have existed for centuries based on the way the scripture is worded. Anti-Semitism could be interpreted from the language regarding the “Jews,” false prophets, thieves and robbers, etc. For example, in the sheep pen, the shepherd is the gate. Jesus states that anyone who climbs into the sheep pen (followers) by some other way than through him (Jesus), are “thieves and robbers.” If Jesus is the only gate to God, all other faiths are discredited. Jesus also stated that “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not hear them.” I had trouble with these passages initially. It reads in our modern language as though Jesus is dishonoring other religions, as well as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Buddha, John the Baptist, and other great spiritual leaders who preceded him. However, it is possible that he is referring to teachers who claim, by elevating their own egos and seeking devotion by followers, are robbing followers of the devotion meant for God. Ignorance or spiritual blindness is really the thief, in that this prevents people from having a life of true spiritual grace in God. Based on the essence of his teachings, Jesus would not have discredited great prophets and seers who delivered such similar messages about the presence of Divinity within.

When Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They, too, will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd,” I believe he expands his vision, and unifies all spiritual teachings to one voice, one God.

Still, there is a lot in these passages that harm if taken literally, and unfortunately damage the message of Christianity.

Getting Personal

I have been thinking about my comments below on this passage.

My previous posting was -- basically a citation of facts -- a display of knowledge if you will. A recent learning skills test I took has made me aware that abstract conceptualization is safe-mode for me. It allows me to participate without stepping into the scary areas of emotional connection or practical action.

But I am noticing a pattern to how I am responding to the gospel of John. With each confrontation with the "Jews" or the "Pharisees" I find myself sympathizing with the Jews and feeling John (by putting words in Jesus' mouth) is being unfair to the poor blokes. Where is that coming from?

One of the passages in George Fox's Journal that speaks most strongly to me is about reading the scripture. George tells us that when we find ourselves looking down on someone in scripture for their unfaithful and wayward ways we are to turn that condemnation on it head and realize we are that person. It is the same technique used by the prophet Nathan against that king of Israel whose name I share (2 Samuel 12:1-8). I find myself identifying with the Jews in this story because my reader-sense tells me John wants me to condemn them.

What also concerns me is a Christian heresy called supersessionism. By calling it a heresy I'm taking a stronger stance than many Christians would accept. Supersessionism is the teaching that Christians have replaced the Jews as God's chosen people. It forgets that Jesus was a Jew. It forgets that Christianity is a Jewish sect. And historically whenever it becomes strong in amongst Christians, Jews become politically and economically oppressed -- targeted for ill-use, and even pogroms and genocide. If by your fruits you shall know them then supersessionism is a heresy indeed.

What if I dig even deeper than these concerns?

I identify with the Pharisees because they are everso like me. They are learned. They hide behind their learning to protect themselves from this greasy peasant teacher. They also have a genuine concern for their faith traditions and for the safety of their people under Roman occupation. Jesus is a threat to all of that. Safe-mode. Fight-or-flight. I understand this too well.

And wonder how much of it silences the Guide within me.

April 07, 2005

If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. The festival of dedication is better known by us today as Hanukkah. In 168 BCE the Greeks seized Jerusalem sacked the temple and set up an altar to Zeus. This is what the scriptures refer to when they talk of an abomination that makes desolate (Daniel 12:11).

The Greeks were driven from the temple mount in a rebellion led by Judah Maccabee. They found the temple desolate -- but worship began anew with a miracle of a single oil lamp keeping a menorah burning for eight days.

When in Jerusalem the Jews ask Jesus if he is the messiah they ask when like Judah Maccabee he will drive the Romans from the temple mount and establish right worship to God again. You cannot blame them for thinking this way. The situation was similar to Judah's. And Jesus had ritually cleansed the temple on another occasion.

As readers we know about the conversation with the Samaritan woman. That worship will be renewed but in a radical way. The temple will move to the heart. But his hearers do not know this yet. That conversation was private.

April 06, 2005

Jesus is rejected / Crystal

The Father and I are one

.... I've been thinking a lot about who Jesus is ... is he God, is he just a person touched with christ consciousness for the duration of his human life? This is important to me because it has to do with who I'm relating to when I pray. I learned how to pray from the Jesuits and they "pray to God, through Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit" ... the trinity. Reading the gospel of John has reinforced the idea for me that Jesus is God, but as David pointed out once, John is written later than the other gospels and is not as reliable. I read a short article on the subject which said in part ...

The doctrine of the Trinity is encapsulated in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus instructs the apostles: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In this passage the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are said to share one name (notice that the term "name" is singular, not plural), and that name is almost certainly Yahweh, the personal name of God in the Bible.
The parallelism of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is not unique to Matthew’s Gospel; it appears elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:14, Heb. 9:14), as well as in the writings of the earliest Christians, who clearly understood these verses in the sense that we do today—that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three divine Persons who are one divine Being (God).

Anyway, I'm still confused on the issue, but it's interesting to see other instances of Jesus "being God" aside from John's gospel. Below is a pic o Jesus about to be stoned ... at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Hague, from a History Bible of Utrecht. 1430.

The Thought Plickens: Jesus is Rejected (John 10:22-42)

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly."

Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?"

The Jews answered, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God."

Jesus answered, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods'? If those to whom the word of God came were called 'gods'-- and the scripture cannot be annulled -- can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, 'I am God's Son'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."

Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, "John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true." And many believed in him there.

April 05, 2005

The Sheep Will Hear the Shepherd's Voice

We each seem to draw on a different aspect of this passage.

For me this is a promise of discernment. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay down my life for the sheep.

I posted the passage from Ezekiel. I take this passage to be a claim on the part of John - through Jesus -- that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Ezekiel prophecy. The priest and other leaders of Israel have acted like hireling shepherds and thieves and not the shepherds they were called to be. Now God will be their shepherd. And Jesus is using the I am statement to locate that shepherd in his life and ministry.

So how will we know the shepherd's voice? The same way he knows the Father's.

April 03, 2005

The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-21)

"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."

At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?" But others said, "These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"

The Good Shepherd / Crystal

I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

This line I've always liked, though I'm not sure I understand it. Someone once asked in another forum why some christians pray that their ill loved ones will get well ... if they believe in heaven, shouldn't they be ok with their loved one dying? This line came to mind when I saw that question. I take it to mean that Jesus thinks earthly life is precious, that it isn't just a rehersal for the afterlife but that it has value in itself and that God wants us to live this life to the fullest. I can't say I know exactly what Jesus meant by having life more abundantly but I thought I'd quote someone, who just died today, on what constitutes the abundant life...

... the primacy of being over having, of the person over things. This renewed lifestyle involves a passing from indifference to concern for others, from rejection to acceptance of them.

April 01, 2005

Humble Wisdom

John 9:35-41

“He answered and said, “Who is he Lord, that I might believe on him?”
“And Jesus said unto him, “Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.”

Jesus is so humble here. He is not speaking of himself, Jesus; he is indirectly referring to the manifestation of Christ as the reflection of God within him. This is what it means to have discovered divinity within your very center, and to speak from this place without your own ego attached.

I reflected on the fact that it is possible we could all speak from this place – the place where light gathers within us. Jesus did this so amazingly – but I sense we could all do this to some degree. What would it look/sound like? Likely you are already hearing this voice. In my experience I hear this voice speaking through many different voices – from children, from innocents, from the wise, and from people who love me. When I hear this voice something deep within me is touched, stroked, and nurtured. It is like what happens when we hear poetry that just seems to touch our hearts, or a message that “speaks to our condition.” Maybe we even hear this voice of God within ourselves, the “still small voice”, that sometimes we honor and let rise to the place of speaking, but we aren’t quite sure why or for whom we are even verbalizing these thoughts that bubbled up within us. If we move through our lives letting the God within us speak up more often, how would it change things? What effect would this have on our relationships, on reducing suffering through compassion, and on the choices we make?

And Jesus said, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” John 9:39

I read that the word judgment here could also be thought of as divine intelligence, rather than the usual meaning for judgment as condemnation. For me, this changes the possible meaning of this scripture dramatically. With divine intelligence, Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the wisdom of God. He teaches from this deep wellspring of wisdom intelligence those who are spiritually ignorant (blind) but who want to know and perceive the truth. Likewise, with his humbleness and his divine wisdom, Jesus reveals the blindness of the worldly wise who think they know the truth but who do not embody this truth. Those who receive this wisdom teaching but do not accept it remain in “self perpetuated dark delusion,” or sin.

This sounds so black and white (pun, anyone?) to me – you see and know, or you think you see but you really don’t know. I really perceive this is more like a continuum, as Larry and I discussed earlier. For me, I seem to always be moving back and forth feeling like I am blind, in that I can’t understand, or I can’t feel God’s presence, and then in another circumstance I realize that I do See to some degree here and there, and in this Seeing I am inspired and enlightened. Then, for whatever reason – a different day and a different time, I don’t see as well as I wish I could. However, once having the experience of seeing and knowing, I have never felt like I slipped back into total darkness again.

With all this talk about blindness and seeing, I think of Crystal, and her visual challenges. My heart goes out to you, Friend. But in this discussion, clearly it is not eyesight that we speak of – it is the knowing and experience of God. And in this, perhaps at times your vision may be “Crystal clear.”

Blessings dear Friends.


I'm having some really weird issues with blogger recently -- posts duplicating, comments disappearing then reappearing, pages loading forever. I don't know if its me or if it blogger.

Anyone else having issues?

I was also wondering if we could have a roll call of folks who are still around. I know its not important everybody post on every passage but it nice to know whose out and about. Just post a hi -- how are ya as a comment to this posting.

And if you are lurking and never post -- feel free to check in too. We'd be glad to know you're out there.