March 31, 2005

Believing is Seeing

If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, 'We can see,' your guilt remains.

A person who is physically blind knows it. A person who is spiritually blind is also blind to their own blindness.

Yesterday my wife got off the bus and headed for the train to work. Her seat companion on both bus and train has been unburdening her soul to Colleen over the last few months. Her marriage is in crisis. She's unhappy about her work. She feels trapped in her life. And when she goes to church -- mostly to get away from all this -- she goes to one of those churches that my cousin derisively calls a BYOT church -- Bring Your Own Tambourine.

Standing between the buses and the trains were two people handing out free New Testaments to folks as they rushed to their commuter trains. My wife's friend took one eagerly. My wife did not. She asked me later if she should have picked one up. I told her I already had a half dozen bibles, it was probably an NIV anyway, and I have eight (8) English translations stored on my harddrive along with the Masoretic (Hebrew) and Nestle Aland (Greek). If I was desperate I could reinstall the CD and add several others including German and Czechoslovakian. One day I'll get an upgrade so I can add the Geneva -- just because that's probably the one George Fox read. No. I didn't need another bible thank-you.

Most of the folks who grabbed a bible -- like my wife's friend already owned one. People who attend evangelical style churches feel good knowing their crusade style worship is reaching folks for Christ -- but statistically the vast majority of new folks coming through the doors were raised in evangelical churches. Its more about stealing folks from other churches than reaching the unchurched.

But old-style Quakerism isn't that much different. Statistically most Quakes in waiting worship style meetings score INFP (introverted-intuitive-feeling-perceiving) on the good old Myers-Briggs. George Fox may have been an energizing evangelist but his spiritual grandchildren are folks who like to sit quietly in a room with a bunch of other like-minded folk and call that worship.

And both Quakes and the BYOT folks look cross the highway at the other -- imagine what the other's church service must be like -- and shudder.

If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, 'We can see,' your guilt remains.

March 29, 2005

Since you say, 'We can see,' your guilt remains

Jesus heard they had ejected him, and when he found him he said to him, 'Do you believe in the Son of man?'

'Sir,' the man replied, 'tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.'

Jesus said, 'You have seen him; he is speaking to you.'

The man said, 'Lord, I believe,' and worshipped him.

Jesus said: It is for judgement that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight may become blind.

Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, 'So we are blind, are we?'

Jesus replied: If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, 'We can see,' your guilt remains.

-- John 9: 35-41 (New Jerusalem Bible)

Sight to the Blind

In this passage, a man (does he have a name or is he generic?) blind from birth, was given vision through a healing by Jesus. He moved from being born blind, from one who was never able to see, one who was in the dark, so to speak, to one who could see. This particular metaphorical mythology is in every religion – to first be blind and then to be able to see connotes an awakening.

In this scriptural story I wondered about why the clay, spittle, and waters from the pool of Siloam were needed to accomplish this curative transformation. It seemed to me that these were distracters, that these details made it appear that it was this magic that restored the man’s vision rather than the invisible healing force of God. Then I thought about how these physical intermediaries serve to stimulate and become a focus for faith. Actually there have always been a lot of intermediaries in religious culture, for example symbols and rituals, and their function seems to be to rouse one’s receptivity to the presence of God. For example, after the clay and spittle treatment, Jesus sent the man to bathe in the waters of Siloam, which were considered holy waters. This was obviously an essential part of the healing transformation. The water was not only used to wash, but also for drinking, for use on altars, and for feasting and celebrating. This command encouraged the awakening man to immerse himself in holy purification, to be washed by holy waters in quenching spiritual thirst, to rejoice, and to worship to promote his faith.

One thing that drew me to Quakerism was the simplicity of the structure of faith and practice. We have few outward symbols or rituals, other than our Meetings for Worship and Business. And in our Meeting, we also have Meeting for Eating (smile). To encourage our spiritual growth, I guess we just depend on ourselves, our silence in which we wait upon the Spirit, our reading, and our spiritual dialogues and Friendships. Sometimes I wonder if it is enough – is this simple practice enough to sufficiently freshen, deepen and sustain our spiritual lives? This is a question only an individual can answer for themselves.

This transformation from blind to seeing creates quite a predictable commotion amongst the people – the Pharisees were disbelieving, the neighbors were surprised and skeptical, and the parents kept quiet out of fear of excommunication. The awakened man, however, continued to grow in his faith. He was questioned a lot about this experience and treated with disrespect. But still the man remained steadfast in his faith.

In my experience of spiritual sharing I have also received some very negative reactions from others. Fortunately, I have never been cursed and evicted from the Meeting house, or in any way outwardly persecuted. My experience has been much tamer. Sometimes friends are surprised and skeptical. I sense fear in others – maybe it is a fear that Meredith is changing, or as one dear one noted, that I seem to be “in La La land.” Many just don’t want to talk about spiritual matters. Some friends roll their eyes at me when I mention of anything remotely spiritual. I am grateful that I have the freedom I do to express myself. I find the negative reactions sad, but I recognize that I am responsible for how I present myself, and I try to be aware of perceptions, timing, and situation. However, like the blind man, reactions from others have not distracted me from my path.

March 28, 2005

One thing I know; I was blind, and now I see.

I've already commented on this phrase in Kwatersaur, but here goes again:

The Pharisees wanted the (once) blind man to condemn Jesus, but he stuck to his experience (We like to think he became one of the Lord's disciples at that point).

What happened to him happened to me, and that became the basis of my faith.

Of course blindness here is not the material, sense based affair; rather it's the blindness that the Bible speaks of constantly throughout it's length: "you have eyes to see, but you don't see" (rough paraphrase of Isaiah), etc.

I encounter (spiritually) blind people all over, virtually wherever I go. Perhaps I too am still blind-- to some extent. Jesus touched one man twice; the first time he saw trees walking. Maybe I, too, need a second touch. Maybe we all do. PTL

March 27, 2005

Happy Easter :-)

He is Risen in Deed!

March 26, 2005

Postscript to the Healing

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. It had been a Sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man's eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had gained his sight, he said, 'He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.'

Then some of the Pharisees said, 'That man cannot be from God: he does not keep the Sabbath.' Others said, 'How can a sinner produce signs like this?' And there was division among them.

So they spoke to the blind man again, 'What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?' The man answered, 'He is a prophet.'

However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind without first sending for the parents of the man who had gained his sight and asking them, 'Is this man really the son of yours who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?'

His parents answered, 'We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but how he can see, we don't know, nor who opened his eyes. Ask him. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.' His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to ban from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, 'He is old enough; ask him.'

So the Jews sent for the man again and said to him, 'Give glory to God! We are satisfied that this man is a sinner.'

The man answered, 'Whether he is a sinner I don't know; all I know is that I was blind and now I can see.'

They said to him, 'What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?'

He replied, 'I have told you once and you wouldn't listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples yourselves?'

At this they hurled abuse at him, 'It is you who are his disciple, we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we don't know where he comes from.'

The man replied, 'That is just what is so amazing! You don't know where he comes from and he has opened my eyes! We know that God doesn't listen to sinners, but God does listen to people who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of someone born blind; if this man were not from God, he wouldn't have been able to do anything.'

They retorted, 'Are you trying to teach us, and you a sinner through and through ever since you were born!' And they ejected him.

March 25, 2005

Which Way the Finger Points

Like Crystal, this story speaks to me.

The disciples ask : Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?. What is taken for granted by these disciples with such a question?

Rabbi -- teacher. Not Lord. Teacher. They aren't quite there yet despite the earlier before Abraham was, I am which should have knocked their socks off.

And the providence of God. Clearly the man could have been born with sight if God had so allowed. His blindness is an evil. And it must be understood as God's punishment for sin -- a greater evil. Yet who sinned. He was born with this condition.

Jesus deconstructs their question. Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. Jesus does not give into their assumptions about punishment in this life for sin. Nor does he make the move we might expect from modern day liberal Christians that what we call evil is relative. Or the move by modern day mystics, that all that happens is a gift from God and therefore good.

No. This man was born blind into a world without social welfare programs and into a land occupied by a foreign military. He was doubly oppressed. First by his disability and secondly by a world that left him only two options, beg by the side of the road or do not eat.

And so Jesus' answer is that the evils that happen in this life are not God's punishment upon us either for sins of ourselves or of our fathers. They are opportunities for the goodness and power of God to become manifest in this world. And again, he adds to this wisdom, an injunction, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. We not. Not You. We. Together we respond to evil by bringing forth goodness.

AIDS was not and is not a punishment for the sin of homosexuality. The Tsunami is not God's judgment upon this world. My disability is not God's punishment upon me or upon my parents for anything we did or deserved. Each is an opportunity for good -- for God's good to shine like a beacon through our responses to the suffering the pain the sorrow.

To say otherwise is to set our faces like flint against the Christ and the spirit of Christ working in us. It is to define ourselves outside of the Christian faith no matter what other doctrines we are willing to affirm in the abstract.

Now it is easy for me to point a finger at the churches. The churches have a lousy track record. Slow to respond to the AIDS crisis. Using it as an excuse to condemn the sexual lives of others. Refusing to make worship spaces handicapped accessible. Continuing to use disabilities as metaphors for sin and moral lack in sermons and liturgies.

And yet the finger points towards me as well. How much of my spirituality is about earning heaven? These last two years have been difficult ones for me. Unhappy work situations sandwiched extended periods of layoff. My response -- though natural -- has been to resent my situation, feel sorry for myself. And this has impaired my efforts to bring forth good in the situation. I still have moments when my anger at my former employer wells up within me.

I am not called to a natural response. I am called to a supernatural response. I face the evil in my life. And I recast it as an opportunity for God's redemptive love to become manifest. And to work towards that aim.

Easier said than done.

March 24, 2005

Another healing / Crystal

This is sort of what I wrote before - sorry it's so long ...

******

His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him."

This was the line that most struck me in this passage from John. Here and in other places in the gospels, Jesus dismisses the idea that bad things happen to people as a punishment from God for sin.

This stuff about suffering and why it happens made me think of an article I'd just read about suffering and the suffering/death of Jesus. The article explores the contradiction between the compassionate loving God Jesus talks of in the gospels (Abba) and the idea that God's plan was for Jesus to suffer and die for our sins.

The author of the article thinks the disciples and later theologians (Augustine and Anselm) constructed the idea of Jesus suffering as a debt payment for sin as a way to understand why the "messiah" had met such a horrible end.

Then he presents an alternative theory ... the whole purpose of creation is for the Incarnation, God’s sharing of life and love in a unique and definitive way. God becoming human is not an afterthought, an event to make up for Original Sin and human sinfulness. Incarnation is God’s first thought, the original design for all creation. The purpose of Jesus’ life is the fulfillment of the whole creative process, of God’s eternal longing to become human. Theologians call this the “primacy of the Incarnation.”

It's not a new theory. He says it's backed up in John’s Gospel and in the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians and is promoted by a Franciscan scholor, John Duns Scotus (1265/66-1308).

The ideas in this article - that God does not desire suffering but works to overcome it. - seem supported by what Jesus says and does (the healing) in this passage from John's gospel.

Duns Scotus -

March 22, 2005

Another Healing

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent).

Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man."

But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"

He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight."

They said to him, "Where is he?"

He said, "I do not know."

-- John 9:1-12 (NRSV)



March 20, 2005

Annual Leave

I may be inactive next few days. Visiting family.

The Truth shall set you Free

8: 31 I have always loved this phrase, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Abraham’s descendants immediately thought of freedom in the political sense, and did not identify themselves as not being free, nor as slaves, and so they asked, “How can you say that we shall be set free?”

8:34 Jesus responds by talking about the bondage to sinfulness. As in our recent dialogue of sin, this could be taken to mean that anything that separates us from God, from recognizing God’s very presence within us, that keeps us from an ultimate freedom of knowing God. To be free of what keeps us from being close to an intimate relationship with God is truly freedom.

8:37 It could be considered that as descendants of Abraham, Jesus saw those before him as having lost the quality of good ancestry, and following family tradition and perhaps a sinful life, rather than following God’s law and truth. Coming from a lineage, so to speak, does not naturally bring you closer to God. Anyone, from any family, could lead a life that takes them further from God. Just as they have the opportunity to live a life that brings them closer to God, no matter what family they are born into.

8:43 Jesus recognized that he was speaking in a manner that was not intuitive to his audience. In many ways, this is still true. These are difficult ideas to wrap my ‘mind’ around – but less difficult for my heart. Jesus insinuated that their (our) consciousness was not turned toward the truth he was speaking about. People live day in and day out away from God consciousness, with bad habits and worldly thinking, mind identified thinking, that separates people from God. Jesus uses the words “Keep my saying, (or keep my word)” suggesting that these teachings must be reflected upon often to keep our consciousness on God.

8:55 The language here about how Jesus could have known Abraham created a lot of confusion for me, as well it seems, for the Jews. But if we consider that Christ consciousness is eternal, not time limited like our historical dimension, then this is possible, Yes? As with God, all before, present, and future is known. It is as though Jesus is saying, as Christ Consciousness, “I am” present always.

Christ Consciousness John 8:21-30

Again, just catching up.

When Jesus tells the Jews that where he is going, they cannot go, they naturally are confused. With limited, rational thinking, we are easily likewise confused. However, Jesus’ path of death and resurrection - of dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being is actually known in all the religions of the world. This is the path of transition and transformation. Spending some time considering this passage has opened this up further for me in the past week, and it is this: to know Jesus theoretically and intellectually does not necessarily open one’s heart to the presence of Christ. It seems that the consciousness of the seeker must be lifted from the physical or intellectual realm to the inner plane, the heart of Christ consciousness. This is what Jesus seems to be pointing to.

Throughout our education we are given a theological understanding, a picture of Jesus Christ who is a man, a form, a beautiful human being. But to identify with his consciousness it to take one beyond this form, to the formless. Jesus seem to continue to point to the God within him, a consciousness not of this plane, not of this historical dimension we are so self limited and so wedded to. However, Jesus did not limit himself to his form, his body identified ego. Therefore, he could testify about himself, the nature of his consciousness, without the truth being distorted by the unreliable ego. As egos, we exaggerate ourselves in order to be seen in a certain way. The only way we know to judge, coming from this ego state, is to judge bodily, rather than about consciousness. I’m not sure I’m articulating this clearly, but hopefully within these words is the notion of a different way of judging, more like an omniscient or God consciousness. When we move from the intellect to the heart, a transition the Jews may have made when listening to Jesus this day, they were able to “put their faith in him.”

One Heavily Packed Discourse

Compared to our previous readings this is a longish one. And seems to build as it goes. I'm almost inclined to take it apart and have us go at it in parts. But the postings have sort of died down and I'm not sure if folks are engaged in this that much.

First observation: these are the Jews who had believed in him. This tells us about how John sees these folks drift away and become hostile to the faith. This reinforces Larry's point that this may be all about arguments with the Judaizers or as Paul speaks of them: the circumcision party. I suspect this marks the break -- at least in John's community -- between the Jesus people and followers of the Baptist. Note also that Jesus' dialogue partners claim to have never been slaves to anyone: they are likely reasonably well to do. From a social class that likely collaborated with the Romans.

We begin with the teaching on sin. Jesus claims that by following him, we will become free from bondage to sin. Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.

We go from there to teachings about the fatherhood of Abraham. They claim Abraham as their father and Jesus calls them to go behind the fatherhood of Abraham to the fatherhood of God. In effect a crisis has some to the house of Israel and faith in Abraham and Moses is no longer enough -- you must now have the faith that Abraham and Moses had -- faith in God.

And then we have the phrase which made former supporters of Jesus take up stones to slay him -- the punishment of sorcerers, prostitutes and false prophets: before Abraham was, I am.

What is Jesus saying here?

I am is the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. It is the under which the diverse tribes of Abraham were gathered together into a single force and walked clear from bondage in Egypt. Is all Jesus saying that God is before Abraham. That god is doing a new thing and so God must be attended to?

Or was Jesus some kind of mystic. His sensitivity to the spirit moving within him was such that he could spontaneously speak the words God spoke to the people through him?

Or, as orthodox Church-ianity teaches: was Jesus God himself? Pre-existent. Divine. The Word of God made flesh?

None of these options are mutually exclusive.

March 19, 2005

Before Abraham was, I Am

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?"

Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father's presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father."

They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does."

They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself."

Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God."

The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?"

Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death."

The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, 'Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?"

Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, 'He is our God,' though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad."

Then the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"

Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am."

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

-- John 8:31-59 (NRSV)

March 18, 2005

smart like a bag of hammers

Okay. What's the other perjoratives kicking around in the back of my head? The elevator in that apartment building doesn't go all the way to the top. Playing poker with a pinochle deck.

I cannot get over the idea that John's (primary?) agenda is to show the folks who don't side with Jesus to be -- well -- a few bricks short of a load. I mean we're talking folks well trained in their religion, amongst the most educated of their day, genuinely concerned about their faith and the state of their nation, and seriously, their God. And John presents them consistently acting like they are intentionally slow -- just not getting it -- and maybe this is the real point -- rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Maybe they were really like that. After all I have to start with my own interpretive principles -- through the literal to the deeper levels. It has been nearly 2000 years after all. And after 2000 years of debate and theology and Christian culture and witch trials and Crusades and all the rest maybe all this stuff just seems so self-evident or at least old hat to us that we can't understand how these guys didn't get it.

But at the same time. John doesn't have to present them that way. The Synoptics don't especially do so. If anyone gets painted as dullard in the gospel of Mark its Peter and the Twelve disciples! So this tells me John is doing this for a reason.

Maybe he's feeling defensive. Maybe John and the faith he hold dear is under attack. So he presents the traditionalist Jewish stance as not only stupid but also and at the same time anti-spiritual.

Maybe its a dramatic technique. He needs somebody to be stupid so Jesus has an opportunity to explain himself. Explaining himself is something Matthew Mark and Luke don't let Jesus do so much.

And maybe John has the perspective of time. By the time this gospel was written the Romans had already gotten fed up with Judea and sacked the temple. The Jewish zealots had all died on Masada. Judaism needed (and found in Rabbinic Judaism btw) a different way of being Jewish -- and John is simply pointing out that Christianity offered that before all those things happened.

March 16, 2005

I am from Above (John 8:21-30)

Again he said to them: I am going away; you will look for me and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come. So the Jews said to one another, 'Is he going to kill himself, that he says, "Where I am going, you cannot come?" '

Jesus went on: You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I have told you already: You will die in your sins. Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.

So they said to him, 'Who are you?'

Jesus answered: What I have told you from the outset. About you I have much to say and much to judge; but the one who sent me is true, and what I declare to the world I have learnt from him.

They did not recognise that he was talking to them about the Father.

So Jesus said: When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing of my own accord. What I say is what the Father has taught me; he who sent me is with me, and has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him. As he was saying this, many came to believe in him.

March 13, 2005

I'm A Sinner, You're A Sinner...

...he's a sinner, she's a sinner, wouldn't you like to be a sinner, too?

An excerpt from the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, a summary of the Episcopal Church's teaching:

What is sin?
Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.

How does sin have power over us?
Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted.

What is redemption?
Redemption is the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death.

How did God prepare us for redemption?
God sent the prophets to call us back to himself, to show us our need for redemption, and to announce the coming of the Messiah.

What is meant by the Messiah?
The Messiah is the one sent by God to free us from the power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all of creation.


I guess that aptly states my view, though I reiterate that I respect the views of others that differ from mine. If Jesus didn't die so our sins might be forgiven, why did he die? I'm not arguing my view, I'm asking a serious question thats been niggling at me for some time.

The Light of the World - Larry

I woke up this morning thinking about the light of the world-- some improvement over my usual rise. It becomes clearer and clearer to me that this is a (maybe the) focal point of my faith. Who is the light of the world? Is Jesus the light of the world? Am I (at least supposed to be) the light of the world? Are both statements accurate descriptions of reality?

Looking back over my life I recall a hiatus of about 20 years when the "faith of our fathers" was much in abeyance in my psyche. Then came enlightenment, after a moment of honesty and prayer. But my opening was to the Father, to the one who loved me (I had forgotten the nursery hymn, Jesus loves me.)

Soon I was in seminary, but I had not figured out just who Jesus was- my faith and commitment was to God (the Father).
Gradually I came to realize that it was Jesus who told us about the Father-- again and again he talked about the Father. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are made up of Jesus' word pictures of the Father. (I'm aware now that Father is a metaphor, and unfortunately a repulsive metaphor to many feminists.)

But Jesus is a metaphor, too, as well as a historical figure, and one apparently closer to most people than is the Father. (Perhaps I should join the Jehovah's Witnesses; they primarily worship Jehovah--I'm not really serious about that.)

For many years I worked as a minister, paid and unpaid, and always with the identity of Jesus clouded in my mind; Methodists have more permission to do this than do Southern Baptists in general. I recall that my father talked little about Jesus, much about God. We are all the children of our experience.

Light of the world? but who is Jesus, Saviour or friend? He called himself a friend (John 15:14f).

And who are we? worshippers? students? seekers? or just friends of Jesus?

Once again: "who is the light of the world" seems to me the crux of the identity of Jesus and of my identity. Perhaps my primary sin is to fail to be the light of the world.

March 12, 2005

The Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."

Then the Pharisees said to him, "You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid."

Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf."

Then they said to him, "Where is your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also." He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

-- John 8:12-20 (NRSV)



I assume -- perhaps incorrectly -- that the analogue passage from the Synoptics may be of some help as a dialogue partner to folks:
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

-- Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)



March 11, 2005

Judgment and Compassion

Re: John 7:59-8:11

...Wait for me! Sorry I'm a little behind.

I have been letting this passage sink in a little. While I have heard this story many times growing up, it seems to be settling a little differently for me, now. I notice I am struggling a bit with the phrasing, the implications, and Jesus' response.

Like Chrystal and Marjorie, I noticed the lack of a guilty man in this story. The fact that the Jewish leaders had already disregarded the law by arresting the woman without the man annoyed me. According to Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, the law required that both parties to adultery be stoned. It seems that the leaders were using the woman as a trap so they could trick Jesus: if he said the woman should not be stoned, they could accuse him of violating Moses' law. If he promoted executing the woman, they could report him to the Romans, who did not permit the Jews to carry out their own executions.

Jesus, implicitly in his answer, upholds the legal penalty for adultery - stoning, and therefore could not be accused of being against the law. While he suggested that only a sinless person could cast stones, he implies that none are without sin. In biblical days, this response represented great compassion and forgiveness. Today, it sounds so different. Then, it sounded compassionate and non judgemental, today it sounds judgemental, with its implication that the woman has indeed sinned (a judgement), and that it is their job to punish her. This whole story got me to thinking about the ways the church has carried down these values of sin and punishment, judgement and control. Based on Biblical scripture, we buy into the fact that we are all sinners, that this woman was a sinner, (again, where is the man?) and the church's role seems to be to keep us all in line. "Go and sin no more." This implies the woman did sin, and is being ordered to mend her way. With stories like this, we are drawn away from the wonderful "Kindgom of God is within you" kind of message, and taught to hate ourselves and to think of ourselves as sinners, not worthy of God's presence. What is the usefulness of this "sinners all' message?

On the other hand, I also love the image, the suggestion, and the example of compassion. To feel compassion, we must turn away from our own focus on happiness to sense the true condition of others honestly facing their pain. This open-hearted empathy for the suffering of others includes the wish to see them free from suffering. Jesus thus exemplifies compassion.

Um ... Er ...

I just got an email message stating that the email I sent to Larry Crystal and Marjorie could not be delivered because of a "fatal error".

I don't know what that means. I don't remember sending an email message to any of you folks.

Just to be on the safe side you might all want to run virus checks on your computers just in case I got infected and sent something out without knowing it.

March 10, 2005

Go and sin no more.

Leaving aside the matter of where the story belongs or if it belongs, I want to focus on the last verse. It says some vital things about the nature of man and God and the character of Jesus: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

Think about the relationship between sin and condemnation: where there is sin there may be condemnation -- or forgiveness.
Jesus forgives sin (and for that of course he was accused of blasphemy). Jesus told us that God forgives, and finally that we are to forgive.

I often wonder why so many people see God only as the cruel judge. Is it because they cannot forgive?

Forgiveness is as natural as breathing, and both things come from the same source. I forgive you, go in peace. And I hope that you forgive me. The old man lives on resentments; the new man forgives. That's what the new birth is all about.

Throughout Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me.
As the dear Redeemer said, this the wine and this the bread.

When we forgive, we are partaking of the sacrament; likewise when we are forgiven. This is the nurture of the spirit until we grow up into the fullness of Christ.

Blake shows us the meaning of love and forgiveness with The Little Black Boy.

Stones -- David's Commentary

As mentioned earlier scholars have difficulty with this passage. It is so much what we want Jesus to be that we have to keep it. But scholars see how jarring it is in the place it is and have doubts.

For me I can see the point made by the editor of the New Jerusalem when they want to put it in Luke. John's gospel seems to be committed to inserting little comments relating to Jesus' motivations -- John seems afraid that some enigmatic act on the part of Jesus mat throw an ill light on his thesis that Jesus was/is God Incarnate. Luke and the Synoptics on the otherhand seem far more interested in disparaging asides about the opposition to Jesus' message. And so:

"Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"

They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him.


For the author of this passage it is very clear this was not simple academic question in theological debate. This was a power move to undermine and discredit and eventually kill a wisdom teacher and a prophet.

Jesus' response. Drawing in the dust. I have no idea where it comes from. In the early days and in the face of persecution Christians would casually draw fish symbols to identify themselves to one another. Perhaps the story began in one of Jesus' enigmatic sayings let him who is without sin . . . And the narrative bits got added by later Christian prophets. I don't know.

The message itself feels almost more like James and the pastoral letters than the gospels.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10-11)

Jesus and the adulteress / Crystal

This is one of my favorite gospel stories - Jesus gets to be compassionate and mysterious.

They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?"

... according to the law (Leviticus 20:10), the man she was with would also be liable ... where is he?

Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.

... This is so mysterious, and it's mentioned twice for emphasis, perhaps - what was Jesus writing/drawing???! My NAB commentary mentions Jeremiah 17:13 - O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters. (KJV)

"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

... this is a good illustration of of his earlier teachings of forgiveness and not judging others.

"Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more."

... compassionate :-)

March 09, 2005

A Running Controversy - John 7:45-52

This has been going on from the beginning. Remember the 2nd chapter where Jesus ran off the money changers; he upset their applecart, and the "Jews" had it in for him thereafter. (The synoptics put that scene near the end of their gospels.) The "words of Jesus" seem more like theological statements than the kind of conversation we find in the other gospels.

We remember Nicodemus from the 3rd chapter "born again" discussion (that was a 'theological statement' I could surely relate to). Nic represents those who would follow Jesus, but they're on a materialistic mindset-- like the majority of 'Christians' today! He was also a rich man, able to sit in the 'seats of the mighty'.

Nic made a reasonable statement: shouldn't we try this man before finding him guilty? This confounded the conspirators, nipped the conspiracy in the bud (temporarily), "And every man went unto his own house."

We find Nic again with Joseph of Arimathaea asking for the Lord's body. Here's a quote from Peloubet's Bible Dictionary: "In Nicodemus a noble candor and a simple love of truth shine out in the midst of hesitation and fear of man."

as Dylan would say ... everyone must get stoned

posting this late -- sorry -- troubles with my ISP

Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"

They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

-- John 7:59-8:11 (NRSV)

March 07, 2005

John7:45-53 / Crystal

So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why did you not bring him?" The guards answered, "Never before has anyone spoken like this one."
So the Pharisees answered them, "Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed."


... Ouch! A bit of religious arrogance on the part of the Priests/Pharisees - they believe they're the only ones astute/holy enough to grasp the true nature of Jesus' teaching.

Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
"Does our law condemn a person before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?" They answered and said to him, "You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee."


... Yikes! A vieled threat against Nic for daring to question his fellows?

7:53 - Then each went to his own house

... Do you guys have this last line in your versions of John? Apparently there's some question of the authership of 7:53 - 8:11 (adulterous woman)?

About Nicodemus ... I noticed, as I was reading Calvin's bible commentaary on this section, that he really seemed to dislike Nic ... Nicodemus says that Christ ought not to be condemned until he be heard; and the same thing might be said of a robber or an assassin; for it is a well-known and proverbial sentiment, that it is better to acquit the innocent than to condemn the guilty. Besides, in his attempts to release the person of Christ, he leaves and abandons the doctrine. What shall we find here that is worthy of a believer or a Christian?

But the early catholic church beatified him. A non-bible gospel is attributed to him - Acts of Pilate.

St. Nicodemus -

No Prophet Arises from Galillee

The guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, 'Why haven't you brought him?'

The guards replied, 'No one has ever spoken like this man.'

'So,' the Pharisees answered, 'you, too, have been led astray? Have any of the authorities come to believe in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law -- they are damned.'

One of them, Nicodemus -- the same man who had come to Jesus earlier -- said to them, 'But surely our Law does not allow us to pass judgement on anyone without first giving him a hearing and discovering what he is doing?'

To this they answered, 'Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not arise in Galilee.'

-- John 7:45-52 (New Jerusalem)

March 04, 2005

Orthography

What leaps out at me most is not the content so much as the choice of orthography --
Some of the crowd who had been listening said, 'He is indeed the prophet,' and some said, 'He is the Christ,' (New Jerusalem)

Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. (KJV-AV1611)

On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ." (NIV)

All three versions cited choose to capitalize the word Christ. Two of the three capitalize Prophet with the New Jerusalem electing not to so capitalize.

Let's be clear here. Little things like spaces between words, paragraphs, and capitalizations won't get invented for centuries after the original manuscripts get authored. So choosing to capitalize (or not) a word is an interpretation of the meaning and not the meaning itself. All manner of theological assumptions undergird the simple choice.

Christ means "anointed" in the original koine Greek. It is a translation of the Hebrew "messiah". It could, and likely does, refer to the promised messiah who would save his people. But it also refers to any legitimate King of Israel anointed by a priest or prophet for the office. Indeed priests and prophets were anointed. So were ordinary folks who received special blessings. The sick were anointed in healing rites.

Similarly with "the Prophet". Some people of Jesus' day expected the Messiah's coming to be heralded by a return of either Moses or Elijah. According to tradition both were taken up to heaven before they died. So God had special plans for each of them. So this is why the prophet or even the Prophet.

Which of course raises the issue. If Jesus was the Christ. Was John the Baptist the Prophet? And then we have the transfiguration where Moses and Elijah drop by to hob nob with Jesus on the mountain. This tradition is so strong that in 1844 and the emergence of the new faith of Baha'i the Bab heralds the coming of Bah'u'llah.

All of which only serves to highlight that there isn't one meaning for a passage of scripture. It is -- before we even get to read it -- already an interpretation of a translation of a translation. What we call the meaning is created by us in the act and event of reading it. We do not read the bible like a computer reads a disk. We perform a reading of the text like a dancer performs a reading of a music score.

And if the scripture passage is inspired by God -- that inspiration -- that Holy Presence is there in the events recorded, in the act of recording, in the hundreds of acts of translation and transcription, in the scholarly reconstruction and recovery and in our thoughtful (or not) and prayerful (or not) reading of it. And again later as we try to bring it into our lives.

Division Among the People

Some of the crowd who had been listening said, 'He is indeed the prophet,' and some said, 'He is the Christ,' but others said, 'Would the Christ come from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from Bethlehem, the village where David was?' So the people could not agree about him. Some wanted to arrest him, but no one actually laid a hand on him.

-- John 7:40-44 (New Jerusalem)



Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.

-- John 7:40-44 (King Jimmy)



On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

-- John 7:40-44 (NIV)

March 02, 2005

Living Water / Marjorie

I thought I'd post my thoughts on this passage since the comments on the previous post were getting lengthy.

Where was the Spirit before Jesus? Based on what I learned in my previous Bible study, the three parts of the trinity existed before creation. Where were Jesus and the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times? I'm not sure what the view is of Jesus, though I've heard it said that the pre-incarnate Jesus showed up at times as the "Angel of the Lord." I mentioned this to my brother who is an Episcopal priest and he rolled his eyes, so I think there is a division of opinion on that matter. As to the Spirit, that was alive and well and at work. It was the Spirit that became the cloud and the pillar of fire that lead the Israelites through the desert.

Jesus offers the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him. The Holy Spirit officially descended on the people at Pentacost -- from that point on, all believers have it within them. The spirit within can be smothered by our own sins or egoism, but its always there. As to God within in the non-believer, I have no mind to argue it, but I've known enough "non-Christians" that have more God in them than professed Christians that I'm thinking 'belief' doesn't mean ascribing to a particular creed formed centuries ago by church politicians.

I've made a lot of statements here, of course I don't actually know any of these things. Many things I believe personally, while other statements merely reflect what I've been taught and I may not completely agree with them.

March 01, 2005

Rivers of Living Waters

37 On the last day, the great day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out: 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to me!

38 Let anyone who believes in me come and drink! As scripture says, "From his heart shall flow streams of living water." '

39 He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive; for there was no Spirit as yet because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

-- John 7:37-39 (New Jerusalem)

Housekeeping

Is it me or does it seem like folk's energies are flagging?

I know I'm having trouble feeling inspired both here and in my blog these days. But I live in Canada and February is the season of the mid-winter blahs up here. How do you folks with a southern exposure feel?

I can keep posting the passages. I'm just hoping that the reflection part isn't becoming more of an obligation than a joy for folks.

Where I am

(34) You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.

These few words confused the Pharises. And apparently they confuse us, too. It sounds like a riddle. The meaning is not clear. We scratch our heads. We wonder about where it would be that he goes where we cannot follow. But ahhh! Jesus said, "where I am, you cannot come." This sentence uses two different tenses - future "You will look," and present. "...where I am," indicating right now. I remember the famous "I am" statements earlier in this gospel. Now here, "I am" is used in a seemingly different way. Or is it?

"I am" continuing to reflect on this passage...