June 29, 2015

Matthew 6.19-21

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


This is not about saving the goodies for 'an afterlife' ala ancient Egyptian practices (though there's nothing more mysterious about an afterlife than there is about the fact that we're experiencing this life!)

It can't be about 'Racking Up Points With The Old Man,' because as we're told, God already loves us as a father, and gives us what we need.

We don't want to need suffering, except that evidently we sometimes do. But that -- Consider the story of Job -- isn't necessarily a matter of having 'Sinned' or being somehow 'Bad.'

So what is this telling us?

June 24, 2015

Matthew 6.9-18

Pray like this:
[It's often a useful challenge to try to rephrase this, not that I could do it 'better' but that then I need to look more closely and strive to understand better.]

Our Father in the Spiritual Realm,
may we recognize your power and worth.
May your rule be manifest
and your intentions be realized
here on Earth as in Heaven.

Give us what we need
and forgive our failings
as you've taught us to forgive
everyone who angers us.

Please do not test our endurance
but rather, spare us from harm
for you are the source of any virtue
or any success we might claim.
[emphasising the need for us to forgive, and echoing previous verses]:

If you forgive people what they owe you, your Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive what you're owed, neither will your Father forgive what you owe.

And when you fast, don't look dismal about it, like the hypocrites, who disfigure their faces to make their fasting visible. Truly I say, that's the only reward they can expect. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so your fasting will only be known to your secret Father, and the Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.


Isn't this what we truly need -- and truly want, so far as we recognize that?

June 21, 2015

Matthew 6.1- 8

Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father in the Heavens.

Thus when you give alms, don't sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly I say to you, they've received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; so [only] your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they've received their reward. When you pray, go into your room and shut the door to pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

In praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, thinking they will be heard better if they use many words. Don't be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.


In Rabbinic Judaism they make the same distinction, except that they do consider a public gift for personal glory to be better than no donation at all.

Quakers may make too much of a virtue of such reticence, in that often you don't find out what a Friend has been doing until they've died and stopped doing it.

Especially in the case of prayer, I would rather hear it more often -- because I've only known one occasion when one of the older members prayed in Meeting; and by that point the group had wandered far into despair over the crummy State of the World. It isn't so much that we'd need some person to 'lead us in prayer' as that we really need to know there's at least one person present knows the presence of God and knows Who to petition for redress. Great length, putting words in our mouths (or God's) is a flaw, but so is lack of faith. Prayer, like any Message, would need to be something a person is moved by God to say -- but the example and the expectation that we can potentially be inspired to this might help a lot sometimes.

June 17, 2015

Matthew 5.46 -->

If you only love people who love you, should God reward you for that? Surely the toll collectors do that much. And if you only greet your brothers, does that make you special? Even the heathen do that. To belong under God's rule, you must be all goodness, like your Father in Heaven.


At first this bothered me, because the way it was worded made me think of earning 'A's in school, or of racking up points in a game. So I've paraphrased a little -- but I think that gave me a better sense of how all this is meant to be taken.

It isn't about earning a place in Heaven, but of becoming able to endure life close to God. A lack of readiness to love will bring you down every time.

June 15, 2015

Matthew 5.43-45

You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy."

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who would persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in Heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain for the just, and for the unjust.


Aside from forcing one to interrupt one's train of blame, this precept is hardest to apply when most needed; and then it's a really great idea!

It isn't just 'doing good in return for evil,' but sincerely wishing good for the other! What a stretch!

What makes this perhaps the best passage in the Bible, is the description of God -- which makes drivelling absurdity of what used to be the most popular interpretations of Christianity. This is how to be 'children of God' because this is what God is like! It's necessary to throw out the consolations of Hell, because God might occasionally change tactics -- but not His basic intention: good for each and all, whether they themselves are 'good' or otherwise. That may need to be 'different strokes for different folks' in the bad sense, but His ultimate purpose can't be frustrated forever.

Matthew 5.42

Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

How many reasons are there not to do this? Are any of them valid?

Aside from that, is this a rule, a guideline, or something else?

Why do we struggle so much with this one?

June 09, 2015

Matthew 5.38-41

You have heard it was said, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, do not set yourself against the man who would wrong you. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the left cheek also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.


I used the New English Bible's translation of that second sentence, because it doesn't involve the notion of resisting, or not resisting, 'an evil man'. Probably it's a bad idea to assume that someone giving you grief is 'evil'. Also, this doesn't end up saying you shouldn't try to prevent evil happening to self and others, but that you shouldn't 'set yourself against' the perpetrator, shouldn't think of yourself as 'fighting' him per se. Should not [as I've always taken this] damage anyone else in the process of trying not to get hit...

By now it's a familiar interpretation to most everyone studying this stuff, that the following parts imply a kind of psychological judo in response to anyone treating you shamefully: 'If he's giving you an off-hand slap, make him have to consider respectfully slugging you. If he's taking your clothes, strip yourself naked and embarrass him. If he's bullying you into forced service, do more than he has a right to ask [and his centurian will want to know why he's abusing the local population.] Jesus was calling for a form of nonviolent resistance, in other words.

Maybe, maybe not... The cultural implications of the details probably did mean that. But when, as a kid, I tried applying this to my parents, I just got even more indignant.

So far as all of this is about placing yourself safely under God's jurisdiction, it comes out on a different level: letting God take care of that stuff. There is no one worth your anger but God, no one else able to do you harm or good. Any trouble that comes your way must be serving God's purposes; anything you can do to mitigate it is also serving God's purposes -- but getting mad at the agent of that trouble is futile, is just multiplying the total suffering.

Getting mad at God... will not make God angry. When I do, though, eventually it occurs to me that God is more aware of what's happening, why, and how all this will work out.

June 05, 2015

Matthew 5.33-37

Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn." But I say to you, do not swear at all, either by Heaven, for it is the throne of God, nor by the Earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be "Yes," or "No;" anything more than this comes from evil.


This one should be familiar for Quakers. (And I'm not at all sure that "I affirm because I'm a Quaker!" is any better; doesn't this come down to implying "You can believe me because I'm a religious person," pretty similar in fact to what an oath is supposed to mean?)

Is there an inconsistency in this, so far as getting married? Can anyone promise such a thing? -- Or do we simply find that there's no conflict over which we'd be willing to lose this person? Should we really understand those vows to mean, "This is what we intend, and hope for!"

June 03, 2015

Matthew 5.31-32

It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce."

But I say to you, that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


This made sense in 1st Century Judea, where the social and economic situation of a divorced woman was worse even than in our times. Church efforts to enforce it legalistically, of course, have been a cruel disaster (and sometimes farcical, as in US States where people were sometimes driven to fake an affair just to escape a bad marriage.)

There was also the fact that divorces exacerbated tensions within families and tended to break up communities. [One private suspicion... When I used to ask 'Why did our Meeting split off from ___?' I'd be told that our Meeting had been organized for the convenience of a group of people living closer to here. But it looks like one of our members had married a woman divorced by one of their members, around that time... and since then, having two Meetings in the same town has made it easier for formerly-married couples to both attend Meeting without having old wounds rubbed.]

Anyway, in current times, is this still relevant to making our way more closely under God's wing...? as seems to be the purpose of these pronouncements?

With courtship behavior & close physical contact, there is a serious risk that close emotional bonds will form. Quite apart from any sort of ceremony, tearing oneself away from such a bond can leave a life-long, unresolvable pain.

Aside from that, such a connection feels risky, no matter how much a person will want exactly that, when it's worked out badly for them or for their parents in the past.

'How this has worked out', in modern times, will often include experience of divorce. But there are also the horrors experienced by and perpetrated by couples who 'stay together for the sake of the children. So far as children are estranged from their parents -- as is probably typical these days -- they will tend to recreate their situation, whether by choosing partners too much like or too much unlike whatever they're used to.

People are also often attracted to potential partners who embody qualities they lack. That can make for a very practical alliance, in which 'Both of us together add up to one competent human being' [as my wife sometimes puts it], but it can also make for serious conflict.

When someone lacks a quality, there's a very good chance he's been suppressing it in his own personality. He may initially be impressed to see the other person expressing this so freely -- yet over time, start sniping at its manifestations in them. Divorce and escape from that kind of relationship can make for a glorious feeling of liberation (as I found when my first wife kicked me out.)

But unless something more significant changes, then [as Fred Neil used to sing] "Same thing gonna happen again, cause that's the bag I'm in!"

Any rule about this, with people as we are today -- needs to be interpreted as Jesus interpreted the Sabbath rules, in light of the fact that the rules are made for our sake, not the other way around.

There is nothing better than having blundered-and-been-led at long last into marriage to the right person! But my ideas, about what 'this right person' should be like, turned out mistaken in many ways. Leaving my first love, because she hadn't matched those ideas, was a terrible mistake, leading to my first marriage to a good woman (a horrible mismatch!) -- which then led, eventually, to that 'right person'. Life and love transcend anyone's rules... but the spirit behind them can guide us in each specific case.