Archive for the ‘Fifth Bundle’ Category

MATTHEW 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

John’s baptism was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, although the developing traditions of New Testament Christology tended to dismiss it as irrelevant in the case of Jesus. The mainline tradition had already captured the metaphor of sacrifice as the key to interpreting his crucifixion, which in turn required that the sacrificial victim (Jesus) be sinless and pure.

Consequently the baptismal episode in the Gospel narratives becomes more an ordination and empowerment scene than the resolution of commitment that it likely was for Jesus originally. In the conversation between John and Jesus there at the river we get the strange impression of a photo-op being staged for our viewing than a real moment of decision on Jesus’ part.

The important thing at any rate is that we see this as one more epiphany – another occasion where the truth of Christ is made to “appear through” the man from Nazareth. He wasn’t a mere man, but one who was chosen by God, ordained from above, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and appointed for the work of world salvation.

                                                                                                

Of all the Gospel storytellers, Matthew will make use of Isaiah’s suffering servant motif to the greatest extent, time and again making the comment that Jesus’ passion and death were the fulfillment of this ancient “prophecy.” (We put the word in quotations because prophecy, in the sense of predicting some far-off future event, was not how Second Isaiah himself intended his metaphor to be used.)

The point of it all is that we understand Jesus as God’s servant, as the one through whom the higher purpose of God’s will was fully realized. This means that not only did Jesus accomplish something of strategic and saving value on humanity’s behalf, but that in him we can see God’s purpose for humanity itself.

What is the human being intended to become? How can we envision human fulfillment? Matthew’s answer is: Look at Jesus.

This is a point of such importance that we must be very clear in representing its implications for the spiritual life. What is “seen through” Jesus is a sanctified humanity, an incarnated divinity, the glory of God in the human being – fully alive.

Beyond the several ways the story is told, whether we start from above or from below, whether its axis of meaning turns on the symbols of Pentecost, resurrection, baptism or virgin birth, it is always this image we are being invited to contemplate. But then our contemplation must deepen into faith, our faith must come to focus in decision, and our decision must move us into action – to see, to trust, to choose, and to follow.

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ACTS 10:34-43

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 

39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The message of peace by Jesus Christ has often gotten lost in the Christian crusades for political power, the control of property, and religious dominance. With the name of Jesus on her lips, the official Church has perpetrated violence, condoned apartheid and oppression, and is presently supporting the instruction of fundamentalism in her seminaries and congregations.

If we were to use Jesus’ own evaluative principle, we would have to conclude that the fruits of much contemporary Christianity indicate an unhealthy tree indeed.

In this speech of Peter, which will signal the “second wave” of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: the Jews; Acts 10: the Gentiles) Jesus is remembered as one who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” He had a teaching ministry as well, of course, but what brought it all down to earth was his daily practice, his manner of life, and his commitment to human liberation.

One wonders what would become of Christianity if his followers today would give their concerned energies to similar goals. What would happen if we made universal benefit (good for the greatest number) and setting people free – from political oppression, psychological depression, emotional attachment, physical addiction, and spiritual ignorance – our overarching objectives?

The peace that Jesus brought to the earth includes peace in the world, peace between neighbors, and peace with God. For him, peace with God is the ground of all else.

                                                                                              

The two principal “schools” of early New Testament Christology (theory of Christ) have been named high and low Christology, with the qualifier indicating the starting-point for interpretation. High Christology started from above, in the divine realm, and defined Jesus as the incarnation of deity. At the other end, low Christology began its consideration of Jesus from below, in the human realm, and defined Jesus in terms of his humanity being “anointed” or “adopted” by the Spirit of God.

It is important to realize that these are not mutually exclusive alternatives; much hardship and bloodshed have resulted from not respecting the paradox. Empire and orthodoxy have little patience for paradox, as it violates (but actually transcends) the binary logic of either/or that is so key to the ideology of power and privilege.

While the Fourth Gospel (John) clearly stands in the tradition of high Christology, Luke (the author of Acts) favors the approach from below.

There are reasons for Luke’s preference, perhaps chief among which is his special concern over the conspiracy of social oppression, violence, and injustice that holds the human spirit in bondage. Again, the difference between Luke and John is instructive: while John’s portrait of Jesus features the revelation of a saving knowledge (the “truth that will set you free”), Luke’s is more focused on confronting the web of dehumanizing prejudice that perpetuates the division between the rich and the poor.

That’s why Luke’s Jesus begins his ministry with the announcement that he brings “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

PSALM 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

In addition to the conventional tasks fulfilled by the gods and goddesses of the ancient world – managing the cosmos, blessing the fields, flocks, and women with fertility, giving victory in war and upholding the moral order – the God of Israel was rather unique for his attention to the forward progress of history.

This can partly be explained as reflecting the fact of Israel’s tribal and national experience, beginning as a nomadic people, having to contend with the near-constant threat of invasion once they settled Palestine, and undergoing the profound trauma of deportation and captivity in Babylon.

The current state of affairs for them as a nation was something that kept them looking to the horizon of the future for deliverance, security, or fulfillment. But beneath this psychological explanation lies a deeper spiritual one: the God of Israel was the transcendent anchor-point outside the turning cycles of time, who awakened and inspired in his people the self-understanding of being an instrument of a greater will and purpose.

That’s not to say that Israel couldn’t appreciate the mystery of being in the Now, or enjoy the passing beauty and pleasures of the moment. For them, however, the present moment was not defined so much by the revolutions of time past, as by the progressive realization of God’s promised future. Israel’s difference from other surrounding cultures is most pronounced in this idea of time as evolutionary and forward-moving.

ISAIAH 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be crushed
    until he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5 Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
    a light to the nations,
7     to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8 I am the Lord, that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
    I tell you of them.

The topic of vocation has become increasingly important in the recent literature, both religious and secular, interested in the question of purpose or mission in life, business, and personal development. Since the word itself is identified in the popular mind with an individual’s profession or occupation, the general preference in this literature has been to recover the root meaning of the term vocation itself, which refers to one’s calling.

The difference between occupation and calling, just as far as literal definitions are concerned, is the difference between the role one occupies in the commercial fields of labor, manufacture, service, intelligence and trade, and the deeper human purpose to which one is being summoned by the evolutionary universe itself.

As our quest for fulfillment forces us to look beyond the relative rewards of professional success and economic value, more and more people today are being drawn to this question of human purpose. What is it that the supreme reality is calling us to become? What is the evolutionary goal of humanity?

In the middle section of the book of Isaiah, called Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55) this question of human purpose is the driving focus of the author’s work. His answer to the question will reflect the actual conditions of his historical situation and that of his community, but his central metaphor of servanthood is something that has been proven to transcend time and circumstance altogether.

                                                                                             

While in exile, the author of Second Isaiah received a vision of his displaced community in terms of a corporate personality, with the entire generation caught up and unified in the image of God’s chosen servant. This image enabled him to look through their shared circumstance of captivity in order to discern the deeper hidden current of God’s purpose being worked out through their loss and adversity.

By definition, a servant is one whose principal task is to carry out the will and purpose of another. Different from a slave, a servant occupies a recognized social class, providing services in exchange for room, board, social protection, or a regular wage. When Second Isaiah fastened on this metaphor of servant as a way of conceptualizing the experience of his people, he opened the path toward incorporating their suffering into the purposes of God.

Significantly, however, his image did not simply assume the popular idea of suffering as punitive for sins. Instead of the Suffering Servant of God enduring hardship as punishment for the past, their – remembering that the title refers to the exiled community as a whole – travail is interpreted as birth pangs of a future reality.

Of course, the idea of God working out a purpose through a people had been around for some time. It was central to Abrahamic religion. But now, even suffering was seen as redemptive.