Archive for the ‘Fifty-Second Bundle’ Category

MARK 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

We recall that Jesus used different strategies in communicating his gospel, depending on what could motivate his audience to live more kindly toward others and more conscious of the longer view of things. Some were treasure-motivated: they were looking for happiness in what can be possessed.

Others were recognition-motivated: they were needing to know that their worth as persons was acknowledged and sustained in the pleased or envious approval of others (and God counts as an other as well, by the way).

And finally a small minority were what we might call fulfillment-motivated: these are not overly self-interested individuals, but are in fact progressing beyond the ego in giving themselves with full commitment to the realization of God’s kingdom on earth. They have grasped Jesus’ vision of the (future yet presently arriving) spiritual community of compassion, justice, peace, forgiveness, and inclusive love. And they work to see it fulfilled.

Although Jesus appears to play into the position-seeking ambitions of his disciples by telling them what they need to do in order to be first and greatest of all, what he does next opens the gate to higher awareness. He takes a child and places her in their midst. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” he says.

Children are not typically sought out for their appraisals on the adult world. They don’t have a grasp on the social game of titles and degrees and reputations and hierarchies. To welcome a child you must be able to put aside your need for reward and glory and be willing to come down to the level of simple innocence, into a vulnerable trust.

That’s where real life is found.

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MARK 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

In his teaching Jesus employed three distinct strategies depending on what he perceived in his audience at any given time. There were a few whose abilities allowed them to grasp the highest truth of his gospel – that we have all been set free by the love of God to live the forgiven and forgiving life, to move in trust and with boldness into the farther reaches of our divine potential as children of God.

The largest majority were looking for tangible rewards, some gain that could be credited to their accounts at the end of the day or in the life to come. Jesus called upon them to set their hearts not on the treasures of earthly and passing value, but instead on the treasures of heaven and lasting worth.

Somewhere in the middle were those – and we place the disciples in this company for now – who were most interested in their own relative position of value and influence in the eyes of others. They wanted to be “the greatest,” that is, superior to the rest in importance, power, and glory.

So when Jesus told his disciples after they had been fussing and prancing about, that whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all, it wasn’t the diamond truth of his gospel that he was giving them, but rather something that could catch hold of their interest and hopefully lead them to higher levels of understanding later on.

It wasn’t the diamond truth because it was still predicated on a self-centered motivation for recognition, for self-esteem that comes by the approving judgment and admiration of others. If you are taking last place because you believe that, when all accounts are justified, you will receive your promotion to the front of the line and the top of the heap, then ego is still in the way.

MARK 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

In an ingenious use of irony Mark portrays the disciples bickering and debating their respective positions within the ranks – just after Jesus has disclosed to them the core teaching of his gospel. As the apostle Paul later understood, this “death and resurrection” event is not exclusive to Jesus but is the inner dynamic of salvation itself: dying to one thing (the old self, the part of us that asks wrongly) and being lifted into a higher, more integrated state (the new self).

Jesus speaks of the fate of every true follower of The Way, to be misunderstood by the world, persecuted, and betrayed; and wouldn’t you know it, but just over the next hill the disciples are already wrangling over who among them is the greatest!

When Jesus asks to know what they were talking about on the way, his disciples fall silent and sheepish, shuffling their feet and looking off in embarrassment. Sad thing is that they knew full well their behavior was in fundamental contradiction to everything Jesus taught and modeled to them. So why did they do it – why do we do it?

The answer must lie in the animal impulse that pushes up from deep in our biology and gets tangled in the obsessions, anxieties, and narcissism of the insecure ego. We can know something in our minds and have all passion for it in our hearts, but if our basic motivations are self-centered, these motivations and not the noble beliefs and affections we hold higher up will drive our behavior.

JAMES 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” Is James saying that we can have anything we want just by asking for it? Not quite. He goes on to accuse the readers of asking wrongly “in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” In other words, our asking (and seeking and knocking, to quote Jesus) needs to arise out of and be inspired by a deeper awareness of our true need.

And what do we truly need? Not wealth or power or a competitive advantage over our rivals, but rather a pure heart, inner peace, and sufficient love for even our enemies. Now these are not things we typically pray for – frankly, they are counterproductive to our usual efforts toward self-promotion. And that is precisely the point James is making.

What are we unhappy in life? Why does it seem that frustration, and the insatiable appetite for excitement and accumulation that it arouses in us, is the prevailing temperament of our society today? The answer is deceptively simple: it is because the things we ask for – among them money, sex, and power (the Big Three) – are unable to satisfy the essential aspiration of our nature as human beings, which is to grow into the fullness of our God-given capacities for freedom, creativity, wisdom, fidelity, and love.

How will we ever find fulfillment if we consistently tether the upward realization of our divine potential to the obsessions and cravings of the infantile ego? Resist the devil indeed! It’s not that many or most of the things we “ask for” are inherently evil, but that our inordinate expectations (“This will make me happy!”) put demands on them which they can never satisfy.

JAMES 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

As bodies we are biological organisms animated with a life impulse that is billions of years old. Our fortunate evolution has achieved emotional, intellectual, and intuitive levels of such complexity and power, we can easily believe that we have fully and finally transcended the base urges of our prehistoric origins.

However, just because we possess abilities for artistic creativity, city planning, and abstract thought doesn’t mean that we have been liberated completely from the unconscious thrust and reflexes of our animal nature. Indeed, it is exactly this animal nature with all its urgencies that contributes the energy for such higher cultural formations and uniquely human expressions.

If all went without a hitch, this evolutionary adventure of ours would be a happy tale. But there is a hitch, and to some degree for every one of us without exception: our natural animal self-interest is compounded with a self-obsession that grows in proportion to our ego insecurity, which  makes for an often nasty, selfish, and violence-prone personality.

This human fall into selfishness is the original sin from whence spring our ambitions for superiority, dominance, and glory. In the Jerusalem church, a mere twenty years or so after Jesus had left them to carry on his message and mission, the Christians were at each others’ throats, overtaken by animal rivalries for power and position.

PSALM 1

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

Why would anyone want to “follow the advice of the wicked, take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers”? Well, because that advice, that path, and that seat are often avenues to some of the more desperate wants of our insecure species: superior power, limitless wealth, and safe sex. C.S. Lewis wrote that no one who does evil does it for its own sake, but for the sake of some perceived or anticipated value that is deemed “good” by the perpetrator – pleasure, satisfaction, relief, dominance, notoriety, significance. According to the Bible, we were created for good and to do good, but our anxiety over being merely human and our fantasy to be gods caused our will to fall off-center.

The great task and key component in the process of salvation is for our will (the psychological center of motivation, voluntary action, and free choice) to be realigned to its original or ideal position. By “meditating on the law day and night” we retrain the will to more worthy and lasting aims in life. The “law of God” in this case is much more than the Ten Commandments or their equivalent; it is God’s wisdom and way in the world – the way of God for human wholeness.

“The way of the wicked will perish,” as must be the inevitable outcome of anything that departs from the evolutionary path of its intended fulfillment.

PROVERBS 31:10-31

10 A capable wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant,
    she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night
    and provides food for her household
    and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
    and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor,
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
    for all her household are clothed in crimson.
22 She makes herself coverings;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates,
    taking his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she supplies the merchant with sashes.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her happy;
    her husband too, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.

With the rise of women’s liberation and feminist awareness, a woman’s place in society has undergone profound changes. In the meantime we have been confronted with our traditional male-dominated (patriarchal) values and assumptions, and the way these disregard or denigrate the female perspective and her unique aspirations in life. For the past fifty years especially, women have been finding their places in careers and making contributions that in previous centuries would have been considered not only unbelievable, but even unnatural.

Back in the days of the Bible a woman’s concerns and principal tasks were domestic in nature – keeping a home, raising children, preserving family traditions, and promoting into the next generation time-tested wisdom for  living well. And however “oppressed” we might judge their lives to have been, it was precisely these domestic responsibilities that carried forward – and still carries forward – our core values and sense of the world as a species.

When the write extols the qualities and inner beauty of “a capable wife,” then, we must resist the impulse to accuse him (we presume the author is male) of preaching patriarchal standards. He’s not saying that the only good woman is the one who quietly discharges her duties in the (husband’s) home; it is the glory and importance of her complex responsibilities that he is praising. She is faithful, trustworthy, diligent, strong, compassionate, graceful, wise and multi-skilled. Higher praise is hardly possible!