Archive for the ‘Fifty-Third Bundle’ Category

MARK 9:38-50

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

The “stumbling block” that Jesus has in mind here comes in three varieties: the hand kind, the foot kind, and the eye kind. We might interpret these as referring to differences within the human community that tend to foster dogmatism, bigotry, and violence between groups.

The hand is the instrument of human work and achievement. With our hands we build the monuments that carry our ideals, the homes that shelter our families, and the institutions that embody our values. We work for what reflects real worth, or at least for what can buy what we feel is worthy in life. What I “put my hand to” may be very different from what you “put your hand to,” which is to say that your appetites and aspirations may be significantly different from my own. Look at the difference between what North Americans “put their hands to” and what Arabians or Africans “put their hands to.” It would be very easy to look across the ocean and decide that our way is better, our values superior, our ideals more noble.

The foot is our natural mode of transportation, taking us down the paths of our lives. Here we are placing the accent on differences in where people see their lives going, on the various and competing life curriculums they live by. Your path or aim in life may be very different from mine, but does that make it wrong or less true?

Finally, there are differences in perspective – in how we see the world and represent reality in our minds. Tantric Buddhists see things differently from Evangelical Christians, and European capitalists see a different world from Cuban refugees. Is it right for us to claim exclusive truth for one perspective or worldview over the others?

Jesus said that if our hand causes us to stumble, we must cut if off; if our foot causes us to stumble, we must cut it off; and if our eye causes us to stumble, we must tear it out. What he means is, if your differences are getting in the way of regarding the humanity of other people and treating them with compassion as children of God, then nothing short of surgery is required!

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MARK 9:38-50

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus was drawn to others no matter their nationality, social class standing, religious affiliation, or moral character because his awareness was open to the level of his personal identification with them, sharing a common ground as living creatures and fellow human beings. For him, these cultural distinctions were little more than lines in the sand separating one part of the beach from another.

Beneath the divisions and surface distinctions, all sand is essentially the same. In the same way, whether one was Phoenician or Galilean, a Samaritan or a Jew, a man or a woman, an adult or a child, of “this” circle or “that” circle, did not finally  matter to Jesus – and was certainly, in his mind, nothing to build privilege upon. When he looked at another person of whatever color, creed, size, or disposition, he saw through all the attributes and accidents of birth and station, to the core humanity manifested there. That’s where compassion begins, and where it can lead us, if we are courageous enough to follow its inspiration.

When the disciples complained to Jesus that someone not of their circle was performing deeds of power in Jesus’ name, his reply brought judgment upon all our faith and fanaticism regarding group privilege and “true religion.” It’s not necessary to hold a confessing membership in some particular group in order to be living on the path of spiritual freedom and purpose. In fact – and here’s the rub – insisting otherwise can put a stumbling block before another who is living honestly and earnestly for God’s true cause in the world. All our concern over orthodoxy and exclusive truth will at most guarantee that we ourselves are far, far from it.

MARK 9:38-50

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

As certain as the sun rising tomorrow is the habit of human communities who think of themselves as holding exclusive property rights to legitimate authority and absolute truth. Despite the fact that Jesus himself cast his net of compassion so wide as to include all the world, it wasn’t long after his departure that his followers began to shorten their throw and worry more about who was right and who was wrong. Alas, if this story is more than the author’s criticism of his own community and reports back to an actual episode from the life of Jesus, then this habit of exclusionary thinking was present already then.

In our attempt to make sense of this tendency within human groups (of whatever brand or type), we can bring forward some recent reflections on the inner power of intercessory prayer. We said there that, rather than assuming a separately existing deity, ‘out there’ and removed from the dynamic urgencies of human life in the world, intercession can mean something of great relevance to our day if we interpret it as somehow a function of our personal participation in the universal Spirit or life of God, present in and throughout all things.

From this perspective the common ground and interdependence of everything with everything else is the Fact of facts that we ignore to our own peril. Compassion, then, would be the natural outflow of this deeper identification: you experience the suffering of another because you and the other are deeply and essentially one.

JAMES 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Intercessory prayer has become problematic for many modern people, since its practice through the centuries has been dependent upon a worldview and concept of God that many today can no longer hold with intellectual integrity. The idea of God as essentially separate from and existing above the complex field of our human experience in the world is becoming less and less compatible with our growing understanding of the universe.

True, just because God is not as necessary as He once was for explaining the origin and architecture of the natural cosmos, doesn’t automatically mean that we have outgrown and moved beyond our need for Him. We have become more materialistic and less spiritually-minded as a culture, and our problem with prayer may reflect more the implicit atheism at the heart of our contemporary worldview than a genuine individual maturity on our part.

Nevertheless, and the thoughtful atheists among us notwithstanding, the “theory” and practice of intercessory prayer does bring a challenge before the modern (or postmodern) believer. Are we still to think of God as somehow outside and vertically removed from our world, so that we must call Him into a given situation of need, on behalf of someone who is sick or sin-ridden? Is it just you and that suffering other, therefore, until you invoke the presence and (hopefully) healing power of God?

If instead God is not separate from the world or external to our experience, but is rather essential to the world and already deeply present at the heart of reality, then our prayers of intercession could be relevantly understood as a kind of intuitive participation in the sufferings of another, and an urging of the Spirit towards their life, health, and hope. The one who prays and the one who suffers have common ground in the universal life of God.

JAMES 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The ministry of intercession, of “going between” another person and what threatens his or her life, dignity, happiness, or hope for the future, is the primary vocation of the Christian. As our example, Jesus gave himself so completely to this task that he was remembered above all as “a man for others.” He proclaimed his gospel for the hope of those mired down by guilt. He taught on the subject of God’s reign for the sake of dispelling false conceptions and deepening true understanding. He reached out to the sick and set free the possessed, restoring them to health and wholeness. Upon his departure, Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on in the same way, farther out into the wide world of human need.

To the degree that Christians have retreated into their churches and are preoccupied with concerns of membership and the heaven that awaits them, they have betrayed the vision of Jesus and his gospel. The truth of the matter of Jesus is that his vision, as well as the community he organized and inspired, is all about interceding for the world on behalf of its awakening, liberation, and fulfillment. Before the Church became busy over issues of orthodoxy and hierarchy it was focused on realizing this vision in Jesus’ name. And if the Church can transcend these same fixations today, it will be able to pick up where it left off.

PSALM 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The Bible gives expression in a wide variety of ways to the human experience of salvation,  not as achieved by individual effort but brought about through an outside agency. The intercession of Esther for her people is just one well-known example of this key idea.

Because salvation nearly always involves a liberation or rescue from something – an oppressor, an approaching disaster, a destructive habit, a limiting belief – that is currently preventing our progress, inhibiting our freedom or threatening our life, the Bible counter-balances our typically modern gospel of self-reliance with its witness to faith as reliance on what is beyond us.

It may at first sound weak to say that had not the Lord been on our side we would have been done in, but such an honest admission of our need is really the avenue, and not the barrier, to the experience of true strength in our life. In the story of Esther, the Jewish people would have been defenseless against Haman’s pogrom had it not been for the queen’s effort on their behalf.

In fact, it is probably true to say that many if not most of our troubles in life which develop into serious hardships are due to our ignorance or stubborn refusal to acknowledge our personal limits, inadequacies, and shortcomings. As a rule, the wisdom of the universe brings the counsel, the helper, the resource, or the sign within reach at the critical moment of need.

ESTHER 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

The fifth-century BCE Persian king Ahasuerus (or Xerxes I) had deposed his own queen because she refused to put her beauty on display in the royal pageant. In his search for her replacement, Ahasuerus selected from among the lovely virgins of his kingdom the Jewess Esther. Later, when an assassination scheme was being hatched by conspirators, the plot was overheard by Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who reported the matter to the queen.

“After these things,” as the story goes, Ahasuerus promoted a man named Haman to grand vizier, and at the king’s command all lower officials bowed in his honor as he passed by – which all but Mordecai willingly did. Being a Jew, it was against Mordecai’s religious beliefs to bow before any man. Haman’s reaction was to organize a mass persecution of the Jewish people throughout the Persian kingdom. And this is where queen Esther’s famous intercession on behalf of her people comes into the picture.

At a royal court bash, the tipsy Ahasuerus promised his sexy queen anything she could ask for, even half his kingdom. What Esther requested instead was the release of her people from Haman’s deadly designs, of which apparently the king knew nothing. Once exposed, however, Haman’s fate was to hang from the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. Thus were the Jews saved and a great feast was declared throughout the land and for all time, celebrated to this day on Purim.