Archive for the ‘Forty-Fifth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 6:24-35

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The benefits of the religious life are like the bread this still-hungry mob was seeking from Jesus. He could fill their bellies every six hours and they’d be back for more. Similarly welfare assistance, social membership, and the promise of paradise are such benefits of conventional religion that are unable to satisfy the longing at the center of our being.

This hunger is “not for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” It is, in short, our hunger for wholeness, community, and for the fulfillment of what God created us to be as human beings. (We are reminded that the term eternal life in the Fourth Gospel means abundant, full, and authentic life here and now, not life forever somewhere else.) Jesus tried to focus their vision beyond the temporal urgencies symbolized in the belly, but such delusions die hard.

All of this approaches the scale of tragedy when we observe how many have fallen into the trap of a superficial religion. Constantly restless, a great number merely revolve through the cycle from a general anxiety, to a deep but unfocused discontent, to an aroused craving for what might satisfy, to an attachment to the next promising thing, to a fear that it may not be enough (which is actually an opportunity for liberation), and coming round again to a discontent deeper than before.

The path of fulfillment leads through the discovery of our spiritual gifts, and to a growing awareness that God is counting on us to do our part – nothing more and nothing less.

JOHN 6:24-35

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

“What must we do to perform the works of God?” Spirituality is not simply a matter of contemplation and inner peace. It’s also about work – the effort, the deeds, creations, actions and fruit of our actions. Being Christian, then, is also about more than church attendance, Bible reading, and prayer before meals. Jesus was deeply interested in what comes out of our lives, what is produced in the way of a visible, audible, and tangible witness to a deep mystical faith.

So many people reach out to religion for the acceptance, security, and afterlife insurance they need, but never find the fulfillment to their spiritual quest. Why is that? To a great extent we must hold the religious institutions responsible, but the solution will not come from there. The real solution will come when individuals begin to discover the gifts of God that have been distributed so generously throughout the human community.

These are the many organs and appendages that God desires to activate and inhabit by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing each one into coordination with the larger whole. Each part depends on the health and functional performance of all the rest, and strives to fulfill the higher purpose of the whole through its own humble and faithful work. What must we do? Die to self, and live as Christ!

Sadly, it is precisely this sacrifice of What I want (ego) that so many find too threatening.

EPHESIANS 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Youth would have us believe that world-salvation is our heroic calling. We are idealistic, invincible, and immortal; and if the world would only submit to our truth, all would be well. As we mature, we thankfully learn that we are not as potent as we initially believed, and that life itself is less a problem to be solved by mastery than it is a mystery to be entered with humility and faith. Also, when we were younger we had, as the psychologist Robert Bly says, “a 360-degree personality, with energy radiating from all sides.”

This goes to explain our youthful savior complex. But with age our fantasy accommodates more and more to reality, and we discover that the world is just too large, its multiple currents too complex, and its habits too deep-set for us to achieve its salvation all by ourselves. We get wise and leave the salvation to God while looking for opportunities where we might be useful.

And that’s precisely where the whole matter of spiritual gifts comes into the picture. In the Christian worldview Jesus Christ is the redeemer and we together are the “body of Christ” – interdependent and integrated parts of the divine reality, cooperating for the single work of the whole. Just as the eye can’t do the work of the total body, so none of us alone can achieve what only the united body of Christ can. So you can only do x; now find a community where the wide variety of spiritual gifts and talents is affirmed and developed – and then plug in!

EPHESIANS 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

In our progression from childhood to maturity we move out of a period where the world and the circumstances of life bring our interests and energies to a focus. Through time we gradually awaken to the special talents and gifts with which God has blessed us. As we follow their lead, and still attentive to the opportunities that are opening to us along the way, our focus begins to lift from the foreground of this passing moment, to the transcendent aim of our life as a whole.

A purpose emerges – not a job or a career, necessarily, but an increasingly profound sense of why we exist – that begins to concentrate and channel the energies of our life along a single path. This is the “narrow gate” in the teachings of Jesus. Ideally we arrive at the point where we experience our life as a progression threshold in the evolutionary advance of creation itself – a place where the universe becomes conscious of itself, and where the Spiritual Presence within and beneath all things takes on flesh and personality in us.

The writer is reflecting on the redemptive accomplishment and heavenly ascent of Jesus Christ as though he were a victorious general returning home, distributing the spoils of war among his people. These “gifts” were liberated from captivity, where they had been held hostage by the infernal powers of the earth. If you’ve struggled with this question of your life’s purpose, and have wrestled against the forces of fear, inferiority, unworthiness and self-doubt, then you can understand that nothing short of redemption is needed in order to break free. Jesus showed us that fulfillment is well worth the risk.

PSALM 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.

There is a high probability, although we can’t be absolutely certain, that David wrote this poetic prayer in the aftermath of his moral collapse. We hear in its words a profound sense of guilt and a desperate longing to be made clean. The sin he had tried to hide could no longer be blanketed behind a veil of denial and self-justification. As long as he persisted in walling off this part of himself, he was living a divided life.

For the ego this is rather typical, but for the soul – that dimension beyond our personality where our autobiography is archived and our highest spiritual aspirations are conceived – this divided state is intolerable. Whereas the ego coordinates the multiple roles we play in life, our soul thirsts for wholeness and authenticity. While David’s ego could go on with the charade of self-justification, his soul was tormented and in deep need of forgiveness.

Repentance involves a series of subtler moves beginning with the admission of guilt, and moving on through inner remorse, self-examination, personal confession, acceptance of consequences, attempted restitution, a pledge toward moral improvement, letting go of the past and moving on. The forgiveness of God makes all of this possible by holding before us the promise of freedom, love, and fulfillment.

2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:13a

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

With God’s curse on David’s house, the morality of Yahweh sounds more like a child’s than that of a mature adult. Because you took Uriah’s wife, other scoundrels just like yourself are going to take your wives and do with them what they wish. Fair is fair. 

A closer consideration, however, reveals something of a deeper truth. What really happens when we commit an act of betrayal, violence, infidelity or deception? We may think, as David apparently did, that the fall-out from such deeds can be contained and managed. When it’s done, we have to allow time for the dust to settle, but after a while we will be able to carry on as if the travesty never happened. Or so we may think.

In reality, every word and deed we release into the world initiates a cascade of consequences. The fundamental rule is that your words and deeds are seeds that sow an inevitable harvest, either for good or evil. Like force fields of moral energy, our human values, choices, and actions produce an accelerating momentum of consequences. When we lie, for instance, we intensify the force of dishonesty in the world. When we break a promise or a vow, we amplify the destructive power of suspicion throughout the human realm.

David’s acts of adultery and murder set in motion an avalanche of consequences that would eventually overwhelm him as well.

2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:13a

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

“You are the man!” We can imagine David stumbling backwards from the force of Nathan’s words. The shock that David evidently felt shows how far the dissociation from his own sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah had gone. How could he not have seen the parallels between Nathan’s parable and his own recent experience? Part of our attempted ego defense in times we have violated the deeper principles of morality, is the maneuver of “walling-off” and dis-identifying with the part of us that fell to temptation and transgressed the divine laws of well-being. David probably didn’t even see himself as that wretch who had destroyed a man and his marriage.

In just this instance we are given to see the truth-power in a story of fiction. Nathan’s parable of the rich man who took from a poor man the only lamb he owned never happened, strictly speaking. The truth of the story, however, lies at a level below that of factual accuracy. Its truth is that of revelation: pulling back the veil of hypocrisy and pretense that David had hidden his guilt behind. When a story – and most often it is a work of fiction, parable, or myth – brings into the light something unconscious or forgotten, deliberately concealed or dormant as a deeper potential within us, we say it is a ‘true’ story.

Nathan’s parable never happened, and yet is happening all the time.