Archive for the ‘Forty-Ninth Bundle’ Category

MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

It’s time to ask about the dividing-line between what is essential and what is conditional or secondary in the religious life, according to the teachings of Jesus. Lest we deceive ourselves, we must not assume that for Jesus spirituality was merely a matter of what one feels inside, or how pure and noble one’s intentions might be. Jesus was intensely interested in the “fruit” of our lives, that is, in what is produced by the hands and the mouth in the form of ethical behavior. You can tell the tree by its fruit, he said on a number of occasions.

But Jesus also knew that fruit is only part of the tree, a trusty witness to the internal health of the tree, but it’s not everything. Moreover, you will frequently find when you bite into an apparently wholesome piece of fruit, that it’s mealy and rotten inside. Just so, good works may be more about the visual display than genuinely benevolent motives.

The heart, while maybe not the birthplace of our motives (that’s probably farther down), is where they gather emotional energy as attitudes and convictions. The heart is also the center of consciousness tuned into that most mysterious of all our human frequencies: love. On the continuum of human consciousness, the heart-center is situated midway between the mind-center above, which responds to the frequency of truth, and the belly-center below, where the survival concerns of life are dominant.

Between the life urgencies we carry in our bellies and the truth-claims we defend in our heads are the desires and aspirations we hold in our hearts. Our lives tend in the direction of what we love most. Is it God?

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MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

We are each aware of our life as it unfolds through time, with an exterior facing out to the world and an interior opening to the depths of the soul’s inner space. The ego, our center of self-conscious identity, toggles this boundary between objective facts and subjective feelings, between matter and value, between sensory perceptions and subtle awareness, between what we appear to be and what we really are.

To be perfectly honest, it is far easier to manipulate appearances than to live authentically, and much to be gained as far as the acceptance, respect, envy, or fear in others we are hoping to impress is concerned. Jesus didn’t put much weight in appearances, and he was sometimes caustic in his criticisms of those who fluff their feathers and strut around for the glamour value of their knowledge or social class standing.

The real tragedy – and this is what disturbed Jesus so much – was that these appearance-and-protocol obsessed legalists were not only duped themselves, but were pulling others into their delusion. For them, you’d better follow the rules and pay your dues to tradition if you hope to be in God’s favor. All the purity and dietary laws prescribing how and what one could eat were taken to be the “fundamentals” of their religion, and to transgress on these was a crime against God punishable by exclusion from the community.

Jesus looked at them and saw not only a hollow piety but a dangerous deception for the multitudes as well. And so, for the sake of their liberation, he spoke out against it.

JAMES 1:17-27

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The tongue is the organ of the soul’s testimony to the world. Our professions of belief, our statements of promise, our agreements in community, and our advocacy on behalf of those who have no voice are together the creative agency through which the realm of human meaning (the cultural cosmos) is generated and sustained.

Conversely, the word can also be an agency for destruction if we use our speech to deceive, condemn, flatter, gossip, or justify our prejudices against others. There is something to the popular practice of making affirmations, where declaring forth one’s positive convictions and aspirations serves as a kind of attractor for their outward manifestation in the world.

When it comes down to it, however, “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is more than doctrines and verse. Yes, our actions will tend to follow the direction of our speech, but in the end the only deeds that will finally matter are those performed for the health and salvation of the world. To be deeply invested in the world for its awakening and coming-to-wholeness, but without forfeiting or forsaking the will of God for the world, is the narrow ridge of our spiritual journey. On one side is the ravine of an other-worldly religion of no earthly value, and on the other is the gulch of a worldly religion with no spiritual vision. Walking the ridge can be lonely and dangerous at times, but it’s the path of the world’s true hope.

JAMES 1:17-27

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

One way of undermining community is to focus our critical energies on others, exposing their shortcomings and condemning their sins. Of course, as members in community we need to be morally vigilant and address injustice where it occurs, but when we only look outward in our vigilance we can quickly become saboteurs of the very thing towards which our evolution is aimed.

So James advises the Christian to examine the soul and moral life of him- or herself. It’s been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason: so “be quick to listen and slow to speak,” the apostle enjoins. And don’t just memorize and spout off doctrines, but seek to live out the truth they represent.

The tongue is a viper, so the proverb goes. Elsewhere in this same letter, James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship: though small and seemingly of minor significance, the tongue can steer the vessel of one’s life into all kinds of peril. So important is the tongue in the author’s estimation that anyone who believes and recites the confessions in church but cannot control their speech during the week is perpetuating a worthless religion.

We’ve all heard the maxim that “talk is cheap,” and surely that is true. But what comes forth from the mouth, as Jesus says, was first formed in the heart, which means that while talk may be cheap, it’s still a dependable witness to the soul’s general health.

JAMES 1:17-27

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James presents us with the portrait and prescription for an authentic humanity, much as the psalmist had in his eulogy of the king as God’s viceroy on earth. This is, in fact, one of the principal preoccupations of true religion: to envision, contemplate, aspire toward, and finally bring to realization the fullness of what we are essentially, if at present only potentially, deep within our nature.

There are many occasions in life where we will be tempted away from this inner truth and evolutionary ideal of our human fulfillment, lured in the direction of something more superficial, convenient, and instantly rewarding. We know when we have left the path for such deceptive promises and hollow pleasures. Our experience in these moments is one of frustration and disappointment, which ought to alert us to the fact that we are diverging from the intended aim of our existence (the literal meaning of ‘sin’), but too often we instead redouble our efforts in the direction of our fantasy and thereby merely amplify our discontent with life.

The evolutionary ideal mentioned above is not something we can attain or actualize on our own individually, for human fulfillment leads inevitably towards and depends on the formation of genuine community for its flourishing. And yet, paradoxically, genuine community itself is only possible as individual members awaken to the life of compassionate coexistence and the cooperative pursuit of peace. How can we begin? The counsel of James is that we start by being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” That way, we make room for the love of God.

PSALM 45:1-2, 6-9

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
    I address my verses to the king;
    my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of men;
    grace is poured upon your lips;
    therefore God has blessed you forever.

Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
    Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
    you love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
    your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
    daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
    at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

The psalmist gazed admiringly upon Israel’s king, attributing his unrivaled wisdom and prosperity to the fact that he stood with integrity in the will of God. Other kings outside the nation of Israel, and even most kings in Israel after David, were very often opportunists rather than faithful representatives of God. Because they were more interested in amassing wealth and concentrating power into their own hands, these others fell predictably to corruption and defeat. Only a small number of biblical kings even came close to the ideal picture of the poet’s praise song – David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah – and even they slipped occasionally.

In some Psalms of the Bible, the king is held up is such high regard as to be nearly idealized. He was called a son of God, the divinely appointed shepherd of his people, and the representative fulfillment of humanity itself. It may partly have been due to his especially public presence, but the best of kings was taken to be an example of an authentic human being. When he carried out his responsibilities with the will of God foremost in his mind and heart, his decisions turned out to be wise, his actions effective, and his achievements noble.

SONG OF SOLOMON 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

The love poetry of Solomon’s Song has attracted many with its sexual symbolism and romantic themes, a fact that drove the post-biblical church to interpret it away from its obviously sensual and towards a more hidden spiritual meaning. Thus Christ became the groom and the Church his bride, with the longing between them representing the romance of salvation.

Later mystics used the imagery in the Song to picture the soul’s passionate desire for the divine beloved. Originally (and probably not written by King Solomon himself) the poem was likely a love song celebrating the erotic energy and attraction between a man and woman on their wedding day. It is an inspiring tribute to the natural impulses and physical beauty that are so magical in the romantic interplay of the sexes.

This section of the Song gives an account of the groom’s approach to the place where the bride lies in waiting. Up till now her world has been cast beneath the spell of winter and its grey overcast mood. Hitherto she has only dreamed of this day, and at last it arrives, bringing the rebirth of spring to the land. Everything about the bride – her hope, her imagination, her heart, and her very body – is magnetized by expectation for the one she loves. Such total passion is what makes her experience, and her life in that moment, authentic and vibrant with meaning.

When Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” this is what he meant.