Archive for the ‘Forty-Sixth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 6:35, 41-51

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.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Jesus was perceived as a threat to theological security by those who had anchored themselves inside the fortress of religious literalism. It may be helpful to define more carefully what we mean by this term. There is a time in psychological development when the stories of scripture and tradition are not so much interpreted as simply accepted as descriptions of the way things are, were, or will be. This is the period that James Fowler names the “mythic-literal” stage of faith.

A child must not be faulted or criticized for taking the stories literally. At this stage the imagination is just coming alive and the dividing membrane between fantasy and reality is magically flexible and porous. Religious and cultural narratives are implanting the young mind with the information, moral values, and world perspective deemed necessary to live functionally as a member of the tribe. Most importantly, they are shaping the developing personality around deep principles and universal truths.

Sometime in early adolescence the capacity for symbolic thinking is awakened, and the stories that were taken literally in childhood begin to open up to new insights and discoveries. Narrative portraits of God, for instance, can now be appreciated more as metaphors than literal descriptions, and the reality they name can be more readily acknowledged for the genuine mystery it is. It is possible at this stage for the individual to grasp and entertain such notions as ground of being, universal spirit and unconditional love in his or her contemplation of the divine mystery.

It is possible, we need to emphasize, because it is precisely at this developmental moment, on the threshold of a breakthrough to higher awareness spiritually, that the orthodoxy of anxious and dogmatic leaders slams shut the window and pulls down the shade. This is where religious literalism takes hold: It’s this way, and only this way.

Jesus was a threat to such literalism because in his teaching, his parables, his manner and his very person, he mediated a mystery that no theology can manage or contain.

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JOHN 6:35, 41-51

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.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Once again, the writer of the Fourth Gospel is exposing our human habit of taking things too literally. From the Christian mystical perspective, existence itself points as a sign to the divine transcendent reality energizing and upholding all things.The material universe is radiant with the glory of God, the revealed Law declares God’s deeper intention for the human being in community, and Jesus embodies in flesh and personality l’amour che muove il sole e l’altre stelle, as the poet Dante says: the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

The problem lies with the blinders of our fixed habits of mind, deep cultural assumptions, and the dogmatic orthodoxies of religion. These obscure our spiritual vision and would tie our attention to the pointing finger rather than the moon to which the finger points.

When Jesus identified himself as the bread of life come down from heaven, his benighted audience could think only in terms of what they knew – common table bread and ordinary family origins. But perhaps we let them off the hook too easily when we make it out to be mere a matter of ignorance. Frequently, in those who strongly reject the notion of a Truth higher than their own familiar traditions and orthodox belief systems, there is a corresponding deeper fear of losing their grip on what provides them some measure of certainty, comfort, and control.

EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

What does it mean to be an ‘imitator’ of God? Well, it all depends on whose concept of God you are consulting. In ancient imperial societies where military sovereignty was all the rage, the patron deity of a people was typically imaged as a dread warrior and blood-drunk tyrant. Even after the revolution initiated by Jesus, the so-called Christian civilization that ensued still represented God conceptually in terms of vengeance for sin, condemnation of outsiders and heretics, and justified violence against unbelievers.

If that’s your concept of God, then imitating him is merely a matter of carrying this divine wrath and aggression into the affairs of your daily life. How should you handle the person who has done you wrong? Take God as your model: He couldn’t be appeased until finally His own son was killed and his blood offered up for divine satisfaction. (You may find this language offensive, but that is the prevailing theory in Christian orthodoxy today.)

Jesus revealed God in a new way, not as vindictive and hard to please but as gracious and forgiving. He found this view of God so compelling and inspiring, in fact, that he gave every ounce of his energy and his very last drop of blood in pursuit of its realization in the midst of our dark and violent world. One who is truly a disciple of Jesus is thus also an imitator of the God revealed in his gospel and life. We can forgive others freely, repeatedly, and without conditions because we have been forgiven in the same radical way by God.

EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

We “make room for the devil” when we allow our emotional impulses to drive our behavior, especially our behavior towards others. When the heat of anger flares within us, all manner of associations can boil up from our subconscious memory, and the emerging conspiracy of forces from within can fast become an agency of evil.

It must have been that the church in Ephesus was experiencing something of a civil war, as members slandered one another behind the back and seeped poisonous gossip into the congregational grapevine. The writer has no patience for it, and sees it rightly as an emotional and spiritual infection that will eventually destroy the entire community unless it is brought under control.

A church has more important work to  do than settling scores and hashing over past disputes. As an organism of the Holy Spirit, it was intended to be the body of Christ in the world. Instead, when congregations become divided and possessed by a spirit of “bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” they deform into unholy strangleholds of demonic power.

Tragically, even though their marquees may identify them as Christian churches, the spiritual life inside is about as far as you can get from a genuine likeness to Christ himself. In the words of this author, they “grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” claiming to represent the divine cause in the world but instead working against it as perhaps its greatest obstacle and opponent.

PSALM 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

The special power of forgiveness is absolutely essential to the forward advance of our human evolution, if there is any hope for our fulfillment as a species. This evolution, more important than scientific discoveries and technological progress, has to do with our ability to live together in communities of freedom, justice, equality, love and fidelity.

What complicates this idealistic picture to a great degree are the reactive and conflicting energies of our emotional experience. When someone does us wrong, the act itself may be physically long past, and its various conditions rationally understood, but the feelings of hurt, resentment, and vengefulness can burn inside us for years and years. We may even have forgotten the details of the event, and the face of the perpetrator may lie below our conscious recall, but this seething tangle of fixated emotions will continue to erupt spontaneously when we are fatigued, stressed out, or feel caught in a similar scenario.

To forgive is nether to dismiss the severity of the offense or injury, nor to wave aside the fact of your pain. Rather it is a rational decision to let go of the impulse to either curl up in an emotional ball of self-pity or lash out in a vicious or calculating attempt to get even. It’s not simply waiting for the pain to pass; it’s choosing to get on with your life.

2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

33  The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

David wasn’t a coward by any means, and his decision to treat Absalom with respect even though his son was out for his blood should be seen as a character strength and not a weakness. Like every other human being, he felt the surge of emotions when things went for or against him. But unlike other human beings, David seemed fairly able to bring his emotions under the command of rational judgment.

While the emotions might be considered the spice of human experience, it is remarkably easy to corrupt a recipe by letting them get out of hand. Desire can flare into an obsessive craving, fear can expand into a paralyzing anxiety, and anger can explode in a fit of violent rage. Each of these primary emotions serves an important function in animal experience – moving us toward what is beneficial (desire), away from what is dangerous (fear), and against what is needing to be overcome (anger).

In addition to being possessed of instinctual and emotional formations in our brain anatomy, however, we humans have also evolved a cerebral cortex which gives us the capacity for symbolic thought, language, logic and intuition. It is this ‘higher brain’ that opens to us the possibilities of our distinctly human culture with its art, science, morality, politics and religion. The hope of all of that depends on our emotional self-control.

2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

33  The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Absalom was David’s third son by his wife Maacah, who was herself the daughter of a foreign king, Talmai of Geshur. Reputedly David’s favorite, Absalom had nonetheless conspired against his father for possession of the throne, managing to take control of the city of Hebron and setting his sights next on Jerusalem. For a while, David was on the run and hiding from Absalom’s rebel band, but then, after mustering his own army, he order the rebellion quashed.

“Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom,” David had instructed his commanders. But, in a fateful moment, Absalom’s hair got caught in the branches of a tree under which his mule was passing, and he hung there, the story tells us, “between heaven and earth.” And then, when the soldiers of David’s commander, Joab, happened upon the dangling traitor, they drew their swords and killed him on the spot.

David’s reaction to the news of Absalom’s murder is reminiscent of how he had handled the death of his enemy King Saul years before. His grief in both instances is testimony to his amazing ability to separate in his mind between the dignity of his human aggressors on the one hand and their malicious intentions on the other. Behind the mask of a terrorist and would-be assassin was the face of Absalom, his beloved son.