Archive for the ‘Second Bundle’ Category

MATTHEW 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

As the forerunner of Jesus, John the baptist was early on forced into a paradigm shift with respect to how his personal expectations matched up with the living reality of Jesus himself.

John had preached the coming of God’s messiah, who would ring down the curtain on history, bring divine vengeance on a sinful world, and make everything right. What he witnessed instead was a spiritual teacher and activist who called people to the compassionate life, proclaimed the universal and unconditional forgiveness of God, and challenged us to be more concerned with being true (authentic, genuine, real) than being right.

Quietly John dispatched a delegation of disciples to inquire of Jesus whether he was or was not in fact the one they had been stumping for. In reply Jesus simply asked, “What do you see?”

John had been anticipating the end of the age by way of an intervention from outside the world-system, as it were. Sinners would pay, pagan kingdoms would fall, and everything would be put in order once again. Jesus, however, followed a different path because he also had a very different vision of reality.

According to his gospel (“good news”), the New Reality that brings the end of this present age is not breaking in from outside but breaking through from within. His work was to empower the poor, not make them rich; to heal the body, not simply rescue the soul; to restore outcasts to full community and personal value in this life, not simply promise them heaven and beatitude in the next.

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JAMES 5:7-10

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth. As a counter-example to the mechanistic metaphors of reality that dominated the Western mind for more than four hundred years during the industrial age, models of organismic growth and dynamic complexity are being recovered from ancient wisdom traditions for the challenges and opportunities of today.

As this writer knew, the deeper evolutionary processes of spiritual life and awakening are not events that can be engineered or induced by external interventions. Growth comes from within, from below, out of the concealed depths of waking potential, energized, gestating in the dark womb of the earth, the woman, or the creative imagination – all symbols for the ground of being giving existence to all things.

The machine operator must remain the ever-vigilant superintendent, manager, and mechanic in order to ensure the efficient and productive interworking of all the parts. A farmer, on the other hand, while directing great care and intensive labor to the preparation of the soil, the planting of the seed, and guarding against weeds, locusts, birds and other dangers, must above all be patient.

Having provided for and cooperated with the conditions necessary to the germination, growth, and maturity of his crop, he needs to wait on the miracle of life and the rhythm of time. The farmer waits, but waits with expectancy!

                                                                                                   

It is so difficult to be patient! We may ask for God’s help in developing greater patience, but then we grow impatient for the results. When we are impatient in waiting for something to happen, it is easy to take our frustrations out on each other. So many faith communities just like the church in Jerusalem get embroiled in interpersonal conflicts and disputes, not because they are necessarily more beset with problems than other groups, but because their members lack a shared sense of purpose (or mission) and/or the spiritual grounding (individually) of inner peace.

Indeed, many churches become so involved and highly invested in the programs and ministries that achieve their corporate mission, that this deeper spiritual connection withers from neglect. The critical skill required is to work diligently for the accomplishment of goals in the world and to nurture our mystical communion with God in that holy space of our inner life. When we are at peace within ourselves we find that we are much m ore patient, flexible, and resourceful in our outer life.

The discipline of strengthening the heart – not simply the emotional center but the core self, according to the biblical languages – involves the practices of contemplative solitude, centering prayer, meditational exercises, and spiritual reflection. The world makes precious little space and has little patience for such commitments. We must make the space and protect the time, if we are to grow into God.

LUKE 1:47-55

47 My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Earlier, Isaiah had energized this living vision of the New Reality by anticipating its future advent among his people. His metaphor of a time and place when final justice would be accomplished, death sponged away, and every grief replaced by joy, helped him and his community transcend their present troubles in order to tap into a higher source of wisdom, hope, and strength.

This hymn of Mary, named the Magnificat for its first word in the Greek text, can help us regain an appreciation and respect for the visionary language of religion. Luke portrays the mother of Jesus in the moment of her convictional experience, when she realizes that the New Reality is breaking into the world of conflict across the threshold of her own life.

Of course, had Mary looked around herself at that moment she would have noticed no significant changes in the actual arrangements of outer reality. The powerful were still on their thrones, and the lowly were still struggling under the afflictions of hunger and oppression. So was it all just fantasy? Was Mary merely reveling in wishful thinking?

For her, the radical transformation that would one day manifest in revolutionary changes to the temporal world of religion, politics, and economics was already coming to pass within her – a new possibility, a new perception, and with it a new fulcrum for world change. Mary’s openness to mystery, and her emptiness of any compulsive need to control the deeper unfolding of her life, served as the birthplace of the New Reality.

ISAIAH 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
    but it shall be for God’s people;
    no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

The utopian vision of a future paradise on earth has given inspiration to song and poetry in every culture on earth. As things appear to us now – and as they’ve appeared to every generation since the dawn of humanity – there is conflict, turmoil, crisis and hardship mixed in with the ecstasies of our life in time.

But as is the habit of mind, human beings have not been satisfied with the idea that this has always been the case, or that it will forever be the case, or that this mixture is the truth of reality deepest down.

Resolutions have arisen, predictably, which posit a perfect state of harmony and goodness either at the very beginning, and from which we have fallen; at the end, towards which we are presently progressing; or in the foundational essence of pure being, when we may enter by a more mystical path.

The evolution of religion itself has advanced through these three, and in that very sequence – first looking back to a paradisal garden, then ahead to a heavenly city, and finally inward to the place that is no place, to the kingdom of God within.

In the modern West ever since the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, the critical position taken by rationalism has been that all of this talk of religion is nothing more than fantasy and wishful thinking. The truth is that reality is a mixture of good and evil, and we must simply and responsibly accept this fact – if we must judge at all.

                                                                                                   

A disastrous oversight of Western rationalism concerning the validity of poetry, art, symbol and story, both as products of the mythic imagination and basic elements in the language of religion, was the importance of taking these not literally but metaphorically. Once the metaphor of Isaiah’s mythic paradise is reduced to nothing more than an actual state of affairs in the near or far-off future, the prophet’s vision collapses into becoming a mere prediction – an easily falsifiable prediction, in that case.

We understand now that such a chain of mistaken judgments was necessitated by the logical commitments early in the rise of rationalism. Truth needed to be based on evidence, evidence needed to be measurable and accessible to the detached observer, and conclusions needed to be consistently verifiable through repeated experiments. The (mythological) language of religion passes none of these tests, and was therefore dismissed as an unreliable source.

But metaphors by their very definition are word-images not intended to be taken literally. In its root meaning, metaphor is that which carries the mind across the boundary of mystery that contains our present knowledge, for the purpose of touching and exploring ultimate reality in terms of what we do know.