Archive for the ‘Seventh Bundle’ Category

MATTHEW 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In his zeal to make Jesus the fulfillment of every Jewish hope and expectation, Matthew choreographs his word and actions to match up with the biblical prophecies. Since he truly believed that Jesus was the one promised of old, his job of connecting the dots was not terribly difficult, though still very creative.

Isaiah prophesied of the “great light” that would drive off the fog of ignorance and gloom. This is precisely what Jesus did, so the only thing left was to composed the storyline that would make the equation. Whether or not Jesus actually walked the path, said the words, and did the things Matthew describes him as doing is really besides the point, which is that Jesus brought God’s light (that is, God’s truth) into the world.

The world in Matthew’s day was very much as it appeared to Isaiah way back when, with the same shroud of darkness hanging over the minds and hearts of his generation as over the prophet’s. Indeed, this very shroud hangs over us still, and there still is only one way by which the veil can be split and the light revealed. Isaiah discerned it, Jesus exemplified it, and now we must walk this narrow path for ourselves. The progressive steps along this path are awakening, devotion, compassion, fidelity, and sacrifice.

The light of salvation revealed through Jesus first came by way of a simple message: Repent – stop, wake up, turn around and get back on the path that leads home. Throughout his ministry Jesus would teach on the mystery of God’s kingdom, which is this moment coming near. Now is the time to enter it. Now has always been the time.

                                                                                                   

As Jesus begins his ministry he calls those who will become his disciples, his companions and followers. He calls them not that he might become their object of veneration and respect, but that in following with him in the Way they might come to the direct experience of God’s kingdom for themselves.

This wasn’t a classroom, but a training ground, and the course of learning was not about information, but experience. That is to say, Jesus was inviting these men to a live encounter, to a veritable exploration into God.

The first turn-around of repentance needed, then, was a shift (we might well call it a paradigm shift, for such it is) from thinking-about to experience-of. His knowledge of the kingdom was more than a knowledge by acquaintance than a knowledge by description. You can have love explained to you in a thousand ways, but until you have “fallen” into it and tasted it for yourself you can’t be said to really know what love is.

In the same way, God’s kingdom (and the fact that Jesus uses a metaphor here should tip us off that he is speaking of a mystery) cannot be defined but only tasted, felt, entered, and thereby known by acquainting yourself with its power.

So perhaps the fact that Jesus went to the lake shore and called fishermen to be his disciples rather than going to the academy to call students reveals his preference for followers who are used to wrapping their hands around an experience more than their intellects around an idea. But let’s be careful: a disciple of Jesus and his gospel is not expected to go on mental by-pass! There will be plenty of opportunity and need for critical reflection and logical thought. For now, though, the heart must lead the way.

1 CORINTHIANS 1:10-18

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Continuing with our thought stream, there may well be a causal connection between the tendency in religion towards division and sectarian off-splitting and the popular idea of God as arbitrary in his behavior and prejudiced in favor of “true believers.” More simply stated, fragmenting communities and an unstable deity are very possibly two sides of the same coin.

If your belief is that God favors with salvation only those who “get it right,” and if “getting it right” is a definition that can change willy-nilly from one religion to the next, from one tradition to the next, and from one day to the next, then the anxiety of just possibly being even slightly off the mark will keep you from full devotion to any one path. Or the opposite: it may drive you to become fanatically devoted to your path as the only valid way.

In the church of Corinth (an unstable community if there ever was one) members were throwing themselves on the side of one party or the other, with at least four distinct sects competing for control. There were Paul’s Liberals who fancied themselves as living above and outside the law of Moses; the Intellectuals who venerated Apollos, a highly reputed Bible scholar and teach; the Traditionalists of Peter’s (Cephas) school who saw the Jesus movement as a reform effort in Judaism and a bridge between law and gospel; and finally the Charismatics who identified themselves with the supernatural Christ-power and celebrated the spiritual gifts.

The congregation was falling apart.

                                                                                                 

How much like the church in Corinth is the Christian community today! Liberals, intellectuals, traditionalists and charismatics have divided the body of Christ into rival denominations, each one insisting on exclusive rights to truth.

From the perspective of the non-Christian world, Christianity is a multiple personality beyond any hope of integration – and by definition also without integrity as a voice for human salvation. Either Paul is right and Christianity is about engaging contemporary culture with a time-relevant message of religious freedom. Or Apollos is right, and Christianity is about systematic biblical theology and logical beliefs. Or Cephas is right and Christianity is about conserving the “faith of our fathers” and the ago-old certainties of the past. Or else Christ is right (that is, the Christ party) and Christianity is about intense experiences of spiritual ecstasy showcased in settings of public worship.

Paul’s answer to this mess is that none is right in excluding the others. The truth is that Christianity, and every Christian community, requires a healthy balance among these four distinct disciplines – the radical message of freedom, the responsible study of scripture, deep roots in the continuum of tradition, and real-time attention to the fresh winds of the Spirit. And the anchor to which all of these complementary values are tethered is the cross of Christ – Jesus, his gospel, and the revelation of the New Being.

 

PSALM 27:1, 4-9

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, do I seek.
    Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
    you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
    O God of my salvation!

Before Jesus came with his revelation, the conventional idea of God was that he is somewhat arbitrary, temperamental, and unpredictable. And while these qualities might have originated around the fundamental discovery of freedom as inherent to existence itself (distinctive to the Bible), their effect in the personification of God was to make him seem rather unstable.

For any reason, which the devotee may or may not have awareness of, God might withdraw his protection, his mercy, or even his presence. Clearly seen was the benefit to be enjoyed in the favor of God, but the shadow side of such bliss was an anxiety over whether it all might be suddenly and without forewarning taken away.

Protestantism would much later try to mitigate this anxiety with the doctrine predestination: the belief that once God chooses you for salvation, you’re in for good. The underlying issue of an arbitrary God was not therewith resolved, only covered over. The psalmist’s desperate petition not to be cast off from God gives us a glimpse into this shadow of anxiety in theistic religion.

Jesus rejected the entire notion of the fickle God and taught instead that God is forgiving (always loving), steadfast (inherently reliable), and universally provident. All anxiety can be released in the knowledge that God seems nothing but your salvation and well-being. God won’t turn from you, even though you may turn from God. In unfailing love, God reaches out and invites you to authentic life and joy.

ISAIAH 9:1-4

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.

A prophet is one who is able to look beyond the conditions of current reality through a vision of future possibilities. Abraham Heschel has characterized the prophets of the Bible as individuals gifted with “depth perception,” where the envisioned possibilities of the future are in fact the concealed potentialities of the present. In other words, the prophet is able to discern the underground movement of history and seeks to bring this awareness to his or her contemporaries in parables of warning, consolation, and hope.

The eighth-century prophet Isaiah flourished during the rise of Assyria to world power, and his basic message was concerning the holiness (divine otherness) of God and the need for Israel to resist the temptation to protect herself against the Assyrian threat by building up her Department of Defense and forming alliances with neighboring nations.

To put her faith in such investments and strategies would amount to abandoning confidence and trust in God. “Pull yourselves together,” Isaiah urged, “and return to the faith you once had.”

It wasn’t a going back to some distant apostolic age that the prophet was advising, but a going within to the inner ground of spiritual power. Don’t misunderstand: neither was this a world-renouncing withdrawal into some sectarian fortress of ascetic practice or dogmatic fundamentalism. Instead it was a call to connect with the God who is the very ground and hope of existence itself.

                                                                                                  

Isaiah’s confidence in God, even in spite of his guarded optimism over the likelihood of his generation returning to faith, made him hopeful for Israel’s future. He was sure that God had brought this nation out of bondage and onto the world stage for a purpose, and that this purpose had not yet been fully realized.

This purpose would achieve greater clarity and focus through the ministry of Isaiah’s successor, the so-called Second Isaiah who took up the prophet’s main themes and transformed them for the situation of exile a century-and-a-half later.

One of the dominant themes of this tradition is that of light, explored for its attributes of radiance and warmth as well as its power to purify. Used poetically, light is also a metaphor for awareness and higher knowledge (fittingly called enlightenment).

The prophet looked with expectancy to the time when God’s truth would dispel the dark shroud of ignorance that blankets the collective consciousness of the world. His “land of deep darkness” is a poetic reference to the global conditions of spiritual confusion and dogmatic blindness, along with the violence, oppression, and suffering that spin out of these.

The thing about such prophet-mystics is that they know, because they’ve seen it, that the holy light of truth is already there beyond the veil of ignorance, shining in all the fullness of power. Now the veil just needs to be pulled aside.