Archive for the ‘Tenth Bundle’ Category

MATTHEW 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Using the imagery and terminology of Paul’s theory of Christ (Christology) we might define temptation as the down-pulling lure of our lower nature, as our preference for instant gratification over self-control, solid proof over the risk of faith, power and title over humble service. (Of course, we always have the option of saying, “The devil made me do it,” but that only amounts to a refusal of responsibility.)

In fact, these three types of temptation, represented by the words satisfaction, certainty, and superiority are the very ones that Jesus faced during his desert solitude.

The seduction of pleasure is the lure towards what feels good, what gratifies our impulses, satisfies our cravings, and scintillates the pleasure centers in our brains. Jesus was tempted to break his fast with a meal of warm bread, but he resisted for the sake of staying focused on his calling. He turned down the temptation of physical satisfaction and pleasure, which strengthened his resolve but also opened up a higher level of vulnerability.

Passing that test, he was next tempted to demand some sign of supernatural support that could anchor his security in a divine guarantee. We feel this within ourselves as a rising demand for some sign or miracle that will prove God’s presence and commitment to us. Our inner child wants desperately to know that some higher (taller) power is looking out for us.  Instead, Jesus turned it down, choosing to “live by faith, not by sight.”

Finally he was taken up to a mountain so high that he could see all the nations of the world. Here he was tempted to abort his mission as world liberator for the more attractive role of world conqueror. Once again, our lower self (ego) prefers recognition and glory to humble sacrifice. This is difference between the love of power and the power of love.

                                                                                            

A higher level of application in this story takes hold of Paul’s identification of Christ as our “new self” (see Ephesians 4:22-24), whose awakening requires that we surmount the conspiracy of lower needs, drives, and impulses for the sake of our maturity and spiritual fulfillment. Our path will take us from the “river baptism” of our conversion to God’s purpose for our life, through this “wilderness of temptation” where that purpose is tested and made strong, and finally into our “world mission” as liberators in our own right.

In reality, however, our journey will periodically (and unexpectedly, for that is the nature of temptation) double-back into the desert for clarification and realignment. The danger, and the reason why so many apparently “perfected” believers end up falling so hard, is that we might come to regard ourselves as deserving of pleasure, protected by angels, and confirmed in our success as better than others.

Jesus kept his focus. Neither the visceral urgency of hunger, his mental-emotional need for validation, nor the ego’s desire for supremacy and control were able to pull him from his chosen path. In the months and years ahead, he would have to occasionally withdraw into the mountains for meditation and renewal.

The devil would come around every so often, but because temptation equals opportunity plus inclination, genuine temptations became fewer and farther between.

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ROMANS 5:12-19

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Earlier cultures, by virtue of being farther upstream and experientially closer to the wellspring of mythological thinking, apparently did not labor as do we, over whether a particular sacred story (myth) was factual or fictional. The story simply was, and its truth lay in the power of the narrative to draw the audience (primitive stories were oral performances, not written texts) into its magical depictions, dramatic situations, and moral conflicts, in order to either confirm or challenge the current worldview and way of life.

It’s important for us to remember that Paul was not a sixteenth-century Protestant reformer, but a first-century religious personality still steeped in the mythological world of his period. The question is not whether or not Paul believed Adam to have been an actual individual who lived as first in the series way back in the mists of primeval time, but rather who is Adam in the constellation of symbols and meanings that is Paul’s present worldview.

When the question is put that way we begin to sense that, for Paul, Adam is an archetype, an ideal type, exemplar, or primary pattern for what human beings are at some primitive level of their psyches. Adam represents what psychologists today call our “inner child,” the part of us that thinks, feels, and reacts out of a center of self-interest, who struggles beneath the burden of insecurity, guilt, and the fear of being out on our own.

His counterpart in Paul’s mythology is Christ, the New Adam, who is the resurrected higher self, our embodiment of grace, freedom, and love.

                                                                                                

In an earlier letter to the congregation in Corinth, Paul makes explicit use of this functional contrast between Adam and Christ, referring to Christ as “the last Adam” who has become for us a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). This creative duality between the two great exemplars of our human mythstory (history interpreted through the templates of myth), one representing our lower and the other our higher nature, was clearly Paul’s theory of choice for explaining the mystery of salvation in Christian terms.

As he set forth this mystery, it was imperative for Paul that his prospective converts to the Christian way see Adam not as simply a figure of past history but as a present force in their own personalities, and the same with Christ as well. Very early in his missionary career Paul had declared, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I [Adam: my lower impulsive self] who lives, but it is Christ [my higher self: the spirit of wisdom and love] who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

As we can see, then, early Christian mythology as formulated by the apostle Paul and others offered to the world a new way of conceiving the nature and destiny of human beings. The revealed path is one of growth, discovery, awakening, breakthrough, and fulfillment.

PSALM 32

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all who are faithful
    offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
    shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    else it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

An exceeding majority of human beings live out their lives “east of Eden” with a dark image of a wrathful deity criticizing and condemning their every step. Jean Paul Sartre, a principal voice in the early twentieth-century philosophy of Existentialism, daringly suggested that human beings are a living contradiction – “condemned to be free” and burdened with immense guilt for the “offense” of having to choose our way in this world.

Another voice of that period, Erich Fromm, commented on how an entire culture seemed willing to surrender its freedom to one authoritarian system or another, just to lighten this burden of insecurity. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it; only don’t hold me responsible, because I’m just following orders.

According to Fromm, religion has too often interfered with human development by playing the threshold guardian against our progress into maturity and responsible adulthood. So many of us never gain our liberation from guilt. Even as adults we are trying desperately to please God and win the favor of immortal life.

For its part, much of conventional religion supports this adolescent spirituality. Only in rare exceptions has it been willing to follow Jesus as far as saying, “You’re already forgiven. Now, let go of the past and get on with your life!”

GENESIS 2:15-17; 3:1-17

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you among all animals
    and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to the man he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.

The creation story from Genesis is a creative composition, not an historical record, which means that its primary purpose is not to impart factual (what we today would call “scientific”) information about the universe in its beginnings, but rather to awaken our mystical sensibilities to the cosmos as an epiphany of divine power, grace, and beauty.

Frankly, the Bible has no interest in history as such, for history has no meaning until it is caught up into some narrative or other that tells of its deeper intent, larger design, and higher purpose. Those who treat the Genesis myth as if it were a factual account of cosmic origins unwittingly (perhaps) drain the story of its true power.

Our challenge instead is to drop the judgment between fact or fiction and simply enter the myth at it is given. Only then can it do its work in shaping our vision of “the way things are” by pulling back the veil of habit and belief that screens our minds from the full glory of The Real.

Using this same approach to the interpretation of myth, we can read the subsequent chapter in the story, of Paradise Lost, as imaginative reflection on the fall out of union that each of us experiences in the rise to self-consciousness. The truth of the myth is very clear: The moment we eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (or once we are faced with the necessity of choosing our course in life), we find ourselves in a race against time and death.

                                                                                             

The storyteller of Genesis was perceptive to a great paradox that lies at the center of human consciousness. Our ability to rise above animal impulse and to choose a course of action requires a freedom from the urgencies and blind drives of instinctual life. And yet, such freedom of intention brings with it a new-found capacity for reflective self-awareness, by which we come to see that we are mortal. Hence the blessing and the curse of our evolved intelligence.

Our moral freedom is surely an exquisite flower of God’s created order, but at the same time this very freedom exposes us to the eventuality (and anxious anticipation) of our own death.

Interpreters over the centuries have pondered this paradox, and many have come to the view that paradise must be lost if we are to have a chance at maturity. It is only Eden’s god, the nursery deity, that seeks to prevent our progress from the Garden of Delight. Just as the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable had to leave home and find the limits of a self-centered lifestyle before he could awaken to the experience of his father’s unconditional love, so must we venture forth and finally die to ourselves.

Only then can we enter the kingdom of God.