Archive for the ‘Thirteenth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” It would be easy to get distracted into a discussion on “the meaning of suffering” here, whether looking behind for a cause (in this case someone’s sin) or ahead for a purpose (“so that” God’s works might be revealed).

Let’s just say for now, that suffering doesn’t have to have a meaning at all. However cognitively disturbing or intellectually unsatisfying it may feel to just let it be, suffering – disability, illness, chronic pain, abuse, personal loss, relentless hardship, and even the mortal condition in general – might well be inherently meaningless.

Your spirituality and faith are no less genuine if you choose to regard suffering as absurd. The key thing in any case will be your ability to be present in the suffering and not explain it away, to be present to others in their suffering without reaching for one “justification” or another.

This passage is not really about suffering and its meaning (or absence of it). The man’s blindness is operating metaphorically as a condition of disorientation and being “in the dark” – a spiritual diagnosis of the human condition, according to many of the world’s wisdom traditions.

Every person is separated from the light-world of reality by a screen of ignorance, a condition which is compounded over time by the layering of additional veils with such names as assumption, belief, and certainty.

Physically blind people in the ancient world were commonly reduced to begging for their daily needs. This put them in a passive attitude with respect to the reality around them, as they awaited the charity of others. The ignorant certainty of many also keeps them in a position of passivity, laziness … even entitlement. They get to a point where they have resigned and turned in their key to the door of awakening and the liberated life.

                                                                                              

Instead of saying to the man, “Hocus, pocus, I command you to SEE!” Jesus made a mud paste and daubed it on his eyelids. “Go and wash.” 

The path out of darkness and into the light – from ignorance to understanding, from captivity to freedom – would require the man’s active effort. He needed to get on his feet and make his way to the Pool of Siloam to wash the mud from his eyes.

Once there, the man rinsed in the water – and was able to see!

Jesus performed this healing on a sabbath, which according to the rules was supposed to be a day for avoiding work, and making a mud poultice would have classified as “work.” This represents another tangent that we will forgo for now. One of the things that got him in trouble with the orthodoxy of his day was his insistence that human well-being always trumps religious obedience.

A cross of some kind typically awaits people like that.

The progression from darkness to light, then, called on the blind man – and on all human beings insofar as we are trapped behind our screens of ignorance and conviction – to take an active role in his liberation. Jesus wouldn’t let him sit there in passive expectancy, waiting around for something to happen.

Whatever fear he may have held concerning the risks involved in going on the unconventional prescription of a stranger – losing his begging post during rush-hour, getting lost in the streets, being ridiculed and shamed for his behavior – the man needed to step through the fear and do his part.

The religious leaders, still blind behind their orthodoxy, were unable to accept, much less comprehend, what had happened. This story is still playing out today …

EPHESIANS 5:8-14

8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
    Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

The last quoted phrase was likely a piece of baptismal liturgy used in Paul’s mission churches, marking the moment of a new convert’s crossover into New Life. It was a sacrament, not magic, and the ritual was conducted as a way of demonstrating publicly what was happening in the depths of the person.

The dramatic contrast of light and darkness is certainly the most ancient and universal polarity found throughout the world cultures. Its power and attraction is likely rooted in our evolutionary past, when the darkness of night, forest interiors, and storm-laden skies represented dangers our daytime intelligence couldn’t easily detect or comprehend.

Darkness came eventually to represent not only obscurity and potential dangers, but savagery (our earliest predators were probably night-stalkers), chaos and ignorance (since order and distinction are lost in the dark), irrationality and insanity (the moon, Luna, was the inspiration of lunacy), as well as criminal behavior, secrecy, and sin.

The forces, conditions, and virtues associated with the light come to mind intuitively – probably even instinctively: clarity, order, knowledge, enlightenment, rationality, decency, righteousness, rebirth (think sunrise and winter solstice), vision – and by extension, foresight, prophecy, planning and purpose.

Light-and-dark as a polarity is what’s known as an archetype, or First Form, which lies deep in the primitive layers of consciousness and functions as a catalyst for the creative imagination. Insofar as religion is a symbol system that ties the conventional arrangement of life to the primal force and primordial mystery that is life itself, the contrasting interplay of light and darkness can be discerned in its art, mythology, ceremony, and doctrines.

New converts to the Christ movement – we hesitate to call it “Christianity” at this point since it still lacked the internal coherence, widespread agreement, and a centralized authority that eventually developed into the “official” Christian religion – needed confirmation in their dramatic life-change.

Paul exhorted them to dedicate their lives to the good, the right, and the true. While it may sound as if he is pushing for a strong definition of early Christian orthodoxy, Paul is really encouraging these new Christ-followers to become promoters of what is life-affirming and wholesome, advocates for decency and fairness, and seekers after what is genuine, authentic and real.

It’s not about what you believe, so much as how you live. “Christian” is more a verb than a noun.

PSALM 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3     he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

Faith is nothing supernatural, and even though it was named  a “spiritual gift” by the apostle Paul, it’s not something that God gives to some and not others. In its word origins, “faith” is not about knowledge or doctrines, or even your willingness to believe what the doctrines say. It is much more existential than that.

You can believe that God exists and still not have faith. You can even believe “in” God – meaning that you have a strong emotional allegiance to what (your) God stands for – and have no faith at all. In fact, as impossible as it may sound, it is frequently the case that individuals who lack faith are the most outspoken, “evangelical,” and aggressive about what they believe.

If it’s not believing that God exists or in what God represents, then what really is faith? Very simply, it is trust. But isn’t trust your willingness to believe what can’t be proven or doesn’t make logical sense? Yes, trust can mean that. Faith, however, is a different kind of trust.

You might trust another person’s word, the conclusions of scientific research, or even the testimony of scripture. In such cases you are choosing to accept a proposition (a statement or claim) as an instance of truth-telling. If the Bible says that God exists – or that heaven and hell exist, or that miracles happened, Jesus rose from the dead, and the apocalypse is coming – your willingness to believe it is based on your interpretation of what those claims mean and your determination of how trustworthy the source is.

But it still isn’t faith.

Faith is not a function of religion, and it really has nothing to do with religious claims. It involves what can be called spiritual intelligence, but you don’t have to be “spiritually smart” to have faith.

Faith is the act of releasing yourself in trust to the supportive and provident nature of reality. The alternative is not disbelief or atheism, but anxiety and the separation from reality caused by gripping up inside yourself and forgetting that you’re not alone.

Once upon a time, you knew this connection intuitively (if unconsciously) which allowed you to spontaneously and effortlessly relax into being. As the months and years passed, however, you learned how dangerous the world can be, how hurtful people can be, and how staying intact necessitates that you pull away and curl up inside a shell of safety and control.

At a certain point, what had once been effortless became effortful and risky, making the prospect of leaving this shell of identity and fully surrendering to reality seem like death itself.

This must be the “darkest valley” the psalmist writes about. When you’ve reached the limits of your control, when the bright path of purpose drops into darkness ahead of you and it feels like all security is gone, that’s when faith matters.

You die to the old certainties and let yourself fall into the gracious presence of “Thou.”

1 SAMUEL 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

After the Israelites settled the Promised Land but before they were united under a single monarchy, social order was managed by a tag-team of charismatic leaders known as the Judges. Samuel is an interesting transitional figure, being the last Judge and the one who anointed the first kings. There were many who felt that a monarchy amounted to a defiance of the theocracy (more or less direct rule by God) that had been in effect during the period of the Judges.

The loose federation of tribes that had left Egypt for Palestine were struggling with this transition from an “ad hoc” government where issues could be addressed spontaneously on the basis of what god commanded in the moment, to one that had to work through multiple channels and by means of an all-too-human administration. This added element of mediation (magistrates, secretaries, and officials) is what caused the feeling of many that their nation was sliding irrevocably into a secular age.

Of course, just because “God” is calling the shots doesn’t automatically mean that a nation will be godly. We put the word in quotes to remind ourselves that our concepts of God will always reflect our general needs and aspirations as a species, as well as our more peculiar quirks, hangups, and ambitions as individuals. In other words, “Thus saith the Lord” doesn’t mean we should simply accept what follows on blind faith.

So there are dangers on both sides – a more secular (this-worldly) government that might easily lose its moral footing and get too self-involved to do any good for its people, or a theocracy where “God” might be little more than an unimpeachable (and conveniently transcendent) warrant for bigotry, dogmatism, oppression and violence.

King Saul, Israel’s first, did not fare so well. By going off on his own course and not listening to God, he had pulled his nation into some dangerous religious compromises. So “God got rid of him” – at least that’s how the rankled golden-age folks were reading history.

Back to the theocracy of charismatic leadership, then? Not so fast.

                                                                                                 

Truth is, charismatic forms of government just can’t manage the expanding concerns of a growing population – not to mention that they are inherently unstable. However much the Bible story of Israel’s emergence is actual history and how much of it is more like many other national myths, including the United States of America, social order and politics inevitably moved in the direction of monarchy.

Samuel’s task now was to follow God’s direction and anoint Saul’s successor. He was sent to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse who had eight sons. At a special ceremony Jesse sent his sons out to Samuel, one at a time beginning with the eldest. 

Samuel naturally had his own assumptions and preferences, and after God said “pass” on each boy that he regarded as qualified for the job – down through the list of seven sons that Jesse had summoned to attend – the prophet looked around quizzically, perhaps a little embarrassed. “Is that it? No more boys?”

“Oh, well” answered the father, “there is my youngest, but I didn’t think to have him here. He’s young, inexperienced, and tends to daydream and scribble poems while supposedly watching my sheep.”

“Bring him to me.” When the young lad arrived, God confirmed: “This is my man!” And so that day, Samuel anointed David the new king of Israel.

It makes you wonder just how many blessings, opportunities, and even miracles might never make it to your eyes because your mind isn’t looking out for them.