Archive for the ‘Thirty-Seventh Bundle’ Category

JOHN 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Early Christians were “resident aliens” in the Roman world of their day. In the opening decades they were known as “followers of the way,” the gospel-way of life as proclaimed and embodied by Jesus. As far as appearances go, these Christians didn’t necessarily look any different from your average Greek, Roman, or Jew. And they shared with everyone else many of the basic needs for security and success in this world.

The difference came in the matter of significance, where life’s ultimate value and meaning cohere and find their ultimate reference. For the rest of the world (we’re obviously speaking in generalities – a dangerous thing to do) the ultimate reference of life’s significance was (and still is) in the authority of the tribe or state. Fashion – what all the others are thinking and doing and wanting and wearing – dictated one’s priorities and set the standard for “the good life.”

Under the influence of the gospel of Jesus, and with his spirit inhabiting their hearts and community, the Christians detached their devotion from the power of fashion and transferred their loyalty to a “higher power.” As their energizing ideal, the kingdom of God provided them with new priorities, and with new values to support those priorities. And because they refused to simply step in line and turn the gears of politics, economics, and religion-as-usual, the world could not control them.

As it had hated the good news of Jesus – liberty for the captives, sight for the blind, hope for the poor – when he had proclaimed it, the world now hates his disciples who courageously carry on in his name.

JOHN 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

As the author of the Fourth Gospel sees it, the reception of Jesus by his disciples provided a clearing through the silt where the anchor of hope could fasten into the bedrock below. Technically speaking, God’s Life, Life, and Love – the great themes of John’s Gospel – become revelation only when the veils of human ignorance, spiritual lethargy, and moral indifference are pulled aside in moments of personal faith.

Until then, the glory and voice of the Divine continue unabated  but without penetration, like the blazing sun above dark, heavy clouds. Once the veil parts, however, a connection is made, the energy is absorbed, and dormant seeds come to life and take root. That’s how it happened  in the first century: Jesus came, veils were removed, spiritual power and hope were released, and the thing took hold. You and I are descendants of that New Genesis in the first Christian community.

As descendants, we are inheritors of the faith treasures of long ago. But we are also progenitors in our own right, for the faith we hold today and test against the challenges and crises of our age will be what our children inherit in their turn. The revelation isn’t “once upon a time,” but here and now. God’s anchor of hope must take hold in our hearts. We are the present-day bearers of an eternal gospel, having received the liberating Word of God and looking for our moment to speak its truth.

JOHN 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Here we confront again the questions of theodicy. The term comes from two Greek words, theos (god) and diké (justice), and names the moral struggle in religiously thoughtful human beings over the relationship between the goodness of God and the injustice of human suffering and evil.

Where’s the benevolence of God, we must ask, in bringing Judas into being as a condemned man from the very beginning? As “the one destined to be lost,” was Judas without freedom to choose otherwise? Did God circumvent the betrayer’s free-will in something of a manual override, canceling out the very capacity that made him most human? If so, then how could Judas be held accountable for his actions? Is it just for God to damn a person who had no real choice in what he did? Finally, is such a God worthy of our worship?

No doubt, we are interrogating early Christian theology with questions that were not as critical and pressing then as they have become for us now. The old answer to Job’s protest against the suffering of human innocence – “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? (Job 40:9) – amounted to a suppression of the human cry for justice. In the ancient world it was not below God to do whatever he wished, however diabolical and inhumane it may be. Once the world discovered that “God is love,” the questions of theodicy have exercised the faithful.

One wonders if our condemnation of Judas has amounted to a betrayal of our own humanity.

1 JOHN 5:9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. 10 Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

The wonderful universal message of Jesus is that “God gave us eternal life” – all of us, the whole world. There remains, however, the necessity for each of us to choose God’s gift and receive it for ourselves personally. For Christians, our reception of this gift is an act that goes by several names: believing in Jesus, following Jesus, abiding in Jesus, becoming as Jesus.

The human extension toward God in self-transcending gratitude and surrender was incarnated in Jesus to such a degree that he became for us not merely one example but its definitive prototype. Therefore, “whoever does not have the Son does not have life,” which is to say that real life is found only as we willingly step into the mold of Jesus and conform our minds to the mind of Christ.

For the writer, anyone who really knows God will immediately recognize the presence and work of God in Jesus. It’s like a masterwork of some great artist. You can identify the telltale marks of a painter’s style and personality throughout the gallery, but in the masterpiece it is as if the canvas opens up to the artist’s soul and you encounter his or her “truth.”

In a similar way, the Christian belief is that Jesus (his life, his message, his example, his personality, his enduring presence) reveals to us the very heart of God, as God’s “masterpiece.” Anyone who is familiar with the works of, say, Rembrandt van Rijn will instantly recognize the man in his greatest work. So also will anyone familiar with the works of God, evident throughout the universe and in the evolutionary promise of our own species, see in the Son the inherited traits of the Father.

1 JOHN 5:9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. 10 Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

A hard line in the doctrine of predestination asserts that our world population is divided into two camps: those elected for salvation and those marked for destruction. The way of the righteous, happy and thriving like fruiting trees beside streams of water, is opposed to the way of the wicked, those unfortunate others whose lives are sterile of meaning and a driven waste on the winds.

When the poet says that “the way of the wicked will perish,” is this because their fate as individuals was decided beforehand? Or should we hear his words in the spirit of moral wisdom: whoever lives like this is certain to end up like that? The second reading seems more consistent with our own sensibilities.

The doctrine of predestination notwithstanding, the moral core of religion is itself centered on a pivotal and self-evident truth: that we human beings are indeed free to choose the “righteous” path of self-restraint and goodwill over the “wicked” path of selfish ambition. If we hadn’t the power, the exhortation would be meaningless.

But our path in life is something we choose – or to put it another way, our path in life is paved by the large and small choices we make as we go along.

PSALM 1

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

If the destiny of Judas had been predetermined, which would argue that ours must be as well, then what has become of that unique power we once thought the special mark of God’s image in the human – our freedom to choose, to love, resist, to rebel? Is it all a delusion, this capacity for liberty and self-direction that we fight for, defend, and protect with a swelling litany of Rights? Again, was Judas merely a pawn in God’s game of salvation (for some) and damnation (for the rest)?

As we wrestle with this question, it is important to remember that such things as individual dignity, human rights, and personal freedom were then only beginning to break upon the world of the Bible. In the dominant view, the individual in our sense today didn’t yet exist. In a real sense, then, Judas wasn’t free and his pre-programmed damnation is no problem. The essential thing was that Jesus got betrayed and died for our salvation; Judas was just a “mechanism” for getting it done.

But we struggle with the justice of it all, and we can do so precisely because we are free.

ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

There are elements of this passage that many people today find difficult to accept. In the first place there is the matter of what later Church theology would call “predestination,” with particular reference to Judas Iscariot. It was an exhilarating time in the early Christian history when the followers of Jesus “discovered” in the sacred writings prophetic references and cross-references to the events of his life and ministry.

From our vantage point, a number of these prophecies appear to be rather forced readings of the text, suggesting that they were not so much discovered as appropriated for Christian use. Where, for instance, the psalmist complains of his friend “in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread” but who “has lifted the heel against me” (Ps 41:9), is it Judas, a thousand years into the future, of whom he speaks?

What does it matter? you may ask. It matters to us because this type of thinking has produced and sustained a belief very common and troublesome, that temporal events, and especially those involving human freedom and person choice, are only apparently open to chance, accident, and decision. In reality, however, everything is unfolding according to a design determined long ago – outside of time, in fact. This way of thinking is what inspired a former U.S. secretary of the Interior to condone the denuding of domestic forests, since according to the Bible Jesus is coming soon anyway!