Archive for the ‘Twelfth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 4:5-15

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

“I thank the Lord, blessed be, that I was not born a woman, a Samaritan, or a dog.” Such was one of the prayers that Jewish men might frequently utter on the street corner or in private, directed to a god who was all about separation, purity, and control.

This poor soul, born as a woman and a Samaritan, was in a bad place culturally speaking. Her people, the Samaritans, had made the unfortunate decision centuries earlier to give up their Israeli pedigree and intermarry with neighboring groups. Just as your typical dog in the street would have been a mongrel and half-breed, so this Samaritan woman was literally a hopeless mix of nonredeemable elements.

And a woman? Maybe even worse. She – Woman as mythic archetype – was the one who first disobeyed god in the Garden and listened to the serpent instead. And the serpent – again as archetype – was a representation of slithering darkness, the slippery principle of metamorphosis, bound to the earth and the very embodiment of rhythmic time. She had fallen for the snake, which subsequently made her a captive to the dark forces of night, moon, and blood.

Woman was dangerous.

But she is also necessary to the tribe’s continuation through the generations. So, woman needed to be carefully controlled. Strict rules about when and how she could be seen in public, what roles she was permitted to occupy in society, and where she stood in the sacred hierarchy of things – all of it kept her busy, distracted, and safely out of the way.

In first-century Judaism, woman was saved by association – not for what or who she was, but for where she belonged, and to whom. So when she found Jesus (a Jewish man) in her path, this Samaritan woman was probably tracing out her proper avoidance maneuvers.

                                                                                             

Everything could have gone without a hitch, but then Jesus spoke up and requested a drink of water from the bucket she had drawn up from the well.

We need to pause briefly here to acknowledge a few metaphorical signals that the author has placed on the stage of this story. The time of their meeting is “almost noon,” just at the apex of the Light principle and before the day begins its slide into Darkness. They meet at a well, a symbol of depth and mystery, provision and life. And then of course there’s the woman herself – archetype of Earth-power, embodiment, and generativity.

This may help us appreciate Jesus’ “living water” as more than a conventional reference to running water, or water drawn from a moving stream rather than a still well. This living water will slake the thirst of the soul for eternal life – not everlasting life later and somewhere else, but abundant life now … now … now.

Every human being, in his or her inmost self (soul) longs for wholeness, fulfillment, and communion. In the spirit of the story’s central metaphor, we all thirst for “deep wellness.” Not life derived or siphoned off some external source, but “gushing up” as a living spring from within.

Precisely because it is not derived and secondary but always accessible by a deep descent into the spiritual ground of every individual’s existence, this living water – this answer to the soul’s quest and fulfillment of its deepest desire – cannot be managed by religion, qualified by orthodoxy, or confiscated by any empire.

Conventional systems of division, hierarchy and control cannot allow for a spirituality that is mystically oriented, direct and spontaneous, transcendent of doctrines, and instantly available to all.

Letting that loose into the world could foment a revolution. And no empire wants that.

 

ROMANS 5:1-11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Paul was the architect of an early and influential doctrinal system in the Christian movement, before there was a centralized authority, official canon of scriptures, or singular tradition to identify it. We need to keep this in mind because even though Pauline theology would significantly shape and determine the emerging orthodoxy of the later empire of Christianity (known as Christendom), as he writes he is just one of several creative voices in the early Christian conversation.

Paul’s acquaintance with Jesus of Nazareth was not by way of a personal relationship with the Galilean, nor does he seem to have known much at all about the teachings of Jesus that were circulating by oral transmission in and around Jerusalem. By his own confession, Paul had encountered a light and/or a voice (the accounts differ) that identified itself as the living spirit of the crucified Jesus.

Following this encounter, and after a lengthy retreat of some years where he worked out its theological foundations and implications, Paul began an aggressive missionary campaign throughout Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and established numerous congregations under his unique Christian brand.

Paul’s brand of Christianity was marked by some strong dualisms: law-versus-gospel, merit-versus-grace, works-versus-faith, and (containing all the rest in horizons as big as God himself) wrath-versus-love.

Here’s a summary of how he put it all together:

  1. Jesus was condemned under the Jewish law for living according to the will of God, which effectively rendered the Law useless as a definition of righteousness.
  2. In raising Jesus to life again, God provided a way of salvation outside of the Law, which also means outside of religion (Judaism) and “religious” requirements.
  3. One has only to identify with Jesus in faith and be filled with his spirit, the spirit of Christ.
  4. By that identification and total surrender, a person is saved from judgment (wrath) and reconciled to God.

One far-reaching implication of Paul’s brand of Christian mythology was its bold disregard for ethnic, class, gender or even religious divisions. All people – Gentiles and not just Jews, slaves and not just free citizens, women and not only men – are the beneficiaries of God’s gracious offer in Christ Jesus. This also explains his untiring passion for the missionary spread of Christianity throughout the world.

Whatever may be said about the limitations of Paul’s theology, and there are some significant ones, his vision of a world united by the revelation of God in Jesus was a game-changing revolution in early Christianity.

                                                                                                   

We might try to reconstruct the process that could have inspired and guided the apostle Paul in his invention of Christianity – or at least his brand of Christianity. Much about it is very different from other developing streams in the first-century movement.

His explanation of how Jesus was lifted to divine status when he was “declared son of God by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4) is different from the storyline of Mark’s Gospel, for instance, where this happens at his baptism by John in the Jordan, or, according to the similar storylines of Matthew and Luke, at his conception inside a virgin mother. The Fourth Gospel moves this cursor to the very beginning of creation, with the divine Word of Genesis becoming flesh in Jesus.

It’s important to understand that these are all metaphors, worked out in some cases into elaborate myths. Probably none of them have roots in the teachings of Jesus. The impulse to begin expanding the meaning of Jesus into stories about him began very early on, and we should not be surprised.

But there may be something that traces back into the gospel of Jesus himself. Paul’s conversion experience apparently turned on the pivot of a breakthrough realization, which for him translated into a very personal calling: the good news of human liberation and new life is for everyone.

As a “deep insider” of a rather puritanical sect of Judaism (Pharisee), Paul experienced the transforming power of Jesus’ gospel. It reached into the tight knot of his religious convictions with a revolutionary message of universal grace, radical love, and unconditional forgiveness. The knot loosened and Paul was forever changed.

In conscious defiance of religion’s own tendency toward exclusion and “salvation management,” Jesus’ gospel – now conferred to Paul as his appointed “apostle to the Gentiles” – put the invitation out to any and all who would listen. This universal offer and world-wide evangelistic vision, perhaps more than anything else about the early Christian trajectory from Jesus to Paul, contributed to the movement’s dramatic burst on the first-century cultural scene.

 

PSALM 95

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
    and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!
8     Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your ancestors tested me,
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
    and they do not regard my ways.”
11 Therefore in my anger I swore,
    “They shall not enter my rest.”

As a belief system organized around the existence of a god who is located and defined in a way that corresponds to our need for him (or her), theism is inherently vulnerable to the counter-arguments of atheism. This is especially the case when the representations of this god in story, art, and theory are taken literally.

As long as god’s existence is taken literally, atheism – as the rejection of this claim – will continue as a logical, rational, skeptical and equally viable position. In fact, these two positions are logical corollaries of each other. If one individual states that god is “thus and so,” there will be at least one other who can rightfully insist “not so.”

The theist and atheist are stuck at an impasse that only exists because each one is taking “god” literally. The atheist is no more “enlightened” for rejecting the claims of the theist. His case, as put forward on the force of common sense, lack of evidence or convincing logical proof, is itself predicated on the assumption that a particular representation of god and the reality of God apart from that (or any) representation are the same, and can therefore be simultaneously dismissed.

Personifying god as one who “loathes” disobedient backsliders and gets “angry” when things don’t go his way, who condemns those who doubt his character and question his existence, is still playing small.

Even though the psalmist’s god is “king above all gods” and creator of all things – that is to say, “bigger” than he had been represented in earlier  mythology – any atheist can legitimately argue that no one has actually encountered this deity, ever.

And yet, we do seem to be moving forward somehow. At least the psalmist’s god is willing to cut his losses with the wilderness generation and move on with the present one. Is this at least a foretaste of the forgiveness that Jesus would later proclaim in his gospel?

Maybe. Although we still get the feeling that if this generation doesn’t do any better, it may be curtains for them as well.

 

EXODUS 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

One persistent liability of religion is that it fosters in believers an expectation that God will always provide what they need. Indeed, this short tether of self-interest, which keeps “juvenile” forms of theism closely tied to an individual’s concern for security, provisions, good fortune and life everlasting, has prevented theism itself from evolving apace with our spiritual growth as a species over the millenniums.

When children don’t get what they want, they will typically fuss and complain. And if the world fails to deliver on their demand, they will pout and mope about, making life difficult for everyone else. If parents aren’t consistent in reshaping this behavior – or try too hard to keep these protesters satisfied – children can grow up with a sense of entitlement, thinking that the world owes them what they crave.

But because the world simply cannot deliver on their every demand, many youngsters grow up with deep discontent and an insatiable appetite for more, fueled by an insecurity that drives them to get as much as they can for as little effort as possible. In short, they grow up to become consummate consumers, with just the right mix of low self-awareness, impossible expectations, and a blatant disregard for how their behavior negatively impacts the larger community of life.

In the biblical myth-cycle, the Eviction from Eden and the Exodus from Egypt are really two angles on the same event, looked at from different elevations along the spiraling course of human development. The surplus provision and instant gratification of Eden in early childhood soon become conditions of captivity for the human spirit in its late adolescence, which must grow up, move on, and start taking responsibility in life.

Adolescents typically want freedom without responsibility, however, and the old securities of Egypt often tempt us to forsake maturity and fulfillment for what we think we really need and deserve.

At yet another turn of the spiral, Exile from Jerusalem, these complaints in the desert wilderness will eventually resolve into a grieving loss, a deeper self-understanding, and a search for God in the midst of suffering.

                                                                                            

How does quarreling with Moses and complaining about not having water to drink amount to “testing the Lord”? When their need for water in the desert wasn’t instantly gratified, the Israelites began to question whether or not God was really with them.

The patron deities of theism emerged as the hidden agencies behind the forces that support and stress human existence. A storm god was regarded as behind the storm that devastated a village, which didn’t fix the damage, certainly, but did provide an explanation for the disaster. That is to say, it was made meaningful.

If the explanation is that god is angry and punishing the village for its sin, then at least it has meaning – and the mind needs meaning like the body needs water and food and air to breathe.

If you believe in a god whose “job” is to provide for you, protect you from harm, or love you unconditionally, then every time there isn’t bread on the table when you want it, rescue from danger when you need it, or the warm feeling of being the apple of your god’s eye, you might well begin to doubt and lose faith.

God had called Abram out of his homeland, liberated the Hebrews out of bondage, and renewed a covenant with Moses – all of it working out a promise to bring the people into a greater destiny, which included their responsibility as “a light to the nations.”  God didn’t say, “I’ll take care of you and give you everything you want,” but rather, “You will be a vehicle of my blessing to all people.”

With the promise still unfulfilled – because they were still only on the way – the people lost focus and started fixating on their immediate needs. In effect, they cried out: Forget the future and your  so-called purpose for us! We’re thirsty NOW and you don’t care!

In doubting God’s covenant commitment and larger intention, they were thereby “testing the Lord.” Because God wasn’t present to them according to their demands, they accused him of being absent.