Archive for the ‘Twenty-Ninth Bundle’ Category

LUKE 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

What’s the difference between being made “clean” and being made “well”? We know from psychotherapy that alleviating the symptoms of mental disorder is not at all the same as building the strengths that promote mental order and happiness. Western medicine early on got oriented around the problems (dysfunction, impairment, injury, illness and disease) that compromise health, but only recently has attention been turning to the question of what supports higher well-being.

The ten lepers who approached Jesus for mercy were suffering from a terrible flesh-rotting disease that is still a problem in some parts of the world. Not knowing much about the physical causes and conditions of the disease, social morality back then ostracized lepers to their own colonies and regarded them as “unclean,” which carried religious connotations as a punishment for sin. Good people of society were careful to steer around lepers, reducing thereby the contagion of leprosy but also reinforcing the prejudice against lepers as accursed by God.

The question of whether this miracle story reaches back to an actual event in history misses the point, as reading the Bible literally will almost always do. Its real purpose in Luke’s Gospel is to reveal more of what the author believes Jesus was all about, where his true uniqueness and “power to save” were centered. As in other miracle stories of the Gospels, this episode presents Jesus as addressing those that society had dismissed or ignored as worthless.

But more than that, Jesus not only addressed them (i.e., acknowledged their presence), he also esteemed and honored the down-and-outs as children of God. Certainly he had compassion for their suffering, but he didn’t limit his outreach (as many of us do these days) to the effort of merely improving their living conditions. More often than not he touched them, had conversations with them, shared what he had with them, and invited them into his itinerant community of friends.

Without a doubt, many times these needy ones just took what Jesus had to give and moved on (or stayed where they were as he moved on). Their lives were changed by his love and its radiant power. Whatever their ailment, limitation, or disorder, Jesus effectively mediated and made possible their return to society. He “made them clean” by his regard for them as equals, as sons and daughters of God.

Only a small few of these, however, returned to Jesus out of gratitude for the way his love had set them free. Like this Samaritan – an ethnic identifier that compounded his stereotype as a degenerate – who turned back to offer his thanks for what Jesus had done, these grateful few not only enjoyed a new lease on life by virtue of being set free from their problem. They “reinvested” their freedom by choosing to live a more grateful life.

In making this choice, they were made well. This is what it means to be saved.

MATTHEW 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

More kind and reasonable people these days are having difficulty with the classical doctrine of the Last Judgment, where the righteous are granted access to heaven and sinners are thrown into hell based on the moral record of their life on Earth. For some, it’s not so much the incentive system they have a problem with – though it does have a very juvenile feel to it. Instead it’s the idea that someone who sins, even 24/7 over an entire lifetime, might “justly” be punished forever as a consequence. That seems like a very unfair justice system.

Now add to this what we’re told in a prophetic parable put into the mouth of Jesus, where people will be punished for eternity in hell simply because they neglected (overlooked or ignored) the basic needs of others for food, water, clothing and human contact. By not doing something, you can wind up in merciless torment – forever. That’s not just unfair; it’s sick. Who can possibly get into heaven with such standards in place?

But let’s not stop there on our downward slide into the ridiculous and ethically offensive. Later Christians (including the majority today) would even go so far as to say that not holding the proper doctrine warrants everlasting suffering in hell. Conscious refusal to believe a statement of orthodoxy – but worse, not believing because you were never made aware of it in the first place – is apparently grounds for the cruelest punishment imaginable. This goes to show how “top heavy” and gnostic (primary value in head knowledge) Christianity has become – and how far from Jesus it has strayed.

A second look at the parable put in Jesus’ mouth – and there’s too much about it that sounds Matthean to confidently attribute it to Jesus himself – might help us get past the diabolical and twisted sense of justice it seems to be promoting. It’s very likely that Christianity already back then (in Matthew’s day) had started to forget the original company mission of Jesus, which had nothing to do with the arrangement of doctrines in your head, but rather with how far your compassion can reach into the needs of those around you.

Helping a person in need is serving Jesus. A proper Christian is one who loves others and does good in the world. We need to stop complicating things.

EPHESIANS 1:15-23

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

As the decades after Jesus rolled on and Christianity shifted paradigms, from a Hebraic-historical to a Hellenic-metaphysical orientation, the work of Christology (the theory and doctrine concerning Jesus as the Christ) became increasingly other-worldly in focus. Earliest (oral) traditions had tried to continue with the social revolution begun in the life and teachings of Jesus, proclaiming human freedom from guilt and debt by a new dispensation of God’s unconditional forgiveness. As time went on, however, as the religio-political system of oppression continued and grew even more sinister, Christians began turning their hope to other dimensions – first to an end-time apocalypse and then to the realm of metaphysics.

The letter to the congregation in Ephesus (Ephesians) was written in the name of Paul, but not likely by the apostle himself. Its language is freighted with Greek metaphysics, where victory over the axis of evil is less an awaited future event (the Jewish expectation) than a current fact, with Jesus (as Christ) presently exalted over every rule and authority and power and dominion. This is obviously a long way from the gospel guerrilla who was crucified for his perceived role in fomenting revolt against Rome, and a good distance also from the apocalyptic messiah who will come again someday soon.

We’re not saying that a metaphysically oriented religion is bad or wrong, by any means, only that this shift from “what’s ahead” to “what’s above” changed the nature of Christianity in a fundamental way. Indeed Jesus’ kingdom movement, announcing the in-breaking power of God through the surrender of faith, the courageous decision to act, and the generous outreach of love, soon was transformed into an institution of ordained leaders, orthodox doctrines, membership rosters, and operating budgets.

With this shift from history to metaphysics, from the temporal urgency of Jesus to the transcendent deity of Christ, from social revolution in the world to individual salvation from the world, it might be said that Christianity lost its way and became a world religion.

EZEKIEL 34:11-16, 20-24

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

While his contemporary Jeremiah was announcing a New Reality to the Jews left in the devastation of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was rebuilding the hopes of those exiled in Babylon, uprooted from their homeland and heritage. The Babylonian army had swept down in the year 587 BCE, breached the walls of Judah’s capital and leveled its temple, deporting a vast number back to foreign territory. In both locations, amid ruins and in a strange land, the people had similar questions: Why did this happen? What are we to do next? And most importantly, Where is God?

The question of God’s presence is less an inquiry into the whereabouts of a deity than a deep anguished search for grounding in a time of pain, bereavement, and disorientation. By grounding we mean a sense of internal support, a provident uplift of peace, comfort, and healing strength coming up through the very center of our urgent need.

Due to the constraints of language, our effort to speak about and make sense of this grounding mystery inevitably generates the impression that we are talking about something external to us and essentially outside our experience. Soon enough, symbols are mistaken for the mystery they suggest and metaphors are flattened to literal meanings, further elaborating the misunderstanding that God is “out there” and must be called upon to intervene on our experience from outside.

Rather than speaking on God’s behalf and bringing a message from somewhere else, Ezekiel – and this is the peculiar spiritual psychology of the prophets – was himself the very mouthpiece of the grounding mystery and provident uplift of God’s presence, addressing the exiles out of the epicenter of their grief and loss. He lifted the vision of a New Reality and called them to faith in God as a present grace and future hope.