Posts Tagged ‘faith’

MARK 7:24-37

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Both of the miracles reported in this passage were performed in a geographical region (from Tyre in the north and southward into the area of the ten federated cities of eastern Palestine, the Decapolis) populated primarily by non-Jews. In light of what we noted in D-257, in considering the episode of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman as a possible breakthrough moment in his own mission strategy, it is interesting that the second miracle, healing a deaf-mute, was performed by him without the need to be persuaded.

If we accept the developmental theory of Jesus and his gospel, then these two miracles in the foreign territory of the gentiles were his first with a universalist intention behind them. He had come, he now understood, for the sake of all people. His philosophy of mission had penetrated below the ideological divisions of insiders (Jews, “the children”) and outsiders (gentiles, “the dogs”), to include all of humanity.

In line with what James cautioned concerning a faith that is inwardly removed from the sphere of practical challenges, social issues, and moral choices, we can see that the developmental crisis in Jesus’ life and ministry had to do with the fact that his deepest spiritual insights were as yet inner realizations and not ethically mature. In particular, his conviction about the universal love and unconditional forgiveness of God needed to break through certain traditional prejudices and personal habits of mind in order to find its fulfillment in action. Until he relented to the woman’s protest and then reached out to the deaf-mute’s human need, his faith, on that level at least, was, practically speaking, dead.

JAMES 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Faith and works (or deeds) are the soul and body of the spiritual life. Just as the soul animates the body and the body incarnates the soul, so faith energizes our good works and good works actualize our faith. This dynamic relationship between faith and works was kept in focus so long as faith itself retained its critical position in Christian belief, as that which believes (in Latin, fides qua creditor: faith as basic trust and surrender to God) rather than that which is believed (fides quae creditor: faith as a point of church doctrine).

When the confusion set in, as it did already by the time James is writing, the avalanche towards a more dogmatic orthodoxy had begun – a deviant momentum from the original spirit of Jesus and his gospel that we have not yet been successful in correcting.

Typical characteristics of dogmatic religion are that it is excessively weighted on the side of doctrinal purity, is largely disengaged from the practical-ethical complexities of real life (evidence by general and absolute judgments on contemporary moral issues), and is aggressively exclusive in its ideology. Early Christianity was showing signs of degeneration in this direction, and despite the writer’s good efforts, the trend continued in the post-biblical period.

Of course, we are not suggesting that doctrinal clarity and a more or less systematic understanding of spiritual matters are unimportant. Faith as a simple and fundamental total trust in God needs the mind as much as the will for its full development. James’ point is not that faith  must become less intellectual, but that it needs to be more ethically relevant. In short, it needs to be morally productive. Faith that lacks a strong efferent nerve to the limbs and muscles of practical choices and actions is (as good as) dead.

EPHESIANS 5:15-20

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

There must have been a problem with drinking in the Ephesian congregation, seeing as how the author singles out this vice from among all the others. ‘Don’t get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit,’ he admonishes. There is something about drunkenness, and about addiction in general, that makes it stand out in the list of harmful behaviors. Research into the so-called diseases of addiction has revealed that the ‘cure’ lies less in successfully breaking the habit, than in recovering a deep faith in reality as a whole – or perhaps discovering that faith for the first time.

What the addict first found in the seductive power of the addictive material was an experience of rush, exhilaration, and release from their usual inhibitions. The person psychology of the addict is characterized by high levels of anxiety, abnormally high in many cases but not in every case. In their attempts to cope with or defend themselves against this paralyzing insecurity, these individuals become as it were tense and ‘clenched’, emotionally as well as physically, which is typically displayed in nervous and compulsive behaviors. Use or performance of the addictive material releases the tension, opens up the constricted channels of energy, and makes the user feel free and alive.

Underlying the addiction itself, then, is an issue of spiritual concern. Anxiety arises when we feel isolated and estranged from the ‘will of God’ – or, in other words, from the deeper principles and gracious support of a holy presence.

EPHESIANS 3:14-21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The supreme revelation in Jesus was love – pure and simple. He not only talked about it and proclaimed its redemptive power in human affairs, but he also demonstrated this radical love of God in his way of life. Jesus didn’t point to some place outside the ordinary world in his reference to God, but instead reached into the human heart for the awakening of faith – faith as one’s trusting release to the gracious ground of being itself.

And while he often talked of God as a separately existing and vertically transcendent being, the enlightened reader will recognize in his theology a prevalence of metaphor, stretching and bending language in service of a Truth that cannot be named. For Jesus God was the real author, actor, and inspiration behind his words and deeds. He wasn’t delivering a message from somewhere else, but was rather serving as an agency of divine revelation, as the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

The metaphor of resurrection symbolizes what happens when we “die to self” and “live as Christ”: this same love that animated the body and voice of Jesus, and that shined through with such purity and power from his cross, now surges through us and fills us with “all the fullness of God.” This is a mystery beyond explanation. Stories can invite, symbols can suggest, and metaphors can draw your vision past the limits of language, but in the end you must experience it for yourself.

Only then will you know God.

EPHESIANS 3:14-21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The theologian Paul Tillich said that “God does not exist, for there is no such ‘thing’ as God.” To exist is to “stand out” (ex-istere) from the ground of pure being that underlies the universe and to be subject to time’s decay. If you’re looking for God out there somewhere among the temporal forms of existence, your search will be in vain and, at best, will only turn up an idol or two.

Look instead through the dark glass of your own interior life, to the mysterious place where the roots of your existence reach deep and terminate in the divine ground of being that is your true source and support. It is this inward mystical awareness of being “rooted and grounded in love” that so many today are lacking, as the practical atheists they are.

To “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and “to be filled with all the fullness of God” is clearly something that lies in another dimension altogether from that of church membership and religious orthodoxy. This is not something that can be gained by Sunday School instruction or recited before the elders of the church. Rather it is an inner awakening, a revelation received in the way of a deep realization. Since we are immersed and anchored in the divine reality already, the invitation of our spiritual life is to die to the separate self (ego) that struts and rules the day, and be raised in the experience the author of Colossians (Col 1:27) names “Christ in you, the hope of glory!”

Faith is not finding God outside yourself, but finding your true self in God.

MARK 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Why is it that “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house”? Simply because the immediate family, extended relations, and neighborhood community have accumulated too many memories and together decided the reputation of the prophet on the basis of what they remember about him or her, before the voice of God called them into mission.

Remember when he smoked cigarettes behind the barn with his friends, and then lied about it to his folks? Remember when she flopped among the boys during high school, and then left town in rumors of pregnancy? And now they’re back in celebrity lights? I don’t think so!

This is not to suggest that Jesus necessarily had a checkered past, but the scrapbook memories that curl and yellow in the album of our family archives always make it difficult for those who knew us to praise our turn-around life without so much as a friendly wink of suspicion.

Interestingly the story tells us that Jesus was “unable” to do a deed of power there in Nazareth – unable, not unwilling. Which reminds us of other Gospel stories, of the hemorrhaging woman, for instance, or the paralyzed man, whose faith had been instrumental in their healing. All the power in the universe could have resided in Jesus, but it depended on the belief of these people to be activated and released for their health and benefit.

Grace and faith are thus the two complementary powers in the experience of salvation. Grace is the supply and the offer; faith is the trusting heart.

MARK 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The hemorrhaging woman, whom we are taking to represent the action-oriented aspect of faith, had great obstacles to overcome on her way to Jesus. First, the status of females in those days discouraged women from approaching men publicly with their intentions and requests.

Second, this particular woman was suffering from an issue of blood, which would have qualified her as an “untouchable” in first-century society. Her medical status as unclean therefore compounded her social status as the inferior gender to make her challenge all the greater.

Finally, add to this the further complication of the pressing crowd round about Jesus and you have a significant obstacle course for her faith, indeed!

This woman had every reason to abandon the task of getting to Jesus. Societal barriers, the burden of her illness, and the thick mob in the way – all of these together, not to mention just one of them alone, were enough to defeat her hopes of being made well. Except that her hopes were anchored in a determination to have her need answered, and that power is second only to the power of God’s determination to save.

When she had successfully achieved her goal in reaching Jesus and touching his clothes, he turned and confirmed her salvation (healing) by attributing it to her faith. True, redemption came from beyond her, but she had to reach out to make it her own.

And therein lies the lesson of the story. As the little girl who could only wait for the gift of life from beyond her, so does our salvation depend utterly on the generosity of God. And as the resourceful woman who pushed her way through every obstacle in order to reach Jesus, so it is necessary for us to make the effort and leap into God.

MARK 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

We introduced the possibility that the little girl and the woman in this story are really – that is, symbolically – two aspects of a deeper complex. As the “inner child” of the woman, the little girl awaits the gracious gift of health in the healing touch of Jesus. As the helpless and dependent part, all she can do is wait in expectant surrender.

As the “grownup” in the story the woman takes responsibility for her health, in getting to what she hopes will be the source of her recovery. She cannot simply wait for Jesus, but needs rather go out and find him. Two aspects: one that depends absolutely on the grace from beyond, and the other that determines to do whatever it takes to get healthy again. What we have here are the two sides of faith – faith as a complete and total release to the Divine beyond us, and faith as the planted foot that leverages our leap into that beyond.

The aspect of faith that we might think of as passive is less understood in our busy, action-oriented, and somewhat superficial culture today than ever before. This idea of inward release in trust to God as the ground of our existence and meaning is hard to grasp for those of us who have been shaped in our thinking by a philosophy that ascribes reality only to things tangible, measurable, and subject to definition. We can manage trust in God as a being, located apart from and above us in the order of existence. But can we entrust ourselves to God as the essential ground of our being? In this case, we don’t go out to meet God but constantly rely on and rest in the Divine.

MARK 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” It is clear from these two juxtaposed questions that fear and faith are opposites. Fear comes when the control of our self-definition – how we presently define ourselves – is threatened or to some degree lost. Whether it be our social position, respectable reputation, personal power, or existential security, we have defined ourselves by such things and are anxious about losing them.

We work hard to earn a living, and then fear that we might lose our job and be out on the streets. We work hard to find love, and then fear that it won’t work out. We work hard to manage the many details of our lives, and then fear that we will go off the deep end. All the while, there is likely some voice in the back our our minds accusing us of not trying heard enough, or of not being deserving enough.

Faith should not be construed as confidence in our self-definition, but rather as the belief and assurance that there is something within us that transcends definition altogether, but which is a grace amazing and immeasurable. In other words, faith is not some cheery doctrine that “God will give me a job so I won’t end up homeless,” but is instead the deepest confidence that whatever happens God will provide the grace you need to release your fear and rest in Him.

Tragically, so many of us live in the fear that something or other may be lost or forever taken away, that we fulfill our own prophecy. These things are not who and what you are deepest down. Knowing that can make all the difference between a happy or anxious life.

MARK 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Reading this story symbolically we might see the sleeping Jesus in the tossed-about boat of disciples as the “sleeping” or unconscious or dormant “deeper self” that indwells each of us. While we strain at our oars and try desperately to stay afloat, pumped with adrenaline and nearly overwhelmed emotionally, this deeper self is at the rear of our boat, detached and at peace.

We don’t realize that this source of inner peace is always available to us, and instantly accessible. Our trouble is that our focus is so exclusively directed to the threat “out there” and our thinking so riveted on problem-solving, we can easily accuse the deeper self of being aloof and uncaring. So we pass it off as so much impractical mysticism.

This peace within, however, is far from impractical. Indeed our greatest resource for meeting the external challenges of life is this core of serenity and strength, accessed through contemplative, or “centering,” prayer. You know what it feels like when you’re off-center and out of balance. Your focus is fractured, your energy drains away, and the pressures of life seem impossible to handle. Arousing the deeper self – not as a last resort but as your first priority – provides you with sustaining strength, a wider and longer vision, as well as with a miraculous power to “still the storm” that is wrecking the sails and swamping the boats of so many around you. The hardship may not instantly vanish, but you can now bring to it the insight and faith it needs.