Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

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.”

Recent studies of the Gospel that approach both the narratives as well as the personal life and career of Jesus from an evolutionary perspective have compiled textual evidence suggesting that Jesus grew into his enlightened vision of the kingdom of God by steps, or developmental crises, along the way. A couple instances, for example, portray Jesus early in his ministry operating by the conviction that his “good news” was intended exclusively for the Jews, since he was himself a Jew and had caught hold (so he believed) of the key to its essential truth and future hope.

As in the case represented in this episode from Mark’s Gospel, this conviction was challenged externally by non-Jews who, perhaps better than he at the moment, had grasped the implications of his message and personally challenged his assumptions regarding its broader relevance. This gentile woman perceived in the gospel of Jesus not just a program for Jewish reformation, but a universal vision for the whole world.

Jesus’ distinction between “the children” (Jews) and “the dogs” (gentiles) was common in the ideology of his day, a prejudice in favor of those who saw themselves as the chosen people, God’s elect. The teachings and promises of Judaism, in this view, was not for everyone – only the children. When this Syrophoenician woman protested on behalf of “the dogs,” Jesus had to reconsider.

JOHN 6:35, 41-51

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Jesus was perceived as a threat to theological security by those who had anchored themselves inside the fortress of religious literalism. It may be helpful to define more carefully what we mean by this term. There is a time in psychological development when the stories of scripture and tradition are not so much interpreted as simply accepted as descriptions of the way things are, were, or will be. This is the period that James Fowler names the “mythic-literal” stage of faith.

A child must not be faulted or criticized for taking the stories literally. At this stage the imagination is just coming alive and the dividing membrane between fantasy and reality is magically flexible and porous. Religious and cultural narratives are implanting the young mind with the information, moral values, and world perspective deemed necessary to live functionally as a member of the tribe. Most importantly, they are shaping the developing personality around deep principles and universal truths.

Sometime in early adolescence the capacity for symbolic thinking is awakened, and the stories that were taken literally in childhood begin to open up to new insights and discoveries. Narrative portraits of God, for instance, can now be appreciated more as metaphors than literal descriptions, and the reality they name can be more readily acknowledged for the genuine mystery it is. It is possible at this stage for the individual to grasp and entertain such notions as ground of being, universal spirit and unconditional love in his or her contemplation of the divine mystery.

It is possible, we need to emphasize, because it is precisely at this developmental moment, on the threshold of a breakthrough to higher awareness spiritually, that the orthodoxy of anxious and dogmatic leaders slams shut the window and pulls down the shade. This is where religious literalism takes hold: It’s this way, and only this way.

Jesus was a threat to such literalism because in his teaching, his parables, his manner and his very person, he mediated a mystery that no theology can manage or contain.

EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

What does it mean to be an ‘imitator’ of God? Well, it all depends on whose concept of God you are consulting. In ancient imperial societies where military sovereignty was all the rage, the patron deity of a people was typically imaged as a dread warrior and blood-drunk tyrant. Even after the revolution initiated by Jesus, the so-called Christian civilization that ensued still represented God conceptually in terms of vengeance for sin, condemnation of outsiders and heretics, and justified violence against unbelievers.

If that’s your concept of God, then imitating him is merely a matter of carrying this divine wrath and aggression into the affairs of your daily life. How should you handle the person who has done you wrong? Take God as your model: He couldn’t be appeased until finally His own son was killed and his blood offered up for divine satisfaction. (You may find this language offensive, but that is the prevailing theory in Christian orthodoxy today.)

Jesus revealed God in a new way, not as vindictive and hard to please but as gracious and forgiving. He found this view of God so compelling and inspiring, in fact, that he gave every ounce of his energy and his very last drop of blood in pursuit of its realization in the midst of our dark and violent world. One who is truly a disciple of Jesus is thus also an imitator of the God revealed in his gospel and life. We can forgive others freely, repeatedly, and without conditions because we have been forgiven in the same radical way by God.

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.

ACTS 10:44-48

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

For Peter and the rest, this inclusion of the Gentiles in the universal community of the gospel was not the decision of some “warm tug” at the heart. Rather it was an act of fidelity to what was unmistakably the work of the Holy Spirit, alive in the world outside the Christian circle as thus far defined. Such fidelity must be recognized as a genuine aspect of love, filling out and expanding our usual notions that tend in more sentimental directions.

Love isn’t always a feel-good experience. There are times when the unifying energy of love exerts great stress on our self-definitions, stretching and sometimes breaking them open in its powerful advance. Our experience in such moments is far from pleasant, and can even be downright terrifying. If God wants to open you up and you want above all to hold it together, then God will appear more demonic than benign, more “wrathful” than benevolent.

That is precisely when it serves you well to know the deeper ways of God.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus helped us understand that forgiveness is the essence of God, or Spirit, and that being both forgiven and forgiving is the experience upon which the world’s future depends. When he breathed upon his disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, he imparted to them the power to let go, an internal freedom against which no outward form of liberty or permission can compare.

Jesus’ gospel centered on the act and realization of forgiveness, of living in such a way that all resentment, grudge-bearing, lingering disappointment, and other fixations on the past are released and forgotten. It isn’t necessary – nor is it healthy! – to “set the record straight” and “get the balance even” before you can move on with your life. God is not holding your past against you, and neither should you be dragging it along. You have been set free, but now it is up to you to drop the chains and embrace your freedom.

This ideal of forgiveness was unlocked from the confinements of common sense and retributive justice through the personal choices that Jesus made on a daily basis, culminating in his decision and supplication with God to forgive his enemies from the cross. Right then and there, the redemptive power of forgiveness – of a love that is unconditional, unfailing, and totally gratuitous – was personified, embodied, and released into our human history. To symbolize the presence of that transforming power now at work in the world, the spirit of Jesus moved upon the dark fear of his disciples, as upon the primordial waters of Genesis, and called forth a new creation.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The really good news of Jesus was that God’s fidelity to the world is so great and so wide that nothing we do can either earn or disqualify us from the love of God. This insight arises out of the biblical precept, assumed without debate as the bedrock beneath the foundation of Western theology, that God and creation are not co-equal, nor are God and humankind equal partners in the covenantal project. In some early traditions, this disparity between God and humanity produced a definite anxiety over whether God might at some point become so exasperated with the shortfall of human obedience as to commit the entire fiasco to damnation.

By the time of Jesus, however, the ideal of an infinite patience and unconditional love in the heart of God began to open human experience to a divine grace so far-reaching and irresistible, that (perhaps?) nothing could permanently escape its redemptive power.

The term for the extreme energy in love that penetrates every resistance, absorbs every attack, returns kindness for malice, and welcomes the prodigal with a generous embrace, is forgiveness – the fourth essential element of true community. In brief, forgiveness is the act of remaining faithful to covenant while working to rebuild a trust that has been broken or betrayed.

1 John 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that ourjoy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

What later became the really good news (gospel) in the proclamation of Jesus was already good news in the First Testament period, which as that God’s fidelity to us not only exceeds ours to Him, but is fundamentally independent of our performance altogether. “If anyone does sin,” our writer assures us that there is with God an advocate who urges the divine compassion on our behalf, accomplishing our forgiveness and calling us back. This element of compassion is the third component in the dynamics of healthy community.

God’s compassion for the world, for the multitude stumbling in the dark for their true belonging, had moved God to act for the sake of their hope and salvation. Compassion is literally the capacity for sharing in the suffering or experience of another. More than merely an act of sympathetic imagination, compassion is itself a symptom of a deeper identity beneath the duality of ego and other – a kind of resonance-effect from far below the surface differences. God’s compassion for humanity is therefore a function of the divine image inherent in all of us.

And human beings share this capacity, too, for one another. When you feel an urgency to act mercifully on behalf of someone in pain or need, the depth and intensity of your experience reveals a place where you and the other are one.

ACTS 4:32-35

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Earliest Christianity, according to the view provided in the New Testament book of Acts (“Acts of the Apostles”), was a true form of communism, where the later axiom of Karl Marx – “from each according to ability, to each according to need” – was collectively honored and faithfully practiced. There was little ambition for personal property or worldly success, as their focus and allegiance were fastened on something transcendent and future-oriented. This reality, being both the providential support as well as the driving power beneath and within the emerging community of the Church, was the reign of God as proclaimed and personified by Jesus.

In fact, what is called the Easter Event can be understood as the experience of being grasped by the very power that Jesus embodied, along with the vision that had inspired his devotion and personal sacrifice. The moment after the cross when the fearful company of disciples was seized with the realization of this spirit of Jesus as miraculously enduring and presently available, was the resurrection of Christ into the community of the gospel. Such living and functioning together as one is what the apostle Paul would refer to as “the body of Christ, his Church.”

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.