Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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.

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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.

MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

We are each aware of our life as it unfolds through time, with an exterior facing out to the world and an interior opening to the depths of the soul’s inner space. The ego, our center of self-conscious identity, toggles this boundary between objective facts and subjective feelings, between matter and value, between sensory perceptions and subtle awareness, between what we appear to be and what we really are.

To be perfectly honest, it is far easier to manipulate appearances than to live authentically, and much to be gained as far as the acceptance, respect, envy, or fear in others we are hoping to impress is concerned. Jesus didn’t put much weight in appearances, and he was sometimes caustic in his criticisms of those who fluff their feathers and strut around for the glamour value of their knowledge or social class standing.

The real tragedy – and this is what disturbed Jesus so much – was that these appearance-and-protocol obsessed legalists were not only duped themselves, but were pulling others into their delusion. For them, you’d better follow the rules and pay your dues to tradition if you hope to be in God’s favor. All the purity and dietary laws prescribing how and what one could eat were taken to be the “fundamentals” of their religion, and to transgress on these was a crime against God punishable by exclusion from the community.

Jesus looked at them and saw not only a hollow piety but a dangerous deception for the multitudes as well. And so, for the sake of their liberation, he spoke out against it.

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.

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.”

Once again, the writer of the Fourth Gospel is exposing our human habit of taking things too literally. From the Christian mystical perspective, existence itself points as a sign to the divine transcendent reality energizing and upholding all things.The material universe is radiant with the glory of God, the revealed Law declares God’s deeper intention for the human being in community, and Jesus embodies in flesh and personality l’amour che muove il sole e l’altre stelle, as the poet Dante says: the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

The problem lies with the blinders of our fixed habits of mind, deep cultural assumptions, and the dogmatic orthodoxies of religion. These obscure our spiritual vision and would tie our attention to the pointing finger rather than the moon to which the finger points.

When Jesus identified himself as the bread of life come down from heaven, his benighted audience could think only in terms of what they knew – common table bread and ordinary family origins. But perhaps we let them off the hook too easily when we make it out to be mere a matter of ignorance. Frequently, in those who strongly reject the notion of a Truth higher than their own familiar traditions and orthodox belief systems, there is a corresponding deeper fear of losing their grip on what provides them some measure of certainty, comfort, and control.

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 6:24-35

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

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.

The benefits of the religious life are like the bread this still-hungry mob was seeking from Jesus. He could fill their bellies every six hours and they’d be back for more. Similarly welfare assistance, social membership, and the promise of paradise are such benefits of conventional religion that are unable to satisfy the longing at the center of our being.

This hunger is “not for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” It is, in short, our hunger for wholeness, community, and for the fulfillment of what God created us to be as human beings. (We are reminded that the term eternal life in the Fourth Gospel means abundant, full, and authentic life here and now, not life forever somewhere else.) Jesus tried to focus their vision beyond the temporal urgencies symbolized in the belly, but such delusions die hard.

All of this approaches the scale of tragedy when we observe how many have fallen into the trap of a superficial religion. Constantly restless, a great number merely revolve through the cycle from a general anxiety, to a deep but unfocused discontent, to an aroused craving for what might satisfy, to an attachment to the next promising thing, to a fear that it may not be enough (which is actually an opportunity for liberation), and coming round again to a discontent deeper than before.

The path of fulfillment leads through the discovery of our spiritual gifts, and to a growing awareness that God is counting on us to do our part – nothing more and nothing less.

EPHESIANS 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

In our progression from childhood to maturity we move out of a period where the world and the circumstances of life bring our interests and energies to a focus. Through time we gradually awaken to the special talents and gifts with which God has blessed us. As we follow their lead, and still attentive to the opportunities that are opening to us along the way, our focus begins to lift from the foreground of this passing moment, to the transcendent aim of our life as a whole.

A purpose emerges – not a job or a career, necessarily, but an increasingly profound sense of why we exist – that begins to concentrate and channel the energies of our life along a single path. This is the “narrow gate” in the teachings of Jesus. Ideally we arrive at the point where we experience our life as a progression threshold in the evolutionary advance of creation itself – a place where the universe becomes conscious of itself, and where the Spiritual Presence within and beneath all things takes on flesh and personality in us.

The writer is reflecting on the redemptive accomplishment and heavenly ascent of Jesus Christ as though he were a victorious general returning home, distributing the spoils of war among his people. These “gifts” were liberated from captivity, where they had been held hostage by the infernal powers of the earth. If you’ve struggled with this question of your life’s purpose, and have wrestled against the forces of fear, inferiority, unworthiness and self-doubt, then you can understand that nothing short of redemption is needed in order to break free. Jesus showed us that fulfillment is well worth the risk.

JOHN 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

We are told that this revelatory sign of feeding the multitude happened when “the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.” Put that together with the parallels between the First and New Testaments, of the provision of food in the wilderness (manna and quail/loaves and fish) and the deliverance through/over the water (Sea of Reeds/Sea of Galilee), and what you’ve got is a clear identification of Jesus as the New Moses. Jesus has come for our freedom, the writer is saying, and what we are set free from is ignorance, ego, and the fear of death. How these three conditions of our spiritual slavery fit and fuse together can be summarized as follows.

The price of self-consciousness (ego) is a gradual and somewhat anxious separation from the maternal reality. Through time we are gathering to ourselves greater degrees of control, autonomy, and individuality. These are not bad in themselves; in fact, they are necessary to the progress of our personal development as human beings. As the shadow side to all the gains and benefits of a healthy sense of self, however, we become increasingly aware of our vulnerability, our exposure to the erosions of mortality.

As our anxiety intensifies we try to compensate by attaching ourselves to whatever we hope will bring us security and happiness. It may be wealth and possessions, success and power, codependent relationships, or the afterlife rewards of religion. In the end we can no longer see through the knots and tangles of our attachments to the real truth of our existence.

Jesus came to emancipate us from this enslaved condition. By the path of love, we are enabled to rise into the light of truth and enjoy a life authentic and free. Love, Light, and Life: the three great themes of John’s Gospel.

PSALM 14

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great terror,
    for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is their refuge.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Perhaps, in light of our recent reflections on the episode of David and Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 11, we should rephrase this as: “The fool says in his heart, ‘I am king. I can do what I want!'” We don’t mean to identify David permanently with his fall to temptation for Bathsheba, but the plot of his fateful romance with the lady next door reveals an atheism that is much more common and insidious than the dogmatic variety. It’s the kind one frequently finds in religious circles, of all places, where Jesus confronted them with the name ‘hypocrites’ – practical atheists.

Practical atheists are often hand-on-the-heart believers, but who live as if God didn’t exist. They confess the creeds of tradition with tears in their eyes, but then return to their real lives as abusers, cheats, and scoundrels after church lets out. God is to them little more than the ghost in the sanctuary, certainly not the Spirit of Life.

The “company of the righteous” in this psalm, then, is not simply any ol’ congregation of church-goers. Your average church or temple congregation is likely to contain a preponderance of practical atheists – a greater concentration of hypocrites than you are likely to find anywhere on earth at any given time. The truly righteous (not the self-righteous) are those who live with a sense that the God of Love is looking out through their eyes and touching the world with their hands.