Posts Tagged ‘justice’

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

When we finally see the truth of the equation between the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation, the gospel of Jesus takes on new dimension and power. Upon closer look, we begin to notice how focused he was on awakening the deepest potentialities of the human spirit. His concern was not for doctrinal orthodoxy or ritual purity, but for the full realization of our intended maturity as creatures made in the divine image.

The author of Ephesians believed that in Jesus the Christ, as the glorified New Man, we can see the intended destiny of every human being. We can see the grace of God in the way he lived and loved, laying the path of salvation through the redemptive power of forgiveness. In his willingness to put aside his individual impulse for self-preservation so as to release the creative energy of unconditional forgiveness into the violent and fear-based systems of our fallen world, Jesus revealed what the human being is capable of by God’s grace.

He did everything with a self-transcending reference to what he called ‘the kingdom of God’, which is simply a political metaphor for the depth, power, justice, and joy of genuine community. In following the path of the gospel, we enter more and more into the fullness of our divine potential as human beings. Through our love in community, God is glorified in the highest degree.

Advertisements

PSALM 1

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

If the destiny of Judas had been predetermined, which would argue that ours must be as well, then what has become of that unique power we once thought the special mark of God’s image in the human – our freedom to choose, to love, resist, to rebel? Is it all a delusion, this capacity for liberty and self-direction that we fight for, defend, and protect with a swelling litany of Rights? Again, was Judas merely a pawn in God’s game of salvation (for some) and damnation (for the rest)?

As we wrestle with this question, it is important to remember that such things as individual dignity, human rights, and personal freedom were then only beginning to break upon the world of the Bible. In the dominant view, the individual in our sense today didn’t yet exist. In a real sense, then, Judas wasn’t free and his pre-programmed damnation is no problem. The essential thing was that Jesus got betrayed and died for our salvation; Judas was just a “mechanism” for getting it done.

But we struggle with the justice of it all, and we can do so precisely because we are free.

ISAIAH 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a decisive threshold in the cultural evolution of Europe. Antecedent to it was the Renaissance, a literally ground-breaking flood of discoveries – long-lost Greek and Arabic texts on everything from physics and mathematics to philosophy and political theory, along with artefacts of ancient civilizations and the creative genius of the human spirit that is the wellspring of art, poetry, and music.

After the Reformation came the so-called Enlightenment, with the dramatic rise of rationalism, scientific materialism, and technology. It is truly baffling to contemplate how the earlier explosion of creativity and cultural rebirth in the Renaissance could have terminated in the sterile fields of the Industrial Age, with the soul disqualified from respectable science and the earth reduced to little more than a resource for technological progress. Baffling, that is, until we factor in the main achievement of the Reformation itself.

Such celebrated virtues as freedom, individuality, and personal conscience were not gifts of the Reformation, as is sometimes thought. These were actually the pillars of the European Renaissance. The outstanding achievement of the Reformation itself, in a sense capitalizing on these earlier advances but contradicting them as well, was its profound suspicion of human nature and its teaching of our universal depravity.

                                                                                       

While there had been some fairly minor traditions in pre-Reformation Christianity that were pessimistic over human worth and our potential for good, the reformers made this appraisal a centerpiece in their dogmatic systems. Any light, anything of positive value, even the will to do what is right and good was something, according to these new orthodoxies, that had to be brought in or deposited from outside.

In and of itself, human nature was seen as fallen, broken, corrupt, wicked and totally bereft of God. As the complement to and further development of this depressing philosophy, Reformation theories of salvation and the Atonement had to import such despicable notions as total depravity and the propitiation of a blood-thirsty deity.

But the Bible represents the human being in a much more positive light over all. Although we can find passages that speak to our limitations, brokenness, and tendencies toward selfishness and violence, the dominant perspective of the Bible on the subject affirms and celebrates the goodness and light that are already present, if presently dormant, in all of us.

In the end, it is not our “good works” that God wants so much as our goodness itself to be expressed in all that we are. The manifested goodness of the human being is the very light of God’s glory and grace shining out on the world. Isaiah’s challenge is our own today: Open up and let it shine!

MICAH 6:1-8

Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?  In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

One of the dangers that religion has had an impossible time avoiding is the temptation to think that its sacred symbols, ritual performances, and doctrinal formulations somehow qualify its members for God’s special favor.

The elaborate superstructure of religious tradition, architecture, and orthodoxy can become so impressive as to eclipse the metaphysics of spirit altogether. Consequently the holy Mystery and gracious Presence at the heart of all things can get lost in a view obstructed by the self-glorification of a belief system.

As often as religion has fallen to this temptation of an inflated self-importance, there have thankfully arisen the clear lights of men and women who knew better. In the biblical narrative we can find Abraham stepping away from the polytheistic practices of his countrymen, Moses grinding up the golden calf idol of the impatient Israelites, Amos exposing the systemic violence and inhumanity in the government programs of his day, and later Jesus defending human dignity and demonstrating God’s love in the face of a religion too fixated on being right to be concerned with doing good.

The prophet Micah was another one of these clear lights. In his day (a rough contemporary of Amos in the southern nation of Judah) so much of religion had collapsed into becoming little more than blind ceremony. People had been made to believe that giving the right sacrifice, on the right day, and in the right way, earned them merit in God’s eyes.

                                                                                  

What are sacrifices – and, we might add, what are buildings, writings, rituals, sacred objects, appointed officials, liturgies, and even tradition itself – but the “mechanics” of spirituality?

None of these things are that mystical current of creative power and love we call Spirit. Their role is to serve as vehicles for Spirit, icons of Spirit, witnesses to Spirit, and even bearers of Spirit, but never its substitutes or permanent containers. The problem, of course, is that Spirit is essentially ineffable (beyond words) and our brain (at least our left brain) is incessantly verbal.

Add to that the ingredient of our egos – that nervous bundle of insecure, guilt-ridden, and control-fixated self-consciousness – and you have the recipe for fundamentalism. Soon enough, we have made God in our own image: self-righteous, judgmental, vengeful and violent.

As one who “speaks for” God (Gk. prophetes), Micah confronted the dying system of his religion with the fresh winds of spirituality. What does God want of you, but to work for equality, practice charity, and cultivate your relationship with Spirit? Notice how these virtues and disciplines fit together in an organic whole: our journey deeper into God produces loving-kindness in us, which seeks to build a safe, fair, and just society for all.

Dispatch Two

Posted: December 22, 2013 in First Bundle
Tags: , , , , , ,

PSALM 72:1-7, 18-19

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

It may be that David’s humble origins as a sheep herder and the youngest of eight sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite had made him sympathetic towards people of the lower classes. Their culture of hard labor, long days, and heavy taxes – the revenue for top-heavy imperial administrations was typically extracted from the peasant and artisan classes – made life for them nasty, brutish, and short.

As a matter of moral integrity, and out of honor for the memory of his former life, David worked diligently to represent the needs and ambitions of the poor in his policies as king. He knew there could be no prosperity in the land so long as the larger percentage of the people were shouldering the burden for the happiness of the small wealthy upper class.

Which all begs the question: How can wealth and power be more equitably distributed, unless it is taken from the rulers and capitalists by force and given to the underprivileged?

Whereas Jesus would later advocate an alternative program to the coercive measures of deposition and confiscation of property, his principle of human compassion and self-sacrifice in the interest of a more broad-based happiness for all was still only in its early conception phase.

That the wealthy and powerful might come to apprehend their shared identity with the poor and oppressed, to the extent that they measure their own success as human beings by their ability to elevate the quality of life for everyone, is a high ideal for any society, however ‘enlightened’.

ISAIAH 11:1-10

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Because we in the modern West have so divorced religion and its concerns from the political sphere, it takes effort on our part to recapture the power of the kingdom of God as a biblical symbol of salvation.

The prophets especially were grasped by its imagery of equity and justice, righteousness and world peace. Their vision extended beyond the human plane and into the realm of nature, where the future reign of salvation would reconcile the deep antagonisms between predator and prey.

No level or corner of creation would be left outside and untouched by the transforming event. And all of it turned on the axis of the messiah-king, the descendent of David whose arrival and ascent to the throne would usher in the new age.

There is no going back to a time before critical reason, when the mythic imagination was the dominant mode of interpretation and understanding. Just as the development of intelligence in children approaching adolescence must transcend (but not abandon!) the creative magic of fantasy thinking and awaken the capacity for a more objective realism, so our task now is to take up the symbolism of the Bible into an historically responsible worldview.

                                                                        

Jesse was the father of David, the shepherd boy who became king of Israel. As king, David had made his share of strategic mistakes and moral blunders, but his humble and contrite heart before God had left an indelible impression in the Jewish imagination as a truly righteous and godly leader.

After his death, however, David’s magnetic example of leadership integrity was progressively lost on his heirs, as they allowed Israel to drift farther and farther from her intended destiny as a blessing to the nations. When his son Solomon reached the end of his life, the question of succession had become hopelessly complicated, with sons, stepsons, and army generals all vying with one another and hatching assassination plots to improve their chances of success.

By the time of Isaiah (eighth century, BCE) two hundred years of romantic nostalgia for a savior-king and son of David, who would restore Israel to her former glory, had produced a highly charged messianism that would still later become the culture of expectation in which Christianity was born.

For Isaiah, however, the day of God’s messiah would not be an entirely positive experience for everyone. If peace was to come to the earth, then perpetrators of injustice and oppression would have to be uprooted and destroyed. If the world is to be made safe, then every threat and danger must be removed.

This very commonsense logic would eventually turn apocalyptic in the coming centuries.