Posts Tagged ‘love’

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.”

It’s time to ask about the dividing-line between what is essential and what is conditional or secondary in the religious life, according to the teachings of Jesus. Lest we deceive ourselves, we must not assume that for Jesus spirituality was merely a matter of what one feels inside, or how pure and noble one’s intentions might be. Jesus was intensely interested in the “fruit” of our lives, that is, in what is produced by the hands and the mouth in the form of ethical behavior. You can tell the tree by its fruit, he said on a number of occasions.

But Jesus also knew that fruit is only part of the tree, a trusty witness to the internal health of the tree, but it’s not everything. Moreover, you will frequently find when you bite into an apparently wholesome piece of fruit, that it’s mealy and rotten inside. Just so, good works may be more about the visual display than genuinely benevolent motives.

The heart, while maybe not the birthplace of our motives (that’s probably farther down), is where they gather emotional energy as attitudes and convictions. The heart is also the center of consciousness tuned into that most mysterious of all our human frequencies: love. On the continuum of human consciousness, the heart-center is situated midway between the mind-center above, which responds to the frequency of truth, and the belly-center below, where the survival concerns of life are dominant.

Between the life urgencies we carry in our bellies and the truth-claims we defend in our heads are the desires and aspirations we hold in our hearts. Our lives tend in the direction of what we love most. Is it God?

SONG OF SOLOMON 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

The love poetry of Solomon’s Song has attracted many with its sexual symbolism and romantic themes, a fact that drove the post-biblical church to interpret it away from its obviously sensual and towards a more hidden spiritual meaning. Thus Christ became the groom and the Church his bride, with the longing between them representing the romance of salvation.

Later mystics used the imagery in the Song to picture the soul’s passionate desire for the divine beloved. Originally (and probably not written by King Solomon himself) the poem was likely a love song celebrating the erotic energy and attraction between a man and woman on their wedding day. It is an inspiring tribute to the natural impulses and physical beauty that are so magical in the romantic interplay of the sexes.

This section of the Song gives an account of the groom’s approach to the place where the bride lies in waiting. Up till now her world has been cast beneath the spell of winter and its grey overcast mood. Hitherto she has only dreamed of this day, and at last it arrives, bringing the rebirth of spring to the land. Everything about the bride – her hope, her imagination, her heart, and her very body – is magnetized by expectation for the one she loves. Such total passion is what makes her experience, and her life in that moment, authentic and vibrant with meaning.

When Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” this is what he meant.

2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

33  The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Absalom was David’s third son by his wife Maacah, who was herself the daughter of a foreign king, Talmai of Geshur. Reputedly David’s favorite, Absalom had nonetheless conspired against his father for possession of the throne, managing to take control of the city of Hebron and setting his sights next on Jerusalem. For a while, David was on the run and hiding from Absalom’s rebel band, but then, after mustering his own army, he order the rebellion quashed.

“Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom,” David had instructed his commanders. But, in a fateful moment, Absalom’s hair got caught in the branches of a tree under which his mule was passing, and he hung there, the story tells us, “between heaven and earth.” And then, when the soldiers of David’s commander, Joab, happened upon the dangling traitor, they drew their swords and killed him on the spot.

David’s reaction to the news of Absalom’s murder is reminiscent of how he had handled the death of his enemy King Saul years before. His grief in both instances is testimony to his amazing ability to separate in his mind between the dignity of his human aggressors on the one hand and their malicious intentions on the other. Behind the mask of a terrorist and would-be assassin was the face of Absalom, his beloved son.

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.

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.

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.

PSALM 24

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
    and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
    and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
    and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
    who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord of hosts,
    he is the King of glory.

David’s personal experience of God as the expansive mystery beneath and behind everything also had a deeply moral dimension, which must be true of all genuine religion as well. Since God is our name for that which energizes and supports existence itself, there is a recognition in all true religion that our human approach to that mystery requires a sufficient combination of mindfulness, reverence, and moral rectitude.

This is not to say that only perfect people qualify for an experience of God, for that would make the experience a reward for what is sometimes called a “works righteousness.” David is not suggesting that living right earns us a place in God’s favor and accumulates merit for ourselves. Those “who have clean hands and pure hearts” are the ones whose actions (hands) and intentions (hearts) are united in love for God and others.

The reason such persons “receive blessing from the Lord” has to do with the fact that they are the ones whose existence is grounded in a grateful awareness that opens them more fully to the overflowing generosity of reality. In truth, blessings are continuously pouring forth, and God/Love is that in which “we live and move and have our being,” as Paul says. But to see them we need an attention sufficiently liberated from foreground distractions and scattered urgencies. By the path of reverent awareness and wholesome lives we “ascend the hill of the Lord.”

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.

JOHN 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The mystical theology of the Fourth Gospel provides a valuable corrective to our normal tendency of thinking of God as some external being, up and away from the level of everyday ordinary experience. While there certainly is in this tradition an acknowledgment of divine otherness – that is to say, an awareness of God as neither reducible to the world nor essentially knowable by the categories of the mind – it is understood in terms of mystery, not distance and location.

This appreciation of the essential mystery of God, along with the sense of God as transcending local conditions of space, time, and language, was the New Testament expression of the revolution that had begun nearly a thousand years before.

In this tradition of early mystical Christianity, “Father” was a reference metaphor for the divine reality that underlies, creates, and encompasses existence itself. To abide in the Father as Jesus did, and to abide in the love of Jesus as his disciples were invited to do, was more than merely being in relationship with God.

To abide in God is to dwell in the divine life, to find rest for the soul, and to receive one’s existence in freshness and gratitude with every breath and pulse. Such an organic connection and deep identity of the believer with the Holy Spirit opens an unsuspected Aladdin cave of the spiritual life. There, deep within the wealth of grace and peace, we find strength and meaning and lasting joy.

JOHN 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

All this talk of commandments makes it seem like we’re back in the First Testament with its strong accent on the Law and human obedience. Weren’t we set free from all this? Time and again, libertarian sects of one form or another have arisen from the slough of guilt (under management of the institutional church) with the proclamation that we are free of all rules, obligations, and constraints.

Without conscience, charismatic leaders have brainwashed their followers and not infrequently directed them to their destruction. Are Christians free from the law? As is typical when we are wanting a “yes” or “no” answer, we find the truth to be nested in a paradox – both “yes” and “no.”

Yes, we are free from the Law insofar as the teeth of the Law are conventionally found in its schedule of threatened (and feared) penalties for the transgressor. Perfect love, as it says in the Letter of 1 John, casts out all fear. Therefore, living by love we are set free from fear. Our motivation is no longer self-serving (to avoid pain and punishment) but self-transcending in sacrifice to the greater good.

The commandments that Jesus left to his disciples were all for the expressed purpose of promoting the value and cause of love – in the Christian circle, certainly, but also (especially) in the broad and harvest-ready field of the world. Of course, love itself cannot be commanded, since to be genuine it must be freely chosen.

In the early Christian community love was experienced as the generous self-giving of God, incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth and now indwelling those who live in his name.