Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

MARK 10:46-52

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Society saw no value in the likes of Bartimaeus, except perhaps as a convenient “drop box” for middle-class charity – providing the chance to pay off some of the guilty neglect and self-centered ambition with a few bucks. When he cried out for Jesus, the crowd was offended that he should want anything more than they had already been generous enough to give him (again, largely for themselves).

Beggars are not to have a voice; they are not to be noticed. Certainly it is unacceptable that they should become a nuisance. “Shut up, you damned rag!” they cursed. “Don’t you dare ask for more than you deserve!” But Bartimaeus persisted, even increasing his volume and pitch: “Jesus! Please have mercy on me!” And when Jesus called for him, the annoyed crowd said to the blind man in a scolding tone, “Lucky dog. Don’t blow this one.”

When Bartimaeus arrived at the place where Jesus was, he was confronted with a question that is critical to the advance of the spiritual life: “What do you want me to do for you?” The question of want (or longing, aspiration, or spiritual hunger) brings the matter of salvation to a profoundly personal focus.

The return path to the heart of God has been cleared of such impediments as penance payments or orthodox procedures, but progress down that path needs to be a voluntary effort – an ongoing act of decision and will – on the part of the one seeking salvation. Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus was his invitation to name precisely that for which he was yearning most deeply in his life. Once named, Bartimaeus’ own faith in its possibility became the effective agency for its realization.

HEBREWS 7:23-28

23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Even though a permanent fixture for world redemption has been set in place with the ascension of Jesus to God’s right hand – let us not forget that we are speaking metaphorically and in the language of myth – something is still required of the one seeking salvation, which is the will to be whole.

In Christian mythology, the everlasting intercession of the risen High Priest on behalf of us all is picture language for representing  the “good news” that Jesus revealed while on earth: that God loves the world unconditionally and has already forgiven the sinner, providing a free and clear path for our return. However – and here’s the point – God will not save us, indeed God cannot save us against our will.

We must want to be whole, or else we will persist in our inner divisions and contradictions. We must want to be free, or else we will continue in captivity and emotional paralysis. Yes, the universe is set up for salvation, but whether or not we will be saved is up to us, not God.

What does it mean, to want salvation? Well, just as we said, to desire and strive for wholeness – within ourselves, healing the split between body and soul; as well as between ourselves and others, restoring relationship where it is bogged or broken down with distrust, suspicion, resentment, or neglect. We might have added “reunited with God,” but in truth our reunion with God is accomplished in and through these other two paths – the paths within and between.

PSALM 34:1-8 (19-22)

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
    so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
    happy are those who take refuge in him.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord rescues them from them all.
20 He keeps all their bones;
    not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.” Really?

Of course, we must allow for the possibility that this as well as all the other psalms were written for use as the liturgy and songs of the temple during worship. If that is the case, then such idealistic and exaggerated language was not intended to explain or justify anything, but merely to carry the faith and aspirations of the worshiping community godward. Perhaps all the poet is wanting to say is that God helps and saves those who look to Him in their afflictions, by giving them hope for deliverance and the strength to endure. “God is our ever-present help in times of trouble,” is another hymn of faith found among the Psalms.

It may well be that clear-cut simplifications and black-and-white exaggerations are necessary to produce the kind of belief that holds in force our human worldviews. If there is to be meaning to our idea of God, for instance, it must have clear lines and definite content to distinguish it from all that to our minds is not God. In the biblical worldview lying behind much of Western culture, God is nothing if not the saving power that delivers us from evil, damnation, catastrophe and death. At some deep level we need to know that someone, and someone very able, is watching out for us.

JAMES 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Intercessory prayer has become problematic for many modern people, since its practice through the centuries has been dependent upon a worldview and concept of God that many today can no longer hold with intellectual integrity. The idea of God as essentially separate from and existing above the complex field of our human experience in the world is becoming less and less compatible with our growing understanding of the universe.

True, just because God is not as necessary as He once was for explaining the origin and architecture of the natural cosmos, doesn’t automatically mean that we have outgrown and moved beyond our need for Him. We have become more materialistic and less spiritually-minded as a culture, and our problem with prayer may reflect more the implicit atheism at the heart of our contemporary worldview than a genuine individual maturity on our part.

Nevertheless, and the thoughtful atheists among us notwithstanding, the “theory” and practice of intercessory prayer does bring a challenge before the modern (or postmodern) believer. Are we still to think of God as somehow outside and vertically removed from our world, so that we must call Him into a given situation of need, on behalf of someone who is sick or sin-ridden? Is it just you and that suffering other, therefore, until you invoke the presence and (hopefully) healing power of God?

If instead God is not separate from the world or external to our experience, but is rather essential to the world and already deeply present at the heart of reality, then our prayers of intercession could be relevantly understood as a kind of intuitive participation in the sufferings of another, and an urging of the Spirit towards their life, health, and hope. The one who prays and the one who suffers have common ground in the universal life of God.

PSALM 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The Bible gives expression in a wide variety of ways to the human experience of salvation,  not as achieved by individual effort but brought about through an outside agency. The intercession of Esther for her people is just one well-known example of this key idea.

Because salvation nearly always involves a liberation or rescue from something – an oppressor, an approaching disaster, a destructive habit, a limiting belief – that is currently preventing our progress, inhibiting our freedom or threatening our life, the Bible counter-balances our typically modern gospel of self-reliance with its witness to faith as reliance on what is beyond us.

It may at first sound weak to say that had not the Lord been on our side we would have been done in, but such an honest admission of our need is really the avenue, and not the barrier, to the experience of true strength in our life. In the story of Esther, the Jewish people would have been defenseless against Haman’s pogrom had it not been for the queen’s effort on their behalf.

In fact, it is probably true to say that many if not most of our troubles in life which develop into serious hardships are due to our ignorance or stubborn refusal to acknowledge our personal limits, inadequacies, and shortcomings. As a rule, the wisdom of the universe brings the counsel, the helper, the resource, or the sign within reach at the critical moment of need.

MARK 5:21-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACTS 8:26-40

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.)27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

This passage gives us a look inside what may be the earliest Christian creative reflection on the salvation found in Jesus. We know that during the decade following his crucifixion the community of disciples was turning the stones in nearly every available tradition, searching for the images, prophecies, and other clues that might help place the tragic death of Jesus within a larger frame of divine purpose.

Attempting to bypass the “offense of the cross,” some had elected to concentrate only on his teachings as comprising a new ethic to live by, while others were centering on the Spirit of Christ present in the worshiping community. But the cross wouldn’t fade into the background; somehow it was not only not to be avoided, but it represented the core truth of Jesus and his gospel.

That’s when the Servant Songs of Isaiah suddenly burst upon the Christology of the early Church, and with an energy that transformed their memory of the suffering Jesus into a picture of redemptive fulfillment. Philip opened the eyes of the Ethiopian eunuch to see how in the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, the sovereignty of God broke into the fallen world with a love that heals, welcomes, and forgives all. The eunuch understood immediately what all this meant for him personally: he got “cleaned up,” turned his life around, and entered into the joy of salvation.

LUKE 24:36b-48

36 Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

What proved eventually to have more persuasive value than the appearance stories that were circulating among Christians was what might be called the “argument from the scriptures.” Since the Jewish population made up the major field of earliest Christian outreach, a basis for believing in Jesus as God’s messiah had to be generated out of the writings and traditions that held their respect. Granted an undeniable liberty in the early Christian handling of the texts, there was still something to be said for the discernible current of God’s promise in scripture and its fulfillment in history.

Whether their method used in interpreting the Bible was water-tight and logically sound or not, these early believers found confirmation of their resurrection experience in the sacred texts. The writings themselves testified to a process unfolding through time, various names for which were grace, blessing, redemption, and salvation.

Time and again, this grace had broken through and passed beyond the obstacles of human neglect, habit, rebellion, and oppression, in order to achieve its realization at the next level and for a new generation. What to all appearances had been ignored as without value, discarded as useless and abandoned as hopeless, had become, time and again, the very means through which the divine blessing advanced.

That’s what had happened! What had seemed dead and gone was experienced as alive and present, gathering heat like a glowing ember in the depths of the heart, where hope is born ever new.

MATTHEW 7:21-29

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29 for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

If you were to poll a large number of true believers in the world today and ask them what, really, is the point of their religion, they will no doubt answer with a variety of responses. Freedom from guilt, membership in a community, positive values, an enlarged sense of belonging, weekly inspiration, and everlasting security would certainly make the list. Answers to metaphysical questions, participation in sacred rituals, and the cultivation of religious disciplines (prayer, meditation, fasting, study) would probably be somewhere, though not as high as the first set.

Many put their religion on for show, quoting Bible verses, spouting prophecies, calling out the Antichrist, and performing “miracles” before spellbound crowds. For them, religion is a public performance. Popular “evangeltainers” lead personality cults for their own attention, glory, and luxury. A large segment of society is happy to watch (and donate) as they manage the stage and promote their empires.

What about Jesus? How would he have answered the question about the real point of his religion? Going to church? Feeling relieved of guilt? Having a platform from which he could accuse others and grab glory for himself? Getting his soul safely to heaven in the next life? Actually, none of these. For Jesus, religion wasn’t about what the ego needs or believes it deserves. Instead religion is about action – doing the will of God.

But what is that, the will of God? It is about making a difference for others: lifting up the poor, reaching out to the sick, encouraging those who have lost hope, emancipating the human spirit, and speaking up for those The System doesn’t count or care about. Go to church if you want. Ponder and debate the doctrines of orthodoxy if that’s your thing. At the end of the day, the real question is how authentic, fearless, and far-reaching your love is. True love changes things.

ISAIAH 49:8-16a

Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
    on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
    to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
    on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Lo, these shall come from far away,
    and lo, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
    and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.

The writer known as Second (Deutero-) Isaiah flourished in ministry during the Babylonian exile (587-538 BCE) and lived among the community of those who had been taken from their homes in Jerusalem. Defeat by the Babylonian army and deportation to a foreign land induced an identity crisis of the first order. When your monotheistic beliefs trace the causality of what befalls you to the will of God, every upset and loss begs the question: Why?

Especially when a respectable reputation and your honest efforts at living right still land you in a dark and painful place, this question of the relation of your suffering to God’s will can cut deep into your faith. There were many contemporaries left behind in Jerusalem (Zion, the mount on which the temple was built had become a synonym for Jerusalem itself) who felt compelled to conclude that God had simply forgotten his covenant with Israel. Divine amnesia was at least more theologically sustainable than the idea that God had deliberately abandoned them.

Away in Babylon, Isaiah was hearing similar cries among the exiles. God had promised a long and prosperous future to his people. What happened? Were they being punished for some unbeknownst sin – perhaps for the sins of their ancestors? This was one answer. But Second Isaiah (along with a fellow exile who adapted the story of Job) insisted on the innocence of his generation, and outright rejected the popular idea that God punishes children for the sins of their parents.

Following an insight that would later have revolutionary implications in the Christian era, Isaiah turned the crisis of exile into redemptive suffering on behalf of the entire nation. His generation, a collective taken as an individual, had served as the ratifying sacrifice of God’s renewed covenant of blessing. Their affliction and loss had opened a new future of hope and salvation for everyone.