Do Not Resist Evil

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39, NKJV)

      Is the path to peace laid through fear? Sometimes. It’s like disciplining a child. If a child can be helped to recognize there is a negative price to pay for a harmful action, he might refrain from negative actions. It’s a beginning for learning “you reap what you sow.” Yet too many reactions, parental and otherwise, are based on emotions and inaccurate information rather than based in truth. That’s why time is necessary to allow for a mature and appropriate response.

Fear as a preventive tactic does not eradicate the reason for disharmony or discontent. It’s like treating a symptom and not providing a cure. You have to keep generating fear to establish a forced peace…and thus, there can never be true peace.

Is the path to harmony found through a gun? Or a bomb? Or a drone?

Shock and awe? That one sure backfired. Terrorism has multiplied after that display of military power.

Yes, there’s evil in the world. No doubt. And it would be great to get rid of it. How do you do this?

First, let’s revisit what evil is when applied to this teaching from Jesus.

The clearest definition I’ve found comes from the Aramaic word Jesus probably used (bisa) and the Gospel writer replaced with the Greek word ponēros. And then English translators changed to evil. You tell me if you think they mean the same as your definition for evil.

     Bisa means “unripe, not fit for its intended purpose, corrupt, not ready, out of rhythm, immature.”

     Ponēros means full of labors, annoyances, hardships; bringing toils, annoyances, perils.”

     Evil = your definition________________________________________.

      The Aramaic word points to the core reason for the actions that become harmful or annoying or laborious. Lack of development. Lack of maturity. Lack of focus on the reason for which it was created. And yet it also suggests a potential for improvement. What’s immature can become mature.

tomato 1     When I look at my tomatoes on the vine, I can easily see the unripe tomatoes. I don’t bother them. I can’t force them to become ripe simply by commanding them to ripen faster or I’ll cut them off. I have to make sure they get the water, nutrition, and sunlight they need to mature into the good fruit they were created to be.

The potential is there. And I have to see that potential before I will do what I need to do to allow the natural course of events to occur so the tomato can develop and become a mature fruit, suited for the purpose for which it was created.

If someone slaps me, there will be a price to pay. “For whatsoever you sow, that’s what you’ll reap.” But it’s not up to me to become the Grim Punisher. Maybe the slap was part of my reaping what I sowed earlier. The laws of the Universe will take a more appropriate and fairer toll than I could mete out.

It takes a stronger person to restrain their emotions and reactions than to react improperly in an attempt to repay an evil, immature, undeveloped person with the same harm he/she perpetrated.

Do not resist immature, unripe, undeveloped people. Jesus is the model. Repaying evil with evil only proves your own level of development and leads to a never-ending cycle of immaturity, unripeness, and undeveloped actions. Instead, try to discover what it takes to help the undeveloped one reach his or her potential for goodness.

Then everyone can live together in peace.

 

Share
Posted in Interpretation, Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Efforts Matter for the Kingdom of God

Mark 4:26-32

      Each Gospel has its own perspective of Jesus and his life. Some have said it’s because the authors were writing to different audiences. That seems likely for Matthew (to Jews) and Luke (to Gentiles), but for Mark and John, there isn’t as clear of a distinction. Others think that the four Gospels represent different groups of believers and how they differed in the way they understood Jesus and his life…kind of like the beginning of denominations. And doesn’t that make sense? Was there ever a time when anyone agreed upon the same thing?

     So what was the understanding about Jesus by the group that had been hearing and teaching the Gospel of Mark? If you read the whole Gospel, you’ll get the feeling that nobody, not even the disciples, understood Jesus or his mission. The disciples never get it. The original end of this Gospel is verse 8 where the women run away from the tomb and don’t tell anyone. A curious way to end the story. Verses 9-20 were added in the fourth century.

     Back to chapter 4. In verse 12, Jesus quotes Isaiah, repeating God’s instruction to teach in parables so that the people won’t understand and be able to turn their lives around for the forgiveness of sins.

     I have to be honest. I don’t get that. Why didn’t God want people to understand the meaning of parables? Why didn’t God want them to turn around so their sins could be forgiven? If you have the answer, please enlighten us all.

     Of course, since the disciples didn’t understand the parable of the Sower either, Jesus explained it to them.

     Then Jesus talked about a lamp and not hiding it under a basket or bed. I think he was referring to himself. He came to enlighten the world. Set the Lamp on a lampstand for all to see and be enlightened.

plowing 2     “Take heed what you hear – with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” How attentive are you to learning what Jesus had to teach? How focused are you on gaining spiritual understanding? If you intensely work at it, much will come from your efforts.

     Then Jesus tells two parables (vs. 26-32) about the kingdom of God. They seem logical. No one knows how or when seeds will grow. It’s the earth (soil) that causes them to grow and produce fruit. Then someone comes along and harvests it. Second, small seeds grow into big bushes that can shelter many creatures.

     The curious part is that the seeds represent the kingdom of God. No one knows how the kingdom of God grows. It just grows when the conditions and soil are right. It starts very small. And when it grows, it protects many creatures.

     The kingdom of God (same thing as kingdom of heaven) isn’t a magical place that is the destination of all believers after they’re dead. It’s something that grows here and now. The kingdom of God grows in places where the conditions are right for it to grow. It won’t grow in places where it is dry, hard, cold, or barren. It needs warmth, moisture, nourishment, and quality of earth/soil (as in the parable of the Sower).

     I suppose the question remains from the parable of the Sower: how’s your soil? Have you tilled it and invested the effort so that the kingdom of God can grow in you? “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

     I spent a lot more time on this in my book, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real and It’s Open to Everyone!

     It reminds me of Jesus’s teaching in Matthew – Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. However intensely you seek the kingdom of God is the measure you will receive. Your efforts matter.

Share
Posted in Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus, the Serpent, and Eternal Life

John 3:15

     How about another twist on the John 3 text? “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up that whoever believes in him should have eternal life.”

     Prior to the Dark Ages (aka, Middle Ages, 6th – 12th centuries) serpents had a pretty good reputation in many societies. Historically, serpents and snakes represented fertility or a creative life force. They were symbols of rebirth and transformation because they shed their skin through sloughing. They were also symbols of immortality and healing.

     One symbol in particular is the ouroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. It takes the shape of a circle, a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life. The ouroboros often symbolizes self-reflexivity or cyclicality in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.

     Carl Jung said the ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself.

     In some Abrahamic traditions, the serpent represents sexual desire. According to some interpretations of the Midrash, the serpent represents sexual passion. In Hinduism, Kundalini is a coiled serpent, the residual power of pure desire.(1)

     It’s been confusing for me to understand why Jesus paralleled the lifting up of himself on the cross to the snake/serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness…until I learned of the positive image Jesus probably held of serpents. He would become the image of immortality for all.

     Jesus is the Christian symbol for immortality, for healing, for rebirth, for regeneration, and the creative life force. He is our symbol for sloughing off the dead skin of the flesh (our earthly desires) in order to become a new person…born again, born from above.

     Just as Moses lifted up the 10 Commandments as a guide for his people to turn from death to life, Jesus has been lifted up as a guide to help us move from death into a new and abundant life (eternal life – the quality of life God intends for each of us) in the world today. He symbolizes the law of love that is to be lifted up so that all who trust in him and his teachings can be healed and have eternal life today.

     Serpents, like commandments, have lost their ability to keep people from perishing (if they ever had that ability). Yet, Jesus will always be looked to by those who recognize they are perishing. When they look to Christ (follow his example of love) they can begin the quality of life God intends for them to have in the world today – eternal life.

     This is even better news than one might think. Just like serpents need to shed their skins many times in one lifetime, we too need to be reborn, renewed, regenerated as we get snake-bit by fleshly desires, ebbing and flowing toward and away from the example set by Jesus. With each cycle, we can grow in our trust that following His example will lead us back to life.

 

(1) Wikipedia.

Share
Posted in Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Born of Water and Spirit – Meditation

John 3:1-17

 “No one can see/understand the kingdom of God without being born again.”

“No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”

      My readings into Aramaic offer a new translation/interpretation of this popular Gospel text from John 3 that can simply be a reference to the spiritual practice of meditation. Neil Douglas-Klotz says that the Aramaic version of the word for “born again” uses the same form that refers to being born from the beginning (and that refers to way back to the beginning, as in returning to the way we were created originally, in the image of God – complete, whole, good). The word for “water” uses the same form as the Hebrew in Genesis 1:2, which also means the flowing, chaotic darkness. And the Aramaic word for “spirit” can also mean “breath” (just like Greek and Hebrew). This parallels the creation story when the “spirit/breath of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

     If you noticed, the spirit referred to in the text is not attached to the word “Holy.” This is an assumption made by clerics and theologians who tend to be attached to fourth century theologies. Translators even capitalize the word “spirit” to make sure you don’t think any different. What if John really meant “breath” instead of the third person of the Trinity? That would mess up a lot of baptismal interpretations so commonly applied here.

     Klotz suggests that Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he needed to “recreate the creation story within himself by returning to the primordial darkness from which the light first arose, using his own spirit-breath as a vehicle.”

meditation     Darkness does not imply evil. It signifies the unknown.

     In other words, to enter a place of harmony and unity within yourself (the kingdom of heaven), you need to establish a practice of meditation, learning to follow the breath into your inner self. In meditation, you seek the Divine Unknown within you who reveals the truth (which in Aramaic means “right or harmonious direction; that which liberates and opens possibilities, or is strong and vigorous”).

     Klotz says, “To be reborn from the breath by following the sensation of it inside, into the seeming darkness and out again, is the foundation of many Western breathing therapies today. One steps off into the unknown, into what seems like the dark and foreboding place of one’s inner emotional life. With perseverance, one comes through to a new state of being.”1

     Wouldn’t it be a disappointment for many if Jesus was simply trying to teach Nicodemus the practice of meditation? Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel and he didn’t know the importance of going away (like Jesus often did) to enter into the primordial darkness in his own heart and enter into the presence of God, to unify the brokenness within.

     When you have found harmony, peace, unity with the One who made you in God’s image through meditation, the kingdom of heaven is within you. When the kingdom is within you, you can offer its peace and joy to those in the world around you. When that happens you can be a teacher of Israel (‘Israel’ means “one who struggles with God”) who offers them the truth – direction towards unity.

     Some will dismiss an interpretation like this as being New Age. But meditation isn’t something new. It’s much older than first century Aramaic. Meditation goes further back than Isaac meditating in the field as Rebekah arrived to be his bride (Gen. 24:63). And to David many years after that, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches” (Psalm 63:6).

     Yet it’s too easy to keep promoting that baptism in physical water and the third Person of the Trinity is what opens the gates to the kingdom of heaven – which stereotypically is a reference to life after you’re dead…a concept foreign to Jesus’s teachings. Jesus taught that the kingdom is at hand – not after death.

     Unless you set aside time to enter the primordial darkness through meditation, following the Breath inward to embrace the Unknown, you cannot enter a state of inner peace and unity.

     So, which interpretation is closer to truth for you? Which one liberates you and opens possibilities to new life?

 

1Neil Douglas-Klotz, The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus, (Quest Books: Wheaton, IL, 1999) 37-38, 51

Share
Posted in Interpretation, Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baptized with the Holy Goose

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

      Pentecost has always been a bit of a mystery for me. I think it’s one of the hardest events following the resurrection of Jesus to understand: the giving – or baptism – of the Holy Spirit.

 Domestic goose    I did find an interesting bit of trivia this week. The Celtic Christians didn’t choose the dove as their symbol for the Holy Spirit. They chose the wild goose. It sounds strange to us, but it has a long tradition in Ireland. The image of the dove has become so familiar to us, and in fact, we’ve made it sound like doves float in as light as a feather and land with hardly moving a blade of grass. Have you ever seen a dove land? Some of them aren’t so graceful. Sometimes when the Holy Spirit comes, it isn’t so graceful either. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is more like a wild goose descending on you and landing on your head.

     A wild goose can be one noisy, bothersome bird. But it’s not an improper image of the Holy Spirit who often has to jar us out of our complacency. Maybe it’s an image we need to shake us out of an overly safe and overly sweet image of the Spirit when it comes upon a person.

     When the Spirit came to people in the Bible, it never seemed to make dogmatic people happy. The results of the Spirit shocked and upset them. The Spirit inspired prophets to speak to Israel in words that were bold, in-your-face, and sometimes dangerous. Prophets were often noisy and bothersome to the religious establishment who made God all about rituals, sacrifice, and rules.

     John the Baptist was no dovelike image, and he said, “I baptize you with water but he who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  

     Maybe it was this Wild Goose of the Holy Spirit that entered Jesus when he preached his first sermon, quoting Isaiah and saying, “For the Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners/captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the time of God’s grace” (Luke 4:18).[1]

     That statement must have been shocking to the religious authorities. The poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed:  these were all the outcasts of society. The dogmatic leaders said God was punishing these people for their sins. It was a shock to hear a new rabbi say the Lord had sent him to help outcasts and sinners, not to berate them.

     The children of Israel had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years before Jesus’s birth. They celebrated Pentecost to commemorate the day Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. The Law was a good thing. It helped establish order for a large group of people. It set some boundaries that defined how people should treat each other.

     As good as laws might be in helping control the external behavior of some people, it cannot change anyone’s heart. And in reality, the celebration was only lip service because the righteous authorities were constantly  ignoring the poor and the sick. That’s what Ezekiel said was the sin of Sodom – “arrogance, overfed, and unconcerned about helping the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49-51). Several prophets told the people, “You honor God with your lips but not with your hearts.” This is the continuing mantra of prophets today.

     So why didn’t God, in the manner of the Old Testament, destroy Jerusalem for killing His Son? Because the truth is — God is good, all the time. The Son who came to reveal the image of the Father said, “I am the truth.”

     On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were shaken by a Spirit that filled them with the fire of passion for this message. They spoke boldly about the wonderful works of God. They proclaimed the things they had witnessed in and through Jesus.

     I wonder if that is what being baptized by the Holy Spirit is all about? When you become so convinced about the truth – that God is good and has been good since the beginning of time – that it puts a smile on your face and a dance in your step.

     People don’t become godly because the Holy Spirit inspires them to follow laws. A change has to take place internally that causes them to fall on their knees in awe – and the only thing that can do that is recognizing the complete goodness of God. The apostle Paul wrote to one of the churches, “Don’t you know that it’s the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?” It’s the goodness of God, not the fear of God, that has the power to change you on the inside.

     The Holy Spirit’s work is to create such certainty of faith in us, an unshakable trust that Jesus Christ has shown us the fullness of the Father and we are convinced we have no reason to fear anything in death. You might be surprised at Martin Luther’s explanation of the role of the Holy Spirit that I found in the Church Postils.

     When the Holy Spirit suggests that you let go of some of the laws in the Bible, that’s when the Holy Spirit feels like a not-so-holy Goose coming in for a landing. It shakes you up and frightens you a little until you get your bearings again.

     Yet, there are times when the Holy Spirit may be more like a softly crashing dove, or like the soft flame of a candle, or even the flip of a light switch when a light bulb goes on in your head and you realize the truth and you say, “I get it! Jesus has shown us the heavenly Father.”

     Instead of fearing Laws that threaten you, you become inspired to be good for Goodness’ sake. You become inspired to love your neighbor because you realize the Divine Breath of the Spirit entered your neighbor when he or she took their first gasp of air, too. All have received the Holy Breath of Life. You can start to treat your neighbor like you would treat God’s own Son, because all of us are God’s sons and daughters who have received the Breath of Life.

     When the Holy Spirit hits you with this truth, you are set free to live with boldness and joy and confidence because you know that all is well with your soul. When the Holy Spirit comes, you will look at Jesus and say what Thomas said when he saw Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, “My Lord, and my God!  I get it! I finally get it! This is the good news! I’ve got to tell someone – God is good…all the time!”

 

[1] Mickey Anders, The Wild Goose, Acts 2:1-13, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc. ChristianGlobe Illustrations

 

Share
Posted in Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Name of God

 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.”      John 17:6 (NRSV)

     What is the name of God that Jesus made known to his disciples? Was it Yahweh? Or Jehovah? Or El-Shaddai? None of these terms are found in the Gospels. Maybe God’s name is Father? That’s the only name Jesus calls the One to whom he prays in this Gospel.

     Jesus did more than tell us how God should be addressed (which, when you think about it, would be in violation of the Jewish law to speak God’s name).

     What is the name of God that Jesus is referring to? I spent a little more time explaining it in the second chapter of my book, The Lord’s Prayer: Finding New Meanings Within the Language Jesus Spoke. Briefly, in the Old Testament, a person’s name revealed something about their character or their nature. It wasn’t merely what you called him or her when dinner was ready.

     One Greek concordance in explaining “name” says

“By a usage chiefly Hebraistic the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is roused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i. e. for one’s rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds, etc.).

     A name is a reflection of your character, more like your reputation or the way people feel about you when your name is mentioned. Jesus revealed God’s true character.

     The NKJV of verse 6 gives a clearer interpretation of the Greek verb translated above as “made known.” It reads: “I have manifested your name to the men you have given me out of the world.”

     To manifest is to demonstrate or reveal. “I have demonstrated your name…”

     “I have demonstrated your character, your nature, to the men…”

     So what is God’s nature? What is God’s character?

     Love.

     God’s name is not “just” or “righteous.” The justice/righteousness (they come from the same Greek word) Jesus showed was in treating everyone with compassion rather than punishing them for their errors like the earlier notions of God.

     God’s name, as demonstrated by Jesus, was not vengeful. Avenging was a Jewish view of God before they met the image of God face to face.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

     In fact, God’s name is the underlying theme of two of my books, How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and 30 Days to Loving God with All Your Heart.

      God’s name is healing…guiding…caring…self-denying…self-sacrificing…willing to lay down his own life for sinners.

     God’s name is Love. And Jesus demonstrated it to us.

Share
Posted in Interpretation, Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

You Are Not Powerless

 

     Have you ever gone into a department store to return a product that was damaged, or that didn’t work properly the first time you used it? You go up to the return counter, a bit upset because you had to make a special trip into town to get this resolved. Needless to say you’re defenses are up. It doesn’t matter that you are past the return date allowance. It’s just not right.  And so, you go up to the poor little high school girl at the counter, and start explaining your frustration. Wide-eyed, she looks at you, and when you are finished, she says, “I’m sorry, sir, store policy says we can’t take it after 30 days.” And you say, “But I didn’t need to use it until now. It’s a lemon! It doesn’t work!”

     Heartlessly, she replies, “I’m sorry, sir, store rules say we can’t take it after 30 days. I didn’t make the rules. I just work here. I’m the hired hand. I’m powerless to change anything. But if you like, I’ll get the store manager.” And she runs out of there, never to be seen again. 

store clerk     The store manager comes out, listens attentively to you repeat the same story, and then says, “No problem. I’ll be glad to take care of that for you.” And your defensiveness evaporates like your breath evaporates in sub-freezing air.

     The hard part about being a hired hand is that you can’t bypass the rules. You don’t have the power or authority. And then you have to watch as the store manager steps over the rules to help the customer. There’s some frustration in not having the power to do the right thing.

     Is that how you feel? In the Old Testament, there are lots of rules (613 store policies). Here you are, the little clerk behind the counter, feeling like you have to promote and enforce all those rules. It’s frustrating when an irate person comes in and says, “This isn’t working for me. I need you to change the rule for me.”

     You know that if anyone sees you being lenient to this person, then everybody will take advantage and want the rules changed for them, too. And you can’t have that kind of disorder.  Everything would be mayhem without the rules to give us order and structure.

     But then we turn to the New Testament and we see Jesus sidestepping some of the Old Testament rules for people.

     Sorry, the argument but he’s the Son of God doesn’t give him anymore power to do the right thing than it gives you.

     Everyone was made in the image of God (hence a son or daughter of God), and everyone has the authority to do the right thing.

     Jesus let his disciples harvest some grain on the Sabbath so they could eat and nourish their bodies. That’s officially against store policy. The disciples weren’t starving. They were simply hungry.

     Jesus stepped over the Sabbath rule and healed a man’s withered hand. The man’s condition wasn’t life-threatening. The healing could have waited until the Sabbath was over.

    Jesus assumed the power to step over the rule that said a woman caught in adultery should be stoned. Jesus didn’t even reprimand her. He said, “I don’t condemn you. Just don’t do it anymore” – as in “you’re hurting yourself more than anyone else, God included.” 

     Jesus reminded the Pharisees, who were hired hands, that they didn’t follow all the rules. In Mark 7, Jesus said to them, “God’s will is that you honor your parents, and that children who curse their parents be put to death.”  He quoted store policy to them. Then he said, “Yet, you law-abiders find ways to get around the rules you don’t want to follow.” They were finding ways of not supporting their parents in their old age. And why weren’t they putting children to death who cursed their parents?

     Those who put their trust in the Law, who make their God a God of rules, make the rules more important than the people for whom the rules were given to serve. Jesus said, “The hired hands don’t care about the people.” They care more about the rules.

     If you care about people you don’t need rules to guide you to know how to love.

     Martin Luther, in one of his sermons, reminded us that the law was given to serve love, not to be served. He said, “Love is the only law for Christians.”

     The point of being in this business of religion is not to enforce the rules. The point of being in this business is to love God, your neighbor, your enemy, and each other as you love yourself.

     You are not powerless. You are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament says love is the fulfillment of the law. You have the power to love, and in doing so, you will fulfill the law.

     Our new store policy is simplified in 1 John: “And this is His commandment, that we should trust in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”

     You are not a hired hand. You are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the right thing. With Jesus guiding you, the Spirit gives you the authority to step over the rules when they do not serve love. So when the original rules do not serve the welfare of people, then you, as His followers, have the authority, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus’ example of love instead of the policy manual.

John 10:11-18; 1 John 3:16-23

 

Share
Posted in Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christ’s Hands and Feet

 

hands5     One summer between college terms, I took a job working for the City of Indianapolis Dept. of Transportation. The first day I reported for work, I walked in to meet my new boss, a crusty war-horse in a wooden chair with those squeaky rolling casters on the legs. He said, “Come here, boy, and let me see your hands.”

    Then he grabbed my hands and started rubbing the inside of my fingers and palms. I knew what he was looking for. He wanted to see if there was any sign or evidence that this greenhorn, college educated student was accustomed to hard work. Were there calluses on my hands? Did my hands show the marks of wear and tear? My hands would provide the evidence of who I was and if I would be of any real value in the work that needed to be done.

     I was reminded of this when I thought about what happened on the evening of that first Easter day. The disciples were assembled together in a closed room—shocked at what had happened to their Teacher two days earlier, angry but also fearful of what might happen to them, and at the same time, very confused about the reports they were hearing.

     Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter, and then to two disciples as they were walking to Emmaus. What was going on?  As they were discussing these things, Jesus himself stood among them.   They were startled and terrified. They thought that they were seeing a ghost.

     Jesus understood they needed proof that he was real. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do you doubt what you are seeing? Look at my hands and my feet; it’s me! Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then he asked for some food, a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it in their presence. Ghosts don’t eat real food. He proved who He was through his physical being.

     Jesus’s hands and his feet provided the evidence that He was who He said He was. His palms and His feet showed the marks of the nails He had to bear given to him from a world that was opposed to the Prince of Peace.  His hands and feet showed the evidence of the work they had done–bearing pain for the sake of the world.

     So do you have any marks on you that prove that you follow Christ? Show me your hands and feet. Bringing peace into the lives of others often will leave scars and callouses on one’s hands, and feet, and body – signs of physical wear to the body – these are the proof of a person who is following the way of the Prince of Peace.

     Scars and signs of abuse are also the evidence that Christ is alive today. Nonresistance to violence will put holes in your flesh, literally. Yet it is the way of Christ.

     Most Christians are not accustomed to thinking of themselves as Christ in the flesh. But Martin Luther said we are little Christs. In the New Testament, St. Paul told the church in Corinth, “Don’t you know that Christ is within you?” He is risen in and through you.

     To be a Christian is to know that Christ dwells in you and lives through you again. He continues His work of healing and peace through your hands and your feet. If He lives in you, that makes you the risen Christ who stands rooms around your community, trying to show the world that He is truly alive today.

     Wearing a gold cross or putting a fish emblem on your car or quoting the Bible prove hands1your claim to be a Christian but they don’t always prove that Christ is within you and that you follow the teachings and ways of the Prince of Peace. There are lots of people who have those symbols on them but who have no marks on their hands or feet that show they have fed the hungry, or cared for the homeless, or visited the sick or prisoners, or that they’ve laid down their time and life to help and show love to their neighbor. 

     So what shows up when you turn over your hands and take off your shoes? Do your hands and feet show the marks of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and bearing the pain of others? Is Christ alive in you? Is He continuing His work through you?

*  *  *

Luke 24:36b-48

 

Share
Posted in Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Do Not Resist an Evildoer

 

       Do not resist an evildoer. That’s a hard thing to do. It goes against human nature. And that’s why following Jesus is so difficult. This is how he said it:

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Matt. 5:38–42

     I wrote a blog about a specific text, John 20:19-23, in which Jesus was teaching his disciples how they should respond to his crucifixion – retaliation is never the right answer in dealing with evil.

     Jesus wasn’t the first person to teach that wisdom is applied when you respond to evil with good. Many faith traditions have taught variations of this same concept.

     Yet just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore it. Here are some wisdom sayings agree with Jesus’s philosophy.

One can only overcome anger with kindness. One can only conquer evil with good… One can only win the miser by generosity… One can only convince the liar with truth…Dhammapada 223—Buddhism

Hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal. Dhammapada 5Buddhism

Return love for hate. Tao Te Ching 63Taoism

It is the determination of the spotless not to do evil, even in return, to those who have cherished enmity and done them evil. Tirukkural 312—Hinduism

Of what gain is perfect goodness if it does not do good to all, even to those who have done painful things to others. Tirukkural 987Hinduism

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink. Proverbs 25:21—Judaism

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Luke 6:27–28—Jesus, Christianity

Goodness and evil can never be equal. Repel evil with what is better (or best). Then see: the one between whom and you there was enmity has become a bosom friend. Qur’an 41.34Islam

If there is cause to hate someone, the cause to love has just begun. Wolof proverb (Senegal) African Traditional Religions

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 1 Thess. 5:15—Paul, Christianity

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21­—Paul, Christianity

      The world would be a better place if those who profess belief in a religion would follow the wisdom that leads to unity instead of retaliating for evil that has been done.

 

Share
Posted in Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings

 

     It seems appropriate for me to post a prayer for Good Friday that arose from a sermon of Martin Luther’s in the Church Postils as we come to the end of Holy Week.

     I developed the prayers in my book, Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther: Finding Freedom in Love, by sorting through the major themes in Luther’s explanations of the gospel texts. Sometimes there were three or four sermons for a single text, so I sometimes condensed 30,000 words into 300. It was tedious work, but I benefited the most from the effort. Martin Luther gave me the freedom to depart from the entrenched institution when love is being denied or displaced by law.

     Here’s a quote from his sermon on how to contemplate Christ’s sufferings, and the subsequent prayer:

  1. There you will find the divine, good father heart, and, as Christ says, be thus drawn to the Father through Christ. Then will you understand the saying of Christ in John 3, 16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” etc. That means to know God aright, if we apprehend him not by his power and wisdom, which terrify us, but by his goodness and love; there our faith and confidence can then stand immovable and man is truly thus born anew in God. (Vol. 2:190)

*  *  *

A Prayer for Good Friday

How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings

Suffering Lord,

On this day of judgment, O Christ, You took my place. It does me no good to blame others for what was done to You. And I can’t just go through the motions of meditating on Your sacrifice, thinking I benefit by doing so. Free my spirit to weep for myself and what I personally have done to inflict this pain on You. Why would the eternal wisdom of God established in You, the Son, ask You to suffer such agony for me? Give me courage to consider the depths of this question.

I have shown disdain for You by the way I have lived the life You breathed into me. The works of my hands drove the nails into Your hands. My wicked thoughts pressed the thorny crown into Your holy brow. Forgive me for the contempt I have shown. I have been living in false security and ignorance. I deserve to go through what You went through a thousand times.

In Your mercy and compassion, soften my heart so that I can understand what You did. Lead me to greater comprehension of why You did this, that I might glimpse an inkling of Your grace. On my own, I haven’t been able to discover the depth of Your love for me.

Only You know the way into my heart and what is required to turn to You. Rather than trust that I am able to cover the stain of my sin with good deeds and religious rituals, guide me to pour the reservoir of my sin into Your wounds. Bring me the peace of knowing You loved me enough to willingly bear my punishment.

Now that sin’s price is paid and the pain has been borne, I will watch in awe as the resurrection swallows and destroys my sin, along with the rest of the world’s sin. O happy day! Grant me trust beyond doubt that all debt is satisfied and no sin remains. Faith like this can only come as a gift from You.

I declare sin and all wrongdoing to be my enemies. I want to live to please You and bring glory to God. The love and goodness I see in Your sacrifice for the world far exceeds all the power or wisdom I have attributed to Your Being. May the sufferings You experienced be the model for my life.

When trials cause me pain, let me remember the nails and thorns that pierced Your skin. When I, as Your follower, am pressured to do what I don’t want to do, let me remember how You were led where You didn’t want to go. When pride attacks me and calls me foolish for sacrificing myself for others, let me recall how You were mocked and disgraced. Take away any fear that makes me think following You will bring greater suffering than blessing. Teach me to incorporate Your life into my life, for You showed the way of eternal life. Amen.

[Each prayer is followed by one or two verses of a hymn written by Martin Luther.]

  1. Strange and dreadful was the fray,

When Death and Life contended;

But ’twas Life that won the day,

And Death’s dark sway was ended.

Holy Scripture plainly saith,

Death is swallowed up of Death,

Put to scorn and led in triumph. 

Hallelujah!

  1. This, the Paschal Lamb, the Christ,

Whom God so freely gave us,

On the cross is sacrificed

In flames of love to save us.

On our door the blood-mark:—Faith

Holds it in the face of Death.

The Destroyer can not harm us.

Hallelujah!

(Luther 1884b)

 

Share
Posted in Books | Leave a comment