The Great Commission Explained in 165 Words

Matt. 28:16-20 

The Greek word for disciples means “students.”

The Greek word for baptize means “immerse or overwhelm.”

In biblical times, a person’s name was a reference to his/her nature or character. David means “the beloved.” Abraham means “the father of many.” Jacob means “one who deceives.” Israel means “one who struggles with God.”

The Greek word for God means “light.” The Aramaic word for God (Alaha) means “unity or oneness.” The character of God as revealed in Christ is “love”—which unites all in oneness.

How do we attempt to make students of God? We are people made in the image of God, temples of the Holy Spirit. “Go, therefore and make students of all people, immersing them in the Love/Unity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

How do we teach people to follow Jesus’s teachings? By example. By loving Unity. By loving ourselves. By loving our neighbors. By loving our enemies. By loving each other. Unconditionally and without judgment.

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

Two eBooks FREE Today

 

     Today you can download two of my ebooks that have never been in a special promotion for FREE. I hope you can take advantage of it. I listed them in yesterday’s blog post, but wouldn’t you know it, I got one of them wrong. So I corrected it and I’m mentioning it again today. They can be downloaded May 9, 10, and 11.

Click on this link to download for FREE today!

Click on this link to download for FREE today!

 

Share
Posted in Home page | Leave a comment

The Pure Milk of the Word

  1 Peter 2:2-10   &   John 14:1-14    

     If you were given some crayons and paper and your goal was to draw an image of God, what would you draw? We start developing an image of God when we are very small. That image is usually a combination of the descriptions given to us by well-meaning parents, classmates, Sunday School teachers, and pastors. As children, we are very impressionable. Children are unable to question for themselves whether what they are hearing is true or not. They don’t doubt the wisdom of their teachers—and yet, most of our earliest teachers were not biblical scholars. Most were parents or siblings telling us what they learned in Sunday School, or what they had learned when they were children. If you went to Sunday School, more than likely your teacher was not theologically trained.

     For a young child, Jesus and God are not the same person. The undeveloped brain of a child cannot conceive that they are one. So they are two completely different entities. It’s easy to love Jesus. He’s a baby in a manger, with all those sweet animals around him, and the presents he received, are quickly connected with the presents you received when you learned about him. Then the stories of Jesus healing people and doing miracles. What’s not to like about Jesus?

     Do you remember the first stories that made an impression on you as you learned about God? How about Noah and the ark? We teach it because children love the stories about animals and rainbows. But the story behind the zoo animals was that God drowned all the bad people because he was mad at them. I remember questioning that part of the story. Even though God said he was sorry and painted a beautiful rainbow in the sky. Something about the reason for the story happening didn’t fit in with zoo animals and rainbows. It instilled the fear of God in me. The bad kind of fear, not the awe kind of fear.

     As a little boy, my favorite stories were of David killing Goliath, with God’s help and approval; and Samson killing his enemies by bringing the building down on them…all in the name of – and for the glory of God. And God drowning all of Pharoah’s soldiers in the Red Sea. And of sending poisonous snakes to kill thousands of the children of Israel because they were carrying statues and praying to them. God was someone to suck up to so that he wouldn’t hurt you.

     I’m not sure that if this Father had a son I’d want to let my guard down around him. And I didn’t for many years. Something about the Jewish image of God and Jesus never matched. I couldn’t figure that out. Even though my teachers kept telling me that Jesus’s Father was the same as the God of Israel.

     Martin Luther stated in a sermon that people tend to act like the image of God imprinted on their hearts. Think about that. It means if your early impression of God was as a righteous judge and giver of punishment to those who sin, then you might lean toward being judgmental and demanding in meting out punishment for everyone’s offenses. If Jesus has changed your image of God to being loving, compassionate, accepting, and forgiving, then you may be more loving, compassionate, accepting, and forgiving in your own actions. Who you are in your actions reflects the image of God you hold within yourself.

     What does God look like to you? If God were looking for a new publicist, someone who could accurately promote His image, would you qualify for the job? The first accurate publicist for God was Jesus. I say that because last week, we heard Jesus say, “All who came before me were false teachers.” Jesus promoted a different image of God from all who came before him. Jesus said to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Healing the sick instead of inflicting disease on people because of their sin, eating with outcasts, speaking to women and Gentiles, teaching things different than the Jewish scriptures. That’s quite a turnaround. Most people don’t want to believe that all they’ve been taught might not be accurate.

     The apostle Paul publicized a new image of God to the church in Colossia, describing Jesus as the image of the invisible God. . . in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col. 1:15, 19). Those who were in religious power ended up having Paul crucified upside-down.

     Jesus came to reveal a new image of God. He was crucified. Stephen was stoned. Paul was crucified. All for promoting an image of God that was different from the tradition. What this tells us is that if you mess with changing the image of God that has been handed down through the Hebrew scriptures, you’re going to get crucified, have rocks thrown at you, and get turned on your head by the religious folks, no matter if they are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.

     The Gospel of John opened with, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son…who has made Him known” (John 1:18). Jesus came to erase an image of God who is waiting in righteousness to drive nails of punishment into sinners’ hands when they disobey His commandments. Jesus reversed all vengeful images of God when He accepted those nails of punishment to himself and in the end said, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

     I already indicated in my two books about how to love God with all your heart that I believe the translation of John 14:6 should have been, “No one comes to know the Father except through me.” The next verse validates my translation. “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well” (John 14:7). That’s the whole point of verses 6-11. Jesus liberates us from any fear we could have of a God who wants to hurt us if and when we fail.

     Peter’s letter said, “Like newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word.” What is the pure milk of the word? He goes on to explain: It’s tasting that the Lord is gracious. God is good — ALL the time. And that’s the good news. The gospel is that Jesus Christ showed us the truth about God. Even a child would like that news.

+  +  +

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY!

on Tuesday – Thursday/ MAY 9, 10, 11 (2017)

two of my ebooks will be FREE on Amazon!

30 Days to Loving God with All Your Heart ebook

In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today ebook

DON’T MISS OUT!

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

Bible Translation Changes Are Needed

Matthew 5:17-20

     More than ever, I believe we need a better translation of the Bible. I say that about the New Testament because I’m focused on Christian teachings. The Jews can do whatever they want with their holy writings. They know Hebrew better than anyone. But the Christian writings were written in Greek. They are the “new” witness for a new faith tradition. Even though I believe the wisdom of the ages lies hidden deep within the Torah and wisdom teachings of the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean I think the whole of Jewish law is what Jesus wanted us to follow.

     Clearly Jesus disagreed with many Hebrew scriptures. Just read the Sermon on the Mount and you’ll get a list of “you have heard it said…but I tell you…”s.

     When I was doing my research and retranslation of the texts about divorce and remarriage for my newest book, specifically the text in Luke 16, I dropped my jaw when I interpreted verse 17. You can find my explanation of Luke’s text on divorce in chapter six. I knew there was a comparable text in Matthew. If the two didn’t agree, I knew I would be treading on thin ice. So I jumped over to Matthew to see if the two passages agreed with each other. They do. And it confirms my angst about how a thousand years of conditioning made King James translators unable to correct a possible error of Jerome. If it wasn’t Jerome’s error, then the Englishmen get all the blame.

     What surprises me more is that the biblical scholarship of the 20th and 21st centuries has not corrected this mistake. The blind continue to lead the blind. I’m not sure that I’m going to make a difference, but at least, I’m not keeping it to myself.

     Jesus was killed because he was teaching contrary to tradition and because he placed people above religious law and ritual. Why then would he, in his most influential Sermon on the Mount, say that not a stroke of the law will end?

     Because he didn’t say it. King James’ translators said he said it.

     Let me show you what I think Matthew really wanted to convey about what Jesus taught.

     First, I’m going to let you read what traditional translations have carried on from the KJV. Keep in mind that after Jesus spoke the words in verses 17-20 (of the fifth chapter of Matthew), he went on to declare six “laws” or practices that had been passed down by the tradition as teachings he did not endorse. You’ll have to determine whether or not it makes sense to say ‘nothing will pass from the law until it is fulfilled’ and then turn around and say, “I don’t agree with this law(21)…or with this law(27)…or with this law(31)…or with this law(33)…or with this law(38)…or with this law(43).”

     So read what has been the traditional understanding:

17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NKJV)

     Because of my research, preaching, and writing about the kingdom of heaven for the last fifteen years, and combining it with this new information, I’m coming to the conclusion that the kingdom of heaven is a colloquial term that refers to a fine tuned way of doing things where things are working together for the people who are in charge. Some kingdoms of the heavens might be good and some kingdoms of the heavens might not be good for everyone. (My book about the good kingdom of the heavens was written before retranslating these corresponding verses in Matthew and Luke and coming to this conclusion.)

     When God is in charge of the kingdom, then all is done as it should be done, with liberty and justice for all. However, when humanity is in charge of the kingdom (the way of governing), watch out.

     In my retranslating, I use definitions for Greek words that have been used by others, according to Greek lexicons . Therefore, I feel justified in offering this new perspective of Matthew 5:17-20 that I believe is true to what Jesus says after them.

17 “Do not think that I came to deprive the customary teachingsc nor the writings of the prophets of their influence. I did not come to subvert them but to accomplish their purpose. 18 But I’m telling you the truth, the sky and the earth would sooner pass away before the smallest jot or tittle would be omitted from all the regulations that were handed down from of old;c and until then, you will be required to fulfill all of it. 19 Therefore whoever eliminates the unimportant commandments and teaches others in this manner is going to be called (by the Pharisees and Saduccees) a disruptor of harmony and order; as for anyone who follows the unimportant laws and teaches them will be praised for maintaining harmony and order [in the system that’s currently in place]. 20 For I tell you that if your sense of what is right does not surpass what the scribes and Pharisees consider to be important, you will in no way be of use in the advancement of harmony and order [for all people].

+  +  +

nomos. Widely translated “law” but often limited to implying rules having punitive consequences. Thayer defines nomos as anything established, anything received by usage, a custom, usage, law. If something is being followed because “it’s the way it has always been done,” then it is part of the nomos – the way things have been done. Jesus wasn’t just speaking exclusively about the laws of Moses. He was talking about all Jewish law (Halakhah – Torah, Mitzvot D’Rabbanan [laws instituted by the Rabbis], and Minhag [the customs]).

+  +  +

     Jesus was not endorsing the whole of Jewish tradition. He was saying that things need to be changed from ancient Jewish tradition. People are being treated unfairly. Women. Children. The poor. The sick. The handicapped. The outcasts. The prisoners. They are being treated unfairly by the rich, the powerful, the privileged, the religious.

     Things have to change in our world today to bring justice to all people despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth that happens when it does.

     Even our translation of the Bible has to change so that it reflects Jesus’s compassion and his radical calls for justice rather than endorsing law, ritual, tradition, and male domination.

 

Share
Posted in Interpretation | Leave a comment

Book on Divorce & Remarriage Released Today

 

     I was so busy putting weed barrier down for my landscaping this morning that I forgot to post about my book being released today. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who’s excited about this, but it doesn’t matter. Not many people want to read about the real possibility that our English translation of the Bible might have some flaws in it. I can only speak to the New Testament since that’s where I dig into the Greek translations. I’m not much for Hebrew. And Hebrew is far more susceptible to the whims of the person doing the translating than Greek.

     Translation is more subjective than you might think. The bottom line for this book is that patriarchal men of the sixteenth century set the standard for the English translation. The problem is that no one has challenged their interpretations. New versions of the Bible have changed some of the language to make it sound a little more contemporary. But few have strayed from the tenor of the men who gave us the King James Version.

     I think the texts about divorce and remarriage prove that biblical scholars need to give themselves permission to disagree with the decisions of a group of Englishmen in the sixteenth century. Jewish men of the first century could discard their wives for little or no good reason. Women had few ways to support themselves on their own. To suggest that Jesus believed a man shouldn’t marry a woman who had been discarded by her jerk husband is absurd.

     Clearly the sixteenth century translators were influenced and conditioned by a thousand years of the church’s use of the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible, created by Jerome in the fourth century). I have to leave it up to Latin scholars to determine if the improper interpretations started with Jerome or with KJ translators.

     But as I change the Greek into English today, I don’t come up with the same words as modern versions that replicate the KJV. Jesus was not a male chauvinist. He defended many groups of people who were treated unjustly. In the texts about divorce and remarriage, he was standing up for the fair treatment of women. It’s no wonder Jesus had devoted women who supported him and his ministry.

     I self-publish most of my books to keep the price down. Since most of you who read this blog are probably Lutheran, that’s important. The nice thing about this book is that it’s short and to the point. You’ll spend more for a cup of coffee than to learn how Jesus was not enforcing Jewish law, but denouncing it.

     So, if you go to Amazon you can order the book today!

 

Share
Posted in Books, Interpretation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Sense of Divorce and Remarriage

 

     I think it’s important that when anyone reads the Bible that it should make sense. The Bible wasn’t written so that only biblical scholars or theologically trained ministers could understand it and then dumb it down for the layperson. There are too many things in the Bible that are not easy to make sense of. I suppose that’s called job security for clergy. But why is it not easier to understand? People read dozens of murder mysteries, romance novels, and self-help books every year. But few have every read the Bible in its entirety. Who wants to read something that leaves too many questions?

     So, what doesn’t make sense? Well, if Jesus was so compassionate, why did he quote patriarchal laws that inflict an injustice on women? Specifically, why did Jesus say if a man divorces his wife, he causes her to commit adultery? And why did he say a man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery? Has that ever made sense to you?

     Jewish law permitted a man to divorce his wife for ANY reason including if he was just tired of her or if she cooked a bad meal for him. The fact is, women had little means to support themselves in that culture. Why would Jesus be so cold as to declare a divorced woman off-limits to other Jewish men? I’ll tell you why.

     First, the translation from Greek to English (by King James’s translators) of comments made by Jesus prior to the ban on marrying divorced women are highly questionable. I’m not sure why no one has challenged them in four hundred years. You’ll just have to be the judge if my translations make more sense than the ones that have been reiterated by all revised and newer versions.

     Second, Jesus’s statement is being taken totally out of context. I explain these things, as well as three other comments by Jesus in Matthew and Mark about divorce and remarriage in my short book (available for preorder now) that is being released on Tuesday, April 18th.

     Let me pause and say that I am not declaring this to be an error in the Greek text. I think the Greek text makes perfect sense when translated according to a non-patriarchal nature of Jesus. I believe the problem is a translation into English issue, an interpretation perpetuated by a male-controlled religious tradition.  I believe that instead of endorsing unjust laws, Jesus was defending women who were being treated unfairly.

     So why have I spent any time trying to clarify this? I’m not divorced. And why should you care if you are not divorced or married to a divorced person? Protestant churches don’t refuse Holy Communion to divorced people (or to those who have married divorced persons). Even the Catholics are loosening up. Yet they are not completely there. Too many people are suffering emotional pain in the breakup of a marriage. They continue to be refused participation in the holy meal. That’s highly un-Christlike. And with the current rate of divorce, one day soon, someone you love will be affected.

     Without a clarification and correction of the text, technically we would be “going against the word of God” without providing literary justification. To do that would be declaring a teaching of Jesus as ignorable so we could do our own thing. (Even though compassion always trumps law, it’s easier to convince law-lovers if you have solid evidence.) But I suppose Christians are accustomed to picking the teachings they like and those they don’t like, you know, like turning the other cheek or loving our enemies.

     We don’t have to ignore Jesus’s teachings that refer to divorce and remarriage if we would simply recognize a misinterpretation and consider his statements in their context.  I wish I could boil it all down into a blog post, but it only took me fifty-three pages to do it in my book. Here are a few clips from my short book where I explain all the teachings of Jesus about divorce and remarriage:

     “Doesn’t this seem like an odd place to throw in a Jewish law about marriage, a law that does an injustice to women? Was Jesus telling the Pharisees that they should follow this law, or could it be that he was giving them an example of a law that was unfair? There were many prohibitions about whom a Jewish man could marry. Some of those laws prohibited Jewish men from marrying divorced women. In fact, one law required priests to divorce their wives if they were raped by another man.19 How compassionate or just is that?

     …Jesus was challenging them to elevate their compassion rather than to live by the letter of unjust laws. Women were in the chokehold of a male-dominated culture that cared more about rules than about compassion and justice. Yet the men considered themselves moral and righteous.

     …In summary, Jesus was giving an example of an unjust law that needed to be fixed or eliminated. He was not confirming it as a viable teaching. Neither mammon nor the law are more important than fair and compassionate treatment for those whom a male-dominated culture has demeaned and devalued—women, children, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the outcast.”

© 2017, Paul W. Meier

     Until the church examines the teachings of Jesus about divorce and remarriage and corrects the translations to help them make sense, these unexplainable texts will be just another reason to ignore whatever we don’t like or understand in the Bible. And it will continue an outrage perpetuated by the Christian church for sixteen centuries. Help me get the word out. Since you can only order through Amazon, you can always return it and get your $2.99 back if you don’t agree. And if you think it might make sense, pass it along to your friends.

Share
Posted in Books, Interpretation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What is Truth?

 

     Do people really want to know the truth? No. They want to be told the same thing over and over again. The more times they hear it, the more solid and secure they feel. When the truth is different from what they have been conditioned to think, they don’t want to hear the truth. Why? Because it messes with their false sense of reality. It shakes the ground they stand on. When the ground starts to tremble, fear starts clouding their objectivity and ability to reason.

     In his letter to Timothy, Paul says something about people only wanting to hear the things that tickle their ears. Nobody likes to hear new stuff. They like to hear the same old same old. That’s what tickles their ears. That’s why they keep going to church week after week, year after year, Lectionary cycle A through C, again and again and again.

     But Paul and the apostles had a new message that was upsetting the ears of people who do not like their truth shaken. The super religious wanted to keep hearing that the laws of Moses were their guide. They wanted to hear of a God who loved only them and wreaked vengeance upon their enemies. This is what they had been hearing for a thousand+ years. It tickled their ears to think they were more special than anyone in history.

     Paul ran into resistance everywhere he went because he started telling of a loving God who cared for Jews and Gentile alike, who was willing – not to kill their enemies – but to include them in the plan of salvation. That was not good news to the Jews. Paul was suggesting that Samaritans and Greeks and Egyptians were equal in the sight of God. How could that be the truth? No wonder he got the crap beat out of him so many times.

     Let me give you a current day example. If I make a statement like this: “The New Testament has not been translated into English according to what the Greek text says,” then the assumption that has been made about the Bible from the sixteenth century is being challenged. For some people the truth is that the Bible is inerrant. They think every word in Hebrew and Greek has a perfectly matching word in English. That’s their truth and it’s a foundation on which they stand. Other people give themselves a little more wiggle room, thinking correctly that sometimes it takes a couple of words to get across the meaning of a Greek word.

     There’s nothing wrong with people having a partial understanding (or no understanding) of a text in the Bible. There are a lot of things I still don’t understand. As long as what we read and understand helps us to grow into loving, generous, and kind people in the manner of Jesus, then there’s no problem. God loves Jews and Greeks and Egyptians and Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and Taoists and Hindus, especially when they live in peace and love and harmony with each other.

     It’s when one’s truth serves to make him or her more special in the sight of God than someone else, that truth is tainted by pride and ego. And that’s the kind of truth that divides rather than unites.

Share
Posted in Life in General | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Divorce & Remarriage – A New Translation

 

     Why do I do this to myself? I don’t want to step in hot water or walk across hot coals or end up in an eternally hot place because I disagree with the Bible. But this is the deal: I don’t disagree with the writers of the New Testament. I disagree with the patriarchal men in the early seventeenth century who translated the Greek New Testament into English. We know them as the translators for King James. They gave us the Bible in English, and we have accepted their choices in translation as correct. I have yet to find a contemporary version of the New Testament that doesn’t go out of its way to agree with them in translating the Greek text. New versions simply convert King James terminology into contemporary language. I don’t call that translation. I call it rewording. You don’t even need a Greek text to reword something from English to English.

     I don’t know why I’m attracted to re-interpreting the Greek text. What a boring way to spend a day, right? Except when I find something that makes more sense and is more in line with Jesus and the image of God that I hold (i.e., God is Love), then I get goose bumps. I guess that’s why I keep doing it whether anyone reads it or not. Some people knit. Some people read romance novels. Some people watch Dancing with the Stars. I retranslate the New Testament.

     So what have I found? I’ve found that Jesus was a friend to abused wives. A defender of women who were wrongfully devalued and discarded by their husbands. I’ve made sense out of the texts in the Gospels where Jesus spoke about divorce and remarriage. Will anyone believe it? Probably not, but that’s the state of the church and religion. Men in the sixteenth century hold more sway over the policies of the church in the twenty-first century than a logical and compassionate sense of right and wrong. That may be why people are leaving the church.

     So I’ve written a short book. I looked at many books that were written about divorce and remarriage, some of them three hundred+ pages long. Many are written by compassionate, pastoral authors, trying to comfort and encourage wrongfully divorced women (and men). Their hearts are in the right place. Compassion trumps law. I love it.

     Except, they don’t have to explain away what was written by New Testament writers in order to comfort spouses who have been discarded by unjust partners. The Greek text makes sense and is compassionate. It’s the translation into English that is patriarchal.

     Let me qualify that and give some wiggle room for the translators for King James. They were influenced by a thousand years of the church using the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible). One person in the fourth century, Jerome, was commissioned by the pope to gather the Greek and old Latin excerpts that had circulated and create one Latin translation that could be the official version. I will leave it up to Latin experts to determine whether Jerome was true to the Greek, or if his Latin translation influenced the next fifteen hundred years of policy about divorce and remarriage.

     Are you still awake?

     This is the bottom line: in fifty-five pages, I have explained what I believe the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke testify that Jesus said about divorce and remarriage. And it’s more compassionate, but a little anti-establishment, in its tone. It’s in an ebook that will be available from Amazon as of April 18th. It will cost a whole $2.99. And it will not disagree with Matthew, Mark, or Luke — it only disagrees with King James translators. By the way, it is available for pre-order and will be automatically delivered to your eReader on April 18.

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

The Elephant in the Room

John 9:1-41

   Once there was a village where all the inhabitants were blind. One day, a man passed through riding an elephant. A group of the village men cried out asking the rider to let them touch the great beast, for although they had heard about elephants, they had never been close to one. Six of them were allowed to approach the animal, each being led to touch a different part. After a time, the rider left, and the blind men hurried back to the people to share their experience. “So what is an elephant like?” the people in the crowd asked their six friends. “Oh, I know all about elephants,” boasted the man who had touched the animal’s side. “He is long and tall, built like a thick wall.”

     “Nonsense!” shouted the man who had touched the elephant’s tusk. “He is rather short, smooth, rounded, and curved. I would compare an elephant to . . . well, let’s say a sword.” A third man, who had touched the ear, chimed in. “It’s nothing like a wall or sword. An elephant is like a gigantic leaf, made of thick wool carpet – that moves when you touch it.”

     “I disagree,” said the fourth man who had handled the trunk. “An elephant is much like a large snake.” The fifth man who had touched a leg of the great beast shouted his disapproval, “It’s plain to me than none of you knows what an elephant looks like. It is round and rough and reaches toward the heavens like a tree.” The sixth man who had been placed on the elephant’s back, cried out, “Can none of you accurately describe an elephant? He is like a gigantic moving mountain.”

     To this day, the argument has not been resolved, and the people of that village still have no idea what an elephant looks like.[1]

     Jesus told the Pharisees they were like the blind teaching the blind. An elephant walking into a community of blind people is very much like God walking into a Jewish synagogue in the first century. No one before this had ever seen God. But they had stories of other people who had experienced some kind of contact with God. Every person’s experience is their truth. Unfortunately, some people think only the experience of others is truth. They ignore their own experience.

     In John 9, Jesus was speaking to men who had spent their lives studying the word of Moses. These Pharisees believed they knew what the elephant looked like. But Jesus said, “If you say that you are blind, you have no sin. But now that you say we see (we understand), your sin remains.” Five times in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the Pharisees they didn’t know God. Yes, you may have studied and memorized the stories and commands of your scriptures, but you don’t know God. God was the elephant in the room. Jesus walked in, trying to reveal the true nature of God. Yet, the people staring at him were blind to a truth that didn’t match what they had been conditioned to believe.

     Jesus came, eating and conversing with sinners. Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it, and to give life in its abundance. What can a person logically understand about a God who would die so you can live? It’s hard for us to call that is being all-powerful or wise. But do we really know God?

     Nothing in life stays the same. Don’t you hate that? Even your image of God may have to change over time.

     Contemplating your own experience of the elephant is important. How have you experienced God for yourself? Are you still threatened by God based on the stories of others? Has God treated you the way the people before Jesus described the Creator? Or has God treated you the way Jesus is described? Have you been comforted by the image Jesus revealed? Have you felt peace because of it? Which image would be good news for you?

     Your experience is important. Your truth is important. You know how some people laughingly suggest that dog owners tend to look like their dogs after time, we always become like our truth. Stop depending on other people to tell you what the elephant looks like. Start meeting together with God on your own time. Meditate. Begin contemplating and trusting your experience of God in your life. Consider letting the image of God in Jesus Christ transform you into the beautiful person God intended you to be…then you just might become more like the elephant in the room.

 

[1] Adapted from “The Blind Men and the Elephant” in Speaking in Stories by William White, p. 78 (eSermons illustration).

 

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

The Evil of Tradition

 

     Give me a minute to explain. It’s just a title, meant to get your attention. Tradition is not evil as in “wicked.” That’s the point. Some traditions are very good and some traditions are not so good. What does evil really mean when we read it in the Bible? In the NT, it arises from the Greek word ponēros. Thayer’s defines it as that which is full of labors, annoyances, hardshipsa. pressed and harassed by labors; b. bringing toils, annoyances, perils. Then it goes on to define it in terms of a bad nature or condition – leaving your imagination to deciding what that might be.

     When I learned the Aramaic word associated with evil, bisa, I came to a new understanding of ponēros that did not leave as much to the imagination.  Bisa is something that is unripe. It’s not fit for its intended purpose. It’s “not ready.” It’s out of rhythm with the right timing. Its roots point toward a sense of what delays or diverts us from advancing, as well as a sense of inner shame for not producing the right action at the right time (Neil Douglas-Klotz). The short ways of saying that are: unripe, corrupt (over-ripe or rotten), immature, a diversion.

     Now, every time I read the word “evil” in the Bible, I change its meaning to one of the Aramaic definitions. The teaching takes on new meaning and makes more sense to me. It removes the satanic or bad intention component from the context. But what does this have to do with tradition?

     Traditions are developed by other people in their unique contexts. Traditions are warm and comfortable. They give people stability because the unknown is removed from them. But some traditions are unripe. They bring hardships and annoyances to some people. For example, the tradition of Catholicism and many Protestant denominations to deny ordination to women. Or the traditions of demeaning people of color, religion, nationality, race, or sexual orientation. Interestingly, these traditions that divert us from expressing the goodness of God as seen in Jesus, as well as bring hardship and annoyances to certain groups of people are founded in the Bible. How do we deal with that?

     We do what Jesus taught.

     One of my favorite parables of Jesus is the one in Matthew 13 where he said the kingdom of heaven (the state of perfect order where everything is working together in harmony) is like a net cast into the sea. It collected some of everything and what was good they kept, but what was “bad” (sapros – corrupted by age and no longer fit for use, worn out), they threw out.

     Jesus compared that story to angels/messengers who would come at the end of the age (left up to your definition or imagination). They will separate what is corrupt (past its time) from what is useful. To make sure the corrupt doesn’t get in the way anymore, they burn it. Destroy it so it can never come back. And a lot of people will be very upset when they do that. Nobody likes to give up their traditions, even when they are hurting others.

     Jesus was no promoter of laws or traditions that were hurting others or disrupting the harmony that he was trying to bring among people. He followed traditions when they were ripe, suited for their purpose, and bringing goodness to people. But he fought against laws and traditions that were past their time. St. Peter followed by eliminating certain food laws that were restricting people and were no longer helpful. Paul eliminated circumcision.

     Maybe we ought to think about doing what Jesus suggested we do. Do a little more sorting out of the rotting laws that promote harm to certain groups and traditions that cause more hardship than good. That might help us love each other more so that we can work together in harmony.

 

John 4:5-42

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