Early Childhood Development

Mark 10:2-16  

     Children have always gotten the short end of the stick. They are powerless. At least, until they get big enough to take the long end of the stick from your old and feeble hands. Then who has the short end? It’s a cycle that doesn’t seem to change. Similar to the cycle of retaliation.

     Why did the disciples scold the people for bringing children to Jesus? Because children were ranked among the least in that society (see my post on Serving the Least). The disciples didn’t think Jesus needed to be bothered with such trivial matters as children. It reminds me of the adults of this generation. Education appears to be the least in importance when it comes to taxes and funding. It’s the first thing cut on most city and county and state and federal budgets.

     Jesus had a different opinion of children.

     Because of my research about the kingdom of God/heaven, I have a new understanding of what Jesus came proclaiming. You can get the details and justification in my book about the kingdom of heaven. Now when I retranslate this text in Mark, I’m convinced our children hold the key to the development of unity in the world. Why? Because what children learn at a young age sets up what they do in when they are adults. Here’s my translation:

14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Permit the little children come to me, and do not prevent them because in these begins the development of unity (both inner and external). 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not begin the movement toward unity as a little child will not experience it.” (my translation)

     The congregation I served for eleven years had a preschool. It’s was a great boost to the future development of the children who came. Early childhood education, elementary education, and high school education will determine the future of our nation and world. It always has. If we aren’t teaching unity, harmony, tolerance, beauty for the world, patience, service, equity, diversity, and love for our neighbors and enemies when they are young, they will never experience it. Instead, professionals imagine that the child who is able to memorize the most facts for standardized tests is the evidence of superior intelligence. We already have access to all the facts of the world on our iphones. You don’t have to be intelligent to look up facts. What children need is to increase their capacity for creative thinking and the ability to solve problems.

children guns 2     Children learn mostly from their parents and home environment. Do they learn how to enter (or not enter) the kingdom of God (the movement toward unity and the working together of all things) in their homes? Parents set an example. Some buy/allow games of war, and promote plastic weapons for children to practice treating each other like the enemy. They are taught to fear what someone else “might” do to them and they must be prepared for battle. Moses said whatever you teach your children, when they are old, they will not depart from it.

     For me it points to the necessity of putting our money where our education is – into the development of harmony for future generations. This is the foundation of their adult lives. If they don’t learn love and harmony and discipline and ethics from teachers with the highest of values and passion as children, they’ll not develop the potential to achieve the purpose for which they were born. If they don’t learn methods for resolving their own inner conflicts (meditation, communication, conflict resolution), they will carry those inner conflicts into adulthood and use drugs, sugar, sex, alcohol, and violence to escape their confusion.

     The money put into education today will reduce the amount of money we’ll need for national defense in the future. Children who don’t learn unity and harmony will become adults who are divided within themselves and therefore, divided with their neighbors.

     And that will be the fault of this generation. What we sow is what we reap.

     Is that important to you and me who are over fifty/sixty years of age? After all, we’ll never see it. That’s a very short range and selfish point of view. Are you sure you will never see the consequences of ignoring the proper education of children? It’s my humble opinion that you and I will reap what we sowed in this generation.

     That will be the topic of my next book (after the one on eternal life which I’ll be finishing this fall).

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Salt Seasons Salt

Mark 9:38-50

     Can you season salt that has lost its saltiness? Physically, I don’t know if NaCl can lose its ability to enhance the flavors or to preserve foods from deterioration. Maybe if something breaks the sodium atom away from the chlorine atom, it will destroy the nature of the molecule and its properties. But then I’m not sure it can become salt again. However, metaphorically, the answer is “yes.” Salt that has been weakened or broken can be restored.

 free-clipart-of-salt-shaker2    There was a time when I put salt on about everything I ate. Salt enhances the flavor of many foods. It improves the taste of bland vegetables, brings out the essence in meats, and gives them all some added pizzazz. It also dampens or masks the bitterness in some foods like chocolate and broccoli, so they are much more palatable. When you store something in salt, it prevents bacteria and mold from destroying the food. Salt enhances most of the things it contacts. It brings out the uniqueness of each food type.

     So Jesus brings up a good question:

Salt is good, but if the salt loses its strength, how will you season it?

Then he answers his own question.

Possess salt in yourselves, and live in peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).

     You are the one who seasons salt that has lost its saltiness.

   Let me explain. First, most people recognize Jesus is speaking in metaphors. He has been speaking in overstatement and metaphors for the complete text. To cut off hands, feet, and plucking out eyes is so ridiculously barbaric, someone has to be a mental infant to take it literally.

     The salt metaphor is pretty clear, too. You and I are supposed to be like salt. We are to enhance the unique properties and talents of those we touch in our daily lives. We are to preserve others so that they are not destroyed by the cares of this life.

     But what happens when you and I get overwhelmed by life? What happens when you lose your ability to enhance others? How do you regain your strength?

     It helps if you have been hanging around other salt in a salt shaker.

     Three weeks ago, a friend in the church I’ve been attending died. He was salt. His wife was salt. She is in a phase of her life where it will be difficult for her to focus on enhancing the lives of others. Although being salt is natural to her, for a time, she has been weakened. Other grains of salt are surrounding her, comforting her, and assisting with food as her family comes and goes. They telephone and send cards, trying to preserve her from the destruction of shock, disbelief, depression, despair, and loneliness.

     It’s a long road ahead for her. And those expressions of love and comfort from within the salt shaker will continue, giving her the space she needs, but always ready to protect and defend her. One day, her strength will return.

   Jesus taught that people will be tempted and they will make mistakes. You’ll reduce the mistakes you make by removing the temptation before it brings its negative consequences. The fire is a metaphor for the pain suffered from the consequences of your unloving actions (sin). The purpose of those painful consequences is to make you a better person. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll keep suffering the pain they bring.

     Jesus said every person will be seasoned with fire. Every person will suffer the unquenchable fires of Gehenna. This is how he said it:

“The fact is, every person will be seasoned with fire, but every sacrifice (the victim that is going through the fire) will be seasoned with salt.  Salt is good, but if the salt loses its strength, how will you season it? Possess salt in yourselves, and live in peace with one another” (Mark 9:49-50).

     The consequences of sin tend to make people act better. Except for the slow learners.

     And salt will season salt that has lost its ability to enhance others. We comfort, encourage, and bring out the best in each other as we journey through the wilderness and the fires of Gehenna.

     Have salt in yourselves so you can season your friends who are going through the fires of life. Stay close to the salt shaker so other salt knows when you’ve been burned by life or by sin. And they will do the same for you.

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Serving the Least

Mark 9:30-37                                    

     Jesus said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”  Then he gave them a visual demonstration. He brought a little child into their midst, put him on his lap and wrapped his arms around him and said, “Whoever welcomes (receives, accepts) a little child like this in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not [just] me, but the One who sent me.”

Jesus Helps Person Lying On Ground     That sounds kind of sweet to us, doesn’t it? But, what Jesus did with that child was radical in his day. Children in that day were not considered the precious little darlings we think them today. Especially the children of the poor were at the lowest rung of society. They were easily overlooked.

     Aristotle lived about five hundred years before Jesus. With others, like Plato, he advocated that no handicapped baby should be given food or water, saying, “Let it be a law that nothing mutilated (born out of the ordinary) shall be nurtured.” It was legal in some countries to put the infant out in the cold to die of exposure.

     Aristotle advocated abortion with this reasoning, “It is necessary to take care that the increase of the people should not exceed a certain number in order to avoid poverty and what comes with it, troublemaking and other evils.”[1] Limit the number of unwanted children so you don’t create more poverty and the evils that come with poverty.

   Children were wanted only for the benefit they might be for their parents as they got older. Children were the least of value in that society, and easy to ignore.

     Who are the least in our society today? Who in our world would we rather let die because they are of so little value? Well, it’s not Isis or Al Quaida terrorists or North Korea or drug lords in Mexico who are the least. It wasn’t a terrorist that Jesus was holding on his lap. They are not the least because they are not ignored. They are the enemy. We pay much more attention to our enemies than we do to the least and most defenseless of our society.

     Some people spend more time fighting about the rights of the unborn than they do in trying to help the children who have survived the womb but don’t have parents who want them. Yet they don’t want to help in the care of children born into poverty. I don’t have a political agenda. I’m prolife. But I’m prolife all the way through life, not just until an infant takes its first breath in the arms of a parent who is not committed to caring for it. If you vote that every fertilized egg should be born, you ought to be voting to make sure each infant gets proper nutrition, clothing, medical attention, and education to become a gift to the world – making sure every child knows it is loved and wanted.

     Some might think it’s cruel and unusual punishment to innocents to force zygotes into being born knowing that the privileged who think they are on the highest moral ground will berate these little ones as they get older since they might need some of that hard-earned cash the privileged would rather burn on extravagances.

     Let me rephrase Jesus’s teaching in another way: “Whoever agrees to take charge of one of these little children, acting on my behalf, is taking charge of me; and whoever takes charge of me, is taking charge, not of me, but of the One who sent me.”

     In 2013 it was estimated that there were 2.5 million homeless children in the United States. What impact do you think that will have on the success and well-being of future generations? Children who are homeless are subject to criminal and social victimization that can only be imagined by most of us. This is early life experience is the foundation they receive and becomes the basis for their lives and decisions as adults.

     What you sow is what you will reap.

     Who are the least in your world that you can wrap your arms around? How will you become the greatest person to enter their lives?

[1] http://www.bartleby.com/1013/2.html

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Take Up Your Cross

Mark 8:27-38

     “Put to death any dreams for what you think it takes to experience true life…Get behind me…Take up your cross and follow me, and then you’ll be on the right track. Wherever I lead you, that’s where you will find life that is true.”

cross3     Jesus taught that we will find our life when we take up our cross. Now that’s a stretch for any person to believe. But that’s why it takes faith in Jesus’s teachings and example.

     There might be another way of thinking about the cross that goes along with everything Jesus taught. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Don’t repay evil with evil, but with good.”

     How many here have followed Jesus and that that teaching? A teaching that is actually an image of the cross.

     Think about Jesus on the cross. Could he have come down from the cross? Many Christians believe Jesus could have pulled the nails out of his hands and feet, and said, “I’ve had enough of this. No one deserves to be treated like this.” He walked on water. He stopped raging storms on the sea. Most have been led to believe the Son of God could have come down from the cross if he wanted. But he didn’t come down. Why?

     Maybe the reason is more than a theology that teaches his Father had to have a blood sacrifice and offered his Son to pay the price for sin.

     Maybe there’s more to Jesus submitting to the cross and staying there. Maybe Jesus was giving us the perfect picture of how to restore peace in your life. Maybe Jesus was giving the perfect picture of how to stop or destroy sin in the world.

     Maybe Jesus was giving a perfect picture of his Father – showing us a God who does not repay evil with evil – but instead, he shows us a God who is like his Son, who takes the sin and the pain of the world and just holds it — so the cycle of pain and sin will be stopped.

     It’s an image of an immature or unripe (the Aramaic definition of evil) God who keeps returning evil with evil.

     Someone once said, “Hurt people hurt people.” Somebody gets hurt. Acting from their hurt, they hurt you. And then you find a way to give it back – an eye for an eye. Deep down, maybe we think if we pass our pain along, we won’t have to hold onto it anymore. But that never works.

     Jesus said, “No. Don’t repay evil with evil. Stop the cycle of sin. Be like me. Be like my Father. Pick up your cross. And when someone hurts you, hold onto the pain – don’t let it go any further – don’t react by giving it back. Hold onto it. I promise, everything will be okay. In three days, you’ll be beyond the emotion and have a more objective answer to dealing with it.” In three days, you will rise up from that pain, and you will be a new person.

     It’s a different concept of taking up your cross. But it works. The cross is where sin ends because you don’t keep the cycle going.

     If you continue to give away pain inflicted on you, you haven’t taken up your cross and followed Jesus.

     No one expects you to move mountains with a mustard seed of faith. You need to practice stopping the cycle of sin and pain. You do it a little at a time, a shovel full of s–t at a time. When you learn to hold a little pain, you get stronger and can hold greater pain.

     Holding the pain. That’s the image of the cross – and the ultimate image of grace – an expression of undeserved love. The cross is an image of maturity.

     I wonder what would have happened if in response to the evil perpetrated on 9-11-2001, the U.S. would not have responded with shock and awe? I wonder what grace would have brought us?

     Follow Jesus and he will lead you to new life. It’s hard and it’s painful, but it’s the only way to stop the cycle of sin.

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3 Problems if Jesus is Your GPS

Mark 7:24-37

     It took me a long time before I finally broke down and bought a portable GPS for my car. That was before smartphones. I’d been holding out like the thrifty Lutheran that I am. I weakened when I saw how it helped three cars of teenagers and adults get to New Orleans and back. Then I rode with a colleague from Paducah to a conference pastors’ meeting in Stendal, Indiana. His GPS told us exactly what time we’d get there. It was correct. It told us the speed limit on major roads. It found the shortest route to the church. gps 1Unfortunately, that meant driving on ten miles of gravel roads, winding through cornfields to get there. I didn’t know there were places in Indiana that you can’t get to from here. But we found several along the way.

     I wish we had a GPS designed for the church. We need something to guide us through all the stuff we are going through these days. Oh, to have that wonderful female voice talk to us and tell us how best to navigate through the growing maze of rules and rituals, and the rights and wrongs of religion. If we make a wrong turn somewhere, to hear her say: “Recalculating. Go to the next synod assembly and turn around.”

     The closest thing we have to a GPS in the church is Jesus, God’s Peace Secured. His directions will lead us to great places like the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

     You probably remember that Jesus said he is the way, the truth, and the life. The Aramaic word translated to English as truth means “right or harmonious direction; that which liberates and opens possibilities; or that which is strong and vigorous.” Jesus gives right and harmonious directions. He liberates and opens new possibilities. And he provides the strength to get to that place called “peace” in your world today.

     If you’ve read any of my other posts or books, you know that the kingdom of heaven and eternal life are places you can reach in this lifetime. You can get to them from here. And they’re not very far away. Jesus said they are at hand…within your grasp.

     There are several problems you’ll run into if Jesus is your GPS.

(1) Faith. One problem is that you have to believe his directions are the best ones to follow. When the Bible tells you to believe in Jesus, that means believing the whole package—believing his teachings are true, believing his example is the way you should live, believing his death leads to forgiveness of sins and resurrection. Belief, or faith, is the number one problem. It’s not easy to believe that nonresistance to evil or love for your enemies are the best ways to peace. But the directions he laid out and the route he took in his life will get you to the kingdom of heaven.

(2) Openness. Another problem if Jesus is your GPS is being open to new possibilities. When you think you already know the best route, it’s easy to be deaf to new possibilities, especially when you don’t understand how a different path is going to get you where you want to go. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman comes directly after Jesus taught that his ancestors were wrong in calling Gentiles unclean. If Jesus wasn’t open to that possibility, he would have rejected helping this woman. Jesus said no person is unclean except the one from whom harmful things arise – like adultery, theft, fornication, deceit, wickedness, murders, envy, a negative outlook, putting others down, arrogance, unreasonableness. These are logs in one’s own eye. You can’t get to peace when they are in your path. Not only that but when Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man, he took him away from others as if to say, “Don’t listen to others. They’ll pull you back into the old way of thinking. Listen only to me.”

     It’s very clear that Jesus said some things we don’t understand. Like when he said “Ephphatha” to the man who was deaf. For people whose ears are closed, Jesus speaks a foreign language. In Aramaic, that word means “be open.” To those who don’t believe his teachings are true, he says, “Be open to the directions I give. They will lead you to peace and the kingdom of heaven that is within your grasp.”

(3) Strength. Using Jesus as your GPS, you’ll need more strength than you can muster on your own. If you follow Jesus’s directions, a lot of people will attack you. They’ll revile you. They’ll persecute and even crucify you. But hang in there. Hold firmly to the Truth. He is with you always. In fact, St. Paul said Christ is within you. He will give you strength to rise again. It might take a couple of days to get back on your feet, but peace and the kingdom of heaven will return if you have faith.

   It’s not easy to follow Jesus, but he is the GPS you should be using. He is the truth. He gives right and harmonious direction. He liberates and opens new possibilities when you follow his direction. And he provides you with strength to get where you want to go – to places of harmony and peace, within yourself and in the world you inhabit.

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True Religion is Not Tradition

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, James 1:17-27

     I heard a story that helps me think about tradition and how it can get in the way of religion that is true. A man was hired to paint the lines on a highway. The company didn’t have a lot of resources so he had to do his painting on foot with a paint brush and a five gallon bucket. After the first day the supervisor was very impressed. This new employee had painted three miles’ worth of lines. The next day his results were not quite as impressive. He was only able to paint the lines for a mile and a half. The third day he painted less than a half mile of lines. The supervisor called him into him into his office and said, “I’m going to have to let you go. Your work has become unacceptable.” The man whined, “It’s not my fault. I’ve never worked so hard in all my life. It’s just that the paint bucket keeps getting further and further away.”

     Is that what some traditions are doing to us today? Is our paint bucket getting so far in the past that we can’t get any of the real work done because we keep going back to imitate how our ancestors did it? Have you seen anyone painting lines on the road by hand lately? Time moves forward.

     It’s time to bring the paint bucket, and your religion, into the present day where the work needs to be done.

     Your religion is supposed to be about the way you live your life. And not just on Sunday mornings. It’s how you live your life every day of the week. Religion isn’t about following rituals and rules that others have created for you. James says religion that is pure and undefiled is about being attentive to the needs of those who cannot care for themselves, widows and orphans. True religion is about how you treat others, not about who you think is or is not following rules collected into a book two thousand years ago.

     Jesus quoted Isaiah, “These people praise me with their words, but their hearts are far from me.” Worship is more than words you sing and speak in a building on Sundays. Worship is the act of expressing your reverence and love for God who dwells within your neighbor. The God who dwells even in your enemy. True worship is how you treat others. You show your reverence and love for God when you love, when you do the right thing for anyone God places in your path who is in need.

     When we hold rules and traditions in higher priority than acting on the opportunities to love the person in front of us, our religion and our worship is in vain.

washing hands in bathroom    Don’t get me wrong. Many traditions are good and helpful. And you’d think that in Bible days, it was good for people to wash their hands and utensils before eating. You yourself probably have a tradition of washing your hands and dishes to protect yourself from spreading disease to each other.

     Except the reason the Pharisees washed when returning from the marketplace was not because the figs or fruit or vegetables or the tables were dirty. The Pharisees washed because they came in contact with Gentiles. They considered the Gentiles unclean. And so they were washing off remnants of any contact they might have had with unclean people. They called this their religion. That’s like considering the prejudices handed down to you from your ancestors a part of your religion. Some Christians think they are practicing their religion by labelling certain people unclean and not wanting to be dirtied by them.

     Good rules and traditions are a means to a desirable end. And that end is peace, joy, harmony, and unity among people. Good rules and traditions are created to guide people in the way of love and peace and harmony. Those rules and traditions that don’t do that are worthless. The end we strive for is to unite people together as one.

     When traditions become a wedge between people, causing separation and pain and discord, then maintaining the tradition has become more important than love for God who dwells in every person regardless of race, creed, orientation, gender, nationality, or political party.

     Examine your traditions closely and compare them to what Jesus said is the summary of all the law and prophets: treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s true religion. And remember: God’s love is not only unconditional, it’s untraditional.

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Is It Time For You To Leave, Too?

John 6:56-69

      People (disciples) who were following Jesus left because they didn’t understand the metaphors he was using. How could he say “eat” him? He sounds nuts.

   It surprises me that more people haven’t stopped following him because of the clear instructions he gave. You know, the ones that people don’t believe he really meant or that they think are impossible to follow. Like these:

(1) Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

(2) Love your neighbor, even the ones you avoid because of their beliefs, nationality, color of their skin, or sexual orientation.

(3) Be reconciled to your brother who has something against you before you offer any gifts to God.

(4) Do not resist an evil person. Whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go another mile.

(5) Judge not. First remove the plank from your own eye.

(6) Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven.

     He still sounds nuts.

     Peter said Jesus had the words (the teachings) of eternal life. They happen to include the ones just mentioned.

     So. Are you in or are you out?

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Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

     This is a follow up revision to a post in July that I did about there being no unforgivable sin. Since then I’ve been praying the same gospel text because I’m also retranslating the Gospel of Mark into words that speak more to me and guide me toward love, peace, and unity in the world. (I’ll be doing that for the other Gospels, too. But give me a year or two.)

     I still believe the passage in Mark 3:20-30 indicates Jesus is telling the Pharisees that he’s going to excuse himself from their ugliness for an undefined period of time. You’ll have to review the post to find out how I came to that conclusion.

     The adjustment that I want to make is in reference to the Holy Spirit.

DISCLAIMER: This is not an attempt—in any way, shape, or form—to deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. So don’t get your panties in a wad just because I’m disagreeing with one small story in Mark that the early translators were inclined to support with the Trinitarian concept. More traditions than I realized have some form of trinity in their deific beliefs, and that’s okay. I’m simply trying to interpret Greek words of this one text without the indoctrination of fifteen hundred years of religious dogma…the way people of the first century might have heard it.

      For clarification, there are no articles like “the” or “a” in Greek. They are added by translators to make sentences flow. No problem with that if it’s necessary. But it is a choice.

     In the early Greek texts, there was no separation into chapters or verses. There were very few punctuations. There was no capitalization. And…


      Now that your Greek lesson is over, let’s look at the sentence in question from the NKJV:

     29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

      The word for “unclean” is closer in meaning to ritually impure, unatoned.

     The word for “holy” also can be translated as pure.

     Are you ready for my interpretation? Here it is:

 but he who speaks against a pure spirit will not be forgiven for an indefinite period of time, but is subject to an indefinite time of separation.” Jesus said this because they said, “He has an impure spirit.”

     In context, the Pharisees claimed Jesus was drawing out demons by the ruler of demons, Beelzubul. In my book, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real, I have a chapter that talks about a human parasite, the guinea worm. It crawls under the skin until it reaches a person’s feet and then emits a stinging, hot sensation as it erupts. People run to the nearest watering hole to get relief and the parasite releases eggs that infect more people. First century healers drew out the parasite by twisting it around a stick.

demon portrait     You know what people think of when they see something that comes out of a person that looks like a small snake, don’t you? Demons. The Pharisees said Jesus was drawing out demons under the influence of Beelzubul.

     They said he had impure motives. That’s insulting.

     So, you can go back to my earlier post, erase Holy Spirit in every place and replace it with “pure spirit.” It makes as much, if not more, sense.

     Some sins are just not as easily let go (forgiven) as others. Ain’t it the truth?

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Eating Flesh and Blood

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John 6:51-58                                                       “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” That almost sounds like a scene out of Ann Rice’s book and movie, “Diary of a … Continue reading

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Deeper Than Bread

John 6:35, 41-51

     The Gospel of John is deep. Deeper than manna. The teachings of Jesus are deep. Deeper than bread. loaf of bread

    Manna was the “bread from the heavens” that fell on the surface of the ground. Manna was helpful to a degree. It helped the children of Israel survive the wilderness. But I think eating manna was also a metaphor for a surface interpretation of the Law. (Rather than limit the word “law” to commandments and official regulations, understand that the Law – the Torah – means “instruction.” The stories in the Torah also gave much instruction.) The Law helped make uncivilized people more civil. Yet it never brought life in its abundance.

     Manna fell and lay on the surface of the ground. It had no roots. There was no depth to it. “What you see is what you get.” The Israelites could only collect and eat the manna that fell each day. They couldn’t store it for the next day. Why? Because it would spoil and get rotten. Things that spoil end up hurting you or others.

     Laws created today help for “a day.” You can’t expect to be able to apply the same instructions “tomorrow” that were intended for today. Why? Because things change. Today’s instructions won’t apply perfectly to tomorrow because everything will be different. Just look at all the ridiculous laws still on the books today that haven’t been eliminated.

     If you don’t adapt, you will die. It’s the rotten laws that will steal life in its abundance from you and others. (Note: “everlasting” life in the New Testament doesn’t mean heaven-when-you-die. It means life in its abundance today. That’s in my next book about eternal life.)

     On the other hand, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life that came down from the heavens.” Jesus spoke in metaphors and allegories. If you interpret his teachings literally, their surface interpretations, you are eating light and fluffy manna that lies on top of the ground. It might help you survive today, but it won’t give you everlasting life, i.e., life in its abundance.

     Bread comes from something that has roots in something solid that has depth and substance. Love has depth. Bread is the substance of life. It’s created from the fruit of a plant that was rooted deep in the soil. Jesus called himself the “living bread.” He was rooted in a God of love and compassion. Jesus’s actions of love—healing, comforting, feeding, spreading good news—these were the fruits of his life. His actions are the bread that will sustain us and give us life.

     Yet, the old men that made religion an institution in the form of the “church” ate the manna of Jesus’s teaching. They took what lay at the surface and made a ritual out of this teaching. That’s what religious people do. They make more rituals and call them important. Surface meanings have no depth. Rituals don’t change people. That’s not to say that God can’t use rituals to initiate change in people. But too often rituals deceive people.

     People of liturgical traditions joke about “letting loose” on Saturday night because they’ll go to church the next morning, confess, commune, and receive forgiveness. I’m not sure if they really believe this, but it’s the impression they’ve been given and they give themselves permission to let go of constraints to their actions.

     To eat Jesus’s body, the living bread, is to take in and absorb the fruits (loving actions) produced in Jesus’s life so that they become who you are as a person. That would be a person rooted in love who feeds, heals, comforts, and brings good news to the poor and outcast.

     It’s easier to eat a piece of bread and drink a sip of wine than it is to love your neighbor. Love requires looking deeper into the reasons for the unloving actions of others and trying to assist in mending those wounds. It takes time and work to love. Those whose don’t have the time to go deeper relish rituals and make them more important than healing the wounded, feeding the hungry, comforting the prisoners, getting to know the outcasts, and sharing the news of a God of love.

     Eating manna is going no deeper than the surface of words or actions.

     Eating the living bread is meditating on the life and actions of Jesus so that they become part of you and motivate your actions. Those actions will be rooted and grounded in love.

     When you bear fruits grounded in love, you will become living bread for the world. And that’s when you’ll experience “everlasting” life—the kind of life God desires for you in the world today.

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