The True Gift is Trust

Luke 12:13-21

     You and I were not born to accumulate wealth or fame or power. We were given a higher purpose. Whether or not we live out that purpose is up to us. This is my translation of Luke 12:13-21 

13 Then someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 But he said to him, “Man, who appointed me a judge or negotiator for you?”

15 So he said to them, “Become mentally aware and guard yourself from any greedy desire to have more because even when a person has abundance, a purpose-filled lifea does not develop from the things he possesses.”

16 Therefore he offered them an illustration, saying: “The land of a certain rich man produced abundantly.

17 So he began reasoning within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’

18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

19 And I will say to my soul,b “Soul, you possess many goods set aside for many years; retire in ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’

20 However the Creatorc said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is called forth from you.’ Therefore whatsoever you saved up, whose will they be?’

21 “In this way, one accumulates riches for himself, but is not abundantly supplied (with trust) toward the Creator.”

angel in the sky*  *  *

zoa: The NT identifies three kinds of life: bios, psuche, and zoa. Body, mind, and the life or purpose for which you were born.

psuche: a name for the mind, personality, ego-self aspect of life.

theos: the name “God” would be appropriate here because Luke is writing to Gentiles and “God” as a name for the Deity was taken from pagans by Christians. Not only that, but the Greek name for the sky-god was Ouranos. Interestingly in the fourth century, Jerome translated basileia ton ouranos as the kingdom of the heavens (skies). It could just as easily been translated the kingdom of Ouranos, the sky-god, since they are the same Greek word. A simple point that identifies that many nations worshiped a Deity in the sky/heavens.

*  *  *

     This story naturally flows into Luke’s version of “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” reminding me of the song from Annie: the sun will come out tomorrow. Stop worrying about the future. Live out your purpose and passion (zoa life) today. Pray for trust so that you can live fully within each moment of the day. After all, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that to have wealth and to be able to enjoy it is a gift from God. The true gift is an abundance of trust, not wealth.

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

The Lord’s Prayer – Pray for Maturity

Luke 11:1-13  

     There are three basic differences between the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 and the one found in Matthew 6. My focus in the book I wrote about a translation of the prayer coming out of the Aramaic language1a was on Matthew’s version. The three differences are these:

     (1) Matthew says “Our Father who art in heaven” while Luke says “Father.”

     (2) Matthew says “forgive us our debts” while Luke says “forgive us our sins.”

     (3) Matthew says “deliver us from evil” while Luke leaves that completely out.

     The simple explanation is that Matthew was writing primarily to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience. That would be one thing to analyze – why these would be important changes based on the audiences.

     Another thing to note is that Jesus doesn’t teach his disciples to pray for good weather for tomorrow’s picnic, or for things that will make life more fun, or for things that raise us up in the eyes of others. God knows our physical needs, but our greatest need is to grow into maturity so we can be the person we were created to be, helping bring the kingdom of peace and love to fruition in the world. Here’s my current interpretation:

     Now it came to pass that Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So he said to them, “Whenever you pray, say:

      All encompassing Creatora       Let your reputationb be purified.       May your form of governing come into being.      3 Give us our daily bread every day.      4 And set us free from our unloving actions,      For we also set free everyone who is indebted to us.      Likewise, do not bring us into a time of trial.”

          5 Also, he said to them, “Which of you will have a friend, and will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves 6because a friend of mine has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And from within he decides to answer, ‘Do not bother me. The door has already been shut, and my young children are with me in bed. I cannot rise up and give you anything’? I tell you, even if he will not rise and help him because he is his friend, yet at least because of his shameless persistence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

          9 “Even so to you I conclude: ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and to the one knocking it will be opened. 11 Moreover, which father among you, if a son asks for a fish, instead of a fish will give him a serpent? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you who are undeveloped,c know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the all encompassing Creator in the skiesd give a lifee worthy of praisef to those who ask him!”

     You probably noticed that I didn’t follow the traditional translation of the Greek, pneuma agion, as Holy Spirit in the last verse. Another way could also be “a pure spirit.” I just try to translate according to first century possibilities – and at the time this was written, the Holy Spirit had not been established as the third person of the Trinity. That was a decision made in the fourth century by the most powerful of many diverse understandings. Since I’m finishing a book that focuses a lot on the word “life” in the New Testament, I’m predisposed to make sense of it the way I did.

*  *  *

Father: I tend to “name” God in ways that are not so human-like. Naming itself limits the scope of the Creator who is undefinable and unexplainable.

name: 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. Why does God’s name need to be purified? Because Jewish tradition painted God as less than loving at times.

poneros: full of hardship, annoyances, and labors; often translated as “evil.” The Aramaic word for “evil” means unripe, undeveloped, immature, something not done in the right time. Matthew’s version would tell us to ask to be delivered from unripeness or immaturity.

heaven: according to Genesis, heaven is the space between the water above the earth (clouds) and the water covering the earth (oceans). Yet that’s too literalistic, since the sun, moon, and stars are above the clouds.

pneuma: usually translated “spirit or breath or wind” but in some places as “life” which is explained in Greek lexicons as the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any one; the efficient source of any power, affection, emotion, desire, etc.

agios: holy, pure, worthy of praise.

     So the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray for things that help us to grow in maturity and to be persistent about it. What do you think?

 

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

Ripening in Faith

Luke 10:38-42

     Do you still think of God the same way as when you were a child? Do you still think of God the same way as ten years ago? Some people might say that the truth doesn’t change, so “No, I don’t think of God any different.” Well, I agree that God doesn’t change. But do you think the ability of a child or a person to conceive of God (and God’s will) can change? If one’s ability to think and put ideas together to discern truth hasn’t changed since you were taught “religion” – or even in the past five years – it might be good to reflect on that. I think we can learn that in the story of Mary and Martha.

 blackberries2    There are few sermons that I gave ten years ago that I’d be able to preach the same today. Why? Because my concept of God continues to change as I continue to read and interpret the Bible (as well as other ancient wisdom teachings), and then connect them with my ever-increasing life experiences.

     There’s a difference between having the faith of a child and having the intellect or beliefs of a child. There’s a difference between having child-like faith and having childish faith.  I think the story of Mary and Martha gives some insight into the fact that it is important to give heed to our need for spiritual growth over the need to always be believing “the right things” or “what we’ve been taught we are supposed to do.”

     As you’ve seen in previous posts, I enjoy retranslating the Gospels based on my changing understanding of God. This is my current version of this story of Mary and Martha. I say “current” because next year when I’m putting it all together to publish it, I may have some new insights and experiences that would inspire me to adapt it.

     There’s really only one change of words in this story that lends a new perspective to it. See if you can find it.

     38 Now as they were traveling, he entered a village where a certain woman named Martha received him as a guest into her house. 39 She also had a sister named Mary who seated herself at Jesus’s feet and kept listening to the master’s teaching. 40 However Martha was preoccupied because of so many to serve. So she approached him and said, “Master, do you not care that my sister abandoned me to serve by myself? Therefore command her so that she might help me.”

     41 But the Master answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are full of anxiety and disturbed about many things. 42 But little is needed beyond one thing; in fact, Mary chose the ripeningn portion which will not be taken from her.”

     Did you ever understand what the “good part” meant in this story? It’s hard to say that serving others isn’t almost as good as listening to Jesus. Martha was following everything she was taught she was supposed to do as a woman in that culture. Mary wasn’t paying much attention to tradition. She was caught up in the moment. She was being filled with new understandings. That’s the kind of thing that can’t be taken away from you.  

     The word for good in Aramaic means “ripening, developing.” Mary was growing in her understanding of God. She was not reading a book. She was sitting at the feet of Wisdom learning about loving one another. How many theological teachings did Jesus offer to explain the nature of God? He didn’t have to explain the nature of God in words. He revealed God in his actions. His words taught people how to get along with each other.

     If you haven’t read the Bible since confirmation class, or even in the last five years, how can you be growing in your understanding of God? By listening to someone else’s concept of God? What if they haven’t read the Bible in the last ten years? When I say Bible, I have to qualify that. The Old Testament is the Jewish understanding of God, written a thousand years before Jesus came and revealed the Father to the world. Jesus came to reveal an image of God that was different from the past. That’s why in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the Pharisees – experts in the scriptures – that they didn’t know God. He said this five times. They didn’t know God even though they had memorized the scriptures. Reflect on that. Then pick up the New Testament, and study the new witness and testimony to the truth.

     Don’t get me wrong. The Old Testament is full of practical value and ancient wisdom that is undecipherable by children in the faith. It’s full of poetic and literary genius. Yet we have had to overlook some early “commands” that are clearly not acceptable in the twenty-first century. I’ll just mention one – we don’t put people to death for picking up sticks (working) on the Sabbath like Moses sanctioned. If there’s one we’ve had to overlook, then you can be sure there are some in the other 613 “laws” that may not be appropriate, either. That’s why Jesus told some parables about separating the good from the bad. (I discuss this in my book about the kingdom of heaven.) But this is off the point of the story.

     Just because someone went to seminary doesn’t mean they understand God. And it doesn’t mean they have grown in their own understanding of the Inconceivable. Some preachers and teachers are saying the same things that they learned long ago with the same understanding of God as when they were twenty.

     Seminaries teach head knowledge. They teach what people believed three hundred years after Jesus lived as if we can’t know any more about God than what someone else understood in the fourth century (or as late as the sixteenth century). Few seminaries teach budding spiritual leaders how to listen for the voice of God that dwells within their own hearts. Those that make an attempt rarely make it a requirement. They don’t teach developing leaders how to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his voice. They don’t instruct them how to teach you to sit at the feet of Jesus. I’m suspicious that it’s because they don’t trust God is able to teach you exactly what they learned in seminary. And it might be something different than what they think you are supposed to believe. Even worse, you might not need them if you can hear God yourself.

     God is inconceivable and ever-expanding. Theology has put God in a box. And there are a lot of closed boxes out there. Which box are you trusting is true? Maybe it’s time to lift the lid and peek outside the box.

     Jesus quoted Isaiah (I think) when he said, “They will be taught by God.”

     Only God can teach you. Why? Because you have had different experiences from anyone else. Only God can put his Word into your heart based on your experiences. Get a Bible, sit down and read it yourself. Focus on the new witness to the goodness of God. Let Jesus and the Holy Spirit teach you about God. And if anyone tells you something different from what your heart heard when you were reading (not what your brain has been conditioned to believe), take it under advisement, reflect on it, and ask the Holy Spirit whether you should accept it or not. After all, St. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with much fear and trembling.” Work out your own salvation…listen and be taught by God.

     If your understanding of God has not changed in the last two years, are you Mary or Martha?

     Maturing (ripening) in faith is a many layered thing. Each time you read the scriptures, another layer develops and your wisdom grows deeper…and sweeter…and more fruitful.

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

The Mature Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

     So many words in the Bible have lost their flexibility and potential for meaning because of the theology and repetition that has been conferred to them. I’m finishing up a book about the term “eternal life.” Even modern day commentaries suggest the Greek words (aionios zoa) mean something different or in addition to what I was taught as a child. Religion tends to focus on the afterlife when what Jesus spoke of was life in the world today. Simply stated, aionios zoa refers to a life that is true to God’s purposes in this age. You’ll have to wait for the book to get the details.

     When I translate the Greek terms, I like to use synonyms or other options for the Greek words (instead of accepting King James translators’ choices) to see if they open up the text a bit. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised. In the following translation, you’ll see I’ve replaced terms like “love,” “inherit,” “heart,” “mind,” and “soul.” Not only that, but in the traditional title of the story, The Good Samaritan, I’ve replaced “good” with “mature.”

     Why? Because the Aramaic word for good means “ripe” or “fully developed” or “mature.” Isn’t someone who does the right thing, even though he or she has a difference of opinion with another, one we can call mature?

     All the changes I’ve made have come from options in the Greek lexicon. Even if you question whether a different way of understanding “eternal life” is valid or not, take a look at how a new perspective of “eternal life” affects the story of the “Mature Samaritan.”

25 Then behold, one who was familiar with the law stood up and challenged [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, what must I do to experience a life true to God’s purposesl in this age?”

26 So he answered him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

27 Whereupon, he said, “‘You shall be committed to the Lord your God with all your sincerity, with all your personality, with all your ability, and with all your thoughts,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’

28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live a life true to God’s purposes.”

29 However, wanting to make himself appear righteous, he asked Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?”

30 Answering his reply, Jesus said, “A certain man was descending from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now he was surrounded by robbers, who even stripped him of his clothing. And having severely beat him, they left him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest was descending on that road. But after seeing him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite (a priest’s assistant), approached the place, and having observed him, passed by on the other side. 33 Then a certain Samaritann traveling the road came upon him.  When he saw him, he felt compassion. 34 So he came near to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine; then he mounted him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35 On the next day, he took out two silver coins, gave them to the innkeeper and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three seems to you to have been a neighbor to him assaulted by the robbers?”

37 And he said, “The one who actively showed compassion to him.”

Therefore Jesus said to him, “You go and actively bring forth the same compassion.”

+  +  +

The Greek for eternal life actually means a life of purpose and meaning, true to God’s purposes for which one is created.

m Jerusalem is 2490 ft. above sea level, Jericho is 846 ft .below sea level, and there is 24 miles between them.

Samaritans were despised by the Jews.

+  +  +

     The only impact my changes make in a new translation of this wonderful story is that aionios zoa (eternal life) is something you and I can experience today. We don’t have to wait until the afterlife to experience a life true to God’s purposes in the age in which we are living.

     I’ve also described the kingdom of heaven as applying to the life we live today in my book, In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today. Click on this link or on the link in the column to the right. Jesus taught us how to live a meaningful life today rather than how to reach for a comfortable life when we are dead.

Share
Posted in Interpretation, Meditations on Specific Texts | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Is There More?

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

     Jesus is said to have cast out demons. In my book “In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today,” chapter eleven was devoted to teaching you how you can cast out demons and unclean spirits.  He taught his disciples how to do it. You have every capacity to do everything they did.

     Also, in that book, I showed that the kingdom of God refers to something in this plane of existence on earth. In fact, the kingdom of God refers more to a way of ruling or the way in which a domain operates than merely to a place in the afterlife.

     The name for God in Aramaic is alaha. It means oneness or unity. To reduce the book into ten words, the kingdom of heaven/God is about the development or advancement of Oneness – within you as well as in the world around you.

     My favorite pastime is to change words in the Bible. It removes the theological baggage often attached to them. Many times it sounds different when you simply insert another option from a Greek lexicon.

     Therefore, this is my translation of Luke 10:1-11, 16-20:

      Now after this, the Master appointed seventy-two others that he sent in pairs ahead of him into every town and village where he himself was about to visit. And he said to them, “There’s so much to reap, but so few workers. Therefore, ask the harvest master to send out workers into his harvest. You go. Look. I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.a Do not bring a wallet, nor bag, nor shoes; and do not embrace anyone in greeting on the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Let peace come to this house.’ And when a child of peace is there, your tranquility will settle upon it; if not, it will return to you. So live in that house, eating and drinking from what they provide, for a worker deserves his wages. Do not move from house to house. Also wherever you enter a city that welcomes you, live on what they commit to you. Indeed, attend to those who are weak, and tell them, ‘The advancement of Unity/Oneness has been offered to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not accept you, go out into its streets and declare, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city that sticks to our feet, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless be aware of this – that the advancement of Unity/Oneness has been offered to you.’ … 16 The one who listens to you listens to me; and the one who ignores you ignores me. Additionally, he who ignores me ignores the one who sent me.” 17 Therefore the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Master, even the demonsd are obedient to us when we follow your methods.”e  18 So he said to them, “I was watching the adversary fall like lightning from the sky. 19 Behold, I have entrusted you with the ability to trample on serpentsf and scorpions,g and against every ability of the enemy, and absolutely no one shall treat you unjustly. 20 Nevertheless do not be pleased about this, that life-forcesh are being obedient to you, but be pleased that your namese are being recorded by the universe.”i

a nonviolent, passive people among greedy, cruel men.

demons, possibly in the form of parasites, roundworms that appear to be snake-like when removed from under the skin.

in your name. One’s name stands for everything they do, their reputation and actions. To act in someone’s name is to follow what they do and therefore one’s actions reveal their name/reputation.

See (d) to connect serpents with demons. On a metaphorical level, with the ancients, the serpent was an emblem of cunning and wisdom, thus in Matt. 23:33, crafty hypocrites are called serpents.

scorpions, those animals/people with a poisonous sting.

spirits. Another definition of pneuma is “the life-force that animates the body.”

this is a poetic reference to a universal belief that many recognize as karma – you will reap what you sow. The universe/sky keeps a record of your actions. You will be repaid for your kindnesses, as well as your unkindnesses.

~~~

     The New Testament is full of references to “you will reap what you sow.” If you help others, you will be repaid in kind. Condemn others and you will be repaid in kind. This is not only Christian wisdom. It’s the wisdom of thousands of years prior to Jesus. It applies to clergy as well as to laypersons.

     What happens to debts left unpaid at death? Does some sprinkled water erase them? Do a few prescribed words of confession erase them? Are the laws of the universe (that have been set in place by God) nullified by our rituals? Is there more? Have you thought about it? More important, do you think the kingdom of God will only be found in the afterlife? Just asking questions today.

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

In God We Trust – Really?

 

     Have you ever wondered why the slogan “In God We Trust” is printed on our money?  Isn’t that oxymoronic? Maybe we should start imprinting the same slogan on our guns. That might calm our trigger-happy fears so that our aim can be more deadly. In God we trust. Really?

     The fourth stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner (written during the War of 1812) contains the phrase “And this be our motto: In God is our trust.” In 1861, Rev. M.R. Watkinson petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognizing the Almighty God in some way on our coins “to relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism.” Part of the motivation was to declare the God was on the Union side of the Civil War (Wikipedia). Of course He was.

     A nation whose Christian occupants claim it is built on Christian values prints a God-trusting slogan on its Mammon. That’s putting sheep’s clothing on a wolf.

     Then the Red Scare in the 1950’s led the conservatives in congress to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union, which promoted state atheism. In God We Trust became the official motto in 1956.

     Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” He trusted we’d use our intelligence to figure out how to do that, with money and with guns.

     I’m not unreasonable. I don’t believe Jesus would suggest you or I stand back and watch as innocent people are victimized. Nor do I think Jesus was promoting the total absence of protective weapons. There are dangerous people in the world who have never felt love nor given it. They are in it for themselves. They live in their own hell. They don’t trust in God, nor do they trust people. Here’s evidence that Jesus understood the reality of the need for reasonable protection:

35 Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” 39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him (Luke 22:35-39 NRSV).

Pirate     Jesus realized the time for confrontation had come and he was leading his disciples into a firestorm fueled by emotion. And the people with the “guns” to be feared were (as usual) the religious ones. It’s okay to be prepared because there are irrational people who operate from emotions. It’s okay to defend yourself. The Koran also says it’s okay to defend yourself. However, it agrees that aggression is wrong.

     Eleven disciples and two swords. Jesus said, “It is enough.”

     The religion of Islam is not bad. Just like swords are not bad and guns are not bad. People are just undeveloped. The meaning of Islam comes from the Arabic root “Salema” which means peace, purity, submission, and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to God’s law. The professed Islamic militants who promote aggression are not obedient to God’s law as written in their Koran, they are hypocrites…just like those Christians who promote aggression and retaliation are not obedient to the guidance of the One they call Christ.

     Christians who promote an eye for an eye retaliation are not being obedience to the teachings of Jesus, who said, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, do not resist an evil person” (Matt. 5:38-39 NKJV). Jesus wasn’t saying, don’t defend yourself. He was saying, don’t retaliate. Don’t repay evil with evil. You will only continue the cycle of sin and evil. Don’t add gasoline to the fire. Be mature. Rise above evil. Sit down with your enemy and find out what he/she fears from you. Then assure him/her that you also want him/her to be secure and happy in life. Then work to make it happen. This is loving your enemy. Show him/her what it looks like to be mature. Remove fear, don’t increase it.

     One last point:

“Do not fear those who would kill the body but cannot kill the soul…But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses (homologeō) Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies (arneomai) Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt.10:28, 30-33 NKJV).

     What is the context? It’s trusting in God. To “confess” Jesus is to agree with him and his teachings. It’s trusting his teachings are true. Here are the definitions for the two underlined words in the passage:

homologeō – to speak or say the same together with another, that is to say to speak the same language, to say the same things, that is to say to assent, accord, agree with, coincide with, grant, admit, confess.

arneomai – to deny, disown; to say no, refuse, decline, renounce, reject.

     Do you agree with Jesus and his teachings? They are one and the same thing. You decide for yourself.

     Put your faith into action. Trust in God. Trust in Jesus. Really…trust!

     But do background check first…and don’t give a sword or a gun to anyone (especially a religious leader) who has a history of acting before he thinks, like Peter, the first pope of the church. Go figure.

Share
Posted in Life in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Casting Out Demons

Luke 8:26-39

     One of my favorite movies was the one with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Sigourney Weaver – many of you might remember it – it came out in 1984 and was called “Ghost Busters.” I was reminded of it when I read the gospel lesson for today – the story of the man who was possessed by many demons. Hollywood has a way of planting images in our minds – and we often transfer those images to use as they are needed. So when I think of someone possessed by demons or evil spirits, I think of the giant Pillsbury Dough Boy who was the ultimate demon destroyed at the end of the movie. Demon-possessed people are just overblown marshmallows – people who are really soft and sweet on the inside. You just have to know how to work with them to get rid of those demons that haunt them and fill them with hot, angry air.

     Today’s story about the man named “Legion” must be an important one because three out of four of the Gospels tell it. It’s told right after the story of Jesus calming the winds and the waves of the storm on the Sea of Galilee…as if to say, “Not only can he calm turbulent waves, but he can calm turbulent thoughts in people, too.”

     So, do you have any demons or turbulent thoughts in your head? Some of you might say, “Yes, I do have some demons.” When people say they have demons today, they often mean the demons of guilt, fear, anxiety, inadequacy, shame, etc. Someone here might have demon that hangs around in the attic of your mind that keeps saying, “You didn’t graduate from high school or earn a 4-year college. You’re not as smart as those people. But you wouldn’t want to be like them because they think they’re better than everyone else.”

demon portrait     But the Greek word daimonion was used by writers before the New Testament to mean something similar to the divine Power or deity, to God. Maybe it was another way of saying a higher power of some kind that nobody understood. Who understands mental illness or bi-polar or schizophrenia?

     Many people bury themselves in a tomb of guilt, regret, worry, or false expectations. And they don’t know how to get out. The man in our gospel story today said his name was “Legion.” A Roman legion consisted of six thousand soldiers. When they all walk together, listening to the same commander and having a singleness of purpose, they can accomplish mighty things and they can overcome many foes. But when they are all trying to go their own direction, pushing and pulling against each other because nobody is in command of them – that feels like your arms and legs are tied to four horses that are going in different directions.

     One major demon that haunts us is fear. Terror. Somebody wants to hurt us. So we need guns. Somebody is going to come into the country illegally and I’m going to have to pay for their healthcare. So we need a wall. Most of our fears are unrealistic or flat-out false. Fear takes away our objectivity and turns us into mad-men, making us do irrational and unloving , un-Christlike things.

     The demon-possessed man was living in a tomb like that – full of conflicting thoughts and fears. He lived in the tombs, mingling with others who were dead. You see, being dead in the Bible is a metaphor for someone living in the absence of true life – people stewing in their negativity. That’s not life, thinking about things like: My father told me I’d never amount to anything… My older brother told me I was stupid… My teacher told me I was a slow learner… my skin color is dark and I’m not as good as white people…the church tells me I’m a miserable sinner and I can’t change it…that I’ll go to hell if I don’t force myself to be attracted to the opposite sex…or maybe it’s hearing the negativity that was taught as a child…the Russians are all bad people. Arabs are all bad people. Non-Christians are all bad people. The opposing political party is evil. There are six thousand negative thoughts running through our minds every day. It can be overwhelming.

     So I’m going to give you fourteen words to stop your legion of thoughts from pulling in different directions and it will help you get them all going in the same direction so you can do great and wonderful things, and overcome many foes and discouraging voices. I want you to say these fourteen words any time one of those demons in your head says something negative to you, that makes you feel unworthy (or points to the unworthiness of others); that you are of no value, or unloved, or not respected for the beautiful person God created you to be.

     Do you have a pencil and paper? You might want to write this down. Are you ready? Alright, here they are – say this when you hear a demon speaking:

“Stop it – in Jesus’ name – because I was made in the image of God.”

     When discouraging thoughts overpower you, bring Jesus into the battle. Let him lift you up and out of the tomb of negativity. Think about what Jesus would say. Would he agree with those demons? Would he berate you? Would he berate others? Would he condemn you, or others? No. He came that you might have life and have it to the full.

     Once the negative voices have left, then sit and visit with Jesus when you are in your right mind. Have a conversation about the things that are bothering you. That’s called prayer. Let Jesus give you his peace and his strength so you can say, “Stop it” to the unhappy and discouraging thoughts when they infect your brain. And learn to be as gracious with yourself as Jesus has been with you.

     All Jesus asks is that you go home and tell everyone what God has done for you.

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

The Perfume of Grace

Luke 7:36–8:3

I don’t know what version you are using to read Luke 7:36- 8:3, but here’s my translation:

36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. Therefore he entered into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 But a sinful woman in the city, having found out that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of aromatic ointment. 38 And standing over his feet she began weeping, to wet his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

39 Having seen this, the Pharisee who had invited him said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet would understand who and what kind of woman it is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 But Jesus sensing criticism said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.”

41 “Two men were in debt to a certain money-lender. One owed five hundred silver coins and the other fifty. 42 When neither was able to pay, he graciously forgave the debts for both of them. Therefore which of them will appreciate him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I assume it was the one for whom he kindly forgave the greatest amount.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged correctly.”

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume.  47 For this reason, I tell you, her failures, which were many, have been forgiven, that’s why she showed much devotion. But the one to whom a small amount is being forgiven shows little devotion.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your failures have been let go.”

49 At this those reclining at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even dismisses sins?” 50 Moreover he said to the woman, “Your certainty has restored you; go your way in peace.”

1Soon afterward, he traveled through every city and village, openly proclaiming and bringing a joyful message of the development of Oneness. Now the twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been restored from troubled lives and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven incorrigible spirits, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were providing for them from their own possessions.

     Okay, I know giving the name “Oneness” to God in 8:1 is a little New Age, but aren’t we living in a New Age? Or are you still living in an Old Age? I use Oneness because the name for God in Aramaic is Alaha which means Oneness or Unity. God (theos) was a term appropriated from pagans. Another thing, remember that Luke probably wrote this gospel twenty-plus years prior to John and almost three hundred years before there was a formally declared theology of one powerful group that Jesus was the son of God in a human form.

So why would this woman display so much devotion to Jesus? She could not have known he was God’s only Son, born of a virgin. She must have heard him teaching at some earlier time. Maybe he had convinced her that Yahweh was actually more loving than she’d been taught and not hell-bent on punishing her for her many sins. Maybe he convinced her that she was not a second or third class citizen in God’s eyes.

There are some potential metaphors in the story. Jesus told the Pharisee that he had not offered water to clean his feet, or greeted him with any sign of affection, or anointed his head with oil when he entered the home. These were social displays of respect or honor. The Pharisee was more concerned with his own honor than in showing respect to this roaming rabbi who was departing from tradition. To anoint someone’s feet with perfume could also suggest the woman was honoring the way Jesus walked (lived his life). Maybe she was even trying to walk the same way. In that respect, she was letting go of (forgiving, leaving behind) her own sins and not suffering negative consequences from her actions anymore.

Mary Magdalene was said to have had seven demons removed from her. Those could have been seven Guinea worms (a common parasite that crawls under this skin and looks a little like a small snake). I called them incorrigible spirits. According to a Jewish opinion which passed over to Christianity, demons were the gods of the Gentiles and the authors of idolatry. I read a fundamental Jewish magazine within the last ten years that was declaring Allah to be the Chief of Demons. Not much has changed in two thousand years for some people.

On the other hand, I wonder if incorrigible spirits could be considered like feminism, homo-philia, liberalism, anti-traditionalism, pro-choice, or pro-immigration? Or the opposite, depending on your political party. It’s just a thought.

One thing I think this story says is that you can be as religious as you have been conditioned to believe you should be, but if you aren’t doing what Jesus did or asked you to do, why would you expect anyone to let go of the injustices you yourself have committed?

It’s the cross you bear (the cross of giving grace, not vengeance, to others) that releases you from (the commission of) your unloving actions rather than the unconditional love of Someone else who paid the Deity off. When you start showing grace rather than committing unloving acts upon people you judge as sinful, you won’t suffer the negative consequences that inevitably return to you…reaping what you sow.

Pour the expensive perfume of grace on others. Grace carries a delightful odor and overwhelms the crap people have been walking in. You’ll be placing it on the feet of Jesus who is in your neighbor. You, too, will be freed from your unloving actions.

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

This Is Eternal Life – John 17

John 17:1-3

     I’m currently finishing a manuscript to be sent for final edits for a new book about how the word eternal is used in the New Testament, and specifically how it has been misunderstood when connected to eternal life. It’s a game changer. When I come across a new piece of the puzzle fits together as I’m translating verses in the Bible, why should I wait to share it? So let me show you what has been confirmed for me in John 17.

     The Greek words that have been translated as eternal life are aionios zoa. The following is a traditional translation of how Jesus described aionios zoa (pay attention to the words I’ve underlined),

 “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3 NRSV)

     Does knowing God and Jesus qualify you for a blissful afterlife? This interpretation was never satisfying for me. Jesus never described aionios zoa as being like a city of gold and jewels or anything that would appeal to the human senses.

     In my book I spent a lot of time explaining how the adjective aionios refers—NOT to a never-ending period of time—but more accurately to an unspecified period of time WITHIN the age. And the noun zoa refers to the kind of life that is lived true to God’s purposes. You’ll have to trust that I’ve justified these until the book comes out.

     Translators choose words to fit their own theology. My theology is not the same as the King James translators (who have influenced all subsequent English translations). Let me show you some translating options that could explain this passage another way.

     Traditional translators converted the Greek word sarx to “people.” Sarx means “flesh,” in the physical or bodily sense. It doesn’t mean a group of people. There are two perfectly good Greek words used nineteen times by John to refer to a collective group of people—laos (3 times) and anthropos (16 times).

     This passage makes more sense when “flesh” applies to the body and human desires of Jesus himself instead of to all “people.”

     The word for “authority” can be translated as “power or control.”

     The verb for “give” can also be translated as “grant, present or show openly, bring to” and more.

     The word “know” implies an intimate or experiential knowledge to the point of understanding.

     When applying these options, another possible translation of verses 1-3 might sound like this:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you since you have granted him control over all aspects of human flesh to openly show a purpose-filled life in this age to all whom you have brought to him. For this one is a life true to God’s purposes in the age, with the end being that they may understand your nature, the only true[1] Deity; indeed, for which you sent Jesus the Christ” (John 17:1-3, my translation).

     Jesus’s description of a purpose-filled life suggests that God gave him strength to control the entirety of his body and mind so that he could demonstrate a purpose-filled life to everyone with whom he came in contact. More importantly, I propose John claims (and for me, confirms) that the purpose for which this life was shown was to convey the true nature of God. This is in contrast with the image of God in Hebrew Scriptures who required sacrifices to be appeased.

     Some might complain that only the Son of God could have this kind of control over the flesh. Yet we all are sons and daughters of the Creator able to ask and receive greater control of the bodily appetites. A purpose-filled life finds its power in knowing the goodness of God through personal experience. Even St. Paul suggested the importance of this kind of knowing: Or do you despise the riches of [God’s] kindness and tolerance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4, my translation). Jesus revealed the true nature and goodness of God.

     When you know by experience (not merely because someone told you) that God is good (caveat: except when you’ve been bad), in fact, you know it so certainly that nothing can convince you otherwise, you will have received power from on high to start living the aionios zoa (a life true to the purposes of God—love and unity) in the present age. When you see “eternal life” in the New Testament, substitute this meaning and you’ll gain some new understanding.

[1] alethinos – (true) – 1. “that which has not only the name and semblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name” (Tittmann p. 155; [“particularly applied to express that which is all that it pretends to be, for instance, pure gold as opp. to adulterated metal” Donaldson, New Crat. § 258; see, at length, Trench § viii.]), in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real and true, genuine (greattreasures.org).

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

The Holy Spirit as Guide

John 16:5-15

     This past week,  I wrote a blog about why I believe Jesus would have spoken against all the religious and nonreligious people today who fear and condemn transgender people for not fitting the norm. You can scroll back and read it for yourself.

     In other places in the New Testament, Jesus spoke against the Pharisees of his day for loving the law of Moses more than they were loving people who had leprosy, or who were lame, or blind, or mentally ill, or who had birth defects, or any other condition that made them less than perfect by the standards of those who believed themselves to be favored by God.

     Yet I’m not writing today to change your mind about any one particular injustice in our society today. I’m here to remind you of the universal and spiritual law that is repeated many times in the New Testament: you will reap what you sow. If you sow judgment on any group of people, you will be judged by others. If you sow love, you will reap love. That’s your choice and I’ll let you make it for yourself.

     Instead, I want to turn the conversation to what Jesus said in the verses prior to the gospel reading for Sunday. Context is everything. So this is the context: Jesus said this to his disciples:

“I have spoken these things so that you will not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time is coming when someone who kills you will think that he’s doing God a service. And they will do these things to you because they (the ones who know the Scriptures backwards and forwards) do not know the Father nor me. But I have told you these things so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. I did not tell you these things in the beginning because I was with you. “But now I go away to the One who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ And because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, a Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you. And when he has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not place their confidence in me; 10 of righteousness because I go to my Father and you see me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:1-13).

     The Helper, according to most scholars, is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will guide you in the truth. So how is the Holy Spirit going to do that?

      I’m going to be the first in line to tell you that the Bible we have received is the most incredible witness to the wisdom of the centuries. It’s a precious book of knowledge and has led many people to love God. But I worship God, not a Book. And I’ve found that truth doesn’t always lie on paper in the black and red ink. The truth is often a hidden treasure, hidden between the letters and the lines on the paper. Martin Luther said it’s in the white spaces where the Holy Spirit teaches. And I agree.

     Yet the Holy Spirit doesn’t need a book to teach you the truth. Millions of people on our planet over two thousand years and even today were not able to read the Book because they don’t know how to read. Still, the Holy Spirit spoke to them and taught them to love God and their neighbors. Millions of Christians today never read the Book because they don’t have any time. Still, the Holy Spirit speaks to them and teaches them to love a God who cares for them and to love their neighbors. So the Holy Spirit, the Helper, doesn’t necessarily need a book to guide you in the truth.

     In the passage quoted, one of the things Jesus said was this, The Helper will convict the world of sin. The Greek word for sin, harmartia, literally means “to miss the mark.” The Holy Spirit tells me that the mark we are to hit is love. Sin isn’t as much about following rules in a book of wisdom assembled in the fourth century as it is about missing the mark of love.

     The Bible tells us that God is Love. If you believe this like I do, that means love (God) trumps rules. Jesus himself set aside the rules in the Book when love was more helpful in caring for his neighbors. He contradicted long-followed rules in the Scriptures that he didn’t agree with. And it’s the Holy Spirit that Jesus said he would send to be your guide who will teach you this. So I’m here to remind you today, that the Holy Spirit dwells in your heart. Not in your logical brain that sees ink on paper. He dwells in hearts that have been softened by love.

     I’m here to tell you to listen to the Holy Spirit who lives in your heart and not to every Bible-thumping Christian who insists that the wisdom of God is found in the black and red ink of your Bibles. It’s found in the white spaces and in the depths of your heart – where the Holy Spirit dwells and speaks to you. Let the Holy Spirit guide you to believe those who promote Love.

     May this Holy Spirit guide you toward hitting the mark of love in all the choices you must make in the world today. And may you sow love rather than judgment, and you will harvest much love in return.

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