Thursday, March 2, 2017

6 Reasons the Bible Sucks (But It is Essential Anyway)

Ever pick up a full Old-and-New-Covenant Bible lately?  It’s pretty heavy.  Now, think about how big and weighty it would be if the book had normal pages, instead of the thin ones you can’t turn and single columns with normal margins and a normal font size instead of the tiny-omg-who-could-possibly-read-this-text monstrosities?  By the way, you know that complaining about text size is the primary sign of aging? 

Anyway, the point is, the Bible is a big, big book.  Bigger than we generally think.  And that’s because it’s not a single book. It is a bunch of books, a library of ancient texts, collected over a thousand year period of time. We don’t actually know how many authors it had, because many of the texts had a number of writers and editors.  The book divisions have a complex history, as some books are clearly a number of shorter texts (Genesis and Psalms, for example) and some books wouldn’t have been divided if they could have fit on a single scroll (I and II Samuel).  These texts are thrown together because of their history of being read together in synagogues and churches and because of a general theme of people influenced by Jewish culture and their experience of God.

Not creepy at all.  Thanks for the flowers, though.
The Bible isn’t exactly unified in theme, though.  While each text seems to present God as a unique person, when put together, God seems like a schizophrenic nation-abuser.  He speaks of his loving  kindness and mercy in one chapter and in another he is killing off masses of people because they ate the birds he gave them to eat. Sounds like God should be walking around in boxers and a wife-beater some of the time and at others he is dressed in a tux, waxing eloquent.

Perhaps we just don’t understand God’s ways?  Perhaps we need to look at God throughout the Bible to get the whole picture? Or perhaps each writer is just expressing their opinion of God, based on their limited experience?  And perhaps the authors of the Bible only understood the bits and pieces of the spirit world that they could comprehend in the midst of their difficult, struggling existence?

I think we need to give the Bible a break.  Putting on it such words as “inerrant” or “infallible” are heavy words to a text that we tend to see in it the likeness of our own opinion.  That’s the convenience of having such a big book written over a thousand year period of time, is that we can find most opinions somewhere hidden in there, both loving and racist, both philosophical and inane.

I have intensely studied the Bible as the word of God and the source of devotion for almost 40 years now, and I have studied it enough that I have a few concerns that I just can’t shake.  Like these:

1. The Bible Teaches that No Woman is Good
Ecclesiastes is a pretty on-the-edge text, one that’s tough to accept in the canon at times, but this passage is really disturbing:

I have searched and found one upright man out of a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.”

Certainly the viewpoint that people generally suck is found occasionally in the pages of the Bible, and especially in the pages of patriarchal theology.  But we don’t find this point of view very often: Men generally are pretty bad, but every single woman is just plain evil.  “A hundred percent of women are the dust of the ground that I walk, but I found seven and a half million men that are pretty okay”
This theology is disputed in other parts of the Bible, which have people like Tamar, the daughter in law of Judah, and of course Mary the mother of Jesus, but it is just crazy to say that women are absolutely worse than men.  But there it is, right there in your Bible.

What did Luke REALLY do?
2. The Bible says a Woman’s Hand should be cut off
If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.  (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
Again, it’s not if anyone touches a person’s genitals in a fight, but if a woman does it.  According to the Bible, women are special.  Here’s another example:

3. The Bible Says its Okay to Rape Women after Battle
In Numbers 31, the Israelites were battling the Midianites and whooped their butt.  But they kept all the innocents alive, you know, the people who weren’t fighting.  Moses smacked his generals around, “What were you thinking of?” He gave very specific instructions.  “Kill off all the boys and all the sluts… I mean women who have been with a man. But any virgins—go ahead and keep them.  Sleep with them for a while.  If you want to keep them permanently, then marry them.  Otherwise, send them away to do… whatever.”  According to this passage, there were 32,000 young women who were raped and then treated this way.  In general, this is the policy for women of an opposing nation in every battle, according to Deuteronomy 21.

"These are real beards, yeah, sure they are"
4. The Bible says prove a bride is a virgin or kill her
In Deuteronomy 22, there are some regulations about marriage.  One of the first is that right after the “bridal night” the couple must present “proof of virginity” to the community—meaning, blood from a woman’s genitals due to first intercourse.  We now know that the hymen can be broken in everyday activity and that intercourse does not always result in a bleeding hymen.  But even so, the consequence of a non-virgin bride is the death of the bride.  “The community shall stone her to death.”

5. The Bible says genocide is required
The Bible doesn’t only abuse women, although they are their most frequent target.  The Canaanites were also supposed to be killed, without exception.  The Canaanites were descendants of Canaan, a huge portion of the world, as he was the grandson of Noah.  So there were a number of peoples who fall under this blood pact, including the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.  These nations were supposed to be burned, every man, woman, child, cattle, building… not even the virgins were spared, so they must be pretty bad.

Of course, if these folks looked back in their own history, they’d see that their own genetic line was full of Canaanites (wives of Judah and other sons of Jacob).  So if they’d kill all the Canaanites, they’d have to kill themselves.  And one nation that they are sometimes friendly with, Edom (decendents of Esau and his Canaanite wives).  But hypocrisy didn’t seem to be a big deal in the early part of the Bible.

6. The Bible has a hard time distinguishing between God and Satan
In II Samuel 24, David is tested by God putting the desire for him to take a census so he knows how big his army could be.  It’s a minor sin of a king to number his army, a sign they are not trusting in God to defeat their enemies.  So, according to Exodus 30:12, any census must include a ransom for the life of the person counted, the money, it is assumed, would go into the priestly treasury.  But David, it seems didn’t take the tax, and his conscience pained him, so God gave him an option of punishments, all of which results in a massive loss of life.  David took a plague. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the same story is told again in II Chronicles.  That’s not unusual, as Chronicles and Samuel/Kings often tell the same tales with few variations.  But the variation here is that in Samuel it was God who tested David, while in Chronicles it was Satan who tested David.  Same sentence, different subject.  Now, theologically it isn’t such a problem because Satan is the prosecuting attorney of God.  But it feels weird that in Chronicles, as well as Job, that Satan, the enemy of God, is the representative of God in some places.  It’s a part of the Bible I wish would just go away.

***

The point is this: there are many parts of the Bible which disturb me and just about everyone in our modern society.  Parts of the Bible that feel very tribal, very hateful and about as unloving as one can get.  There are aspects that feel that they would reflect the worldview of a serial killer rather than the God who is Love.  I’m not using this as proof that the Bible is wrong or evil.  I’m saying that a clear look at the Bible recognizes that we can’t just accept it, point-blank, for what it says.  That idea, if truly pursued, goes into some very dark pathways.

I think that the Bible shouldn’t be accepted, swallowed like a multi-vitamin, as if it will all be good for you.  Because even if most of it IS good, there’s still the cyanide put in the mix that is destructive.

Why I Still Accept the Bible
I accept the Bible, but not as a whole.  I pick and choose what I like.  And frankly, so does everyone else.  I haven’t seen any religious group march on Washington demanding their rights to rape virgins (only virgins, mind you).  In fact, that seems pretty monstrous.  Even though it was a pretty common right in the ancient world, post-battle.  Today, slavery seems generally counted as an evil, and no one is demanding that their slave submit to them, despite both biblical and legal precedent.   Jews follow the Rabbinic interpretation of the Bible, which is a softer, more kind version of Moses.  Catholics follow church teaching, which even softens the ten commandments (like pointing out that wives aren’t possessions, for example).  This is just what Muslims have done with their Qur’an, providing a layer of teaching which helps us interpret the Scripture in a kinder way, which is easier to fit into modern morals.   This doesn’t compromise the basic teaching of the Scriptures, but it does strip away the stuff we can clearly see as evil.

For me, I don’t go for complex teachings over centuries.  I’ll just stick with Jesus, and work with his interpretation of the Bible.  Which is exactly what the New Testament says to do, anyway.

No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him..”

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things…

You are not to have teachers, for you have only one teacher and this is the Messiah.

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

In summary, these passages are saying that the Bible, as a whole, is inadequate to represent God.  Only Jesus accurately represent God.  Which is why I think that having a general Bible approach to theology or truth about God is misbegotten.  The Bible is a bunch of people like us, writing down their experiences of God.  Only Jesus-- the gospels, the teachings that tell us what Jesus did and said while on earth-- can show us who God is really like.  The rest is all guesswork.  And sometimes pretty shoddy guesswork at that.

Some will say, at this point, that I’m using the Bible in a willy-nilly, non-objective manner.  And I am.  I’m okay with that. As long as I keep Jesus central. 

 I have Jesus as my savior, not Moses, David or Paul or John.  And so I might ignore some things you might think I should pay attention to.  On the other hand, you might ignore some things I think are essential.  But that’s one of the great things about life.  We get to figure things out.  I’m trying to understand and follow Jesus, not anyone else and certainly not the Bible as a whole.


I’d be happy to have you join me in this quest. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

6 Things God Wants (according to Jesus)


Roger Waters claims “What God Wants, God gets.”  Jesus must take issue.

In Jesus’ world, God must command, cajole, beg, manipulate and train, even those willing to do God’s will. In his famous community prayer, the community has three lines in which they are praying for God, literally commanding God to act for His own benefit.  “Make your name hallowed.” “Make your kingdom come.”  As if God was just waiting for the go-ahead from humanity to do what he wanted all along.

The history of Christian theology is the progress of the distancing of God.  To make God less human-like, to strip him of any but the barest of human characteristics.  But Jesus affirms that humanity is made in the image of God, thus there is an indelible, unbreakable link between God and his creatures.  Jesus never diminishes the greatness or strength of God, but he also acknowledges God’s limitation.  That he doesn’t accomplish everything he desires.  That the world is far from where He wants it to be.  He is restrained by his love for every person, saint or wretched enemy.

What exactly does God want?  What is it that we could give Him that would make his Christmas complete?


a. Love

“The foremost is this, to love the Lord your God with all of your heart…”

The main thing God wants is our love.  The one thing he lacks is our love. 

This statement may seem silly.  Millions of people every Sunday… every day… worship God and perform sacrifices of praise to him.  How much love could a being possibly want?

It is interesting that the main act that Jesus did when going to the central place of worship of God in the first century is violently point out that they may be worshiping God, but they were not loving him.  They had allowed idols in the temple and were rejecting God’s people left out of the building.
Worship is an act of love, but it is easy to love an ideal that does not exist, a member of our Parthenon that has nothing to do with the God of Jesus.

To love God, we should follow the example of Jesus, who neglected the temple, but went off alone every day to spend time with God.  He sat in silence which became conversation with his Father. 

The core of loving any being, the foundational point is attentiveness.  To grant the object of our love full attention so that we can see who that being is, not just our ideas of the being.  To love is to see the full joy of the being of the other, to love is to really see, and to rejoice in that sight.   But this cannot happen unless we spend time, not just analyzing another, but time listening, observing, delving into the soul of the other.  Even so, our love of God doesn’t begin with a prayer led by a worship leader or a shouted song, but with us in God’s presence, remaining attentive to him, allowing us to hear what he wants to show us about himself.


b. To be respected

“Hallowed be your name”

To be “hallowed” means “to be made holy.”  But God’s name is already holy, then why should he desire anything else?  In Ezekiel 36, God speaks for himself about how his people worshiped idols, how they disregarded God’s love and so threw God’s name—his reputation—in the mud.  All the nations of the world spoke poorly of God because his people disregarded him.  He said that he would restore his reputation by renewing his people’s love.

Even so, God’s name is closely related to his people.  If his people worship power, money, judgement, fear or lust more than God, then those looking at God’s people have a right to call them hypocrites and God a weak ruler who is not represented by his people.  This prayer is a cry for God to renew his reputation by renewing his people, by having them worship the right God.  God wants respect, not through fear, but through a loving people.


c. To create his kingdom

“Your kingdom come”

Jesus told his disciples to “pray this,” which is interesting because it is generally recognized that God’s kingdom already was on earth through the temple and the priesthood, even as today most Christians see God’s kingdom on earth through the church.  But Jesus recognizes that these institutions are not the realization of God’s utopia, the ultimate manifestation of organized love, mercy and forgiveness on earth.

God’s desire is not just to have a people who are worshiping his name, but a political nation that transforms the world through powerful, all-encompassing love.  Until we see this, God will keep working in us to make it happen.



d. Heaven on earth
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Heaven isn’t as homogeneous as some think.  The biblical images we have of heaven isn’t people playing harps or creatures worshiping 24/7.  The main image we have is God as the emperor, the one who makes the decisions, directing the well-being of all.  He makes the final decision, but we see others in heaven who don't have the same opinion as God.  On earth, it is even more so, God is a distant figure, dropping acts on occasion, but not creating the order.

It is the false idea that God is Fate, controlling every event, good or bad.  Many praise God for every act of good fortune and also blame him for every misfortune.  As if God had control over every action that happens on earth.  Point of fact, God has control over very little that happens on earth.  Biblically, God handed over rule to humanity and they kicked God out of earth.  So God grants love and pours out his power on a limited basis, when humans allow him to, after crying out to him for help.
It is God’s desire to share his father-love to all.  He doesn’t want to be limited to Sundays and touchdowns.  He wants his people to invite him to come to earth and take up residence.  To share his love in their homes, their communities and their nations. 



e. To be known

“No one knows the Father but the Son.”

Moses saw God as the power, the law-giver, the jealous, at times abusive husband.  David viewed God as the object of desire, the Helper, the joy of his heart.  Elijah treated God as the task master, the one who drained him of his life.  Jesus treats God as the misunderstood father, who called out to his children and so desired to connect with them, but they were in such awe and fear that they kept their distance.  The children got so caught up in the details of the sayings of God that they failed to understand his love. Jesus claims that all of the previous visions of God were inadequate, poorly understood.  He knew God, personally, so he was the only one who could well-explain who God really is.  And he wanted us to primarily understand God’s love, especially for the weak and rejected.



f. Love for humanity

The second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.

We only know a person who understands God’s will by how she loves those around her.  God’s love is for all of humanity, all of his creation.  Those who love beyond themselves, beyond those they call their own, are God’s children, for they understand with God how important each and every person is to Him.  No one can do God’s will while abusing, harming, or abhorring another of God’s populace.  And no one can claim to love God while ignoring the need of the one in front of them.

At the top, we said that God wants our attentiveness.  As we are listening and loving God, He, meanwhile, is pointing back to earth, showing us the weak whom we have missed.  We know that we are turning earth more like heaven when we go to the weak and give them our time, resources and love.

The end of all things is that God wants us to love with the love He has for all of us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

11 Ways Jesus Fought Patriarchy

Patriarchy is the system of a society which grants a male perspective, power and principles greater pull than women’s, even though both are equally human.  In the Jewish tradition Jesus grew up in, both equality between sexes and a male-centric view was available, but his society was focused on the male.  Only men were granted places of authority, only men were allowed to interpret law (which gave them control over politics and ethics), and men alone were allowed to conduct family business.

It must be admitted that Jesus upheld the patriarchy at points.  Only men were allowed to be in the inner 12, and he allowed men to buster and command as if they were really in charge of his community.  Nevertheless, there are a number of ways that we can see that Jesus was trying to undermine the male-centric society.

1.  Jesus took on female disciples
Jesus was running a religious/political school, and there were some rules about how these schools worked, one of which is that no female students allowed.  They would distract the men, and women wouldn’t be allowed to interpret the law or wield influence (If you aren’t sure on this, watch Yentl).  But Jesus welcomed female students.  There was a small group of women who “followed” him just like the male disciples.  And Jesus openly encouraged Mary, the sister of Martha, to participate in his teaching sessions, saying, “She has chosen the better part.”


2. Jesus defended women over men
While a teacher might approve of something a woman said, in a patriarchal society they wouldn’t support a woman over a man, because this would shame the man.  Jesus, however, publicly rebuked men when they were on the wrong side of an argument with a woman.  Jesus sided with the woman anointing him over his disciple, Jesus even sided with a prostitute over a high-standing politician in the politician’s own party.  In fact, we have no example of Jesus siding with a man over a woman. 


3. Jesus promoted "feminine" virtues over "male"
Most teachers of Jesus’ day upheld the principles of law and justice in judgment was the most essential principle.  Jesus, on the other hand, upheld the more “feminine” or relational, gentle virtues.  He told the Pharisees to learn this verse: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”  He spoke of love, humility and compassion as the principles which causes one to be right with God and to build a spiritual community on.


4. Jesus defended “non-feminine” roles for women
Jesus found himself in an argument between two sisters, Mary and Martha.  Martha insisted that her sister not be lazy, but to take on her proper role in the patriarchy, which was to serve the men.  Jesus took Mary’s side, claiming that her role of being a student is better than her traditional female role.  I’m sure Martha was fuming that she didn’t have help doing the dishes.  If Jesus had been on the ball, I’m sure he would have sent Judas to help her.


5. Jesus taught equality between husband and wife
In Genesis, there are two creation stories of the forming of men and women.  One supports men and women being equally created and unified in marriage.  The second promotes patriarchy, teaching that women were created from the “side portion” of men.  Jesus never mentions the second story, but quotes the whole passage of female equality in relation to a matter of divorce, in which women got the worst end.


6. Jesus kicked the businessmen from the woman’s court
It was the policy of the high priest of Jesus’ day to allow people to exchange image-filled money with temple-approved money for sacrifices.  But Jerusalem was short on space, so the high priest allowed the money-changers to conduct their business in the “women’s court”, which was the only part of the temple women were allowed to worship and pray in.  Jesus threw the businessmen out, changing the high priest’s policy, reserving the space of women’s worship to be for them.


7. Jesus called himself a mother hen
In his sorrow over Jerusalem, Jesus proclaimed, “How I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks.”  Not a great blow for feminine equality, but his heart is in the right place.


8. Jesus defended a woman caught in adultery
The famous story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is often placed in the book of John, but it doesn’t really belong there.  Some old manuscripts place the same story in Luke, but it doesn’t really belong there, either.  We don’t know where it goes, or if it’s really something Jesus did.  But we think it sound like something Jesus would do.  Why?  Because he defends a woman, who was “caught in adultery”, but the men who brought her didn’t bring the other culprit she was caught with.  Again, Jesus in this story promotes the female principle of forgiveness over punishment.


9. Jesus gave a woman primary place in his gospel
There is only one person whom Jesus guarantees a place in his story: the woman (some say Mary) who anointed his feet and who got yelled for it.  Jesus said, “Wherever the gospel,” (gospel =  good news of victory) “is taught, what this woman did will be told.”  This woman’s act is central to Jesus’ victory over the society of the world.  Partly because it was a woman who did it.  Without women, Jesus recognizes, his story would never be told.


10. Jesus recognized a woman’s gift over the wealthy
In looking at the givers to the Temple, Jesus recognized one person over the rest—a woman who had no standing in society, no way to make money because she had no husband to stand for her.  She gave a small coin, but because it was all she had to live on, Jesus proclaimed her gift the greatest.  (He did not, however, say it was just, as he rebuked those who collected the money as “devourers of widow’s homes.”)


11. Jesus’ first resurrection witness was a woman

The greatest thing for woman Jesus did was for Mary Magdalene.   She was the first--and for a while, only—witness of Jesus’ resurrection.  This was in a society in which woman couldn’t be a legal witness, where men didn’t have to believe women’s testimony.  But Mary was the one Jesus trusted to tell the story without twisting it.  No matter what, every man who told the story had to admit that a woman knew about Jesus’ resurrection before anyone else.  That she had to tell them, because they were in the dark.  This is a fitting beginning to a society built upon equity.

Too bad it fell from that lofty position so quickly and firmly. 


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Seven Kinds of Misfits in the Christmas Story

Mary, Joseph and Jesus,
known by Joseph's family as the
Unholy Trinity: "slut, wimp and bastard"
There isn't a single Nativity story, but most of the story is found in two sections of the Bible: Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2.  If there is one theme that runs through this story, it is that the soon-to-be-born and newborn Messiah, king of the earth, attracted the most unsavory people.

1. An adulterous wife
Mary, the mother of Jesus, received a great "blessing" of a pregnancy from God... the blessing of being accused of an unfaithful slut.  She was already engaged to Joseph, a trade-worker, so when she shows up pregnant, it's clear that someone wasn't following the rules. Frankly, under the rules of first century Palestine, she could have been stoned to death.  Her (soon to be) husband kept her from this fate because he was...

2. A mystical wimp
Joseph didn't want his fiancee killed, he just wanted her drama to go away.  That is, until he got a dream about an angel.  He didn't even get a face-to-face like his woman, he just had some spicy pizza and dreamed up an angel telling him to go ahead and marry the slut.  He even told the wimp what to name the kid when he was born.  He woke up and said, "Well, I know what to do now."  Really, how many people take their nighttime fantasies as commands?

3. A Communist
Mary decided it was a great time to hang with her cousin in the country, and while she was there she was singing communist propaganda. She sang about revolution and the proletariat taking over.  She also sang about communist deeds like feeding the hungry and taking possessions from the rich.  She was a real party-goer, that Mary.

4. Judgmental family members
We know that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem.  But he had to go there because that was his family home.  He didn't try to go to an "inn" but to a "guest room" that his family home had for visitors.  The room was "full", meaning they didn't have room for a socialist pregnant slut that their wimpy nephew decided to hook up with.  They can go out into the stables.

"Now we know what the frankincense and myrrh was for."
5. Smelly homeless people
Shepherds, back in the day, didn't smell like mothballs or the back of a church closet.  Rather, they smelled like sheep.  Take  a wool sweater, get it wet, roll it in some dirt and grass and then stick it in a box for a month.  NOW you know what shepherd smells like.  These "workers" just hung out with sheep, trying to find someone's lawn for the animals to chomp on.  So everyone within a hundred miles of every flock (read: everyone) hated these wandering guys who liked sheep a bit too much.  For some reason, the angels thought these were the guys who needed to see the great King pop out from a vagina.

6. Nasty Old Fanatics
When Jesus' parents brought him to the temple to have his foreskin ripped off his penis with an ancient "knife", two old people accosted them.  First was Simeon who was "told by God" that he would see the Messiah before he died.  Perhaps he knew the day was coming and just picked out a likely looking male baby and declared his allegiance to that slobbering, wetting-himself King.  Then eighty four year old Anna "who never left the temple" to like eat, or anything saw Simeon fawning over the brat, so she had to have a piece of the spiritual action.

7. Slackers
Those "wise men" we hear about?  They were actually astrolegers, who saw a sign in the stars about the king to be born.  So they decided to pop over and see the king.  Only problem?  They lives in Persia, and cars weren't to be invented for a couple thousand years.  So they hoofed it, not having anything better to do, which took them a couple years, so the kid wasn't a baby anymore, but a toddler.  Meanwhile, they got the attention of the local king (read: serial murderer). and gave him the kid's whereabouts.  Then the bums scooted out of time before the genocide began. If it wasn't for another vision of the wimp, the toddler king would have bit the big one.

The whole point is this: the King of Jerusalem, the Teacher of Love, the Jewish Emperor of Heaven, the Son of God... or the Nazarene Bastard, whatever you want to call him... seemed to have a habit even before birth to hang out with people who had less-than-pristine reputations.  Maybe he wanted to have a community made up of the same, you think?  Perhaps he picked up his mother's communist tendencies?


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Notes on the Judgment of Jesus

When Jesus returns, he will meet with each one of you Christians personally. He will stand before you and you will gaze at him in amazement, for he will look like an oppressed person you know.
Jesus will be the Muslim woman, Jesus will be the homeless man, Jesus will be the drug addict, Jesus will be the black felon, Jesus will be the gay man, Jesus will be the Native American whom you met drunk, Jesus will be the mother on welfare, Jesus will be the Syrian refugee.
And at that moment, Jesus will give back to you what you gave to the oppressed person. If you gave that person hope and help, so will Jesus give to you. If you gave that person hatred and judgment, then that is what you will receive.
Following Jesus is loving those in need, whether you think they deserve it or not.

-"Judge not lest you be judged; the measure that you measure so you will be measured"
-"Forgive and you will be forgiven, condemn and you will be condemned, give and it shall be given to you"

On the surface, these principles of Jesus sounds like tit for tat, a karmic principle.  However, Jesus is actually giving someone the opportunity to step out of karma, just as Buddhism and Hinduism attempt to do.  Rather than giving according to what someone deserves, Jesus is presenting two forms of judgment and giving the listener the option to be judged one manner or another.

Jesus is spelling out two different kinds of moralities and measures—one of karma, and one of grace.
Grace is the act of forgiveness, the act of charitable giving.  You give but receive nothing back (a sense of well-being, perhaps, a hit of seratonin, but no outward benefit). 

Karma is the act of giving only what is due; of judging when a person deserves to be judged.  This is the principle of eye-for-eye, what you give is what you get.   Forgiveness is not karma because to forgive is to wipe away a debt, while karma is to pay it back.  

Jesus is saying that a person will choose which system they will be judged by: karma or grace.   His statement about judgment is best understood to say, "The manner in which you judge is the manner in which you will be judged."

The next question is what kind of action determines if we have chosen a judgment of grace or of karma?  Jesus’ method of determining our choices is how we approach the poor and oppressed.  We have no automatic responsibility for the poor or oppressed like we would our family or people who have done us benefit.  Those who, on a regular basis, show generosity to the poor or oppressed display their commitment to a lifestyle of grace. 

We see Jesus himself committed to helping the needy, and he commands us to do the same, in order to obtain a reward from God.  The judgment story of the Sheep and the Goats clearly teaches this, but there are hints throughout Jesus’ teaching, such as the reward for giving someone a cup of cold water.  Jesus also sent out the apostles to represent the poor—without bag, money or extra provisions—to test towns in order to see if they would be generous or not.

The other test to indicate if someone is committed to grace or karma is the sinner test.  Will the general approach to sinners be that of judgment or forgiveness.  Forgiveness is, in a sense, the clearest act of grace.  A person does you wrong and the karmic action is to judge or to condemn them, possibly to prosecute them.  Forgiveness is not deserved, and is in fact the very definition of not being deserved.  To give someone forgiveness is to offer grace.  To have a habit of forgiveness is to walk in a lifestyle of grace.


In the parable of the forgiven servant in Matthew 20, Jesus makes this clear that to forgive is to choose to be forgiven, rather than living according to one’s merits.  To forgive is natural part of a request to be forgiven. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Jesus on Church Discipline

“We are facing the greatest challenges of our ethics and faith. People will try to undermine our faith, our mercy before God.
"But think about their fate, for a moment. The person who has a two-ton truck tied to his neck and then is allowed to drop to the bottom of the ocean—that person’s fate is better than the one who targets God’s children to attack them.
"So take care for yourself! Be merciful instead of judgmental!
"Instead of judging your companion when they screw up, tell them to straighten out. When they apologize, whichever way they do, treat them like your sibling, not like an outsider. Even if he screws up, in the same way, seven times in a single day, forgive them, just like you would your sibling.
"They are family, after all.”
-Jesus       (Luke 17:1-4)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Missed Lesson

Ministry is harder than anyone thinks.  It’s a 24/7 operation, without enough time to eat or sleep properly.  “It’s time to take a break, guys,” Jesus said to his disciples.  He knew of a campground he could use in the woods, so they headed off there.  Unfortunately, some of the crowd heard where they were going, so they drove there ahead of Jesus’ ministers.   A lot of them.  Frankly, the campground was filled with people.

“Damn,” said Philip.  “There goes our break.”

Jesus saw their need, and they were so desperate for some guidance.  So he mingled through the crowd, speaking to some, praying for others.  After a day of this, Jesus’ ministers caught up to him, “Hey, Jesus.  These folks must be hungry, huh?  Let’s send them home so they can eat.”

Jesus looked at his group and said, “It’s our responsibility to make sure they eat.”

They said, “But we only have what we brought for the retreat!  Just some bread and meat for sandwiches!  To feed them would require thousands of dollars!”

Jesus sighed.  “Remember when the children of Israel were in a remote place, without food?”  Jesus stopped and looked at their blank faces.  “Here, give me the bread and meat.”  And Jesus began making sandwiches.  After he put together a hundred of them, he gave them to John, “Here, you give these to that group over there.”  He kept handing sandwiches to the student ministers to hand them out until everyone had eaten.    Then Jesus gave a teaching to the crowd and sent them away.

During the teaching time, the students counted the crowd and there were about five thousand there.  When they collected the leftover sandwiches, there was enough for each student to take one tub home.

***

Another day, after Jesus had argued with a council of preachers, Jesus told his students, “Beware of the byproducts of the preachers that infect the good bread.”

The students discussed what Jesus meant by this.  Some speculated that it was because they hadn’t brought enough food with them.  They should have bought more.

Jesus’ mouth was agape.  “How could you not get this?  How many lessons must I teach you?  You are sometimes so dense! When you counted five thousand people, how many sandwiches were left?”

“Twelve tubs.”

“And when you counted four thousand, how much food was left?”

“Seven tubs.”

“Don’t you  get it?  Food isn’t the issue!  God will always provide food!  He’ll make sure that everyone is fed, even through us, no matter how little food we seem to have.  That should be the least of our worries.  Rather, we should be concerned about the leadership of the church that teaches hate and judges the people God called them to serve!  Don’t be like them—claiming to be of God but lacking the love of God!”

Then they understood that he was talking about the leadership of the church, and not about sandwiches.


Mark 6:31-44; 8:11-21