Monday, April 13, 2015

The Last Supper

Jesus had prophesied his death and resurrection many times to his disciples.  The Father now told Jesus, it is time—this very night.  There would be no more prophecies, no more speculation.  It was time for action.  But the disciples were still not ready.  They didn’t understand what was coming or what it meant.  Jesus realized that it was too late to explain to them clearly what would happen that night.  All he could do for them this night is to teach them things they would understand later.

            Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, had had enough. He didn’t like Jesus speaking against the priesthood and the temple—they were the center of all good Jews believed in!  So he went to the priests to ask them what to do.  The priests responded, “We want to bring him to the Sanhedrin, but we wish to do so privately.  Lead us to where he stays at night, turn him over to us, and we will discipline him appropriately.”  They didn’t tell him that they planned to kill him.  Judas agreed to hand him over, if they would pay him silver. 

The Passover celebration was coming, and Jesus told his disciples to get ready for it.  He had his disciples obtain a guest room for them to eat in and they prepared for the meal.  But Jesus had his own plans for the meal.

            After Jesus entered into the prepared room, he took a cloth and tied it around him, and filled a bowl full of water so that he looked like a slave serving his master.  Then Jesus bent over one of the disciples already sitting back on a chair and began washing the disciple’s feet—the dirtiest part of him, after walking through the dirt and mud all day.  The disciple was repulsed by Jesus’ action—the Rabbi shouldn’t be doing slave’s work!— but the disciple didn’t say anything, because he couldn’t contradict his master.  Then Jesus went around, washing all the other disciple’s feet.

            When Jesus came up to Simon Peter, Peter boldly stated, “I will never let you wash my feet!”  Jesus gently replied, “But if you don’t let me wash your feet, you will have no part of me.”  Peter then changed his mind—“Then I want you to wash all of me!”  Jesus smiled and said, “You don’t need all that, Peter.  I’ve already washed you through my teaching.  For now, you only need your feet washed.”  Then Jesus washed Peter’s and the rest of the disciples’ feet.

            Jesus took off the cloth and sat in front of his disciples, the teacher once again.  He taught them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  I am your teacher, yes, even your Lord.  But I have acted like a slave, serving you and making you welcome in this place.  Now if you are going to be my disciples, you must do what I do.  I want you to serve each other and welcoming to each other, just as I have been welcoming to you.”

            It was then time for the meal.  Jesus took the bread and prayed over it, giving thanks to the Lord.  Instead of just handing it around, he paused, waiting for all the disciples’ attention.  Then he slowly and deliberately broke the bread.  “This is my body which is broken for you.  Take it and eat.”  Jesus passed the bread around, and each of the disciples ate of it. 

            Then Jesus poured wine into a cup, and all the disciples were looking at him.  He said, “This is my blood.  It is the new covenant, the establishment of God’s kingdom.  Drink this.  And every time you drink this cup, drink it as a memorial for me.  For I will not drink wine again until I drink it with you after my Father’s kingdom has been established on earth.”

            Again Jesus looked at all the disciples sitting before him.  “I am going to be handed over to the authorities.  And one of you sitting here will do it.”  All of the disciples were fearing for themselves and they asked Jesus, “Am I the one?”  One of the disciples sitting next to him asked, “Who is it?”  And Jesus said, “It is the one who dips his bread with me into the dish.” 

            Simon Peter, however, was boasting.  “I know that it isn’t me.  I would never betray our Lord.  I would stay by him, no matter what.”  Jesus said quietly, “Peter, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  This night, before the rooster crows three times, you will have denied that you even knew me three times.”  Peter was stunned and proclaimed, “Never!  I would die for you.”  Jesus said, “Simon, Satan desires to have his way with you, to tear you apart.  But I have prayed for you that ultimately, your faith wouldn’t fail you.  So after he is done with you, come back to your brothers, here, and strengthen them.”

At that point, Judas Iscariot, dipped his bread into the common dish with Jesus.  Jesus looked at Judas and said, “Do it.  Get it over with.”  Judas understood that Jesus knew what he had planned, and he ran away.  The disciples thought Judas was going to pay for the room and meal, and still didn’t understand what was happening.
"You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.”  John 13:13-16 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Necessity of Eschatology

Eschatology is often an ignored subject, and for good reason.  I mean, who could wrap their mouths around this word?  Ess-kat-ah-low-gee.  Cousin to eschatological, which professors of theology and Bible scholarship like to throw around.  Why do they do this?  It seems as if to prove how smart they are.  But the honest truth is, “eschatological” describes a complicated idea in a single word.  The idea of a future as imagined by God. A utopia established by God and the difficulties in establishing that future.                           

Christians have often focused upon the future, because Jesus himself focused upon the future.  But they have misshapen the future of the New Testament into incoherent forms.  It has become a timeline, a string of incomprehensible events.  It is a collection of mythology, of miraculous disasters and religious wet-dreams.  It is a silly pastime full of false conspiracies and invented characters, a misreading of the newspaper.

To truly understand eschatology we have to go to the movies.  Let’s take one movie in particular.  Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.  If you haven’t seen this movie and really want to, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs:

            Meet Dr. Judah Rosenthal.  He is a celebrated surgeon, who has saved the lives of many, and offered help to the poor and needy.  He also has been involved in a long term affair with his mistress, the one dark spot on his shiny, clean life.  In order to prevent her from using their affair as blackmail, he kills her.  Cold-blooded murder.

            Guilt overcomes him.  He tells no one, but all he can do is remember his father’s admonition that God will make sure that justice will prevail, the wicked will be punished.  Dr. Rosenthal knows that he is now the wicked.  He knows that he must be discovered and punished.

            However, he never is caught.  He never is punished.  From this, he recalls his aunt arguing with his father that the wicked are not always punished.  Justice does not always prevail.  In fact, it could be argued that justice almost never prevails.  Therefore, Dr. Rosenthal concludes with his aunt: there is no God.  Since there is no punishment for the wicked, there is no God.

            At first, this seems like a crazy conclusion to a die-hard religious fanatic.  Just because one does not see justice, can it be that God doesn’t exist?  But this is the problem of almost all religions.  Buddha determined that God was in the same situation we were in, trying to find the way to justice.  Judaism sometimes concluded that the people of God were too impure for God to intervene with true justice in the world—that there could be no justice without the just.  Some Christianities determined that justice is on hold until God’s mercy is satisfied.  Spiritism concludes that the spirit world is too complex for justice to be truly meted out.  But all of them fundamentally conclude the same: God is about justice.  And if God doesn’t grant justice, then He is too weak or too evil to truly be called God.

           Justice—whether seen as an equal voice for the vulnerable, or punishment for the wicked—is not seen in this world.  It is far from our experience.  There is no true law that communicates justice.  There is no government that can adequately create justice.  There is no people that will truly live out justice. 

            This is why eschatology exists.  It is the fulfillment of God’s promises of justice.  Not yet, but coming up.  Eschatology openly recognizes that injustice exists.  The innocent suffer, the wicked prosper, evil prevails and good is crushed. 

            The reason Jesus is so focused on eschatology is not just because God must fulfill His promises.  Rather, it is because justice must prevail for the anawim.

            Why will there be a resurrection?  Because those who have suffered terribly in this life for no good reason deserve a second chance at life.  If there are people who have sacrificed themselves for others, then they should get an opportunity to live a good life that they can be satisfied with.

            Why will there be a judgment?  Because the simple law of mercy is so muddled and confused, that there needs to be a clear delineation of what is good and what is evil—what everyone already knew all along.  And that those who followed that inner standard of good should be rewarded and those who denied that inner standard should be punished fairly.

            Why will there be a kingdom?  Because God created the world to be ruled by a just humanity.  It takes almost all of the history of the human race to make that happen, but it must happen.  And it must be given an opportunity to thrive.

            Why will the poor be granted leadership of the world?  Because only they truly understand the plight of the needy and will grant them the necessary justice that they’ve always deserved.

            All eschatology is about justice.  It is not just a random collection of myths.  If God exists, if justice is real, then eschatology must occur.

Jesus' Final Lecture: The Last Days

The temple in Jerusalem in the early 30s AD was a magnificent structure.  Herod the Great planned it to be one of the great man-made wonders of the world and after 40 years hard work by thousands of laborers, it was just that.  There were many buildings, but the center building—the Temple itself—was an amazing structure with stones as large as the ones that built the pyramids.  Not only was it a beautiful building, but it also displayed the power and wealth of Judea.  It was once the jewel in Herod’s crown, and now it is the glory of the High Priest who, with the Jewish council called the Sanhedrin, led the second largest people spread throughout Rome—only the Romans had more authority.  And it was this very High Priest—ruler of the Jews throughout the world—who was plotting to have Jesus executed.

At the end of the fourth day in Jerusalem, Jesus was walking with his disciples through the various buildings of the Temple.  The disciples, blue-collar workers from Galilee, were stunned by the presence of the Temple and mentioned the magnificence and marvelous, huge stones.  Jesus replied, “You are noticing the stones, are you?  Not one of these stones will be left on each other.”

            That night, they stayed within Jerusalem, resting on the Mount of Olives.  Peter and his brother Andrew and James and his brother John were disturbed at the earlier saying, and they approached Jesus that evening, after the formal teaching time was finished.  They asked, “Lord, we are surprised at the destruction of God’s Holy Temple.  When will this take place?  Is it close to the coming kingdom?  When will you rule?”

            Jesus sat down and told them, “Be very careful—there are so many liars.  Many will claim to know much about the Messiah and claim that the end is coming here or there.  You will hear about this war or that war and think that perhaps it is the final war.  There will be many earthquakes and famines and various uprisings—but none of these are the end.  Instead of these misleading signals, just look for the signs I will tell you.

            “I am going to send you to the whole world to preach the gospel.  And many people in many nations will bring charges against you and try to kill you.  Many people will hate you.  Brother will rise up against brother and father against son.  You will stand before governors and kings.  But just be patient and stay with the gospel.  If you remain with the gospel until the end, then you will be saved.

            “You will know the end, because of the armies that will surround Jerusalem.  And when the powerful persecutor of God’s people is in the one place he should not be—even as Daniel said he would—then it is time to run to the hills.  Once this happens, leave everything you have, don’t go back!  Remember Lot’s wife!  She turned around and was destroyed by judgment.  Don’t be like Noah’s neighbors who were marrying and eating and drinking without any expectation of judgement and then were destroyed in a moment.  This is how it will be in Jerusalem when it is destroyed. 

            “In those days there will be a time of terrible tribulation for all of God’s people.  They will be chased by armies and tested severely.  Unless God would have shortened those days, perhaps not even the chosen ones would remain with God.  But for their sake, God has shortened the days of this tribulation.

            “Then, after that period of tribulation, the Gentiles will rule over Jerusalem.  No one knows for how long, not even I—only the Father knows how long.  They will trample the great city with armies.

           “After that time, the powers in the heavens will be set aside.  The authority of the sun will diminish and the power of the moon will be set aside.  The rule of heaven itself will be upset.  And then look for the Son of Man, coming in the clouds.  This will not be hidden—he will be like lighting flashing from one end of the sky to the other.  All the powerful angels will come down to earth with him, and he will send them out to gather his people from all over the world, and all over heaven.

            “Then the angels will gather all other people in the world—all of the Gentiles of all the earth.  They will stand before the coming King, ruling in Jerusalem.  And the King will have them divided into two parts, one to his right and one to his left.

            To those on his right, he will say, ‘Be happy!  You will enter into my kingdom and live there eternally!  For I was hungry in your presence, and you gave me food and water.  I was without clothing and you gave me clothing.  I was sick and in prison and you came to visit me and help me.  Come and enter my joy!’  They shall reply, ‘Lord, when did we do these things?’  The King will reply, ‘When you did it to these, my disciples—even the lowest of them, you did it to me.’

            “To those who refused to help the least of these disciples, they will be punished eternally with fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  But the righteous will gain the true life, eternally.”

“The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' “Matthew 25:40

Overheard on the Far Side of the Sea of Tiberius

“After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.”
Part of an ancient biography, aka Mark 6:46

Son: Hey, Dad, how’re you doing?

Father: Same as all eternity.

Son: Sorry.  Stupid question.  You get living among humans enough, you pick up their idiotic habits.

Father: Idiotic?

Son: Sorry again.  You’re right.  The habits aren’t idiotic at all.  Like asking the question, “How are you?”  It is just a way to show that you are interested in the other person, that you care, that you love.  Of course, every habit of love becomes just a rote symbol, without any kind of love whatsoever, but the idea of it is nice.

Father: So you are appreciating the humans more?

Son: Sometimes.  (He smiles.)  Did you just see the apostles, there?  Five thousand people and I told them to feed them and they just stared at me as if I was full of shit but they didn’t want to say anything because I am the “Rabbi”.17  That was so funny!  It was all I could do not to laugh out loud at them! 

Father: I could see the humor in the situation…

Son: (Laughing) It was hilarious!  Andrew trying to suck up to me by giving me this kid with some bread and fish, but all the time he’s thinking, “Like that’ll do any good!”  It’s a blast, really. 

Father: So you are enjoying your work?

Son: I love it!  It is the best, demonstrating your power to every person I meet.  I look at those folks who are sure that they are rejected by You because of their sin, because of their sickness, because of their handicap.  I have never seen a people more dejected, more spiritually oppressed.  And with a simple word, I can give them forgiveness, assurance, hope.  They know, really know, that You’ve forgiven them.  They are ready to be a part of your love again.  It’s wonderful, really.18

Father: Is it always that wonderful?

Son: Well, it’s hard work. I’m tired a lot.  I wish I had more time with You.  And, of course, there are those who reject the forgiveness I offer… 19

Father: I know it was hard for you in Nazareth.20

Son: (Suddenly enraged) Those people knew me for thirty years!  I fixed their homes and their carts, played with their children, read the Scriptures to them.  And when I give them a hint—simply a hint—of who I really am, they reject me!  They despise me!

Father: Of course, they’re just “stupid humans.”

Son: They are my family!  We cared for each other, watched out for each other…. I don’t expect you to understand.  It’s a human thing, family.

Father: Really, Son—I do understand.  I really do.  Family is not just something I created, it’s something I experience.  Have you been human so long you don’t remember what it was like before?

Son: (Thinks for a moment.) When you’re human, thirty years is… like eternity.  Eternity in a microscopic organism.  And to have them say spew such hatred at me—it is a rejection of that eternity.  Of all who I am, as a human.

Father: And more.

Son: They never really understood me.

Father: Humans never really understand each other—and you are the most different of all humans. 

Son: I suppose.  But it still hurts.

Father: I know.

Son: But how could you know?  I’ve never felt anything like this.  Every emotion is so damn overwhelming!  Every slight—I can’t stop thinking about it! 

Father: And yet you still think of the humans as idiotic?

Son: I suppose they aren’t stupid—they just have so much to focus on.  How do they get anything done?

Father: They get them done because they are overwhelmed by emotion.  They are driven.

Son: And you made them like this?  How different are they than animals, being led by instinct?

Father: Oh, very different.  They can make choices like the gods.  They can create like the gods.

Son: But every choice is so difficult…

Father: And in that way, they are greater than the gods.  The powers easily make choices and they are easy to fulfill.  Every human is they story of a struggle.  A struggle to survive, to be made known, to assist others…

Son: So few assist others…

Father: How many mothers die for their children?

Son: Of course, they only want children to assist themselves…

Father: Is that really true?  Is that why they want children?

Son: To carry on their name, to be their replacement, to assist them when they are old…

Father: When it is so often that the mother dies in childbirth?  Every child she carries is a potential death sentence.  Every mother knows this.  Knows that this child may be their last.  Yet they are willing to sacrifice themselves for even a potential child.

Son: Don’t some animals do this as well?

Father: Certainly.  But how many gods would surrender their eternity for the sake of others?  How many gods would give up all they have for the sake of others receiving an eternity?

Son: That’s a point.

Father: Do you see why I gave humans the rulership over creation?  Only humans, being animal but also god-like, can understand the necessity of self-sacrifice.  Only they can appreciate the fourth law of justice.

Son: Humph.  Couldn’t tell by how they appreciate my teaching.

Father: What do you mean?

Son: I’ve taught the fourth law of justice in many ways and forms.  But they still don’t get it.  No one is willing to give up of themselves now in order to obtain more from you in the long run.

Father: What about your disciples?  They have surrendered their jobs, their families, their possessions….

Son: True.  But they only have done this because they think that their salvation—the kingdom—is right around the corner.  If they weren’t led by the misguided opinion that all of their sacrifice is in the past, then they might turn around right now. 

Father: I think you expect too much of them…

Son: And why shouldn’t I?  They have seen your power, haven’t they?  They know what you are capable of—right now, anytime!  They are offered freedom, and instead they hold onto their old assumptions, their old limitations.

Father: You know what I’ve told you.  It isn’t enough for them to hear a teaching.  They need a story.

Son: Stories!  I’ve told them plenty of stories!  That just confuses them more!  This is why I’ve decided that stories are a judgment, not a blessing.  I tell them stories as a test of faith.  If they come back and ask me what it means, that is a true disciple.  If they make up their own meanings to my stories, then they must remain in their confusion and their distance from you.

Father: I have told you before.  It is not enough to tell a story.  You must live it.  They must see it, or they will never believe.

Son: So you want me to arrange a showing of the prodigal son?  Or the pearl of great price?  I suppose that could be done, but…21

Father: No.  I want you to live out the fourth law of justice. 

Son: Live it out?  I don’t understand…

Father: I want you to show them that the third and fourth laws really work.  And I’m not talking about the weak fourth law.  I mean the fourth law that includes death.  That it just some cockamamie idea of yours.  That it is practical. 

Son: (A little nervous) But I thought the sacrifice law was just a last resort, a last chance…

Father: That’s what most of the gods think.  A chance for an appeal.  And Satan believes that this law will never be utilized, because there has never been an innocent man.

Son: I thought you showed him differently in the Job case…22

Father: No.  Because I wouldn’t let him kill Job, thus it was only the lesser fourth law that was proven. Again. Yes, he was humbled, but not completely sacrificed.  Besides, the story is old, and not really believed.  I need you to fulfill it. Fully.  To live it out.  To make believers of your people.

Son: But… how?  I mean, Satan isn’t going to kill me himself.  He knows better than that.  The Pharisees might try, but they don’t have the authority.  How can the fourth law be enacted?

Father: Jerusalem.23

Son: Jerusalem?  But why would they come to Galilee to attack…

Father: You must go to them.  You must reveal yourself to them.

Son: Even so, why would they want to kill me?

Father: Simple.  First of all, strut into their city on a colt.24

Son: (Stunned) That would be an open declaration of my rule over Jerusalem

Father: Yep.

Son: That would stir them up alright. 

Father: And then, go to the temple and point out how the High Priest is mishandling the cult there.25

Son: Is he?

Father: Of course he is.  Honestly, it’s completely corrupt.

Son: What should I do?

Father: Make it up as you go along, but make it dramatic.  Something that will get headlines.  That will declare that you’re taking over the organization of the temple.

Son: And that would be enough?

Father: Plenty.  You don’t know those people.  They are corrupt clingers of power.  I haven’t spoken to the high priest in a hundred years.  They are pleasers of Rome, not of me.  And the heart of their power is the cult.  If you threaten the temple, the priesthood, they will do it.  Threaten their power—they will kill you.

Son: And this is what you want?

Father: I want you to be the focus of the fourth law.  I want there to be no question as to your worthiness to rule the kingdom—to rule the earth.  The third and fourth laws will support you in your rule, and no one could gainsay my decision.

Son: But you want me to go through this?

Father: It is your choice.

Son: No, no, it’s not, really.  I am here to do your will.  You know that.  Do you want me to suffer at the hands of these evil men?

Father: Of course I don’t.  I understand what you will have to suffer.  You are giving up an eternity—a human eternity—for the sake of a god’s eternity. 

Son: I’ve already given up a god’s eternity for a human one.

Father: Yes, I know.  But will you do it again?   Give up your human eternity to obtain even greater benefits?  As ruler of the earth, you could establish all four laws as the rule of the earth, instead of just the first, as it stands now.  You can create true justice, and not the shambles of justice that exists now.  You will be able to create a humanity that is worthy of rule over creation.  But also, look at your people.  Those who follow you.  And all those who repented under John.  You are giving them a chance—a real chance—at a new life.  They screwed their lives up.  But you are giving them another chance, a real chance.  You aren’t doing it for yourself—there just isn’t enough benefit for yourself.  You are doing it for them.

Son: (Silent for a while) I see. Yeah… yeah, it’s worth it.  Well, all we can do is try, then.

Father: Trust me, it will work.

Son: I guess.

Father: I hate to cut our time short, but it looks like your people are afraid again.26

Son: The sea?

Father: Yeah.  (Chuckles)  Thalasse27 is really giving them a hard time.

Son: Irritating, is what it is.  Why don’t they just tell her to shut up?

Father:  Too freaked out, I guess.

Son: Well, I guess that’s it for my break. 

Father: Go get ‘em, kid.

Son:  I will.  Talk to you later.

17.          John 6:4-13
18.          Mark 2:1-12; Mark 6:34; Luke 13:10-16.
19.          Mark 1:33-37; Mark 4:38.
20.          Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30.
21.          The prodigal son is found in Luke 15:11-32; The pearl of great price is found in Matthew 13:45-46.
22.          Job 1-2.
23.          Mark 10:34-35; Luke 13:33-35.
24.          Matthew 21:1-11.
25.          Mark 11:11, 15-18.
26.          Mark 6:46-52; John 6:15-21.
27.          The Greek word for “sea”.  The sea is seen in the ancient world, not just as a body of water, but also as having a personality behind it, which is destructive to humanity.

The Realist

The difference between the world and the true believer in Jesus is sacrifice for others. 

The world has as their primary doctrine that they want it all, but it can’t hurt too badly.  Sure, they will send their sons off to war, and they will mortgage their house and rack up debt to go to school.  But all of this is on the blind hope that “it will all come out okay in the end.”  They will eventually pay off the mortgage.  They will get a great job to pay off school debts.  They will see their sons return from war.  It will all be okay.

            The Christian, frankly, is the greater realist.  Sons die in war.  School debts aren’t always repaid.  Houses are taken away.  Suffering is simply a part of this world, and if this world is all that there is, then there ain’t no justice.  The innocent really do spend their lives in prison.  Civilians really are the tragic victims of war.  The wealthy really do get more than they deserve.  Children really are the number one target of death.  That’s reality.

            The world can’t handle that, so they have to dress it up, make the facts more palatable.  Existentialism is finding the meaning of life in a life that is pointless, for no particular reason than that the other options aren’t acceptable.  The evening news tells us the hard facts—but not the hard facts that are really painful.  They tell us how many Americans died in Iraq today, but not how many Iraqis.  Not how many children died of AIDS today.  They celebrate the ball going down in Times Square, not grieving over the mass murder of drunken driving that same night.  Humans are a cowardly lot.

            But Jesus doesn’t endure cowardice.  He tells it like it is, and insists that we see reality as it is.  He tells us, “If you want to follow me, count the cost—and you will find that it is more than you want to pay.”  Sacrifice, he insists, is the only true way to gain the ultimate joy.  Cold hard facts.  The follower of Jesus is persecuted.  They lose their housing. They take up poverty. They are hated by many.  They get rejected by those whom they love. They get tortured, raped and killed.  This isn’t just some masochistic wishful thinking.  It’s reality.  And it’s ugly.

            Of course, the Christian repeats the mantra of “it will all come out okay in the end” as well.  But they don’t see “the end” as being in this life, this age of Orwellian self-deception, CEOs, push-button warfare, economic selfishness, celebrity rulers, blind nationalism, half-hearted bureaucratic welfare and immoral religionists.  The “all right” cannot be found in the midst of such a world system.  Rather “the end” is a matter of God’s making, God’s creation, after all this is over.

            And the only way to achieve this end is sacrifice.  Sacrifice of this world, this life, this false American hope.  Sacrifice of all our parents lived to give us.  Sacrifice of all the martial martyrs died to offer us.  To obtain God’s end, we must be anawim—rejects, outcasts, poverty-stricken fanatics.  We must be like Abraham.  We must be like Jesus.  Only then will we be able to walk in God’s presence and call it “home.” 

            The message of the whole Bible is that to receive God’s salvation, one must be anawim:

To obtain God’s security, one must be vulnerable.

            To obtain God’s wealth, one must be poor.

            To obtain God’s comfort, one must be suffering.

            To obtain God’s fellowship, one must be lonely.

            To obtain God’s utopia, one must first live in hell.

And for those of us who live pretty well, this means we have to give up an awful lot.  God’s eternal life means recognizing our good life and getting rid of it.

            To sacrifice, one might be called irresponsible and insane, like Abraham was.  To sacrifice, one might have to give up all that is good to accept all that is awful and shameful as the Son did when he became human.  To sacrifice, one might be accepting a life of what is unacceptable to those around us.  But it is all for that which is greater than we can now touch or see.  We will obtain the greater by surrendering the lesser.

How does one do this?  There are many ways, depending on who one rubs shoulders with, the lifestyle one lives.

One could be like Francis who would refuse to keep anything for himself, if it was lacked by any needy person he met.  Thus, he was given a coat, and he would pass it on to the first coatless person he met.

We could be like Philemon, who opened his house to whatever people in the church needed a place to live.

We could be like Dorothy Day, who wrote for the sake of the needy, published for only a penny and opened homes for the poor to live in until they got on their feet.

We could be like Jean Vanier , who created communities in which the developmentally disabled would choose to live with “abled” people who choose to live with them.  Or we could be like – who, as a famous spiritual author, chose to live in such a community.

We could be like Peter Waldo, who heard and obeyed Jesus’ clear statement to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” although his wealth was great, and then trained the poor to preach Jesus’ word, in opposition to the sermons of the wealthy pastors.

We could be like the hundreds of workers for Mennonite Central Committee, who gave up their professions to use their skills for the poor around the world at a minimal income.

We could be Shane Claiborne and his community who chose to live amongst the poor in Philadelphia, so the plight of the poor could be their plight.
We could live in community with the poor, like Viv Gregg or the many workers through InnerChange.

We could be like James and learn how to transform our church to be a place which is open to the vulnerability of the needy, giving honor to them above the honor we give to the wealthy, granting work and a fair wage to those who need it most.

We could be like Anawim Christian Community and create a space for the needy to worship and live and create their own solutions.

We could be like Blanchet Farms and create communities for the needy to work for themselves.

The possibilities are endless.

Who are You and What have You Done with My Jesus?

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.
Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.
Ancient poetry, otherwise known as Luke 6:20-26

Let’s look at the beatitudes again.

 “Ahhh,” everyone sighs.  “The beatitudes.  How lovely.  How comforting.” 

How easy to ignore.  How misunderstood. 

We are all familiar with the words in Matthew.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are the merciful.”  And on and on.  And we love them because they seem so poetic and so loving and so helpful to us who live quiet lives of desperation in the pursuit of just living normal lives without poverty, without hunger, with some levels of justice and peace.  We will buy plaques of the phrases and place them upon our walls to remind us of how loving and gentle Jesus’ teaching is. 

But those weren’t the beatitudes I was talking about. 

There’s another set, equally spoken by Jesus, found in Luke.  They are certainly the same set of sayings, but they seem… different.  They seem harsher, more difficult to accept, not the kind of Jesus who would comfort us.

After reading Luke’s version, we might be saying, “Who is this guy?  This isn’t my usual preacher!  No… good preachers don’t talk like this.  They use words like ‘beseech’ and ‘Almighty’ and when they say ‘comfort’ it sounds like they really mean it.  This guy, though, he sounds tough, almost mean.  I mean, who would go to a church that sounded like this?  People who were desperate might—or people that had issues with wealth—but not people who could afford to build a nice church building and give a guy a good salary and a parsonage.  No wonder Jesus had no place to lay his head!  Who would listen to this drivel more than once?  The adage makes sense—A prophet is someone who isn’t invited to dinner twice.”

            While we can critique the style or question Jesus’ propriety, we do need to remember the positive points.  First of all, it is direct.  And simple—no one can misunderstand it.  And if it is true, then the message is significant.  Oh, and one other point—Jesus is our Lord.  And these are the words of Jesus. 

            These words aren’t just there as a jumping point for our understanding of spiritual matters.  They aren’t  supposed to be a cover page for our traditional values—whether conservative (“Life is tough and you’ve got to be tough back”) or liberal (“We should really be nicer to the poor”).  They aren’t there to be politely ignored in preference to other passages that we prefer.  Nor does it help for us to retranslate them into something more palatable (“Maybe it could say, ‘Gosh, what a difficult position you rich people are in.’ ”).

            How significantly we treat these words is how significantly we treat Jesus.  This teaching is at the core of what Jesus had to say, and all that he said and did flows from this core.  If we are to accept Jesus, we need to accept this basic creed. 

            What is Jesus speaking of?  What really is the point?  If there is a creed, what would it look like, were it based on this text?  Let’s break it down into pieces:

1.      “We believe in an Almighty God who will judge everyone on the earth”
Judgment isn’t really popular to talk about.  To speak of hell or eternal dishonor or lake of fire isn’t really a popular topic, so many Christians just avoid it.  Honestly, many people have abused hellfire for their own agenda.  So speaking about God’s judgement is kind of like an uncle who was convicted of child molestation, and though he hasn’t done anything like it since, no one talks about him and at Christmas he just finds a corner to sit in and watches the proceedings from a distance. 

            But Jesus firmly believed in a judgment of God that would paste “good” and “bad” on every single person on earth.  Well, let me rephrase that a bit.  The problem with saying “good” or its antonym is that we have such distinct notions in our head about what constitutes this “not-evil.”  The early twentieth century bases of judgment seem so trite now: no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, no playing cards, no skirts above the lower calf, no fraternizing with actors.   It seems trite because the values have changed so much.

            When Jesus speaks of “good”, he really means “honorable.”  At the onset, it seems so subjective.  To have honor among Nazis is to be dissed by the masses.  But Jesus gives this qualifier—the only person who counts, in giving honor, is God.  I mean, if Simon Cowell determines that you suck, who really cares?  But if God makes the determination that you are cool, or that you just don’t make the cut, then it is a more serious judgment.

            Thus, judgment is boiled down to this: God saying to one group, “You’re my kind of people” and saying to another group, “You don’t really make the cut for me.”  The first group, after the determination of the Judge, gains possession of a new nation, which is ruled directly by God, and becomes the central nation over it’s empire of the earth.  The second group, certainly the larger, is exiled from that nation and they make up the outer fringes.  Considering that almost all of the merciful are within the bounds of the Nation of God, the outer fringes just don’t sound like fun.

            This kind of judgment isn’t comfortable to a group of Christians who believe that the term “mercy” and “judgement” cannot even date, let alone live together.  They claim that Jesus hung out with lowlifes (true) and so he, as God’s representative, refuse to judge them (almost true), and so Jesus’ mercy has nothing to do with judging people (wow, you need to read Matthew 23 again).  The fact is that every sub group of Judaism of the first century (and after) determined that there must be a line drawn separating those on the “in” with God and those on the “outs”.  Jesus was no different.36  What made Jesus so radical is not that he erased the line, but where he placed the line.  Which is the rest of our creed.

2.      “We believe that the disciples of Jesus who are poor and persecuted will, at God’s judgement,  obtain the greatest blessings of God.
This is the central point of both sets of beatitudes—in Matthew and Luke.  This is not to deny that those who act in a “pure and righteous” manner will not gain God’s blessings.  This is indicated in Matthew’s list, by giving a special line to the “pure in heart”.  But for Matthew—as well as for Luke in the broader context—it isn’t enough to be “pure”.  Sure, keeping your legs closed until God approves and not bowing down before a moldy statue is good and all, but it doesn’t equate the whole life that God is looking for. 

            God is actually looking for the folks who are so pure, so loving, so bold about Jesus, that they get in trouble for it.  This “trouble” looks differently in different cases.  Perhaps the trouble is rejection by people—Jesus certainly said that his community should expect that.37  But other kinds of trouble also pop up.  There will be weeping in the Christian camp, and poverty.  Some of this may be as a result of persecution, some of this will be due to the system set up to exclude Jesus people from the blessings of this world.  The fact that Jesus’ people don’t collect possessions for themselves, but give them to the needy38; that they aren’t cut-throat, but humble in their leadership39; that they depend on God for their needs, even if those needs are just barely met40; that they do good to those who hurt them, which may give their enemies cause to think that they can get away with anything41—that might have something to do with it.  Jesus’ requirement is a lifestyle of vulnerability.  Let’s face it, Jesus’ way isn’t easy, and he doesn’t put up well with compromise.  God might as well put up a sign, “Kingdom of God: Fanatics need only apply.”

            3. “We believe that the anawim should be envied, and that if we are persecuted or obtain poverty for God’s sake, we should celebrate and feel honored.”
Saints are cool—from a distance.  Some of the stories are great.  Sebastian who was pierced by a hundred arrows for speaking about Jesus.  Michael Sattler who was tortured, had his tongue cut out and then was drowned for teaching the Bible.  Peter and John who were brought to court and beaten for healing a man in Jesus’ name.  Anthony who lived in graveyards and the desert to live a life of purity.  The stories are inspiring, but, ultimately, not for us.  Not for real people.

            We are the people who pray, “Lord, teach us patience, but not if it hurts too much.”  We are the ones who want to live for God, as long as it fits into our overall plan of achieving the American Dream.  We are the ones who cry out “All for Jesus I surrender”, but in practice, we limit our surrender to that which accommodates our society’s limits and morality.

            If someone falls into poverty or persecution because of their stand for Jesus, how do we respond?  Most people in the church would recommend a compromise, a standing down.  “You don’t have to suffer like that—God doesn’t want that for you.”  The church’s positions is: Stand for Jesus, but sit down if your feet get sore.  Or, if there seems to be true injustice, there are the Jay Seculas and Rutherford Institutes who will take the persecutors to court and make them feel economic pain for the injustice of persecuting others.

            Of course, Jesus’ command is a little different.  How do we respond to persecution and pain and anguish for the sake of our religion?  Have a party.  Crank up the dancing music.  Set out the little food that you need little forks to eat it with.  Jesus’ bumper sticker is: Celebrate Poverty. 

            To be obedient to Jesus, it isn’t enough to just grit our teeth in difficulties, we need to rejoice, be happy, throw a party, invite our friends over to get ecstatic with us, watch the Wizard of Oz with the dip in bowls the shape of ruby slippers.  “It’s the happy day!” Jesus says.  “The day you get beat up and killed for God, that’s the day we’ve all been waiting for.  The day you get sick and die because you were handing out tracts in a blizzard—that’s the party day!  The day your airplane crashes because you were going to share the gospel with people in the jungle—that’s the dancing day!  The day you get kicked out of your apartment because you’ve been inviting the mentally ill to worship God with you there—Live it up!  Get some horn blowers and fireworks and make it seem like New Year’s day, because it’s better than that!  It’s the day you’re assured of being right before God!”

            4. “We believe that the disciples of Jesus who are conspicuously wealthy and honored today will,  at God’s judgment, obtain sorrow and rejection.”
The real question is not, however, what happens to those who suffer for God.  That’s a no-brainer.  We’re all pretty sure of that, God will take care of them.  They’ve got a place with God.  Okay, that’s fine.  But what about all those who hang with God and do all the religious things, but they don’t suffer?  Perhaps they are doing the… um… opposite of suffering in the present life.  There are people in God who are doing really well.

            And, let’s face it, these non-suffering folks, the ones who have an excellent bank account (“for many years, frankly, and the accumulated interest is really very healthy and can’t be given away willy-nilly”), and a really nice home (“meant really for family and friends, it just wouldn’t be comfortable to have strangers stay there”), and a car that almost never breaks down (“but I couldn’t pick up hitchhikers, because, well, who knows what they would do”) and a line of credit that doesn’t end (“and we have to take care as to what we invest in, because otherwise we couldn’t be trusted financially”)—these non-suffering folk are really the ones who pays the bills in the church. 

These aren’t vulnerable in this world, but they do their part, right?  They show up on Sunday, sing as loud as anyone else, head committees, pay for the new building, makes sure the pastor has a decent salary.  So, God has his place for them, right?

            Absolutely.  God has a place for them.  It’s called “the outer darkness.” 

            Paul and Barnabas at one point set out to do some revival meetings.  The churches they had planted were struggling spiritually, so the apostles had a powerful message to give to them.  The summary we have received is one sentence, “We shall only enter God’s kingdom through much tribulation.”42  In other words, the ONLY door to God’s ultimate blessing is difficulty, sacrifice, persecution and hardship.  There isn’t any other way.

            This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t bless people on earth.  Oh, my, I have seen many people blessed.  Many rich people today are blessed in their lifetimes beyond the dreams of those who had lived on earth for more than ten thousand years of history.  I mean, indoor plumbing, a health care system that can actually cure more illness than it causes, the ability to fill rooms with such variety of entertainment as has never been seen, never without food, never thirsty, never homeless.  Such a plenty has never been seen in the history of the world for so many people.  This is God’s blessing.  And for those who are content to accept this blessing, this is all they will get.
  •             For those who have all their needs met, and never meet hunger—God has for them a place of hunger.
  •             For those who surround themselves with pleasantries and joy—God has for them a place of tragedy.
  •             For those who reward themselves for the simple act of living—God will strip away all trophies.
  •             For those who secure themselves by assuring their own wealth and separation from the poor—God will make them poor and expose them to eternal insecurity.

            No, this isn’t funny.  This isn’t entertaining.  It’s scary.  This is worse than Alien, worse than the Exorcist.  This is the real spiritual existence.  And for those who have all the world has to give—they should be grabbing someone’s arm, because the music is getting ominous.

            5. “We believe that Jesus’ disciples who are honored and wealthy should set these benefits aside for the sake of our needy counterparts, so they can receive true honor and wealth.”
But Jesus’ beatitudes aren’t one of those horror movies that finishes with “The End?”  They are more like an epic move—Laurence of Arabia, Gone With The Wind, Top Gun—the center of which you find yourself almost weeping and breathing hard in your empathy with the hero(ine).  But in the end, through some terrible tragedies and sacrifices, the hero(ine) survives and achieves glorious honor.  This is the story Jesus is telling as well.

           And the story is the same for the poor and the wealthy: the way to God’s honor and blessing and kingdom is through becoming the anawim.  That route is simpler for the poor and persecuted—they get handed their tribulation on a silver platter.  They don’t have to exercise their will to suffer or sacrifice.  For the rich, the famous, the good-looking, the educated, the white middle class folks, those who are granted all the best of the world: the route to God’s blessing is difficult. They have to give up all the blessing they have been granted.

            Have you ever worked for the needy?  Those who are really needy, those whom our society calls “the bottom of the barrel”, for whom no real help exists? To be friends with the friendless, to offer yourself to the needy, it is a daily sacrifice.  You constantly struggle with how much to give, are you being taken advantage of, what is the real need, who of all the worthies should you give to with the limited resources you have?  Inevitably, you give more than you realistically can, and personal and social conflicts arise.  Your health fails.  Your family and friends whom you trusted no longer find you to be trustworthy.  You become an alien to all those whom you have loved.  You become the avoided, the dispossessed.  The one who surrenders themselves to the needy becomes one with the needy.  The one who sacrifices for the anawim becomes the anawim themselves.

            This is the challenge to the wealthy, the well-loved, the sheltered.  Expose yourself to those whom you most fear—those whose needs far outweigh your ability to help them.  Perhaps you will gain great satisfaction doing the work.  Perhaps you will obtain prizes and be Time’s Man of the Year. 

But let me be brutally honest (as if I hadn't been before).  Of the few of you who make the choice to sacrifice all you have for the needy, to obtain God’s glory instead of security and inner peace—you will be put under the bulldozer.  You will go to doctors and they won’t be able to tell you what’s wrong.  You will be disinherited by proper society.  You will have friends who tell you “you’ve just got to stop, for your own sake” but God won’t let you.  You will wonder why you are exhausted all the time.  You will go to bed each night as if you had been beaten.43  You will walk the streets and cry out to God, “Just give me rest!” but the rest never seems to come.  The needy themselves will blame you for not giving enough.  You will rack your brain to find ways to really help them, to really meet their true needs, and find no solution.  You will cry and weep and mourn and wonder why God put you in this place.  To do this work.  To have what seems to be a pointless life.

Now I’ll tell you a secret.  If you sacrifice yourself and feel all this—you’ve made it.  You’re in.  It’s time to celebrate.  It’s time to party.  Yeah, it seems pointless.  To Jeremiah speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem seems pointless because no one he could see would listen.  To David it all seemed pointless because his theocratic monarchy came crashing around his ears.  To the disciples of Jesus it all seemed pointless because their Lord, their Savior was dying on a cross.  Yeah, it all seems worthless—without resurrection.  Without God. 

“Vanity, vanity, all it vanity—everything done under the sun is vanity.”  That’s Scripture.  That’s God’s word.  But, you see, if we embrace the vanity of God, the foolishness of God, the sacrifice of ourselves for the poor and needy, the life of the anawim—then we get all that exists above the sun.  Under the sun? Screw under the sun.  I’m looking for the best retirement plan that exists.  Sure, the salary’s lousy.  But the benefits—nothing can compare to them.  And the only way to obtain them is to sacrifice one’s wealth and to stand with the anawim.  


36. The polar opposites of Jesus is that although he welcomed sinners and the outcast into the kingdom (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 19:10), yet he also condemned people to hell on the smallest sins, such as insulting another and looking at the opposite sex with lust (Matthew 5:22, 28-29).  Some people see Jesus as being the most lenient, while others see him as being the most strict.  Jesus’ point was that there are two requirements to enter into God’s utopia (Mark 1:15):  The first is repentance.  This is recognizing the evil one has done and doing what one can to change it.  This is what the religious leaders refused to do, because they refused to agree with Jesus about what sin is.  Sin, according to Jesus, is refusing to give to the needy, acting hypocritically, and making excuses for one’s sinful actions (Luke 16:19-23; Matthew 13:41-42; Matthew 5:21-29).  Thus, Jesus said, those who sinned terribly but recognized their need for repentance would enter God’s utopia, but those who refused to recognize their own personal (not theological) sin would be left out (Matthew 21:31-32).  The second requirement is to trust God to live a non-survival lifestyle in the midst of a world trying to survive. That’s what this chapter’s about.  Read on!

37. Jesus promised persecution to his disciples.  John 15:18-16:3; Matthew 10:34-39; Mark 8:31-38.

38. Luke 12:33; Acts 2:44-45.

39. Luke 22:25-27

40. Matthew 6:25-34.

41. Matthew 5:38-48.

42. Acts 14:22.  Also, see II Timothy 3:12.

43. Which is a quote from Louis Guanella.