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Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

Unfortunately the time in which we live is plagued by fear and war. This is nothing new to the human race, and as Ecclesiastes states, there is nothing new under the sun. Every age of man is full of war, plague, and strife. How can it not be? Man has sunken to the depths of its own animus, barely reminding itself that it is greater than beast. For man looks at those who are made in his own likeness and greets them as brothers, yet he despises those who bear even the slightest of differences from his own appearance or behavior. This too, is nothing new. Our ancestors enslaved others who were not their own. Perhaps for speaking a different tongue, or having a different colored skin, or even perhaps a different religion. Man will find any excuse necessary to cause pain, war, and death. It is the way of the world.

But need it be this way? By all accounts the way of the world is full of strife and is generally unpleasant. When evil is done, it requires not only equal payback, but great wrath upon all who stand opposed. It is for this that the law was written, “an eye for an eye”. Not that justice would be certain to be meted out, but to ensure no greater than equal justice was served. For the wrath of mankind is prone to vengeance above and beyond fair and equal measure.

The Christian voice goes above and beyond this fair and equal measure of violence, and dispenses with it altogether. As the apostle Paul says, we battle not against flesh and blood, but against dark forces. Our battle is against the forces of darkness which control the nations of the world, and which daily battle in the heavenly places. For the message of Christ is that we do not retaliate against those who do us harm, but that we conquer evil with love and forgiveness. As our Lord has commanded us to turn the other cheek, we must obey. For he disarmed Peter in the garden, so has he disarmed us.

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The Gospel of John opens with a declaration that in the beginning was the Word, and that all things were created through the Word, and nothing was made without the Word. In verse fourteen, John specifies that the Word took on flesh in the form of Jesus. This hearkens us back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures, where God speaks – and from his Word flows forth all of creation. John not only shows us from where Jesus gets his authority, but he also shows us that the Truth of God has always been made evident through Jesus.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus sets about trying to teach his disciples a new way of looking at the Hebrew Scriptures. As a Jewish rabbi, it was his duty to teach his students his “midrash” or teaching, which the New Testament refers to as his “yoke” (Matthew 11:30). If Jesus were just a rabbi, then his interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures was up for debate – which happened quite often. Anytime Jesus is recorded as speaking with the elders and Pharisees, what is happening is a debate upon the midrash of Jesus. They are questioning his rabbinical credentials. However it becomes clear early on, that the Pharisees cannot match wits with the son of Joseph.

The reason that the midrash of Jesus was so questionable, was because from the very onset, it seemed as if he was contradicting everything that Moses had said. When Jesus spoke about the Law, he challenged the core beliefs of his Jewish brethren. According to the midrash of Jesus, revenge was no longer an option. His interpretation of the Law, was not based upon the text itself, but upon the spirit. And from our perspective today, who would know the spirit of the Law better than the Word that it was spoken through?

Jesus had funny ways about how he observed the Law. He didn’t find it sinful to gather food on the Sabbath, in spite of overwhelming disdain from other teachers who thought it should be a day of total rest. Neither did he allow for the stoning of sinners; for who was perfect according to the letter of the Law? Jesus even ate with tax collectors and sinners, the enemies of all religious Jews. The tax collectors because they had sided with the Roman Empire over their fellow Jews, and sinners because they did not live in accordance with the letter of the Law.

While in many ways the midrash of Jesus was more strict, in all, it was more free. The midrash of Jesus required discipline, but it was tempered with mercy. If someone offended you, you forgave them. According to Jesus, it didn’t matter how grievous the sin, nor how many times you had been sinned against. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

It was a completely radical way of re-interpreting the Law of Moses. But ultimately, it was about re-orienting the people of God back to Shalom. It was about bringing man back into full communion with God. This is the meaning of the Scriptures when Christ tells us that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no man comes unto the Father except through me”. (John 14:6). Paul reiterates this same point later in his Epistle to the Galatians when he says that we are no longer bound under the Law, for we have been set free from the letter of the Law through Christ Jesus. However, if one insists on following the letter of the Law, they must follow it perfectly, for by following the Law they have been severed from Christ. (Galatians 5)

The road we travel isn’t easy. In Matthew chapter seven, Jesus calls the road to reconciliation with God, narrow. It takes a lot of work, and daily prayer. We must re-orientate ourselves back on a consistent basis to the midrash of Jesus. Brushing away cultural normalities, and hearkening back to a voice which cried out long ago, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”(Matthew 3:2)

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The life of a Christian is a cycle. Every day we must strive to live in accordance with the ways and teachings of Jesus, the Christ. This is something that I am sure we each find extremely trying and difficult. Yet we proceed ever onwards, trusting that the Lord would see us through each day.

In the Scriptures, Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God, that we may withstand the advances of the enemy. That when those dark spiritual forces come against us, we may fend them off. But there is more to being a Christian than fending off your heart and mind against evil thoughts and spirits. The Christian is called to be an active force in the world in which he or she lives. Though we be but travelers in it.

In the Greek Scriptures, we are taught that we are to advance the Kingdom of God. This is singularly the most frequent theme to be found in the New Testament. The idea of this spiritual utopia. It is not a place to be visited nor a goal to be reached. It is a frame of mind. The Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come, for they did not understand. The Kingdom of God is neither here nor there. The Kingdom of God, Christ taught, is within us. It is among us.

The Kingdom of God is how Christians ought to live their lives. When we live active lives that speak to our faith, we are advancing the Kingdom of God. For it is only advanced by involving others in it. We live the Kingdom of God by how we treat other people. It is advanced in how we care for the poor and the sick, the widowed and the orphaned, the imprisoned and the downcast. It is impossible to advance the Kingdom when living a solitary pious life, for you are cut off from community. As prominent Christian sociologist and author Tony Campolo puts it, ‘The Kingdom of God is a party’.

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Why should we pray to God?

The prevailing viewpoint in America is that we should not pray to God, at all. This viewpoint stems from the period of Enlightenment, and questions whether God even exists. It also posits: that if God does exist, then praying to Him is pointless because He does not answer our prayers. Supposed proof of this statement is backed with something akin to, “if God was real or all-powerful, He would abolish all evil”.

However, I would put forth that expecting God to solve all of humanity’s problems would be more the work of a magician or lesser deity, rather than the God who is described in the Scriptures. Regardless of whether or not one believes the book of Genesis to be historically factual, we have a pretty good idea about what kind of happened. Somewhere along the way, humanity rebelled against God and His perfect plan for the world. Our ancestors screwed up, and we lost the utopia known as Eden. The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures spend tremendous effort trying to convince us of where we went wrong, and how to get back to Paradise. They tell of a God who is constantly trying to get humanity back on the right track, back to perfect harmony.

But they also tell a different story – the story of a human race that though not intrinsically evil, often turns toward evil. God created mankind, and He called us good. But we fell, and we became broken. The ideal vision of humanity was now corrupted. So, not unlike a file that has been corrupted on a computer, we don’t act exactly how we are supposed to all of the time. We need to be restored back to how we were meant to be.

How does that happen?

The short answer, is through prayer. Paul gives us a little advice about this in 1 Thessalonians, where he exhorts us to pray without ceasing. This is a call back to the Gospel exhortation of Jesus himself. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, Jesus tells a story about a widow who had been wronged, and a judge who was unjust. The judge did not want to help the widow find justice, but the widow would not let the matter rest. She begged and pleaded persistently, until finally, the judge relented. The unjust judge sought justice for the widow out of pure weariness. He was tired of her nagging.

One could probably take away a negative: that if God is like the unjust judge, then God Himself is unjust. The alternative, and more appropriate take-away, is that if even an unjust judge will find justice after persistent nagging, how much more likely is God to answer the prayers of people whom He loves dearly? Jesus insisted that God will give justice to those who cry out to Him day and night – persistent prayers will be answered.

Why then, should we pray to God? Because He cares for the sparrows and for the lilies; how much more then does He care for us? And if such love is magnified, then how much more quick will He be to answer our prayers and petitions out of love. What father would give his child poison, when he asks for bread?

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