Rumbles At Tabernacles X: Beautiful Baby Steps


If one converts spiritually from one lens in seeing the world around them to another it is not an easy step.  It is even harder if the person changed in their thinking is surrounded by people with an ideology that is hostile to the new one.  Such was the odd thing where a silent minority of the crowd in the temple believed in him with a hostile majority there.

Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him (John 8:30)

In such a pivotal moment, Jesus wanted to reach out to those that he knew had just had a pivot in their hearts and speak to them of basic principles for spiritual formation.  Also, there could be a hope that those who were not taking in what is said would have something to remember Jesus by when the gospel story would later be played out.  Even more would one day believe.

 Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him,“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.  So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free. I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you. I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.” (John 8:31-38).

If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples-  “If” is a key word.  Going forward, his disciples always have free will and God’s will is never imposed but to proposed.  Every day a disciples of Jesus has a proposal to take up their own cross, their own experience of humility, and follow him.

and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free-  and believing with surrender leads to understanding in a way that illuminates the heart with grace.  This is why “grace and truth were realized in Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  With these spiritual elements together in an encounter with Christ there is freedom starting with the acknowledgment that there is such a thing as sin.

We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone–  And now back to the skeptics.  The minimize what Jesus has to say based on an objective fact.  A second later Jesus even affirms that they are right about the fact but wrong on the significance they give it.  They area each saying they are good with God as a matter of DNA.  Jesus brings it back to what they are doing and how that what matters in staying in his word.

everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin–  I often repeat story to my clients who are in addiction recovery from Margret Thatcher.  She was in the early stages of Alzheimers and was asked how she felt about it.  Her response was “Do not ask me about my feelings.  Ask me about what I believe and what I do.  That is how you will know who I am and what I am about.”  These cynics were about feeling righteous but not doing the real works of righteousness let alone discerning it.  Furthermore, they believed in the direction away from surrender.

A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains-  The paradox is that this transcendent, celestial word is not flaky but grounding.  Jesus had said he does what his Father says.  The effects of sin seem stable, but really in the end they are destabilizing to the human person and dignity.  One who is in complete sonship to the Father always has a home in the implication of what is said here even if they feel that they started as a slave.

So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free-  GK Chesterton had a good point about freedom.  “When is a train most free?  On it’s tracks”.  Sonship in the household of faith is what all of mankind were made for and can go forward according to divine purpose in surrender to the yoke that is anything but slavery.  But one must accept the power of the Son.

But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you-  And now he lays down the hammer.  In this visit to Jerusalem Jesus does not demonstrate the supernatural much but he does here with divine knowledge.  He knows their intent with sending the guards.  They wanted to do a kangaroo court and get him killed.  Jesus was fine with that in the right time.  For now, he calls them on their evil without sugarcoating.  He said it because they needed it.

I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence-  Truth has consequences.  All the world is ultimately commanded by God to repent. And what we hear from Jesus we hear from the Father just as for those that see Jesus, see the Father (John14:7).  All things considered, Jesus is just warming up.  Relax cynics.  It gets worse!


Rumbles At Tabernacles IX: Diagnosis Self-Murder

simplefaitharchiveI have heard it said many times that God does not give us more than we can handle.  There is a truth to that in the sense that when we are tempted to give up on what is right about there. It is always an option if we are not willing to be open.  In this saying, the context is usually circumstances.

But what about God speaking to a group with words seem more than they can handle in their prejudice? Jesus was a walking dividing line in the sense that people responded strongly one way or another.  For some that were ready for conversion, the fruit would be good in the long run, but for those with hardened their hearts it would be otherwise. Ironically, confrontation can be light because conflict for the right reasons can be good for clarity of each side.

He said to them again, “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin.Where I am going you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill himself, is he, because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you in condemnation. But the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.” They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father. So Jesus said [to them], “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him (John 8:21-30).

you will die in your sin-  Jesus speaks in contrast quite frankly and uses this term three times.  The ironic  thing is that Jesus speaks this way because he loves them.  We know that later some of these elite come into the Church after the Resurrection.  It could be possible that those hard words opened them up.  In a way, he speaks to anyone with the human condition about the gravity of the 100% mortality rate due to being part of fallen man.

You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above-  Jesus is not putting anyone in league with the devil—yet.  He is declaring that their frame of reference is below heaven where he comes from.  In a way, Jesus could be seen as being humble because just saying above is an understatement.  Historical Christian theology describes the divine as ipsum esse subsistens (the sheer act of to-be itself).  Thomas Aquinas often placed the description of the divine with the declaration of the great I AM in how God introduced himself to Moses.  And this is the perspective by which Jesus repeats again, that temporary man is beholden to eternity.

Who are you?–  This was their approach digging for his credentials in a way they could understand.  Based on how the conversation evolves later in this encounter, it could be reasonably suspected that the elite here suspect Jesus is heading in a most scandalous direction.

I have much to say about you in condemnation.-  This alone is a scandalous, or stumbling block, statement.  The irony is that earlier that same day Jesus said to a woman caught in adultery “neither do I condemn you” but to the religious elite he has the ledger in his hands ready to be dispensed all the more due to their self-righteousness.

and what I heard from him I tell the world- Jesus is personal to everyone but that does not mean he has to take the conflict personal.  Instead, Jesus leaves it out there that he is in sync to the Father and his directives.  The endgame in mind for all of these directives is love that redeems though the free will is always a factor.

When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM- When we think of God being the great I AM like when God introduces himself to Moses, we think of power and not powerlessness.  Jesus points to a reintroduction of divinity to man but deeper in the context of being paradoxically in completely surrendered humanity.  This is the foolishness that confounds the wise like Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3.  In the Cross something happened that was over the head of the cynics that held onto hard heartedness.  It was just a Roman execution in their view and not the power demonstration they assumed.

The one who sent me is with me – Jesus ties in two things that are important in the Father and Son  aspect of the gospels that are easy to see but hard to appreciate for the simplicity: Jesus is close to God and stays on mission always.  One helps the other.

Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him-  And those who were there and had a soft heart got it broken in all the right ways.  Jesus laid down for them who he was, who they are, why they were in error and what they needed to look for.  Those who believed knew that there was a spiritual relationship to be engaged in and like Jesus they too would need to be on mission to cary their own cross and to be “lifted up” on their daily or literal cross (often the latter in the early church days).  And it would have to be faith in action.  Belief in the New Testament was a pregnant term.  It was in the context of discipleship that Jesus and the gospel writers expressed.  And this part of the Tradition still lives and breaths today as an ongoing kind of understanding.

And this understanding is not born from an intellectual process only.  It is a conversion of the whole person that has authenticity to it rather than an intellectual education.  It is walking with Jesus one step at a time and trusting him step by step.

Rumbles At Tabernacles VIII: Lion? Oh, My!

lion-hd-wallpapers“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe).

This comes to mind for me about how spiritual journeys go for some skeptics.  They poke a lion when they poke at Jesus in trying to get to the bottom of what makes him tick.  Often that poke is intended to “try” the message of Jesus and if the bias is thick, like that of a cynic, then it could be a case for “in for a penny, in for a pound” where the pursued becomes the pursuer.

Such is the case of what happened after the Pharisees were disoriented by Jesus when they brought the woman to him who they caught in adultery.  They sought to trap him to being at best like them (so they would think) and want her stoned or be too liberal and call adultery not a sin.  He sent them packing by saying they could stone her-  starting with whoever was without sin.  Oops.  Time to regroup in their home turf.  But Jesus comes after them.

 Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You testify on your own behalf, so your testimony cannot be verified.” Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone. And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me. Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.” So they said to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the treasury in the temple area. But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come (John 8:12-20).

It is important for this passage to start at the end to know the context of the boldness of Jesus and the blindness of cynics in the choice to be “teaching in the treasury of the temple area”.  A point is made on this by the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible

Christ enlightens the world with truth as the golden candelabras illuminated the Temple courts with fire during the Feast of Tabernacles. The location of Jesus as he delivers these words supports the symbolism: he is standing in “treasury” adjacent to the Court of Women, precisely where the lamp-lighting ceremony was recently conducted.  The light of renewal is always dependent on God.

With that, let’s take a closer look at was Jesus does.

I am the light of the world-  Jesus sees them in the midst of their symbol and reveals himself as the substance of that reality.  One may think this is meaningless and for that day that is true for the perspective.  But we know from the Acts of The Apostles that many priests were added to the Church.  However, Jesus brings an agenda that is ultimately beyond just Palestine but for the world.  He was prophesied over by Simeon when he was a baby as “the light of the Gentiles”.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life – Taken into context of how God was the light for the people of Israel by fire for forty years, this is significant.  Again, Jesus gives them a point in their scenery and in language that points ultimately to his divinity.

my testimony can be verified…I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not-  Some things about Jesus could appeal to the senses and some things made sense.  But the mysteries of Jesus are there for those who know when to take a leap of faith and that is not where they are right now.

You testify on your own behalf, so your testimony cannot be verified-  The Pharisees take a legal tactic to shut Jesus down with a technicality and based on the assumption that his tall claims are only by his own declaration.

my testimony can be verified, because I know where I came from and where I am going-  The point is made again that they are engaging and perceiving lateral to lateral where Jesus has a vertical and lateral approach to what matters.  They don’t, and most of them won’t, get it because they do not want to.

You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone-  Jesus in his humanity likely had the vision of the distraught woman caught in adultery in his brain.  Nevertheless, he gets to the bottom of a major theme in this critical Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus is there in Jerusalem because he is on mercy business.  The Pharisees are there on judgment business.  We know in Christian scripture that mercy triumphs over judgment— exactly what the elite in power are afraid of.

I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me-  Here Jesus breaks new ground for this week and maybe his entire ministry as it pertains to relabeling who he is. Jesus has a message of sonship in place of oligarchy.  Who is this mysterious father?  Is he a rabbi that went out from us?  Is it a mystic person out in the wilderness?  Jesus is only beginning to be provocative.

If you knew me, you would know my Father also-  This is crucial in that Jesus shows closeness between he and The Father.  This connection is addressed in another angle elsewhere.

Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent (John 5:37-38).

Jesus is only getting started.  His agenda, for those who have ears to hear, is to stir them to spiritual works like seeking God with true holiness rather trusting in the works of the law.  This is an ongoing part of the gospel today.  And no, he is not safe, but he is good.  Jesus is the Lion for all of us.

Rumbles At Tabernacles VII: Casting No Stones


Some of the most common features of any spiritual journey worth walking are grace and truth.  With grace, one can overdo the concept as an emotional experience.  With truth, one can over-intellectualize it and/or filter it through the prism of ones culture.  The Pharisees of Jesus’s day did the latter.

After a week of indirect sparring, an unsuccessful arrest attempt and much internal grumbling the Pharisees have had enough.  They would have hoped that the “accursed” crowd would see Jesus as a fraud like they did or at least their own guards would follow through in arresting him as they had ordered.  After all, they are the ones in rightful power to do this.  Or so they think.  Their presumption was based on how much truth they knew which was significant for that day.  But the pesky thing is that grace and truth would be put in context of their own inadequacies through one who knows where the bodies are buried, challenges people to love and unlike the crowds has nothing to lose.

Then each went to his own house, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 7:53- 8:11).

Then each went to his own house, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives- This seems inconsequential at first until you thing about the historical backdrop.  In this seven day festival the custom from Moses was to be in small tents.  With it over, they could be back to a standard of comfort again.  But Jesus going to the Mount of Olives is different.  This is a place where many saints of the Old Testament are buried.  It was where King David fled to when his own son raised a rebellion against him.  There were prophecies that this is a place that they glory of God would appear.  In going there, Jesus spoke to the faithfulness of God of the past but the transcendence of God at the same time.

brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle-  This last part is a subtle piece that one could easily overlook.  “The middle” could speak to the not so sweet spot condemnation.  As a counselor of people who are in recovery for drug addiction I seem clients every day that feel like that woman in feeling an immense sense of shame and that the punishment is coming.  I come to this series with the premise that Jesus is always the same.   In this setting Jesus sits down and teaches.  For Christians that believe how the gospels end Jesus still is sitting but now at the right hand of the Father.  And he still teaches today but through those with a gift who guard the deposit of faith including that “grace and truth were realized in Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.-  Briefly, I would say that the common mistake of critics of Jesus then and now is to pigeonhole  him into easily defined categories.  Also, it is clear that at this point the Pharisees are cynics.  For a cynic no answer is good enough-  as long as the questioned plays their game then the cynics have the upper ground.  As we see in this interaction, Jesus does not.

Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women-  A little background is needed here.  In the law of Moses there was moral, civil and ceremonial law.  Think of them as three circles that intersect on some issues but not in all.  The part about execution was for civil authority in Israel when it was still a functional nation.  In Jesus’ time it was not.  But Jesus has a surprise for them by making a zig where they expected a zag.

Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger-  This is ironic since the subject is the Law and God wrote the Ten Commandments with a finger.  Irony is often the language of Jesus in response to cynicism.

Let the one among you who is without sin…  Jesus makes a point in this irony.  They are not without sin.  Augustine makes a good point on this passage of scripture.

The Lord now wrote on the ground, because he was seeking fruit…..But is it by punishing her that the law is is to be fulfilled by those that ought to be punished?  Let each of you consider himself, let him enter into himself, ascend the judgment seat of his own mind, place himself at the bar of his own conscience, oblige himself to confess … this certainly is the voice of justice, those men pierced through as though by a dart, looking into themselves and finding themselves guilty (Augustine, Tractate 28).

Again he bent down and wrote on the ground – Jesus was purposeful.  He bends down per his role to be a servant and show us an example.  St. Bede addresses this as a divine pedagogy.

Christ, who twice bends down to write on the ground, teaches us to bend low in humility to examine ourselves both before and after addressing the faults of our neighbor.  If his example becomes our practice, we will avoid as he did the extremes of being unjust and unmerciful toward others (St. Bede, Homily in Evan.).

Indeed the echo through history is a challenge to us to be Christlike and not a Pharisee.

So he was left alone with the woman before him- There is a lesson here on the nature of the voices of shame.  I often tell my clients who are in recovery from addiction that shame does not carry anyone into long-term change.  The very same author of this gospel in fact wrote the words “perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18).  I can imagine that in his older years Apostle John thought of this scene when writing this to his spiritual children.

Woman, where are they? – With the voices of fear and shame out of the way, Jesus speaks to who to elicit her faith to see the change by him as the change agent.

Neither do I condemn you- Jesus came to save people in all their blemishes.  Jesus would be qualified to cast the first stone but he did not.

Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more-  Jesus grants absolution to her for the sake of holiness to be her ongoing experience.  Where death had been her anticipation holiness can be where she has participation by grace.

Likewise is anyone who is understands and acts on the message of the gospel in its fulness.  They know they are a sinner, they are caught, the condemnation could be considered fitting and Jesus shows himself as someone to come to and go with.  Such love is greater than our sense of unworthiness.  That is the heart of the gospel.


Rumbles At Tabernacles VI: Rationally Wrong.  


The religious elite in the days of Jesus were like a jury.  The final deliberations are in process.  But the complication is that most of them had their minds made up as we will see before they even encountered the “defendant”.

At the end of a holy week in Jerusalem this rabble-rouser from Nazareth made some declarations about himself and the blessings available to Israel.  These are blessings not being funneled through the hands of the religious elite.  Such elite have a presumption that the people should be blessed through their oversight by God with little thought to how God may not bound to their system.   Even further, they assume to judge him more and than question him.  The only catch is that they have to catch him first.

Some of them even wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?” The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this one.” So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a person before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” (John 7:44-52).

Never before has anyone spoken like this one- Elite versus non-elite-  therein is the question.  The guards are unlearned men but they more than make up for that with a healthy sense of humility and deep wonder.  They see Jesus as distinct in how he speaks like no one else.  They quote no scripture to prove their impression but just an intuition out of those above qualities that the elite lack.  Rationality can be a weakness when over-emphasized.  This is why often I will say to my clients who are in addiction recovery that they can rationalize staying in addiction or their next relapse.  Again we see how a paradigm shift on how someone interprets what is true has to happen including the questioning of ones cultural assumptions.

Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? –  Spiritual authority has its uses.  As one who submits to the teachings of church authorities, I live a lifestyle respecting their place that God has put them in that is over me.  The irony is that Jesus believed this about the elites too but qualified the parameters on how that works out. Further irony is that he spoke about this when he was only days away from being crucified in part through their collaboration.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice (Matthew 23:1-3).

Jesus knew that what was established was six covenants in God’s salvation history through Israel, culminate in him and to then be equally available to the world.  He knew that the Pharisees were set apart for a purpose.  Their very name in Hebrew, Perisheem, speaks to that consecration of service. Regarding the first person of that seat that was clearly successive, Moses, Protestant scholar JND Kelly states that he “taught infallibly”.  But they are sinners, and their choice of conversion to deny Jesus was against the intent of the Law.  The Law was meant too prepare Israel in a divine pedagogy for something better and to work itself out of a job in part.

But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed – With this the elite forget what grace and sin are and how they work.  With sin one misses the mark due to the absence of grace in their nature and when a converted person sins they choose personal sin.  The elite see “the crowd” as cursed for their lack of knowledge.  For such elite, they will stand before the throne of God someday and question how well their knowledge even of spiritual matters worked for them.

Nicodemus, one of their members …Does our law condemn a person before…? – Well made point.  Though Nicodemus has the religious status, he is based in what is true and good and maybe more due to his own evening interview with Jesus.  Nicodemus draws the line of what the Law says objectively rather than a subjective construct some make.  Truth is not based first in a personal journey of culture or experience.  This is why thirty years later Paul wrote about “the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  Truth that is heavenly based does not move.

You are not from Galilee also, are you?- This is their way of challenging the voice of dissent on an ad hominem point.  Congratulations to Nicodemus and those that are in his situation among those hostile to the gospel.  They minimized Jesus on an odd basis too.  Such then are in good company.

Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee-  That was not even accurate.  Capernaum is named in the latter part for the prophet Nahum.  Those who are hostile speak a good game of knowing it all when they only see that the only data that matters is what they are comfortable with.

In summary, the rationality of denying Jesus is always a temptation.  This is why faith and reason must partner together.