Meekness, Wonder and Discovery

MeeknessI heard and interesting definition of meekness once: power kept under control.  To have the power and not flaunt it is no small challenge unless one is very humble.  For the crowds around a celebrity who approach a fanaticism about the that person, the trajectory is meant to be up, always up, including when it is really not.  In an example of the opposite end, there are celebrities that get old, weak and eroded of glorious beauty.  In that case, the public does not forgive. 

Such is the significance of what is called Palm Sunday by Christians in a crucial day in the life of Jesus.  Jesus made an entrance with much acclaim but his demeanor was really low key.  He proceeded on a donkey but was hailed with words fit for a king.  Before coming into the city of Jerusalem, he spoke with knowledge and authority that was determined and very set telling his disciples  “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me” (Matthew 21:2). A donkey was a status symbol of a fresh new car.  But was not meant to be speedy.  It was slow enough that one could chat with the people and be approachable rather than being on a high, fast horse.   

Jesus spoke from knowledge, authority and determination because his standpoint was from eternity and not just one age.  Taking a step back and seeing Jesus through a prophesy lens shows more in the preparation than his ride.  “This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: ‘Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” ” (Matthew 21:4-5). There is power and authority shown here but again there is meekness because there is a reference to the “daughter Zion”.  The prophecy that is quoted here has those two words to show the gentle favor like one would have for a daughter but saying Zion since that was a term for Israel of how God keeps his promises without an end. 

“Hosanna” is a word quoted from the crowd in all four gospels for this event.  It comes from the Hebrew words yasha  (“deliver, save”) and anna (“beg, beseech”) which forms what we say down to English, as “hosanna.” Literally, hosanna means “I beg you to save!” or “please deliver us!”  Later that day by the temple they would repeat it again much to the dismay of the religious leaders.  There is something noble to their praise, but it is worth keeping in mind the question: how many in the crowd would not forgive him like society does of those who grow old for not being so super? How many matter of 5 days later would being saying “Crucify him!”?  when appears in a mockery of royal robe and crown of thorns?  They generally may be calling for Jesus to save them only half on what matters and 150% on what does not. 

This comes back to why the apostles and the early church preached and taught Jesus as crucified but then risen.  If we call out to Jesus without a well rounded understanding of his sacrificial love, we will be set up to love without meaning and sacrifice without endurance.  So too for those who call themselves by the name of Christ, we will shine for the radiance of Jesus to the world.  To speak and live out the fulness of the good news of Jesus Christ in a robust manner is to let out Matthew, Mark, Luke and John like a lion from of a cage. 

There is a recurring mentioning for evangelizing with the gospel to “lead by beauty” (Bp. Robert Barron). Praise was given with palm leaves and personal clothes laid in the his path which could be considered beautiful in its simplicity.  “And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’ “ This was a simple insight in that someone important was there to see but next the chance to hear him. And if this turned out to be a prophet truly sent from God then there was a new direction to come. 

With the emergence of Christianity that was based on the cross and the resurrection the impact would be more than a shaking via a proposition but a provocation into the darkness of the world.  Decades later, associates of  Paul would be responded to accordingly with an adverse commentary.  “But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. ‘ “(Acts 17:6). 

Such is the pattern of Christ encountering the individual or the culture.  First the shaking by beauty and then the flipping of the paradigms.  Even this same day we see a hint of it.  “He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11).  This seems like a quiet happening until one considers that only months ago he was there solo in a confrontation with the religious leaders when he healed a man born blind whereas they were troubled due to deeming Jesus and the man unworthy of a miracle.  Now Jesus comes with the Twelve.  These were the apostles of the Church.  The day would come when they would be teaching in what is equivalent to the temple basement.  Change would be coming outside of the box of the elite.  Today he begins to serve them notice that grace was here and it would be unstoppable as it is the hand of God.  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!’ “ (Luke 21:39-40). 

Also it is worth noting the irony they were leaving the temple where the leaders do not understand him to Bethany where he was understood.  In Bethany, Jesus had revealed himself to be the resurrection and the life in raising Lazarus from the dead.  It was there that his sister Mary was used as object lesson of what it is to listen to him and adore him.  Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha served as a microcosm of community that is formed by Jesus and receive teaching in the context of being more formed towards him.  Such a people formed even more from the fullness of what Jesus did and is would likewise be prone to cry out. 

Thus we should consider Palm Sunday for what it can be.  It marks not the fulness of revelation of who Jesus is but is an appetizer of who he and his kingdom. But drawing from this scene we cry out to him now as Lord and Savior. 

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Interview With A Rabbi

Happy Old Man

 

Changing perspective at a basic level can be hard.  Even more when a person has a privilege in perspective that is above their peers.  In someone at the pinnacle of the physical sciences the bias is called scientism in only confining what can believed by the quantifiable.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on meaning per what a person or group defines as true or good today.  Good can come from inquiry when one asks the right questions.  A high expression of truth is in the words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order. 

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed as divine “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), and the lease for Jesus in his day was theology.  Such a man that had such qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodemus.  He could influence what was defined as truth among the leaders.  One night he encountered a man who was both a rabbi and a simple ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and last challenged him.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15). 

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of spiritual hunger when one sees the introductory basics of Jesus. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom but anchored in heaven.  To accept that good news one transitions from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  This is the theological normative of baptism.  Amniotic fluid was never referred to as the context here by the early church.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is spoken of in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says,”baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity. 

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit— This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to keep yielding to the Holy Spirit.  This is childlike trust unto God.

One may rationalize this call saying wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case. The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  When we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the word pneuma  (Steve Ray, St. John’s Gospel, 2002).  This spirit is that of adoption and fundamental transformation of the person in light of God’s voice crying out from us in the fulness of a divine adoption, suffering and always hope. 

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).   

How can this happen?— Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit his theological paradigm.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus challenges him to get over it through the message of being born again unto God the Father in heaven. 

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to get the jist. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breathing, living and talking he offers something that is incomparable. 

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ. 

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Though not the words of Jesus, rich in meaning.  Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, contemplative and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ in the fulness of such belief.   

But we are to be also informed in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, if you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid,  great! But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are not walking by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Having spiritual credentials is not the same as knowing Jesus.  An actively challenging gospel to us is on our “spiritual privilege” assumption.  He does not change but we do.  The choice to stay only as inquirer is on us if we will turn to Jesus as more than just favored of God but as Lord. 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity). 

See, Stay and Go

sun-moon-northpole

In the heat of the day, a woman of one ethnicity meets a man from another ethnicity at the well.  She gets the water then because she is an outcast socially from her people.  This stranger just called her out on her current life of emptiness but she chooses to stick around anyway.  She is challenged but intrigued.

 

See

This woman just got served by Jesus.  Unfortunately for her she was served in the sense of her sinful past being laid to bare.  But to her credit, she rolls with it pretty well all considered.  He challenged her on the issues of living with a man unmarried and having 5 husbands so he could propose to her for something better. 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:19-29).

Sir, I can see that you are a prophet— A turning point in anyone’s conversion is recognizing Jesus has at least some valid authority. As a Samaritan she had an imperfect formation by Jewish standards in what to hope for but she does see something big is going since a prophet discerns truth.  Her perspective is broadening. 

…this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem— This woman is centering on spiritual mysteries that seem to have no discernible purpose and doing that based on her own cultural lens.  Jesus responds with a coming agenda, a kingdom, that would not be bound to her culture or his and has a broader purpose.  Jesus acknowledges the foundation on how salvation history through the Jews but points to importance of blessing the world.

I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed— She points in hope how somehow someone will be anointed by God. It is implied the Holy Spirit will do the anointing. In further developed articulation of Christianity one can see an abundant life full of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is informed by the work of Christ on the cross drawing one to a fully formed life the Holy Trinity.  Below are dynamics of the persons of the Holy Trinity that we can understand in fully articulated Christianity that is, again, of spirit and truth. 

The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God. Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. In adoring the Holy Trinity, life-giving, consubstantial, and indivisible, the Church’s faith also professes the distinction of persons. When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 689). 

The work of the Holy Spirit is partly to point to Jesus as the visible member of the Godhead.  Working as “Breath” (the word for spirit and wind is the same in Hebrew), there is a relational context that the believer is invited to of unity (John 17:21).  This intent of breathing the Breath of God has to have consequence on earth in a new agenda.  This is the gospel lived out.  This woman in her simplicity points to a foundation for this hope. 

Stay

will worship the Father in Spirit and truth- Jesus is contrasting her presumption that the new faith would have to be anchored by a singular geographical location.  For Jesus to say this had foundation from prior scripture.  “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering; For my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11). How is this supposed to work if God’s people are bound to only offer sacrifice in the temple?  In the rabbinical narratives between the Old and New Testament they wrote with the Messiah to come the sacrifice to remain would be of bread for thanksgiving; it was called todah in Hebrew,  translated eucharistia in Greek in a translation of the Old Testament and is Eucharist in English. 

the Father seeks such people to worship him- Those people are sensitized to the joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The spirit spoken of is a reminder of the Holy Spirit being the Breath behind all spiritual wind which reveals the son for which there is no discrimination. 

God is Spirit-  Exactly articulated later with these words in the Nicene Creed of 325 “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.    

those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth – For those who know the call after conversion to be true worshippers they are introduced into partaking of this divine nature, sensitized to true worship and will worship the Father in Christ. The rituals that are absent the spirit only point to a greater reality but are not in themselves that greater reality.  But Christ is and he is to be experienced in matter and faith. 

I who speak to you am he  This is the dividing line.  She can go backward from Jesus but not in ignorance.  Or she could go forward and continue to be changed in perceptions and lifestyle with a full conversion.  She has been proposed to and not imposed upon. So we can be in the moments of turning around and giving our own testimony to the world about this mysterious Other.   

Go

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”— Good evangelism sometimes is knowing the right answer to the right question.  She had her answer: Jesus is Savior and she needed saving.  Each day one chooses to walk in friendship with Jesus is an opportunity to be whole.  Not all dynamics of conversion are meant to be figured out.  But if we open our eyes Jesus will meet us in the common wells of our lives. The subsequent transformation compels us to a proclamation of the comprehensible and the mysteries in Christ.   

The Lord’s missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: “The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 850). 

Meeting At The Water Cooler

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There can be many points of bias that one can have in spiritual seeking whether they are honest skeptics or even a cynic.  If one looks at doubt and inquiry in encounters with Christ there is something to be appreciated on the marginalized from society. Some think that by the group they belong to or what they have done that Jesus as Savior need not apply.  It would be almost like a given that a message like a goodness cannot be projected “down to” the marginalized.  Case in point to be seen below in one woman who felt unworthy of Jesus’ friendship and attention.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”  The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:7-18).

Come

First is the invitation

A woman of Samaria came …”“How can you, a Jew…?”— We are full in this world with socially based assumptions.  A radical part of the good news of Jesus sees the marginalized especially to be proposed with grace that transcends barriers. 

you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?— Here is a part of the dialogue where they are sort of speaking past each other.  The woman thinks only by a natural terms but Jesus speaks first in spiritual life. But he will speak to her natural life too.    

Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.

This is a baby step to conversion.  She is taking a step that Jesus can do something life changing and knows it is beyond physical circumstances.  The key term “living”  in the spiritual dimension  can be defined analogously by biology.  Defining life includes eating, growing and reproducing.  For this life to dwell and overflow means that she can be touched by the life of Jesus and that this life can extend through her to others.  Later that day this seems to play out in receiving, growing in and proclaiming who Jesus is.   

I do not have a husband—  This is a moral turning point in being encountered by Jesus. As a person or a group gets engaged with the gospel it should be known that the message of God’s kingdom, though of grace, puts our lifestyle on trial.  In a post-Christian culture the rhetoric gets only better and better at putting objective moral values on trial.  Yet, the Christian Church of the 1st century was known to be “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  Objective moral truth is often put on trial, albeit wrongfully.  However, truth is exclusive and counter-cultural to someone and stands the test of time.  Anyone facing a block to obedience in sin will stay in the “sweet spot” that we like to hide in. 

But her gradual increase in her faith emerging in the encounter that is good.  She did not yet know all of Jesus’ capabilities and could have lied.  She could have said that her “husband” was away on a trip.  What is implied is the beginnings of confessing how messed up her life has become.  She is starting to slowly rip the band-aid off.  But Jesus picks up the pace. Especially in our honesty, we are even more open for the same to happen to us which is ultimately for our own good.  If we come to faith in Jesus, can learn to trust him.  If we trust him on those things that make sense with a repentant heart, then we are open to his spiritual blessings in mystery. Jesus  loves to unfold some of those mysteries of the kingdom to the simple and repentant of heart.