Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

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Lens of Law or Lens of Love

worldview eyeball

Years ago there was a brilliant man on television that rocked the ratings landscape by beating other prime time competition with a chalkboard, a cape, good stories and a sense of humor.  His name was Bishop Fulton Sheen.  He said many things that were profound but he was always aware that the truth he spoke to was greater than himself.  One year his show “Life Worth Living” won an Emmy award.  He said, “I would like to thank my staff writers.  Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.”

But another point he made was that, unlike leaders of other world religions, Jesus came pre-announced.  One who is a Christian believer would point to Old Testament prophets to illustrate that point.  But if one sees John the Baptist, they see him foretelling the arrival of Jesus and giving the world an introduction.  Looking at his life one can see he did this with the utmost reverence.

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
    and the world came to be through him,
    but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,
    but his own people did not accept him (John 6:6-11)

He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him- – If one sees the body of Christianity correctly in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scriptures held up by the Church Jesus later founded, the same goes as a calling for more than one baptizer at a river. The message of Jesus was intended to be more than what is for just one man or through one man.  The eventual community to be founded would be of many witnesses.  “Therefore, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world- – If one gets the solid objections of their spiritual life out of the way, then anyone can know Jesus.  There are “if’s” that unfold in the gospels.  If one is born again by Spirit and water (John 3:3).  If you believe and are baptized. 

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him- – This is a tragic paradox.  Jesus was coming to the Jewish people who had historically know divinity but through thunder, clouds and earthquakes.  God is shown here in the Son, Jesus Christ, as too simple to be true to religious tastes common to them at that time.  But in the beginning, the world was made by Jesus as the Logos or the expressed wisdom of eternity that stepped into time first to create more than the Jewish people but the whole world.  In another way of speaking, in their disconnected form of religion that was contrary to the light and intimacy God wants to have with mankind they knew of God but did not naturally get Him.  But ready or nor, here he comes on the Jordan River and today in ways to be received objectively and subjectively. 

The key to “getting” Jesus is not through the lens of the Law but through the lens of love. It is to be experienced in material contexts and contextualized by a growing movement of articulated grace and truth that sprouts from the nature of Jesus (John 1:17).  To move forward in investigating the text of scripture is to not to lose a healthy context of the latter. Yes, the gospel is bigger than any one of us. 

Bag of Goods, Not So Good

Idol Examples

Fidelity is a loaded term and maybe more in a world of gossip where one hears of infidelity.  In the spiritual life there are subtle temptations that can come where we give affections meant for God alone and give it to the things that are passing way.  Occasionally those temptations can be quite blatant.  Here is an experience where Jesus experienced the latter.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him (Matthew 4:8-11).

Here is the temptation of material gain as an end in itself and of unfaithfulness.  If one ponders idolatry in all its forms one will see how so often in this world a giving aways of ones self to gods of this world happens.  This is why after so many profound devotional and theological statements in 1 John it ends with “little children guard yourselves from idols”.  This was not a distraction from what was shared but an encouragement to guard the beauty of knowing God’s love in an ongoing way.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain- – This is ironic because in a casual read of the gospel one can see many times that Jesus liked “getting away from it all” for teachable or pivotal moments of his ministry.  A lesson is that Satan may tempt us with an isolating way to bully us and make us feel alone.  With God, we are never alone.  In ongoing conversion as a Christian, it is good to take our own initiative to have a retreat with God for intentional reflection. Further, if we are finding ourselves alone in adverse circumstances we can pivot to God whose love is always there.

all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence– – There are three things that are considered transcendentals in the history of Christianity.  These are beauty, truth and goodness.  Beauty, when shown correctly, can draw the heart of someone to heavenly places.  As Christians, we are blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesians 1:3).  If one continues to be grounded in the beauty of the divine beyond any beauty of our eyes we will not be shaken from the reflection of where we are truly seated.

All these I shall give to you– – Quite the salesman, Satan shows forth a counterfeit of grace.  This reminds me of someone who is a “loyal customer” of their drug dealer and he generously gives a “gift” on their birthday literally on their doorstep.  True joy is not for the drug dealer to give nor true power.  Satan is just one other kind of dealer.

The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve– – This is a gateway commandment of sorts and can be shown to have meaning in ones ongoing journey in Christ.  To worship God alone is fitting as the right boundary for mortals to the God who is not a type of species but just is. He is the I AM which is like “Something Other Than Being”.  God is not a genus of species that can be subjected to our mortal classifications.  The fidelity of worship based on this knowledge lends to a holy life with “these three things that abide” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  This is expanded on below.

The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD’ (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 2086).

To be rooted in ones life like this has a subsequent overflow.

The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (CCC 1813).

Then the devil left him- – The formula on ones simplest means to deliverance from the devil is simple.  It is to “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  There are some who consider themselves believers in Jesus Christ but feel that the devil is after them.  If one believes that is really true, then it bears consideration on how much one is submitting to God in their daily living.

angels came and ministered to him– – Again, one is not truly alone if one is in relationship with God.  Even then, it is not God alone who accompanies you but angels of a celestial kingdom. In fact, if we let him, God can send us “angels” in the sense of human beings who make a catalyst for change.

One example I saw was in the area of addiction recovery.  As an intern in a substance abuse recovery program at the intensive outpatient level, there was a new member of a process group who was ambivalent about going to a 12 Step group that night. He cited  how “maybe I’ll go, maybe I won’t” due to feeling alone doing that.   The group leader, who was in recovery himself, said asked, “are you going to [expletive] go or won’t you”.  One volunteer after another in the group assured him that they would go with him.  He went with four new friends and engaged in recovery before the Higher Power of his understanding.  We commonly come to faith through community, abide in Christ in the context of full community and go towards a great gathering in the end before a loving and holy God.   When we restrict our worship to God alone it does not rob us but frees us.  The ministering of one to another is to reaffirm the greatness of that fact and the angels who come to Jesus serve as reference points of it.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

So to say no to Satan and all his empty promises is to say yes to God who is above all the darkness of this world.  This is God who is Love that we can always say yes to in continual conversion.  And with God and his kingdom properly factored, we are never alone.

Being Shown The Way

you-are-not-alone

If one thinks of conversion superficially, there is a tendency to see it as solitary at first and with an emphasis that it stays that way.  But what if ones conversion experience is meant to start with someone else’s take on Jesus?  There is the message of the good news of Jesus Christ but messages typically come through messengers.

In western society we have a common phrase, just tune into the right channel, that one can accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Can that be valid as the central point of ones Christian faith?  A decent scan of the Bible and Church history will show that Christianity is communal or relational as well.  The evangelism and ongoing conversion of the experience is meant to be in both a communal context and ones personal decision.   This effects the person and the world can be effected by God through such a person.  Taking this fact in one way, this is what it can mean to be an evangelical Christian which can apply to Christians of any community.

In Protestant Christianity a common term is “led to the Lord” where someone makes a personal decision for Christ to be Lord and Savior but some mortal person was greatly involved in proposing Jesus (hopefully not imposing). Often converts of the last 2,000 years have converted through someone being an instrument of the grace of conversion.  But to give way to the idea that someone else knows more than you on an eternal subject takes humility.

Such was the case for a fisherman named Simon from the town of Capernaum who would one day be a fisher of men.  This is the beginning of the story of Jesus lived through his life.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter (John 1:40-42).

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother-  At the moment that this story takes place, Simon is just Simon.  The narrative throws in the full title with the hindsight of who Simon becomes, is better known as, and the irony that Andrew seeks him out. Again, to have the gospel proclaimed to us at any level will have some level of humility inherently tied to it.  Before Jesus, like any of us, was indeed lost without Jesus and needed to be found by Jesus vicariously through Andrew.  In away, Simon had to be found by the Church; albeit loaded with only two people.

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon–  What can be lost on the reader is that the conversion experience of Andrew is expressed too. Andrew’s expression of conversion was in part to share the extent of Jesus that he knew by that time.  Andrew had seen Jesus pointed to in the foundations of faith, be favored by the Father, and had been able to “come and see” where Jesus lived. Those beautiful experiences of “in-reach” should inevitably being expressed in outreach.  Jesus impressed something on Andrew that had to be shared and soon.

You will be called Cephas –  Many Christians of good conscience see Cephas and see a verse that Simon Peter is the first pope.  Others see the title as symbolic.  I must confess, I have a bias.  For a moment, I would like to step back from that controversy and point out that Jesus calls all of us to be on mission of some kind.  To be converted to Jesus is not to have a mental assent or a goose bump.  We are to express that grace according to the individual calling of God on our lives and at some point we should see in our decision for Jesus his specific calling for us. Jesus leaves a deposit into the heart of this man as a point of reference.  Weeks later, Jesus returned to this man while he is working on his boat and adds to the foundation of this moment.

which, when translated- This may seem like a peripheral detail but not with more thought.  The conversation from an objective perspective was three men chatting in Aramaic on an average 1st century day in Roman-ruled Palestine.  But in a spiritual hindsight when one reflects on conversion stories there is a beauty in extrapolating the relational dynamics and apply it to more than one place or culture.  That said, the disciple John departs from the Greek so the reader can be especially in the feel of how personal Jesus was and give a reminder how down to earth the background of the gospel must be read. Jesus is applicable to every scene because his presence is always practical to each culture and through each culture.

In review of this encounter of the three men, one can draw out the profoundness of a properly composed Christian community.  This is not a matter of social conjuring of excitement or group think.  Any called out community that is centered on Jesus Christ has a distinctive of thinking of the other, proclaiming the person of Jesus, humility, knowing his call on our lives and echoing that relational aspect through the world and through the ages.  That is the Church that Jesus builds one person at a time and one pair at a time.  Such are the followers of the Way.

Preparing For A Meeting 

Mountain Temple“I like your Christ but not your Christians”.  So is quoted Mahatma Ghandi regarding his encounter with western Christendom.  His encounter with Christianity could be said to be one that was English culture, English customs and English power all in a very imperial and oppressive context.  This was not an encounter with the Christianity of Jesus but his broadest view he had was skewed.  If one uses the ministry of John the Baptist as a lens, one can get a preview of how to perceive all the gospels.  It is no coincidence that Jesus as an adult in all four books is directly preceded then personally hailed by him.  If one get John right, then one has a better chance to get Jesus right.  But if we stay in a premise that puts Jesus as any other reactionary figure, we will only react to the ups and downs of life with a blunted experience of Christianity.

[t]he word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one crying out in the desert:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.

Every valley shall be filled

and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

The winding roads shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth,

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:2b-6).

A voice of one crying out in the desert-  It should not be lost on those who seek something more than what the world offers that the view it takes to convert has to be from outside of ones assumptions of complacency.  To cry out from especially our realization of lack is hard.  But it is harder to be hungry for God if you are full of yourself.

Prepare the way of the Lord- The mystery of what comes next after one repents is moot- – if one does not repent.  Calling out ones failings to the mercy of God is getting out of God’s way to bless you.  The crossing of the Red Sea is also implied.  It was the great Exodus.  In Greek it was the exhoda which is the “way out” of the bondage of Egypt.  However, the “way” of the Lord is hoda meaning “way”.  Jesus identified himself as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Jesus is more than a way out of physical slavery but of spiritual slavery which is far worse.  The early Church were “followers of the way” because they celebrated the latter freedom in Jesus with each gathering.  It is almost like a scriptural undertone of messianic expectation for then but it applies to those who turn to Jesus now.  We are called in conversion to embrace the meaning of preparation.  Doing such, we might as well have the joy of the Lord along the way between those times of grace one can experience.

Every valley shall be filled- The natural question is on what it would be filled with.  The best filling of this void is not by a thing or event but by God who is the great I AM.  “Our hearts are restless until we find rest in you” (Augustine).  Jesus’ name means God saves and as we see a few verses later salvation is what all will see.

every mountain and hill shall be made low– – My first thought in reflecting on this line is that the elite would be brought down since John had his own dealings with the religious elite of his day.  Mary addressed this in her fiat “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:52).  But if one sees in the Old Testament how hill and mountain are used, there is a historical interpretation.

Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?

“The clean of hand and pure of heart,

who has not given his soul to useless things,

what is vain.

He will receive blessings from the Lord,

and justice from his saving God.

Such is the generation that seeks him,

that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”

Selah (Psalms 24: 4-6)

Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?– – It is a psalm of celebration in approaching the temple of God with the Ark of the Covenant.  This reference is shorthand that an encounter with God is a tangible presence that can be sensed from the deepest part of the heart.

For the Old Testament this was the closest way a personal encounter with the divine could be expressed due to the standards of that day. The presumption was formality with a specific focus on ceremony about God but not God directly.  Jesus changed everything because in Him “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God was untouchable but in Jesus the divine is touchable.  John the apostle elaborated on this.

What was from the beginning,

what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,

what we looked upon

and touched with our hands

concerns the Word of life—

for the life was made visible;

we have seen it and testify to it

and proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father and was made visible to us—

what we have seen and heard

we proclaim now to you,

so that you too may have fellowship with us;

for our fellowship is with the Father

and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).

So how is this mountain made low?  It is in how Jesus is the eternal Word of the Blessed Trinity and he chose to become flesh in a leveling of the field (John 1:14).

The winding roads shall be made straight- A frustrating thing occurs on a winding road.  One would wish they can go from Point A to Point B like the birds fly.   Such is the role of increasing simplicity in someone who is increasing in their relationship to God.  God does not self-reveal as a calculus equation.  God is beyond our understanding so the straight path is giving up the pretense we can put God in an overcomplicated box.

the rough ways made smooth– -Rough ways is a loaded term.  If someone is walking on ground that is uneven or filled with thorns then such is the stuff that the human body takes in only with endurance to get the walk over with.  A smooth path in relationship is how one can see the other in a way that is against the design of the person.  The smooth path to God is the honest one.

all flesh shall see the salvation of God– John is speaking to both of the comings of Jesus.  Jesus would soon be on the scene and His presence would be on foot, on the cross, in communion and someday in the clouds.  In the last one, Jesus would go from being seen by many to all.

that seeks the face of the God of Jacob- – This is noteworthy in returning to the theme of God’s presence.  Jacob had a tangible wrestling match with God and he was transformed with the new name of Israel.  God transforms the proud to be humble and the humble to those exalted.  Ultimately shown in the end with Jesus with his name being the greatest name, a transformation can happen if we truly seek his face.  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9)

Do I wish I was a pilgrim that day at the exchange of the life in Christ I have now?  Even the idea of following Jesus in only up to the cross?  No, due to the life in Christ I can have with him now.  There is knowing him after the flesh like then, but receiving him in the greatest reality that can be experienced now is far better.

And as much as I can have hope in that, I would like to leave you with the hope of the Christian faith in completely coming to full circle in the future in Jesus. This is the ultimate “way of the Lord” we prepare for in onward growth that is so fitting to those called by his name.

     Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death,

even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father (Phillipians 2:6-11).

Charged Forward

wheat barnConversion is often thought as a one time thing.  And thank God, people say, because conversion can cost a lot.  But what if conversion is an ongoing process?  James wrote in his epistle to people who were already Christians that the engrafted word can save their souls (James 1:21).  A theology term used to signify this is ongoing justification.  This is the continual and active surrender to God’s grace.   The heart must be soft for conversion to happen.  Such and approach is then ready for the proposition of change. In the preaching of John the Baptis, he spoke truth to all for change whether they were political  or religious elites or common soldiers in a corrupt system.

I am reminded of a sermon that Abraham Lincoln heard.  The congregation thought it was elegant with lots of flighty words.  When it was over he was asked what he though to which he said it was the worst sermon he had ever heard since it did not challenge him to action.  A call to action was needed for freedom for the slaves but all the more for the world in slavery to sin.  Like Jesus to come, John know that the compassionate thing to do would be to call for hard change or the softness of heart would not be there.   The hope is that among each of those groups were at least some of the soft hearted ready to be challenged.  And maybe, in some cases, the hard of heart become soft.

 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3:11-12).

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance-  This could be getting a blank slate but without the understanding of what one is getting next.  A hard part is that those who went to the Jordan River knew the sins and their pleasures yet they acknowledged need for the kingdom of God.  Such humility had to come with a radical trust in God to handle what comes next.  But they had a reference to go by in the baptism of Moses.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

What Paul communicates about the experience of covenant in the experience of the Israelites is in part that God grants defining moments in relationship to his people through the senses like in the Red Sea.  It can be inferred that Jesus was inspired in part from this as a Jewish man who taught about how one needs to be “born again to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) but some translations say, “born from above”.  Therefore if one is baptized through Jesus into His community rather than the symbolism of John the material and the mystery come together as “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). To sum up, the baptism of John or any kind of honesty about ones sins is what you turn away from, which is honorable, but it is in the fulness of turning to Jesus that full salvation exists.   This baptism of John os to stop sin.  What comes in the gospel is that, the forgiveness of sin and having ones lifeline transformed by life that is eternally based.

but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I-  John minimizes his personal power but points to the power in the Messiah instead.  Repentance with Jesus is turning from acts of sin but the freedom in obedience to lift up Jesus.

He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.-  The baptized at the Jordan did not know the theology one can have on the context of those words, but what one could surmise from these words that the Messiah would be a uniter and a purifier. It is interesting the role of the Holy Spirit is described in agricultural terms.  It is because non-life objects like chaff have no seasons but just are.  They are “as is” and not respondent to the ups and downs of seasons. But Jesus indeed gathers his wheat into his barn.  In those days, barns were not seen through an LLC lens but were part of the homestead.  The repentance with John is the blank slate pointing to the need to go home in some manner with this Messiah to come. To convert is to come home.

Not only does the baptized of that day confess sins as a people but confess a hope of belonging in some way and someday with a community. One could imagine that John proclaims the hope of this wheat gathering like an employee of an orphanage helping the children to be ready to be adopted by a good Father.  Wheat grows, consumes and reproduces if gathered in the right place as the living things they are.  Chaff is dead.  The time for repentance from dead works is now so that the wheat, or living works, would be unveiled of God’s sustenance.

This leads me to point to Hebrews 6:2 again on the reference of “repentance from dead works and faith in God”.  The opposite that can hold one back is a false sense of piety and overemphasis on individuality. Furthermore, it would be dependence in ones dead works and faith in self. In other words, ones “chaff”.  The best that could look like would be a form of godliness but not living it and thus denying the fully intended power.

Going forward, much can be attained in living out the knowledge of the difference by leaning on the grace of God as one can also see in Hebrews 6:2 with then “instruction of baptisms and laying on of hands”. These normative steps are the fuller expression of conversion in baptism and being confirmed by the Church in the laying on of hands.   The early Church and the ongoing Church are the wheat barn.  Gathered together  in the Holy Spirit and purified by Christ, we can walk fully in the life of Jesus and know Him by the power of the Holy Spirit in history, mystery and majesty.

Feeding Line, Dividing Line Part III : From Mystery to Scandal

Jesus Holding The Bread

Often religion gets a bad rap and often for undeserved.  One example is being ethnocentric on God’s the favor. But the message of Christianity is a universal in design and meant to be expressed that way.  To be a Christian is to grow in holiness while being holy.  Christians have fallen short at times in keeping Christianity moved by the world rather than moving the world.

It is worth noticing how the gospel’s proposal is unfolded with universality, mystery and challenge.  Unfortunately the proposal is met with unbelief and cynicism.

Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,  because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:

‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  (John 6:31-51).

It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven—  Jesus begins to challenge them to the transcendent.  If the manna, which means “What is it?”,  is drawn back only to Moses and the past then the faith is only a subjective religious experience.  Instead Jesus draws their attention to God the Father in the context of the present.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world— The distinction here is that this sustenance, coming only come from God, is for the world.  This revisits John 3:16 in that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….”  Jesus is to be consumed and it is from divine love that resurrection life touches those from everywhere.

Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said… “whoever comes…whoever believes ….Everything that the Father gives me will come to me—  They have a hard time discerning how serious Jesus is about the nature of offering himself.  Jesus speaks to them with a qualifier about the “whoever”  and points to the heavenly Father.  To speak of this kingdom is by a family table and in mystery.  Also one can see the conversion is “both/and” in coming to Jesus by destiny and choice at the same time.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life— But the context is in coming and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  If it is just by a worldly point of view that he is just a carpenter, good teacher, great prophet or nice guy then there is little redemptive.  Such a perspective of all that Jesus is has  much emptiness.

Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? —-  Paul addressed this to early believers who could have, and likely were, swayed by the philosophies of their day. Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  However, in the context of this whole passage it is worth considering the same for the Eucharist.  To the eyes of the flesh when Jesus died not he cross it was just a Roman execution.  Likewise, to the eyes of the flesh now one could just see a wafer at an altar of Catholic, Orthodox or Coptic parish and wonder what thus fuss is about.  But with eyes of faith the perspective changes when a priest hold up the Eucharist and says.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.

I will give is my flesh for the life of the world— A beautiful thing happens in the path of conversion to Jesus.  One does get that introduction through evangelization  like what happened with the first two disciples by John the Baptist.  Then the disciples on that day by the river ask where Jesus is staying.  He said, “come and see” (John 1:39).   The measure of God’s love for the world of John 3:16 is  infinite.  The most normative way for us to respond is repentance, faith, obedience and with the greatest virtue of love.  From this we thank God for sending Jesus.  This is what early church communion was in Greek using the term for communion: eucharistia.

The Eucharist has been present since Jesus ascended and is an extension of The Sacrifice of Jesus who said he would be with us “To the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This is not a later interpretation.  A eucharistic  interpretation was noted by St. Justin Martyr in 155 in his Dialogue with Trypho.

“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” – (First Apology, 66. 155 AD)

St. Ireneaeus of Lyon agreed with this interpretation in 189 in Against All Heresies.

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from the things mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the of the resurrection to eternity. (St. Ireneaeus  Against All Heresies Book IV, Chapter 18).

One interpretation is right and one is wrong. One embraces Jesus today for all he presented himself and the other has limitations. Such is the dichotomy of scandal or mere symbolism as I will address next.