O Sweet Rejection

REJECTION

In an agency or company that is large enough, it is common to have a public affairs director.  Even more precise on messaging might be a campaign manager who pays attention to polls and focus groups.  With the right info the advisor tells the boss how to word the message, stay on message and preserve the message with the solid votes. 

One leader that stands out in casting aside such conventions was Jesus of Nazareth.  Early in his ministry he goes to Nazareth and shares a message of the kingdom of God coming with holistic application to the individual and massive effects of the cycles of life as Jews of that time would know it.  He struck a nerve that could lend to popularity, then ride a wave of popularity and make Nazareth great again (I wonder where I got that line).  But Jesus shows us below that he does not work that way.  He does not favor one side over another and does not want to build a kingdom full of entitlement.  It will be of love.  Going forward 2,000 years the intention of Jesus for the sharing of his message is to be about love, articulated in love and for a humanity that was created in love.    

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”[And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.  Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away (Luke 4:21-30). 

and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him- – In a plain reading of this, they are looking at Jesus who just zigged where they were expecting him to zag.  To read this in light of the development of Christianity one can see that the Christian gospel properly expressed will get undivided attention of the world (e.g. a few times in Acts the Apostle Paul was likewise met with silence). 

Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing– -What may be implied here, especially with those that negatively react, is that accepting and living with this truth is accessible and expected that day and it is a matter of salvation.  Ignorance is bliss but knowledge has consequences to act.  Moses spoke of this as a foundational truth saying “No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it “(Deuteronomy 30:14).  Here is an inconvenient truth that does not win popularity contests and a campaign management mentality would roll eyes at.

Isn’t this the son of Joseph?- – Whether it is Jesus or anyone who proclaims him, we can look very normal with two eyes, two ears etc.  The flesh naturally should be seen but not regarded in the sense of being an amplified criteria on the whole person even in some ways their biography.  Paul addressed this saying, “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).

Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum- – A classic issue through history is to put Jesus and his Church under the judgement of experience and even good ones.  Jesus was a miracle worker but he was not a performer. Jesus was and is Lord and Teacher and not called to move with the whims of the world.

there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah……but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon- – The Church in expressing through all of the word of God to move the world and not be moved by it.  And so Jesus with a gospel of inclusion for all stood strong and still does. 

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.– – Translation:”When people in their comfort zone heard…”  Jesus had a message of love for the world but it was also implied how faith and obedience must be present for the fulfillment to happen. They were not entitled to a pass on that. Jesus was calling them out of a favor of God for a few and into the favor of God to the whole.  This was addressed much in the early Church with kata holos to describe the Church of Jesus’ founding.   

drove him out of the town- – In hindsight through Christian history, a fully informed acceptance is possible but so is rejection.  Many times through the gospel he tells his followers that rejection and even martyrdom could happen since the same parts of the world that hated Jesus would hate his Church too. 

But he passed through the midst of them and went away– – Jesus came and left with authority still intact that day.  Where hate and man-made agendas may oppose Jesus and his Church, there is always going to be an ongoing life that carries the deposit of faith. 

An example is how Apostle John had those who were in turn discipled by him and vested with authority to carry on the gospel of the kingdom in the fullness of truth.  Thus in in 107 AD Ignatius of Antioch wrote- –

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic [kata holos] Church. —Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8

Totally Religious But Skeptical

Be Bold Challenge With Lion Face

There is a fine point between cynicism and skepticism.  It is like fine point between going forward in a faith community with an engaged mind with critical thinking like the Drive gear and being too passive with ones mind on Neutral.  Neutral could mean that even a weak thing can push me around.  God, who is good, does not mind honest questions.  Thomas Jefferson addressed this saying, “Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question with boldness even the existence of God.  For if there is a God, he must want honest questions rather than blindfolded fear”.

True spiritual seeking is not an objective experience. It is fully informed Christian is engaging all of the person.  If someone sells you Christianity allows no questioning, run!

There once was a man who grew up in a spiritual community that did not allow members to even read materials critical of their faith.  He started seeing holes in their doctrine and their history not adding up so he confided to someone to listen to his many struggles in faith.  Days later he was disfellowshipped and no one could speak to him. Supposedly, “blind folded fear” would be better with a focus on that group alone.

Below we see Jesus having a healthy attitude to skepticism and expanding the conversation to how “God so loved the world……” (John 3:16).  Too often those on spiritual journeys overlook the value of questions though Jesus does not.

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51).

Phillip was dedicated to Jesus by the time he approaches Nathaniel.  When he approaches him he communicates on what they knew were their signs of hope in what Moses and the prophets said.  He uses a common faith related shorthand to communicate the historical context and momentum that is realized in Jesus.  This is an informed faith and culture perspective.

But Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  He hears the deposit of faith context, yet the name of a backwater town seems too simple for any far reaching consequence.  He was likely a spiritual seeker to begin with or Philip would not have approached him right away.  His emphasis was on how God would bring out greatness from what is already impressive in the Old Testament history.

But my above statement rings true in how there can be subjectivity, a bias, that the seeker brings in applying the critical mind to a spiritual picture.  But the beauty of the pattern of Jesus is he dwelled among us.  He had a footprint without a flashiness or faith would be too easy.  When faith comes too easy it leaves easy.

This is why skepticism is valuable.  Skepticism is a way to look at the merits of something with honest questions.  For example, Mary asked Gabriel how she could be pregnant since “I know not a man”?  She was not punished for it since she was staying in touch with that which was revealed truth up to that point.  Skepticism is healthy because it protects the good.

Using skepticism is also good for one obtaining a personal ownership on the matter. An example is of two personality types in a cancer study.  They examined two personality types of men in their mid-fifties with the same cancer.  One was skeptical and wanted to know all of the process.  The other was passive with whatever the authority says.  Of the two, the passive had lower survival rates. Likewise too much passivity in the spiritual life with ones reason leads to spiritual death.  There, ownership saves.

Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him—- This is a turning point.  Jesus respect Nathanael’s response even in his error.  A true Israelite would highlights of salvation history engrained and Nazareth was not in one of them.  Though there is presumption or conjecture in Nathanael’s doubt there is a single-mindedness on the God of his understanding having continuity with earlier works.  Jesus sees him as a glass half full and is able to work with him. Jesus is open here to the hard questions of honest inquiry and compliments Nathaniel for that. For a future apostle who would pass on the faith, he sets the table for a refined balance of faith and reason.  “To believe is nothing other than to think with assent… Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking, they believe… If faith does not think, it is nothing” (Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 2, 5: PL 44, 963).

You will see greater things than this—- Jesus honors the tenacity of Nathaniel.  In that, Jesus explains how and why his supernatural knowledge of the spiritual and physical location of Nathanael is a fragment for kingdom perspective.  By speaking of angels Jesus makes reference to something even larger than Israel since being the “King of Israel” is not the limit for Jesus because he was also the king of spiritual Israel to come.  This reference of angels ascending and descending goes to a transcendent nature of God’s kingdom.  Jesus makes a  vague reference to the life of Jacob that points to both that and how even more expansive the grace of God will be shown.

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it. And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Genesis 28: 12-14).

Jesus relates to Nathanael in the Old Testament reference, knowing his bias, and emphasizes how individual journeys have meaning partly in God’s grace to everyone and, sometimes, through humble beginnings.  Personal conversions should add up to God’s agenda for the world that engages God’s grace to humanity.

Philip was only extending the invitation of Jesus.  Jesus promised in the context of making disciples and baptizing them in the Trinitarian formula (Matthew 28:20) that he would be with us to the end of the age.  How deeply he will do that is up to us, as we ask honest questions but open to the fullness of Jesus.

 

Problem of Evil, Order and Choice.

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As a social worker I often encounter the problem of evil in sometimes heart-stopping ways.  In working with clients that have had substance abuse, mental health challenges or a mixture of both I hear stories all the time of inhumane things done to them especially because of being in a vulnerable state but of course also by them.  The phrase, “man’s inhumanity to man” comes to mind.  At the end of the day I rarely share anything dark with my wife because I want her to live in some kind of blissful ignorance of such things.  Yes, there is a problem of evil in the world and it seems like it takes supernatural grace to not be a cynic about it if there is no response.

But in this week’s homework I see there is an answer.

If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil (Catechism of The Catholic Church, 1994, para. 309).  

no quick answer will suffice— I remember hearing from a couple years ago who, when looking for a new church, were getting “quick answers” or formulas from pastoral staff about losing their son in Iraq.  They knew they found the right church when the pastors were wise enough to listen to their hurts and tell them they did not have an answer.  That church became their new home.

Christian faith as a whole—This is fitting since Catholic means “according to the whole”.

the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants— So true in that God proposes in his covenants in salvation history with Israel and then the Church.  God honors the dignity of humanity in his proposition rather than an imposition.

the redemptive Incarnation of his Son—- This is the summit of God’s grace for the world in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church—  As one would see in how the book of Acts lays out the narrative of the Church, the Holy Spirit and the holy people are enmeshed together beautifully to be a light of hope in the world so all can come to the holistic saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

the power of the sacraments—  In my former days as a Protestant I would have described the sacraments as man-made hurdles that get in the way of a direct relationship with Jesus.  Now after being fully informed of the deep scriptural foundation of these I would see them as the most default channels of God’s grace that brings us out to the deep like stepping onto the undertow at the beach.

Evil needs to be laid at the feet of the choices of man when it is of the immoral choice origin.

The beauty of the universe: The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will.

Even atheists can discover the order in natural law and be a humanitarian.  Now how far they apply such submission that they connect it to being in relationship to their creator is another thing.

Also this week in the readings I am reflecting on the fine line in the faith experience between coercion and desertion of God’s evident presence.  Peter Kreeft stated that if there was not beauty or order in the world to give us hints toward God then we would be abandoned.  I would compare it to being on a treasure hunt without a map.  But Kreeft does well to point out that if God blew our socks off with evidence then there would be only coercion and not act of faith.  Free will would be at least in jeopardy.

Where my hope is as a Catholic in my discussions with others that I can point people that are not on a faith journey to open up to God with what revelation they have and see where God would engage them in their faith and reason.  I have much to learn intellectually and much to internalize in my spiritual formation so that I will not be another person with a “quick answer”.

The Heroic Rejoicers

PersecutedI write this post with some irony.  Today it is Christmas Eve.  Time around the Christmas tree and exchanging presents is a nice thing and I am enjoying it with all the reflection of Christ’s birth that the holiday calls for.

But the irony comes in where I remember that I am writing a blog series on the Sermon On The Mount and the latest installment is a bitter one.  The discourse is a powerful one that maps out possibly the best set of how to live the Christian life and takes what my survival instincts want to call a detour.

“‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

When a reader takes in all of the Beattitudes knowing that this is at the beginning of a movement it is easy to project the ideal in its speaker’s intention that the “arriving” of a grand kingdom would have a goal of coming out on top.  The kingdom that appeals to human instincts would be one that feels good and is recognized with worldly appeal and security.

But this religious leader sees a kingdom on earth that is progressive to the point of two things: a heavenly reward and a heavenly perspective.  This comes later, but when Jesus starts of his model of the spiritual family prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” of the “Our Father” it nails our concentration into keeping the holy name of the great I AM as sacred in our hearts in all the universe.  By keeping ourselves grounded in this we can have a hope that is in Christ who is the “anchor of our soul” (Hebrews 6:19).

So if this goes into our guts and means something to use when we suffer for believing and doing right, we don’t just survive but thrive.  Thriving how?  Rejoicing!  Some translations of joy from the Hebrew used suggest someone literally jumping in the air.  But for some that rejoicing is a simple sense of saying with meaning “It is well with my soul”.

But is this things about the prophets a distraction?  No.  In contrast to human thinking that is centered on the planning of what is next, Jesus serves here as a historian of salvation history.  As long as there has been a covenantal mark on the earth by God, like a promise with a down payment, there has been a plot for good rooted in eternal life in conflict with those who would hate God because their deeds are evil and they prefer darkness.  For those who suffer of their faith in Jesus, He comforts them in saying that they are not alone in the agenda of grace in the mess of earth.

And now we can get very practical when we consider ISIS.  Their atrocities are uspeakable.  They astound me on their brazenness of evil that includes beheading and crucifying children.  I ask, “How long O Lord?” But I have to believe that God knows what He is doing even when I want something immediately resolved.  I blogged on this here:

https://jembenjamin.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/mercy-beats-judgement/

I come away from this in some further irony by saying that I cannot pray for a renewal of the Church on all the nicer Beattitides without praying for this piece of cilantro called persecution to come.  Theologically it s a promotion.  But am I up for the job? How can I know?

` Some practical ways I can examine myself in this is on how deeply I apply all of the prior Beattitudes.  Through a daily examination of conscience I should put my heart before God and ask where I have not cooperated with the work of the Holy Spirit to be a peacemaker, simplify my spirituality, be a servant to my neighbor and so forth.  With my enduring theory that a relationship, much less with God, is not an instant formula but a process there is hope that I would endure persecution and rejoice even unto death. What is stopping us?

When Mourning Comes Part Two

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“For they will be comforted”.  This is an awesome thing…for someone else to do.  That’s what it can be like to those that are not used to dealing with emotions that are of the downer variety.  I think of a scene from Father of The Bride when Steve Martin is talking about feeling helpless when consoling someone with a hanky.  People don’t want to feel inept on the right words for someone that is distraught.  Will they say the magic word that changes the mood like that?  We wish so the crying can stop and everyone is happy.  Isn’t that what life is about?

Well it’s not.  Sometimes we need to carry someones burden to a good degree and accept the ugliness but we do not have to accept something unnatural.  To comfort the broken hearted is to have compassion which comes from the Latin for “to suffer with”.   But we can’t suffer with them unless we know their story or journey.  And we won’t know that if we do not give them a hearing.

When people think of a hearing they think of stating your grievance in front of a stranger in a black robe.  One rails on the injustice of what they have gone though and demand that the circumstance be made right circumstantially.

But life does not always work that way even when you are getting your hearing by God.  Where we can be instruments of God in love is to listen. Maybe some follow up questions,but really it is about listening.  We may have moments of insecurity of seeing someone sob or want to judge the person if there are things the person did wrong that inflicted consequences on themselves.

But such is not the calling of Christians.  We are all called to be comforters because as followers of Jesus we are to be listening healers.  No, we are not gods but the divine nature we partake of draws us to listen to people’s pain and stand in the gap by praying for them.  To “bind up the broken hearted” is to hear, ideally, the whole story and then see the whole person.

If this divine time of being a counselor works out well, they will see themselves in totality or well along the way as how God created them.  When we are broken we are dis-integrated of all the parts of ourselves.  If we have an encounter that goes beyond faulty instruments like you and I reintegrated without as many insecurities.

But let not the comforter or comforted think that comfort is fixing.  It is all about support in the process.  I have by God’s grace a Masters in Social Work and I will never fix anybody.  I am in a learning curve at work and life to listen and ask questions on how they can be their best and when the timing is right see about that seed of hope that things can get better.

Sundays with Simon Peter– Truly Caught.

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A little early for Valentine’s Day, I know.  But bear with me.  There is a lot to learn about love.  Especially when it is paired with suffering as we will see in a moment.

If we were forgiven by someone we loved and betrayed, would we still know how to talk with them with the “new normal” of grace?  If the stain of guilt gets in us, we can seem to be much harder on ourselves than God. But if we have let God down, maybe Him forgiving us and giving us a mission can up the ante.  That being an ante of faith and broadening our perspective on something.  We are blessed not unto ourselves but to be a blessing to those around us. That is what love can be so uniquely when we have a true encounter with this mysterious carpenter.

This is the conundrum that Simon Peter finds himself in this story.  He denied Jesus in his darkest hour, but jumps off the boat and swims to Jesus after the resurrection knowing first that He is Lord.  Then Jesus invites them all to Denny’s…sort of.  Then….

John 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus is up to something here, but we have to look beyond our modern English language perspective to appreciate it.  Jesus asks in Greek, “Do you love me with a willing love?”  Like a divine sense of intentionality.  But Peter doubts himself possibly because he keeps responding with the word for brotherly love only.  Jesus lays down the dare, “Do you love me with a brotherly love?” When it says that Peter is hurt, it is because he thinks Jesus casts a shadow on his ability to love Him at the most simplistic level.

But Jesus is out to show how much faith He has in Simon Peter and that he is a part of the grace agenda for His Church.

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Elsewhere, Jesus says a lot about taking up your cross and following Him.  He even talks about seeking to lose your life in Him and finding it.  Jesus calls for martyrdom for only some but never forces someone.  If you do not have the disposition in your heart to give all for Jesus, then you are in unbearable suffering.  But if you suffer with love, it changes everything.  Jesus is confirming that Simon Peter will indeed walk in a willing manner.  But He needed to make the conversation raw and authentic.

Okay.  I get it Jesus.  But the mission of feeding your lambs, tending your sheep and dying like you is a lot.  How about if I deflect the pressure about how I should not be singled out for such a life and death?

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

To follow Jesus takes a lot of simplicity with passion. When Peter decided to jump in the water he said simply, “It is the Lord.”  Whatever our mission is.  A big one or small one.  We just need to keep in touch with Him.

But how?  Holy communion comes to mind.  In the eyes of the flesh, they went to Denny’s with Jesus.  In the eyes of the spirit, it was a mass.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”

1: The accepted the invitation of Jesus and joined him.

2: The disciples undoubtedly discerned the personhood of Jesus (look at 1 Corinthians 11 for a related theme).

3: They took the bread.  To take the bread of Jesus is to make practical in every way His atonement for your sins that He can be vibrant in you.

4: To take the fish is like being catechized in the fullness of truth fitting for those who are captured in Him.  When Peter caught the fish Jesus called him to, it was men or mankind. If you are a baptized Christian, consider what it is to be caught in His divine plan for the big picture of His Church and the small picture of your life.  That is your greatest promotion in this life: in being in Him. As Paul said, “To know Him.  In the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.”