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

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Words for the Critically Priveledged

wind-tree

Changing ones perspective at  a very basic level can be hard for anyone.  But there is a special angle to that experience when a person has a privilege in perspective that is head and shoulders above those of their peers.  In someone is at the pinnacle of the physical sciences then the bias could be what is called scientism in knowing much of reality but confining that which can believed in to only what is totally quantified.  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 post-modern theories that lack meaning of the human experience to what a person or group defines as true or good.  The disciplines go on and on and much of the time good can come from them as long as there is humility to keep asking the right questions after hefty and good answers.  Mankind, after all, is a thinking being and that is why we use the term homo sapien.  The term is about the genus that thinks and reaches toward what is good, true and beautiful often with 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 “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14) and the first prism to view Jesus in his time would be theology.  Such a man that had qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodeumus.  He was a decision maker and one who could influence what was defined as truth and order among the Jewish leaders.  But one night he had  an encounter with a man who was both a rabbi and an ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and left him with a choice.  Likewise, I will point out here that those things can happen today for the inquirer with all of those traits but yet be take only so far.

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.  Even better, Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of that first spiritual hunger when one hears the introductory basics of the gospel.

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 that is anchored in heaven.  But to accept that good news one must transition from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one and thus a spiritual birth.  No spiritual birth, no spiritual citizenship.

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.  Make no mistake, this is the theological normative of baptism.  Some say that the water reference is just giving credit to the physical birth and amniotic fluid which was referred to by the early church fathers and ecclesial writer— absolutely never.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Rabbi 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 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 be in full yield mode to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit.  This is like a childlike yielding of trust unto God.  An example is shown later with the apostle Paul.

It could be tempting to fight the implication that the call to discipleship under the power of the Holy Spirit could be that humbling.  With that, one may want to rationalize away this call saying that wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case.  Steve Ray covers this well in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  So, 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 one word pneuma  (St. John’s Gospel, 2002).

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?— Briefly I would say that Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit in his theological paradigm.  Jesus proceeds to challenge him to get over it.

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)

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 apprehend in faith or get the just.

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 breaking, living and talking he offers something to the world 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 and it is — as is.

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 in at least the Western Hemisphere.  It is “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).

This is a beautiful verse to now come to though likely now the words of John the apostle and not the words of Jesus yet rich in meaning in context of the chapter before and after it.  Before it we see in the set up that engaging with Jesus in the most freshest of Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, sacramental and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ.

But keep in mind what the “believe” part is in John 3:16.  In the Greek it is believing.  For salvation to happen in the kingdom there is a declaration of the righteousness of Christ, but the ongoing connection of that is in the context of onward holiness in grace and obedience.

And this brings me to how we are informed of the believe as ongoing and measurable 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, do you call yourself a Christian because 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 hooked on a feeling and not walking by faith.

Many people out there think they have the right spiritual credentials about Jesus but too few have the connection that is of Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus.  The call to encounter all of us and our “spiritual privilege” still stands and that call is from Jesus.  He does not change but we do.  Our choice that is indicated whether we consider ourselves as a Nicodemus or not still is up to us on if we will follow Jesus unconditionally.