Interview With A Rabbi

Happy Old Man

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lighthouse for Now and Always

lighthouse_in_the_640_02As I go further in this week’s readings for my homework the term “laying down the gauntlet” comes to mind.  I have heard that term when I was in school about different theories of psychology.  Some would come and go but some seem to have staying power to describe or explain the psyche of humanity.  That is essentially what psychology is with theories that can be tested by observation 100% of the time or they will not have credibility.  In fact, true of almost any “logy”.

Where theology from a Christian perspective is the exception is that it involves the explanation of God’s nature in relation to humanity with professionals or amateurs (like myself).  This is incredible in the sense that it is no discipline by the rules of observation described above.

Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind’s origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 387, 1994).

I am reminded of the saying from GK Chesterton that “When is a train most free?  On its tracks”.  Seems silly in wording but holds reason.  I use that quote sometimes with my clients in recovery and illustrate how silly it really is to say that we have set a train “free” if we knock it over.  So in the spiritual realm I can say the same about when we know the plan of God in our lives in what the Gospel states and fail to conform as designed.  If we submit to that plan we are then free to be “capable of loving him and loving one another”.

“At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father. . .who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” To catechize is “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him.”‘ Catechesis aims at putting “people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity ” (CCC, para. 426, 1994).

Catechesis is the handing down of Sacred Tradition that began with the apostolic preaching of the 12 apostles who were witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Because one of my goals is to pass on the teachings of the Church to others, starting with my children, I really take this to heart.  My favorite line is how “Catechesis aims at putting ‘people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ’ “. This is rich to me because in recent years I have seen conversion as an ongoing process that is sustained by God’s grace.

In catechesis “Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God,. . . is taught – everything else is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips. . . Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me’ “ (CCC, para.427)

This brings to mind the fine line of authority.  Frequently in the New Testament the giving of power to the followers of Jesus is exhousia which is specifically delegated authority.  The above paragraph implores the one who would teach the Sacred Scriptures and/or Sacred Tradition to remember that they are answerable to God and the delegated authority that is over them.  The teacher is not the plan but just passes it on.

But in stepping out of this wonderful bubble of the Kingdom of God, there is always a reminder that there is an ugly world out there.  It is one of people loving things and using people instead of loving people and using things as ways to love people (Pope John Paul II).

From the beginning of Christian history, the assertion of Christ’s lordship over the world and over history has implicitly recognized that man should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power, but only to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Caesar is not “the Lord”. “The Church. . . believes that the key, the center and the purpose of the whole of man’s history is to be found in its Lord and Master” (CCC, para. 450).

Whenever possible, the wisdom of historical Christianity does well with “both/and” and often does not try to instigate conflicts.  But when the Church is consistent with the deposit of faith in practice down to the most humble believer we must declare out of the divine revelation in the Gospel that Caesar, secular humanism, materialism, ISIS and convenience are not lord but Jesus is Lord.  I am growing further in the belief that the further the Body of Christ grows in the centrality of Jesus Christ and His divine nature shining through us, the more distinction will be on the darkness of this world.