01 November 2021

Entering the Kingdom

Why does Jesus say that if we want to enter the kingdom, we have to do so like children (Matthew 18:3)? In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, Jesus expands on this saying. He invokes the image of a child throwing off their clothes in public, and says this is how we are to enter the kingdom. Why do children do this? Has this ever happened to you? How often have to had to stop your own child from shucking their clothes in the middle of church?

Perhaps they do this because their clothes don't fit. They stir and feel uncomfortable because their clothes are too tight, too loose, too rough, or sometimes just ugly and it's not like they got to pick that outfit anyways. So they throw it off and run naked through the pews. This is how Jesus says we are to enter the kingdom. What does that even mean?

How do you feel right now? Does anything in your life feel ill-fitting? Do you ache beneath the burden of something that you didn't even choose? Jesus invites you to throw it off and run naked into his kingdom. Whatever burdens you, God will see you be released. He invites you to renew yourself in baptism, to receive forgiveness, and to start fresh. Whatever this world has clothed you in, whatever labels it has given you, throw them off and put on the Spirit of God; it was tailored just for you and the more you grow, the better it will fit.

Peace be with you.

30 September 2021

Ecclesiastes: Living a Life of Purpose

The book of Ecclesiastes opens with the identification of its author and the problem the book seeks to address.

The author is Solomon, son of David, king of Israel. Whether of not the book was literally penned by Solomon himself or whether it was written later in his name (as was often done) is of little importance to the meaning of the text as this is the perspective the reader is to assume of the author. The author is a king and a teacher, renowned for his wisdom and his great works which were unparalleled in his time.

Solomon had learned all there was to learn and experienced all there was to experience (1:12-14) and the conclusion he came to shook him to his core: life is utterly without meaning (1:1-11). Everything the Earth does is cyclical (the rivers flow into the sea but never fill it... the sun rises and sets only to rise again, etc.) and the works of humanity are no different (1:8). In time, all are forgotten; given enough time, no life, no matter how great, leaves any mark on the world.

Nothing is permanent. No great structure that mankind has ever made will stand forever. The pyramids will erode to sand, all our writings will fade away, even our nuclear waste will eventually decay to simple carbon. Then someday, billions of years from now, even the Earth itself will be engulfed by an expanding Sun. Nothing lasts forever, nothing and no one will be forever remembered.

This is a problem for a king: someone who wants to be forever remembered and who wants to establish a kingdom that will stand forever, whose laws and teachings will become the cornerstone of all future civilizations. Nothing Solomon can do will satisfy this desire. He will be robbed of it by the cyclical nature of the world itself. This is also a problem for everyone else. Who does not seek meaning in their life?

This is where Solomon really shows his great wisdom, he separates "meaning," the desire to establish something lasting, and "purpose," the desire to have an impact on the lives of those around you. Searching for meaning, you might seek it in pleasure and hedonism (2:1-11), in study or in ignorance (2:12-16), or even in your career (2:17-26). However, none of these things produce anything lasting (3:1-22). Even if you achieve your goals through exploitation, rising above the entire world and crushing it beneath your greatness, you are still destined to be forgotten (4:1-16)

Once the problem is fully established, Solomon reveals his solution little by little, permitting the reader no escape to go back to searching for meaning. He shows how God gives each person their purpose (5:1-7). It is the purpose of the rich to be generous, since they themselves are supported by the labor of the poor and not their own work alone (5:8-15). He warns that while God may not punish those who reject this wisdom, neither does God reward their avarice. They will find that all they earn will be redistributed to the poor after they die, their avarice produces nothing but a temporary suffering (5:16-6:12).

Solomon spends the rest of Ecclesiastes (8-12) showing how to live a good life. There is no purpose in gaining at the expense of others. There is no purpose to feasting while others mourn. There is no purpose in learning and hoarding knowledge while others are ignorant. There is not even purpose in being righteous while others are wicked.

The Teacher exhorts, "consider what God has done" (8:13). Christ feasted with sinners, healed the sick, brought comfort to those who mourned, and even died that we might live. Jesus lived a life of purpose in the way Solomon defines it here. He brought those who had been cast out back into community. The tax collectors who had become rich by exploiting the poor and those who had been marginalized by no fault of their own were brought back into community with everyone else.

If you are searching for details on how you can improve your life and live in the way of Jesus, Ecclesiastes is a good place to start. It is a difficult book to read, and even more difficult to understand, but it is worth the effort. There is no better time to reject the siren song of “meaning” and embrace your own unique purpose.

Peace be with you.

12 September 2021

Blog Update, Return From Break

After a longer break than expected, I'm returning to my Bible blog. I will be posting monthly rather than weekly so that I still have time for studying Hebrew, finishing my last few college classes, and supporting my church family through all the surprises and changes of reopening for services.

During my break, I spent a lot of time in study and in prayer. I read all of the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. I came to the conclusion that I need to focus more on my personal and professional development over the next year. I set some new goals for myself. I'm finishing my degree, learning Hebrew, working out and eating healthy, studying my Bible, and also broadening my religious studies to include books omitted from the Bible (ie. the Gospel of Thomas, etc.), as well as the Quran, and other religious texts.

In the next six months, I'm wanting to have finished reading the Prophets, finish the last of my classes for my Humanities degree, start Hebrew classes, meet my health and fitness goals, and upgrade this blog to audio and video posts.

In my next post, I'll be looking at Ecclesiastes, a book of the Bible that openly proclaims its own meaninglessness. In the meantime, I'll leave you with the words of a passage I have found comfort in while getting back in touch with people I haven't seen since the start of the pandemic,

"Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." -Proverbs 27:5-6

Peace be with you.

28 May 2021

What Kind of Seed Are You Sowing?

Churches are quite often concerned with their membership. They can't be blamed, it's how they pay their bills. A church needs to grow, to add new members, in order to stay alive. When we read about Jesus in Luke 8, he has expanded his ministry by driving out demons. He has the support of a group of women whom he has healed who are now financing his mission across Israel (8:1-3).

However, this is not the point of his ministry, it is not his message to "put butts in pews," but rather to change the way we look at ourselves, our community, and our world.

Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who scatters his seed. Rather than sowing it neatly, perhaps in rows, he seems to scatter it everywhere indiscriminately. Some falls on the road, some on rocky ground, some among weeds, and only a little finds a home among good soil. Jesus says that this small amount of seed produces a hundred-fold more than all that was sown (8:5-8 ).

Luke then gives a narrative frame for this parable (8:11-15 ); it is a good explanation, but I would like to suggest that this is but one interpretation of the story. Jesus often told stories more than once for different audiences, and sometimes he told them slightly differently.

What other ways might we understand it if we think about it awhile? What is the seed being sown? What does the different types of soil represent? What are the plants? What is the crop? And why is this farmer scattering his seed everywhere rather than sowing it as one normally would?

What type of seed is being sown makes a large difference to the meaning of the parable. If the seed is a grain, say wheat, then the seed is the crop. You sow wheat to get wheat. If the seed is a fruit seed, then the seed is not the crop, the fruit it produces is the crop. You do not sow fig seeds to get more seeds, you sow them to get figs. The type of seed tells us if what is being sown is what we hope to reap or whether we want to reap something unlike what was sown.

In Luke's explanation, what is sown is the Word of God, but this is not what is harvested. Later on, when Jesus turns away seeing his Mother and brothers, he says, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice" (8:19-21 ). What Jesus is looking for is for those whose lives will be transformed by the Gospel and will produce a crop of virtue.

If we sow virtue, will we reap virtue? Is this the point of "do unto others?" The parable works either way. Whether we are virtuous because we are transformed by God's word, or whether we are virtuous because of the example set by others in our lives, the crop is the same. Jesus is saying it is the crop that is important.

Be indiscriminate both is speaking God's word and in showing kindness to others. Scatter goodness everywhere, especially on the "undeserving." Jesus tells us that the kindness of one person might change hundreds of lives, such is the abundance of the goodness that comes from God.

You don't have to hand out fortune cookies with Bible passages or make sure everyone knows that you're so very nice because of Jesus. You just have to be kind. God would rather we be good than right.

21 May 2021

The Pharisee and the Sinful Woman

Luke 7:36-50

While Jesus was eating at the house of a Pharisee, a woman, who had spent her life living in sin, came and knelt at his feet. She said nothing, but wept and dried his feet with her hair and anointed them with perfume.

The Pharisee judges the woman and denies Jesus for not knowing what kind of woman she is. Jesus answers his concern with a parable about two men forgiven a debt. The one who will be most grateful is the one with the larger debt forgiven.

Although many readers may think that the Pharisee too is in need of forgiveness because of Jesus' harsh words towards him, Jesus acknowledges that the Pharisee has done little which requires forgiveness, and he is right in judging that the woman has done much in need of forgiveness. The issue is not the judgment, but the reaction.

Jesus tells the woman that she is forgiven and the other guests are taken aback. They don't know how to react to this. There is nothing divine or supernatural happening here. Jesus is teaching. This is what they should have done from the start.

No one grows up wanting to be a horrible person. Perhaps this woman was cruel to her neighbors, or abusive to her husband or children, perhaps she was a prostitute or an adulteress; the passage does not say. It didn't matter to Jesus because it had led her to a place of regret. Whoever she was, it was not what she wanted to be and she was looking for a second chance. No one in the room would give it to her until Jesus did.

We do not want to live in a world where there are no second chances, or in a world where everyone takes advantage of the generosity of others, but there is so much middle ground between those two extremes. Do not be afraid to be Jesus to someone looking to improve themselves. Do not be afraid to offer that second chance, to offer forgiveness.

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