Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

“Jesus, you’ll be the death of me!” Lent 2B

Mark 8:27-38
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Who can blame Peter for remonstrating with Jesus about his perceived “death wish“? Peter sounds so thoroughly modern in wanting to avoid suffering.
I wonder what Peter and Jesus would say about our multi-billion industries driven by our denial of the realities that life includes suffering? Longevity, Youthfulness, Beauty, Leisure, Comfort, Entertainment, Sensual and Sexual fulfillment. We want it all and now. “And How!”

The modern attraction that the ancient religion of Buddhism has for so many in the West, intrigues me. Yes, I know that many of the “Buddhists” I meet are merely parroting their favourite film stars. Any halfway intelligent question quickly exposes this, like, “So what school of Buddhism are you a member of?“, or “What is your core practice?
So discounting the fad-trendy Buddhists, it remains interesting why Buddhism has become a fascination for many in the West.

Could it be that Buddhism does not try the Petering move of avoiding suffering?
The core teaching of Buddhism is grounded in the four noble truths which can be summarized as follows:

  1. The truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, stress)
  2. The truth of the origin of dukkha
  3. The truth of the cessation of dukkha
  4. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha

Coming to understand these enobling truths, Gautama Buddha, the founding, historical character in the religion was guided to enlightenment by confrontations with what he called “the heavenly messengers“; old age, sickness and death.

He didn’t have a Peter to dissuade him, he had a Prince of a Father who tried to shield him from ever seeing suffering until the the day he got out of the pleasure palace and saw  an Old person(old age), a Leper(sickness), and a Corpse(death). Those “sights” caused him to renounce his life of pleasure and become a mendicant beggar searching for “insight” and ultimately enlightenment.

I am not sure these events from the Buddha’s life which preceded Jesus’ life by five hundred years, are so very different from what Jesus was trying to get across in Caesarea Phillipi.

Jesus, in the Roman town where politics oozed from every stone and symbol had just been been associated with the longed for Messiah of Israel. Realizing the socio-political weight of that association, all the expectations and projections placed upon that role; he commanded silence and then began to suggest that the path to true liberation leads through a confrontation with human suffering.
There is a cross, not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Only through the portal of embracing the reality of death is there any hope for born-again(resurrected) life.

Peter, bless him, wouldn’t see it.  Jesus’ rebuke acknowledges that it is human, but not helpful, to avoid the cross.

We cannot speak of Jesus as messiah without speaking of Jesus as Crucified
The power of the cross is not merely the bloodletting, it is the willingness of the crucified one to be scapegoated in the machinations of mankind and never to stop loving those who are destroying him.
Only when we can be with suffering in this way will it redeem us.

René Girard has been so helpful in my understanding of this.

He suggests we need a special way of seeing the suffering for it to transform us.
To learn this, let’s eavesdrop on Archbishop Cauchon in the epilogue of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan (1924). Here is a conversation between two churchmen, one of whom, de Stogumber, is speaking of the traumatic effect upon him of witnessing St Joan’s martyrdom:

DE STOGUMBER: Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.

CAUCHON: Were not the sufferings of our Lord Christ enough for you?

DE STOGUMBER: No. Oh no: not at all. I had seen them in pictures, and read of them in books, and been greatly moved by them, as I thought. But it was no use: it was not our Lord that redeemed me, but a young woman whom I saw actually burned to death. It was dreadful: oh, most dreadful. But it saved me. I have been a different man ever since, though a little astray in my wits sometimes.

CAUCHON: Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?

You see, it is frightfully clear that if we cannot imagine a crucified messiah, and follow him onto, and faithfully through, the cross, we will simply continue to create suffering for others.
BUT:
Imagine who we could be if we would follow Jesus daily all the way to the cross?

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Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Was Jesus bipolar? Lent 1b

Mark 1:9-15
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

I am interested to see how the distinction of “bipolar” has become so prevalent in our label loving society. Every second person I meet, particularly the creative ones, have had this albatros of being “bi-polar” hung on their neck.

Perhaps, after today’s gospel reading, we would want to label Jesus bipolar too?
A look at the early events of his ministry would suggest quite a roller coaster of emotions for the young rabbi starting his public life.

At the Jordan river, such a watershed symbol for Israel, he is baptised by a reluctant John and for his obedience Jesus is rewarded by a “torn open”(the Greek is schizo) heaven out of which a dove, (the covenantal bird which bears hopeful news to Noah that God has saved the earth) descends upon him and he hears a voice affirming him as the beloved and approved of son of the Father in the heavens.

Now that, my friends is a high, if ever there was one!

To hear the affirmation of one’s parent, the lifelong craving of every human life; and to experience the approbation of the divine upon our path is the best that life can be. It was so for Jesus on the banks of the Jordan that day.

But immediately,(Mark’s oft-used term euthus=directly) the Ruach-Pneuma life-breath of God literally cast him into the eremitical wilderness (Greek=ereimos) and the two poles of the swing are determined.

  • From river to desert
  • From community to solitude
  • From affirming Father to cynical Devil
  • From clear observance (Let it be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness Mt3:15) to doubting where to go next.
Apart from being crucified and abandoned I guess that’s as low as one can get?

Yet, even in the turmoil of the solitary search for direction, there is this powerful contrast in the phrase, “Wild Beasts and Angels“. It is almost tailor made for another Dan Brown novel? Perhaps not, but it is the truth about our path as we follow Jesus.

Along the path of every Christ follower there will times of clear and visionary certitude. The affirmation of God’s presence, Gods’ calling and God’s endorsement of our lives.

Yet just as surely as water evaporates in the sun, times will come where the clarity, the conviction and the consolation of the high moments will have gone and only the snarls of the wild beasts and the whisper of our chilling doubts will be there for company in the badlands of our arid, eremitical souls.

Helpful to know then that the diaconic angels will also be there ministering (Greek=diakoneo) to us.

Does this contrasting, pendular life of consolation and desolation make us bipolar?

Heavens no! By Jesus, it makes us human!

May it be well with you as we follow Jesus through the Lenten wilderness.

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Digging down to healthy understanding

Mark 2:1-12

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

I can hear the seventies Hippie preacher in his tie-dye T-shirt, bell bottom hipsters and Jesus sandals, “Hey man this story of Jesus is way cool, can you DIG it?”  (Ahem. Sorry I just couldn’t resist.)

It is as well known a gospel story as any can be, and the subject of a thousand Sunday school lessons.

The challenging question now is, “What can it possibly say today?”

As I take a fresh look at the passage, with what my Zen friends refer to as “Beginner’s mind”, three aspects of the story dig their way through the ceiling of my thoughts that want to say, “Oh I know what this story is about.”

I am struck firstly by the insight of those determined friends who know instinctively, that health is related to proximity to Jesus.

Please don’t hear me saying the manipulative nonsense of the televangelist, “Come to Jesus and you will be healed”.  That, we all know, cannot be guaranteed.

Following Jesus is not a formulary of positive outcomes.  No.

I am suggesting however, that the health and well being of humans; physical, emotional, and spiritual; is affected by proximity to Jesus.  I suppose it has to do with orientation and focus.  Being close to Jesus is not stress free. (God knows the route passes through Golgotha!)  Yet, being close to Jesus does orient me to a compassionate, open-hearted, generous, non-aquisitive, joyful, lightness of being with regard to life, in all it’s material forms. I tend to lose that when I get too far away from him and his gospel values.  Human health is enhanced in proximity to Jesus.

Linked to the first insight, the story of the burrowing friends of Jesus also reveals that despite all our Christian iconography, there are times when we discover that Jesus is below us and not above.

Those who visit The Listening Hermit regularly will know that I am greatly helped by the insights of Jungian depth psychology, which I believe, gives us a range of metaphors for third millennial communication of the Jesus message.

Depth Psychology“. That really is my whole point.

In our heady and lofty intellectual culture, it is all too easy to assume that Jesus, the incarnate God is wafting above us.  Yet, in-carnation, is a visceral, meaty notion, that sometimes requires digging rather than flying, when a spade is of more use than Red Bull wings.

A friend of mine is a worm farmer.  There is something mesmeric about watching these primitive life forms still going about their million year old lifestyles of recycling crap into fecund soil.  The miracle of the Capernaum roof diggers is a story of depth and dirt, and not a lofty ideological mind flight.

Sometimes Jesus is not above us, but below.

The final insight my beginner’s mind was lowered into as I descended through that old roof, wasn’t really an insight as much as a jogging of my memory.  As the bed hit the dirt floor in front of Jesus and I heard him say, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”, I suddenly remembered that Paul Tillich had the insight that in that moment Jesus wasn’t forgiving the sins of the paralysed one, he was proclaiming that in the sight of God the man was sinless.

A quick history detour may be in order.

In Jesus day, (and more subtly in ours), religion proclaimed that human suffering was the consequence of human failure. Sufferers had done something very wrong to slight God or at least upset the balance of the rules of prosperity.  To be sick or invalid was to have broken the rules.

This gospel story underlines that Jesus didn’t have to forgive sins. He simply had to point out that God wasn’t offended by humanity. (Another way of understanding “Your sins are forgiven“)

Grasping that, “Digging that” I am not an offense to God neither am I an offender, was such a liberation that often the perceived penalty would disappear as the perceived offence was annulled.  Healing happened.

The idea that we as humans have somehow deeply offended our Loving parent is the really offensive notion that has held the Church, and Christians, captive and paralysed for millenia.

Isn’t it time we blew the roof off that lie and walked out of the prisons of our fearful dogma?

Let the Pharisees mutter about protocol and precedent, Jesus has seen our trust in liberating truth.

Do you know, I would dig through the roof of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome if I could get this truth to Wikileaks?

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Warning: Jesus is Contagious!

Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity,(or other authorities read anger) Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy* left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

A cursory reading of the footnotes for this text in any bible reveals the need for some “translation of the translation” if we are going to access the text in our 2012 contexts.

We know nothing about lepers.
Truth be told, it is unlikely that the disease we associate with leprosy is the disease refered to in the biblical text.  The leprosy we know probably only came to the middle east from India after bible times. In Bible times “leprosy” which literally means scaly or rough refered to any skin disease like psoriasis, acne, or boils. In a pre-scientific time, the fear of contagion would have made people reluctant to have contact with anything which may have caused them to suffer or even be excluded for society.
It may be useful in our context to return to the literal words of rough and scaly as referring to the people we cast out from our circles of acceptance and avoid contact with. I am sure most of us have rough and scaly relatives, right inside our families we would want to avoid contact with.

I will leave you to make your own two lists…

1. Rough and Scaly people I personally choose to avoid.

2. Rough and Scaly people that the church should avoid.

The texts show Jesus moved with emotion (the majority say pity but others say anger). I quite like the choice. In fact I can even picture Jesus feeling pity for the rough and scaly outcast and anger at the society that marginalised him.
It would be a good balance for modern day Christ followers to keep, don’t you think? Can we be prophetically angry at the structural violence that crushes people and groups, whilst keeping our hearts open with compassion for the sufferers?

Another aspect of the passage that bears explaining is this continual demand for secrecy by Jesus. There are many theories since the first advanced by William Wrede in 1901. You can read them here. For sake of simple proclamation this Sunday, it seems most likely that Jesus wanted to avoid celebrity so as to move about freely.
We should never forget that he was in the North because he couldn’t be in the South. The gruesome death of John the Baptizer at the hands of Herod down South was the reason for Jesus being in Galilee. So some secrecy might have been a matter of security

Despite the above, I also affirm the theory that in the understanding of Jesus, the notion of Messiah had become distorted by the political expectations and yearnings of oppressed people. Jesus didn’t want to become a Messiah of the Popular Mould. He needed time to show who the Suffering Servant was. That would only be completed when he showed the depths of his love in death.
Again a modern context question arises.  Do I trust Jesus to be himself as I follow him or do I want hime to fit my preconceived mould I have cast for him?

Finally, I love how effective the attempt at silencing the healed leper is!
For all the best reasons for secrecy which we have considered above, there is something Jesus has underestimated.
He hasn’t reckoned in the power of effervescent witness from those who have been touched by God! There is just no silencing the babble of blessed ones. As Don Fransciso made famous in his song, “I gotta tell somebody, what Jesus did for me!”

Could it be that the church is dying today as it is, because we have protected ourselves from the possibility of the healing encounters that might happen if some rough and scaly people got close enough to Jesus?
Our sanctuaries and our sacraments are sanitised and leprosy free.
Rough and scaly people are just not welcome.
So instead of effervescent witness there is sterile silence.
Sad really…

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Silencing those demons and beginning to serve.

Mark 1:29-39
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Human suffering is a great way to meet Jesus.
I would love to have been able to interview the crowd that followed him around during his ministry and establish what percentage of them were following because they had encountered in Jesus, some liberation from their suffering . I am sure they would make up the majority of the crowd. Another sector might be those who were in the process of being healed by ongoing encounter with him?
I like the way the New Revised Standard Version translates the action of Peter’s mother-in-law after the fever.  It renders “dieykonei” as “she began to serve them“. Do you also hear the present continuous sense to it? I love the implication that it was the beginning of perhaps, a lifetime of service?

There is also an interesting quatrain of activities as Jesus goes about his public ministry:

  • He proclaims the unconditional acceptance of God for all, to all.
  • He heals the sick.
  • He casts out darkness(demons)
  • He retreats into prayer.

What a wonderful rhythm for the Christ following life. How often can I recall times of frustration or burn out because I have neglected to attend to these four activities in a balanced way.
As students of yoga know, you cannot only breathe in, nor can you only breathe out.
Yet we who have been blessed, healed, and who have had our darkness dispelled by Jesus. We who now serve and follow him, need to learn the potency and sanity for our own lives of Proclaim, Heal, Remove darkness, Pray. I don’t think the sequential order is essential. What is essential is balancing our lives firmly on those four legs.

Yes, I know I am avoiding commenting on why Jesus wouldn’t allow the demons “who knew him” to speak. I can only speculate from the times we do hear them speak in Mark, that they speak only of themselves in the most egotistical terms. For example, “‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Mark 1:24. Can you hear the “me” in “Demon“?

For the demons in Jesus’ day, and the “demons” in me now, it is always about “me”.
Why me? Why do I have a fever? Why should I proclaim unconditional love? Why must I be the healer of others and their relationships? Why do I have to put up with the darkness of others? What has it to do with me? Why should I have to pray now?
That’s demonic language.
That’s just not the kind of language that will help any of us understand the selfless, life sacrificing Christ; let alone be healed by him and begin to serve him.
Better we don’t listen to it?
If he can shut those voices up in me, I won’t complain.