Thursday, January 27, 2011

What is for Man

Mark Chapter 3
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

The Bible is such a compact piece of writing, a simple read through it can miss so much. In this case simply getting some context by reading the preceding chapters would tell you that the Pharisees were following Jesus around, trying to figure out what he was up to and how to trip him up. A more thorough read of the entire Bible does not provide a complete explanation of the Pharisees. From this and other passages, you would know they were not followers of Christ, to put it mildly.

For my context in this blog, an important aspect of them is that they were well studied in the traditions and laws of the Torah. Many of those laws concern the Sabbath. Jews are not supposed to work on the Sabbath for instance. Much discussion is made about what exactly “work” means. Here Jesus asks the question of what can be done on the Sabbath in a way that the Torah can’t provide an answer.

Jesus thinks the answer is obvious, and he should know, I guess. In his act of working to heal a man on the Sabbath, he is putting an exclamation point on what he said at the end of chapter 2,
27 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…”
The Pharisees were accustomed to imposing their authority. They spoke from a position of certitude, something that people responded to or perhaps were afraid to speak against. Jesus rejects the concrete judgment. He asks a question that appeals to the heart. You don’t need to read the rest of the Bible to know that you should do good on the Sabbath.
As Juan Luis Segundo says, “Jesus reformulates the question or the problem on the level where it can find a positive answer in terms of what is good for people.”

We all want certainty and it is not wrong to strive for it. We want scientific accuracy, but we know that answers just lead to more questions. We want our politicians to be certain about their decisions even though it is their job to make decisions about things that don’t have complete data. Some go to church looking for certainty and many churches are glad to oblige. Other churches attempt to avoid that.

Segundo suggests that Jesus’ theology says something different, “It suggests that when people stop at theological certitudes, those certitudes fall apart in their hands.”

I find the churches that oblige with theological certainty are not consistent and often not honest. Those that avoid it may be consistent but not true to the heart. Jesus spoke to the oppression of his time and the political forces that supported it. Those times were different than Moses’ time and David’s time so he couldn’t rely on strict scriptural answers. Today is a still different time, and like Jesus we can’t rely strictly on the words of our ancestors.

Jesus and later Paul told us to look into our hearts first, then to understand the scriptures in that light. Our hearts say to take a stand against that which causes it to break. Churches should be speaking to those issues, not watering down their message for fear of scaring off members. Not doing so is likely to result in the churches that claim theological certitude but don’t honestly live it, being the only ones left.

Segundo quotes are from The Liberation of Theology Orbis Books, 1976

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I have a dream

It is likely in the next few days you will hear at least a few sentences from Martin Luther King’s most famous speech. Speeches are great, but I am more interested in the actions that they inspire. Great speeches like this one have inspired many great actions. I have of course, supplied a link.

I Have a Dream Speech

He talks of decency, and against violence. When he talks of what he wants, he asks only for simple rights, to vote, to stay in a motel. He uses the founding documents of the United States to make his case. He doesn’t want to be given special status, just to sit at a “table of brotherhood” with everyone else. The speech comes to a crescendo with
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
Some of the concerns from 1963 have been addressed, but not all. The need to remind people to solve their differences without violence became more prominent this week. How do I take this call to action? Do I go to the South and find some little black boys and black girls to join hands with, possibly helping them to rebuild New Orleans? Or should I go to Haiti or Colombia, or the Red River Valley in North Dakota? Why choose one group over another?

On a recent radio program “On Being” Krista Tippet, the narrator, asked Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England a similar question. Lord Sacks had spoken of the dignity of difference and Krista pointed out that the Torah speaks of a covenant that is particular to the Jewish people. She asked how he reconciled that.

His answer was,
“A strong particular identity is the best hope for the sake of what is universal”
He demonstrated this by pointing out how Martin Luther King drew on words written a long time ago and put down in Isaiah Chapter 40

4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah delivered a prophecy particular to his time, but the struggle of oppressed peoples, the hope that they can just have a level playing field, is universal. To work toward that goal, you need to know your self, your strengths, your weaknesses. You can only do so much alone, so you need to find your community, people like you with similar values and similar histories to work with. We don’t all need to work on the same things at the same time, but we will get to the same place in the end.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kairos Moment

I came upon this term in a blog by Bishop Sally Dyck. It is an ancient Greek word referring to a type of time. As a modern Westerner, I am most familiar with “kronos”, chronological time, the regular movements of the planets and stars that we can now track to the smallest fractions of a second. We have become so good at it and so dependent on it, that we don’t think much about other types of time. We might say we want some “quality time” with family, meaning that for some segment of kronos time, we hope there will be more value than usual, but we don’t think of time itself as having value.

Kairos time isn’t measured in milliseconds. It is measured by it’s quality, so it is subjective. An important moment in the life of your child may not be so important to someone else. When Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan (Mark 1:5), a few people felt that an important turning point had come in the purpose of God. Most of Rome and the rest of the world did not.

An important aspect of kairos time is that it demands to be acted upon.
Ancient people probably saw these moments as having some external force to them. They were looking up at the stars and wondering if they breathed and why a few of them, the planets, moved independent of the rest. They wondered what conscious agent affected that movement and how did it in turn affect people? Although predictions about our future are still printed in the astrology section of almost every daily newspaper, most people don’t take them seriously.

There is no question that we live in a time of rapid change. There are many opportunities for decisions that could have wide ranging affects. I think people today see their actions as more important to what will tomorrow than some external force on the flow of time. There may be a wide range of the degree to which that is true for any one person, but I’ll assert it anyway. The question is not what so much what is the particular quality of this moment of time but what will we do with it.