In our pain and loss, we shine the brightest.

After a pretty tough day, I was quite cheered (in sort-of a sick way) to read Mathew 5.  As you can see by my recent post on suffering, I’ve had the idea that we’re meant to experience pain as we follow Christ.

I read this:

11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Salt and Light

13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

And I got to thinking about how all those chapter titles got added long after Jesus’ time.   Mark didn’t divide it up this way.  For Mark,  the idea that we’re going to be persecuted is intimately connected to the idea that we, as followers of Christ are meant to be the salt of the Earth and the light of the world.

There is all this talk about how you don’t hide light sources, but you put them up where everyone can see them.  And it gave me this feeling about suffering:

how we react to our pain and loss is when we shine the brightest.  Any knucklehead can be happy, thankful, and gracious when things are going well.  When we feel pain we are given this oppurtunity to really show the world that we have something that’s worthwhile, we possess something that sets us apart.

This doesn’t make the pain any more fun to experience.  And I’m a far cry from believing that this is the sole reason for our pain.  But I do believe that God uses our pain to further his glory, and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.


Seeing God

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

That’s an amazing promise, seeing God. People in Jesus time thought that seeing God’s face was impossible to do, if they wanted to live. There’s stories about figures who cover their faces as God approaches and only watch God after he passes them. The whole point of the innermost portions of the temple was that their was only one person who was any where near worthy enough to visit God personally. Moses is described as literally glowing after his meetings with God. He’s so ashamed of the glow going away that he covers his face.
Jesus promise that the requirement to see God is simply that we be pure of heart is deceptive. I wonder if it initially would have seemed ludicriously easy. Today somebody might say “Just work this one day and I will give you a million dollars for this one day’s work.”
Of course, being pure of heart is much more difficult than it sounds. Jesus will later make that clear. But it was still revolutionary: no purification ceromonies, no journeys to mountain tops or the inner portions of temples, no carrying around an ark. Just purity of heart.

People throw this idea around: that God can hates sin and can not expose himself to it, that his very nature is the opposite of sin, and this is why we must purified through Jesus.
I don’t exactly disagree, but I think it’s an odd way to put things. It makes God sound like Superman, incredibly powerful yet possessed of this kryptonite-like achiles heel.
Expressing a similiar idea in this way makes it clear that we’ve got the achiles heel, not God. Sin (being unpure) is kryptonite to us, not God. It clouds our heart and makes us unable to see our creator… It’s not some after-the-fact punishment that God levied against us; it’s simply a result of our condition.
Is there a connection between being unpure, and entitlement? Thinking we are entitled to others bodies is a way to view sexual impurity. As for the other form of impurity: if we are serving because we want everybody to know how kind we are, we are in some sense acting entitled to people’s praise.
Maybe the result of sexual impurity is we don’t see God’s hand in arranging our marriage, in the devotion and affection of our spouse. By serving out of a need to be popular, we stop looking for God among the poor and opressed, we don’t see him there because we’re so busy basking in everyone’s praise.

The pure

Blessed are the pure in heart…
I have spent the day wrestling with this.
I prayed over it, I explored a gazillion different translations, and I just haven’t made much progress. The only places that use a different word than “pure” seems to be the paraphrases. And I always fear that I’m just getting the authors preconceptions with those.
As I began to think about this verse, the first sense of the word “pure” that came to me bares sexual connotations. Purity as opposed to lustful. It seems reasonable to think that we might see God when we are pure in this sense.
But then I began to think that there is a wider sense in which we use the word “pure” as in pure motives. We’re not operating with ulterior motives. Sometimes, for example, I enter into prayer looking for that wonderful God-buzz. I am pure of heart when I do this in the sense that I’m not sexual. But I’m not pure of heart in the sense that I am operating from unmixed motives.
Our motives are always so important to God. He knows them. And these are what He truly judges. And I find myself wondering: is there perhaps a connection? Is sexual impurity somehow related to having mixed motives?
As the Holy Spirit works through translators in creating new versions of scripture, is it possible that sometimes He chooses words like “pure” which have those 2 different senses because Jesus meant it in both senses of the word?
Can anybody out there offer some insight into original Greek?

More on the beautiitudes

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 
 Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted. “

 Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.”  
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.” 
 7″Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.” 

 Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.” 

It’s been such an interesting thing, spending a day on each of the above verses.  I sometimes get frustrated or skeptical around people who choose only one verse and try to squeeze all sorts of meaning out of just one word.  Going through the verses in order seems to combine some of the benefits of take a close, tight-in view with some of the benefits of taking a longer perspective at scripture.

I was in an interesting discussion with a friend around the first verse.  It’s easy to rush through that verse, and never notice or wrestle with what the meaning of that phrase, poor in spirit.   This friend and I were negoitating that question, and I think we came to some truths that were accurate.  But I also think that if we’d looked ahead, we would have unvieled some things.

I wonder if the verses that follow are meant to explain the first one.  I wonder if the meaning of “poor in spirit” is explained in what follows.  Even if it’s not intended as a sort-of topic sentence, Jesus certainly wouldn’t give us contradictory instructions. 

Based on the verses that follow, to be poor in spirit, then, might mean to be: mourning, meek, hungry for rightousness, and merciful.

By extension, to be poor in spirit, one could not be self-satisfied, agressive, content with rightousness, and merciless.

More lectio

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

I have been working my way through Mathew 5, one verse a day.
Several things that struck me today, as I got to “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The reaction that feels most intense to me right now is this:
Jesus vocalized our deepest, our darkest fears:
Our fear that we are too much of a mess spiritually to be worthy of God’s love. Our fear that all our pain, struggling, and suffering are for nothing. Our fear that the agressive people will win, that might does make right, that only the so-called strong get what they want.
He didn’t beat around the bush. It’s like there was this elephant in the room and he named it.
And he didn’t even deny it. A natural reaction is to try and minimize things. Amazingly, Jesus didn’t try to minimize the fact that we are in fact, spiritually a mess. He didn’t say “Come on now, you’re suffering isn’t so bad.” He didn’t say “You’re not meek, you only think you are. Remember that time in fifth grade when you stood up to that bully?”
He called it like he saw it. He agreed with us: We are a mess, we are hurting, we are meek.

But he then proceeded to call us out into something greater and deeper. A Reality behind the reality, a Truth worthy of a capital “T”: God love us in spite of our spiritual poverty enough to share His Kingdom; our sufferings will end; the apparent victory of those who aren’t meek isn’t the end of the story.

lectio divina

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

I’ve just… filled myself with those words of Jesus.
I’m reading this book, “The God of Intimacy and Action” by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling. The book is, among other things, a primer on spiritual disciplines. I blogged several days ago about the first of these, the prayer of examen.
It’s both silly and arrogant to gush about the impact things like this have after only a few days. But the prayer of examen has been an exciting discovery for me. And tonight, as I continue the section of lectio divina, a second discipline, I feel equally excited.
Lectio divina is a perscription for meditating on small chunks of scripture. It begins with the reading, then calls us to reflect (not analyze) the passage, and then, to take what God has been doing through the scriptures, out into our world.
It reccomended beginning with Mathew 5.
Yesterday I spent some time with “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
Tonight, It was the verse mentioned above:
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

I’m getting all emotional as a reflect on those words, even now. (If my wife were reading this she’d be telling me, lovingly, that I am such a chick.)
Some of the things that struck me, as I spent time in those words, was the strength and surety of those words… Blessed… will… comforted.
We’re all mourning something. And rationally we know that someday we’ll be beyond it. But it’s hard to live in that reality. God granted me a few minutes of living in that truth, not just believing it, but being penetrated by it: someday, I– we– will be comforted.
Will: there are no maybe’s here. There’s no: God’s-hoping-to, but-as-the-creator-of-the-universe-he-is-pretty-busy, so we’ll have to wait and see.
There’s nothing wishy washy or hesitant here. If we mourn, we ARE blessed, we WILL be comforted.
Isn’t that amazing?

Why would the Hebrews have been pig farmers?

I’ve been doing some research on Mathew 5, specifically the passage around the man who’s been infected with a “legion” of demons.

There’s lots of stuff there’s been pretty good commentary on.  But I haven’t seen anybody adress what seems to me a pretty basic question:

Why in the world would the ancient Jews have had a herd of 2,000 pigs?  They wouldn’t have wanted to touch them, let alone eat them.

Does anybody have any ideas?  Citations or quotations would be even better.