Jesus

meditation: on the parable of the weeds

It may be possible to see cosmological significance in the parable of the weeds, our reading for the Church today. I think of what Justin Martyr said about the logos spermatikos: those seeds of the word spread throughout every human society and culture throughout time. Each seed only holds a portion, an echo, a reflection of the Truth of varying quality, which has only been revealed fully and completely in Jesus himself. It is the wise evangelist who can water those seeds and help it grow into a unique expression of the kingdom of heaven – a process called inculturation, but that is another post. What intrigues me about this possible, parallel interpretation of the parable is that we always see the adversary seeks to create counterfeits to corrupt God’s plan of salvation. We see this evidenced in the dialogue between him and the angels:

[Jesus] answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.

This counterfeit seed, this daimonion spermatikos, a demonic or fallen word, commingles with the logos spermatikos. As Paul said, the god of this age has blinded us (2 Corinthians 4:4). These whispered lies fall upon our willing ears, sprouting into more lies and do violence to the inviolable, divine spark of God within us all. Man has justified violence precisely because his fallen nature is incapable of distinguishing the demonic seed from the divine seed. He has waged war, abused women and children, bastardized his religion, and subverted dignity and rights through capitalistic injustices – to name only the most glaring – because he cannot see. Philosophers, theologians, and now economists, striving to create a moral order, flounder because to them the edges between light and darkness blur, as if we are at a continual dusk. The demonic word is at the root of conception of reality and identity, it is written into the fabric of our social institutions. Every person and institution is bound up at the root with the weeds: even if we were to try to pull up the weeds, we would pull up everything good with it.

We are not without hope. As Jesus also said: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” I see the woman as the Church, the yeast as the kingdom, and the flour is the world. Just as we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, so the world can be transformed such that his kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Church has been given the keys, and the authority to cast out Satan, to rewrite the fabric of reality and identity. Yet we do not take it. We alone carry the fullness of grace and truth – the word of Christ, the perfect Logos. Yet we are quiet about him. We must work the yeast into the flour, only then may the whole world see and partake of the Bread of Life.

#ashtag vs Matthew 6:16? Nope.

My awesome wife often asks me challenging questions. About Ash Wednesday she wondered aloud if taking ashes contravened Jesus’ words in Matthew:

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

I suggest Jesus commands this to protect our souls from the sin of pride, so that our fasting will be effective and meritorious. It is the same reason, in the same sermon, Jesus commands us to pray privately. Yet, we Christians commonly pray in public, in front of each other, and for very good reasons. Based on long-standing Christian practice, and Jesus’ motivations for this command, I doubt this is a blanket prohibition (though I realize we could go into this issue at length!).

Let’s also consider that everyone knows it’s Ash Wednesday. It is no secret, so why hide the fact? Hiding the silent witness that we’re Christians and we anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus seems, in that light, a moot point.

Today Christians are posting their #ashtags on social media, encouraging others to get their ashes. And I applaud them – brethren, if we hide our ashes, we hide our light. We should encourage others to get their ashes today, publicly, as there is no point in hiding.

Yet, the #ashtag opposers have a point. We cannot just “get our ashes”, post an #ashtag selfie, celebrate a few fish friday deals, and show up on Easter in new clothes. No, we’d commit the same offense Jesus warns us against.

We take ashes on our forehead are an outward expression of our minds’ inward repentance of sin, in hope of gaining meritorious grace. As the priest will say to us, we fast to “go and sin no more” remembering that “we are dust, and to dust we will return”.

40 days we meditate on these words, and at the end, marvel that God would allow his crucifixion to save us, those who certainly continue to sin, and are nothing other than dust.

We also marvel that this same God will one day destroy sin and our corruptible flesh, and make us who are dust just like his Son.

If you take ashes, remember this. If you post an #ashtag selfie, remember this even more, and guard your heart.

I applaud the risk, because we’re coming out of darkness into light, and showing the world that we love our God. The world wants to believe it will always progress, but Ash Wednesday says the world is dying and we must be reborn if we wish to see the Parousia.

Jesus, I realize that I am dust, and that save your grace, to dust I will return. Perfect in me your saving work, and welcome me into your kingdom. Create in me a clean heart that I may worship you. And draw others to yourself by my silent witness. Amen. #ashtagprayer

Seeing Christ Is All and In All

If this man went to your church, or Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, how do you interpret Galatians 3:28 or Colossians 3:11 in light of their experience?

I have been troubled by this question for the past few months, as I live astride that blurred line between church and society. In conversation with other evangelicals, I have heard, echoing a popular commentary, social distinctions do not exist in the Body – we are all one in Christ. Often, discussion of racism and other structural sins is dismissed out of hand, based on the one in Christ idea, in order to maintain unity. I will not dispute that we need to focus on Christ, and our unity in him. My question is how do we do that? How can the Body of Christ truly recognize the Christ in all and also withstand the evil systems of oppression that intersect redeemed souls?

I do not want to be like the goats before Christ and he find me wanting, asking me, “Didn’t you see me bound? Didn’t you see me oppressed? Didn’t you see me hurting? When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?

Let us approach the question another way – Paul also said that whoever is born again in Christ is a new creation, the old is dead and gone, the new has come. To use an old convention, I don’t know about you but… I don’t feel like a new creation. I fall short of the glory bestowed on me by Christ. Yet, Paul did not lie. To call my lived reality simply a lie and continue to speak or affirm what I do not know in my experience is willful blindness. No, something else is at work here.

The spiritual reality of the new creation is true, even if scarcely experienced. The dominating earthly reality is also true. We experience the gap between the two as, what I call, a “dissonance of realities”. But God is bringing a new experience, what I call “creative tension”: the bridging of the gap between our dissonant existence by the power of Christ. Faith is the strong force that pulls these two realities together, a concrete trust in action working creatively with God to remake earth into heaven. To apply it, my faith works with God to make the me that lives with Christ in heaven manifest on the earth.

Christ’s judgment of the sheep and goats reflects this idea. The material reality is that some are American and illegal aliens, white and black, male and female, rich and poor. The spiritual reality is that Christ is in and loves every single one of “them”, just as they are, in the condition that they are in.

But to follow Howard Thurman, if a Roman soldier kicked Christ into a ditch, how can we acknowledge the moral wrong of the kick, yet be willfully blind to the fact Jesus was kicked also because he was a poor minority living under the oppression of an unjust authority? The question should come back to us, “When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?” Unity in Christ means peace, but not a negative peace. As MLK taught us, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. If Jesus is the prince of peace, he is also the prince of justice. As Jesus reigns over us, what he wants is not the veneer of unity, but the deep, powerful, abiding force of justice.

We can withstand evil when we realize and act upon the understanding that within the Mystical Body of Christ our brothers and sisters are not white-washed Christians untouched by the systems of oppression the adversary has constructed in the world he (for now) rules. No – our brothers and sisters are touched, hurt, violated by these systems – these demonic principalities and powers. To simply say there are no social distinctions and deny the lived experience is itself an oppression and a violation of the gospel. We can withstand evil when we leverage our faith in active confrontation with the systems of oppression, both struggling against the evil in our own souls, and with the systems outside ourselves.

This is hardly the end of the matter for me. Questions are better than answers, so I challenge you to ask some of the same question I’m asking myself:

  • Which parts of the Body of Christ hurt under the pains of injustice? Am I willfully blind to their pain? Am I complicit in their pain by my actions or inaction?
  • Do my politics – all of them, across every issue – truly accord with who Christ is? Do I support policies by my vote or donations that may oppress others?
  • Are there any people whom I view as the enemy? Do I love them as Christ commanded me?
  • Would Christ think I see him in all people?

On the Lord’s Prayer…Your will be done/on earth as it is in heaven

Volumes more insightful than my own have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, by vaunted academics to ancient saints. In this series, “On The Lord’s Prayer”, I do not claim to greatly advance the discussion, merely to share thoughts. Dive into the discussion — what does the Lord’s Prayer say to you?

We have now reached the critical turn. The religion of Jesus is always double-edged: our demands upon God put demands upon us. I reject the supposition however that the religion of Jesus is quid pro quo, as many believe and others suggest without thinking. If we use the trope of movement it helps us understand the religion of Jesus – somewhere in space and time a meeting place toward which God ever moves; for our part, we are either approaching that place or retreating from it. There is no static position in Jesus’ religion. This is key to understanding the deeper layers of “Your will be done/on earth as it is in heaven”. (more…)

On the Lord’s Prayer…”You are in heaven”

‘Dynamic’ is the word I would use for this phrase, so easily glossed over. On it’s face, Jesus is simply locating God in heaven, but that simple positioning packs a rich theological punch. Let’s explore what the myriad conclusions we can draw from, “You are in heaven.”

DISTANCING, REVERENCE & CLOSING THE GAP

The sacred is always marked by space, certain thresholds must be crossed, places made more holy than others, it is part and parcel of reverencing something or someone. In our case, God is made holy (to us, in part) by the distance between him and us. God is our father, as Jesus points out in the first two words of the prayer, but he is also in heaven, and we are not. We are not where he is, and he is not where we are. This distance marks off the sacred from the profane.

The first six words of the Lord’s Prayer sum up the tension of the gospel: that we are, yet we are not. We are God’s children, yet we are also distant from him. But, we are also journeying to God. The Way has given us Life and Truth, that we can set off out of the world and towards heaven. Jesus has closed the gap, and in our experience as a Christian, the gap is closing.

So when we pray, “You are in heaven” it is a cry of exultant hope that soon, and very soon, where we are, is where he will be, and where he is, there we will also be.

THE SEAT OF POWER

Locating God in heaven locates him in the seat of power. God is not powerful because he is in heaven, however. It is a signifier to us, to our minds and how we think of things, to understand that God’s location in heaven is a sign to us of his power over all things. His location in heaven puts him as all rule and authority over everything under the heavens: the powers, governments, people, animals, things, nature… he rules it all.

In this respect, “You are in heaven” also exults that God is the ruler of all things, and hopes also that the kingdom of heaven will descend to infuse all things, making them not as they are, and reconciling that creation to God.

POWERING DOWN

At the same time as God is located in the seat of power, we can’t help but notice God is also on earth, in the flesh, as Jesus. It is the mystery of the Trinity that God could be in two different places at once, as two distinct persons at once, fully God, and fully human, filled with the third person, the Holy Spirit. Likely, the Apostles did not understand it at the time, but looking back, I am sure they marveled. So we come to my last point of exploration:

God, though holy and powerful, discarded all this, emptying himself, to become like a Son of Man, all so we could become a son of God.

Jesus inverted the world’s logic by discarding power to gain it. He powered down, coming to be like us, struggle and hurt like us, and his rising tide has lifted all our boats. He redistributed his powerful wealth to us by the Holy Spirit, just as he desired, and was no respecter of persons. It is a powerful theological, social, cultural and political sign to us of how the kingdom of God ought to work.

Jesus called them together and said, You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45