Friday, July 31, 2015

What Jesus Commanded, Part 3: Trust, Self-denial & Humility

Jesus said there is no other commandment greater than love of God and love of neighbor. Much is implied in both of these. Among other things, loving God leads to trusting God's goodness and that of Jesus, God's Messiah. With that, Jesus commands self-denial and humility.

Trust

“Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5:36

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Matthew 6:25

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” 
Matthew 6:33

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34

“So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:31

 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” 
Matthew 10:26-31 (cf. Luke 12:6-7)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

Self-Denial

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves.” Matthew 16:24 (cf. Mark 8:34)

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25

Humility

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:3-5

“The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12

 “But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:14-15

"For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ 
Luke 14:11 (cf. Matthew 12:23)

“But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:13-14

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” John 13:14-17


Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Jesus Commanded, Part 2: Love & Mercy

I’ve collected all the direct commands of Jesus. In the last post, Jesus called people to repent. He insisted that people should believe in him and follow and obey his commandments. But repent from what and toward what? If believing in Jesus means to follow him, where does following him lead us? And what did he command that we should obey? For Jesus it all begins and ends with love and mercy (as foreshadowed in the OT and reinforced in the rest of the NT).

Love

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” John 15:9

“I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” John 15:17

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13

“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark12:28-31 (cf. Matthew 22:36-40)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Luke 10:25-28

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 543-48

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28

”But love your enemies, do good.” Luke 6:35

“And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:12-14

Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Matthew 9:13 (repeated in Matthew 12:7)

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36

”But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14

“and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:40-42

“’Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  Matthew 18:33-35

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:23-24

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:35-36

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:34-46


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Jesus Commanded, Part 1: Repent, Believe, Follow

As part of my lenten discipline this past Lent, I read all four Gospels. One of the things that struck me was in several places, in various ways, and in each Gospel, Jesus places great importance in keeping his word or commandments:

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. . . . Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.” 
John 14:21, 23-24

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46 (cf. Matthew 7:21)

”Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Matthew 24:35 (cf. Mark 13:31)

“Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” John 8:51

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  John 15:10-11

That prompted me to start looking for those places where Jesus explicitly says that we should or should not do something, or where some behavior or attitude is held up for clear approval or disapproval. I am going to post what I think is a complete list of what Jesus said to do or warned against doing.

A couple of more comments before beginning the list.

1.    Clearly Jesus taught lessons by his actions. And his parables, while not always containing explicit commands, often imply some response. I am just listing his explicit commands.
2.    This list is not meant to imply that the commandments found elsewhere in the Bible don’t matter.
3.    What Jesus commanded only really matters if Jesus is who the Bible and the Church says he is. And if Jesus is who the Bible and the Church says he is, his commands should shape the way we read the rest of the Bible rather than the other way round and, more significantly, his commands should shape our lives.

What Jesus Commanded:

Repent

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Mark 1:14-15

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17

“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Luke 12:3
  
Believe

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ Mark 1:14

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above/born again.” John3:7

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.” John 3:36

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 6:29

“And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.” Luke 7:23

Follow & Obey

“Enter through the narrow gate.” Matthew 7:13 (cf. Luke 13:24)

“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 7:21

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Matthew 7:24

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37-38

“But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” Matthew 8:22

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Mathew 12:30

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” 
Luke 9:23-25 (cf. Mark 8:34 & Matthew 16:24-25)

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” 
Matthew 21:28-31

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27

“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” John 12:26


"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8:31-32

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A "Whiskey Priest" Church

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene is one of the great novels of the 20th century. Set in Mexico in the 1930’s during a period of revolution, its protagonist is the last Catholic priest in a state where the Church has been outlawed. But this outlaw priest proves an odd protagonist. He is a “whiskey priest” who is usually either drunk, hung over, or yearning for the next drink. He also has sired a daughter in a village in the mountains. On the run from the police, he first appears in the story about to catch a river boat to escape to safety in another state. Cowardly, morally suspect, and self-interested, the Whiskey Priest is hardly exemplary.

And yet. The priest’s attempts to escape are foiled by his own sense of obligation to his sacramental ministry. Though often with a sense of regret or resentment even, he does hear confession, baptize, and administer Eucharist. While he is in many ways self-interested, the priest is also self-aware and convinced of his own failure. And though he is convinced he is a failure, it is clear throughout the novel that he has indeed ministered to many. In spite of himself, it seems the Spirit never abandons him. By the end of the story, it is clear that, while his witness is mixed, the priest has indeed borne witness to the gospel.

It is a story of God’s amazing grace as he uses one dissolute priest to demonstrate his power and glory. It gives hope to all of us who, while perhaps less obviously dissolute, are nonetheless able to carry on only because we live under the Mercy. It is one of the handful of books that have truly changed me.

The protagonist in The Power and the Glory is also a good metaphor for the Church. We would like to imagine the Church striding through history like a hero or a saint. But, if we are honest, we must admit that the Church has ever staggered through history like the Whiskey Priest – all too often drunk on (worldly) power and sin, cowardly, less than faithful, self-interested, etc. But, while it has never been more than a Whiskey Priest, it has, by the grace of God, never been less. In spite of all its shortcomings, it has borne Word and Sacrament to the world. And it has also raised up exemplary saints – known and unknown. As with Graham Greene’s priest, we know that in spite of its shortcomings, the Spirit does not abandon the Church and God’s power and glory are present in and through it. But only and always by God’s grace, not its own heroic or saintly purity.

And there’s the rub. The compulsion and presumption to create a pure Church, whether that be pure in holiness or pure in teaching or pure in justice – however and by whomever any of those is defined – is rooted in either pride or impatience (or both). If we continually expect and demand that the Church stride through history like a hero-saint we will continually be frustrated by its actual plodding through history like a Whiskey Priest. But we will also miss the opportunity to learn what it means to live by God’s power and glory rather than our own. We will miss the fact of God’s sheer grace. I wonder if the refusal to accept and love the Church as a corpus permixtum – a mixed body of sinners and saints – is not rooted in our own unwillingness to see ourselves as simul justus et peccator – simultaneously righteous and sinful. We only ever live under the Mercy.

The Whiskey Priest has no such illusions about himself. As a result, he ends up exhibiting those basic gospel virtues, humility and charity – virtues that continue to be shaped even, and perhaps especially, in a Church that, like the Whiskey Priest, bears the Good News in spite of its all too evident imperfections.