Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Posts tagged ‘Theology’

The Poor Have the Good News Preached

Matthew 11:2-6 (RSV) Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”

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Justification

Justification, or being Justified, is one of those terms that has, sadly, taken on a Holier than Thou meaning, when it really shouldn’t. We’ve come to think that only those who lead a saintly life will be truly Justified before God. But is that true? Is God only looking for the Saints (with a capital “S”)? If so, what about the rest of us who just go through our daily lives doing the best that we can in a harsh (sometime anti-religious) world?

Once again English, and time, have done us an injustice when it comes to Justification. English because it’s a very poor language to translate other languages into. English typically has only one word for a given thought (such as “love”) and requires an adjective to fully describe it (“puppy love”) while other languages, such as Greek, have multiple words, each chosen to express a particular thought (eros, agapos).

Time because how we use an word in English, and what it means, changes through time. Love was once used to describe a tight affection between two people, now it means affection, sex, or how we feel about tonight’s television show.

Justification, or Justified, is the same. It can mean anything from how we stand before God to the spacing in this blog. Even in the first case it’s meaning has changed over the centuries. If you look it up in a modern dictionary it will likely describe it as being “righteous in the site of God” (righteous is a topic for a whole other blog) and so gives us a feeling that it is something only a few can obtain, while the rest of us wonder/fear how we will fare before the Almighty.

In a word, Justified has made God unreachable. Jesus would shudder at such a thought.

The Greek and Hebrew words for Justified (δίκαιος and צדק, respectively) have a much simpler meaning – to be as God intended you to be, or, to be true to yourself, and to others.

  • A judge who passes judgement fairly, without malice or prejudice.
  • A landlord who treats their tenants as if they were family. Keeping the property in good repair, charging a fair price, opening their home to everyone equally.
  • A tenant who keeps the home they rent as if they owned it. Not defacing it, fixing what they break, understanding that the landlord has problems as well, and is not perfect.
  • A shop owner who is open to everyone, regardless of race, creed, nationality, or any other marker used to discriminate.
  • And the individual, who looks at everyone as a brother/sister, and treats them with love and kindness, even if they are not treated the same way.

In other words, and far more eloquently that I am capable of:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Justification isn’t all that hard to achieve, and isn’t only for the Saintly. Simply treat everyone you meet with love and courtesy, just as you would want to be treated, regardless of who they are, or how they treat you.

God created us all: Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist. Whether they are black, white, straight, or homosexual, male or female, conservative or liberal, or any other way you choose to categorize someone, they are all children of God. Made with love and through love, and deserving of your love. Do this, and you will be Justified before our loving God.

Vote Like a Christian

In a month Americans will gather together for their quadrennial trek to the poling place in a lackluster drove, a tradition that has occurred every four years since 1788. Sadly, American’s interest in this groundbreaking event is sadly not what it should be. In the nation that created the modern concept of voting for a country’s leader we have rarely even topped 45% voter turnout. Afterwards we are more than happy to top 50% in people dissatisfied with the results. Lately one party has consistently sat out participation in the 4-year term when their party doesn’t win, denying acceptance of the official outcome, sour grapes in an event in which they did not participate. I would like to request that this election season we vote like Christians, and, yes, there is something we can glean from the New Testament on this topic.

First, we are not going to get into whether Jesus would be a Democrat or Republican – IMO, neither. Jesus was apolitical, not getting involved in the Roman political system, or even the Jewish political system of the time.

Now, into it. Voting is not a religious duty or obligation, it is the most secular event event in America. Turning it into a WWJD event is a travesty. In Jesus’ time elections did not occur, but he did address the secular world and its intrusion into the lives of Jews – taxes.

Luke 20:22-25 (RSV) Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription has it?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Voting is Caesar’s law, not God’s. Vote your conscience, but don’t drag God into the debate.

If you lose remember that it is not the end of the world. Conservatives have had to live through Clinton/Obama, and they have survived. Liberals have had to live through Bush/Trump, and they have survived. Whomever wins is the President, and is due all the honor and respect of the office, regardless of how you feel about the person. Going around yelling, “He’s not our President, we do not support him” it about as childish as you can get, like a 3-year-old stomping around upset because he can’t have ice cream because he didn’t eat his veggies. Remember what Paul teaches us about worldly authority.

Romans 13:1-2 (RSV) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

And this was in a time when defying authority could, and did, cost the lives of Christians. If your party loses, at least you will not lose your life. So, give the winner the respect, honor, and obedience that God asks of us.

Finally, remember: politicians lie. It’s a fact. Groups that run ads for politicians lie, whether the candidate approves of the message or not (approval doesn’t mean they guarantee there are no lies in it). And regardless of what they promise, they rarely deliver. If they did, what would they run on next time? Politicians have been promising to fix Social Security since they wrecked it in the beginning, no one has lifted a finger to solve the problem (other than cutting benefits), no one will so long as they can use it as a bargaining chip for votes. Our healthcare system is a mess, and it always has been – I’ve been under private, Obamacare, and Medicare, they all suck. If you think any politician will fix it then ask them one question – will they give up their coverage and go under what they are proposing? No one has, no one will. Get over it, live peacefully with the results.

So, vote like a Christian – vote your conscience and live peacefully with the results. Let the secular world deal with it. Don’t look at your brother with hatred for his view that differs from your own, instead try to see what he sees, why his view is different from your own, for from his view he is just as valid as you.

Matthew 6:34 – 7:5 (RSV) Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

 

Pride without Prejudice

Today marks the third Sunday of Great Lent, the Gospel story is about Jesus telling us to pick up our cross and following him. (more…)

Love and Hope

Today marks the second Sunday of Great Lent, the Gospel story is of the paralytic who is lowered through the roof of a building. (more…)

Faith

Faith is the subject of the first Sunday of Great Lent. (more…)

The Sweet things in Life

Today is called Cheesefare in the Eastern Church, traditionally this meant that dairy products were not consumed from until Pascha. (more…)

Lent, Meatfare, and other things

I’m going to try posting again, see how it goes. What better time for renewal than Lent, after all that is what the season is about. No promises, but here goes. (more…)

To such belongs the kingdom of God

born_belivers_imageBabies are interesting teachers of theology, and they have a lot to teach us. They do not know hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, all the baggage that we, as adults, carry with us (whether we see it in ourselves or not). (more…)

Zacchaeus

zacchaeus-2016The story of Zacchaeus is a familiar one, Jesus is coming to town and Zacchaeus wants to catch a glimpse, but he’s too short to see over the crowd and the people don’t move to let him in front, so he does the best he can: he climbs a tree to get above the crowd. We’re the same, when a dignitary comes to town everyone rushes down to watch the parade, if we don’t get a front-row seat then we do what we can to see. We put out kids on our shoulders; we shove our cellphones in the air to, hopefully, record the event; we try to get into a high rise and peek through a hall window. Anything to get a view of this remarkable person or event.

But, what about Zacchaeus’ status in the community? To be honest, this is going to be some conjecture using modern society when looking back, kind of the opposite of what I try to do here, but I think it bears scrutiny.

Luke’s gospel is the only place where Zacchaeus is introduced, and most churches spend little time on his tale. The Eastern church puts it at the very beginning of the pre-Lenten season, in fact, if the season is shortened because of the proximity to Christmas, the story is dropped entirely. Luke tells us three things about Zacchaeus, that he is a tax collector, that he is very wealthy, and that he is “short in stature”.

To be a tax collector (a Publican) in ancient Rome you had to be wealthy, very wealth. The reason is that the tax collector would buy the right to collect taxes for a particular region, the cost of this right is the estimated value of those taxes. If he collected more than the estimate that was his profit, if he collected less then it was his loss. Rome didn’t care because they go their money upfront, so the empire was assured of the money it wanted. To be sure, this was no the Jericho of OT times, that city had been nearly destroyed by the Persians, the new Jericho was built in the pre-Herodian era, under the rule of Alexander the Great, as a lush garden outside the royal estates. The people who lived there were neither wealthy nor influential, but they serviced the needs of those who lived and visited the estates. That made tax collection difficult, Rome expected much, but the people had little. To get the money Zacchaeus spent for his position he probably had to tax the wealthy of the city more than their fair share to make up for those who didn’t, or couldn’t, pay the tax. Add to that the Jewish people weren’t thrilled with the idea of paying Roman taxes at all, and Zacchaeus was both unpopular and ostracized from the Jewish community.

Now, let’s add to this the other thing that Luke tells us: “(RSV) he was small of stature”. According to archeological studied of 1st C skeletons in the region the average Jewish person was about 5′ 1″, to be so short that it would be worth noting in the story it is entirely possible he would be considered either a dwarf or a little person by today’s standards. This would make his life difficult, both physically and emotionally. Anyone who falls outside the “norms” are usually treated poorly by the “normal” people, especially in their youth (kids can be especially cruel).

To have grown up with some anger towards those who made his life miserable would not be unexpected, and to seek revenge in some way would be understandable. The best way for him to do this would have been through the taxation system by exaggerating the taxes a person owed. Did he do this? The people certainly thought so with their remark, “(RSV) He (Jesus) has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner (Zacchaeus).” Zacchaeus’ response can be seen two ways, a promised atonement of a wrong knowingly committed, or a claim that he never, intentionally, defrauded anyone and was, in fact, a good Jew, “(RSV) “Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Lent is a time for reflection, and the entire pre-Lenten season in the Eastern church is a time to prepare for that reflection by showing us the different ways in which we fall short of a perfect Christian life, along with how we should, ideally, respond in different situations. Zacchaeus, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Final Judgement, and Forgiveness, form the five weeks prior to the start of Great Lent. The purpose of Zacchaeus is to show us how we treat and judge other people, especially those who are different than us, whether in appearance or perceived behavior. Do we prejudge people we see/meet for the first time? Are we guilty of bullying (physically, emotionally, or, these days, on social media)? Do we dislike/hate others because of what we perceive them to be? Have we wronged anyone through our own prejudices? This is the time to make things right.

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