Archive for February, 2009

It would have been a heady experience to walk Galilean roads in he the company of the prophet from Nazareth. Not only was the intimacy of life shared with him available to precious few. His select ‘disciples’ could also look back on the experience of having been chosen by name.

Most of us do not wake one morning with aspirations of greatness that had never afflicted us before. Rather, the accumulation of perquisites that gather around modest success gradually adds up to something. Sometimes it is lethal.

We so easily begin to sense that we merit these things, these minders, this cell phone, the undeniable whiff of prestige that follows us about, this company car. We begin to sense our greatness. We never asked for it, yet it is there in the professionally servile glances of these minders.

It grows on us.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

Though the image of the impoverished fisherman out fending off the wolf of hunger by braving the sea’s waves in the early morning may owe more to romanticism than to reality, Jesus’ followers seem generally to have come from modest origins. (more…)


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The potency of despair lies in part in the pretense of permanence. When caught in the deathly grip of sadness, we believe this is all we shall ever know. The promise of dawn seems unthinkable.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. (Psalm 43:5 NRSV)

There is a reality more concrete than despair, more trustworthy and closer to the core of what is true. Despair clouds our view of it, indeed makes it seem a mirage, a mockery, a tormenting seduction not worth the time it would require to take its measure. (more…)

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The best lies masquerade as self-evident truth. For example, people are to be valued according to their productive capacity.

The code of conduct for the emerging Hebrew nation flies in the face of this pragmatic assessment at every turn. One’s aged parents, potentially a limping, whining, festering drag on forward progress are to be revered. One day a week is to be thrown to the wind against all economic calculation.

You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

Both pieces of legislated ethics require a choice. One decides to invest love, treasure, and time in just this way, trusting that the long-term outcome of a society where the aged can grow old without watching their back and the strong do not need to worry about being worked to death trumps the short-term upside of blasting through these restraints and, as we say, going for it.

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The gospels narrate the words and deeds of Jesus in the common Greek vernacular of their time. This simple linguistic observation might obscure the fact that Jesus’ first and most commonly used language was almost certainly not Greek. He seems to have employed Aramaic as his lingua franca, though he was probably capable of managing Hebrew and Greek.

Nothing about this is extraordinary. We are accustomed to reading about the lives of great and less-than-great men and women in translation. (more…)

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The lips of the wise are to be admired both when they speak and as they remain silent.

The Bible’s proverbial wisdom sees the fruit of wise words augmented by its scarcity. More often than not, the wise prefer not to opine. A wise man must frequently be asked to offer an assessment, his default mode being silent observation. A woman of proverbial stature will from time to time be mistaken for an introvert when in fact she has simply mastered self-restraint.

On the lips of one who has understanding wisdom is found,
but a rod is for the back of one who lacks sense.
The wise lay up knowledge,
but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near.

Here the wise person’s words are a reservoir of discernment over, to be sought out with reverentially. In contrast the fool’s much larger body part—his back—cries out to be beat upon.

Likewise the wise incrementally adds to his storehouse of wisdom by not spending words at the drop of a hat. The fool’s babbling has destructive consequence. The silence of the wise augurs a time when he will have something to give, even in the lean years when wisdom is scarce.

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Trying to remember the lies we’ve told consumes the available mental bandwidth and renders us incapable of creative, productive, trusting living. Energies that would otherwise be dedicated to service, planning, or doxology are directed at the unsustainable task of keeping untold tales under wraps:

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out.

Simplicity, on the other hand, generates security. The proverb calls it integrity, but it comes down to the chosen non-complexity of living in just one way. With no parallel lives to recall, no tracks to cover, one walks straight and well.

One whistles a tune, content with one’s single path through the woods. There is time enough to notice the leaves emerging, for simplicity does not distract. It frees.

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When sick people are made well and the deranged are freed of the forces and persons that enslave their minds, we are meant to shout, clap, sing, and dance.

There are a thousand reasons not to do so. Most of them are a subset of the large sin called blasphemy, writ small on the canvas of stingy little men and women.

Jesus set so many paralytics to walking and speechless to talking that people, overwhelmed by the scope and scale of it, concluded that he has lost his mind. (more…)

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Jesus’ emerges from his strange encounter with destitution, abandonment, and triumph over satanic manipulation to re-enter civilization as an extraordinarily empowered teacher. Clearly, something happened to him out there.

The heavenly voice of Jesus’ Father had expressed its satisfaction with his filial beloved, only to drive him into the desert for forty days. There he was to encounter, seemingly alone, the intelligent and articulate shrewdness of his worst enemy. Jesus, by Mark’s account, won that battle by persistent simplicity. He countered satanic sophistry with the simple declaration of the relevant truth. Only a man well acquainted with Scripture and its interpretation could have done so. Yet Jesus’ cut and thrust were not complex. He knew reality, articulated it in the face of other-worldly enmity, and let the chips fall where they may. (more…)

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Contrary to widespread suspicion, In Christian experience doubt comingles persistently with belief. Doubt is only seldom faced down as an adversary, in contrast to, say, hardness of heart. Though well-armored hearts produce doubt with regularity, the condition should not be mistaken for the result. Doubt occurs for many more reasons than simply that obstinacy which opposes itself to all evidence that God may be about. (more…)

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The narrative of Jesus’ judicial execution balloons with expressions of contempt. Even the sign placed above his head gets at its truth only by the prickly way of sarcasm:

Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’

It seems every single protagonist of the tragic story manifests only derision for the crucified messiah. (more…)

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