Tag Archives: Kingdom

November 18: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xviii – Let Jesus tell his story

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Human stories happen around a beginning, a middle and an end – not so his story – we have had a human version of his story for 2000 years – it could be called his earthly dwelling.

Jesus’ whole being is caught up in relationship; he belongs to a web of relationships – ancient religion refers to this as Trinity. We all actually lived from this reality long before scholarship named it. We see ourselves over against creation – the game of divide and conquer. We have reduced reality into three human-like figures – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Jesus is the hub of all relating throughout infinity and so there is no beginning or end – we need such parameters, but creative reality knows no boundaries.

Jesus’ special connection with us did not begin 2000 years ago, with his earthly dwelling. He has been around far longer than that. The Incarnation happened at the very start – there was never a question of waiting 6 million years for redemption and salvation to take place. Redemption is with us from the start. If only we had Jesus’ humanity right we would have no problem with his divinity. Things can’t be clear cut in an evolving universe. It is a condition of creative freedom for everything to be open and fluid.

Christian tradition has seen to it that what has been passed on with regard to the Kingdom has suffered from the desire for control; and so the Kingdom became a spiritual/ecclesiastical [not ecclesial!] way of containing God’s power through sacred institutions. Christ brought the Kingdom – his new way of being human, through celebrated inter-dependence with the earth. The Kingdom was never a project apart from the self of Jesus. He did not bring the Kingdom, the Kingdom brought him.

He tried to explain it through story and parable – stories left wide open, inviting our creativity and innovation. All he wanted was to sit at table, share stories and break bread together; without the baggage of not being worthy, or feeling unclean. The Kingdom is not about laws but values. There is no room for exclusions or favourites, just a willingness to welcome everybody irrespective of creed, race or reputation. Kings and kingdoms of this world welcome hierarchies and preferential living. The Kingdom is a new kind of real presence that desires to be open to all creation.

Doctrines, codes and creeds don’t need a mother, persons do! Motherhood is how we all give birth – something we have from our common mother earth; that became individualised for Jesus through Mary, his biological mother. We belong to one earth, come from the same stardust; share the same flesh and blood – we all need to laugh, to work, to play, to enjoy love. Without bodies Spirit cannot flourish.

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November 17: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xvii: ‘Human is unique.’

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Everything takes its identity from its relationships and not from self-first separateness. Jesus takes his identity from his mission – always pointing away from himself towards the Kingdom. This redefines human. Gone forever the lonely, isolated individual. For most of the 6 million years we have been around we were egalitarian, connected with the earth and cooperative in relation to other beings.

Original Creation is the source of living reality, including that of the earthly Jesus. The difference between Jesus and ourselves is that he was probably more aware of this. The ability to relate is a most noble quality – which has been severely impaired by the domination of patriarchal systems. It will be recovered more from the ground up than from the top down.

Story-telling is the most ancient form of communication – even before formal language emerged story-telling happened through gestures, pictures and skills of hand and eye. The purpose of story-telling was varied, but in the main as a search for meaning and purpose. Stories have their own compelling driving force, for which the teller becomes the creative agent. Time and again stories enable us to discover how individual lives blend with cosmic reality.

Is there a place for God here? World religions couch their truths within story, passed down from poets, prophets and messiahs [e.g. the Gospel parables]. However, institutional religion assures allegiance not through story but through procedures, rules and regulations, with God seen as the supreme ruler. We have formalised stories – Scriptures – which are meant to show the right relationship between the divine and the rest of creation. In fact in many contemporary situations these narratives tend to hide the divine reality, being overtaken by the views of the leaders of religious faith attempting to order and control. This subdues creativity and relegates people into a passive role that inhibits telling and hearing stories.

In Acts 16.2 Paul and Silas are in prison, shackled in chains. In the dark of night the whole prison is shaken by earthquake – gates are open, chains loosened. The governor panics and is for committing suicide; Paul restrains him, assuring him the prisoners are still inside. They are content just to be in their new-found freedom. Sadly, we hear no more about the prisoners, plenty about Paul – the opportunity for an example of liberating grace is lost. The writer is so taken-up with the hero, Paul, as to lose sight of the Gospel promise of liberation for the imprisoned and oppressed.

What is known as the Quantum Vision of the world: a world of endless possibilities, and it is real when there is openness to all of them; the really real is where all things are possible; it becomes unreal when we have to choose one or other option because we are limited in resourcefulness. The Jesus who brings abundant life transcends all structures; he abides not just in the human heart but in the heart of creation.

AMcC

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November 16: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xvi: ‘God is giving birth all day long!’

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Relating says something crucial of God. Birthing seems to capture God’s activity. When asked what God does all day – Eckhart replied: God is giving birth all day long! The will-to-life always triumphs and always will – something primitive religions seemed to grasp with the worship of the Great Earth Mother Goddess. Despite all attempts to subvert this practice the sacredness of the earth itself and its ingenious capacity to survive surely calls for recognition.

This isn’t a gender issue – but about the human capacity and need to image God. Because we issue from the divine we must carry something of this. Obviously God’s continual birthing forth is more readily appreciated through the female rather than the male, while acknowledging that both genders contribute. Birthing is a motherly concept; and redemption does not come through mortality but through natality, celebrating the birthing of all Creation.

The universe is saturated with life in abundance – largely invisible to the eye and to science; becoming manifest through channels of energy in embodied forms of which the cosmos itself is the primary body and co-creates with the divine bringing forth the vast range of creatures, including humankind. God did not create a perfect world, which we spoiled and had to be repaired – God created a world able to become perfect by the way it is lived-in.

Embodiment is not just for humans. Creation is alive with a vast range of embodied expressions. Insofar as embodiment is a primary requisite for incarnation, God has been incarnating for billions of years. We have abused this by relegating embodiment to humankind. In a sense Jesus belongs to a timeless realm – he is forever urging us to transcend narrow and confining boundaries. The rational only considers real to mean what can be quantified and measured.

The Gospels speak of the Kingdom – royalty language doesn’t sit easily with us. Why does Jesus use this term, when he sought to transcend all confines. We have sanitised Jesus – making him a well-behaved adult of a middle class culture – through a felt need for convention, order and authority. Where is the Jesus of the Parables? The Kingly realm is now of a different character – now it is power with, not power over. No ruling classes, no privileges; simply equality through a love that gives unconditionally, inviting us to the greatest challenge we will ever face – to love as we are loved.

Discipleship is now different; no longer allegiance to an exalted figure at the top. Love is key, so too is justice, love without justice rapidly becomes sentiment. We have done great things in the name of charity, yet the poor remain poor, because they don’t know the justice which guarantees equality. The Kingdom is for practical change, for radical transformation. The Jesus story is not closed, it is open to the creativity of every succeeding generation.

AMcC

Picture from Missionaries of Africa

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November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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November 11: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xi – ‘ sinners feel at home with him’.

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Jesus is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table. Tax collectors and sinners feel at home with him – not a male with soft edges, but one who is radically different – relational rather than rational. But there’s more – a dimension that has eluded scholars for centuries. His is a presence that transcends space and time. The stereotypical dualism of male and female is transcended in favour of an integration that relativises both the male and female as seen in basic biology.

Redemptive Violence – Women shed blood to give life; men tend to shed blood in order to take life. Ancient cultures saw blood as containing the life force – a force often misused and abused for an angry god. Thus emerged the notion of sacrifice. Shedding blood as an act of appeasement can be traced back to shedding animal blood so that humans could survive. It is said that humans have always hunted for food and killed animals to get it. But research going back 40,000 years has uncovered evidence that the initial gathering of food was from plant life, and animals were killed only when such was unavailable.

Slaying animals does not seem to have been practised during early agricultural times [around 8,000 BC]. Although more food was gleaned from the land, the desire for meat was also present; and during this time the shedding of blood acquired religious significance. Governance was by fiercely aggressive males, who validated what they did through belief in a sky god, who rapidly became like themselves – domineering and demanding; and so pacifying strategies came into play. Animals were the primary victims along with first fruits of the seasons. On rare occasions humans were sacrificed. In this way the notion of the scapegoat came to the fore.

René Girard traces the notion of scapegoating to mimetic [imitating] desire leading to rivalry and violence; it was extensively used to counter threats of aggression. Girard and others see the death of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice that renders the scapegoat redundant forever. The notion of blood sacrifice is a child of the patriarchal system of around 10,000 years ago. Bloodletting and sacrifice evolved under an anthropocentric world view that man is the measure of all things. In the human, blood seems to be life’s energy, and so must be the life-blood of everything in creation, including God.

Blood sacrifice was seen as restoring the balance, setting things right with the offended one. The notion of victory crept into language for the vindictive God and his earthly representatives. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is pleased at the slaying of enemies, and whose glory is enhanced by victory through the sword. This is a far cry from the earlier Goddess whose bloodletting was at the service of life-creating.

These two become confused in Jesus. New life was the key-word for Kingdom living, but this tended to be lost with the understanding of salvation through death on the cross – hence understandings like obedience through suffering. For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies.

This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him.

AMcC

I had not planned that this post should appear on Armistice Day, but it is worth pondering why violence and war happen, today of all days. WT

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November 10, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: x – ‘Not reinvention but rediscovery.’

 

Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.

All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.

Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.

The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.

But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.

AMcC

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November 3, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iii – ‘We are not called to sit back and watch it happen’

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Zakopane, Poland

Living Kingdom values creates true worship of God – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus. Jesus’ perfect human life, because it is the human life of God’s Word cannot be assailed by death. As the liturgy tells us, for anyone freely sharing such values life is changed, not ended. With the assurance of his promise to all who follow him – when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw you to myself – John 12.32.

Creation has reached its peak in the Word made Flesh: God wanted all perfection to be found in him – Colossians1.19. In him we have goodness made flesh – the way made flesh – Jesus didn’t say I know the way… he said I am the way – be with me and know the way. All that will be left behind is whatever is incapable of surviving death: selfishness, jealousy, envy and every kind of exclusion – he who does not love remains in death – 1John 3.14.

This, however, is not a passive experience, we are not called to sit back and watch it happen. Surely it is total gift, freely given to anyone – literally anyone – willing to receive it; but it is also a challenge, a task: if anyone wants to accept this way, renounce self, take up your cross and join me – Mark 8.34. This is not charades – not mimicry, how he looked and what he wore are irrelevant, what matters is to be as enthusiastic as he was to help others – feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned.

Paul hardly ever refers to what we call the life of Christ. For him Jesus is always the risen Lord. That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead – Philippians 3.10. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world – John 16.33.

There is an element of struggle here in words like overcome. There are elements in us which shout we do not want this man to reign over us – Luke 19.14, we have a choice to make. Because the Kingdom has come a radical change is needed: The time has come, the Kingdom is at hand – repent – Mark 1.15. God has established the Kingdom, yet I am free to say I will not serve.

AMcC

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September 16. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIV: True Religion is not Nostalgia.

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Why did Christ have to die, if God afterwards resurrected him? In asking this question the early communities had not yet realised the actual saving character of the death of Jesus, that it is an integral and necessary part of salvation, and not just an unfortunate event. There were many attempts to answer this question. All interpretations were unanimous in saying that Jesus did not die because of his own sins or guilt.

The fact of Christ’s death was determined by hatred and ill-will. But Jesus did not allow himself to be determined by the priorities of others: they hated him, he did not hate them in return. He died alone so that no one else need ever do that again: whenever isolation and injustice is thrust upon people, they are in a place already visited by God, one which is part of God’s experience. If Jesus is to set us free from whatever binds us, he must set us free from death. As he redeemed life by living, so he redeemed death by dying. He died in the manner in which we must die. He chose neither the time nor the circumstances of his death.

Because of the universal rejection of Jesus and the dismissing of the call to become Kingdom, which is meant to have cosmic dimensions, it could only now be realised in a single person, Jesus of Nazareth. This means that a path was opened up for the church, this is when the church became necessary, since the offer brought by Jesus must persist for all time and must be made in the same way, through a quality of presence which matches that of Jesus and, little by little, to universalise the Kingdom. As well as furthering the call of Christ, the church is obliged to make the values of Jesus present wherever the church is present: mission and evangelisation are entirely about experiencing life as abundant.

Above all the Resurrection ensures that true religion is not nostalgia. It celebrates a present emerging from a past enroute to a wonderful future; a future able to be anticipated in many ways in the present. The Resurrection represents the total realisation of human potential: capable, through grace, of intimacy within God.

What will Resurrection mean? Paul answers: the dead will rise up, imperishable, glorious and powerful, in a human reality filled full with the Spirit of God. The human body, as it is now, cannot inherit the Kingdom. It must be changed; “to have what must die taken up into life“. When Paul speaks of “body” he does not mean a corpse, or a physical-chemical combination of cells, he is speaking of the consciousness of human matter, or the spirit manifesting and realising itself within the world. The Resurrection transforms what we mean by our corporal-spiritual “I” into the image of Christ.

Already, in its terrestrial situation the human being-body is a giving and a receiving of giving. It is the body that allows us to be present one to another. But as well as enabling communication it also gets in the way of it. We cannot be in two places at once, and communication uses codes that can often be ambiguous and misleading. All such impediments disappear in the Resurrection, when there will be total communication with persons and things; the human being, now a spiritual body will have a cosmic presence. The object of Resurrection is the human being as body, totally transfigured open to universal communion and communication.

By faith and hope, commitment to Jesus Christ, welcoming and celebrating the sacraments, the seed of Resurrection [the real presence of Christ] is present within the human body, and it is not lost in death: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life“. To be clothed with Christ is to be made new. Being in Christ is the start of Resurrected living, and death is a form of being in Christ. Just as death is a passage to eternity where there is no time, so too complete communication will be realised, with the setting free of all that is fully human. The corpse will stay behind, our true body – characterised by “I” [something much more than physical-chemical matter] will participate in eternal life:

…we do not know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away. But we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth… The expectation of a new earth must not weaken but stimulate our concern for developing this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age… On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower – Gaudium et Spes 39

AMcC  austin

Thank you Austin, I’ve enjoyed revisiting these while preparing them for publication. I shall return to Part II of Jesus Beyond Dogma in a couple of months’ time.

Maurice.

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September 15. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIII: A structural change in the foundations of the world

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Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.

After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.

Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.

The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.

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He is risen!

The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].

What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.

How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.

Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.

Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.

This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.

What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.

Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return toaustin faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.

AMcC

 

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