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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Devil in the Details: A Low Satanology

There is a lot of confusion about Satan, both in Christendom and in the world around us. After all, he is the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33; 2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Pet. 5:8). To get straight to the point, too many of us ascribe Satan powers and abilities that he simply does not have. As a result, we feel tempted to blame him when we sin, whenever we turn away from God. In this post, I explain that we really do have free will to resist Satan and his confusing deceptions. The claim that, "Satan made me do it," is false and must be laid to rest if we are to believe God and to have him recognize our faith as righteousness. Satan does not come to us as a horrible monster, green or red with goat's horns, but in a form that we find appealing and respectable. That said, he only takes from us what we voluntarily offer him in the first place.

One of the main takeaways that I want you to read in this blog post is that Satan is not anything close to the myths that surround him. These myths are based in fear, which only serve to increase his influence and diminish that of Christ's body, which is the church. Too many Christians unwittingly read in the "fallen angel" myth of Satan, and offer all sorts of extra-biblical conjecture on why he rebelled against God. The source of this myth is not scripture, but the fictional poetry of Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321) and John Milton (1608–1674)—namely The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost, respectively. As Paul admonishes us, "test everything" (1 Thess. 5:21) that someone claims to be the truth.

A Low Satanology

As Christians, we should always maintain a high Christology and low Satanology. In other words, we must know that our Lord Jesus Christ harnesses the limitless authority of God, while realizing that Satan has no actual powers. Incidentally, "the devil is in the details" (pun intended). It is God alone who is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present), and omnibenevolent (all-good). This is why the ancient Israelites, and Jews to this day, pray the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone" (Deut. 6:5). In folk Christianity, too many of us think Satan, too, has limitless abilities to know the thoughts of humankind. We believe he can present himself anywhere in the world to destroy us through supernatural means, and that Satan can really challenge the goodness of the Father. In keeping a low Satanology, we better understand that God permits him to tempt us, but never beyond our ability to overcome it (1 Cor. 10:13). Although Satan may walk around "as a roaring lion" (1 Pet. 5:8), this movement conveys a sense of boundaries. God does not "move," but exists. YHWH, the tetragrammaton that describes God's presence, alludes to the Hebrew phrase, "I Am Who I Am" (Exod. 3:14).


Rulers and Authorities

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul of Tarsus wrote,
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). 
In other words, the spiritual warfare for us Christians does not involve combat in the way nations fight against other nations. We are not to have a literal standing army that is ready to oppose the soldiers of other religions and the unbelieving world through physical warfare. Instead, our opponents are those who govern us, who may persecute the church at any time the political winds blow. We Christians may be a key ally one minute, but a bitter rival in the next. We are not to too readily identify ourselves with a political party, nor be so sure that an opposite view represents the kingdom of Satan. We must remember that God made all humankind in his image, and that whatever government or political system derives from a darker source than ourselves: Satan. In keeping with a low Satanology, we realize that Satan does not form puppet governments that do his bidding. Remember, in any cultural or political agenda, no self-respecting leader presents it in a way that sounds evil. The exact opposite happens: the vast majority of politicians offer their viewpoints for the "greater good," never to intentionally commit an evil deed. For example, the dismembering of a human fetus in his/her mother's womb is both "women's liberation" and "pro-choice." Likewise, the error-prone deliberations that sentence a criminal to the death penalty is "justice." Satan may exercise his influence in these matters, but merely as an advisor—never as a dictator. This is why we human beings always rebrand our evil deeds as "good," because we want to believe our works are always noble and beneficial. This has to do with our image of God (Latin: imago Dei), which Satan corrupts to make our sins appear to be acts of kindness.

Sometimes, we hear church leaders say "rulers and authorities" describe a hierarchy of Satan with his hordes of demons. In this view, Satan dispatches one or more of his demons to target an individual Christian through a "spiritual attack." Oftentimes, they extol the near superhuman virtues of the Christian who experiences this "spiritual attack," and Satan's apparent effort to bring down someone so powerful and influential. Problem is, none of this is scriptural. The phrase "spiritual attack" occurs nowhere in scripture, and never does God exercise such a high degree of favoritism toward us (Rom. 2:11). Paul explicitly downplayed his own rights as an apostle (1 Cor. 9), and always pointed to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ as the downfall of Satan (Col. 1:16; 2:14-15). In fact, the only context a "spiritual attack" occurs is us taking on the evils of the world on the offensive, rather than the defensive (again, Eph. 6:12). 

Conclusion

God created the rulers and authorities, and has the power to raise or destroy them (Dan. 4:35; Isa. 46:10–11; Rom. 13:1-7). Paul teaches us that,
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37–39).
Simply put, God controls these rulers and authorities because he made them. Therefore, they cannot tear us away from his unconditional love for us. The dictator may ship us to concentration camps; congress may draft us into the military; the revenue agent may seize our homes; and the police may arrest us on false charges, but they cannot kill our spirits and remove us from the hand of God. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ taught us, "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" (Matt. 10:28). Keep in mind that "do not be afraid" or "fear not" is the most repeated command in scripture. Reason being, fear is what causes us to meet Satan; to doubt God; to fall into temptation; and to harm ourselves and others. True spiritual warfare is a battle for the mind, which is the first line of defense for the heart and, ultimately, the soul. So when an individual tries to convince us that we are undergoing a "spiritual attack," they first try to have us surrender the mind for the sake of the heart. However, this is really to induce fear and the role of Satan as some kind of boogeyman or external tormentor. It is the mind where God provides the power to overcome evil and temptation, which is the proactive exercise of faith and discipleship. To this end, Paul writes,
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:13:17). 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Centurion Option: Christian Democracy

When I first started this blog, I never wanted to discuss politics. That said, I think we are at a crucial place in history where, if we Christians do not push back, we will find ourselves in a worse context than first-century Rome—which executed believers for not worshiping the emperor. My goal in writing this entry is not to justify conservatism or liberalism, but to suggest a Christian alternative based on scripture and fair policy. It is time that we advance our own political cause rather than settling for some uneasy truce with an established party.

On Persecution

Consider the reality of persecution. First of all, I am trying not to come from a place of fear, since Jesus admonished us to avoid it. In fact, "do not be afraid" is typically considered the most-repeated command in scripture. I do not want persecution, and cringe when I hear my fellow believers romanticize it. In my lifetime, I have seen the secularists take away basic rights for Christians, not just certain tax benefits or cultural privileges as our critics suggest. Many people are losing their businesses for their convictions, and denominationally affiliated hospitals are being required to provide abortifacients—treatments that cause the violent deaths of unborn children. There is an ongoing systematic oppression of any Christian thought in public education, especially at the university level. These trends are not limited to the United States, nor to Western culture, but are exported across the globe through specific aid packages given by the United Nations and other international agencies (UN News Centre, 2016). Ever since the 1973 precedent in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States, unborn children and misinformed parents have suffered through a holocaust greater in number and scope than Adolf Hitler's "final solution" against the Jewish populations of Europe. Likewise, the passing of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015—which was only supposed to give the legal right for LGBT people to marry and apply for government programs—resulted in a further sociopolitical march toward the indoctrination of young children and a reckless compromise of their emotional health and physical safety. Simply put, this oppression is no longer a "Church and State" issue, but one that will have far-reaching consequences for everyone.


All things, considered, Paul of Tarsus reminds us that,
Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). 
In other words, we Christians must be careful to separate individuals from their political views and affiliations. Jesus himself prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Even the most vindictive, hateful opponent still requires our unconditional love because they lack perspective. Yes, this is the frequent motto of "love the sinner, hate the sin."

In the gospel according to Matthew, the Lord warned us that we would be persecuted:
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils...and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony... Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:16-22). 
When I say that I do not want persecution, I am not saying this to contradict Jesus' alarm. No one should want to be persecuted, and it is not natural to desire it. The overwhelming gospel message tells us that it is much harder to live for God than it is to die for him. Whenever prosecution is avoidable, we must do everything in the Spirit's power to avoid it.

On Resistance

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor whom the Nazis executed for his faith and resistance, wrote,
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes (Bonhoeffer, 17). 
In other words, God calls all of believers to stand tall in the world. In his much-anticipated book called The Benedict Option (2017), author Rod Dreher asks his fellow Christians to follow the example of Benedict of Nursia (480–547). Benedict founded a secluded community near the Italian village of Subiaco after fleeing from Rome—a city known for its pagan occultism, decadence, and corruption – in disgust. I am not writing this entry to either defend or criticize Dreher, but to convey the strengths and weaknesses of his position. I agree with his statement:
Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead build communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation...We can no longer rely on politicians and activists to fight the culture war alone on our behalf (Dreher, 12, 98).
The only thing I have reservations about is a complete withdrawal from civic involvement. Paul informed the Corinthian church, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone" (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Notice the triune pattern of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but in reverse order? God emboldens our activities in his name; our service through Christ; and our gifts through the Spirit. Simply put, many of us are, and will be, called to seclusion for the preservation of a genuine Christian faith. However, others are, and will be, told to stand firm and continue to oppose the rapid secularization spiritual and moral decline of humankind, at large.

The Centurion Option

Whereas Dreher named his work The Benedict Option, I offer an additional, complementary view that I will call the "centurion option," based on Jesus' praise of a centurion for believing in God's ability to heal his servant (Matt. 8:5–13; Luke 7:1–10). The command and role of a centurion generally correspond to that of a modern colonel, who leads between 2,000 and 4,000 soldiers in a brigade. Make no mistake: this "centurion" is not a newly-minted recruit who just learned to fight yesterday. Rather, he spent nearly two decades advancing through the ranks doing the most thankless, grueling, and dirtiest tasks that most civilians would balk at. So when the Roman centurion approached Jesus, it was because he realized the end of his abilities. Only God's absolute command would heal the servant from his illness or injury. In my experience in the military, I often think soldiers are the most trusting of outside forces because they are frequently in peril more than their civilian counterparts.


Jesus never told the centurion to lay down his arms, nor to give up his military career. Instead, he simply healed the centurion's servant. Likewise, both John the Baptist and Simon Peter had chances to rebuke soldiers for their warfighting ethos (Luke 3:10-14; Acts 10:1-33). However, all three of the teachers not only served the centurions, but respected them for their service.

In the church context, we need all types of people to move forward in this fallen world: centurions, soldiers, leaders, business persons, civil servants, and private citizens. No one is more important than the other. In the same way a society needs soldiers for defense, it requires everyday people to build infrastructure and economy even more so. The two halves of any society—national defense and private sector—must cooperate for their mutual betterment.

City of God vs. City of Man

In The City of God, Augustine of Hippo (354–430) discussed how the we typically separate our world according to two desires. First, we have the "city of man," which serves to fulfill our base and secular pleasures. Second, we have the "city of God," in which we trust in the Lord to provide our spiritual and material needs. To emphasize his point, Augustine contrasted the earliest brothers in human history, Cain and Abel (Gen. 4). Cain was from the "city of man" because his choices represented an animalistic nature replete with evil and lust. Abel, on the other hand, represented the "city of God," who knew where he came from in God's will and always sought to fulfill it (Dyson, 635). That said, we cannot live in both the "city of God" and the "city of man." We must choose one, and hate the other. As Jesus himself taught us, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matt. 6:24). Paul also warned, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains" (1 Tim. 6:10). Finally, James of Jerusalem, brother of the Lord, cautioned, "Ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:6-8). In other words, if we are to serve God and to live out our faith as genuine believers, we cannot separate our minds into "secular" and "spiritual/religious" compartments. That is being double-minded, or holding two opposing views in a tension prone to burst.

Conclusion: Toward a Christian Democracy

In the spirit of the last section, I believe we must be of one mind to advance the Christian faith inside the church and in the public square. However, we need to side with Christ in this, and sometimes, even against our own political and national traditions. If "separation of Church and State" means that no singular denomination controls the government, then let it be so. However, if the (post)modern interpretation means that we need to stay in our "stained glass prisons," then we Christians must never agree to that. While the "Benedict option" would have us all go into seclusion, some of us need to remain in civil society with the "centurion option." Question is, how do we get to the "Augustinian option" of bringing the City of God to our domains of man?

First, we realize that democracy is the fairest model of governance. No, it is not perfect by any means, but it allows the greatest opportunities for all human beings to flourish. That said, we must also acknowledge that God has always been, and will always be, concerned about how we treat the poor in civil society. If we believe that marriage between one man and one woman; the prohibition of abortion and euthanasia; and the protection of children are important enough to make policies about, then we must also admit that God's concern for the underprivileged fits into the same paradigm. No, I do not suggest any form of socialism, nor do I uphold unregulated capitalism. What I propose is the proliferation of "Christian democracy," or what is known as "economic distributism" in its strictly political—not religious—definition.


"Economic distributism" is not my coinage, but a well-known political theory in Europe. Some commentators also call it "social conservatism" or "Christian democracy." Distributism only officially reached the United States in 2011, with the founding of the American Solidarity Party. Recent examples of countries with formal and influential distributist representation include:
  • Austria (Österreichische Volkspartei – Austrian People's Party)
  • Belgium (Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams – Christian Democratic and Flemish)
  • Germany (Christlich Demokratische Union – Christian Democratic Union)
  • Ireland (Fine Gael – Family of the Irish)
  • Luxembourg (Chrëschtlech Sozial Vollekspartei – Christian Social People's Party)
  • Netherlands (Christen-Democratisch Appèl – Christian Democratic Appeal)
  • Poland (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Law and Justice)
Distributists view property ownership as a fundamental right, and thus work toward a society in which it is widespread. Furthermore, they believe production should be spread as widely as possible, too. Simply put, distributism is opposed both to state socialism (production and property rights are centralized under the control of the state) and to unregulated corporate power. According to the definition of "Christian democracy," distributism seeks a fair alternative to the standard practice of dispossession akin to both socialism and raw capitalism. Frankly, more people will be drawn to God's mercy and grace if we Christians meet their needs fairly and promptly. 

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God's most pressing concern is our care of the poor. Incidentally, Jesus' strongest words about hellfire, judgment, and condemnation have to do with providing for those in need (Matt. 25:31-46). In fact, verse 32 should be a warning to those who say taking care of the poor is not a political issue: "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (emphasis mine). In the more constitutional Old Testament, God did command the Israelites to uphold national policies for taking care of the poor, and often punished them for their failures to do so. They were told to leave the corners of their fields for the hungry; to release their slaves every fiftieth year (Jubilee); and to collect tithes for the poor. Here is a quick search on Bible Gateway for "poor" just to demonstrate exactly how concerned God is for the needy and what we should do for them: biblegateway.com/quicksearch/poor

For the record, distributism is not theocracy, which is a government directed by clergy or politicians with direct religious oversight. There is still the same freedom that comes with democracy to worship God, or to neglect him. That said, the goal of distributism and Christian democracy is to grant all people, Christian or not, the utmost opportunity to find spiritual fulfillment. After all, the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What is Truth: Finding God in the Post-Truth Era

When Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, asked Jesus whether he was a king, the Lord answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate was likely annoyed by Jesus' response when he asked, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38).


Some 2,000 years later, political leaders are still asking this very question. Ever since Donald Trump's electoral victory on November 8, 2016, many pundits cynically use the word "post-truth" to describe this supposedly new era of fiction, lies, half-truths, and "alternative facts." Even the Oxford Dictionaries attested to this newfangled term by declaring it the "Word of the Year" (Wang, 2016). I normally try to avoid being so America-centric or even political in this blog, recognizing the faith of Christians throughout the world. Yet, thousands of people across the globe have responded with fear, anxiety, hatred, and hostility toward what they think will happen. Political commentators are quick to throw out phrases such as "fake news," "alternative facts," and "post-truth." However, they have not declared any truth, but dismiss all absolutes as relative. Against this backdrop, everything is open for debate and only mere consensus determines truth. That said, let us review Jesus' declaration of truth ...

What is "Fake News?"

In his gospel account, John the Evangelist linked truth with freedom (John 8:32). He followed this parallel with Jesus' lesson contrasting a slave's role in the Roman household code versus that of a son. Whereas the son will always belong to the estate, the slave will never have a stake of their own (John 8:34-35). In other words, merely going through the motions of the Christian faith will not result in salvation, but ultimately fall short. God wants us to worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), not to act as his begrudging slaves. Perhaps, it is no mere coincidence that John's gospel features the most definitive verses about truth. As opposed to the synoptic gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke), John includes many philosophical treatises that contrast truth with fallacy. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their refusal to accept his messianic identity, he essentially told them their version of God's law was "fake news:"
You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

That accusation is harsher than even the accusations of "fake news" in today's paper. While many pundits compare their perceived enemies with Adolf Hitler—the nature of whose evils go without question—Jesus went right to the source: Satan. Simply put, even the infamous führer of Nazi Germany had a master far more dubious than himself. As human beings, we can never be independent actors, because we must choose between volitional service to Christ Jesus, or slavery to the evil one. This was why the Lord admonished us by saying, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

In his first episle, John also wrote, "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22). Simply put, the antichrist is a person who spreads the "fake news" that Jesus never claimed to be God incarnate, and that he never existed as a historical person.

Discovering the Genuine News

In Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good (HarperOne, 2015), biblical scholar, N. T. Wright, discusses how the word "news" is never just as story in a newspaper. Its very definition implies some kind of change in life as we know it, whether subtle or radical. Even a professional sports victory has the capacity to alter our lives (Wright, 1-9). For example, many Chicago Cubs fans defined their lives and those of deceased family members in the 108-year period since the baseball team's last World Series trophy (Witz, 2016). However, what was "good news" for baseball fans in Chicago's northside was presumably "bad news" for supporters of the rival Cleveland Indians. Likewise, Donald Trump's presidential victory was "good news" for many conservatives, while "bad news"—even "fake news"—for many liberals.

The good news of our Lord Jesus Christ does not fit into any of our categories of news. It is neither "good" in the way we might define the word, but neither is it "bad" or "fake." Genuine news is at once both restorative and corrective, healing and lethal. This is because Jesus wants to redeem us from our sins, but our salvation requires us to undergo an extremely painful makeover. We must die to our misdeeds, lusts, passions, etc. Yet, the good news is that we gain peace and eternal life through this process of suffering and death—as contrary as that sounds:
Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).
Brothers and sisters, in the name of Jesus Christ, let us "go into all the world and proclaim the good news" (Mark 16:15).

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrection, Success and Eternal Peace

I saw the movie Risen (2016) recently, which stars Joseph Fiennes as the main character. He plays Clavius, a Roman tribune detailed to investigate the disappearance of Jesus' body from the tomb he was buried in. Most of the film includes the traditional material from the gospel accounts, but more from a third-person perspective than offerings like The Passion of the Christ (2004) or The Son of God (2014).


I identified with Risen more than any other faith-based movie. Whereas many Christian films merely portray cultural dilemmas, Risen challenges the status quo in the same way Jesus himself did. Toward the beginning of the movie, Clavius tells Pontius Pilate—the governor of Judea—that he hopes to rise through the Roman hierarchy, perhaps as prefect or even emperor. Yet, he reveals his true goal is to have peace and a life without death. This stands in contrast to Clavius' livelihood as a soldier, in which battles and killing are frequent disruptions to the peace he seeks. Pilate asks him, "All that for peace?" As a military leader myself, this line really got to me. I am a senior non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, but the position is nothing more than a job to me. I serve not because I believe in the recruiting posters or political slogans, but to have a secure future for my family. I would not have served 16 years so far and continue 3.5 more for reasons of patriotism or national service. Rather, like most soldiers who are honest with themselves, I am investing in a future with less turmoil.


Nonetheless, I am painfully aware that military retirement does not promise a life without problems (e.g., disability, PTSD). The benefits that I will receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot save me in this life, nor in the next one. There will still be bills to pay, and health insurance does not actually guarantee a healthy existence. Even as I still serve, achieving the next rank (Master Sergeant/E-8) may include more money, but also implies less time with God and my family. Clavius laments this in Risen, knowing that ascending even to the office of Caesar will only ever mean warfare and death. He understands that he has to kill people and compete with fellow soldiers for recognition, when his real goal is an estate with his wife and children. Toward the end of the film, Jesus meets with Clavius briefly, telling him that he can have a life of peace in both this life and in eternity—without hurting anyone or gaining a higher socioeconomic status. I am not ashamed to say that I was in tears, because I am struggling through the same questions.

To be as a Child

An encounter with the risen Jesus changes us, if we are but willing for it to happen. In Risen, the Lord never directly told Clavius to remove his uniform or to surrender his military rank. However, his time with Jesus and his disciples resulted in a total renewal of his inner personhood, his goals, dreams, methods, and relationships. When we meet the Lord Jesus Christ for real, we cannot be the same as we once were. If we forgo our lives of deliberate sin, especially our desire to hurt another individual to get ahead, God restores his image in us—the coveted imago Dei we too often neglect in ourselves and others. Remember when Jesus said,
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 (Matt. 18:3-5). 

Oftentimes, church leaders interpret "become like children" to mean eschewing formal education and prohibitions against intellectual pursuits. Conversely, Jesus was certainly not advocating for ignorance, but something completely different. A child has no money, status, title, or position in life. In other words, children do not compete with each other over socioeconomic status like adults do. We can observe this innocence on the playground, where children play with anyone regardless of skin color or how much money their parents make. To "become like a child" is to stop classifying people according to race and income level, but to make friends of all individuals made in God's image. This is our Great Commission, to take the gospel to people of all ethnic groups (Greek: ethnos), not "nations" in the sense of foreign countries. In order to genuinely celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must respect the image of God in all of our neighbors, not just the ones we approve of. Being a child before God means the denial of self, and playing with the other kids on the playground without looking for excuses to divide and accuse. Oftentimes, adults tell children something to the effect, "You will understand when you are older." Stop it! That kind of statement is the directly opposed to what Jesus taught us! To be sure Jesus does not want us to be ignorant, keep this lesson in mind: "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16).

We are supposed to be engaged with the world around us intellectually, but to avoid committing its sins. You cannot dismiss education and be wise, but maturing into adulthood does not require us to contextualize reasons for ignorance and bigotry, either. Simply put, God does not recognize our political boundaries nor our socioeconomic strata, but only our hearts and minds. Remember, Jesus commanded us to love one another. It is sinful to complicate that by being an adult, or making excuses that others "need to understand."

Conclusion

Sometimes, it is awesome to watch films like Risen to understand how Jesus changed the world, and how he still renews it. If you are wondering how I went from talking about seeking a life of peace in a world of violence and discrimination to "becoming like a child," they are really answers to the same question: How should we treat fellow human beings—our neighbors? The reason that my job exists is because people cannot get along. God did not create our world so we could fight wars and step on others to get ahead, but for us to live in harmony. The peace of Jesus is available to all people, regardless of their status in life. The Great Commission is our calling to offer God's peace to everyone while we, too, seek a life without war, violence, socioeconomic posturing, or hatred.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Road to Emmaus: A Contemporary Reading

Luke composed his gospel account primarily for a gentile audience. The main indicators that Luke intended his writing for gentiles include the relabeling of Jewish customs and theology as well as explanations of the same. Moreover, Luke was a physician who did not regularly stay in Judea, but accompanied Paul of Tarsus during his evangelism missions around the Mediterranean realm. He was accustomed to gentile cultures and their plethora of concerns. Luke's narrative also includes special emphases on proselytes and "God-fearers"—gentiles who acknowledged the authority of Yahweh alone but who were not yet full members of the covenant community. He wrote about a new covenant community, one that is open to both Jews and gentiles under the lordship of Jesus Christ. To that end, Luke expressed the innocence of Jesus before the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, to say the gentile world does not condemn the Jewish messiah, but recognizes his authority over the entire world. Luke addressed his gospel to a certain Theophilus, which may be a placeholder description for anyone who happens to love God—the meaning of the name from the Greek Theos (God) and phileo (love). In other words, Luke's writing invites everyone to insert themselves into the text and become a type of "Theophilus" who receives eternal life.


Luke, a physician who was probably either a gentile or a Hellenistic Jew, had a firm grasp of the Greek language and often employed Semitic devices in his writing to persuade a Jewish audience. In several cases, Paul of Tarsus differentiated Luke from his Near Eastern counterparts, an indication that he was certainly not from Judea. Luke did not write his gospel in Aramaic or Hebrew, but in common biblical Greek. His command of Greek was unlike most other Jews, yet Luke still alluded to the religious grammar of the Septuagint, the Old Testament translation for hellénophones. Furthermore, the identification of Luke as a physician derives from Paul's letter to the Colossians as well as the evangelist’s use of medical vocabulary and examples. Luke’s gospel is only the first of his writings, the second being the Acts of the Apostles. From the time he started penning his narrative, Luke intended for his gospel and Acts to be two parts of a congruent story. The geography mentioned in both Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles coincide, whereas the other three gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and John) do not. Luke's knowledge of culture, language, medicine, and geography altogether express the narrative he intended for the audience he intended. This was why he introduced his account by justifying the purpose in the light of other witnesses to Jesus Christ. "Theophilus" is a stand-in for anyone who reads the gospel according to Luke, especially those of gentile status.

The Road to Emmaus

Jesus Christ appeared to two disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven-mile trek. However, these two men fail to recognize Jesus as they relay the events of the Passion and a rumor about his resurrection. The road to Emmaus passage is one of word and sacrament, that God reveals himself in psyche as well as material symbols. When Jesus asked the two disciples about why they ignored the Hebrew prophets who testified about him, he was referring to God's revelation through word. In this sense, “word” expresses God's discernible communications with humankind as opposed to what people must hypothesize. Yet the disciples walking to Emmaus could not discern who Jesus Christ was through reading or learning. They only understood Jesus' identity when God showed them via an object of his own sovereign choice. Sacraments are not material symbols that human beings choose, but ones that God reveals. In this case, God reveals Jesus Christ through the breaking of bread, an otherwise common thing. Oftentimes, people understand wisdom and knowledge through everyday customs, like eating, rather than from an abstract education.

That God revealed Jesus Christ via the breaking of bread at Emmaus provides a sign of resurrection and new creation. Luke indicated how Jesus’ resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, with the walk to Emmaus taking place sometime later on the same. If God created the world in seven days and the resurrection took place on the first day of a week based on that belief, then the symbol “eighth day” identifies a new creation. The main reason the disciples could not recognize Jesus was because they only had eyes for the frail, pre-resurrection version. They had to become new creatures in order to see Jesus for the new resurrection they saw later. God’s revelation of Jesus at Emmaus is synonymous with the parable of the wedding feast, where God invites the whole word to dine with him. Yet, he learns that not all people want to commune with God, but would rather linger in injustice. The consumption of food is a political activity for humankind, a harsh reality of inequality and turmoil. On the other hand, God provides for all people out of his abundance, without pitting them against each other. In fact, the resurrection is a new Sabbath, a perfect rest from work and competition.

The road to Emmaus was not just a Eucharistic event, but also a pilgrimage. As the two disciples walked, they were asking theological questions and simply trying to make sense of events surrounding Jesus. These men were trying to know God and, ironically, traveled away from Jerusalem to find the answers they were looking for. After the Sanhedrin and the Roman prefect killed Jesus, Jerusalem was too mad of a place to seek God. Yet, the two disciples did not yet understand why they were walking to Emmaus, but only knew they were. Likewise, when pilgrims travel along the Way of Saint James of Compostela (Spanish: Via de Santiago de Compostela), they have no idea what they will eventually encounter along the route or at their final destination. For the men who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus, they did not just receive answers to their questions, but an experience. The reality of a pilgrimage is not material nor philosophical, but divine and existential. One does not become a pilgrim to discover the wisdom and knowledge of the sages, but to experience the mystery of God that supersedes such categories. Once the disciples met Jesus and recognized him in the breaking of bread, they knew they had gained an understanding too vast for the philosophers of Greece and Rome.

The two disciples traveling to Emmaus sinned by abandoning Jesus Christ and leaving Jerusalem. While they sought answers to the events surrounding Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, they were not loyal in staying with him. Jesus chastised them for failing to understand how the Hebrew prophets described the suffering of the messiah. The walk to Emmaus was not about God rewarding the righteous who always do right, but having mercy on those who disbelieve and assume they know best. Likewise, modern Christians celebrate the Eucharist, but do not receive Jesus Christ because of their deeds or beliefs. God reveals Jesus according to his mercy, which believers must receive by faith.

Conclusion

The road to Emmaus is a relevant Bible study for all Christians. In this context, an adult church study with open-ended questions is the format. Questions include: 1) Why did Jesus chastise the disciples for misreading the prophets? 2) Why did the disciples only know Jesus Christ in the breaking of bread? 3) What aspects of ancient Near Eastern rules of hospitality are in view in the Emmaus passage, if any?

The walk to Emmaus passage in Luke's gospel connects to modern churches. Christians continue to learn the word and celebrate in sacrament. The main lesson is for churchgoers to understand how Jesus reveals himself through teaching and in communal meals. Because of the unconditional nature of Jesus' final meal with his disciples before the ascension, Christians must welcome all people to the communion table without exclusion. However, it is imperative for believers to study christology, to know who Jesus Christ really is in order to avoid idolatry. The disciples near Emmaus failed to understand that Jesus was supposed to suffer. Likewise, his followers are never exempt from suffering and must rely on God for strength.

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