The Heart of the Matter

couple on bench watiching sunset   The social setting Jesus of Nazareth was born into was much like our own. It was a hot bed of political and religious tension.

Jesus cut straight through this milieu to the heart of the matter. The image of him turning over the tables on the Temple portico, touching both the political and religious arenas in which it sat, is a perfect metaphor for what he was about. Overturning/challenging the political and religious order…by his challenge to the religious rulers who did the bidding of the Roman authorities. At heart the turning over the tables sent a message that people matter more than powers of exchange or submitting to antiquated religious practices. We see this throughout the gospel narrative. A Jesus who walked, talked, ate and drank with all manner of society, even women and tax collectors! Because the Jewish authorities and the climate of the time stigmatized both. But the man from Nazareth saw each as an individual, not a label which was to be kept separate from the dominant social order. There was essentially no distinction in lst century Palestine between the religious and the political structures. I suspect that is why many authors see Jesus as being a revolutionary or political activist. But he was not. His words and actions confronted both with their own behavior, and attitudes, their own words and actions. It was a challenge by example. By being who he was.

But I guess if you set about to engender a new way of being in a culture embedded with rules and rituals then you might tend to view him as political. His message, his very person, challenged both Rome and the Sanhedrin.

Religious persecution was rife. Something unfortunately we are all too familiar with today, thanks to our ever-vigilant, ever-present media. Have we returned to the dark ages?

We have shrunken to a micro-cosm of ourselves. One that can be viewed within the parameters of a 22 inch screen or a 2 x 3 inch smart phone. Our reach is large; but our vision has narrowed. Our portable screens have diminished how we view the world. Big problems flash on a small screen and pass before our view. Nothing lasts for long. 15 minutes of fame is more like 7 minutes of notoriety. It is easy to forget. Our minds do not dwell or contemplate any one matter for very long. We are on to the next text, tweet, and photo bomb. We keep up with family and friends by logging on to Facebook. We are in information overload so that we no longer retain any real knowledge. Our minds are not expanding but shrinking to the size of a media screen. I am so dependent on my smart phone. Sad to say, it is my connection to the world of others. We connect but don’t communicate. These things are not (all together) bad. It’s how we use them. How we have come to value them and what they have replaced in our lives.

Perhaps during this Lenten season when some ‘give up’ things in the hopes of making ourselves better, perhaps we could focus more on others, pay attention to the world around us, listen to the birds singing in the morning, just sit and be. And see what happens. Invite the great Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Jesus that he left with us, into our midst and see if that doesn’t make a different in our day. Jesus paid attention. To who he was. To others. To the religious and political climate about him. And he went to the synagogue and spoke about the scriptures. He sat on a hillside and told stories. He sat in a board near the shore and took in the world about him; all those in need of him. Perhaps we might look at following Jesus in this way. Bring ourselves to the heart of the matter. To pay attention.


The Coming of Light and Love


Winter is fast approaching. The days are longer and darker. Christians are in the second week of Advent. Waiting for the light. It is also the first night of Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights. The reclaiming and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. We are all together attending to the season, recalling miracles of light. Light coming into the world. A light that when lit, did not go out. We Christians carry this idea of the Light of the World in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth.  Even materially, commercially, it is what the season is about. Light. The gift of birth and rebirth. An energized season where for a time we are more hospitable, generous, more open in spirit and friendship. More light hearted.

So this is another opportunity to spend forty days (more or less) with St. Paul. To continue the Christ-self discourses begun here. To look at the Christ life, not as a concept or doctrine, but as a lived, personal reality with its potential to transform, challenge and accompany our lives. The light our darkness and take us back into the Temple. For some of us that Temple remains in the Christ that we follow. The Temple of stone has crumbled and given way to the Temple of the heart. The place where we attend to the light, to keep it burning, burning in a light that will spread throughout the world, like the stars in the sky, the promise that the children of Abraham would take that faith and spread it to all the  nations of the world. And in many way, if you think about it, we have. Because we are all children of Father Abraham. Even though this promise has taken different forms and rituals. We have put different words to the same music.

Today we are the ones crying in the wilderness. What light can we light that will not go out? What can we birth within ourselves that can remain alive throughout the dark days and the horrific events that are taking place before our very eyes. Perhaps it is the light of Love. The only light that will last. That can unit. That can heal. That can take us back into the holy of holies and there to find an old couple holding a baby in their arms, while the light continues to burn at his dedication.


Birth of the Word in the Soul Part VI

Carl Jung says Jesus lives our unlived lives. He is speaking of the Christ-Self in each of us that must be awakened if we are to achieve the fullness of our humanity. Both testaments are treaties on how we are able to achieve the fullness of our humanity. In the letter to the Ephesians, * its author includes Paul’s pray that the hidden self grow strong, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted and built on love, you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depths, until knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowing, you will be filled with the utter fullness of God.  It is this hidden self that Jung is referring to; the realization of the God-life within us. Across centuries both men acknowledge that Jesus is the incarnation of the sacred Self, the embodiment of the sacred humanity that is our birthright. From Genesis to Revelations we are shown that we are inherently ordered to the sacred, to that which has within it the possibility at each turn of becoming the sacred reality for which we are meant. Jesus is the becoming thing in us. He is the embodiment of that which becomes itself in God. With each day we attend to his birth within us.

 We are seeded with the Christ-self like the sacred seed planted in Mary. We are invited to give life and meaning to that seed, to attend to its growth, so that who Jesus is we too can become. For we are also heirs to the promise going out from the first pages of Genesis. The promise that we are sacred and meant. As we journey with Jesus, we join with Mary and Elizabeth, as partners of the promise, to awaken and give birth to the Christ-Self. This is our let it be to the God who is ever renewing the world in his image. Just as his spirit came upon the mother of Jesus in his great act of loving us and the world, by the grace of his spirit we also become the waiting manger for the birth of the Word in the soul.

Like the ancient rabbis who lovingly held the Torah in their arms, the Word become flesh is now carried in the arms of his parents to the temple on the day of presentation, in accordance with the Mosaic Law. There Mary and Joseph encounter an old man named Simeon. He takes Jesus in his arms, giving thanks and praise for he knows he is holding the salvation of Israel in his arms. As Simeon blesses the parents of Jesus, he tells Mary that a sword shall pierce your heart. It is a sword that will lay bare the hearts of many, the sword will spill the life blood of her son upon the bitter ground of misunderstanding and his rejection.

Jesus will return to the Temple when he is twelve years old. By then he is a young man who knows his scriptures so well he is able to discourse with the rabbis, forgetting it is time to return home with his parents. In Luke’s account, the last we see of Joseph is when he and Mary spend three days searching for their missing son in the crowds who have come to Jerusalem for Passover. In Matthew’s infancy narrative it is after the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem that we last see Joseph. In this sequence, Joseph, prompted once more by an angel, leads his family to safety in Egypt, to protect his infant son from Herod, who is intent on murdering the already rumored king of the Jews.

After the incident in the Temple there is no record of Jesus’ life until he goes to meet John at the Jordan River. Yet there are clues to the early influence his family had on Jesus. His parents surely shaped the man he would become. At times he must have seemed as enigmatic to them as he often appears to us today. From the recorded accounts of his life, it is evident Jesus was well-versed in the sacred writings of Israel. From his parents Jesus learned to be attentive and faithful to Torah, exhibiting a respect and reverence for the faith of his people, the law and the Temple. When he teaches the people in parables, his words ring with authority, demonstrating his command of the Hebrew Scriptures. From Joseph Jesus learned carpentry, but it is a trade he would abandoned at some point, like John before him. Perhaps it was there, working at Joseph’s side or at his mother’s knee learning his scriptures, that he realized a new trade, that a new task had been set before him, and he went to it most likely knowing from his mother early on that he was destined for something singularly special.

At his side Jesus learned from Joseph, the man entrusted by God with his care and upbringing, how to care for those with whom he would be entrusted. Just as Mary’s attention and fidelity shaped Jesus, certainly he was shaped by the father we know little of. After Jesus’ childhood, Joseph is never mentioned again. The assumption is that he is no longer living. If indeed Joseph died before Jesus’ public ministry that might explain why Jesus’ public life had to wait until he was almost thirty years of age, long past the age a Jewish man would have taken up a profession. Perhaps Joseph entrusted the safekeeping and livelihood of his family, Jesus’ mother and siblings, to his first-born before he passed on, just as Jesus would entrust his mother to the care of the disciple standing at the foot of the cross with her. Could it be that in John’s gospel, when Jesus says he has not lost one of these you have given me, he is also thinking of the family Joseph entrusted to him? And one has to wonder if the father whom Jesus addresses as Abba, Daddy, isn’t at times Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, who guided the boy’s hands over the wood as he fostered and protected Jesus, who he knew would eventually be about another Father’s business.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

*The Letter to the Ephesians is not attributed to Paul, but to one of his companions.


Earthen Vessels

Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians is building in an intensity as he continues to encourage and instruct the first Christians there. The force of his message is getting more and more concentrated as he focuses the strength of his message of Christ as Lord as he works to articulate the light shining in the darkness. We hold this treasure within us as earthen vessels, he goes one to say. The light is the treasure which is the knowledge of God, the glory on the face of Christ. The face of Christ that we see as the true knowing of God. Jesus said when you see me you see the Father.

So it is not just knowledge that Paul brings to bear here but a real face to face encounter, to know and be known. Knowledge here is not information but experience, the real presence of the living God who we come to know in Christ Jesus. The Word of God that becomes flesh in our lives. The Word who became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

Paul’s writing is getting very dense and intense. On one level you can read him, his oft repeated message to the various communities is apparent. But drawing out the depth of his message as it comes through his rhetoric is a bit of a challenge. One reason here I believe is that he is not only teaching how to live in Christ but also woven with it is Paul’s experience and defense of his own mission and work. His message is becoming more urgent and his sentences are getting more muscular, dense and over laid. Associations are woven tightly together so that I get the sense that Paul and his scribe knew what he was talking about and his audience but at our remove it requires nuance and understanding of Paul and his background in Judaism. And I find I am continually rereading, going over the same passages, and quite frankly reading them not as the chapters are set out in my Bible but seeing longer passages that flow, go together and refer back to each other. A long, colorful woven tapestry.

This is an example of the excavation or unraveling of Paul. He continues in Corinthians: We are only the earthen ware jars that hold this treasure. This treasure being the knowledge and subsequent experience of Jesus as Lord. How are we like earthen ware jars, variously translated as earthen vessels? The great thing about symbols is that they can and do have a variety of meanings. First, his audience would know that these vessels are formed and shaped on a potter’s wheel and then burned in the fire in order to bake them. Implying that we are created, formed and shaped by the Potter. Then we are burned in the fire. What follows in this section is Paul’s description of the fire in which his ministry is forged. He faces difficulties on all sides, and as in other places, he is explicit about what they are. But in spite of all these difficulties Paul prevails. It is worth it. More than worth it. The lesson is to the newly Christian and to us whose Christianity perhaps has become watered down or worse. But for Paul these are the blessings and responsibilities of being vessels of the Word, the life of Christ, temples of the living God, which Paul goes on to liken both himself and the people at Corinth, to.

As he goes on he intertwines the cause of his persecutions with what saves him. The life, death and resurrections of Jesus the Christ. We carry within us in our bodies, in ourselves as earthen vessels, the death and therefore the life of Christ. And Paul goes on in this letter to set out the trials and challenges to not only Paul but to the Christ he preaches, which in Paul are one and the same. Paul encourages throughout that what he endures we too we can endure for the gospel. The Christ life that lives in us, also sustains us through the fire.

In 1946 the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near Qumran. They were found to be inside earthenware jars. This is where the papyrus manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures had been put perhaps for safe keeping, possibly in anticipation of or after the destruction of the Second Temple. Traditionally this may well have been a way the scrolls were kept and stored. We are only earthen jars that hold this treasure We carry the light of Christ, the Word of God within us. However fragile, breakable, we as vessels are, because the Spirit of the Lord is with us, in both his death and life, we will be preserved. Not just preserved. But we will grow. The old is sloughed off, while the new creation that we are comes to life. We will decay Paul says, but as we grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, the inner person is renewed day by day, earthen vessels from which the light of Christ shines. The outer body diminishing, while the hidden self grows strong in the knowledge and love of Christ.