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    Entries in Jesus (20)


    The Long Trail and the Warm Hearth

    Photo by Óskar Steinn

    "Nothing gives rest but the sincere search for truth."
    -Blaise Pascal

    Pascal has give us a paradox: rest is found in the sincere search; the end of which is truth. Truth is journey, and destination. Truth has revelatory and restorative power; it is both propulsive and enticing. It is a walk and an abiding; a long trail and a warm hearth.

    If we pause long enough to consider it, truth is something we simultaneously avoid and desire. It is always bearing down upon us. We construct and reconstruct our perceptions of reality in a way that aligns with the really real, or the really convenient. We live in reality, we persist in fantasy. The human heart longs for truth, but bends toward deception. The person who is at rest has found truth, has discovered reality, and is coming to terms with the way of the world. The person who is not at rest deals in fiction, abandons the sincere search, and persists with the instability of unreality. Too often, we delight in our folly.

    The spokesperson for Christ, in many respects, has an immense responsibility. We give witness to truth. We believe that Jesus, in his life and teachings, showed us the really real, and through trusting him and becoming his disciples, we too may enter that reality. He called it "kingdom." Truth, according to Jesus, is public. Matters of the spiritual life are not relegated to the private realm of "faith" or "mere belief," but are instead matters of knowledge. Anyone wishing to have this knowledge may have it. Those who seek shall find, those who knock shall have the door opened, those who ask, it will be given to them.

    Jesus once said that those who hear his words and put them in to practice are like the wise person who built their house upon the rock. But for those who failed to heed his word, that too has a consequence. For Christians obsessed with truth telling, we must remember that truth well told is enhanced by the texture of life well lived. Our greatest witness to the truth of the gospel is given by those who walk in the grace given in Christ, and whose lives are humbly committed to putting his words in to practice.

    Christians believe, very simply, that truth is not a proposition or set of propositions, but a person. Knowledge of the person, Christ, leads us to develop a language about him, consisting of words and our actions, sometimes taking shape as propositions, but most fully taking expression in a life at rest in God, a rest so filled with grace that the sincere search is not frantic, but easy, threaded with trust and defined as friendship.

    If you are truly seeking, if your search is sincere, ask God to teach you that which is realiable, sound, and most of all, true. Look to Jesus. Consider his words and begin by doing what he says. Let your yes be yes and no be no. Pray for your persecutors. Welcome the stranger. Consider how his words expose the human heart, uncover our propensity toward wrong actions, or, for the disciplined, our mixed motives. Let your inquiry be marked by an openness to knowing, not merely believing. And see if the confidence you gain in God does not lead to a kind of rest, a letting go, an acknowledgement that God is indeed God, and that you are not. See if a smallness does not set in, and a realization that salvation is a present need which God has already met in Christ.

    Truth, and the knowledge of truth, leads to freedom. Spokespersons for Christ believe that truth became flesh and blood, bled and died, and was raised again. Even now, he reigns, and invites us to live in the light.

    Let the wise sincerely seek truth, and may all who seek, find, and rest.


    The Matthean Narrative and the Birth of Christ :: Letting the Text Determine Us

    Photo by Pradeep Javedar

    As I prepared to teach on Wednesday evening last week, I spent time with the insights of Stanley Hauerwas in Matthew, a Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. My text that evening was Matthew 1:18-25. I wanted our students to focus on the story of Jesus' birth, without sentimentalizing the story. I focused on two key ideas. First, I wanted to share that in Jesus, we believe that God came to us in the flesh. Christians refer to this as the doctrine of the incarnation. Second, I wanted our students to see that the coming of Christ is a sign of God's loving care for us. As the angel told Joseph, the child was to be named Jesus, for he would "save his people from their sins." Even though we may face trouble, we are not without a deliverer. I did not cite Hauerwas in my talk, though some of his ideas stood in the background. I'd like to share some of what I learned.

    First, Hauerwas's commentary is unique in approach, for he takes certain assumptions to the reading of the text, foremost that Matthew means what he says and intends for his telling of the Jesus story to transform us. Hauerwas writes that we should read Matthew in a way that is determinative for us, naming realities we are invited to enter. Matthew presents Jesus in a way that gives witness to God's redemption of our world as an accomplished fact, and invites us to enter this reality as disciples of Jesus. Hauerwas states:

    For Matthew, Jesus has changed the world, requiring that our lives be changed if we are to live as people of the new creation. Accordingly, the gospel is not information that invites us to decide what we will take or leave. Our task is not to understand the story that Matthew tells in light of our understanding of the world. Rather, Matthew would have our understanding of the world fully transformed as a result of our reading of his gospel. Matthew writes so that we might become followers, be disciples, of Jesus. To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed. We should not be surprised, therefore, if the way we live makes that change visible. (25)

    Second, as an extension of this idea, Hauerwas believes that the church itself, and those persons who make up the collective, constitute a way of being in the world that makes the change God has enacted--the kingdom life--visible, tangible, and powerfully compelling. Hauerwas continues:

    A theological reading of Matthew...reaffirms that the church be an alternative politics to the politics of the world. . . this commentary is guided by the presumption that the church is the politics that determines how Matthew is to be read. That politics, moreover, is one that presumes, as the gospel of Matthew presumes, that the whole life of Jesus is to be understood as determinative for the life of the church. (29-30)

    To clarify, Hauerwas refuses to allow our reading of the birth narrative and the story of Jesus' death and resurrection as told in Matthew to squeeze out the middle years.  Notice, he says "the whole life of Jesus is to be determinative for the life of the church." Hauerwas notes that the birth narrative lends itself toward sentimentality (we know this all too well), and our focus on the cross and resurrection, though justified, leads us to wrongfully assume that the gospel of and about Jesus is solely about our deliverance from hell and our future hope of life eternal in heaven (stated differently, we in the West often employ a theology that is individualistic). A focus on "the whole life" leads us back to the teachings of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, and the significance of Jesus' healing, reconciliation, and restoration ministry, the application of which in the present leads us to a greater focus on ecclesiology (or community) and sanctification (or personal holiness). This does not mean that the significance of the incarnation is lost, nor the reality of the atonement minimized. Rather, they are magnified when seen through a wider lens, properly contextualized in a way that equips the church to live more fully in to the calling to "go and make disciples of all nations."

    Matthew's narrative is meant to determine us. We do not go to the text seeking to determine what is insightful or inspiring. Rather, we read Matthew's story as those invited to a new way of seeing through Matthew's way of saying. As we learn to tell the story Matthew tells, and come to the recognition that Matthew's story is, in fact, true, our vision is reformed, and our lives are transformed in accordance with the change God has already accomplished in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We take on a new being; we are made a "new creation." Matthew invites us in to this story in a direct and forthright address. Hauerwas writes:

    Matthew does not try to prepare us for the story of Mary by providing a transition from the genealogies to the story of Mary's pregnancy. Rather, he tells us in a straightforward, if not blunt, manner that 'the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.' Again we see that Matthew does not assume it is his task to make God's work intelligible to us, but rather his task is to show us how we can live in light of Jesus' conception and birth. (35)

    Lastly, I'll close with one more insight from Hauerwas--something I have pondered for several years. In Matthew 1:21, Joseph is told in a dream that the child to be born of Mary will, "save his people from their sins." Though we may be tempted to read this verse cosmically rather than first in its particularity, Joseph certainly understood the angel to mean the people of Israel, for it is through Israel that God had promised to bring about the salvation of the world. And if Christians today are to live most fully as the people of God, we must never forget this very fact. Hauerwas states:

    [W]hen Christians lose the significance of Mary in the economy of salvation we also risk losing our relation with the people of Israel. Jesus is born of a Jewish mother. His flesh is Jewish flesh. To be sure Jewish flesh is human, but Christians dare not forget that the flesh that is 'very man' is particularly the flesh of Mary. Matthew will not let us forget that the one born of Mary is he who has come to free Israel from its sins. Jesus is very God and very man, but that formula does not mean we can ever forget that the God he is, and the man he is, is the same God that has promised to be faithful to the people of Israel. (36)

    The nations have been engrafted in to a history, the history of God's salvation. May we be humbled by this fact, living in light of 1 Peter 2:10: "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."


    Only One Set of Footprints?

    You may be familiar with the poem, "Footprints in the Sand."  You may also be familiar with Star Wars.  Put the two together, you get this:

    HT: Jenny Faber


    Awesome Sketches of Jesus in the Wilderness

    A perfect video for the 40 days of Lent.


    Does Ignoring Jesus Equal Choosing Hell?

    I put this photo up on my Twitter feed on Saturday:

    Anyone care to comment?