This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What the Bible Means.

We have in the Bible a handbook for liberation, both of human beings and of communities.    
Christians read the Bible through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word and Wisdom of God (Luke 2:40, 52), through whom all things were made (John 1:3).  If the Bible seems to tell us something in contradiction to what we know about Jesus, then we’re reading it wrong.  He is the touchstone, litmus test, filter, and indicator of Holy Scripture.  Scripture is the Word of God because, and when, it witnesses to Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ life culminates in his crucifixion and resurrection.  In the Roman Empire, crucifixion was reserved exclusively for political offenses: sedition, rebellion, insurrection, and disloyalty to the rulers.  So a faith that actually worships a crucified Palestinian Jew, proclaiming that he did not stay dead but now is alive in a form in which he is beyond Rome’s power, and that he grants that new life to his disciples, is inherently and essentially subversive.  The opposition to all tyranny, or entrenched, consolidated power, is therefore the very core of the Christian message, and it is the main interpretive lens through which we view Scripture.
At the same time, the cross stands for a profound personal and spiritual redemption.  It means we realize our true Selves in union with God by giving up our old, enslaved, ego-centric, false selves.  We do this symbolically in baptism and actually by the life of metanoia/repentance, turning our wills over to Jesus Christ.  The root cause of bad social systems is the tyranny of our unbridled ego, and the fear it spawns in our hearts.       
When you pick up a Bible you have in your hands the key to the emancipation of both yourself and the global community.  We have no more comprehensive and condemning critique of the accumulation of wealth and the concentration of power, in the society and soul, than the Bible. 

1.  The New Testament.

The New Testament tells of Jesus Christ, God’s self-emptying love poured out for creation and people (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11).  
  1. The gospels reveal Jesus as a counter-cultural figure who comes into the world to overturn the prevailing social and spiritual order.  Mary’s hymn says this quite brazenly (Luke 1:46-55).  Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth is also unambiguous about social reversal (Luke 4:18-19).  His teachings on wealth and power are clear and consistent (Luke 6:20-26, etc., etc.).  During his lifetime, people know Jesus primarily as a libertine healer (Matthew 11:4-6, etc.).  The main point of his ministry, as he states in Mark 1:15, is the realization of the Kingdom of God, which is at once a way of living together in community, and an opening to eternal life.
  2. The rest of the New Testament interprets theologically the meaning of Christ and shows the development of new communities of unity, peace, justice, equality, repentance, and healing in a violent and oppressive world.  It concludes with the Book of Revelation, the ultimate anti-imperialist tract, showing the inevitable implosion of human idolatry and violence, and the triumph of life and shalom as God’s ultimate purpose.
In its revelation of the reality at the heart of everything, Jesus, and therefore the whole of Scripture, is inherently, necessarily, and inevitably apocalyptic.

2.  The Hebrew Scriptures.
  1. Starting with Exodus, the Bible is the story of a band of former slaves, liberated by God from bondage under the greatest empire of the day: Egypt.  The Bible is therefore always written by and for the people at the bottom.  The protagonists are always the losers, the weak, the victims, the outcasts, and the workers.  Here we see the recurring pattern: idolatry leads to injustice which leads to disaster, political, economic, or ecological.  The plagues sent against Pharaoh show God’s creation rebelling against the corrupt and violent human empire.
  2. The “prequel” of Genesis sets the stage by first contradicting the creation myth of another reigning empire — Babylon — and tells the story of a nomadic family.  
  3. The rest of the Torah prescribes a basically leaderless, tribal order where power is diffused and distributed.  There is no king except God, who gives laws to prevent the rise of new Pharaohs.  The economy is regulated to counteract the accumulation of wealth through sabbath and jubilee rules (Leviticus 25).  The priests are not a privileged class, but intentionally landless (Numbers 18:20-24).
  4. The “conquest” of Canaan is an uprising against the oppressive power of elites in city-states.  Judges are charismatic chiefs emerging to deal with specific crises.  Power in Israel is moral and spiritual, ministerial and declarative, and, in its exercise of justice, deeply communal.  
  5. The descent into monarchy is a decidedly retrograde development.  The text hammers king after king for basically imitating Pharaoh and, because of idolatry and injustice, drawing down disaster on the people.  Israel and Judah remain small, client states repeatedly overrun by the armies of powerful empires.  Eventually Israel is destroyed, and Judah is sent into exile, where they develop institutions of resistance.
  6. The prophets preach social justice and reversal.  They oppose the idolatry of State economic-growth deities like Baal, and sharply criticize the injustices perpetrated by the kings and ruling class.  They warn of consequent disasters, and often predict God’s ultimate triumph.
  7. The Psalms can read like complaints of lynching victims.  In all they lift up the glory of God above all human achievements, values, structures, systems, and leaders.  The Psalms redeem the spectrum of human emotion, identifying us with suffering humanity and affirming the healing, liberating God. 
  8. Finally, in the Wisdom books, we see God’s Spirit infusing human hearts, revealing God’s indwelling Presence, offering insights into both practical living (Matthew 11:19) and God’s maternal affection as the force binding and uniting all things.  Wisdom (Greek- Sophia, Hebrew- Hokma), Spirit (Hebrew- Ruach), and Presence (Hebrew- Shekinah) all disclose the feminine dimensions of God, so often suppressed by male rulers.  Wisdom shows us that we already have what we need.  We have no need of leaders, authorities, ruling classes, masters, owners, kings, or strong men.  (Indeed, we find the fullest manifestation of Wisdom in Mary, whose perfect submission gives birth in the world to God.)   
So the Bible is always about redemption and liberation.  On the one hand, it means our rejection of ego-centric, violent, hoarding and perpetration of wealth, privilege, and power, and on the other hand it means our participation in God’s self-emptying love poured into creation.  The Bible reveals that the meaning, goal, and purpose of life is Jesus Christ, who is God’s love shining in the heart of all things.


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