Faith or positive thinking? (Miracles)

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Hi All, this post is for our Gospel of John study (#33) 

Since so much of the Gospel of John (which we’re studying) focuses on Jesus’s miracles, now is a good time to raise a question about miracles in the New Testament in general.

In the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke), miracles are often associated with faith. The petitioner has faith in God for healing or miracle and in Jesus Christ (as God’s prophet and servant). The Gospel of John carries on this relationship between faith and miracle in that miracles exhibit who Jesus is as the Son of God. The recipients recognize (i.e. have faith in) Jesus’s divine status through miracles.

The Gospel of John does not equate sickness with  sin, however– for instance, some would ascribe blindness to sin while Jesus denies such causality (John 9).

If faith has something to do with miracle and healing, what’s the connection? Is positive thinking equivalent to faith? Or is faith something else?

Positive thinking can be a beneficial practice, since life goes better when we focus on success and positive outcomes, which we can bring about through our actions. However, if positive thinking masks fear — or an unwillingness to acknowledge pain and suffering — then surely positive thinking amounts to denial (or: lying) and a lack of compassion (or: love).

Furthermore, how realistic is it to believe –given our world — that we should exert our minds to stay positive at every moment, considering that we are subject to many fearsome and unpleasant influences (e.g. in the news, our interactions, and in the rest of our lives) and since it is natural to sorrow and despair at times. If we exert ourselves to stay positive by strenuous efforts, then, in a sense, we give power to evil and negativity because our positivity can be a shield of resistance toward what we fear. The fear stays alive as we resist.

Faith is the opposite of fear. Perfect love casts out fear. So, a positivity that is based on fear can be counter-productive and the enemy of faith.

Instead, faith originates in Spirit and reverberates on the levels of mind, heart, and body.  Faith has to do with the right use of intelligence. We reason things through from a bigger perspective in order to find the best outcomes and solutions — in response to disease, disaster, devastation – and to maximize good and generous intentions.

Faith can be about emotional surrender. We recognize our sadness, negativity, and despair while surrendering it– offering it to God with devotion. Devotion reminds and assures us that God is love. We ask by devotion to experience and understand this love, which is a force of goodness despite our feelings to the contrary.

Faith manifests physically when we take steps to surpass our own limitations of body, to exercise good care for ourselves and others (in material ways), and when we keep moving forward toward our goals in the world with patience and a positive attitude.

How would it be to design a ritual for disposing of fear and strengthening faith? One can keep track of one’s fears, their patterns and their regular content. Offer your fears in a ceremony: bury them in the ground so that fear sprouts to faith or throw them in the fire, so that pain can be transmuted to enthusiasm. Cast your fears to the wind, which will carry them away. The wind represents the Spirit and the breath of life. Or take a cleansing bath to rejuvenate your heart.

 

Equal to God

Gospel of John #32  John 5:16-45

Here, in this passage, we find the basic claims about Christ made by the Gospel of John. How shall we as modern people understand these?

*First claim: Jesus is accused of making himself equal to God, which causes suspicion by the religious authorities who will arrest him for blasphemy.

*Implication: Jesus opens up a possibility for humanity, that we may also know the Spirit within ourselves, which is equal to God. How would you live according to this claim, assuming that your Spirit within comes from God and is equal to God? What kind of power does that provide for you?

**Another essential point, conveyed in the passage: our acquaintance with God entails a commitment. If we believe in God — (in the Spirit which is love, peace, and wisdom, for instance) –  then we will recognize the things of God. Jesus says in this passage that anybody who knows the scriptures (of Moses) and sees the works that Jesus performs (e.g. miracles) may attest on that basis that Jesus is sent by God.

**Implication: Who is God for you?  And what are the things of God that you recognize on that basis?  For instance, if God has touched you as a spirit of truth or freedom or healing, then do you honor that same spirit in others? The freedom, truth, and healing? If someone were to come along and claim a divine message, how would you decide its truth? What is equal to God for you?

Here’s a basic exposition of this passage.

In this passage (John 5:16-45), after Jesus heals the man at the pool of Bethsaida, an intensifying conflict is exhibited between Jesus and the authorities. It is not only because Jesus heals on the Sabbath that the religious authorities wish to arrest him but also because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (5:18) This claim to be equal to God counts as blasphemy according to the Jewish authorities.

Jesus goes on to claim that he has power to judge and to give life, just as the Father does. He also says that several testimonies prove that he embodies the spirit of God and comes from the Father: a) the testimony of John, the prophet; b) the testimony of the works of God that he does (such as healing); c) the testimony of the glory that comes from God; and d) the testimony of scriptures or the law of Moses.

The idea here is that if people have understood rightly all these testimonies, then they will recognize Jesus as sent by God.

Here’s the passage:

John 5: 16-47:  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

Testimonies About Jesus
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.

33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study[c] the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God[d]?

45 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

 

Santa Librada: Christ/Mary (boundary crosser)

Argentina Librada

Saint Librada Argentina

Hi All:

Popular devotion captures the scandal of the Cross, which mixes up boundaries between heaven and earth, male and female, and sacred and profane. This mixing up is exhibited in Saint Librada, who is popular in Argentina.

According to Marcella Althaus-Reid in Indecent Theology, “Santa Librada is worshipped as the female crucified Christ of the urban poor.” She is an ambiguous Christ/Mary: female like Mary but crucified like Christ.  Often she is portrayed as blonde, as Jesus tends to be. Thus, Mary transgresses the site of the Cross — like a female Jesus — while Jesus becomes a transvestite, adopting the garb and look of Mary, for instance by wearing a shawl and necklace– in a “pattern of divine transvest00Liberata_Santaism.” 

As a boundary crosser, “Librada’s worship originated around legal and social transgression. An old traditional prayer asks her to deliver a person from the police because she is the protector of petty thieves and bandits, who are understood in Argentinian society as thieves by necessity, not choice.” Librada, like  other Santos Bandidos (Bandit Saints), are heroes for assisting the poor to take risks for their own survival, for instance by small thievery. Thus, boundaries between virtue and vice are also blurred.

Saint Librada is not to be confused with Saint Liberata, aka Saint Wilgefortis – herself gender-transgressing. She is known as the bearded Saint. See: Paris Review: the Bearded Saint

See also: bearded woman

librada

 

 

 

Healing (the Christ within)

Gospel of John #31

Today we continue our bible study series with another healing story (John 5:1-16).  (See the text, reproduced below, at the end of this post).

The healing miracles of Jesus are prominent in the Gospel of John. They demonstrate that  the human person is essentially spiritual and always capable of renovation. An encounter with the living God brings one into dynamic harmony, which results in healing.

Notable in this healing story:

*The man at Bethsaida has been waiting for 38 years for someone to push him into the pool, so that he may be healed.

*Jesus comes and simply commands that he get up and walk and he does so. The pool’s mediation is not necessary.

*The message, here, is that the Christ-power, the life-force, is within oneself and can propel wellness and change, once it is activated. This inherent dynamism within the human being regenerates and heals.

As to the actual plot line of this healing story:

In this passage, the healing miracle, which takes place at the pool in Bethsaida, opens the section of the Gospel in which Jesus’s antagonists (the religious authorities) initiate a plot against him. Because Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and the man healed identifies Jesus as the culprit, the leaders begin to pursue and persecute him.

The story stylistically makes a contrasting pair with John 9. While the healed man in John 5 shows little recognition of Jesus’s stature as holy man — after he is healed–the man in John 9, who is cured of blindness, is willing to speak out on behalf of Jesus, proclaiming him to be the Son of Man (a title which indicates Jesus’s status as appointed by God).

Indeed, the healed man in John 5 –consciously or not– ends up betraying Jesus. This man has committed some sin (v. 15) while the man born blind in John 9 is innocent.

The man at the pool has been sick for 38 years — a number symbolic of Israel’s trials in the wilderness. His lassitude and helplessness are on display, when he complains that nobody is willing to give him a small push into the pool so that he may become well.

Jesus bypasses the healing pool. His own authority — as the fountain of life (see John 4) –surpasses all healing pools.

How does this story speak to us? The message is about fidelity and trustworthiness. Let’s say we are healed and we do receive the life for which we have yearned for a long period. Finally, we are released from captivity. If we go along forward, without blessing and thanking the source of our Life, who liberated us, shall cynicism then cause us to fall back again into a similar plight?

The man’s mind-set lacks perfect faith insofar as he resumes his physical life while compromising his moral life. He betrays Jesus, who has given him life. A healing that does not result in a changed consciousness and a moral renovation may offer a physical extension of life but the true life — in terms of one’s attitude and standing before God – can be unchanged.

“Pick up your mat and walk” : where have you been restored to life?

The Healing at the Pool: John 5: 1-15
5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.

NFL Protests and early Christian Martyrs

Hello All,

Peaceful protest, and the right to dissent, are encoded in our democratic constitution. The NFL controversies (see: NYTimes on NFL ) are sparking new debates about this freedom. Where does peaceful protest, such as the NFL players demonstrate by kneeling rather than standing during patriotic anthems, constitute a healthy freedom? Where do such gestures undermine civic unity and become disloyal or unpatriotic?

From a Christian standpoint, similar democratic rights are enshrined in early Christian accounts. The Roman governor Pliny the Younger (in 112 CE) wrote to the Roman emperor Trajan about disciplinary problems, in his territories, concerning  Christians (see: Pliny’s Letter on Christians ) who confess to being Christian. Pliny wants to know whether the mere name of Christian is sufficient to be deemed a crime or whether it is only crimes (in conjunction with this self-appellation) that may give cause for legal suspicions. The Christians are innocent in their practices (see Pliny’s description of their practices below). What then gave the Romans reason to criminalize Christianity? Such that to belong to this sect (this “superstition”) would constitute a crime?

As the martyrdom accounts show, it was the Christian refusal to offer obeisance and sacrifices to the emperor that incurred civil rebuke. Christians made peaceful protests against what they viewed as monarchic abuses in the Roman imperial regime. They offered worship to God alone not to a human ruler.

The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, a second century text, exhibits in stock scene the trial of early Christian martyrs who refused to offer obeisance or sacrifices to the emperor. (See excerpt below).

As a country, the USA was founded upon democratic protests against monarchic abuses. Surely, the people ought to exercise these freedoms, while our president could squarely confront rather than punishing such critique. Christianity was founded upon a similar right to critique authoritarian regimes while offering devotion to God alone.

From the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felictas : Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’ ‘I will not’, I retorted. ‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus. And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’ When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age. Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits.

From Pliny’s Letter: re Early Christian practices.

That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery; that they would not break their promises, or deny what was deposited with them, when it was required back again; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal, which they had left off upon that edict which I published at your command, and wherein I had forbidden any such conventicles. These examinations made me think it necessary to inquire by torments what the truth was; which I did of two servant maids, who were called Deaconesses: but still I discovered no more than that they were addicted to a bad and to an extravagant superstition.

 

 

 

 

Miracle/ Healing (and worthiness)

Gospel of John #30 : John 4:49-54

Hello All,

Today we continue our bible study series with a healing story. (See the text, reproduced below, at the end of this post). Here is a brief analysis of why self-worth and worthiness are essential to healing. In fact, what the New Testament calls “faith” can be equated, often, with our notion of worthiness, a worthiness to  stand before God.

The opposite of such faith – or worthiness – is guilt. Guilt involves the expectation of punishment. One projects upon God an image of a wrathful persecutor, who would withhold the gift of life, love, and healing, because of one’s wrong-doing.

Consider somebody you love. It is likely that your love is nourished by an assurance that with this person, you are free to be yourself. If you hold yourself back, because of guilt or shame about who you are, then you will block the love offered to you, inasmuch as you will hold back your own fullest and most natural self-expression.

Worthiness, then, – the conviction that you, indeed, are good enough to reveal who you are and to be loved for who you are – has a great deal to do with one’s capacity for love — both in receiving and giving.

One may glimpse this definition of faith, as a kind of worthiness, in the religious autobiography of Martin Luther, the religious reformer. In his early years, while undergoing grueling spiritual exercises as a Catholic monk (by fasting, prayer, and asceticism), Luther continued to feel hounded by guilt, low self-worth, and by the angry face of God. He commented, “When it is touched by this passing inundation of the eternal, the soul feels and drinks nothing but eternal punishment.” : Martin Luther Article

Later he realized that righteous and good people can never reach God by spiritual exercises on their own. Instead, the faith is a gift from God, available to those of good and righteous intention. He commented, “Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

My purpose is not to advance a Lutheran interpretation of this biblical passage. In our own day, the doctrine of “by faith alone” (sola fides) can sometimes be just as tormenting as a religious exercises and penances had been in an earlier day. People may question themselves, “Am I REALLY full of faith? Do I really believe? Have I made the required confessions?”  Such self-doubt – and quibbles – land us into at least a diluted form of guilt and unworthiness.

Instead, let’s try it this way. Unload anything from your conscience that you need to unload. Make amends. Forgive. Give love. Then reach up to the sky, and declare, “I am worthy of Life! I am worthy of Love. I am willing to receive!”

This receptivity to life, the divine life, heals.

50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way.

Question: Where can you open your heart a little more in order to receive and be worthy of all that Life has for you?

John 4:49-54

49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live”; and he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.