Posts by MLS

lovers of spirituality and the Bible from plural perspectives

Bread, Freedom, or a Kiss: John 6 / Grand Inquisitor

j6hj3k43Hello Lightworkers,

This post is for our Gospel of John study #35 (see the text reproduced below– all the way below the second picture):

The Grand Inquisitor, in Dostoyevsky’s parable, asks Jesus to justify his claims to freedom and his refusal of Satan’s offer. Satan offers Jesus the chance to prove his abilities, in turning  stones into bread. In Dostoyevsky’s episode, the character Ivan (who speaks for the Grand Inquisitor) argues that the ability to feed the multitudes is the basis for both political and religious authority. Human beings require to have their stomachs filled and where one aches in hunger, freedom will count as whatever thing may appease one’s appetites and guarantee one’s survival. Thus, if Jesus had wanted a popular following, he should rightly have accepted the Devil’s suggestion, to turn stones into bread.

In John 6, while Jesus does perform a miracle of feeding, he refuses to become a political king on this basis; even though the crowds wish to make him a king, Jesus escapes from their grasp.  In effect, Jesus dissents from the Grand Inquisitor’s worldview (as spoken by Ivan) and from seizing for himself spiritual authority on the basis of an economic and political platform.

In what does freedom consist? And must our survival be assured (our material needs satisfied) before freedom can be enjoyed? Dostoyevsky provides an answer which bypasses this alternative: a Kiss (this will be explained below).

In John 6, Jesus continues his miracles by feeding the five thousand (John 6:1-15). The feeding of the five thousand occurs in all four gospels. John interprets this miracle as a sign to the crowds that Jesus is King. Jesus is the long awaited “prophet like Moses,” who was expected to become King, while doing miracles reminiscent of a legendary time in Israel’s history. Just as God fed the people in the wilderness with manna, so Jesus will do so with bread. Yet, if the crowds expect Jesus to be King, it is a role that Jesus refuses: John 6:15 “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

In this historical period, while Israel rose up against Rome, the imperial overlord, a number of leaders performed miracles, while claiming to be prophets and kings. One may read about such movements in the works of Richard Horsley here: Bandits, Prophets, Messiahs. Significant for John is that Jesus refuses the role of popular political leader or king.

Later in this chapter, Jesus will make the baffling claim that unlike Moses, he does not merely feed people with bread. Rather Jesus is himself the Bread given for the world, John 6:35 “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”. We will discuss this saying further in the next post of our Gospel of John study series.

Jesus’s refusal may be elucidated then by the Grand Inquisitor episode in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Here is the audio book version: Audio Book: Grand Inquisitor . Here is the full text of the episode: Text Grand Inquisitor Episode and here: Grand Inquisitor.

In this episode, Ivan claims that if Jesus were to return, he would be arrested by the Church and prosecuted by the Inquisition, specifically for his refusal of Satan, when Satan challenges him to turn stone in to bread. Ivan’s challenge pertains also to John 6:15, where Jesus refuses to become an earthly King, whose job is to feed and improve the material conditions of people’s lives.

The masses, Jesus says, require a political ruler who will give bread to eat. Virtue and freedom lack utility and have no substance, when economic conditions are unstable.  Regarding Jesus’s claim to provide the bread of heaven rather than earthly bread,  Ivan says: “And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly?”

Ivan’s question is alive in our own day: how may we live in freedom, if our basic needs are not supplied? Shouldn’t bread come first and our needs be satisfied? Before freedom can be genuinely claimed and lived?

The response of Christ to Ivan’s challenge in this episode mirrors the response of his brother, Aloysha, who is a disciple of Jesus Christ, and it echoes a scene earlier in  the book, where the monk Zosima’s gesture to their brother Demitri, by bowing before him. Jesus responds with a kiss, which reverses the kiss of Judas, from the Gospels. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, kisses Jesus to reveal his identity to the arresting party. He trades Jesus away for money. It is Judas who has argued that the perfume, which Mary squanders by anointing the feet of Jesus, ought to be sold and donated to the poor. Judas puts material needs above the intrinsic dignity of life itself.

Christ’s kiss in Dostoyevsky’s story does the opposite. This kiss affirms the intrinsic dignity of life and the human being. Each of us is beloved. Our beloved stature before God, not bread alone, gives us our freedom.

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Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss

John 6  (NIV) Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

True Friendship

 

Jonathan David WL by Goetz

David and Jonathan

Gospel of John : #34

Friendship is a theme in the Gospel of John (John 15:15-16), so here is post on the theme of friendship.

Friendship involves: promises, commitment, imagining a life together, taking on the burdens of your friend as your own, not only wishing but also working together for the best. If we remain superficially acquainted, we are never obliged to anybody nor do we ever grow and change through the power and possibility of love.

BE SURE TO CLICK THE LINKS (BELOW).

1. Here’s Montaigne on Friendship:

Michel de Montaigne on Friendship (1580)

2. Seth Godin on Friendship: a thought-provoking idea

Seth Godin on Faux Intimacy

3. David and Jonathan on friendship:

Jonathan and David on Friendship

And also see:Article David and Jonathan

Note the conclusion: “Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.”

4. Ruth and Naomi

Book of Ruth

Ruth and Naomi: One Perspective on their Friendship

5. Male- Female Friendships

6. Friendship between Men

7.  Friendship Between Women

Miracles: illusion or promise?

Hello Lightworkers, and people who see the miraculous in all of Life:

From the early days, Christianity has spread through miracles. Miracle and healing are claimed by old-time Pentecostal revivalists like Kathryn Kuhlman and her contemporary disciple, Benny Hinn.

Yet, some disabled people, and others who suffer devastating challenges, say they have been left in the lurch by their churches thanks to an illusory promise of miracles. The real grace of the miraculous enters into one’s life, these people say, when we embrace our limitations rather than wishing or praying them away.

Or: could it be that once we embrace our limitations, we may surpass them — so that the miracle unfolds in its own time, rather than being an instantaneous occurrence?

What’s your opinion on miracles in this regard?

  1. Here’s Kathryn Kuhlman on Miracles:

Excellent article on Kuhlman: Kuhlman Article

2. Here’s an article about Benny Hinn, which is somewhat skeptical: Benny Hinn article

And here’s an article about another miracle worker, which raises questions about miracles in the life of faith: :On Miracle vs Disability

3. See the work of Shane Clifton: Article: Shane Clifton   and the longer piece: “The Dark Side of Prayer for Healing: Toward, a Theology o f Well-Being,” by Shane Clifton; Alphacrucis College, Sydney, Australia : [article can be obtained through public library article database] — Clifton argues, on behalf of disabled people, for a theology of wellness rather than an illusory promise of miracle.

Here’s a Youtube video about disability, according to a spirituality which says that strength is made perfect in weakness: Zoe Heming: I love my disabled body

Passionate Conversion: Demons or foreign gods? Lam Jeevaratnam: Christian holy man and exorcist from India (1892-1960)

JeeveratnamAd1

As a young man and entertainer before his conversion

Hello All,

In this post, I address the mixed legacy of missionary Christianity. On the one hand, dramatic conversions — and a willingness to give all to God — are quite moving and exemplary. On the other hand, missionary tactics which claim Christian superiority to other religions seem  short-sighted.

So, in my fascination with multi-cultural  expressions of Christian spirituality, I offer you today some articles, revealing these two dimensions of this Indian holy man. An article — from the 1930’s — recounts Lam Jeevaratnam’s conversion.

The picture (at the side) shows Lam Jeevaratnam, while he was a young man and performer, before (as the Pentecostals say) he got “saved”.  His conversion account reveals him to be a man of courage, passion, principle, and inspiration.

Here’s the PDF:

PentEvangelIndia30s

As inspiring as is Lam Jeevaratnam’s conversion — a story of total transformation – his exorcisms sometimes sound as if they are disrespectful of gods outside of the Christian God. He exorcises people possessed of demons in India, after he converts totally to Jesus Christ. The demons who possess them are Hindu gods, in his opinion.

(OR: are they demons who pretend to be Hindu gods, causing troubles?). Even if we believe in demons and exorcisms, it is surely rash to denounce as demons gods of other religions.

Here is an excerpt about LJ’s exorcisms:  PentecostalExorcismIndia1934

These articles come courtesy of the USC Pentecostal and Evangelical Research archives. You can also find information about Lam Jeevaratnam at this website:  Biography Lam Jeevaratnam

USC Pentecostal and Evangelical Research Archives

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