The Holy Conjunction

Broken chain

“And”

…One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22

In my lifetime, I have been blessed to hear or learn under several noted Christian teachers. The one lesson, which has made the most difference, is centered on the word “and.” D. Elton Trueblood called this “the holy conjunction.” He emphasized this in key areas like Christ’s humanity and divinity; roots and fruits; the inner life of devotion and the outer life of service.

From the beginning of the Church, there were always those who failed in the struggle to hold these key essentials together. We see this in John’s first epistle. The church to which he wrote had divided. Under the strong influence of the spirit of the times, some Christians rejected the idea that the Messiah came in flesh and blood. They saw the world through dualistic lenses: In its essence, matter (e.g. flesh; that which is created) was evil; spirit was good.

One such contemporary of John’s was Cerinthus who distinguished between Jesus, the man of flesh and blood, and the Christ, the spiritual being who, he claimed, descended upon Jesus at his baptism and departed before the crucifixion. Cerinthus’ dualistic view did not allow suffering for spiritual beings….

When Jesus was asked which was the foremost commandment, he replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

“…And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”(Matt. 22:37, 39).

Again, we have the holy conjunction–“and.” To claim to love God but to not love our neighbor, or to try to get around Jesus description of a neighbor as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is to enter into a sort of heresy.

First John states it thus: “He who says, ‘I know him’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him…

“He who says he is in the light [divine], and hates his brother [flesh], is in the darkness until now” (2:4, 9). (Keep in mind the dualistic view of those like Cerinthus.)

Love of God and love of neighbor make up the whole counsel of God, so that Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).

We need to keep alert here and heed a warning: while “and” holds together different aspects within Christian teaching, we need to beware that it can become the “unholy conjunction” when we try to combine Christian and non-Christian worldviews. C. S. Lewis illustrated this through the mouth of his diabolical character, Screwtape. In Letter XXV to his underling demon, Screwtape advises Wormwood about his strategy which he has devised against Christians:

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must Be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies.2

From Introduction to Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies

Fr. Ted’s Blog: Parable of the Sower

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“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Fr. Ted’s Blog Post Here

 

 

Of Lawyers, Language, and Learning

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And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Luke 10 ESV

From the Kings James Version till today’s English Standard Version, the common translation of “lawyer” has been used for nomikos (“according to the law” Kittel). In King James’ day, Christians understood what that meant. Today, most Christians are clueless. We must not neglect the details.

Other versions, like the NIV, have helped some with “expert in the law.” But the unknown in most minds today, is ‘to what does “law” [nomos] refer?’ “It normally denotes the Pentateuch.”–Kittel

Thus, Jesus’ interrogator was one “learned in the Law” of Moses. Then, we come to two of the major characters of the parable, the priest and the Levite. We are, now, set up for the shock (in Jesus’ day) of the despised Samaritan.

The Publican: Only Half a Surprise

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The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”–Luke 18, ESV

The Publican: Only Half a Surprise

Tax collectors may well be universal objects of man’s resentment.  But we miss the full surprise in this parable if we have little knowledge about the culture of Palestine in Jesus’ day.

To the devout Jew, the Jewish tax collector was a traitor, being hated as one who worked for the occupation force of a pagan power, Rome.  In rabbinic literature “hatred was to be extended even to the family of the tax collector” (ISBE).

[This also gives us insight into the trap the Pharisees laid for Jesus in asking him whether or not to pay tribute (taxes) to Caesar.  Read more about the times and context of taxes a la Romans 13.]

Also, because of their work with Gentiles, they were ritually unclean.

Hence, in the above text, we read what the ISBE calls the “superlative parable of grace.”  And in Luke 19, we meet a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus (whose Jewish name means pure, righteous) in a real-life story of “surprising grace” for those in need of the Physician Jesus.

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Parables: Surprise and the American Mind

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The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

16 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Luke 16, ESV

Sometimes, we miss the surprise in a parable simply because we do not know the Bible well–take the example of The Good Samaritan. See the previous post (below).

Other times, we let the surprise distract us from the point.

As in the passage above, for decades I have heard Christians exclaim, ‘What?! The master praised this servant???”

(Perhaps our American focus on our own possessions contributes to missing the point.  Another factor can be a technical mindset that insists on deciphering every detail, cf parable of the mustard seed)

Often, a parable has a single point and Jesus drives it home in verse 9. We may miss the word play in our modern versions–“mammon (wealth) of unrighteousness” plays off the “steward of unrighteousness” in verse 8.

In the light of God’s eternal realm, we are to share passing wealth to aid those in need, now.*

“It [worldly wealth] is to be used to win friends, no doubt by almsgiving….the giving of alms is a testimony to the reality of discipleship and self-denial…” I. Howard Marshall, NIGTC

*Another irony–while the unrighteous steward made friends with those who had wealth for this life, we are to “make friends” of the poor with eternal life in mind.

The Scandal of the Samaritan

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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Luke 10 (ESV)

The shock of Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan no longer makes its true impact on many Christians. In our day of biblical illiteracy, we often have little or no idea about the setting. And the fitting title, by which this parable is well-known, may obscure the fact that this would have been scandalous to the ears of the listeners.

 If we remember the woman at the well (John 4) we have a clue about a Samaritan’s standing in that day when she asks Jesus, “How is that you, being a Jew, ask me a drink since I am a Samaritan woman? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” [v.9]

And we are given a key detail by this woman about one of the factors of this division in verse 20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

 ‘This mountain’ was Mt. Gerizim where a temple to Yahweh was built in the 4th century B.C. by the Samaritans. For the Jew, the only true temple of worship was in Jerusalem.

The key factor in their division was ancestry. The Samaritans viewed themselves as descendents of the Northern Tribes of Israel.  We hear this in the woman’s words, “our father Jacob” (v. 12).

 But the Jews viewed them as unclean foreigners. This went back in history to Asyyria’s conquest of the Northern Kingdom. When one nation conquered another, it was often the policy to re-settle the conquered land with other peoples (see 2 Kings 17:24 re: Samaria). This also resulted in inter-marriage with any remaining tribes of the original people.

 Thus, when Jesus spoke of the priest and Levite and Samaritan, and asked which did the will of God, it was a real shocker. These two Jews, called by God for service to him, a priest and a Levite, disobeyed God’s command.

 Like the injured man, the priest was coming down from Jerusalem, the center of worship. “He would be returning from a period of duty in the temple to his home in the country (cf. 1:23), for Jericho was one of the principal country residences for priests.” [NIGTC, Marshall]

But it was the despised Samaritan who loved this injured man as himself, thus fulfilling the command of God. And it was the loving acts of this Samaritan of which Jesus spoke when he told the devout Jewish questioner, “You go, and do likewise.”

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A Mustard Seed

During Lent, I began reading the Gospel of Mark. The beginning chapters brought to mind an old, distorted view of Holy Scripture that can cause confusion for some. This is another failure to understand context. This troubles some modern, technical minds. We all find it hard to make the paradigm shift to appreciate the Semitic mind.

The problem: “a mustard seed which…is smaller than all seeds on earth…”

This tiny seed is less than half the size of a poppy seed. Still, a botanist or flower gardener can show us smaller seeds, but that is entirely irrelevant. Jesus is not speaking as a botanist. He tells us at the start (Mark 4:30) that this is a parable. In parables we find hyperbole, e.g. the camel (or rope?) that cannot pass through the eye of a sewing needle [forget the ‘urban legend’ of the gate] but may be swallowed instead of a gnat!

Understanding context keeps us from focusing on gnats.

For the technical mind, “all” must mean “all.” But for the literary mind of the writer, it is a device to convey the point, as in the opening of Mark: “Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him [John] and were all baptized…”

No one thinks that if we had the exact census numbers for Judea and Jerusalem of that day, that they would equal the number of all those  who went out to hear John or the number of baptisms.

Back to the mustard seed, this extended simile, a parable, makes a vivid point. And the Jewish proverb (Plummer), “Small as a mustard-seed,” is used by Jesus in comparison with the resulting bush to emphasize “the sheer miracle of the growth of the Kingdom” (Albright).