Honour and Violence

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6On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.  Luke 6:6-11

Jesus did not compel all He met to honour Him as Lord of the Sabbath. However, He would not be denied. With or without honour the mission of establishing His kingdom would go on. He did not allow this man with a withered right hand to remain in his corner of shame to be used by those who sought to accuse Jesus of wrong-doing. With only a functional left hand this man was caught in a perpetual state of uncleanness and social estrangement. And now he was being used as bait.

Jesus called the man up and healed him. “Stretch out your hand.” In that moment Jesus disrespected the sacred conventions of the religious; and by extension he was a threat. If an honour deficit is allowed to rule the heart, the heart always moves towards fury and violence.

But, Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, more than covers the shame of honour deficits. The One who healed in the moment He said, “Stretch out your hand,” stretched out His own hands on a cross and carried our shame, our honour deficits, for our healing.

“22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:22-25


Spiritual, Not Religious and Stupid, Selfish & Unhappy?

David Webster, author of Dispirited:  How Contemporary Spirituality Makes us Stupid, Selfish, and Unhappy, comments on the self-identification trend of “spiritual, not religious.”  While not a particularly religious person himself, he believes spirituality that is not grounded in a view of reality and practice actually contributes to a toxic kind of spirituality.  Here’s more from a recent interview:

That the idea of being “spiritual, but not religious” is, at the very least, problematic. As I suggest in the book, mind-body-spirit spirituality is in danger of making us stupid, selfish, and unhappy.

Stupid—because its open-ended, inclusive and non-judgemental attitude to truth-claims actually becomes an obstacle to the combative, argumentative process whereby we discern sense from nonsense. To treat all claims as equivalent, as valid perspectives on an unsayable ultimate reality, is not to really take any of them seriously. It promotes a shallow, surface approach, whereby the work of discrimination, of testing claims against each other, and our experience in the light of method, is cast aside in favour of a lazy, bargain-basement-postmodernist relativism.

Selfish—because the ‘inner-turn’ drives us away from concerns with the material; so much so that being preoccupied with worldly matters is somehow portrayed as tawdry or shallow. It’s no accident that we see the wealthy and celebrities drawn to this very capitalist form of religion: most of the world realizes that material concerns do matter. I don’t believe that we find ourselves and meaning via an inner journey. I’m not even sure I know what it means. While of course there is course for introspection and self-examination, this, I argue, has to be in a context of concrete social realities.

Finally, I argue that the dissembling regarding death in most contemporary spirituality—the refusal to face it as the total absolute annihilation of the person and all about them—leaves it ill-equipped to help us truly engage with the existential reality of our own mortality and finitude. In much contemporary spirituality there is an insistence of survival (and a matching vagueness about its form) whenever death is discussed. I argue that any denial of death (and I look at the longevity movements briefly too) is an obstacle to a full, rich life, with emotional integrity. Death is the thing to be faced if we are to really live. Spirituality seems to me to be a consolation that refuses this challenge, rather seeking to hide in the only-half-believed reassurances of ‘spirit’, ‘energy’, previous lives, and ‘soul’.

Read the whole interview at Religion Dispatches.


i’m not religious, but I’m still pretty good

I call this the PG effect.  I’m pretty good, I don’t need God.  But even when I hear it with emphatic vigor, I still hear a question behind it.  The speaker is seeking affirmation from themselves and perhaps also from others.  They have to seek it from others, because it is a statement of comparison.  As long as I can find someone else who is “worse” than me, my self-righteousness is intact.  This kind of living may be fun for a while but it seems to me to be tedious, and ultimately leads to a callous heart; the PG effect depends on denial.

When people do good things, live well, or demonstrate good character it does not invalidate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel of Jesus–that faith in Jesus ushers us into the love of God and empowers us to live responsive and obedient to our Creator–does not operate ultimately in the realm of our goodness.  The Gospel operates in the realm of God’s goodness and our response to Him.  People doing good is part of the common grace of God.  James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17)  In the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul identifies those who might be called good among both the Jews and the Gentiles.  He seeks to establish that God is just when He judges anyone–whether they had the testimony of the Law of Moses or not.

Perfect goodness, Paul argues eludes every person.  The Jews who had the tradition of the Law might claim goodness or righteousness because they had it and the Gentiles did not.  But goodness could only be established by obeying the Law perfectly.  The Gentiles who did not have the Law might claim goodness because they “obeyed” the Law without having it around to guide them.  And here it gets really interesting to me.  In fact Paul argues that the Gentiles do have a “law;”  they have their conscience.  “When Gentiles, who do not have the law do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them”  (Romans 2:14-15)  So I have to ask, “Have you ever violated your conscience?”  “Did you go against your internal compass of what was right or wrong?”  And the honest answer is that we have each felt the pain one time or another of going against our conscience.

I have met some very principled people, who rejected God, but lived close to their conscience.  Yet the PG effect is still in place.  To establish their own goodness they have to look around and compare.  God is comparing too, but not to other people; He is comparing, examening through Jesus Christ.  The Scripture says, “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).  The PG effect is established only through self-righteousness.  And against the goodness of Jesus Christ I am seriously lacking.

The good news is that I can change plans through faith in Christ.  I can get off the plan of my own goodness and accept the plan of faith in Jesus’ goodness, grace, and power.  This capitulation to Jesus as Savour and Lord as the only One who is good may seem costly.  (See the story of this young man who came to Jesus with a questions about goodness and eternal life in Luke 18:18-30)  But what good is it to gain the world and yet forfeit your soul?

Heavenly Father, I reject my pride that rests on my efforts to be pretty good and the examination of the failings of others.  Forgive me for rejecting you.  You alone are good.  I receive Jesus as the only One who can establish me in your grace and set me into a new life of knowing You and responding to You.  Fill me with your Holy Spirit and empower me to live by faith.  I am so thankful to be freed from the aweful paradigm of “good enough.”  I rest in the acceptance of Jesus Christ.  Help me to extend this grace to others, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.