Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jesus and the First Person Singular

In a Sunday morning class, we were watching a Fr. Robert Barron video in which he talked about the modern tendency to trivialize Jesus as a very smart and very nice guy with a good philosophy of life and lots of interesting stories. The fact is, he said, that Jesus was an unusual and disturbing person who challenged those around him and created a lot of discomfort.

He mentioned the question Jesus asked of his disciples, “Who do the people say I am?” and suggested that great teachers and spiritual leaders, Deepak Chopra, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, for example would explain a way of thinking and living but would not be concerned about who people thought they were. I could add Tony Robbins, Zig Ziegler, T. D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dale Carnegie, and Norman Vincent Peale to his list of folks who wanted or want to show us a different way (some perhaps making a lot of money in the process) but don’t express concern about who people think they are and don’t use a lot of first person singular pronouns.

It made me think about the extensive use of the first person singular by Jesus. Here are some examples:

"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." - Matthew 4:19

 But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."  - Matthew 8:22

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. - Matthew 9:9

"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” - Matthew 10:32  

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  - Matthew 10:37-40  

 “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” -Matthew 11:29

 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” - Matthew 12:30  

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” - Matthew 16:24
Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” - Matthew 18:5 

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." - Matthew 18:20

Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." - Matthew 19:21
 “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  - Mark 1:1

Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?"  Jesus said, "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'"  - Mark 14:61-62

Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” - Luke 13:32  

"I am he (Messiah), the one who is speaking to you." - John 4:26
"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” -  John 6:35
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." - John 8:12
He said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” -  John 8:23
Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." - John 8:58

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” -  John 10:9 

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” -  John 10:11
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” - John 10:27

"I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” - John 11:25
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” - John 14:6 

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – John 14:15

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” – John 15:1  

Christians read the words “I am,” the most fundamental first person singular declaration, coming from Jesus, especially in John 8:58 above, as hearkening back to the words of God when Moses encountered him in the burning bush in Exodus 3 and, upon being challenged to step up and lead the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, asked God who he should say told him to do such a foolish thing. God replied, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Jesus was certainly loving in his encounters with many people but doesn’t seem to have been a “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” as suggested by a once popular hymn (based probably on Matthew 11:29 minus the “yoke” issue) except perhaps in his dealings with children. With followers and potential followers, he was confident and direct with such imperatives as, “…sin no more,” “sell your possessions,” and “keep my commandments.” His teaching challenges us to focus our own use of the first person singular to statements such as, “I believe,” “I confess,” “I pray,” “I forgive,” “I love,” and “I will.”

We may be in danger of trivializing Jesus by asking a subjective question such as “What would Jesus do?” Often what he did was heal people, cast out demons, or perform other miracles, make outrageous claims or demands on his followers, or tell wise and provocative stories. Those are not things we do very well. It may be more helpful in our spiritual journeys to first ask, “What did Jesus say?” and “What did Jesus do?” Then we can focus on what we will say and do in response.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Church and State, Christianity and Islam, Good News, Bad News, and No News

This week there is a report of the beheading of four teenage Christians in Iraq because of their refusal to convert to Islam. I am willing to concede that Islam may be, or may at least become, a religion of peace if it is stripped of and separated from any political or state power, but that is not the current situation. Alignment of church and state is always tragic, and Christianity also has suffered many shameful failings when established as the official religion and sanctioned by the state.

We are still trying to overcome the residual effects of the Emperor Theodosius's A.D. 380 decision, expressed in the Edict of Thessalonica, to make Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. How much better it would have been had he simply expanded the concept of freedom of religion begun by Constantine sixty seven years earlier in the Edict of Milan. He should have stayed on "the right side of history" and left such theological endorsements entirely up to the Church. Had he done so, the infamous Crusades would have rightly been seen as struggles for religious freedom rather than as Christian vs. Muslim.

I suppose Mr. Ron Prosor, who explained the current persecution and extermination of Christians in the Middle East in an April 16, 2014, WSJ Editorial, must have no credibility and shares that problem with Canon Andrew White who reported the beheadings. I know of no other explanation for the failure of ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN to report daily on this horrible activity. Such stories could displace at least  the regular Kardashian reports.

Last evening Brian Williams chose to dedicate part of his precious twenty two minutes to a bit of fluff about some new study which concluded that men are idiots and do stupid things. He missed a perfect opportunity to point to the current situation in the Middle East, including our role in it, as obvious proof of the hypothesis.

As the suffering and death go on, we can and must give thanks to God daily for the separation of church and state and freedom of religion we enjoy in the United States of America. Such freedom was not a sure thing and was not present in early settlements here. We can thank God for leadership of such as Roger Williams for avoidance of establishment of just another theocracy here in the "Land of the Free." Let us exercise that freedom and defend it from every encroachment, even as we remember that it is "freedom of" and not "freedom from" religion that we are guaranteed.

As a reminder of early American history, here is a picture I took earlier this week of an explanation posted in The Museum of Charleston, Charleston, SC.