Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Jesus redefines humility.

Lectionary passages for March 29, Palm Sunday.Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11

I'm on a learning curve, except it isn't a curve. I have to learn how to market a book that I've just self published and I know nothing about sales. My "learning curve" is a perpendicular line!

Part of the problem is this weird thing called humility. As a Canadian, a community minded person, and a Mennonite, I've grown up with the idea that "blowing your own horn" or showing pride in your work was always negative. Being humble was equated with being quiet, self-less, and background. Well, quiet and background isn't going to sell enough books for me to break even on this rather large investment!

I think my understanding, my definition of humility, is at fault.

The story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem helps to define humbleness. Here is a man who is God's son. The crowds are ready to proclaim him Messiah. When Jesus enters town, he does so on a colt that he has "commandeered", a prerogative of kings. (Kings ride animals that they have exclusive use of....hence Jesus is described as riding a colt that had never been ridden.) Being entitled to take it doesn't strike me as particularly "humble". It's also not particularly humble that he accepts the accolades of the crowd, rides in across their cloaks, and accepts the Hosannas and the invocation of the revered King David's name and the declaration that he rides in the name of the Lord! (Just in case you think-oh, but riding on a donkey is humble-the gospel of Mark only says colt. This might be a horse! The donkey image comes from the gospels of Matthew and John both of which were written later than Mark.They pull the donkey image from Zechariah 9:9, but Mark does not do this. So....likely it was a donkey, but if we want to stick just with Mark's account, it could be a horse!)

The humble thing isn't so much how Jesus acts. The humble part is why he acts, his motivation. He knows that he is riding toward his death (Mark 10:32-45). What Jesus does is not in his own interest, but to better the lives of others. "For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

In Philippians, Paul is putting the Jesus kind of humility into practice in the life of the church. There is evidence that the Philippians are experiencing conflict in their fellowship. There is dissension between two faithful women (4:2-3), wrong-headed preaching that tries to reinstate old ways (3:1-6), and possibly frustration with Paul's leadership (evidenced by his strident calls for unity-see Fred Craddock, Interpretation, p. 35) Into the turmoil, Paul speaks humble words. "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves." He goes on to remind the church of the example of service set by Christ. They are to think of each other and their witness, not their own ambition or preferences.

Humility is the honest attempt to see something from the other's point of view, to think about the greater good of the whole instead of the desires of the individual.

I wonder what might happen if, in a church meeting where there are disagreements, if everyone attempted to argue from the point of view of someone they differed from? Would we gain in understanding? In humbleness? In gentleness?

Humility, in these passages, isn't about meekness, or quietness, or being in the background. It is all about concern for the other. Jesus was able to do this all the way to the cross. His gentleness and humility wasn't reciprocated, but he ended up doing what was to the greater good of us all. He set an example, a difficult example, that just might be a way to get through some of the problems that individualistic thinking creates!

How does all of this help me sell books? Well, it doesn't. It does, however, help me to rethink the definition of humility!

PS. By the way, if you're looking for a great children's book that subtly retells the Christmas story through some kids, a stray kitten, and a man who needs to connect with his community, I will humbly share "Thirty Bucks" with you! (And the pictures are fantastic!) You can see the book online at the Friesen's Press website under 'bookstore.'

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Funky Tattoo art in the Old Testament

Lectionary for March 22, 2015. Jeremiah 31:31-34, psalm 51:1-12, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

Hello! I've been away from the blog...but not away from reading the scriptures for each week. There's been some good stuff, and some good intentions on my part to write about it! There's just been too much "life" happening (as well as a short holiday) so I couldn't sit down to write. None of this is an excuse, it just is the way it is right now.

I'm intrigued by Jeremiah. The old covenant, the one written on stones and given to Moses, has been broken over and over by God's people. Instead of coming down hard on them, God rewrites the contract, changes the media. Instead of writing it on stone and having God's words kept in the Ark and accessed by priests, God make a copy available to each person by writing it on them. (Wow, funky Tattoo art in the Old Testament!)

I think the reasoning behind this change is a bit like choosing a drinking glass for a child. You only let a child break the real glass once or twice before deciding they need the unbreakable plastic kind! This is God's version of the plastic cup for Her children!

The new covenant is written on hearts. In that time, the heart was understood to be the core of your whole being, body, mind, and spirit. (Not primarily a symbol of emotion).  This is a double-edged gift. In one way, it is freeing. Each person is obviously capable of making right choices based on the covenant that is part of them. They no longer have to have access to a priest to be a part of the covenant. This isn't saying that the priests lose all importance. My understanding is just that the people are now given personal responsibility as well. They can not only rely on the officials.

The other edge of this is rather sobering. If the new covenant is written on hearts, it cannot be broken unless we tear out a part of ourselves-and it's not like losing an appendix! How would you ever remove something tattooed onto your heart?

This leads to a consideration of what wholeness is. Wholeness is being in accord with the covenant written on our hearts, being congruent with the Creator's purpose, taking responsibility for our relationship with God. The alternative, ripping ourselves apart, is unthinkable.

God's covenant frees us, and pushes us, to take personal responsibility. We can throw it around as much as we like, God has made it unbreakable.