Tag Archives: Jewish

Understanding Paul, part 6

Read Romans 15:22-33; Acts 21-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 CEB).

Decapitación_de_San_Pablo_-_Simonet_-_1887To sum up this series, I think it is beyond doubt that Paul is the most influential theologian in the history of Christianity. As this series has attempted to show, much of the problems that Christians run into when it comes to interpreting Paul arise directly because Paul is interpreted as a “Christian” theologian. Yet, the truth of the matter is that, while he was an Apostle of the Risen Christ, the Apostle Paul was NOT a Christian but a Jewish theologian. He just happened to subscribe to the Jewish sect known as “the Way” and believed that Jesus had called him to preach the Good News of an open Jewish covenant, through Christ, to all the Gentile world.

Throughout the centuries and especially in Christianity Today, Paul has become a conservative icon of the church and a guardian of the faith. Thus, his words and writings have been used to uphold church doctrine and dogma in support of slavery, against women clergy, and for the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. In fact, the Apostle Paul’s words on marriage are also the foundation of the Roman Catholic doctrine on clerical celibacy. For those supporting such doctrines and positions, Paul’s words have become a rallying cry; however, by and large the Apostle Paul’s writings have divided more people than they have united. While those seeking to keep things as the perceive they’ve always been find Paul to be their champion, others who are frustrated by the Church’s resistance to change find Paul to be irritating at best and downright egregious at worst.

All of this division, all of this animosity, all of this tension coming from a man who literally spent his life trying to unite people in Christ Jesus. While Paul was Jewish and firmly believed that Jesus was the JEWISH MESSIAH, he also firmly believed that this Christ, through his death and resurrection, had opened up the Jewish covenant to all Gentiles, through their faith in Jesus Christ. This set him at odds with both the Jerusalem church, as well as with the majority of Jewish people as a whole. Yet, rather than abandon one side for the other, Paul spent the rest of his shortened life and ministry trying to make peace with all parties and he tried to unite them in the grace, peace and love of the Risen Christ.

Throughout his ministry, Paul collected money from his Gentile church communities in order that he might bring a peace offering and financial support for the church in Jerusalem. In Romans 15 he wrote to the church community in Rome to pray not only that he be rescued from those who don’t believe in Judea, but that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (e.g. Jesus brother, James, among others) find his monetary gift to be acceptable. We also learn, in Acts 21, that Paul’s worries were founded as the church wanted him to prove he was a committed Jew by going to the Temple and going through a purification ritual with his fellow Gentile travelers. In complying with them to solidify the unity he was seeking, Paul sealed his own fate, was arrested by the Temple guards, was sent to Rome and was, eventually, martyred.

Paul literally died in order to bring unity to an already divided church. He was not the conservative icon of the church in his day, but a progressive (to use today’s language) visionary of an INCLUSIVE church. He believed and died for a church that would INCLUDE all people who share faith in Jesus Christ. He strived for a church that would live in LOVE and live out Christ’s commandment for us to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Paul died to witness to his belief that we “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 5:28). This, for Paul, was the Gospel message and it should be the message that we, too, embrace as the Gospel Message.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity.” – William Butler Yeats

PRAYER
Lord, build me into a peacemaker. Even as I hold firm to my convictions, keep me convicted to bear your grace in all things. Amen.

Defined By Faith

Read Esther 2:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build My church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18)

EstherA few weeks ago I wrote about how much we invest in our names. I spoke of my reflecting on my own name, and what made me a “Todd” as opposed to any other name. From the time we’re born to the time we die, we learn, define ourselves by, and completely invest in our names. Some of us, certainly exceptions to the rule, bemoan the names we have been given and even change them. Whether we accept our given names, or we rename ourselves, we certainly settle on a name and invest all of ourselves into that name.

This must have been the case for Hadassah, a young Jewish woman who lived in exile in Babylon with her uncle Mordecai. The root word of her name means Myrtle tree, which had a pleasant fragrance. The righteous were often referred to as hadas (or Myrtle) becuase they were likened to good trees with a pleasant smell. What a name that she was given, a name that surely reminded her that she was called to be righteous, to be pure, to be faithful to her God. In that day and age, a righteous woman was one who married, was faithful to her husband, and was one who gave birth to and raised her children. All of these definitions, and I am sure more, were embedded in Hadassah from the time she was born.

Yet, as is often the case, circumstances ended up changing everything for this young Jewish woman. The King of Persia, who happened to be Xerxes who also fought against the 300 Spartans (for those of you who are history buffs), had banished his queen for disobeying him and commanded all of the beautiful, young, virgin women in the Persian empire to come to his harem in Susa, which was where the King ruled his empire from. Unfortunately for Hadassah, she was one of the many women who were brought to this harem, which the part of a palace where the king keeps all of the virgins that he exclusively claimed conjugal rights on.

This means that Hadassah went from being a righteous and pure girl (according to Jewish law) to the sex slave of the King. He would sleep with those women in his Harem. If he was pleased with one he could pick her as his next queen; however, if he wasn’t he could put her in the second harem as a concubine and move on to the next woman. Before being sent to be at the King’s disposal, Mordecai renamed Hadassah with a Persian name, Esther. He told her to use that name so she could hide the fact that she was Jewish. The rest goes down as legend. Esther does win the heart of the King and, eventually, saves her people from genocide. But let’s not cheapen Hadassah had to do. She had to abandon who she felt she was called to be, she had to abandon her own name and identity, in order to become a “disgrace” to the very law that she tried so desperately to fulfill and uphold.

Yet, as we see in the story, God does not define us by the names or definitions we give to ourselves. My mom always told me that God knows our heart and measures us on where our heart is. Clearly, this is the case for Hadassah. Initially her name, her family, her religion, her dreams and aspirations all defined who she was; however, God saw who she truly was. She may not have felt righteous in the harem at the fortress in Susa; however, she was righteous in her heart and, as a result, God brought her honor and the adoration of both a King and an entire people. She went from a girl exiled, to the queen of the very kingdom she was exiled to. In the end, her FAITH and her FAITHFULNESS defined who she was!

We can learn from Hadassah. We cannot change the way our lives often play out and we cannot always control the circumstances that affect our lives; however, we can trust in God and look to God to define who we are. Our FAITH and our FAITHFULNESS defines who we are. Place your faith in God, and trust in God to lead you through the curve balls that life throws at you. Be a person of FAITH and watch the wonders that God will work in and through you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God doesn’t judge us on what’s outside; rather, it is what is inside that counts.” – Katherine A. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart, even when my actions don’t line up with it. Please, allow me to be who you have called me to be as that is my heart’s true desire. Amen.

Name It, Claim It, Live It!

Read Matthew 2; Luke 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” (John 10:22-23)

MenorahIt’s no big secret to most people that I am not a huge fan of winter. I mean sure, I get the necessity of having the different seasons and I can certainly appreciate the symbolism the cycle of life, but I am not a fan of the bitter cold, the snow, the ice, the howling winds and commuting in those elements. The shortened days and distant sun can be make one feel hollow and depressed.

But with that said one of my favorite times of year happens to lead up to and directly follow the Winter Solstice. Of course I am referring to the season Advent and Christmas. Ironically, though this season commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, it is almost universally accepted that Jesus was not born during the cold winter month of December but at some other time during the year where the weather would be more conducive to shepherds tending their flocks in the field.

Regardless, I believe this time of year is the perfect time to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child. Theologically speaking, the coming of Christ represents the coming of HOPE into the world. What better time for hope than when we are in the midst of the death. Winter has always represented death and dormancy, where the green of life gives way to the cold, hollow grip of death. Yet, it is in winter where we see the hope of Spring and the return, or resurrection, of life.

Aside from the symbolic nature of the Season itself, it is also around this time that those who are Jewish celebrate Hanukkah. That holiday commemorates the Jews being liberated from Greek-Syrian oppression and the rededication of the Jewish Temple to God. This was a festival that Jesus, who was himself Jewish, observed (John 10:22-23). Following a bloody war against their oppressors, the Jews took back Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple to God. Even though there was only enough oil to keep the candles burning for only one day, those candles kept burning bright for all eight days of the festival. Thus, Hanukkah (also known as the festival of lights) is forever a celebration of the arrival of Hope and the reminder that God is always present with God’s people.

‘Tis the season for HOPE. Whether we look to the natural cycle of the season, or to the celebration of Hanukkah or to the humble birth of a small, vulnerable baby in a cruel and murderous world, this time of year will forever point people to the fact that HOPE never dies! Like the menorah burning on the last drops of oil, HOPE can never be extinguished. Like the birth of JEsus reminds us, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, HOPE does conquer all HOPELESSNESS!

The challenge today is for you to be a person of HOPE! Instead of getting caught up in the fears and the cynicism that the world produces, never give up HOPE. God is challenging us to place our faith in God, and to be filled with the HOPE that such a faith provides. There is HOPE for a brighter tomorrow, but more importantly, there is HOPE for a brighter NOW! Name it, claim it, and live it! Have the HOPE and allow that HOPE to transform you into an agent who bears HOPE for others!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER

Lord, fill me and transform me with your hope so that I may be a beacon of that hope for others. Amen.