In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).
In the Roman Empire periodical censuses were taken with the dual goal of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were available for military service. The Jews were exempt from military service, and, therefore, in Palestine a census would be predominantly for taxation purposes. Regarding these censuses, we have historical information as to what happened in Egypt; and almost certainly what happened in Egypt happened in Syria, too, and Judea was part of the province of Syria. The information we have comes from actual census documents written on papyrus and then discovered in the rubble of Egyptian towns and villages and in the sands of the desert.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 80-90 miles. Accommodations for census travelers were extremely primitive. Many of these accommodations were like a series of open stalls which created a common courtyard-like space. Some historians believe it was in these common courtyard-like stalls that Mary's child was born.
The word manger means a place where animals feed; and therefore it can be either the stable or the manger which is meant. The irony of the most important event in history taking place in a manger should not be lost sight of—it reveals how God elevates the lowly and humble and rejects the proud and mighty of this world. Compare Philippians 2:6-7. For Luke this theme of reversal was of major importance.
That there was no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the over-crowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search—and his rejection—go on.
"The words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:18-2).
It may well be that from a Jewish perspective this was the most startling thing Jesus ever said. For in this saying he does not only condemn Scribal and Pharisaic ritual and ceremonial religion: Jesus actually wipes out large sections of the book of Leviticus. This saying of Jesus cancels all the food laws of the Old Testament.
Once and for all Jesus lays it down that what matters is not the state of a person's ritual observance, but the state of a person's heart.
No wonder the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked. The very ground of their religion was cut from beneath their feet. This statement was not simply alarming; it was revolutionary! If Jesus was right, their whole concept of religion was wrong.
They identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations which had to do with cleanness and with uncleanness, with what a person ate and with how they washed their hands before eating; Jesus identified religion with the state of a person's heart, and said bluntly that these Pharisaic and Scribal regulations had nothing to do with religion.
What matters to God is not so much how we act, but why we act; not so much what we ritually do, but what is in our heart of hearts. It is Jesus' teaching (and it is a teaching which confronts every one of us) that no person can call themselves good because they observe external rituals; only when a person's heart is pure can they entertain such a thought. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God..." (Luke 6:20)
To feel good about yourself in Jesus' time, you needed to be wise, rich, and pure in your detailed observance of the law. These were the paramount values of his society. To be such meant to enjoy the proper status deserved by a full Israelite. It demonstrated that you had been blessed by God and were pleasing to him.
Jesus, however, turned all these values upside down. Jesus took a little child and had him stand beside him to show that the greatest was the least (Luke 9:47-48). He rejoiced that God had hidden his truths from the wise and revealed them to little children (10:21). The first will be last and the last first (13:30). He who exalts himself will be humbled and the humble will be exalted (14:11). Purity of heart which was in the reach of everyone's wallet replaced ritual purity which only the rich could afford.
These are the values of the kingdom. They are not the values of the world. They are shown in Jesus—who welcomed children—who ate with sinners—who entered Jerusalem on a colt—who renounced class, power, and domination. And among these great reversals Jesus included the reversal 'Blessed are you who are poor'.
The New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie points out that this is the first statement in all literature that calls the poor blessed. Jesus contradicts the view that riches were a sign that one was blessed by God. He sees rather that riches were a very likely sign that one had ignored the needs of the poor (Luke 12:21; 16:19-26).
The poor are blessed not because poverty is a charmed state, but because the kingdom of God is for them too (the kingdom is for everyone, of course). But Jesus means that the changes that the kingdom of God brings will be of such special relevance and blessing to the poor that what it means for them will define its meaning for everyone. To truly feel good about yourself, we must die a death to the false teachings of the world, and instead devote ourselves to the teachings of the Lord.
~ J. E. Royle
My Cherokee grandpa taught me this lesson when I was seven. He took me to a fishing hole and asked me to throw a rock into the pond. He asked me what I saw, and I replied that I saw a splash. He asked me what else I saw, and I said a circle of water and another circle and another circle. He then told me that every person was responsible for the kind of splash they made in the world and that the splash would touch many other circles, creating a ripple effect.
I sat there and watched the water until he asked me to notice the muddy bank where we were sitting. He pointed out that one of the circular waves made by my rock was lapping at my feet, having found its way back to me. Then he told me that we all need to be careful of the kinds of splashes we make in the world, because the waves we create will always come back to us. If those splashes were hurtful, we will not welcome them back, but if the splash and the waves were made from goodness, we will be happy to see them come home.
The teachings of all major religions on our planet show us these same truths. They ask us to be loving, to respect one another, and to become influences for good. Let us go forth in the world and make a good splash!
~ Jamie Sams
Then said a rich man, "Speak to us of Giving." And he answered: You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much which they have - and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Though the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth. It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.
~ Khalil Gibran
Spend a day in slow motion. Plan ahead and really dedicate a whole day to moving in slow motion. When you're moving about your house, going to work, eating, and so on, slow. . . down. Whatever your speed, concentrate on cutting it in half.
Moving in slow motion helps us counter-balance all the times we hurried and pushed and strained and rushed. Some of us operate more or less in permanent fight-or-flight mode. We struggle with one after another urgency or deadline until everything becomes a race to beat the clock. Even a simple trip to a hair-styling appointment becomes a race. This is not living. This is not promoting our health, well-being, and connection to God. We've let ourselves be dominated by false urgency of circumstance, losing our center and natural tempo.
Many of us are lost in a whirlwind of activity, speeding along at full throttle, just skimming the surface of life. At this breakneck speed, it is easy to miss the signs and scenery along the way that are always straining outside ourselves on some distant destination. We are toddlers in this segment of spirituality. We must learn to take one step at a time in slow motion while maintaining attention on God.
~ Michael Goddart
Forgiveness is the most powerful thing that you can do for your physiology and your spirituality, and it remains one of the least attractive things to us, largely because our egos rule so unequivocally. To forgive is somehow associated with saying that it is all right, that we accept the evil deed. But this is not forgiveness.
Forgiveness means that you fill yourself with love and you radiate that love outward and refuse to hang onto the venom or hatred that was engendered by the behaviors that caused the wounds. Forgiveness is a spiritual act of love for conscious and it sends a message to everyone, including yourself, that you prefer love over bitterness.
Forgiveness means letting go of the language of blame and self-pity and no longer leading with one's wounds and injuries from the past. It means privately forgiving and not asking anyone else to understand. It means leaving behind the eye-for-an-eye attitude that only makes for more pain and the need for more revenge, and replacing it with an attitude of love and forgiveness.
"If we can forgive everyone, regardless of what he or she may have done, we nourish the soul and allow our whole being to feel good. To hold a grudge against anyone is like carrying the devil on your shoulders. It is our willingness to forgive and forget that casts away such a burden and brings light into our hearts, freeing us from many ill feelings against our fellow human beings," Sydney Banks.
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
"But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law" (Galatians 2:14-16).
Christianity evolved from Judaism. With very few exceptions all Paul's letters were written to meet an immediate situation. The situation being addressed in the above text has to do with a decision made in Jerusalem that in effect purported that the Jews would go on living like Jews, observing circumcision and the law, but that the Gentiles were free from those observances. Clearly, things could not go on like that, because the inevitable result was to produce two grades of Christians and two quite distinct classes in the Church.
Paul's argument runs like this. He said to Peter (Aramaic 'Cephas'), "You shared the table with the Gentiles; you ate and lived as they ate; therefore approved in principle that there is one way for Jew and Gentile alike. How can you now reverse your whole decision? You were quite willing to live like a Gentile; and now you have swung round, and you want the Gentiles to be circumcised and take the law upon them and become Jews." This did not compute with Paul.
To help better understand the context we must understand the meaning of one word in particular: sinner. When a Jew used the word sinners of Gentiles they were not thinking of moral qualities at all; they were thinking of the observance of the law. For example, Leviticus chapter 11 lays down the Jewish food laws and details and classifies the animals which they may and may not use for food. A Jew who ate rabbit, or who ate pork, broke those laws and became a sinner in this sense of the term.
So Peter would answer Paul, "But, if I eat with the Gentiles and eat the things they eat, I become a sinner." And Paul's answer would be, "We have agreed long ago that no amount of observance of the law can make a person right with God. That is a matter of grace. A person cannot earn, they must accept, the generous offer of the love of God. There is, for every believer, the temptation to try to earn the favor of God. But it is utter trust in the love of God in Christ that properly aligns a person with God. Jesus did not tell you to try to earn salvation by eating this animal and not eating that one. He told you to fling yourself without reserve on the grace of God."
Christianity that focuses too much on the belief that its law-abiding achievements are superior to that of other Christians, and that in the eyes of God they alone shall find favor, is not true Christianity at all.
A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost
OH, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends he will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul contrasted the powerful with the powerless and the temporary with the permanent. The "jars of clay" is a symbol for the Christian. A jar of clay was a crack-able, fragile, and inexpensive vessel. In one sense, Christian are "crackpots." Inside of these fragile vessels is God's greatest treasure. Imagine it. God's diamonds stored inside cereal boxes!
Just what is it that is stored inside of us? It is just what Paul discussed in 2 Corinthians 4:6. The character of God with all of God's power, all of God's holiness, all of God's value has been put inside us through the presence of Christ. Why would God do that? Because God loves us...of course! But in addition, God does it to demonstrate that the power people see through Christians is not there because of who we are, but rather because of who is in us—Christ.
Paul picked up the theme of the temporary nature of a person's body and the permanent nature of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12. The only reason Paul did not cave in, quit, or become destroyed, was because the treasure that was in him was powerful, permanent, and victorious. After all, how can you continually hit a fragile clay pot without destroying the clay pot? The only answer is that the content of that clay pot has been in that clay pot so long that the pot has taken on the nature of the content.
Just what did the Apostle Paul mean when he said (in 2 Corinthians 4:10), "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body"? Some scholars believe Paul was probably referring to the way Jesus always gave himself up for others. In part, that is what it means to die to self. Whenever we set our focused-on-self selves aside, then Christ can be revealed through us. The "death" that is at work in us is the death to selfishness and the "life" that is at work in us is the life of the unselfish presence of the Spirit of Christ. That touches people! That motivates people! That inspires people! That draws people to God. That changes people! And, that can save people.
~ J. E. Royle
Over the years I have come to believe that life is full of un-chosen circumstances, that being human has to do with the growth of our individual consciousness and with it, responsibilities for choice. Pain and joy both come with life. I believe that how we respond to what happens to us and around us shapes who we become and has to do with the psyche or the soul's growth.
Now that I am in my fifth decade, I can look back and say that the hardest and darkest times in my life led me deeper and farther along my spiritual path. At the same time I am not at all sure that, at least in this life, such is the case for everyone, especially the very young who are abused or who arrive in this world innately handicapped.
It has not been the difficult times, however, that most shaped my spiritual life, but the times that were "sacramental"—situations that were imbued with grace, sacred moments in which I felt the presence of God or felt connected to the universe. Or those times I was in nature or at a sacred site, and felt myself enter a sacred place, or have a sacred meeting, a soul-to-soul communion with another person. These are the experiences that have really mattered, the ones that changed me—the spiritual experiences that led me to what I am doing with my life. I directly felt the presence of divinity, and knew it.
~ Jean Shinoda Bolen
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector (Luke 18:10-11).
By definition, prayer should have God as its focus. But our prayers can easily slip into a mood in which God is peripheral to us. This happens easily when we are asking God for help, for at such a time our mind is likely to be absorbed with our need rather than with the God to whom we pray.
The Pharisee in the above passage fell into the pit of self-centeredness even as he gave thanks. He was not so much impressed with God's goodness as he was with his own achievements. Woven throughout his prayer is a tone that says, "Look at me...see what my own hand has accomplished."
Of course, the deadliest quality in the Pharisee's prayer is its meanness of spirit. Not only did he compare himself generally with "others"; but when he singled out the tax collector and thanked God that he was better than this poor soul, the unkindness in his attitude is repulsive.
The possibility of offering a good prayer when we despise some other human being is almost zilch. To despise another is to show contempt for the One who made that other person and who loves him or her. When we express contempt for another human being, or any living thing of God's making, we are, in effect, being critical of God's creation.
~ J. E. Royle
Fear is everywhere—in our culture, in our institutions, in our students, in ourselves—and it cuts us off from everything. Surrounded and invaded by fear, how can we transcend it and reconnect with reality for the sake of teaching and learning? The only path I know that might take us in that direction is the one marked "spiritual."
Fear is so fundamental to the human condition that all the great spiritual traditions originate in an effort to overcome its effects on our lives. With different words, they all proclaim the same core message: "Be not afraid." Though the traditions vary widely in the ways they propose to take us beyond fear, all hold out the same hope: we can escape fear's paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.
It is important to note with care what that core teaching does and does not say. "Be not afraid" does not say that we should not have fears—and if it did, we could dismiss it as an impossible counsel of perfection. Instead, it says that we do not need to be our fears, quite a different proposition.
~ Parker J. Palmer
Kindness does not stop with us; we can extend it outward from ourselves, like the ripples on a pond, toward our family, friends, and loved ones. This is relatively natural and effortless. But for loving kindness to be genuine, it cannot just end with the people we know and like; it has to go further, toward those we do not know and even do not like. This includes people we may be having a hard time with, someone with whom communication is difficult, where negative issues have arisen that are pulling the relationship apart, where there is anger, resentment, or dislike.
When we are affected by someone being hostile, dismissive, critical, or hurtful, then it is often because there is a hook in us for that negativity to grab hold of, a place where it can land that triggers all our hidden feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, doubt, even self-hate. However, when we extend kindness toward such a person, as we can in meditation, an extraordinary thing happens: The landing place, or the hook within, begins to dissolve. There is no place for the negativity to take hold.
The negative reactions that arise within us during moments of discord or disagreement cause continued conflict. Extending kindness toward the adversary is, therefore, really extending it toward ourselves, as it releases the inner pain and puts us into a more balanced place.
~ Ed and Deb Shapiro
There is an important factor that causes us to be obsessed with our limitations—the tendency to compare ourselves with others. There is probably no other habit that chips away at our self-confidence so effectively as the habit of scanning the people around us to see how we compare. It is as if we have a radar dish on our foreheads, constantly searching to see if someone else is quicker, tanner, or brighter. And when we find that at times someone is, we are devastated.
The folly of basing our value on comparisons is that it puts us on a roller coaster. For example, perhaps we know we have above-average intelligence, but we happen to be at lunch with people who are even smarter. Suddenly we believe every word that comes out of our mouths sounds like intellectual sludge. Some of us grew up with older brothers and sisters who we desperately wanted to emulate, but of course we were doomed from the start. For no matter how hard we tried to catch up, we found ourselves smaller, clumsier, and dumber than they were. And when they ridiculed us (as many older siblings do) we learned to criticize ourselves. And, in a lot of cases, this became a life-long habit.
But God did not make us to be like our siblings or anyone else. We are absolutely unique. We are God's unique creation (a one-of-a-kind by a master artist). Our core value is not diminished when we happen to be with people who are better musicians or more athletic or wealthier. Scripture teaches us we have worth apart from everyone else. We have worth because we are God's masterpiece.
~ Alan Loy McGinnis
Gratitude can be transformative. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life (is it abundant or is it lacking?) and the world (is it friendly or is it hostile?). Once we accept that abundance and lack are parallel realities and that each day we choose--consciously or unconsciously--which world we will inhabit, a deep inner shift in our reality occurs. We discover the sacred in the ordinary and we realize that every day is literally a gift. How we conduct our daily round, how we celebrate it, cherish it, and consecrate it is how we express our thankfulness to the Giver of all good.
Gratitude holds us together even as we're falling apart. Ironically, gratitude's most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil. When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger, hurl faith across the room, abandon all hope. While we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see.
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
The moment we recognize the degree to which our difficulties are self-imposed, we begin to heal them. We end self-sabotage only by taking responsibility for the choices and actions that created it. Only when we stop blaming our boss or government or parents or spouse or partner or children or circumstances or fate or God can we change our lives and say with conviction, "I chose where I am now, and I can choose something better." Of course, not every misadventure, injury, or problem is created by your subconscious owing to low self-worth.
For all we know, certain difficulties or challenges are gifts from God or arranged by our souls in order to test and temper our spirit. As the old proverb says, "Take it as a blessing or take it as a test; whatever happens, happens for the best." And as it happens, adversities may sometimes contain their own blessings.
~ Dan Millman
It's neither arrogant nor overreaching to ask for a miracle. Miracles aren't possible because of anything we do; they are possible because of the nature of God. We do not personally work them; rather, they are worked through us as we open our hearts more deeply to love. The mystical heart is a loving one, and thus a conduit through which God naturally reveals Himself. We have a power in us, but not of us, that can miraculously heal the entire world.
Perhaps the miracle arrives in the form of an insight that unlocks a riddle in your life, a reconciliation with someone, or the opening of a door that has long remained closed. Try as you might, your efforts to break through using your talents, your power of rational analysis, or sheer force of will had remained fruitless. It was only when you put God first--when your heart softened, you stopped blaming, you stopped talking so much and started to truly listen--that some wall of resistance began to crumble. You had not done anything so much as you had released the energies of self-will. You had asked, in a way, that God's will be done. A miracle occurred not because you caused it but because you allowed it. In the words of writer Willa Cather, "Where there is great love, there are always miracles."
~ Marianne Williamson
The past decade has been a most exciting one. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of our age something profoundly meaningful has begun. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away and new systems of justice and equality are being born. In a real sense ours is a great time in which to be alive.
Therefore I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that we face a world crisis which often leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life's restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the spirit of God may yet reign supreme.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., "A Testament of Hope"
If I am to know the will of God, I must have the right attitude toward life. I must first of all know what life is, and to know the purpose of my existence.
It is all very well to declare that I exist in order to save my soul and give glory to God by doing so. And it is all very well to say that in order to do this I obey certain commandments and keep certain counsels. Yet knowing this much, and indeed knowing all moral theology and ethics and canon law, I might still go through life conforming myself to certain indications of God's will without ever fully giving myself to God. For that, in the last analysis, is the real meaning of God's will. God does not need our sacrifices. God asks for our selves.
~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.