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
Galatians 2:14-16 / 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.
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.
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
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
It's fine to work toward future goals, but don't forget that today will never come again. You have only twenty-four hours to enjoy it. Some people put life on hold while striving for their dreams. At first their theme song is, "After I attain this, or that, then I'll be happy." Then, later, after ambition pales, the regrets are felt. "Why didn't I make time to _____________?"
Instead of waiting for retirement to live in a beautiful place, consider finding a way to get there now. When we live our lives in accordance with our dreams, it becomes easy to cheer for other people doing so. When we don't, it's easy to be sour grapes, unsupportive, or jealous when others break free and follow their heart's desire. If you feel as if your life is somewhere out there as opposed to right here, stop and ask yourself:
What is missing in my life?
What have I put on hold?
What am I waiting for?
What would really fill my heart and make me happy?
What would I regret if I died tomorrow?
Though you may not die tomorrow, the saddest death is walking through life like a robot, cut off from the beauty of enjoying today.
~ Charlotte Sophia Kasl
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
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
For many people, solitude is just a poet's word for being alone. But being alone, in itself, is nothing. It can be a breeding ground of loneliness as easily as a source of solitude. Solitude is a condition of peace that stands in direct opposition to loneliness. Loneliness is like sitting in an empty room and being aware of the space around you. It is a condition of separateness. Solitude is becoming one with the space around you. It is a condition of union.
Loneliness is small, solitude is large. Loneliness closes in around you; solitude expands towards the infinite. Loneliness has its roots in words, in an internal conversation that nobody answers; solitude has its roots in the great silence of eternity.
Most people fear being alone because they understand only loneliness. Their understanding begins at the self, and they are comfortable only as long as they are at the center of their understanding. Solitude is about getting the "I" out of the center of our thoughts so that other parts of life can be experienced in their fullness. It is about abandoning the self as the focus of understanding, and giving ourselves over to the great flowing fabric of the universe. In solitude silence becomes a symphony. Time changes from a series of moments strung together into a seamless motion riding on the rhythms of the stars. Loneliness is banished, solitude is in full flower, and we are one with the pulse of life and the flow of time.
~ Kent Nerburn
Death is a silent yet eloquent teacher of truth. Death is a teacher that speaks openly and yet is not easily heard. Death is very much present in our modern world: and yet it has become an enigma to that world. Instead of understanding death, it would seem that our world simply multiplies it; death has become a quantity. The mystery of death, more terrible and sometimes more cruel than ever, remains incomprehensible to men who, though they know they must die, retain a grim and total attachment to individual life as if they could be physically indestructible.
Perhaps it is this failure to understand and to face the fact of death that helps cause so many wars and so much violence. As if men, attached to individual bodily life, thought they could protect themselves against death by inflicting it on others.
Death cannot be understood without compassion. Compassion teaches me that when my brother dies, I too die. Compassion teaches me that my brother and I are one. That if I love my brother, then my love benefits my own life as well, and if I hate my brother and seek to destroy him, I destroy myself also. The desire to kill is like the desire to attack another with a red hot iron: I have to pick up the hot metal and burn my own hand while burning the other. Hate itself is the seed of death in my own heart, while it seeks the death of the other. Love is the seed of life in my own heart when it seeks the good of the other.
~Thomas Merton, Preface to the Vietnamese edition of No Man Is an Island
Strength has a value for spiritual realization, but to say that it can be done by strength only and by no other means is a violent exaggeration. Grace is not an invention, it is a fact of spiritual experience. Many who would be considered as mere nothings by the wise and strong have attained by Grace; illiterate, without mental power or training, without "strength" of character or will, they have yet aspired and suddenly or rapidly grown into spiritual realization, because they had faith or because they were sincere.
I do not see why these facts of spiritual history and of quite ordinary spiritual experience should be discussed and denied and argued as if they were mere matters of speculation. Strength, if spiritual, is a power for spiritual realization; a greater power is sincerity; the greatest power of all is Grace.
~ Sri Aurobindo, Words of Sri Aurobindo, First Series
We use the word "love" but we have no more understanding of love than we do of anger or fear or jealousy or even joy, because we have seldom investigated what that state of mind is. What are the feelings we so quickly label as love? For many what is called love is not lovely at all but is a tangle of needs and desires, of momentary happiness and bewilderment—moments of unity, of intense feelings of closeness, occur in a mind so fragile that the least squint or sideways glance shatters its oneness into a dozen ghostly paranoias.
When we say love we usually mean some emotion, some deep feeling for an object or a person, that momentarily allows us to open to another. But in such emotional love, self-protection is never far away. Still there is "business" to the relationship: clouds of jealousy, possessiveness, guilt, intentional and unintentional manipulation, separateness and the shadow of all previous 'loves' darken the light of oneness. But what I mean by love is not an emotion, it is a state of being.
True love has no object. Many speak of their unconditional love for another. But in truth one does not have unconditional love for another. Unconditional love is the experience of being, there is no "I" and "other" and anyone or anything it touches is experienced in love. You cannot unconditionally love someone. You can only be unconditional love. It is not a dualistic emotion. It is a sense of oneness with all that is. The experience of love arises when we surrender our separateness into the universal. It is a feeling of unity. You don't love another, you are another. There is no fear because there is no separation. It is not so much that "two are as one" so much as it is "the One manifested as two." In such love there can be no unfinished business.
~ Stephen Levine, Who Dies?
For Christians, Jesus is certainly a teacher, but also essentially more. As crucified and raised to life, he is in person the living, authoritative embodiment of his cause: the cause of God and the cause of man. This living Christ in particular does not call for ineffective adoration, still less to mystical union. But neither does he call for mere imitation.
What Jesus does is call for personal discipleship, for response and correlation; he call me to commit myself to him wholly and entirely, while going my own way—each has his own way—according to his directions. This is a great opportunity, which was regarded from the very beginning not as what must be done but as what might be done, as an unexpected chance and true gift, a genuine grace. A grace that presupposes nothing more than this one thing: that we seize on it with trust and faith and adapt our life to it; a new attitude to life, which consequently makes possible a new lifestyle.
~ Hans Kung, Does God Exist?
My dog does have his failings, of course. He's afraid of firecrackers and hides in the clothes closet whenever we run the vacuum cleaner, but unlike me he's not afraid of what other people think of him or anxious about his public image. He barks at the mail carrier, but in contrast to some people I know he never growls at the children or barks at his wife.
So my dog is a sort of guru. When I become too serious and preoccupied, he reminds me of the importance of frolicking and play. When I get too wrapped up in abstractions and ideas, he reminds me of the importance of exercising and caring for my body. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine, and glad to be alive.
Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals. Just because they haven't invented static cling or television evangelists doesn't mean they aren't spiritually evolved.
But what does it mean for an animal (including the human animal) to be spiritually evolved? In my mind, it means many things: the development of a moral sense, the appreciation of beauty, the capacity for creativity, and the awareness of one's self within a larger universe as well as a sense of mystery and wonder about it all. These are the most precious gifts we possess, yet there is nothing obscure or otherworldly about such 'spiritual' capabilities. Indeed, my contention is that spirituality is quite natural, rooted firmly in the biological order and in the ecology shared by all life.
~ Gary A. Kowalski, The Souls of Animals
The true motivation of prayer is not, as it has been said, the sense of being at home in the universe, but rather the sense of not being at home in the universe.
Is there a sensitive heart that could stand indifferent and feel at home in the sight of so much evil and suffering, in the face of countless failures to live up to the will of God? On the contrary, the experience of not being at home in the world is a motivation for prayer.
That experience gains intensity in the amazing awareness that God himself is not at home in the universe. God is not at home in a universe where God's will is defied and where God's kingship is denied. God is in exile; the world is corrupt. The universe itself is not at home.
To pray means to bring God back into the world, to establish God's kingship for a second at least. To pray means to expand God's presence.
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom
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
Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other people, nor from God, nor from ourselves, because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.
Truth rises from the silence of being to the quiet, tremendous presence of the Word. Then, sinking again into silence, the truth of words bears us down into the silence of God. Or rather God rises out of the sea like a treasure in the waves, and when language recedes his brightness remains on the shores of our own being.
~ Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
The more we believe God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety.
But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.
But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren't.
~ C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The devil believes in God but he has no God. The Lord is not his God. To be at enmity with life is to have nothing to live for. To live forever without life is everlasting death: but it is a living and wakeful death without the consolation of forgetfulness. Now the very essence of this death is the absence of hope. The damned have confirmed themselves in the belief that they cannot hope in God. We sometimes think of the damned as men who think of only themselves as good, since all sin flows from pride that refuses to love.
But the pride of those who live as if they believed they were better than anyone else is rooted in a secret failure to believe in their own goodness. If I can see clear enough to realize that I am good because God has willed me to be good, I will at the same time be able to see more clearly the goodness of other men and of God. And I will be more aware of my own failings. I cannot be humble unless I first know that I am good, and know that what is good in me is not my own, and know how easy it is for me to substitute an evil of my own choice for the good that is God's gift to me.
~ 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.