Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 8

Posted: January 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 8

15. It you totally fulfill the command to love your neighbor, you will feel no bitterness or resentment against him whatever he does. If this is not the case, then the reason why you fight against your brother is clearly because you seek after transitory things and prefer them to the commandment of love.

Love is never conditional. If you only love someone when they give you no offense, then you don’t really love them at all. I know I often find it hard to love and frequently fail to love at all.


Jesus Creed 30 – At the Tomb with Jesus

Posted: October 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:13-35; John 20-21.

I think we tend to forget what a total and complete disaster the tomb was for Jesus’ followers. Scot explores that to some extent and relates it back to our experiences of loss. After disaster, we can still find new life. The tomb proved that. Scot draws a central point from it.

If we participate in Jesus’ resurrection by owning his story as our story, we find hope.

Let that sink in. We have hope through the resurrection or not at all. Paul says exactly the same thing. But I’m not convinced that’s truly where Christians today place their hope. I would rather be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

Jesus’ life, from front cover to back cover, including the dust jacket, is a life shaped by the Jesus Creed. He learned the Shema from his father and mother; he amended it for his followers in the shape of the Jesus Creed. Most importantly, he lived it. We are called to participate in that very life, for it is that resurrected life that can form our lives.

In Baptism we have died and are risen again with Christ. We proclaim that when Christ came out of that tomb, he healed our nature such that it is no longer the nature of man to die. Without the Resurrection, Christianity has nothing of meaning or value to offer. Without the Resurrection, it’s ridiculous to live as Christians ought to live. But if it’s true, it changes everything and speaks to every aspect of our lives. It’s as simple and as radical as that.


Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

Posted: October 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Luke 23:26-49; John 18-19.

Scot explores the grotesqueness of the cross in a way that is impossible to summarize if you do not already understand it. But I love this bit:

Beginning to end, the crucifixion of Jesus is a grotesque scene, one that is far from the mind of most persons who wear crosses around their necks. No one, to use a modern analogy, has the macabre affront to wear a necklace with a guillotine or a gallows or a noose or an electric chair, or cells on death row.

Scot makes precisely a point I tried (and often failed) to explain to those who were Christian about one reason I became Christian.

In fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews explains something many Christians miss when it comes to the cross: Jesus suffers to sympathize with our sufferings.

Jesus with us. In our worst suffering, in our darkest hour, in our most hopeless moment, Jesus is right there with us. He understands it all and weeps tears of empathy and love for us. There is no place of sorrow, no depth of abandonment, no height of unwarranted cruelty and despite where Jesus has not gone and is not walking with us. For this he is named Immanuel.

The Cross is thus also, paradoxically, the revelation of the glory of God. It is the revelation of his love and his mercy and his faithfulness to his creation.

Glory to God!


Jesus Creed 25 – In the Jordan with Jesus

Posted: October 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 25 – In the Jordan with Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Matthew 3:13-17.

This last part of the book looks at the active obedience of Jesus as he lives a perfect life of love. McKnight starts at the Jordan, but it really starts at Jesus’ birth. We just don’t know a whole lot until the Jordan. But we needed someone to pave the way for us. Or as Scot puts it after an opening illustration, “Opening a path to a spiritual clearing is what Jesus does for us with his entire life.”

I’m not sure I fully understand why this aspect of the grace and atonement of Jesus is so very important to me. But I do not I’m not alone. Iraneaus writes about it in the second century. Paul mentions it more than once in the first. For a time recently, people have seemed to find it less important, but that time appears to be passing. I hadn’t particularly noticed this train of thought when I first read The Jesus Creed, but after reading Embracing Grace I’m able to connect it to my reaction. I used different words and found most of my examples in putting it together in the early fathers. But I’ve come to see it’s the same basic idea.

To get these theological terms in focus, we need to remind ourselves of what God asks from us. Here’s the mystery of the Jesus Creed: Jesus both loves God and loves others for us and he summons us to love God and to love others. Three theological terms clarify this. First, Jesus substitutes for us in loving God and others perfectly. The term ‘substitution’ tends to be a little too clinical for what the Bible is getting at, so it is important to observe that, in substituting for us, Jesus also represents us before God in loving God and others. Further, by representing us he empowers us to participate with him in loving God and loving others.

I’m not sure this can be stressed enough. I sometimes have the sense, with some of the things we say and some of the songs we sing that we have reduced the gospel to virtually nothing but the cross. And that’s bizarre for something that doesn’t even show up in Christian art until the fourth century or so. Is the cross important? Absolutely! But when it seems to overwhelm Jesus’ life, his resurrection, the coming of the Spirit, and his promise to come again, which it sometimes seems to do, I think we’re going too far. The whole picture is not just important, but essential. I don’t think I see any ‘most important’ aspect, unless you wanted to say they are all ‘most important’.

Scot then spends some time emphasizing the fact that John’s baptism was for repentance. Why? So he could explore it in this section.

John’s baptism is for repentance, but Jesus is sinless. So why was Jesus baptized? To begin with, we are no more baffled than John himself, for he does his prophet’s best to keep Jesus from jumping into the Jordan with this jumble of sinners. … According to John, never were two people more unequal: the sinful John and the sinless Jesus.

But Jesus is baptized anyway. John’s baptism is for repentance, and Jesus doesn’t need to repent. Clearly then, if Jesus doesn’t need to repent, then he must be repenting for others, for us. Why would he do that?

Because in so ‘repenting for us,’ Jesus begins to unleash the power of the Holy Spirit for his followers. John baptizes with ‘water,’ but Jesus will baptize ‘with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’ John is referring here to the prophetic prediction of the coming of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit comes upon Jesus at his baptism when it comes down as a dove, and it comes on all his followers on the great day of Pentecost when they are flooded with the Spirit.

With these considerations, the baptism of Jesus becomes clear: Jesus is baptized to repent perfectly so God can send the Spirit to empower us for our vocations. … The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person — and he would not need it.

Here’s the big picture and how baptism fits into it: the spiritually formed person loves God (by following Jesus) and others. Jesus loves God and others perfectly. We don’t love God perfectly, and we might as well admit it. We love God and others perfectly only when we follow Jesus through our piles of sin, which we do when we participate in Jesus’ own life. This expression ‘following Jesus’ that we’ve often used now gains full clarity: To follow Jesus means to participate in his life, to let his life be ours.

I know that was a long excerpt, but this strikes me as so important. Scot summarizes it in this following thought.

There is only one reason for Jesus to repent for us: We can’t repent adequately.

He proceeds to explore why, and we fail in all areas. We don’t know our own hearts perfectly. We never truly and completely tell the truth to God about sin, however hard we try. Our decisions or commitments to change are flawed and tend to contain that connector ‘but’, and we do not follow through with consistently changed behavior. Basically, we’re pretty lousy at repenting, so Jesus does it for us.

It’s also important to note that John’s baptism was one both of repentance and for forgiveness of sins. By participating in Jesus’ repentance, our sins are truly forgiven. The renovation of our hearts begins. One of the things Baptism today is still for is the repentance of sins. It’s one of a long list of things such as our adoption or entrance into the communion of God’s family and Jesus’ body, but still also for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus paved the way for us — with his entire life of active obedience.

That cannot be reduced to a single event or sequence of events within his life. His whole life paved the way for us. He blazed the trail through the impenetrable jungle. And it’s the only path that actually leads out.


Jesus Creed 24 – Reaching Out in Jesus

Posted: October 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 24 – Reaching Out in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 9:36-11:1; 28:16-20; John 20:21.

Love has arms that reach out — always.

That’s the opening to this chapter and it challenges immediately. We do not get any easy outs as Christians. We are called to do the impossible. We are called to make our enemies one of us by embracing them with arms open wide. We are not allowed divisions of race or nationality or ethnicity or gender. As Christians, we declare a new humanity — a humanity in whom Babel is overthrown.

Fortunately, God does not leave us to our own devices to accomplish an impossible task. He gives us his grace, which is to say himself. He has become one with us and in and through Jesus he pours himself into humanity, and particularly into those who cooperate with the power of his grace. We are called to act in love, even when we feel anything but loving. But we are never left to love on our own.


Jesus Creed 23 – Forgiving in Jesus

Posted: October 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35.

For me ‘forgiveness‘ is something of a scary thing. I know that may sound odd, but I can think of no better way to express it. In fact, I’m often unsure why others don’t seem to recognize that this ‘forgiveness‘ thing is pretty scary stuff.

There are multiple perspectives to consider.

Forgiveness, in the Old Testament, is a ‘God thing’ and a ‘repentance thing.

In other words, God (and pretty much only God) does it and it requires repentance first. Scot describes this as the standard view of Judaism.

Christianity stands that on its head.

A brief summary of each: First, Jesus innovates in his world when he urges his followers to have a disposition of forgiveness rather than of strict justice. Second, so important is forgiveness to Jesus that forgiving others is a litmus test of whether or not one is a follower of Jesus. Third, forgiving others knows no limit for Jesus’ followers. Fourth, forgiving others is effective in his society of followers. The ultimate observation we make is that Jesus is the example: On the cross Jesus looks to those who are crucifying him and forgives them.

What Jesus says about forgiveness is rooted in the Jesus Creed: God loves us, so we are to love others and to love God. Loving others means forgiving them. Put succinctly, the Jesus Creed manifests itself in gracious, preemptive strikes of forgiveness.

We should do that more often. If we follow the Jesus Creed, we will not only ask God to forgive us, but we will forgive others. Preemptively. That is, before they have repented or asked for forgiveness.

I remember the first time I ever heard about the Orthodox service of Forgiveness Vespers. It was in Molly Sabourin’s Close to Home podcast titled simply Forgiveness. (Take a moment to click the link and listen to the podcast. It’s well worth the time.) I must have listened to it at least three times in succession and I’ve listened to it multiple times since. I immediately recognized it’s beauty and uniquely Christian quality.

I have not attended one. Forgiveness is simultaneously threatening and incredibly attractive to me. Forgiveness Vespers captures, I think, the way I desire reality to be. I’m just not sure I trust that it actually does describe reality.

Lord have mercy.


Jesus Creed 22 – Restoring in Jesus

Posted: October 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 4:35-41; 9:14-19; John 21:1-25.

When we fall, Jesus picks us up. He’s busy. A disciple is called to love God and to love others, and this means: trust completely, abide constantly, and surrender totally. This is difficult.

That’s an understatement, of course. This chapter reminds me of something I heard once. An Orthodox monk was asked about life in the monastery and his response went something like this, “We fall down and get back up; fall down and get back up.” In many ways, that’s the image of the journey of the Christian life. Although we fail uncountable times, we only truly fail if we are no longer willing to get back up and remain determinedly unwilling. Jesus is always there to forgive and restore us “70 times 7 times,” which is to say as many times as it takes. He did not come to condemn us, but to heal us and give us life.

Salvation is union with Christ.

I think it’s important to emphasize that point, because I think salvation is often confused as many other things. Sometimes it seems to me that some Christians confuse salvation with forgiveness. Thus, once they have been forgiven, they sometimes believe they are saved. Forgiveness is certainly a part of the whole journey of salvation, but it is not in and of itself salvation. Nor does our journey toward salvation begin when we recognize our need for forgiveness. I tried to express some of that from my personal perspective in my post, Walking in my Shoes.

At some point in the course of that journey you will recognize your own failure. You will know that you need forgiveness. You will know that you need restoration. And when you do, as long as you are willing to get back up, it’s there in endless supply. But those points will come at different places for every human being. And that recognition and decision to get back up, whether mild or intense, understated or dramatic, is not salvation. It’s a mile marker on the way of salvation.


Jesus Creed 21 – Surrendering in Jesus

Posted: October 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 21 – Surrendering in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 8:34-9:1; 12:28-31.

Scot summarizes this section magnificently in the prayer we should all pray each and every day.

May your will be done.

Think about that for a moment. Or several moments.

Your will be done.

Do we mean it? Or are we just mouthing the words? We are, after all, called to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. Does that sound unpleasant or uncomfortable? It should. But that’s our calling.

Think back to the Shema and the Jesus Creed. Jesus calls us to surrender everything doesn’t he? Surrender personally. Surrender mentally. Surrender physically. If any of those are a struggle for you, this is a good chapter. This thought closes the chapter.

Surrendering ourselves to love God is not giving up things for God so much as giving ourselves to God.


Jesus Creed 20 – Abiding in Jesus

Posted: September 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 20 – Abiding in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Luke 10:38-42; John 15:1-17.

Scot begins with the idea that proper posture is important. There is no better place to abide in Jesus than at his feet.

God’s love for us in Christ is like a cellular connection: It is constantly available. He calls us to sit at his feet, attend to him, and absorb his life and love for us. How might we attend to Jesus so we have constant access to his love and life?

I do agree that we are called to union with Christ — that is our salvation. And I agree that such union is only possible when we assume a posture of humility. Moreover, Jesus is our only source of life and if we are not willing to receive our life from him, we have no life. However, the image of sitting at his feet is the image and posture of a student learning from the teacher. Jesus is the Teacher. That is certainly true. But as the gospel reading in John says, he is also the Vine. Posture is important, but as with all our metaphors, it falls short of capturing the fullness of the reality.

McKnight answers the question he asks above with the following three ways.

We can best attend to Jesus in at least three ways: listening to the Word, participating physically in worship and the sacraments, and engaging in Christian fellowship.

I don’t really disagree that those are three ways. Certainly the sacraments or mysteries sustain our union with Christ. But what about prayer? Fasting? Almsgiving? I don’t think abiding in Christ can be reduced to any three activities just as no one metaphor suffices.

Every time we fellowship with other disciples, we are in the presence of Jesus, and he is in our presence. What I mean here by ‘fellowship’ is any connection of Christians where, because they are together, they are in the presence of the Lord. Because the church is the body of Christ, each gathering of believers offers a whisper of his presence or the lingering aroma of his fragrance. This means that when we are in fellowship with others, we are actually attending to Jesus.

McKnight does bring Brother Lawrence into his discussion of abiding, so he recognizes the importance of continual prayer.  This was a hard chapter to summarize in any meaningful way. I suppose if he had really tried to delve deeply into the topic of abiding in Jesus, it wouldn’t have been a chapter. It would have been a whole book in its own right.


Jesus Creed 19 – Believing in Jesus

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 19 – Believing in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28.

The opening theme of this chapter reaches out and grabs you.

The goal of a disciple of Jesus is relationship, not perfection.

Let that sink in for a while. I deeply sense this is not how most of my fellow believers would formulate this statement. I once heard someone in my church describe ‘being Christian’ as ‘trying to be perfect even though we know we will fail.’ I can only describe my reaction to that statement as one of horror. I tried to share my reaction with some who were close to me and whom I thought might understand, but nobody really understood the depth, breadth, and intensity of my reaction against that description of the essence of Christianity. I know that ‘horror‘ seems melodramatic, but it’s not too strong a word to describe my reaction. If that statement captures what it means to be Christian, then I want to be something else. The statement strikes me as a rejection of all I understand it to mean to be Christian. This focus on ‘perfection‘ is not a minor side issue for me.

I think Scot captures my perspective, in part, in this statement:

Faith is an ongoing relationship and therefore like a marathon. The Jesus Creed is not for someone who believed, in the past, but someone who believes. Christians are called believers not believeders.

If you don’t immediately grasp the truth and implications of that statement, I simply don’t know how to make them clearer. Our faith can be stated as simply as, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ’ or ‘Jesus is Lord,’ though those statements then need to be worked out.  McKnight uses an interesting example of Shammai and Hillel on this point. It’s worth reading.

Faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In theory we all agree with that statement, but do we live that way? I’m not convinced. I like the following. (I think Scot is quoting someone else.)

We cannot have a relationship with our christology — we can have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our soteriology cannot save us from our sins — our Savior can.

Our ecclesiology does not make us one — the Lord of the Church does.

Our eschatology will not transform this flawed universe — Jesus the King of kings and Prince of Peace will do that.

And, no matter how much we love theology — it will never love us back.

Only God in Christ loves us, and that is why believing is a relationship.

Those are extremely good words. Of course, ‘relationship‘ is also something of a tricky concept. The English word can describe our most intimate bonds and our most shallow connections. I can say I have a ‘relationship‘ with my wife, but I can also say I have a ‘relationship‘ (a business relationship) with the man who delivers my newspaper. In the context of Christianity, we’re using the word more in its former connotation. A lot of our words, like fellowship or knowing, have the same problem. That’s one of the reasons I’ve come to believe that the English word communion is probably the better choice.

Salvation is union or communion with Christ and being Christian is the process of growing in communion. And that necessarily means also growing in communion with our fellow human beings. I think a quote by St. Silouan captures this dual reality very well indeed.

We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies.