Scripture Readings for April 2002
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These short readings from the Christian Bible are read daily at community prayer in Taizé, an ecumenical and international Christian community in France. The Bible reference indicates a slightly longer passage from scripture. You are encouraged to read the longer passage in the morning before you begin your daily activities, and then to ponder the reading, in silence and prayer, as it comes to mind during the day. For a brief explanation of how I am reading the Christian Bible, you are invited to go to Exegesis or to Witness.
On the cross, Jesus said: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing."
These words appear only in the gospel of Luke. Is this simply a different memory of the last hours of Jesus? That seems unlikely. The author of the gospel of Luke puts these words on the lips of the dying Jesus to express the theme of his gospel account. The person and parables of Jesus in the gospel of Luke all point to the forgiving God. Each of the other three gospels has a different theme or emphasis, so each of them has a different ending and attributes to Jesus different words. In the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus cries out with a loud voice the first verse of Psalm 22, a psalm of lament but also of faith. In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks to his mother and says he thirsts before he utters his last words, "It is finished."
Who is Jesus forgiving in this gospel testimony? Not only the Romans who have crucified Jesus, and not only the leaders of Jerusalem who collaborated with them, but also us. We, too, do not know what we are doing. May God forgive us for our sins, and may we forgive the sins of others. Amen.
On the cross, Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last.
In addition to the theme of forgiveness, the gospel of Luke presents Jesus as filled with the spirit of God. When Jesus begins his ministry he announces in the words of the prophet Isaiah that: "The Spirit of the Lord" has come upon him. (Lk. 4:18) In the story it seems that the Spirit entered Jesus at baptism, but the teaching of the church has generally been that the Spirit of God was in and with Jesus from his birth. Is it this Spirit that now leaves his body, as he dies?
In the Acts of the Apostles, which is the sequel to the gospel of Luke written by the same author, the Spirit of God comes on Pentecost to the disciples and their followers. The Spirit of God animates the church, which is partly why Christians refer to the church as "the body of Christ." As the Spirit of God filled Jesus, so the Spirit of God fills the church. At least, this is our hope and our prayer.
Jesus said: "In truth, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains only a single grain. But if it does, it yields a big harvest."
This reading begins with the enigmatic statement that a few Greeks (described in some translations as Gentiles) were present at a Passover feast in Jerusalem. It is unclear whether these are Greek-speaking Jews, who are described as Greeks because they obviously are not from Jerusalem and speak Greek rather than Aramaic, or Gentiles who speak Greek. Clearly, however, they are not from Jerusalem or from Galilee. Symbolically in the story they represent the world beyond Jerusalem and Palestine, the world of Greek culture and the world of Roman authority. The gospel story tells us that these men of the world are interested in Jesus.
To them Jesus explains his mission by using the image of a grain of wheat, which dies in the earth to bring forth a great harvest. All four gospels include explanations of the death of Jesus, but only the gospel of John contains this particular verse. Might we give our lives for the harvest? That is the hope of the church and the reason why the day of the death of Jesus is called Good Friday.
At the grave, the angel said to the women: "Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said he would."
In the gospel of Matthew, an angel tells Mary of Magdala and "the other Mary" who have come to the grave that Jesus has gone to Galilee and will meet them there. In the gospel of Mark, Mary of Magdala and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome hear the same message from a young man in a white robe. (Mk. 16:1-8) The resurrection story is rarely read from the gospel of Mark, however, because in this account the women run away saying "nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Moreover, the gospel of Mark does not record any resurrection appearances.
In the gospel of Luke, two men in dazzling clothes tell Mary of Magdala and Mary, the mother of James, and Joanna that Jesus has been raised. However, in this account Jesus meets his disciples in Jerusalem and not in Galilee, as is promised in the gospel of Mark and recorded in the gospel of Matthew. (Lk. 24:36-49) In the gospel of John, Mary of Magdala comes alone to the tomb and finds the stone rolled away. She does not see an angel, a young man, or two men, but she does meet Jesus in a nearby garden. Later Jesus appears in Jerusalem to his disciples, rather than in Galilee. (Jn. 20:19-23)
Given these differences, it is obvious that the early church did not understand the four accounts as historical reports. Otherwise, when the church decided on the composition of the New Testament these four reports would have been reconciled into a single account of the facts. Each gospel ends with an affirmation of the faith of the Christian community for which it was written. In the early churches faith was more important than facts, and so the four gospel accounts included in the New Testament were not revised "to get the facts straight."
The gospel faith is that death is not the final word of life. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus not to remember a miracle long ago but to witness to their faith that not even death "can separate us from the love of God." (Rm. 8:39)
Jesus, risen from the dead, said to his disciples: "You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth."
The author of the gospel of Luke tells a story that begins in Bethlehem with the birth of Jesus, moves to Galilee for his childhood and adult ministry, and then ends in Jerusalem with his death, resurrection and appearances to his disciples. The risen Jesus does not return to Galilee (as in the gospel of Matthew), because the sequel to the gospel of Luke (the Acts of the Apostles) relates a story beginning in Jerusalem with the followers of Jesus and ending in Rome with Paul, the main architect of the church in the cities of the Roman Empire.
In Acts, the disciples ask their risen Lord if he will "restore the kingdom to Israel." Rather than answering their question, Jesus sends them out as witnesses not only in Judea but also in Samaria and throughout the known world. Written for the Gentile-dominated churches outside Jerusalem, the author of the gospel of Luke and Acts tells a story to explain how the death of a Galilean Jew, who taught in Aramaic from the Hebrew scriptures, led to the founding of Greek-speaking churches throughout the Roman Empire. It was, the author of Luke-Acts affirms, the work of the Holy Spirit.
God has raised Jesus from the dead to make him Savior, and through him to change our hearts and grant forgiveness of sins.
In the story the former disciples of Jesus have become apostles and are leading the followers of Jesus in a life of prayer, sharing, healing and preaching in the Jewish temple. The people of Jerusalem are said to hold the community "in high honor" because of the "many signs and wonders" done by the apostles. (Acts 5:12-13) This, the author of Acts says, created jealousy among the Sadducees, a faction of the Jewish elite that governed Judea under the authority of the Romans and led to the arrest of the apostles.
When Peter speaks for the apostles before the Sanhedrin, the council of elders in Jerusalem that had certain limited powers under the Roman rulers, Peter says that God has acted through Jesus to offer forgiveness of sins for those who change their hearts and repent. This is the proclamation of the early church, and it is the good news that deserves our witness as well. The God who calls all people to do justice and love mercy has shown in Jesus that our sin will be forgiven, if we repent and embrace a life of faith.
Paul said: "I have borne witness to great and small alike, saying that the Christ was to suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he was to proclaim light for all nations."
The author of this speech is not Paul but the author of the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. In his letters Paul speaks for himself, but here "Paul" is speaking for a community of Christians known to the author of Luke-Acts. This largely Gentile church affirms that Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead and that this fact is a blessing for Gentiles as well as Jews. In his letters Paul affirms that the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the resurrection of all those who have died with faith, whether Jew or Gentile. Moreover, he also expresses this faith as an interpretation of Jewish scripture that fulfils the hope of the Pharisees (who, in contrast to the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection of the dead).
Paul says in Acts and in his letters that he is a Pharisee, a statement that may shock many Christians, who think the Pharisees were the enemies of Jesus. In the time of Paul, the Pharisees were reformers who were dominated by the ruling Sadducees and priests. This was probably also true during the earlier ministry of Jesus. After the time of Paul, when the Jewish rebellion had been put down by the Romans and the temple destroyed, Judaism as we know it today began to be organized by the Pharisees. In this new situation, there was conflict between Pharisees and Christians. After all, Christians were teaching an interpretation of the Jewish scriptures that allowed Jews to disregard the law of Moses.
Christians need to remember that the name of Jesus has not only been a light to the nations, but also a curse on the lips of "true believers" who throughout history have sought to avenge the death of Jesus by killing Jews. The prayer of Christians everywhere must be: "Father, we have sinned grievously against the Jews, the people whose memory of you gave shape to the witness of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Peter, Paul and all those who have followed them. We repent of our sin, and we pledge to proclaim a gospel that affirms your love for all people, whether Jews or Gentiles. Amen."
The One who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.
It is those "in Christ Jesus," Paul says, who are saved, for they live by the law of the Spirit. Paul's gospel is that the law of Moses cannot save, because all will fall short of it. God has, therefore, acted in history to save us, through the life and death of Jesus. Some Christians find in this argument an affirmation of the belief that Jesus "paid the price" of our sins. His death becomes a substitution for our own punishment. But this view affirms an unforgiving God, who requires a victim for his wrath.
The church affirms that Jesus is God to avoid the conclusion that God desires and accepts the death of Jesus as a sacrifice of one human being in place of a more general punishment for all humanity. It is God who suffers and dies on the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus is not the sacrifice of one man for the sake of all people. It is the self-sacrifice of God out of love, a love for humanity that embraces us even when we turn away. The good news of the New Testament is not that Jesus was killed for our sins, but that God put an end to killing for sins by dying on the cross and by creating a new community of faith to witness to the power of forgiving love.
Let us hold to the hope we profess, without wavering, for God who has promised is faithful.
In the history of the church this letter has been attributed to Paul, but it is an anonymous document and is written in a style quite unlike Paul's. The letter was written to persuade a group of Jewish Christians that they did not need to continue observing the law of Moses, but could find the fulfillment of the ancient hope of the Hebrews in the teachings and life of the church. In this respect, the letter is consistent with the writings of Paul, even if it presents argument in a manner that is different.
The letter urges the Jewish Christians to "stir up one another to love and good works," as they wait for the Day of Judgment and the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead. The God of the old covenant (testament) with Israel and the new covenant (testament) with the church will not abandon them, if they live faithfully.
"Sing and rejoice, my people, for I am coming to live among you," says the LORD.
Zechariah, whose prophecies date from 520-518 BCE, was a contemporary of Haggai and had the same zeal for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Writing more than twenty years after Cyrus of Persia freed the people of Israel from captivity in Babylon, Zechariah tells them that their return to the land of their forefathers and their renewal of the life of the covenant in the rebuilt temple is a sign of God's continuing faithfulness. The prophet uses the words of Isaiah 54:1-3 to express the continuity of this hope with the teachings of the past. He does not simply long for the fulfillment of ancient prophecy, but expects its immediate realization.
The end of the Jewish temple created the conditions out of which Judaism and Christianity developed. The Pharisees projected the hopes of the prophets onto the life of the synagogue and looked to the coming of the messiah in a new Jerusalem. Christians applied the imagery associated with the temple to Jesus and the church. Christians claimthat God was present in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit continues to be present in the life of Christian communities until Christ comes again.
Jesus said to Thomas: "You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
The story of "doubting Thomas" appears only in the gospel of John. It is such a vivid and powerful story, it is hard to believe that the other gospel writers could have omitted it. Most likely, it was unknown to them. So, we can assume it was not part of the early memory of the church, but is a literary device used by the author of the gospel of John to make the point for a later Christian community that faith is involves trusting in what cannot be proven.
In that sense, even though this story about Thomas does not represent a factual account of an actual event, it is nonetheless true. Faith in God requires trust in what cannot be demonstrated by empirical facts. But faith may be verified in life. This is what Jesus meant by "entering the kingdom of God." There is no empirical proof that such a life exists, but those who have faith will find it. This is the gospel truth.
You have been raised with Christ, so set your hearts on things above. For you have died and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God.
Resurrection is not about what happens to a body after it dies. Paul tells the Christians at Colossae, a small city near Ephesus in what today is Turkey, that their resurrection is a present reality. Faith is dying to life as an everyday, material existence and being born anew in a life marked by hope and love. This is what Paul means by affirming that Christians live "in Christ." And through their faith, Christians also live "in God."
Too many Christians today think the promise of salvation is life after death. The promise of the biblical witness is life before death. Eternal life with a God is not something that is available to some people after they die. Eternal life with God is available now, before we die, to all those with faith in the God who loves the world beyond measure.
I run in the path of your will, O God, for you have set my heart free.
The psalmist says his "soul cleaves to the dust." We complain about our everyday lives of work and worry, but nonetheless we cling to what we have. We are afraid of the unknown, of the God who promises a richer live in faith if we are willing to let go of our certainties. The psalmist says his "soul melts away for sorrow." We cling to these, too, despite the pain, for when we are grieving we know who we are and what the world is.
The psalmist chooses the "way of faithfulness." Have we made that choice? If not, might we? Can we give over our wills to the will of God? Can we give up our claims on our lives and live in faithfulness to the One who loves and forgives us?
Do not let anything worry you, but in every situation pray with thanksgiving and let God know your desires.
The church in the city of Philippi in Macedonia was the first to be established in Europe, and Paul is writing from prison to encourage the fledgling Greek-speaking congregation. He warns against those who would impose circumcision on Gentile Christians, but also affirms his own roots as a Hebrew and a Pharisee. Paul calls on the congregation to rejoice in the Lord always, and he affirms that "The Lord is at hand."
Even though the Lord did not return in his lifetime, as Paul expected, the church followed Paul's counsel and soon became a largely Gentile community. The words of Paul in this letter and in his other letters were included in the Christian Bible when it was compiled in the 4th century CE. Paul's faith became a model for our own, and so we should listen attentively to his words and take his advice to heart. To the congregation at Philippi he wrote: "the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." May that be so for us as well. Amen.
You will seek the LORD your God; you will find the LORD if you search for him with all your heart and all your soul.
The author of this ancient book tells his readers to turn to the merciful God, who is LORD of the universe, in their time of tribulation. The Israelites know this God through the law of Moses, the prophets and the other writings, and the Jews continue to know this God through that tradition of faith. Christians know this God through these writings but even more through the witness of Jesus Christ and the testimonies to that witness in the New Testament.
Jews who read this passage from Deuteronomy think only of God as LORD, but Christians will identify Jesus Christ as Lord. Christians should not think that Jews misunderstand. God is LORD. Christ is Lord for Christians only because we affirm he is one with the Father. When Deuteronomy was written it was referring to God, not to Jesus, but in applying its meaning to Jesus as the Son of God Christians need not reject the original affirmation of faith that continues to give hope to those who remain faithful to the first covenant.
Peter said: "God chose me so that the nations might hear from my lips the message of the good news and faith. God makes no distinction between human beings."
In Galatians 2 Paul describes a conflict with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem over whether Gentile converts are to be required to submit to Jewish laws, such as circumcision and eating kosher. He accuses Peter of hypocrisy, because first Peter ate with Gentiles at the church in Antioch but then pulled back when messengers from the church in Jerusalem arrived in Antioch.
Acts is written after Gentile Christians have come to dominate the life of the church. During his life Paul seemed to be losing the struggle, but after the destruction of the church in Jerusalem in 70 CE (when the Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion) support for imposing Jewish law on Gentile converts quickly receded. Therefore, Acts presents Peter as agreeing with Paul and even has James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, proclaim a compromise that allows Gentiles to join the church without being circumcised.
We should acknowledge that from the very beginning the church made distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and also men and women, and throughout its history the church has fallen far short of the ideal stated by Peter in the scripture reading for today. The faith in Acts has never been the actual faith of the church, but nonetheless it is a faith worth striving for.
Being in every way like a human being, Christ Jesus was humbler yet, and became obedient to death, death on a cross. Therefore, God raised him high and gave him the name that is above all other names.
Paul encourages the Christians at Philippi to be humble and concerned for the good of others, as Jesus was a humble servant of God even when that meant dying a horrible death. It is because of his humble obedience to God, Paul concludes, that God has made the name of Jesus Christ higher than any other. The church follows Paul in hoping that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
But his hope should not be arrogantly proclaimed by the church, nor should Christians use the New Testament affirmation that Jesus "is the way, the truth and the life" to denounce other religious traditions of faith. It is the humility of Jesus and his obedience to God that "is the way." And it is only the humble use of the name of Jesus that reflects the will of God, as we know it in his Son. Christians are called to embrace the humble, loving witness of Jesus, not to judge others in his name.
Having recognized the Risen Christ, the disciples of Emmaus said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"
Only the gospel of Luke relates the story of the resurrection appearance of Jesus to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In the gospel of Mark the women flee from the empty tomb, but are too frightened to tell anyone what they have seen. The gospels of Matthew and Luke incorporate most of the gospel of Mark into their narratives, but each author finds the ending of the gospel of Mark unsatisfactory and thus adds a new ending.
Just before telling the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the gospel of Luke has related that the disciples did not believe the women returning from the tomb when they described what they had seen. The Emmaus story, and the resurrection appearance that follows in Jerusalem, are evidence that complete the passion narrative and point to the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, the sequel written by the author of the gospel of Luke. Even as Jesus presents the Jewish scriptures in a way that inspired the disciples, the author of the gospel of Luke presents in a compelling way the story of Jesus and the apostles of the early church.
The story of the resurrection appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus points beyond itself to the church as the body of Christ, the real evidence of the resurrection. The truth of the resurrection is in the life of faith we live.
The Lord says to his people: "Within your gates render judgments that are true and make for peace. Yes, love truth and peace."
Writing five centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet conveys to the people of Israel God's promise to return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. But he also reminds the people of the commandments to speak truthfully, to render true judgments that make for peace, to avoid evil thoughts and false oaths, and to observe religious fasts with joy.
Christians believe that these prophecies have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and this means the commandments to live truthfully and peacefully are the responsibility of the church. Jesus is not sitting in the sky somewhere, but is present in the world through the communities of faith that use his name. God is with us, in the worship and ministry of the church. If the churches reflect human striving rather than divine love, this is all the more reason to heed the words of the prophet.
You hear the desire of the humble, LORD; you encourage them and listen to their cry.
The psalmist asks why God does not punish those who prey upon the poor. He has no explanation, even as Job cannot explain why so much suffering comes into his life. But the psalmist affirms that the justice of the LORD will win out in the end, because God listens to the fatherless and the oppressed and cannot be unmoved by their plight.
O LORD, hear the cries of refugees who have been driven from their homes. Heed the distress of those who are trapped in lands at war, who long for peace and hunger for justice. Encourage the despairing, and help the humble persevere. Amen.
Paul wrote of the first Christian communities: "Throughout ordeals of hardship, their unfailing joy and extreme poverty overflowed in rich generosity."
Paul tells the church at Corinth that the churches in Macedonia, despite their poverty, have contributed generously to help the church in Jerusalem. The Macedonian churches have given joyously without considering the cost. The Christian Bible affirms that this is what faith requires. To give out of duty or guilt is not giving at all, but an attempt to buy peace of mind. Only joyous giving is self-giving.
Why this joyous giving? Not simply because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, but because Jesus Christ IS risen in the faith, hope and love of the church. The Christians in Macedonia joyfully affirm life after death, because they have discovered life before death. May we be as blessed as they were.
"God has let us know the mystery of his good purpose: to bring all things together under Christ as head."
The plan of God, Paul says, is to unite all creation. This is the revelation of Christ Jesus because, in Christ, Jews and Gentiles are united by and in the Spirit of God. The letter to the church at Ephesus, where mystery religions in the pagan world were deeply rooted, argues that the real mystery is the way that God is working out his purpose through the church, which is the body of Christ. The unity of the church, with Christ as its head, is the beginning of the completion of the mysterious purposes of God.
Even as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesians, Christians were divided over how to understand the relationship of the new covenant in Christ to the old covenant of the law and the prophets. There never was a united church that later became fragmented. Always divided Christians have sought unity to fulfill the purpose of God. This is our challenge today.
Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. My sheep will listen to my voice and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus predicts that his disciples will desert him after his arrest by quoting from Zechariah 13:7, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered." The gospel of Matthew also includes this saying, as it strengthens his argument that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. The gospel of Luke, however, omits this report. The gospel of John also does not include this statement, but develops the image of Jesus as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. The image is used not to emphasize the weakness of the disciples (the gospel of Mark), nor as evidence that the scriptures are being fulfilled (the gospel of Luke), but to reinforce the theme (in the gospel of John) that Jesus sacrificed his life for his followers.
In this passage Jesus says that he voluntarily lays down his life, but that he has the power to take it again because he is doing the work of his Father. In the gospel of John, Jesus is presented as being one with the Father. Thus, his death is not merely a human sacrifice, but the sacrifice by the Father as well of his (divine and human) son. Christians affirm that the death of Jesus is redeeming, because in that death God (in Jesus) suffers the punishment deserved by humanity in order to liberate everyone from that judgment. God redeems human sin by joining us in death and new life. God enters into our suffering and despair so that we might be born anew in the Spirit.
Paul writes: "Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Paul affirms that he does not claim any righteousness on his own, "based on law," but that through the grace of God and faith in Christ he is the beneficiary of "the righteousness from God that depends on faith." Paul hopes for the resurrection from the dead, because he has been assured of "the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" by the appearance to him (and the other apostles) of the resurrected Jesus. "Christ Jesus has made me his own," Paul confesses, despite his obvious imperfections. So, Paul looks ahead rather than behind and strives for the prize of eternal life.
Clearly, for Paul, faith is not belief that Jesus is the son of God, but means embracing a way of life that is open to the will of God. Faith is not belief. Faith involves living, in trust, a life devoted to the purposes of God. Faith is not passive, but requires striving without pride for the prize that God has offered in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said: "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full."
Once again the gospel of John identifies Jesus as a shepherd who calls his sheep and cares for them. Jesus warns his followers that others "who came before me" have sought to lead them astray. Christians may read this as a condemnation of the religious leaders of Israel through the ages, but this interpretation would contradict affirmations in the other New Testament gospels that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israelite prophecy. If the prophets were right, then surely they were not leading the people astray. The "thieves and robbers" that the Jesus of the fourth gospel warns against are not the Jews of history, but rather the enemies of the church for which the gospel was written. Their condemnation should not be extended to the Jewish people or to include all those who disagree with our interpretation of scripture.
What is the life that the Jesus of the fourth gospel offers? It is life lived full of the Spirit of God with hope and expectation of the glorious consummation of the purposes of God. The gospel of John offers "blessed assurance" that in the son of the Father we are one with both.
God has made us able to serve a new covenant, one which is not of written letters but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Here is where the phrase "new testament" originates, as "testament" is another word for "covenant." The Christian Bible would not be assembled and approved for three centuries after Paul wrote these words, but the idea of a new testament fulfilling the promise of the old testament is first given voice here. Some in the early church felt that embracing the new testament required rejecting the old testament, but that wasn't the teaching of Paul and later the church agreed. The Bible that the church under Constantine created in the fourth century contains both the old and new testaments. Christians, at their best, affirm both but understand the old testament as pointing toward the new testament. Together the old and new testaments represent the saving work of the one God.
Paul asserts that new life comes through the Spirit and not by trying to keep the law of Moses. Here he is siding with the Pharisees who followed Hillel in their opposition to the teachings of another group of Pharisees led by Shamai. This is not only an argument between Christians and Jews, but is an argument among Jews (and also among Christians) that continues to this day. Are we saved by adhering to the rules of our faith community? Or are we saved by the love of God?
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Is this so? This is not normally how we define freedom. We think of freedom as having no restraints, but surely the Spirit of the Lord imposes some restraints on us. After all, the Bible calls us to love our neighbors and forgive our enemies. Trying to do that would considerably restrain our striving for wealth, power and privilege, which can only be secured at the expense of our enemies (and perhaps even the expense of some of our friends).
Paul says that "the Lord is the Spirit," and that is why there is freedom where the Spirit of the Lord is. Real freedom is living in Christ and not for ourselves, having faith in God and not merely striving for self-actualization. Freedom, therefore is not the lack of restraints but submission to the will of God, as we know it in Christ Jesus. Freedom in Christ, being free in the Lord, freedom in the Spirit, is living as though God really does love and empower us to love others.
The LORD said to Abraham, "Leave your country, your kinsfolk and your father's house for the land I will show you." And Abraham set out, as the LORD had told him.
The book of Genesis says that at the time God called him, Abraham was named Abram. After he responds and does God's will, he received a new name marking his new life. In the same way Christians who enter religious order have often taken on new names to signify their new relationship with God. God promised Abraham a new future, and so Abraham left his past behind. His faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness." (Gen. 15:6) About two millennia later Paul would see in Abraham's faith a clue to what faith in Christ meant. Therefore, Paul left his kinsfolk and founded new communities of faith including Gentile as well as Jewish Christians.
What would it mean for us today to "set out" on a new life of faith, as Abraham and Paul did? That is the question every Christian should ponder.
Jesus said: "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you."
In the gospel of John, Jesus says: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." And this, he promises, will mean that his joy will be in them, and that their joy will be full. Love is not an obligation or a burden but the presence of another in us. The presence of Christ in us represents the love of God for us, and that is reason for great joy.
The commandment comes, therefore, as a way of expressing our joy. We are to love one another, because we are filled with the joy that comes with discovering the love of God in Christ. Love is not a responsibility, but an opportunity. Love is not a duty, but a discovery. Love is not a "new law" that requires obedience, but a new life that impels us to share with others the good news of God's redeeming love.
God has rescued us from the rule of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have forgiveness.
The Christians at Colossae, a city in Asia Minor near Ephesus, are adopting some ideas and ritual practices that Paul believes will divide the church. He begins his letter by telling the Colossians that he is praying for them and is certain that they will "be filled with the knowledge and understanding" of God's will and so will "lead a life worthy of the Lord." If they have erred and sinned, Paul says, they may be assured of the forgiveness of sins. This "kingdom of the Son" is life in the Spirit of Christ.
Can we accept that we need forgiveness and that we are forgiven? Can we turn to God in faith and to our neighbor in love? This is the challenge of the gospel.
1 in Faith: A Christian Bible Study † Copyright © 2000 by Robert Traer