Sunday, September 09, 2018

Healing - "He restores my soul"

The word "restore" reminds me of how my brother used to restore homes: he'd take a fixer-upper and fix it up, then rent it out. He built a very comfortable living from that, from restoring homes. He could take the most run-down wreck of a place and make it beautiful. He had an eye for it, and the know-how, and the work ethic.

There's a difference in quality between a well-kept home and a neglected one. The main difference is the people inside. Does anyone care? Is there a solid foundation of human warmth and connection? The people inside a warm home are relaxed, safe, and enjoying each others' company. They work together to create the warmth. On the other hand, the run-down house has been neglected; either the owners have abandoned it, or died, or lack love for it. (Or maybe their mind is broken ... it happens.) There's a certain hopelessness inside a run-down home, or an overwhelmed feeling. The people inside a neglected home are alone or at odds with each other, and usually angry or frightened.

With people, it is much the same way as with the physical buildings: if you know what to look for, it's easy to spot the ones from homes where there's not quite enough love. Their lives become something like the abandoned building, not quite working right, even falling apart. There's a feeling of secrets, of watchfulness, of unhealthiness, of fear.

It is just over five weeks since the death of my brother, and as with so many far-premature deaths, "Why?"is complicated. Still, it starts with the house where we grew up. Faith and hope were foreign words there; "love" was a word that didn't seem to mean what I thought it should mean. My first exposure to religious people was a breath of fresh air, mostly because I saw the warmth that comes from genuine affection and human connection, things that they took for granted, and the feeling of relaxation that came with being around people you could trust. Even the air they breathed felt different.

The warmth in a home comes from faith, from hope, from love. Those come from the people inside the home. While I have held as well as I can to Jesus who has taught me faith and hope and love, I am here to tell you that I do not have the supply of those that I need or want. So I hold the promise dear to my heart, "He restores my soul." The things that can restore a soul are the things that give it life: faith, hope, and love, the greatest gifts of the Spirit of God.

---------

Personal note: It is my hope that, in the next few weeks, at some point it will stop feeling trivial -- and disrespectful of my brother's passing -- to continue with some other topics that I enjoy researching. But today my main thought is, "Too soon."

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The greatest of these is love

St Paul looked into the future and foresaw a day when all his long studying and soul-searching was behind him, when his eloquence would no longer matter. He could foresee the end of himself, and the end of all things, including all the most excellent accomplishments of mankind: "Knowledge will pass away," and "the imperfect disappears". Instead of seeing these things with pessimism ("Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless!"), he saw them with the confidence in the resurrection that ran so strong in the generation that had seen Jesus' resurrection: that when our best efforts have passed away, "These three remain: Faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love."

Even in this world, if I look at the times that I treasure, they are times filled with faith, hope, and love. If I search for memories that I treasure, and people that I treasure, and stories of their actions that I would pass on, I look at these memories and see that they are the ones when people act with faith, hope, and love. Here and now, our best efforts are not of any great value without those things. "If I speak with the tongue of angels, but have no love" it is an intensely painful sound. "If I understand all mysteries but have no love, I am nothing."

"These three remain: Faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love." Those are the things that make any action memorable -- or worthy of memory. May they be the basis for my actions.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Wisdom in the age of information

This morning as I read a Bible commentary, the commentator acknowledged that one particular passage was open to several interpretations which all seem valid, and included this comment:
If we search the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation in an effort to shed light on a particular statement of the Bible and fail to find the answer we are seeking, that does not mean that our efforts have all been useless. Just think of all the other information we might glean in the process. (From the Albrecht & Albrecht commentary on Matthew 10:23)
Is the Word of God intended to give us information? I ask that question in the context of the thought that information has a place in building our understanding. So information adds to knowledge, which (we hope) adds to understanding, which (we hope) adds to wisdom. I'll assume the best of the commentators and figure they meant the knowledge gleaned would increase our wisdom and understanding; if not, it's trivial.

There have been artists who paint with dots ("pointillism" is the name of the style) on the assumption that our minds will connect the dots and arrive at a larger understanding. But what if they didn't? What if we scanned a picture from top to bottom and only came a way with a collection of dots? What if we searched the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and only came away with gleaned information? When we search the Bible from start to end, the points there add up to a picture: God who loves us, God who reaches out to form relationships with people, God who orders the world to bless our lives, God who has compassion on our weakness and binds the wounds of the brokenhearted, God who stands with us in our trials, God who will not let corruption and evil continue forever, God who is faithful to the promises that he makes us.

As I read, may I seek not so much to have "the right answer" on one point, as to connect the dots.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Bible Verses - Gratitude for those who comfort the mourning

  1. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. - Ecclesiastes 7:2
  2. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress - James 1:27 (I figure this is applicable to comforting anyone who is bereaved)
  3. A timely word--how good that is! - Proverbs 15:23
  4. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. - Proverbs 25:11

  5. There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. - Proverbs 18:24

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Personal

There has been a death in the family, and there will be no post this weekend.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Jewish Scripture Quotations - The Big Picture

This chart gives a summary view of the recent series on quotations of Jewish Scripture, both in the gospels recognized by the Christian church and in a variety of other documents that are sometimes discussed as alternative or non-canonical gospels.


The eight non-canonical documents reviewed had a total of 7 passages quoting Jewish Scripture among them, so that the average number of quotations was slightly less than one per alternative gospel. The four Biblical gospels have a total of 83 such passages, with a group average of slightly more than twenty such passages per generally-recognized gospel. Again, group totals can obscure individual differences. Among the non-Biblical gospels, several contain no quotations of Jewish Scripture, while the Gospel of Peter contains 3 such passages. Among the Biblical gospels, the numbers ranged from a low of 13 in the Gospel of Mark to a high of 39 in the Gospel of Matthew. In each case, we're measuring passages of the document which contain quotations rather than individual quotations; there were a few instances in the New Testament documents where a single passage might contain more than one quotation.

Studying the results in detail, some other areas of interest came to light. Some documents only contained quotations of Jewish Scripture only when they were quoting Jesus, and there was no sign that the author was aware that the material was a quotation of an earlier source. Some quotations were introduced in a way that showed familiarity with individual authors within the older writings. Some documents showed Jewish Scripture being applied independently by the author, suggesting that the author came from a background which included Jewish Scripture as part of their own personal worldview.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Quotations of Jewish Scripture - The Gospel of John

This survey of the Gospel of John continues the survey of quotations of Jewish Scripture in different gospels both inside and outside the Christian canon of Scripture. A previous post has covered the details on the general approach for deciding whether to count something as a quotation rather than an allusion or other type of reference. 

Again, because I expect readers with any interest in this topic to be generally familiar with the quotations, I'll place them below the analysis for the reader's convenience. 

The Analysis

Now that the survey has reached the last document included, we are able to get a more comprehensive picture of quotations of Jewish Scripture. The eight non-Biblical gospels that we've surveyed, together, contain a combined total of 7 passages with quotations of Jewish Scripture. The Gospel of Mark contains 14, the Gospel of Matthew contains 39, the Gospel of Luke contains 17, and the Gospel of John contains 13 such passages.

The quotes used in John contain some material seen before in other gospels, such as variations of the phrase "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" on the occasion of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. It also contains a number of quotations not seen in the other gospels, such as the crowds mentioning that Moses had given them manna in the wilderness -- possibly a detail related to other gospels mentioning that the crowds were asking for a sign. This Gospel of John also includes Jesus' citation of the Psalm, "I have said you are 'gods'" in the context of an argument about whether his comments about himself as Son of God amounted to blasphemy. Other gospels had mentioned arguments in the days leading up to Jesus' execution over whether the Messiah was merely David's son or whether he was also David's Lord; here the quotation shows some tension earlier in Jesus' ministry on a related theme. Among the new quotes introduced, one is applied to Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Jesus, "he who shared my bread" (etc).


In the Gospel of John, we see quotes that mention Isaiah and Moses. We see Scripture being quoted by Jesus, by John the Baptist, and by various other people within the narrative. Again we see Scripture independently applied from the narrator's perspective. Both the narrator's perspective and the people within the narrative show an awareness of Jewish Scripture and view the Jewish Scripture as part of their common frame of reference.

 The Quotations

The numbers count how many passages contain quotes of Scripture. A passage may contain more than one quote.
  1. John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
  2. His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me. 
     
  3. What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
  4. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’
  5. Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?
  6. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
  7. Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
    “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
     see, your king is coming,
     seated on a donkey’s colt.”
  8. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
    “Lord, who has believed our message
     and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
  9. For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
    “He has blinded their eyes
     and hardened their hearts,
    so they can neither see with their eyes,
     nor understand with their hearts,
     nor turn—and I would heal them.”
  10. “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’
  11. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
  12. This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
    “They divided my clothes among them
     and cast lots for my garment.”
  13. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Quotations of Jewish Scripture - The Gospel of Luke

This continues the survey of quotations of Jewish Scripture in different gospels from the last several posts. There are some notes in a previous post on the general approach in deciding whether to count something as a quotation rather than an allusion or other type of reference. 

Again, because I expect readers with any interest in this topic to be generally familiar with the quotations, I'll place them below the analysis for the reader's convenience. 

The Analysis

With a long-running series like this, a refresh on the scope can be useful: The eight non-Biblical gospels that we've surveyed, together, contain a combined total of 7 passages with quotations of Jewish Scripture. The Gospel of Mark contains 14, while the Gospel of Matthew by itself contains 39 such passages. Luke's gospel contains 17, coming in with more than the combined total of the eight non-Biblical gospels surveyed and more than Mark, but less than Matthew.

There are a number of quotations from Mark and Matthew that are not included in Luke, though the general analysis of the gospels isn't quite far enough along to have a solid understanding of Luke's basis for selection at this stage. Here I'll confine myself to commenting on things that are included in Luke, rather than the various things omitted.

We can recognize many of the quotations here from Matthew or Mark. Luke was clear about having researched the available material before writing. Yet Luke does not entirely follow either Matthew or Mark for quotations, and seems to have done some independent research into the quotations. The quotation of Isaiah introducing John the Baptist is expanded compared to Mark; it also has the section removed which wasn't from Isaiah. Between that and the way the quote is introduced ("it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet"), it reads as if Luke checked his references. This is Luke's first but not only reference to the previous writings as books or scrolls (using sometimes biblion and sometimes biblos, for those who keep track of such things). He refers to Isaiah's writings more than once using those terms. Luke also makes the first reference in our survey to the "Book of Psalms". Luke includes some quotations seen in neither Mark nor Matthew. It is not clear whether Luke recognized 'the people will say to the hills "Fall on us!"' as a quotation of Jewish Scripture; it is quoted by Jesus and left otherwise unintroduced. Luke also includes an account of Jesus reading from Isaiah's scroll at a sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth, which is not contained in either Mark or Matthew.

As with Mark and Matthew, Luke also shows awareness of the various books and different authors of Jewish Scripture, such as Isaiah, David, and Moses. There is a subtle shift of focus in Luke towards physical reference materials such as scrolls.
 The Quotations

The numbers count how many passages contain quotes of Scripture. A passage may contain more than one quote.

1. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

2. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

3. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

4. The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

5. Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

6. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

7. This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

8. His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see;
    though hearing, they may not understand.’

9. He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

10. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

11. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

12.  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

13. When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

14. Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone’?

15. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’

16. Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’
David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

17. Then
“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
    and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Quotations of Jewish Scripture - The Gospel of Matthew

This continues a survey of quotations of Jewish Scripture in different gospels. There are some notes in the previous post on the general approach in deciding whether to count something as a quotation (as opposed to an allusion or other type of reference), for anyone interested in the technical end of things.

Because I expect readers who have any interest in this topic are generally familiar with the quotations -- and because Matthew's gospel has so many of them -- I'll place those below the analysis for the reader's convenience. 

The Analysis

The first thing that will help our analysis is some sense of context for the scope of it all. The eight non-Biblical gospels that we've surveyed, together, contain a combined total of 7 passages with quotations of Jewish Scripture. The Gospel of Mark contains 14, which is more than the eight non-Biblical gospels combined. The Gospel of Matthew by itself contains 39 such passages, more than double the count from the Gospel of Mark.

In Matthew, we have a number of quotes that are attributed to specific authors: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and David. (In-line footnote: Further citations are made of other authors such as Moses, but these are more along the lines of references or allusions than quotes.) As with previous citations we've seen, some of the citations are not as exact as we'd like -- for instance, the one about the 30 pieces of silver stands out as something where the citation raises questions. Existing scholarship of these gospels has noticed that Matthew probably quotes a Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, with evidence such as the prophecy of the virgin birth.

There is more usage of Scripture all around, compared to previous documents. From the author's point of view, the Gospel of Matthew shows much independent application of Jewish Scripture by the author. The people inside the narrative also have their own interest. People in the crowd quote Scripture; people who want to ask questions ask about Scripture; in answer Jesus quotes Scripture. Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount is seen as having portions organized around key passages of Law of Moses. All around, the Gospel of Matthew is a narrative which is saturated with Jewish Scripture, where the action occurs in a culture that honors and respects those Scriptures, and where the author shares that perspective.

The Quotations

The numbers count how many passages contain quotes of Scripture. A passage may contain more than one quote.
1.    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
2.    “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
3.    And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
4.    Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”
5.    This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”
6.    Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
7.     “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
8.    Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
9.    “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
10.    to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”
11.    “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.
12.    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 
13.     “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
14.    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 
15.    This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.”
16.    But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
17.    For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
18.    This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’
19.    If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
20.    This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
    In his name the nations will put their hope.”

21.    This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
22.    In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
23.    So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
    I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
24.    For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
25.    Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”
26.    Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
27.    This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
28.     “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
29.     “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
30.     “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
    you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”
31.    Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
32.    But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?
33.    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
34.    He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’
35.    “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”
36.    “Immediately after the distress of those days
“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
37.    Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
38.    Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
39.    About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).