The Way, is not a set of beliefs nor an economic value.

Posted: July 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

The Way, is not a set of beliefs nor an economic value.

“Wisdom is not just special knowledge about something. Wisdom is a way of being, a way of inhabiting the world. The beauty of wisdom is harmony, belonging and illumination of thought, action, heart and mind.” (John O’Donohue)

Jim Burklo talks about wisdom in his poem The Wise Man’s Confession. For me he personalises this way of being as a dynamic sort of engagement with reality. I think he just before the moment of awareness as he asks what is it that I see? What is this that is transforming me?

What wisdom I have

Awakens me to my blindness.

I cannot see light itself:

What I know of light

Is only an alluring shadow

Of what it is and does.

From billions of years away in space-time,

Through darkness intervening,

At its inconceivable speed

The light of an exploding star passes

Through the dark seas of my eyes,

Illuminating the dark curves of their retinas.

But I cannot see the glow of their cells:

I can only perceive the messages they send

To my brain, and from there to my soul.

Thus Hope passes,

Unseen and undetected,

Through this dark world.

What retina receives and translates it

Into Joy and Wonder?

An eye comes into the world:

A retina I cannot perceive

That will see for me,

Beyond my dark despair.

A star in the East!

This eye tells me

To follow it

All the way to the Source

Of the truer Wisdom

That is Love.

For me this way of being, this way of inhabiting the world, this beauty of wisdom that O’Donohue is talking about and Burklo is asking questions of is summed up in the poem I wrote about the moment of awareness. The poem speaks to the moment of belonging, the moment when one discovers wisdom as the moment when beauty, harmony and action become one and the Way.

O eternal moment of awareness

in you the whole creation

is one inter-woven garment,

sensuous, seamless, filled with peace and delight.

But beyond that moment life’s path skirts

between illusory dichotomies and visionless monotony,

between celebratory songs and liquid lamentations.

O God of orbiting imagination,

of atomic minuteness and universal immensity,

may the transitory moment become a way of life

until wonder’s pulsating womb

becomes my permanent abode.

In short, wisdom comes in one’s participation in that which we call life. That which we call the Way of being, or more correctly the Way of becoming. The Jesus Way as opposed to what one believes. Walking the Jesus Way is what life is all about. Nothing to do with believing a set of rules, facts or set of doctrinal creedal statements. Participating in life recognizing that literalism, and belief are not good bedfellows because they integrate and we miss so much. We get stuck in word analysis, measuring outcomes and we miss the poetics. We can however fall into the trap of using too many words because we are trying to paint word pictures rather than articulate statements. And the more words, the more hue there is. We are however attempting to escape the prison of belief without losing the place for ‘belief’ in daily living.

What is the problem that we struggle with? It is that we can see how we lock ourselves into a very cognitive belief system with clear boundaries of black and white and we know that this is a limited view while at the same time relish its simplicity, its logic and its ability to quell the fears we have about change and the unknown. We become rooted in creed and doctrine and statement. And that is very sad. We then become afraid when we see that belief is a present moment that it is fleeting and fragile. We struggle to see that that’s a positive thing.

Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000), Israel’s most celebrated poet, whose works have been translated into 40 languages, speaks to this prison of belief and its propensity for creedal and doctrinal prison making.

From the place where we are right

Flowers will never grow

In the spring.

The place where we are right

Is hard and trampled

Orthodoxies

Like a yard.

But doubts and loves

Dig up the world

Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

Where the ruined

House once stood.

Our title suggests that there is an either or in relation to belief, economic value and the following argument is that it takes wisdom to discern this. That seeing the Way of Jesus as a way of being is about re-imagining the world and that the parables, in being about the Kingdom or the realm of wise living are not about believing a set of rules or about a culture based on economic values. They are an approach through wisdom about seeing the new realm or way of being that is possible when one walks the Yeshua Way.

Our tradition has it that James the Greater was chosen by Jesus to be one of the 12 apostles.
One of the inner circle of intimates, James is called The Greater to distinguish him from another younger (and shorter?) apostle, also named James. James the greater was one of the sons of Zebedee and Salome, brother of St John the Apostle, and together, James and John were known by the nickname: “sons of thunder”. Tradition says James was the first Apostle to be martyred, stabbed with a sword by King Herod Agrippa, in Jerusalem around the year 42-44 CE. His Memorial day, was the 25 July.

Legends have sprung up that James evangelised Spain. After his death his body was taken to Spain and buried at Compostela (a town the name of which is commonly thought to be derived from the word “apostle”). His supposed burial place there was a major site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. And today… as some of you have trekked that way. But many of these stories have little basis in historical fact and that includes many of the imaginative biblical stories as well.

James is the patron saint of: hat makers, rheumatoid sufferers, blacksmiths, labourers,
pharmacists, and pilgrims. He is represented by the colours blue and gold/yellow, and the symbols: a cockle shell, a pilgrim’s staff, or most fittingly, an elderly, bearded man, wearing a hat with a scallop shell…

Tradition also tells us he and others did not always appreciate what this itinerant sage Yeshua was on about with his invitation to re-imagine the world. And this is where this morning’s collection of mini parables come in. Where ‘James’ and ‘parable’ meet.

Matthew 13: 3 – 33, 44 – 48

And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’

The Purpose of the Parables

Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

The Parable of the Sower Explained

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

The Parable of the Yeast

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Three Parables

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

Matthew’s Jesus says the reign of God is… like a mustard seed, like leaven like finding treasure and hiding it in a field, like looking for fine pearls, like a dragnet cast into the sea. But we know by now, I hope, that these are a special type of story called ‘parable’. And parables as you will have heard on many occasions turn our assumptions and conclusions upside down They specialize in revealing the unexpected, offering hints only, subverting the normal and traditional, and casting out certainty to make room for hope. So how is our common sense or traditional assumptions turned up-side-down to invite the unexpected in this collection of mini parables as offered by Matthew’s Jesus? They require wisdom when approaching them and remember here what O’Donohue says about wisdom. “Wisdom is a way of being, a way of inhabiting the world. The beauty of wisdom is harmony, belonging and illumination of thought, action, heart and mind.” 

For James there was no indication that this was the day his life would change. The dawn for him was not the bright beginning of a new day, but the end of a long fruitless night of fishing. As he sat mending his nets in the boat with his brother John and his father Zebedee, was he shocked when he saw Simon and his brother Andrew walk away from their trade at a word from Jesus? As he watched Jesus walk toward him followed by Simon and Andrew, did he feel curiosity, fear, hope, envy? Yet when Jesus called James and his brother John to do just what Simon and Andrew had done, they too left behind their boat, their business and their family. Four Galilean fisherman, and an itinerant preacher with a re-imagined world.  For the time being it was enough (Adapted from Donald Burt & John Shea’s stories…).

But, what about economic value? How does that effect what is real and what is out way of being?

Well if one looks hard at many of the decisions being made today regardless of what industry or sector of the culture one can see a set of priorities and strategies that view the abused marginalized and poor as a threat to the financial wellbeing of the society or the institution. The removal of homeless from sheltered spaces around the city or church buildings is one example of this economic value imposition.

The disturbing consequence of this strategy is that leadership effectively accepts that human worth can be measured by economic price. They accept that the priority of society is to preserve and enhance its financial resources. What about human wellbeing? What about human flourishing?

James and his younger brother were nicknamed ‘Sons of Thunder’. Which probably meant they were a little headstrong, hot-tempered, and impulsive!  They were fisher-folk from the area around Capernaum, an unwalled town of twelve hundred people, with no sign of planning in the layout of streets, no gates, no defensive fortifications, and no channels for running water or sewage disposal. Not a sought-after spot, quips Dom Crossan, but a good place to get away from, with easy access across the Sea of Galilee to any side (Crossan 2001:81).

As a community it was struggling to survive in what we would call a ‘third world’ situation, but with considerable ingenuity in making the most of limited resources. It is also a sad reminder of what peasant life was like:

• where only about one in every hundred people could read and only about one in every thousand could write, and

• when Herod Antipas promoted his unjust imperial ‘ideological blueprint’ of romanisation by urbanisation for commercialisation.

Yeshua was a homeless, homeland Palestinian Jew, a native of the Galilee. Unfortunately for many traditional Christians, the Jewishness of Jesus lies on the remote margins of Christian imagination. As a result they are inclined to miss his ethnicity, his religion, his economic status, and his political situation (Jenks 2014:124).  Probably born during the final years of Herod the Great, he too lived under the broken bodies and crushed spirits of Roman Imperial rule. A wandering Cynic-like sage, teaching about the deception of wealth, the appeal to nature, and the extolling of simplicity, shows Jesus belonged more to the ‘wisdom’ than the ‘priestly’ stream of Judaism. He spent at least as much time figuring things out himself, seeking wisdom, as in communicating the understanding he came to. And according to him, the best place to be both wise and holy was right in the midst of ordinary life. Every now and again he’d join in with a comment, a phrase, a story. His listeners would laugh. Maybe scratch their heads. Or interrupt with a quip of their own.

“Rather than pointing to traditional texts”, suggests NT scholar Hal Taussig, “Jesus pointed to the birds of the air, the employment practices of farmers, the goings on in the marketplace, the work of women in the household, and the social life of the peasant, as the real sources of wisdom and authority” (Taussig 1999:15-16).

So, it is highly probable that Jesus did not walk about ancient Palestine thinking about himself as the incarnate Son of God or the second Person of the Trinity! (Jenks 2014b:49)

Generally speaking, the ‘historical’ human Jesus can be re-discovered in our time, through some of the most challenging critical work being done in New Testament scholarship today. Coupled with honesty about that knowledge from the pulpit.

As a result of some of that scholarship we now know there are at least two forms of ‘wisdom’ sayings that characterise the Jesus voiceprint:

  • aphorism (short sayings) and
  • parable (narratives whose endings poke).

This suggests then, that: parables and aphorisms are about ‘lifestyle’. They are about hearing and doing, rather than believing and venerating. And they are about the present.

They are fragments of this Jesus voiceprint that ask us to hear these particular fictional mini-parables as ‘red flags’ waving at us and saying to us; don’t expect God’s domain or the realm of God to be what you reckon or want it to be! If you really hear the voice of the historical Jesus,
the chances are you will not like him (Galston 2005:16).

Parables are very deceptive. They are about recasting the world according to a vision. The realm of God in the teachings of Jesus “was not an apocalyptic or heavenly projection of an otherworldly desire. It was driven by a desire to think that there must be a better way to live together than the present state of affairs” (Mack 1995:40).

The early followers of Jesus did not make claims about him because they sensed in him a difference essence, or saw a halo circling his head! They made claims about him because “they had heard him say and seen him do certain things. They experienced him acting in their lives. And what they experienced in the company of this person… moved them deeply” (Patterson 1998:53).

The 4th century Nicene Creed tells us what to believe about Jesus but says nothing about what Jesus taught. We confess, “…born of the Virgin Mary,” but we don’t say,“…taught us to love our enemies” (Galston 2012:112 Note 2).

His public years leave no mark on the creeds and confessions (Jenks 2014c). Creeds control God while putting Jesus to sleep by abstraction!  Whereas, stories about ‘lifestyle’ invite us to hear and re-imagine the present world differently, by considering the human condition of all, not just the condition of our own race, family, or nationality.

Jesus was an observer of people and of life. His life bore witness to the re-imagined world of the parables. He challenged and debunked convention. He poked and prodded. “He seemed to assume that if one called into question old habits and norms, something far more fresh and powerful could be unveiled” (Taussig 1999:19).

Now twenty centuries later, we are being poked and prodded. Not to be shaped by the silly question: ‘what would Jesus do?’ That’s to be preoccupied with triviality. Rather, by becoming who we are and doing what we do.

• Freed to go on the journey Jesus chartered, instead of worshipping the journey (Wink 2000:177).

• Freed to change the way we view ‘limits’. Especially so when a Congregation celebrates its 50th Anniversary, paying attention to the particular context of that Congregation.

So, after all the study and all the talk such study usually invokes, how might living in our contemporary situation be shaped by the human ‘historical’ Jesus? Canadian theologian, David Galston. In one of his comments he said our task is: “… to carry forward into the contemporary world the momentum of the Jesus movement: grasping the style of the teacher, capturing the spirit of his words, and living out the implications of these words in our own time with our own creativity” (Galston 2012:53).

Let us be wise. Amen.

Notes:

Crossan, J. D. & J. L. Reed, Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Galston, D. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2012.

————–, “Postmodernism, the Historical Jesus, and the Church” in The Fourth R 18, 5, September-October 2002, 11, 14-18.

Hamilton A. “Church Honours Market over Gospel in Abuse Cases” in Eureka Street eZine, Vol 24, No. 6. 2 April 2014.

Jenks, G. C. Jesus Then and Jesus Now. Looking for Jesus, Finding Ourselves. Preston: Mosaic Press, 2014.

————–. “Encountering God in Jesus of Nazareth” in N. Leaves (ed). Encountering God: Face to Face with the Divine. Melbourne: Morning Star Publishing, 2014b.

————–. “Jesus then and Jesus now. A sermon”. Preached at St Mary’s in Exile, Brisbane, 25 May 2014c.

Mack, B. L. Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

Patterson, S. J. The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning. Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1998.

Peters, K. E. Spiritual Transformations. Science, Religion, and Human Becoming. MN: Minneapolis. Augsburg Fortress, 2008.

Taussig, H. Jesus Before God. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999.

Vosper, G. With or Without God. Why the Way we Live is More Important than What we Believe. Canada: Toronto. HarperCollins, 2008.

Wink, W. ‘The Son of Man the Stone that Builders Rejected” in The Jesus Seminar. The Once and Future Jesus. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2000.

1. The discovery of a first century fishing boat in 1986, during a drought that lowered the water level, confirms this impression (JDCrossan).

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