Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

You can count these emotions on your fingers :  Envy, Jealousy, Spite, Resentment and Vengeance and like the grip of your hand, these emotions can lay hold of our sense of self and our sense of those around us.  Thus, they are called double-edged emotions by Robert C. Solomon in his lectures “The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions” from The Teaching Company.  These forceful five are not only energy against others, they are also forces that diminish our sense of self and satisfaction with life.  Here are brief definitions according to Solomon:

  1. Envy might be the opposite of love.  Love reconciles and brings people together.  Envy separates people and focuses on what another person has and because we want it, our attitude about that person is affected by the desire.   Envy is rarely acted upon….more of a passive emotion that eats us up from the inside.
  2. An exacerbation of envy is spite.  Spite is taking action against someone for which we have envy.
  3. Jealousy is a not a matter of love, affection or desire, but rather a sense of competition and thus a social emotion that binds one to our rival.
  4. “Resentment is an emotion of impotence, the feeling that there is not much we can do about our frustrations in the world.”  Thus, resentment tempts us to take “…joy in other people’s suffering.” (43)
  5. Vengeance is deeply related to justice.  An eye for an eye is remembered from the Old Testament and rather than being barbaric is a reminder for people to keep their vengeance in proportion to the injury they have experienced.

It seems unavoidable to be bitten by one of these five but it may be possible to avoid being consumed by them.    Solomon is sympathetic.  He notes that the world is fundamentally unfair and difficult.  These emotions keep us honest about that.  But, that the world is unfair is not the ultimate reality for the Christian.  The ultimate reality  is that even the unfair circumstances or situations are not final.  We, with God‘s help have the ability to affect our experiences through the mind and our modified behavior.  The force of the five double-edged emotions pulls our heads up and to attention.  We would be fools to ignore them and we will be stronger and more resilient if we out-maneuver them.  Like competitive efforts on the TV show Wipeout, the thrill is getting by these five.  They, not other people are our real competitors and if we out-maneuver them through compassion, wisdom and self-enrichment, we feel like winners.  I wonder if some Wipeout contestants get snagged because they attend too much to the swinging, rolling, shifting obstacle rather than the destination point just beyond them.


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When the Kingdom of God is considered in Luke 17,  it is perhaps presented as a test question to Jesus by Pharisees in verses 20 and 21.  Then the conversation is broadened to include disciples who are a more revolutionary leadership group in verses 22-25.  Responding to the test question of the Pharisees as well as warning the disciples about their own interest in and pursuit of God’s Kingdom, verses 26-37 need a bit of untangling in order to review at least two themes of The Kingdom:  

1.   Time:   Pharisees and disciples anticipate that The Kingdom will arrive at some future time that they hope to be able to anticipate. 

2.  Signs or Clues:  Pharisees and disciples anticipate that The Kingdom will be accompanied by obvious signs or clues that come from God and descend upon the human experience.

Jesus’ mysterious responses suggest subtle corrections to these themes of time and clues. 

Correction to time: I want to suggest that Jesus’ response that “The Kingdom of God is within you” is a correction to anticipating a future Kingdom.  Rather the Kingdom within you is a synthesis of the specific past, present and future of each believer.  So, in verses 21 and 23 there is a warning not to chase after exterior signs “here” or “there”.    I am suggesting that the Kingdom is experienced when an individual person is pulling together the important clues that surround them into a meaningful whole that makes sense in light of their past, present and future.  

If the Kingdom is not so much a future date of fulfillment, this effects our understanding of signs as well.  No longer are we looking for signs as a warning of what is to come.  Rather there are clues that are indicative that a Kingdom experience is available now within our current circumstances and contexts.  Clues can be characterized many different ways:  interesting, agitating, or scary just to name a few. 

For example, we receive an agitating comment from a friend that we are too self absorbed.  This comment is so disturbing that we want very much to dismiss it but we cannot no matter how we rationalize or complain about it.  Such a resilient and agitating moment may be a God given clue into our lives that encourages us to practice focusing on another person or circumstance.  And in the midst of the experiment we have a deeply spiritual experience that leaves us feeling grateful and rejuvenated. 

Another example might be a woman who is afraid to go see her ailing father in a nursing home.  She is afraid she will not know what to say or how to adequately comfort him.  Of course, she will have to eventually end the visit (if she ever decides to go) and leaving him will be painful as he asks to go with her or wants her to stay longer.  She might avoid going and her burden will grow.  Or she might have a playfully prayerful exchange with God and say… ‘Okay, even though I am afraid to receive this scary clue, I will receive it.  And I will even go visit my ailing father.  Give me the strength to do this visit well.”  And once she arrives there are tears, some laughter, awkward moments of silence and  finally a “good bye” that requires several attempts before she is finally walking out the door.  Even as she is grateful to be leaving – she is more grateful that she came.  She feels connected to her God given purpose.  She feels she has accomplished her mission.  Her visit has drawn her past, her present and her future together into a meaningful whole, with God’s help.

The point is that agitating or scary clues can make us want to bury ourselves into a mindless party or celebration as referenced in the Old Testament stories nestled in verses 26-29. 

Verses 30-35 sound like the seed idea for the tremendously popular apocalyptic fiction series Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  I think we can imagine these verses another way that does not imply that we worship such a wrathful and vengeful God.   Imagine two very good friends collaborate and share many rich experiences in their lives.  And as they live and work enjoying one another, their specific clues accumulate.  Most likely the clues accumulate at different rates or intensities.  So, eventually, one friend withdraws from regular habit in order to make a mindful response to her accumulated clues.   This may leave the other friend feeling “left behind” or lost from the friendship.   How many of us have felt this way only to have a friend return (enriched, diminished or otherwise) months or years later?  Clues can take some time to understand and formulate a response to.  Did I say time?:)

My version of scripture (NRSV) does not include verse 36.  So I will not address it here.

Verse 37 is my favorite perhaps because it seems so cryptic.   We remember that vultures gather when death seems eminent.  However the passage does not say that the vultures feast … only that they gather or circle.  As despicable as vultures are perceived to be in culture, they are also the creatures that will salvage what others have given up on.  In the eating of carrion, vultures ingest the death that was not otherwise managed.  As they digest it, it takes the form of new energy and life.  So, I hear in this passage the promise that the Kingdom experience is possible when we are integrating our past, present and future through the clues of our circumstances in such a way that we die to some things and are reborn to others.  Perhaps we die to: one way of relating to our loved one; previous understanding of the way the world works; a political party; a habit or routine.  And almost simulatenously, we begin to find energy for an enriched relationship; a learning curve toward greater understanding; a new political network;  a revitalizing routine. 

Though religion is an important tool for Kingdom experiences, this passage impresses upon me that Kingdom experiences cannot be generalized to one dimension of time or environmental clues that are set apart from the specificity of each person.  My interpretation of Luke 17, grows in strength when we consider our most fundamental belief, that God knows and treasures each of us personally.  The Kingdom is among us and within us and experienced uniquely by us.  Any congregation on Sunday morning (or other days of the week) might marvel at the number of Kingdom experiences that have gathered.   And as the liturgy is spoken and the hymns are sung, the human beings sitting in the pews are anchored by the rocks in their guts.  Their minds are distracted from the provided worship… “What am I going to do with the clues that have gathered in my life?”  A Jesus- like whisper responses, “Your clues are the stepping stones into the Kingdom experience that God anticipates for you.  Be Brave!”

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