And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
//If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that there is not one right way to interpret the stories of Jesus. There is a richness of ideas and lessons contained in these simple stories and parables that I never imagined.
Take this story of the woman who put everything she owned into the temple treasury. Traditionally, I may have appreciated her willingness to give, even to the last penny. What a trust in God she had!
But what if Jesus wasn’t pointing out her faithfulness? What if Jesus was highlighting the blood-sucking ways of the Temple system, and pointing her out as a victim?
Then the parable says this: “Don’t be like this poor victim. The religious system will leave you empty and broke. This system may work for the rich, but for the poor, it only leaves them more destitute.”
Why would we think this is what Jesus was saying? Read the story in context! Jesus had just issued a warning about the scribes and how they “devour widows’ houses.” Then he points to this poor widow as an example.
In the Bible, the Spirit is associated with creation. In Genesis 1:2, the wind/spirit/breath-of-God blows across the deep. Thus the wind provides an excellent picture of the Spirit, roaming the earth. Breath is merely wind inside us. To be “born of the Spirit” means to be created anew, embracing the meaning of life intended by God. It is God breathing new life into a person. In both Hebrew and Greek, there is only one word for both “wind” and “spirit.” The tendency of the churches of today to conceptualize and personify this spirit costs it much of the meaning. It is wind all around and inside us, cosmic breath, the invisible, spectral life-force.
Try to picture the moment Jesus rose from his baptism in the Jordan waters and felt the Spirit descend upon him. Have you had such moments? For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, impossible to forget. The moment arrives in transcendental form, and we feel bathed in a foreign substance.
In such moments, it’s common to be overwhelmed by an indescribable feeling of joy, peace, and love.
–The River of Life, Energion Publications, 2014 by Lee Harmon
And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him.
//Continued from yesterday: Suppose, in the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, that the two names for God–Yahweh and Elohim–refer to different beings, rather than to the same god. Suppose that Yahweh is the god who called Abraham out of Ur, while Elohim refers to the gods he once worshipped.
Yesterday’s post ended with Elohim calling to Abraham, enticing him to return to his polytheistic, blood-sacrificing ways. The gods he once worshipped invite him to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son on an alter.
So Abraham goes. He binds his son, places him on the altar, and raises the sacrificial knife. Today’s verse is what happens next. (Hint: when your Bible reads “God,” the original Hebrew reads Elohim; when your Bible reads “the Lord,” the original Hebrew reads Yahweh.)
Did you catch it? It’s Yahweh back on stage now. Elohim calls for sacrifice, but Yahweh calls it off. Israel’s God has a different idea:
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. –Hosea 6:6
And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.
//Yesterday I introduced the Documentary Hypothesis, and how it assumes two different Biblical authors contributed to the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. This assumption stems from the use of Elohim as a name for God by one author, and by Yahweh as a name for God by the other author. But what if this different naming is intentional? What if the story means to use two different names for God?
The story of Abraham (known as Abram in this verse) begins in the land of Ur. This might be significant. Ur is modern-day Iraq, and the religion of the Chaldeans there was polytheistic. They believed in multiple gods who demanded blood sacrifice. Yahweh instructs Abraham to leave this land and its gods and travel to another.
In this new land, there eventually comes a day when Abraham is “tested” by God. But this testing is by the god of another name; not Yahweh but Elohim. The title Elohim is often read as plural, the plural of El, meaning “gods.” It is also often used to refer to Canaanite gods. It’s as if the God of Israel (Yahweh) calls Abraham out of Ur, and then the gods of Ur (Elohim) entice him to return to his old ways, even asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. They tell him to go to the “land of Moriah,” which may mean the land of the Amorites. In other words, to leave Yahweh’s land and take his son to the land where human sacrifice was practiced.
The story continues tomorrow.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
//This story disturbs an awful lot of Bible readers. God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering. Abraham does what God demands, taking his son up a mountain, building an altar, and binding him on the altar. As he reaches for the knife to slay his son, God finally intervenes and tells Abraham not to kill Isaac.
Yes, God intervened. But what loving God would ask this of a person in the first place? What father would obey such a request? Which of you, today, could imagine that it is God doing the asking if such a thing were demanded of you?
It gets worse. Bible scholars recognize that there are multiple authors contributing to this story. Those familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis know the two authors as the Elohist and the Yahwist. The Elohist refers to God as Elohim; the Yahwist as Yahweh. The Elohist tells the story of Abraham’s call to slay his son, and tells also of Abraham’s descent back down the mountain after the sacrifice, apparently alone. It’s quite possible that in the Elohist version of the story, Abraham really does slay his son. The Yahwist adds the narrative of God intervening, providing a ram as a replacement for Isaac, so that Abraham doesn’t have to kill his son.
But there is another way to make sense of Elohim and Yahweh, and it doesn’t require the Documentary Hypothesis. This alternative interpretation is much more in line with a compassionate, loving God. The story continues tomorrow.
by Doug Pagitt
Don’t miss this one. Pagitt has the interesting writing style, fresh Bible interpretations, and anecdotal stories to keep you turning pages while he presents his Progressive Christian outlook. He even throws in a little Einstein as he explains what it means to be the light of the world.
Flipped is about turning everything over and seeing it fresh. Your concept of God will be turned on its head. Here’s a clue: Pagitt’s favorite phrase may come from the book of Acts: “In God we live, move, and exist.”
Pagitt wants to free us from what he calls an If/Then service, or a Transaction System, in which we bargain with God. If we do this, then God will do that. If we believe this, God will provide that. If we can discard the idea of conditional existence in God, then we become free to just be. To live in the moment, to become part of the whole, to see every human being as existing “in God.”
I really enjoyed this book.
Convergent Books, © 2015, 212 pages
“And so ends the Jewish nation,” Matthew pronounced, wagging his head appropriately.
Samuel smiled wryly at his son’s language, probably a phrase he had heard from his teacher. He sounded so grown up! “Yes, so ends the Jewish nation, a time of great darkness for the people of God. Did not the prophet Amos tell us these events would signal the end of times? God said, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”
“Imagine if that really happened, Father! Children would be screaming in fright,” Matthew giggled.
“It did really happen, Son—just one more way we know that the final days have come! The Gospel tells us that when our Lord died on the cross, darkness fell at noon and lasted for three hours. It seems to me that a spiritual darkness began also on that day and hasn’t lifted yet.”
“Were you afraid when the war began, then?” Matthew teased.
“My son, I know you jest, but you must understand. Many felt afraid, but this was not the fear of a man for his life. While the Jews don’t all agree about doctrine, most know the scriptures well, and all of us recognized this war as an act of God. In times such as these, every man looks into his own heart and searches there to see whether or not he stands right with God. Many fled and hid in caves hoping to die, trying to escape the plagues God promised to inflict upon his people if they broke his covenant. Even now, Son, more plagues draw near; John has told us so.”
–Revelation: The Way It Happened, 2010, pp. 21, by Lee Harmon
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said
//These words are spoken by Paul in the book of Acts. Are you curious who he is quoting?
It’s credited to Epimenides, who lived six centuries before Paul. Here is another quote, supposedly written by Paul:
One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. –Titus 1:12
These quotes both originate from the same “poem,” known as Cretica addressing not the Hebrew god but Zeus. Here are the original words that made it into our Bible:
They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.
And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
//This verse describes a man who lived among the graves and was possessed by a “legion” of devils. He was untameable, self-destructive, unhelped and known only as “Legion.”
Whatever the purpose of this story, and whatever its historicity, it serves well as a parable of the Jewish nation under Roman suppression. The name Legion would have been easily recognized as a reference to the Roman legions, especially the infamous Tenth Legion. This hapless man, crying and cutting himself, portrays the violence and trauma of Roman occupation, and the self-hatred and self-destruction that colonized nations undergo.
In the Biblical story, Jesus, the Christian Messiah, overthrew the bonds of the afflicted man, casting the devils out of him. Jesus sent the devils into a passel of hogs, who ran pell-mell down a hill into the sea, presumably destroying the legion. A hopeful end, but unfortunately that isn’t how the story of the Jews played out in history.
Readers of my book on Revelation know how the Jewish nation self-destructed under their own revolutionary uprising. The implosion reached an epic climax 40 years after Jesus died when a messianic group calling themselves Zealots tried to take control of Jerusalem. Starvation and terror weakened the Jews, and the attempted military uprising brought down the wrath of the Romans. In real life, Legion cut himself half to death trying to drive away the demons, and the infuriated demons massacred him. No savior came.
“But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”
//This line comes from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. After life is over, Lazarus and the rich man both find themselves in Hades, separated by a chasm. Lazarus is stationed in a pleasant place, in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man, not so much. The rich man is in such torment that he asks Abraham to let Lazarus go up to the living world and warn his brothers about what will happen to them if they don’t learn to share their riches. Abraham says no, the brothers have Moses and the prophets to warn them. If they won’t listen to them, they wouldn’t be persuaded even if someone (meaning, Lazarus) came back from the dead.
The irony, of course, is that the parable does for us what it refuses to do for the rich man’s brothers. It warns us. But the presumption is the warning won’t help us; if we won’t listen when Moses and the prophets tell us how to care for the poor, we won’t be persuaded even if someone (this time meaning Jesus) comes back from the dead.