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Posts Tagged ‘Messiah’

Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Like most Christians, I have been under the impression that the Jewish understanding of the Messiah was the same as the one I have been taught, that God foretold through the prophets, a savior. But that is not completely the case.

When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign [feeding the 5,000], they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.”  Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain. [John 6:14-15, CEB]

It is true that the Jews were looking for a “mashiach” (a better translation of the word מָשִׁ֫יחַ according to Judaism 101 website) which means anointed compared to “moshiah” (a word more readily translated as savior). The idea of anointing a king can be seen throughout the the Old Testament, from Saul to David and so on. And in many ways, the English word Messiah means the same, but according to the Judaism 101 scholar/writer, the Christian view of “savior” has overtaken the Jewish concept. Whether this is really true, I don’t know, but I found the discussion interesting.

What resonates most deeply for me however is the idea of waiting and what or who I might be waiting for. How easily I might miss the person or thing or experience if my bias drives my waiting. If I am waiting for a king (a lion) who will, with authority and might, overthrow my circumstances to make all things right, then I would be hard-pressed to see the sacrificial lamb, who is more interested in the “long game” than the individual “play.”

I had never heard that term before: the long game, until recently while watching old seasons of the television series, Homeland. Apparently, this is not uncommon in the “intelligence” world and spy business. Nor had I considered that the work of Christ, the Savior, is a very long game, a very long investment, a twist in the human plot that changes the direction of the world. For that cannot be denied, whatever the belief system, the appearance of Jesus was (and is) a fork in the road of humanity.

Jesus could have taken the road of mashiach, for he was anointed. And he could have overthrown the Roman empire, I have no doubt. Instead, he presented the paradox of faith in the unseen, good overcoming evil, sacrifice replacing power and set it in motion. And in this long game, we can all play a part; we can choose to engage or not.

In my own life, I have set myself up for a number of disappointments by investing my energies in a dream, or rather my interpretations of the dream. I have grasped onto a good idea in lieu of the great idea because I have been impatient or short-sighted. I got caught up in conquering instead of serving, rushing forward instead of waiting, anticipating the endgame instead of living the day itself. I have been chasing the lion.

Like the populace who lined the streets of Jerusalem with Jesus rode in on a donkey, they cried “Hosanna” which can be translated as not just “save us” but “save us now!” They could not see or hear what Jesus was saying all along, “I am saving you, for eternity.”

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bitternessOnce again, I am visiting the book of Ruth. I know this story well, having performed a one woman show for several years as the character of Ruth. But now, as I approach the latter part of my own life, I am more drawn to Naomi’s role.

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara,because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” [Ruth 1:20-21a, NIV]

I have many besetting sins, as we all do, but one of the most tenacious sins is disappointment. That’s right, I call it a sin. It is my warning bell, for out of it I have seen full blown bitterness grow. Disappointment fans the flames of bitterness.

NaomiNaomi had a good life. She had the security of a husband and two sons who would care for her in her old age. When famine struck their land, the family traveled to a neighboring country to start over. Even though they had lost much in the famine, they were still a family. She could endure as long as they were together. But of course, that was not how it turned out at all. Instead, her husband died. And although she had her boys and their new wives, within ten years, the sons died as well. How could this be? All of her dreams and hopes were crushed. There were not even grandchildren to hold the family together. There was no family at all. She sent the widowed daughters away.

Despite the loyalty of Ruth, who traveled with her, Naomi lost hope. (In fact, I could imagine Naomi considered Ruth, a Moabitess after all–a foreigner, nothing but another stone around her neck.) Naomi’s deep disappointment in the outcomes of her life drove her into sorrow, grief, even despair and from those, she blundered into a growing bitterness and resentment toward God who she believed took everything away.

I can’t say my life ever hit such a deep abyss. Besides, I live in a country and in an era where women can be resilient, self-sufficient even. I am not at the complete mercy of a patriarchal society as Middle Eastern women were of that day (and some still).

And yet I have battled with my God. As a long-time believer, I imagined my life would turn out differently. I thought my aspirations had the power of God behind them. But, as the road branched and turned and twisted, I found myself continually looking back, wondering what would have been if I had chosen the other way, had I not married at eighteen or divorced five years later, if I had graduated from college in Indiana instead of Illinois, if I had not gone to New York, if I had not returned home to Indianapolis with my tail between my legs, if I had not married again and moved to Atlanta, if I had not been barren, and so on and on and on.

Oh foolish woman I know. To bemoan the loss of what could have been and not revel in what is.

disappointmentToday and tomorrow are still a wonder if I allow them to be. I am ashamed of my bouts of disappointment for they are nothing but unproductive. Disappointment prevents growth in a good way. It interferes with gratitude. And worst of all, disappointment presumes I know the better way, that my ideas of who I was to become or what I was meant to do or how my life should have unfolded were mine alone. But I surrendered that right the day I accepted the Christ spirit. In theory at least.

But surrender to the little life I have rather than the bigger life I aspired to is not always easy. Most of those dreams were self-aggrandizing. In those dreams, I was still the center of the universe.

Naomi could only see her crumbling world, she could could not see the bigger picture. We all have a bigger picture which is why it is so important to trust God in every turn of life, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, this is the believer’s vow to Christ. This mantra can stave off disappointment.

Through Naomi’s daughter-in-law, a child was conceived by Boaz, and the line was preserved. One of the greatest leaders was born as a result, King David, who set in motion the fulfillment of long-time prophecies of a Messiah for the world. That was Naomi’s big picture.

 

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notre dameHow did this get past me after all these years? Honestly, I was so sure that this phrase, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” made most popular in Handel’s Messiah, was from Isaiah, like so much of that great oratorio. Instead, I’m reading along in Job, and there it is jumping out at me.

“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and he will stand upon the earth at last.” [Job 19:25, NIV]

Remember now, this is Job, one of the oldest texts and yet the Redeemer appears, the vindicator, the deliverer, the rescuer: only the Messiah, who Job proclaims despite his exhaustive litany of sorrows, losses, betrayals, and sickness. His redeemer lives. And mine.

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shepherdsHow many of us know a shepherd. Honestly? At best I may have met a 4-H person at the Farm Fair. Oh, and one of my library colleagues used to raise a few sheep for the wool which she sheared and spun and created beautiful things. But she wasn’t exactly Little Bo Peep. And although nativity story shepherds have been romanticized, the truth is they were on some of the lowest rungs of the ladder. They were a necessity for the economy, the protection of the sheep, but their jobs were B-O-R-I-N-G. In modern day, I might compare them to a rent-a-cop on the graveyard shift of a storage unit.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. . . . When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. [Luke 2:8-9, 15-16, NIV]

I’ll look into angels tomorrow but for now, let’s look at shepherds. Back in the day, the shepherd metaphor was a good one. The Greek word poimēn word means herdsman or shepherd, but even then, it was seen metaphorically, the one who watches over the flock, the one who protects the herd from outside danger, the one who seeks for lost ones, the one who heals the sick. For these reasons, many have compared shepherds to pastors in a church. And certainly, even Jesus himself, allowed this comparison [John 10:14-16].

What’s funny about shepherds to me is that despite their humble station, the critters they guarded appeared to be quite stupid and over the years, and this has stuck. Despite some contrary information in recent years about sheep being able to recognize faces of other sheep and human caretakers, build relationships, and possibly know how to eat certain plants to make themselves feel better. But mostly, we find sheep to have such a strong flocking instinct and “follower” genes that they will do themselves harm based on who they follow. That metaphor has never been complimentary to the church or people who follow leaders blindly.

But no matter how much we imagine this shepherd/flock relationship, it’s not really in our modern ken or culture. We don’t have a modern counterpart to the stinky, smelly sheep workers who were more comfortable alone with their animals than they were with other people. They were undoubtedly loners and nomadic by nature. They often endured taunts for unappealing acts with their ewes. Was it true? I really don’t know. And yet, these most lowly of men were, according to the story, visited by angels in such a large number that many shepherds (scattered over the fields) saw the spectacle and responded.

It is so often the case that the poor and “least of these” type folks get the message. They have nothing to lose, having little to begin with. The grassroots campaign for the Christ began with them. Come see–go tell. The Messiah has come.

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PiercedHandOn that resurrection day and for 40 days thereafter, Jesus appeared to his disciples and to others. I call this the “Second Forty,” and will be doing another systematic walk through these days. But today, this Easter day, I share three experiences I had mirrored a day the followers had:

 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [John 20:19-22]

The doors were locked and the followers were hiding from authorities still, and yet, Jesus revealed himself to them. He was no longer limited by time and space. He appeared. (He was the first one to really experience the Star Trek-like transporter.) And his first words were a blessing for peace. He showed him some tell-tale signs, like the nail prints, but I always wonder if there were other prints: did his back show the scars from the lashes of the whip, did his head show the gashes from the thorns?

And so, with his appearance, they believed again; their faith was reborn in that moment and their fears abated. For some, it was a confirmation (for they never gave up — particularly the women) while for others, they did an about face (they had started to doubt, like Thomas). How long could they have sustained themselves without his appearance? We’ll never know. Like Peter had to carry his public denials of Christ, they would carry their secret ones in the heart.

And then, just like that, they were given their commission: Go! And with that commission came the companion: the Holy Spirit – given through the breath of the Christ. Jesus breathed out and we are asked to breathe in.

Today, when I woke, I had such a lightness of being, and a Presence: the nearness of Christ Jesus. And with that revelation of the Jesus resurrection, came a renewal within, one I have needed for some weeks. And so, I breathed in and filled up again.

And so, I was one with the followers of the Messiah who had been locked up in that room, afraid to take the next step. And Christ came to me with peace and confirmation and hope. Alleluia.


You Won’t Relent by the Jesus Culture.

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Laying down cloakAs he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  [Luke 19:36-38]

Was this a little thing? Laying down one’s cloak on the road for Jesus to be trampled underfoot, not only by Jesus on a donkey but also the disciples and who knows how many more were in the entourage. And then, if my imagination is anywhere close to accurate, usually a crowd swells in behind the leader in the parade. By the time someone might return to the road, after the crowds have dissipated, poor cloak might be in quite the disarray. In fact, it might be good for nothing, only a rag.

I wonder, did their hope feel the same way when they realized that Jesus was not going to manifest as the Messiah in the way they thought he would? Did they look at those rags and begin to feel less enthusiastic, less sure. Perhaps the cloak was a gift from a friend or purchased with hard earned money. Would there be second thoughts? So often people get caught up in the crowd’s enthusiasm, only to find the aftermath less glorious.

I’m just saying.

I can’t help but think of other more contemporary masses: remember Woodstock? In the wonder of all that freedom, people did all kinds of crazy things, like take off their clothes, roll in the mud, get blind stoned, and so forth. I wonder how that felt when the pictures came out. Or what about soccer stadiums where anger and fury drive fans onto the field and sometimes trampling people? Or New Years celebrations with fireworks and guns shooting off but unknowingly striking a child who dies? It happens all the time. The crowd.

Our laying down cannot be driven by the crowd. If I am going to give up my coat (or anything else of value), then I have to give it so freely that it won’t matter if it comes back to me. I have to let go with intent, with consciousness, with understanding. I have to lay my stuff down with trust. Only in this way, will I avoid standing outside of Pilate’s palace yelling “crucify him.”

So often, in a kind of self-possessive way, I hear people say they don’t give money to the homeless because of what that person might do with it. After all, their money is what? Precious? Or, even worse, people who don’t give to the local church because they disagree with the use of the funds (like the color of the carpet or the size of the flowers on the altar). It’s kept back in the name of “stewardship.” But I am beginning to believe that attitude is like trying to retrieve the cloak laid down on the road on Palm Sunday.

If we give, we give freely and trust God to use the gift. If I lay down my stuff, I am not to pick it up again. If I am acknowledging that Jesus is truly the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Lord of my life, then what is the cloak in comparison to that? Who is asking? Who is this Jesus?

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Why do we picture God?

Why do we picture God?

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspringbe.”Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. [Genesis 15:5-6]

You have an attitude about promises? I know I do. Apparently, I’m a classic case, too many promises have been broken along the way. The only good thing that came from that is I don’t make my own promises lightly. It’s serious stuff, this promise-making.

But, I am grateful that I also learned that the promises of God are outside the norm.

God cannot be anthropomorphized, giving God human characteristics. And yet, people do it all the time, as though we need a picture to grab onto God. How many pictures have we seen of God in a long white beard sitting on a throne, much like a high-end Santa in flowing robes or a collective consciousness of what Zeus might look like if he wasn’t just a myth. Ha Ha. Why is that funny? Because people are quick to call the Greeks and Romans foolish in their many gods, and yet, our imagined “God” is OK.

It’s one of the reasons the ten commandments include a warning (number four), “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” [Exodus 20:4-6] We are not supposed to make God like us. God is not “like” anything we know. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” [John 4:24]

God promises are birthed in Spirit and manifest in our world in a way that cannot be judged by time and space.

And yet, I keep trying to put God in my time box. I keep wanting the promises to either be fulfilled (in a way I recognize) or in a time frame that suits (maybe within my lifetime might be good). And here’s the point of Abraham. He believed without being given the specifics or the time. This wholesale faith in the promises of God makes all the difference.

So, two things I want to carry with me today: One: the image of God that we have been given, one with skin and recognizable human was Jesus, the anointed Christ, the promised Messiah. How long did that take? And two, well, I’m thinking. It’s about the promises. I need to do some extra work on that idea, a series, I guess. What is my life promise, like Abraham’s? Perhaps I have been too scattered all these years. I will be asking for that revelation, that promise revealed.

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