Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6 RSV
This last year I suggested that we might accompany our Advent reflections with Handel’s Messiah. In this same vein, I would like to suggest that Bach’s Passion of St Matthew can help us to think more deeply about the the passion of our Lord Jesus.
Alan E. Lewis in his book, Between Cross & Resurrection notes that Christians pass far too quickly from the crucifixion on Friday to the resurrection on Sunday. We do not give Holy Saturday its due. I would say that most Christians today (myself included) do not spend enough time meditating on the end of Christ’s earthly life.
A slow reading of the canonical Gospels will most certainly aid us. In addition to the reading of Scriptures, the contemplation of arte sacro or liturgical music can help us meditate upon the meaning of the events that brought us salvation through the person and work of Christ.
Here is an excerpt from the Passion of St Matthew by Bach:
Der Heiland fällt vor seinem Vater nieder; Dadurch erhebt er sich und alle Von unserm Falle Hinauf zu Gottes Gnade wieder. Er ist bereit, Den Kelch, des Todes Bitterkeit Zu trinken, In welchen Sünden dieser Welt Gegossen sind und häßlich stinken, Weil es dem lieben Gott gefällt.
The Savior falls down before his father; Thereby he raises me and all people From our fall Upward to Godís grace again. He is ready The cup of death’s bitterness To drink, Wherein the sins of this world Are poured and stink odiously, Because it pleases dear God.
This coming August 14th I will celebrate ten years of full-time mission work in Latin America. Almost ten years ago, at age twenty-two, I was met at the airport outside of Caracas, Venezuela by fellow missionaries. I spent that night inside my very first apartment in Latin America. With a suitcase full of clothes, several books, a few things to remind me of friends and family, I began organizing my new life.
So much has happened in the past ten years: I’ve witnessed new births into God’s Kingdom. I’ve helped establish new congregations. I’ve sung at weddings, funerals, and helped expecting parents choose names for their children. I’ve run from armed gunmen and I’ve run into the arms of newfound family and friends. I’ve grown. I’ve cried. I’ve sweat and I’ve suffered.
So now what? People ask me, “What will you do now?” To ask, “What will you do now?” is a haunting question in our postmodern, liquid society. Very few people keep a job for very long anymore and many people move around fairly regularly. We expect new seasons in life to bring about important changes on many levels. So, What is my answer? What am I going to do? I would like to continue doing what I am doing now.
My desire is to spend the coming years in Latin America as a missionary. This is not because I am somehow overly qualified for the job or never face uncertainties about my vocation. I recently discovered the following truth in a conversation with a friend while on furlough. Confession time. Here it is: I need to be a missionary.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the people of Latin America need me or that somehow the church would feel my absence. Quite the contrary, both friends and family in Latin America would do just fine without me. But I need to be a missionary because I need them – my Latin American friends and family.
You see, mission work isn’t just about teaching – it’s also about learning. It’s not just about helping others, but being helped yourself. It’s about denying yourself certain privileges in order to walk alongside others. It’s about setting aside a part of your self to be transformed into someone different. Mission work changes you.
I would dare say that I’ve learned more about myself in the past ten years than I would have if I would have stayed in white, suburban America. Nevertheless, this self-knowledge would be entirely vain and egocentric were it not understood in light of my experience with the risen Lord.
You see, Latin Americans teach me about Jesus all the time. I’ve learned more about Jesus in dirty urban slums and in the Amazon than I did from a trip to the Holy Land. I come face to face with Jesus whenever I serve or am served by one of the “least of these”.
I don’t want to leave Latin America because there is so much more that I have to learn about Jesus. There is so much more that I have to learn about what it means to walk with Him on the asphalt, the dirt roads and through the high grass. I need to hurt, to struggle, to be alone, to be present, to laugh, to cry with my people because it is this pilgrimage together that teaches me who I truly am. It teaches me where I am going and to whom I am going.
I’m a missionary in Latin America because I need these people.
My first all-time favorite book is the Holy Bible. It is made up of Old and New Testaments that give testimony to God’s redeeming action on behalf of all creation. It is the account of God’s love and mercy with a rebellious people who do not deserve His grace. It is through the Scriptures that I can hear God’s voice, learn who I am, what my vocation is and what it means to be like Jesus in His Kingdom while I anxiously await His second coming.
My second all-time favorite book is my passport. It is small but it allows me countless adventures that have shaped who I am today. This book has taken me places I never dreamed of going – rural towns in the Andes Mountains, indigenous villages in the Brazilian Amazon, South American shantytowns, gigantic Latin American capitals. Thanks to this little book, I have learned to communicate in four languages. I have met and interacted with people from literally all over the planet.
I will continue to give away copies of the Bible whenever I can. But sadly, I cannot give anyone a copy of my passport – it would useless to anyone else.
Thanks to my reading of book 1 and my frequent use of book 2, I have spent much time reflecting on what it means for Jonathan Hanegan to be Jesus in today’s world. This Spirit-guided reflection is born out of the reading of Scripture and an experience-with-God. It is also shaped by the living testimony of other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Some people I dearly love have shown some concern regarding the way I see the world. For the moment, we have arrived at different interpretations of Jesus’s exhortation to love our neighbors. We disagree on what it means to pledge allegiance solely to God’s Kingdom. We understand differently our call to be peacemakers in a war-torn world.
I appreciate your concern. I appreciate your patience with me. And I solicit your prayers as I continue to wrestle with what it looks like to be Jesus to everyone I meet.
My website and my Facebook profile are a microcosm of what I think “the good life” is. I share pictures of my family, friends, church activities, books I am reading as well as essays and news articles that I think are important. If you disagree with what I write or post, I ask that you comment respectfully and help me understand what you believe and why it is important to you. If at all possible, let’s do it over coffee!
My prayer is that all I say, do and represent rings true with Jesus’ person, ministry and message of peace, love and reconciliation that our world desperately needs.
The action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.
One of the greatest sins of today is the sin of objectification. A brief history lesson will tell us that objectification is a strategy that has been used to promote national and financial interests and even to promote senseless wars.
How does objectification work? Objectification: Ziauddin and Malala Yousafzai are Muslims from Afghanistan. They are uneducated, ignorant people who believe in a god that hates women and desires to end “life as we know it” in the U.S.
The truth: Ziauddin Yousafzai and Malala Yousafzai are Sunni Muslims from the Swat valley of Afghanistan. Ziauddin is a poet, school owner and an educational activist who speaks out against radical Islam and the terror caused by the Taliban in his native country. Malala spoke out against the Taliban and their decision to not let children attend schools. After receiving numerous threats, she was shot in the face along with two other friends on their way home from school. After a prolonged coma, she made an almost full recovery. She continues her educational activism fighting for human rights and especially for girls who desire to go to school. She won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 10, 2014.
Objectification obscures the truth. It reduces people to things. Men and women are often reduced to being simply “threats”. While some men and women represent threats to others – to suggest that an entire religion or people group represent a threat is to be poorly informed.
It might not be politically expedient to speak out against the objectification of our fellow human beings. But then again, following Jesus’ call to be peacemakers has not been politically expedient for His disciples throughout the last two-thousand years either.
In the last century, the Nazi party objectified the Jewish race when they proclaimed the Aryan race a superior one and the Jewish race to be inferior. Violence and aggressive action was much more easily dealt toward the Jewish people when they lost their status as first-class citizens.
In the New Testament, we see that Jesus rejected the idea that Jews should primarily see Samaritans as “half-breeds”. He gently informed the Samaritan woman in John 4 that soon Jews and Samaritans would soon worship together in spirit and truth.
When Jesus wanted to tell a piercing story about empty religiosity and hypocrisy, he made the “good guy” a Samaritan. The words “good Samaritan” never went together in the first century Jewish vocabulary before Jesus decided to challenge a common conviction of His day!
Jesus healed numerous men and women who had lost their status as such when they became demon-possessed, lame, deaf, blind, lepers and beggars. While many begged for money, others were forced to shout “unclean” at the first sign of others.
The Bible tells us that every man and woman on the planet today is the made in the image of God, endowed with the capacity to create, love, forgive and communicate with God and others. While many have chosen to turn their backs on God or to turn to false gods, this does not mean that we should treat them as animals – for they are not.
We must love our neighbors (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:34-40 et.al.) and our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) because they have been endowed by their Creator with a unique gift – His very image.
If Jesus were still telling parables today, I would not be surprised if today one would be called the Parable of the Good Muslim.
Check out a documentary about Malala and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai:
Before continuing the series of reflections that I began several weeks ago, I would like to share with you a prayer. Many years ago I began collecting books of written prayers. At first I thought that joining in someone’s written prayer would not be the same as praying myself. Nevertheless, I discovered that these prayers that have been penned over the centuries often express more succintly my deepest desires and longings.
Serious theological reflections should be bathed in prayer. All too often what goes viral has not been shaped in silence and contemplation. This prayer points the way for further reflections on this blog. It is in this spirit that I share with you a prayer by German theologian, Karl Rahner.
Following Christ Through Love of Neighbor
Lord Jesus Christ, You Yourself have shown me a way to a faith that is real and determines my life. It is the way of the ordinary and actively generous love of neighbor. I meet You on this road, as unknown and known. Guide me on this path, Light of Life. Let me walk it in patience, always further, always new. Grant me the incomprehensible strength to venture towards people and to give myself in the gift. Then You, Yourself, in an unexplicable union with those who receive my love, step forward to meet me in my neighbor: You are the One Who can take on the whole life of humankind, and You remain at the same time the One in Whom this life, handed over to God, does not cease to be love for humankind.
My faith in You is “on the way” and I say with the man in the Gospel: “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.” Guide me along Your path, You Who are the Way to my neighbor, my unknown, looked-for brother, and therein are God, now and forever.
Here is a list of three deadly myths that I believe weaken the Christian faith and in turn the witness of Christ’s followers in the world today.
Myth #1: Private vs. Public Faith.
Before the Enlightenment (18th century), it was understood that faith was a public matter. There was little distinction made between what was of social, economic, political or religious concern. In fact, the main distinctions in the ancient world were “holy and profane”. Nevertheless, this distinction did not lead to a disdain of all things “earthly”.
One understanding of faith is “our deepest convictions about what is good, beautiful and just”. Another has to do with how we understand the true nature of human flourishing. Christians believe that obedience to God and love for one another creates the best conditions for human flourishing. Darwinian naturalists suggest that objective meaning and purpose do not exist and that human flourishing is to be understood in terms of the survival of the fittest.
Atheists come to the political arena with their deepest convictions about the nature of human beings and the meaning of life. Should Christians leave their profound, spiritual convictions at the door when it comes to talking about how we should live together in God’s good creation? I don’t think so.
Myth #2: The False Dichotomy of Platonic Dualism.
The Greek philosopher Plato (c. 428-347 BC) taught that there existed two worlds: the world of shadows and the world of forms or ideas. The argument goes like this: everything that exists in our physical world is a lesser version of a greater yet non-physical reality in the world of ideas. When early Christian theologians began mixing Platonic philosophy with Christian theology, the argument changed: earth is a fading place that is a lesser version of heaven, the true and spiritual reality.
In Platonic philosophy, earth and heaven never meet. The physical is bad and the spiritual (the non tangible, spirit-filled) is good. This greatly influenced Christian thought but it took on flesh in the teachings of Gnosticism – something that the Bible unequivocally condemns as false teaching.
Hebrew cosmology teaches us about a good creation filled with the presence of God. The New Testament teaches us of Jesus Emanuel, God with us in the flesh. Not only does Jesus become human, but He ascends into heaven with a gloried human body. This is inconceivable in Platonic thought. While most Christians have not given into completely to Gnostic thought, many Gnostic overtones play a part in our misunderstandings of the Christian life and are greatly connected to the third myth in our list.
Myth #3: Jesus Came to Save Souls.
The Gospels are not primarily about what Jesus did so that we might be saved. The Gospels continue to tell the story of redemption that began in Genesis chapter 1. God, since the very beginning has been literally moving heaven and earth in order that we might participate in the love and communion of the Trinity. Jesus does not come out of the blue, He was not a back-up plan after a cosmic failure in the Garden of Eden – He is the promised and long-awaited Messiah who would bring redemption not only to the children of God but also to creation itself.
When we view the Bible simply as a manual to “get right with God” or to understand “how to be saved”, we miss the rich story of a God who loves us and who works within history to redeem what is rightly His. Did Jesus come to save souls or not? Most certainly Jesus came to save; that is the meaning of His name.
But Jesus came to save people, not just their souls. Jesus was greatly concerned for people, not just for their spiritual wellbeing. You see, Jesus did not buy into Platonic dualism. He was true to Old Testament teaching about the nature of human beings who are made in the image of God. He healed the sick, returned sight to the blind but not only as a confirmation of His divine status as Messiah. In fact, Jesus was not the only one doing these kinds of miracles – others who performed such miracles did not claim to be the Son of God.
Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind because this divine restoration of what was damaged by sin is part of a cosmic plan to bring redemption to all of creation. His words and deeds announced the inauguration of a Kingdom that would never be shaken. Jesus cared for people’s souls because He cares for the whole person. This myth is one of the most dangerous because it leads to a dismembered, unembodied spirituality – one that does not reflect the earthly concerns of Jesus’ ministry.
In future posts, I hope to flesh out some of these concerns and explain why these myths influence the way Christians think and act in our world today.
Entering into spaces in which we do not entirely feel “at home” teach us about the world and what it truly means to be human. Our eyes must be opened, along with our ears and our hearts. Simply leaving our comfort zone does not enlighten our human experience. We must be humble. Truly humble, like Jesus Christ. He left the splendor of heaven to become one of us. He learned to walk, to speak, to listen and to read God’s Word. Based on His experience with other humans and with God, He chose to live a certain way.
The good news of the Gospel is that we can be caught up into the life of the Godhead. We can participate in the divine nature. We can be like Christ! Our experience with other human beings along with our experience with God inform us how we are to live. As heaven and earth met in the body of Jesus, so does the combination of our soul and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Now we have everything we need to live in a way that pleases God.
Do we take Jesus seriously? Are we willing to set aside our politics and prejudices to accept God’s plan for human flourishing? Are we willing to let God reign sovereign over every aspect of our lives? Will we only give to God our “spiritual” life or might He also have control of every other area as well?
There is so much that I do not understand. Of what I do understand, there is so much that I do not practice to perfection. Nevertheless, I get the sense that Jesus is calling us deeper into His life. This is what discipleship is: to consider ourselves students in Christ’s school that will graduate only when we are exactly like our Master.
I’m frankly not interested in partisan politics. I’m not interested in proselytism either. All I intend to do in these reflections is to invite you to dig deeper, to explore the infinite depths of God’s love for us and others. I want to invite you to imagine the world as God would have it and to work towards that end.
Those who do this must be entirely dependent upon God. Jesus called those needy the poor in spirit. It’s a scruffy group of Kingdom representatives who take His Sermon seriously and try to live it out. Many Christians find Jesus’ call to total surrender and non-violent resistance radical while others find it entirely impossible. I’ll gladly stand with the minority who think that Jesus truly meant what He said and that He not only expects us to live in this way, but that He helps us to do so.
Abba Father, please guide the coming reflections. May they echo your thoughts and your will for our lives. In the name of Jesus who continues to defy human wisdom and expediency, Amen.