Archive for the ‘Lenten Thought 2016’ Category

Great Lent Readings: Genesis 4:10-15; Isaiah 5:7-19; Proverbs 5:1-15

The biblical antidote to the cycle of violence promulgated by human beings is a simple, yet powerful word. It is found in the sentence, “The LORD put a SIGN on Cain.” In Hebrew this word is `OT. It first occurs in Genesis 1:14, where God places the stars and planets as “signs.” After this, every time this word occurs in the Hebrew Bible, it provides an antidote to human sinfulness and violence: Genesis 9:12-17, the rainbow is a sign of the covenant between human beings and God; Genesis 17:11, the circumcision is a sign; Exodus 4-13, God provides many signs of his awesome glory, in the face of violence and slavery promulgated by the Egyptians. Right in the midst of human injustices and violence, God constantly breaks through into history with signs of his salvation. In Isaiah 7, the prophet Isaiah exclaims, “Therefore the LORD himself will give you a Sign, behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, God with us.” (Isaiah 7:14).

The constant cry of Isaiah the prophet is seen in the words, “Let God hurry; let him hasten his work so we may see it. The plan of the Holy One of Israel– let it approach, let it come into view, so we may know it.” (Isaiah 5:19).

Proverbs 5, right in the midst of a sexually immoral society, reminds human beings to hold onto sexual purity and integrity. God descends into humanity through this.

This is indeed seen in what happened many years after the time of Moses and Isaiah, in the life of another man and woman, Joseph and Mary- people of ethical integrity. Here is how Matthew records this amazing SIGN.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Mat 1:18-25 NIV)


The main thesis of the the Book of John is underlined with this theme.

“Jesus performed many other SIGNS in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 NIV)

This was the aspiration of Moses and Isaiah. This was the fulfillment in the Gospels.

Right in the midst of so much violence and injustices, this is the Gospel, even today- the Sign of the Messiah Jesus.

I was born in a slum in India. I have seen so many horrible things done to boys and girls in the slums of India. Yet, just as in Genesis, and Exodus, and Isaiah, and Matthew, and John . . . I have also seen many signs of healing, and salvation, and deliverance.

God still breaks through with many signs, Hallelujah!!!

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The Great Lent Readings: Genesis 3:21-4:10; Isa 4:4-6; 5:1-7; Proverbs 3:34-4:22

The Torah passage, in this Great Lent reading, brings us to one of saddest aspects of human history and experience. Eve gives birth to two human beings. She calls them Cain, the Created One, and Abel, a Breath of fresh air. Sadly, Cain kills Abel, and God exclaims, “What have you done? The blood (Hebrew, dam) of your brother, (the man, Adam), is crying out from the ground (Hebrew, adamah).” (Genesis 4:10). The Hebrew has an intentional play on words. Whenever there is violence, and the shedding of blood, it always destroys human relationships with each other. It also destroys human relationship with God. It also destroys human relationship with the earth.

In the Prophets reading, the prophet mourns this state of humanity. He exclaims, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isa 5:7 NIV). The cries, tsa’aq in Hebrew, are the cries of boys and girls being raped by society. Bloodshed and rape had sadly become the hallmark of society during the time of the Prophet Isaiah, as it is today.

The Proverbs text provides the solution to this horrible situation. Human beings, from the beginning of time have been given a choice- the Way of Wisdom Justice or the Way of Wickedness.

Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. (Pro 4:10-22 NIV)

Sadly, Cain did not heed these words, and it led to so much sorrow and pain. The blood of Abel still cries out from the ground. The blood of so many human beings throughout history still cries out from the ground. The blood of Christ still cries out from the ground.

Even today, all human beings have a choice- Either the way of Cain, and wickedness, and bloodshed, and human trafficking; Or the way of Abel, and Christ, and Wisdom, and Justice, and Peace. May we choose the latter!

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Great Lent Readings: Genesis 1:24-2:4; Isaiah 2:4-11; Proverbs 2:1-21

Proverbs chapter 2 ends with the words, “So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of justice. For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it (Pro 2:20-21). Unfortunately, when we look around us, we do not see uprightness and integrity.

Why it this the case?

Perhaps the answer is found in a misunderstanding and misapplication for God’s commission in Genesis 1?

Genesis 1:28 is usually translated as God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28 NRSV). “Subduing” and “having dominion” are rather violent terms. These words have led to so much violence against fellow human beings, and against the environment. A close reading of the Hebrew and the Septuagint Greek terms, in contrast to the usual modern translations, gives us a clear picture that these are terms of gentle messianic leadership. These are not terms of violent dominion theology. In Genesis 1 God created the world, and gave human beings the responsibility to be viceroys, and to be gentle messianic leaders of his good creation. Sadly, the words of Genesis 1:28 have been misunderstood and misapplied in the history of humanity.

The Isaiah 2 text reminds us that the haughtiness and dominion theology of humanity has led to much violence and destruction. Humanity is reminded that on the Day of the Messiah, The haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone shall be brought low; and the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.” (Isa 2:17 NRSV)

In these days of the Great Lent, we are reminded of the Great commission of Genesis 1, to be gentle messianic leaders towards the Way of the Good and the Paths of Justice.

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Great Lent readings: Genesis 1:14-23; Isaiah 1:19-2:4; Prov. 1:20-33

Proverbs 1:20-33 urges humanity to listen to the voice of Woman Wisdom. Her voice can be heard in all the open spaces of creation. The voice of Woman Wisdom can be heard in all creation- the lights, which God created on the 4th day; the fish and the birds, which inhabit the seas and the skies; and the creatures of the land which inhabit the earth that he created on the 6th day (Genesis 1:14-23). This voice of Wisdom, leads one to God, and God’s justice & peace.

Sadly, Isaiah mourns that the people of God, in the city of Jerusalem, do not listen to God’s voice, and the voice of Woman Wisdom. The people of God instead use God’s creation, which were supposed to be instruments of justice and light, as instruments of injustice, violence, and darkness.

Thankfully, Isaiah looks into the future. He proclaims that there will be a messianic time, when many peoples’ groups from all over the world will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The Torah will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isa 2:3-4 NIV).

This is indeed the cry of hope on the second day of the Great Lent.

I teach at a liberal arts Christian university. A central mission of a Christian liberal arts education is to listen to the voice of the Wisdom of God in all the arts and the sciences, and therefore become the fertile ground of God’s justice and peace, in a world which is so full of injustice, violence, and hopelessness. A central hope at a liberal arts university is to look towards the times of the Messiah, when there will no violence and injustice. It will be return to Genesis 1.

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Today, March 5, 2016, North Park University hosted Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Oxford University- one of the most important thinkers of the Orthodox Church of our time. Anderson Chapel was filled with Orthodox clergy and laypeople. In his talk Metropolitan Ware regretted the general concern that the people of the Orthodox Church are not known to be people who read the Bible. He urged the people to concentrate on reading the Bible, and especially underlined the reading of the scriptures during the time of the Great Lent.

I teach a freshman course called Introduction to the Bible. It is a required course for all incoming freshman. One of the first thing I do, when they enter my class, is to administer a simple test, to see how much they know of the Bible.  My incoming freshmen can hardly mention any more characters than Adam, Eve, and Jesus. It seems clear that this lack of knowledge of the Bible, and reading of the Bible, is a problem not just in the Orthodox Church. It is a general problem in society, at large.

I thought it would be good to take up Metropolitan Ware’s urging, and write brief devotionals on the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Lectionary during this season of the Great Lent, which begins with Forgiveness Sunday on March 13, 2014. The next day, Monday, March 14, begins the 40 days of Lent in the Orthodox calendar.

We must note that the Orthodox calendar matches well with the Jewish calendar. In the Jewish calendar, Passover is April 22-29, 2016. In the Orthodox calendar, Good Friday is April 29, and Easter is May 1, 2016.

In the Orthodox Church calendar, the believers are at meditate on three books from the Old Testament- The Books of Genesis, Isaiah and Proverbs. One from the Pentateuch, one from the Prophets, and one from the Wisdom Literature of the Bible. These, interestingly form the three parts of the Hebrew Bible.

On first Monday of Lent, the readings are Genesis 1:1-13; Isaiah 1:1-20; and Proverbs 1:1-20.

My goal in this series is to focus on the inter-textual themes which connect these three sections of the Bible, and their relevance to the season of the Great Lent.

I would like to begin with the Wisdom reading of this Great Lent readings, Prov. 1:1-7. This text brings together the core mission of the Hebrew Bible, “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, To the young person knowledge and discretion–A wise will hear and increase learning, a person of understanding will attain wise counsel,To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Pro 1:2-7)

The goal of the book of Proverbs is “rightness, tsedeq, justice, mishphat, and equality, yashar.”

The core source of rightness, justice and equality is, “The fear of the LORD.” This is “the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov. 1:7) There are two words in this core text, which in the minds of the original Hebrew readers, linked rightness, justice and equality, to the creation narrative.  One is the word beginning, Reshit. It is the very first word of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is the true source of all beginnings. In fact, the Aramaic translation of Genesis 1:1 is, “In the Beginning, the Son of God, who is the Word of God, with Wisdom and Understanding, created and perfected the heavens and the earth.” (Targum Yonatan). The second word is in the phrase, “fear of the LORD.” The Hebrew word “fear” goes with word Hebrew word “see,” as in God “seeing,” 7 times, when he has created (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). In the minds of the original readers, when one “fears the LORD,” then one truly “sees,” and therefore becomes the vessel of wise rightness, justice, and equality.

The Prophets reading in Isaiah 1 mourns the fact that in history- Israelite history and human history, this has not happened. In fact, the opposite has happened.

Isaiah the prophet laments, “Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him . . . Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isa 1: 2-4; 10-17 NIV)

The prophet Isaiah also calls attention to the three crucial themes of “rightness, justice and equality.” He exclaims the humanity has destroyed the beautiful “rightness, justice and equality,” which God created in Genesis 1. Humanity has instead done the opposite- unrightness, injustice, and inequality. Religious holidays are observed from one year to the next, one era to the next, but the core themes of the mission of God in global society is utterly neglected.

The season of lent reminds us today to reflect, lament, and mourn the utter loss of “rightness, justice, and equality’ in global society, and to pray that this mission of God be accomplished, through God’s people, today.

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