The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 5: Understanding Time

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Geological Time Spiral, from United States Geological Survey

 

Arjuna recognizes that he will have to fight his own family, and he despairs. Krishna responds:

You speak sincerely, but your sorrow has no cause. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. There has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed, nor will there be a time when we cease to exist.

…Every creature is unmanifested at first, and then attains manifestation. When its end has come, it once again become unmanifested. What is there to lament in this? (BG 2:11, 28)

I’ve often heard that the greatest difference in Eastern and Western cultures, or between Abrahamic religions and most of the world, is the conception of time. Does time march forward, like a digital clock? Or does it move cyclically, and everything that has happened will happen again?

Time doesn’t only move forward in the Hebrew scriptures. We get a minority opinion in the book of Ecclesiastes. The author of Eccelsiastes is referred to as Qoheleth, “The Teacher.” Listen to how much Qoholeth sounds like Krishna:

Whatever has happened—that’s what will happen again;
    whatever has occurred—that’s what will occur again. There’s nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Einstein informed us that time is relative—it behaves differently depending on how fast we are moving, or how much gravity we are experiencing. Time is part of the created order, so much so that we cannot “see” back before the Big Bang. What existed “before” time got its house in order in those first few milliseconds of the universe?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that God is outside of time, and doesn’t measure time by the clock. God “has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.” We experience one moment after another, but from the perspective of eternity, our moments are spread out like a sheet of paper. All moments are NOW to God.

While I think this is a powerful perspective and I believe its theological truth, let’s not ascribe the same worldview to the ancient Hebrews. In the Bible, while God has an eternal perspective, there is still the notion that God experiences time:

You return people to dust,
    saying, “Go back, humans,”
because in your perspective a thousand years
    are like yesterday past, like a short period during the night watch.
(Psalm 90:3-4)

The ancient Hebrews understood God as a liberating God who acts in history: Tell [your children]: We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. But the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand (Deuteronomy 6:21). Creation has a start and an end, and both are held in the hands of God as time moves in one direction.

But there is a place where Jesus turns this notion inside-out. When he is debating with Sadducees about the resurrection, he says: “…haven’t you read what God told you, I’m the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Of course, everyone listening had always thought that God really meant “I was the God of Abraham.” Jesus puts the weight on I AM.

So to understand our relationship to time and to God, Jesus tells us that either a) we are resurrected—or “manifested” in the words of the BG—again at some point in the linear future, or b) all times are present to God as now, because the advance of time is simply an illusion we are bound up in. Eternity and eternal life is either on the horizon, or it is present even now.

Either way, in both traditions, this thing we call “death” does not have the last word.

Prayer:
God, my world is full of moments. Help me to experience them all as now. Bring eternity into our time.

The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 4: Harmony and Dissonance

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John Coltrane House, 1511 North Thirty-third Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA — Public domain

 

On Saturdays, I plan to take some time to reflect on what we’ve covered the previous week, and perhaps follow a rabbit trail or two.

As I describe the Bhagavad Gita, I’m taking my time approaching the things you may already know about Hinduism that differ from Christian theology: reincarnation, multiple gods, karma, the goal of the afterlife, cosmic unity, and the practice of meditation. I want to come at those things from the side, as it were, so that we understand them in context. When Christians encounter a different religion, I want our response to be not, “Wow, that’s weird,” but “Wow, we’re weird.” Or better yet, just Wow. Exposure to other cultures helps us to realize the things we assume are universally true are not necessarily so—and things we may have thought are unique to our culture are more universal than we expected. What we’ve been taught about other cultures or other religions is often a cartoon version of reality.

It’s also true that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I take great care to make clear that anything I say about “Hinduism” is provisional. First, I may not know enough to know that I’ve misrepresented something. Second, there is great diversity in Hindu religion and philosophy.

But that exposure makes me even more aware that the same is true of Christianity. Saint Patrick and Joel Osteen can hardly be said to represent the same religion, and the same could be said of Dorothy Day and Mike Pence. Ask these famous Christians to define a word like “salvation,” and you’d likely get very different answers. What does it mean to say they all represent something called “Christianity?” How do they understand the call to “follow Jesus?”

“Enlightenment” in Hinduism and Buddhism is not the same thing as “salvation” in Christianity. They reflect different worldviews on what the central problem facing humanity is. When Christian missionaries showed up in India quoting scripture and saying, “You must be born again,” Hindus replied, “Are you crazy? We’re trying to stop being born again.”

So I reject the conventional wisdom that says “All religions basically say the same thing,” because a) even one religion doesn’t say the same thing! And b) because all members of a choir do not sing the same notes. In the most beautiful music, there is dissonance as well as harmony, places of tension and resolution. We do not have to collapse or ignore those differences to appreciate the polyphonic beauty.

Nor do we need to pretend that some things aren’t just flat out wrong. Sometimes in an ensemble, people get off key, or sing what they think is right, but it just ain’t. Even if you’re making it up as you go along in a kind of jazz improv, the professionals will wince and shake their heads when you hit a sour note.

My hope in listening to the music of different cultures and religions is that we come to a deeper appreciation and understanding of the whole, and our particular role in it.

Prayer:
Composer and Director of the Cosmos, let me be one with your music.

The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 3: Family Values and Conventional Wisdom

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“Whore of Babylon,” by William Blake, 1809, British Museum.

 

Arjuna laments that he must fight his own family. He then makes some statements that I think are illustrative and problematic.

Though [my enemies] are overpowered by greed and see no evil in destroying families or injuring friends, we see these evils. Why shouldn’t we turn away from this sin? When a family declines, ancient traditions are destroyed. With them are lost the spiritual foundations for life, and the family loses its sense of unity. Where there is no sense of unity, the women of the family become corrupt, and with the corruption of its women, society is plunged into chaos. Social chaos is hell for the family and for those who have destroyed the family as well. It disrupts the process of spiritual evolution begun by our ancestors. (BG 1:38-42)

First, let’s acknowledge that this is the patriarchy speaking. It is the same perspective we often find in Proverbs, which describes both wisdom and folly as women. The “corrupt woman” leads men astray and destroys families: Her feet go down to death; her steps lead to the grave. She doesn’t stay on the way of life. Her paths wander, but she doesn’t know it. (Proverbs 5:5-6). In this kind of conventional religion, women are constrained to play the role of virgin or whore, and society rises or falls based on the control of their bodies.

Second, let’s also acknowledge the truth of generational harm and trauma Arjuna describes. Much of the Hebrew Bible is about the disruption of family and the way that dysfunction is passed from parents to children: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and his brothers, all jealous and fighting over the affection of parents or spouses. (Much of this strife is caused by the patriarchy, by who has power and who does not).

I also want to consider Arjuna’s statements in light of conservative social policy, which often idolizes “family values” even as it makes it difficult for families to survive intact. Often it is idolization of the family that leads to its destruction. The religious right in America has argued for decades that society is on the decline because women no longer stay at home, divorce is too easy, prayer has been “taken out of schools,” and the family is no longer considered as sacred as it was in our mythical past.

Jesus’s ministry was tremendously disruptive to family values. He said because of him, families would be torn apart (Matthew 10:34-35). But he believed in a chosen family.

 He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)

While there is truth in it, I think Arjuna’s lament is grounded in conventional religion—the notion that religion should create social stability and uphold the status quo. He is speaking as one who is not yet enlightened. He knows enough to know there is a problem, but hasn’t identified it properly yet. Krishna is going to point out to him that the problem is much deeper than family disunity; the problem is that we do not know who we are. What has brought all these people to the point of battle is that too many people are attached to the wrong things, because they do not know themselves.  

Practically, it doesn’t mean that Arjuna can opt out of the battle at hand, any more than it means we can opt out of resisting patriarchy and other injustices in our world. But it illustrates the failure of conventional morality, and why we shouldn’t fall into the same trap.

Prayer:
Source of my being, I may not have picked this struggle; yet I will follow you through it.

The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 2: Literary Context

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This 2012 animated movie is available on Netflix. It does not cover the part of the story featuring the Bhagavad Gita, but does introduce the main character.

 

Arjuna: O Krishna, drive my chariot between the two armies. I want to see those who desire to fight with me. With whom will this battle be fought? I want to see those assembled to fight for Duryodhana, those who seek to please the evil-minded son of Dhritarashtra by engaging in war.

 …And Arjuna, standing between two armies, saw fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, and brothers, sons and grandsons, in-laws and friends. Seeing his kinsmen established in opposition, Arjuna was overcome by sorrow. Despairing, he spoke these words… (BG 1:21-28)

The Bhagavad Gita is a dialogue, told in flashback, on the advent of a great battle. Arjuna is the reluctant protagonist. Epic heroes often overcome great obstacles and fight big wars, but they also carry enormous grief. Often the foes they fight are close friends or members of their own family. Luke versus Darth Vader. David versus Saul. Both David and Arjuna have been wronged, forced into exile by corrupt kings.

David said to Saul, “Why do you listen when people say, ‘David wants to ruin you’? Look! Today your own eyes have seen that the Lord handed you over to me in the cave. But I refused to kill you. I spared you, saying, ‘I won’t lift a hand against my master because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ Look here, my protector! See the corner of your robe in my hand? I cut off the corner of your robe but didn’t kill you. So know now that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. (1 Samuel 24:9-11, CEB)

Both in the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, timeless truths and other-worldly wisdom are set against a violent political and historical backdrop. Sometimes this seems incongruous: how can a God who tells God’s chosen people to commit genocide (Deuteronomy 20:10-18) also admonish them to “love their neighbor as themselves” (Leviticus 19:18) and to treat foreigners as their own citizens (Leviticus 19:33-34)? How can we have such violence in one passage, and calls for peace-making in the next?

People who are disillusioned by Christianity often go seeking a more consistent religion in other traditions, but a universal truth of humanity is that our species does not come to enlightenment or salvation without baggage. The baggage is both personal and cultural.

Anthropologists who study religion suggest that religion serves an evolutionary purpose. It calls members of a social group to make individual sacrifices for the good of the whole. Your tribe develops a totem or mascot “god” who represents your spirit and values. Over time, humans recognize that they are part of bigger tribes, and their gods—and their interests—align. This kind of religion helps us survive, but it also maintains the status quo. Freud explained religion this way in Civilization and Its Discontents.

Religion has another vector—unconventional wisdom that challenges the status quo, that points out the fact that some people are forced to sacrifice more than others in order for powerful people to maintain their control of groups. This vector makes room for disruptive spirituality.

This is why conflict is a frequent backdrop for revelation. We are in an existential state of war, with others and within ourselves. Power is unequal, oppression exists, and we ask “Why?” Both Judaism and Islam describe our relationship with God as one of struggle: the words jihad and Israel both describe a personal wrestling with God.

Prayer:
Source of Everything, we do not come to enlightenment or salvation without baggage. Help us, in our struggle, to let go of unnecessary suffering.  

The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 1: Contemporary Context

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By 5snake5 – Own work, CC0

 

The East India Company (EIC) was founded in 1600 in England. It became the Blackwater of the British colonial world, a private mercenary force dedicated to protecting the financial interests of wealthy people for more than 200 years. They had a private army that was bigger than the British army, and they became the de facto rulers of India using money and might.

Not coincidentally, the East India Company also played a role in the formation of the United States. Remember the Boston Tea Party? It was partly a response to the monopoly of the EIC.

I start here because before I talk about the spiritual truths of the Bhagavad Gita and how they relate to the Bible, I have to acknowledge the devastating effects of imperial rule and colonialism on India and on the rest of the world. And I believe one of our most difficult spiritual struggles today, in our church and in our society, is the legacy of colonialism. What we experience as dissatisfaction with “the institutional church” and “organized religion” is the way colonialism warps our relationships, our imagination, and our very souls.

There are some people who claim that even though its spiritual roots are thousands of years old, Hinduism is a relatively recent invention. While I think that’s an overstatement, it reminds me of a story I recently heard told by a Lakota activist. He said his grandfather was involved in establishing “The Native American Church” in 1918. “We need this institution,” his grandfather told him, “to protect our way of life from the white man’s institutions.” When the West encounters other forms of spirituality or faith, it forces them to organize in certain ways.  

So when I say that the Bhagavad Gita is not like the Bible, I’m not just speaking theologically, but also socially and politically. It does not have the central place in Hinduism that Christians give to their scriptures. But it should force us to take a step back and consider how we understand what “religion” is, and how it relates to this other idea of “spirituality.”

I would argue that not only is the Bhagavad Gita not like the Bible, but also that The Bible is not like The Bible, because this Greek and Hebrew text has been distorted by our Western colonial view of religion. Colonialism shapes how we understand our sacred scriptures and it shapes how we see the world.

“Orientalism” is a Western way of viewing Asian cultures as exotic and strange. (I encourage you to listen to this NPR piece on the cultural appropriation of “namaste”). The Bhagavad Gita was appropriated by British transcendentalists and mystics, not just because it was true but because it was strangely true. I think this makes it difficult to appreciate how truly strangely true it is!

If we are stuck on how exotic it is, we can’t fully appreciate how other-worldly it is, or what putting it into practice might mean for our world.

I am not a scholar of Hinduism, nor a historian. I approach the Bhagavad Gita as an interested layperson, finding points of connection between the wisdom there and the wisdom of the Bible and my own faith tradition. I welcome your comments, criticism, and discussion as I follow this devotional path.

Prayer:
Holy Mystery, we are a strange mix of the timeless and the now, the universal and the particular. We are shaped by history even as we imagine the future. Help us encounter you in the present, in this moment, and help us to be truly free.

Summary: Critical and Devotional Reading

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We’ve worked through Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and followed it up with Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. These were my objectives during the Lenten devotionals and those that followed:

  • To show that critical reading and devotional reading can go hand-in-hand. Each begins with a different question. Critical reading asks “What did the original author mean?” Devotional reading asks “What does this text mean to me?” When we come to some of Jesus’s most foundational sayings, I think we need to ask both kinds of questions.
     
  • To deepen understanding about the ekklesia. Conventional popular thinking argues, “Jesus never meant to create the church.” That would be a surprise to Matthew and Luke! Matthew’s Jesus clearly intends to create a community of prophets. The Sermon on the Mount is his manifesto for how the church should be “the light of the world.” Luke’s Jesus seems pretty confident that the Holy Spirit will do the job. Both versions of Jesus have no use for personal, private spirituality that doesn’t change the world. He believes our inner light should manifest in society.
     
  • To show how different biblical authors interpreted Jesus differently. Both Matthew and Luke are working from the same set of Jesus sayings, but come to different conclusions about how to understand them. What was true in biblical times is true today: we need different theological perspectives to reveal complex truth.

More than one thing can be true at a time! This is part of why, in my preaching and teaching, I try to give people a buffet of theological options. Christian history is deep and diverse, and what works for some simply will not work for others.

I’m going to turn now in a different direction: doing a critical and devotional comparison of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. This emerges from my conviction that if God is going to save the world, God must do so with the help of non-Christians. Bill Hybels often said that the church is the hope of the world, that the church is God’s plan A and there is no plan B. I do think that the ekklesia represents Christ’s physical body on earth, and that God intends to create a community that will change the world. But the climate crisis reveals that this salvation community cannot be made up only of Christians. We ain’t gonna save the world by ourselves.

And why should anyone trust us to? The legacy of the colonizing church in the West is a theology of domination and exclusion. It has treated the Earth as a resource to be strip-mined, packaged, and sold in the service of oligarchy. Its theology is far from the interconnected web of life we see in the creation story, where human beings are created on the same day as the rest of the animals, where we are unique mainly in that we are assigned the role of loving and caring for the Earth as God does.

While I believe Jesus intended and commissioned a prophetic community, I also believe that the church does not have a monopoly on truth or on God. Indeed, as we’ve seen in Matthew and Luke, Jesus seemed frustrated with religious posturing and exclusivism. He was less concerned with how people labeled themselves and more concerned with how they put love into action.

We in the church desperately need a different way to frame our role and identity, our very sense of self, to manifest God’s kin-dom in this present crisis. And that’s why I’m going to turn to a different faith tradition to get some perspective on my own.  

 Prayer:
Source of Truth, deepen my understanding.

Inner and Outer Light

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Photo by Arne Hückelheim (click for source)

 

People don’t light a lamp and then put it in a closet or under a basket. Rather, they place the lamp on a lampstand so that those who enter the house can see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness. Therefore, see to it that the light in you isn’t darkness. If your whole body is full of light—with no part darkened—then it will be as full of light as when a lamp shines brightly on you. (Luke 11:33-36 CEB)

  • First, the context: Just before he says this, a woman says “Happy is the mother who gave birth to you and who nursed you.” He replies, “Happy rather are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Remember this — I’m going to come back to it in a moment. 
  • Jesus then talks about how people are often slow to believe and act on the truth. What he is offering, he says, is better than Solomon’s wisdom and more urgent that Jonah’s prophetic mission. Then he makes this statement about lamps and light. 
  • There are actually two sayings here that mirror Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: a) Lighting an oil lamp and b) your eye is the lamp of the body (click the links to see what I wrote about them there). This takes some careful unwinding, because Luke actually uses the oil lamp saying once more in 8:16-19. Again, this illustrates how what Jesus said can be interpreted many different ways—not only by different authors, but even by the same author at different times! 
  • In this context, Jesus is talking about why we have trouble seeing and acting on the truth. Jesus says his teaching is like a lamp set on a lampstand. Everything he’s doing is done publicly, in clear sight of everyone. 
  • One of the competing spiritual worldviews of this time was Gnosticism. In Gnosticism, those who are spiritually enlightened pass secret knowledge to others. Christianity rejected this system and claimed that salvation was available, by grace, to all, not just to “spiritual elites.” 
  • But sometimes people are not able to see the truth because their eyesight is clouded (“unhealthy”). 
  • As in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus here tells us that there are two sources of light: external and internal. But there, in Matthew’s gospel, it was about greed and our perception of money. Here it is about our perception of the truth. 
  • It’s also about Jesus’s identity, as one who brings light to the earth. For people who can’t see clearly, it doesn’t matter how brightly he shines or how publicly he acts; they will remain in darkness. 
  • But the goal is to get the light into you
  • Remember how Jesus corrected the woman who centered on Jesus’s identity? He pointed back to putting his teaching into practice. It is better to do what I teach, Jesus implied, than to be a blood relative of mine. Light that is hidden is no light at all.  
  • I’d go further: It is better to do what Jesus teaches than to call yourself a Christian.

Prayer:
Light of the World, you shine in public, and you shine in me. Help me fill my life and my world with your light.

How Would You Treat Your Children?

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Photo by Dr Sanket Mehta

 
 

Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Luke 11:10-13)

  • Here’s the context: the disciples have asked Jesus to teach them to pray, so he taught them the Lord’s prayer. Jesus followed up with a parable about a man knocking on a friend’s door in the middle of the night. Jesus has said that God is not too comfortable to answer or bothered about when we choose to pray.  
  • This saying above is almost identical to the one in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, but it has a different context. 
  • One way to translate the first sentence more literally is, “Each who asks receives: the seeker finds, the knocker has the door opened.” We can see this as three separate actions, or we can see that both seeking and knocking are forms of asking. I think part of the emphasis is that people ask and receive in different ways. 
  • How would you treat your own children? I’m often amazed that people ascribe actions or attitudes to God that are beneath our own. Would you condemn your own children to an eternity to torment? Would you strike them with hurricanes, plagues, or natural disasters? Would you ignore you own children asking for bread? If not, why would we ascribe such hateful things to God? Jesus is talking about prayer, but I think we can extend it to other things. God wants to give you God’s own breath (pneuma, spirit). 
  • Luke is all about the Holy Spirit. In fact, the HS becomes a character in the sequel to Luke’s gospel. Where Matthew says the Father will give “good things” to those who pray, Luke says God will give the Holy Spirit
  • Unless you are in a Pentecostal tradition, you probably haven’t been taught that you even could pray for the Holy Spirit. “Is that something I’m supposed to pray for?” Luke seems to believe that it is obvious. While I don’t think the primary expression of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues or faith healing, I do think we can—and should—pray for the very Breath of God to fill us up. 
  • A woman once cautioned me to “be careful what you pray for.” She related a story about a friend who had prayed for something, received it, and regretted it. But if someone gave you something you asked for, knowing it would hurt you, they would be more like the devil than like God. (In fact, Ray Bradbury wrote a creepy story about this very concept. Stories about djinns (or genies) also fit this paradigm). She was expressing a popular idea from folklore, not the Bible, about wishes. This is the passage that contradicts that superstitious reasoning. God is like a loving parent who wants to give God’s very breath to us, or a friend who delights in helping friends.

Prayer:
God, I am your child. Give me your breath. 

“Asking for a Friend”

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Photo by Dmitry Makeev

 
 

He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness. And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. (Luke 11:5-10)

Context: The disciples have just asked Luke’s Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus has taught them the short version of The Lord’s Prayer. He then goes on to tell this parable.

  • “Asking for a friend.” I’m not sure why this meme has recently entered our social media consciousness. It’s usually said with a nod and a wink as a way of sharing an opinion or a joke, but we couch it as asking for advice from the general public “for a friend.” 
  • Intercessory prayer is asking God to do something for someone. We are interceding, asking for a friend—sincerely. 
  • Jesus characterizes prayer as asking one friend to help out another. I think this is a beautiful image. It’s probably not coincidence that Jesus just taught a prayer asking for daily bread
  • Parables are not simply illustrations of what God is like. The point of this illustration is that God is not like a reluctant friend who is simply too comfortable to get up to help us out. We call this apophatic theology—describing what God is not (Its opposite is kataphatic theology, describing what God is like). 
  • The image is supposed to be amusing. The reluctant friend dragging himself to the door, rubbing his eyes. The sound of the door unlocking, opening just wide enough to thrust out three loaves of bread. “Here, take them.” “Thanks so much! Sorry to bother you.” “Mm,” God grunts, shutting the door. 
  • Even if he wouldn’t answer out of friendship, he would answer because of his friend’s audacity. This last word is hard to translate, but it seems to indicate, “I can’t believe you’re asking for this at three in the morning.” 
  • He will give his friend whatever he needs. Not just bread. The implication is that the friend could ask for nearly anything, and the lesson is that we should not be afraid to ask. 
  • “Is this what you imagine God is like? Too sleepy to answer the door?” Jesus seems to be asking. He sets us up to hear the next saying: Ask, seek, knock. 
  • This parable isn’t in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, but the “Ask, seek, knock” saying is. You can read about Matthew’s version here. We tend to conflate the sayings, but Matthew’s version has a different context. Matthew is talking about letting people seek their own path. Luke’s version is addressing prayer
  • Luke goes on to talk further about prayer and relationships. We’ll look at the rest of the saying tomorrow.

Prayer:
Great Mystery, we often project our weaknesses onto you. Shatter our expectations by answering our prayers for your kin-dom, for bread, and for mercy.

STIITSOTP (Stuff That Isn’t In the Sermon on the Plain): The Lord’s Prayer

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Painting by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

 
 

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into [trial].’”
(Luke 11:1-4 CEB)

  • Much of the material that Matthew put into the Sermon on the Mount, Luke chose to put into his chapter 11 instead of the Sermon on the Plain. If you want to compare Luke’s version to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, click here
  • In Luke’s version, the disciples ask for this prayer after they see Jesus praying. “Teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” This is new information! We don’t know what John taught his disciples, but apparently it was a prayer that made an impression on the people who heard it.  
  • Daniel Erlander (author of Manna and Mercy) says that this was a common practice among teachers and disciples in the ancient world; when they ask him to teach them to pray, they are asking for a summary of his teaching, the things most important to Jesus. In this prayer, Jesus emphasizes manna (daily bread) and mercy (forgiveness). Erlander uses this prayer as a lens through which to read the whole Bible. Jesus see the answer to the world’s problems as 1) a recognition that everything is a gift from God’s abundance, and 2) a loving, merciful, egalitarian attitude toward our neighbors. It’s a powerful vision, and fits with Luke’s emphasis on social justice. 
  • The CEB translates the last word “temptation,” but I think “trial” is better. It is the same Greek word Paul uses in his letter to the Galatians when he says, “Though my poor health burdened [or tested] you, you didn’t look down on me or reject me” (Galatians 4:14). Words can have different meanings in different contexts, and it is possible that “temptation” is the correct reading. Luke may have a different theology than I do! But I prefer “trial” both for theological and textual reasons. Let me point out again: this is a conscious choice on my part. We are always making choices when we read the Bible. 
  • If you compare this to Matthew’s version, you’ll see it is shorter. Matthew uses language Matthew likes: lots more “in the skies (heavens)” references. Luke doesn’t talk as much about the skies; he’s talking about what happens on this planet.

Jesus goes on to talk more about prayer, and that’s where we’ll hear some more familiar material tomorrow.

Prayer:
Lord, teach us to pray; teach us to desire the things you want us to desire.