Friday, September 18, 2009

Forgive Them, Father

Most folks who spend a great deal of time with the Bible come to have preferred books within it, a writer or prophet or poet whose expression of the story of our faith speaks most deeply to them. We'll also have verses...little snippets or soundbites...that tend to stick with us and resonate with us most intensely.

For me, one of those verses is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter twenty three, verse thirty four. It's from a particularly intense part of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. He's being crucified, and what we hear from him during that moment of physical anguish is this:
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
This verse, more than perhaps any other in the Bible, cements my conviction that Jesus is worth following. He's preached about the ethic of reconciling love...and he means it, to the point at which he is willing to ask God to forgive the people who are torturing him to death. There is a nobility and an integrity and a grace to that moment in the story of Jesus that I find utterly compelling.

But there's a little problem. There's a footnote. See it? Click on it if you like. The first sentence of this verse is...disputed...among the earliest Greek manuscripts of Luke. Some have it. Some don't. The ancient witness is not consistent, and there is no clear majority of accounts. So how do we decide which manuscripts are accurate? Did that phrase get inadvertently inserted? Did one set of manuscripts just neglect to include it? Or was it part of the original story, which some manuscripts deleted on purpose?

I tend to favor the last one, for three reasons.

First, the forgiveness Jesus offers just plain works with the heart of his teachings. It fits. It belongs, particularly in the context of the story Luke tells about Jesus. The man who Luke describes believed passionately in the transforming power of forgiveness, and also taught that our ability to show grace sets the foundation for how we ourselves are to stand before God.

Second, it gets worked into Luke's story of the early church. Where? We find Christ's words of forgiveness mirrored in the Acts of the Apostles, which is...as we should all know...part two of the the Gospel of Luke. When a mob sets in to killing Stephen, one of the first Jesus followers to die for his faith, Stephen echoes the words of Christ, asking that God not hold his murder against those who were killing him. This is a non-random thing. Luke/Acts is an intentionally crafted narrative compiled by a talented storyteller, in which themes and elements are included to provide us with a cohesive understanding of both Christ's teachings and the nature of the early church. Christ died with words of forgiveness on his lips, and Stephen shares the same Spirit and acts in the same way. We are meant to see the connection.

Third, I think the exclusion may have been intentional scribal editing. It is too consistent, and occurs not just in one but in several variant manuscripts. Why would a scribe delete this intense, poignant moment? Because I think..quite frankly...that this depth of grace can seem intimidating or threatening to us. If Christ is extending prayers of forgiveness to those who are killing him, where are those neat and tidy boundaries of grace that make us feel so good about ourselves? How can we get permission we want to turn up our noses at the people we just know must be going to hell? How can Jesus make us look stupid by forgiving people who..glurk...probably weren't even Christian?

We've been misunderstanding the Gospel since the moment we started writing it down. Fortunately, it's still there, witnessing to us and showing us grace that is so immense it can trouble our hearts.

15 comments:

  1. This verse, more than perhaps any other in the Bible, cements my conviction that Jesus is worth following.

    Do you not find Jesus in all the "books" of the Bible?

    He's preached about the ethic of reconciling love...and he means it, to the point at which he is willing to ask God to forgive the people who are torturing him to death.

    Could not any mere man do the exact same thing; preach about a "reconciling love" and die for that message? Do you think that it was man's physical "torturing" of Christ that was His burden / passion? Or perhaps so much more (supernatural suffering) – all of humanities’ guilt?

    My two cents: ignorance does not mean one deserves forgiveness, rather it is a clear sign of one's guilt; guilt which is always accompanied by spiritual blindness. (1 Co 2:8; John 3:19).

    Yes, His grace is indeed without boundaries, and yet folks like yourself continue to diminish His word, His utter clarity, all to make sense of what "we" have not trusted His word on - I quote "We've been misunderstanding the Gospel since the moment we started writing it down."

    David, God wrote the Bible. God's Truths are not subject to man's footnotes, nor are they subject to a "pastor" who thinks making "neat and tidy" Truth claims based on scripture, are meant to make one "feel" good about themselves.

    You are correct, "we" have missed the Gospel message, and you sir have helped in that very tragedy. Grace, repentance, and faith are all gifts from God. God is and always has been in control of all things. It is not God's boundless grace and forgiveness that troubles man's heart; it is God's Lordship and utter clarity that blind men hate, thus Jesus' words recorded in Luke - "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing."

    Blindness of divine Truth starts with guilt denied...and only God's word, which is fulfilled in Christ, may heal it.

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  2. Perhaps you and some of your readers think I stress the Bible too much, or perhaps dodge the clarity of scripture with the accusation of folks like myself being "literal" "fundamentalist" etc.. and not enough of the "holy spirit" ? My answer is always in the Bible - and just who wrote it?

    Mark 12:36; John 16:12-15; Acts 1:16; Acts 28:25; 1 Cor 2:13; 1; Peter 1:11; 2 Pet 1:21; Hebrews 3:7

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  3. Mark: No. I don't find Jesus in all of the books of the Bible, which is, after all, "ta biblia," meaning "the books." In particular:

    The book of Ezra is essentially Jesus-free, as it stands in diametric opposition to the proclamations of the Prophet Isaiah. It's an important part of the story of Israel, though, so it needs to be there to remind us of that time.

    Martin Luther overstated the case against James, but he was dead on about the Book of Revelation. As he put it, in Revelation "Christ is neither known nor taught." This from Mr. Sola Scriptura himself. It needs to remain as part of our story too, as evidence of why Christianity has failed.

    I do find the Christ's great story of fall and redemption written across most of the rest of our sacred texts, but not evident in equal portion.

    As for my asserting our guiltlessness, Mark, Mark, Mark. Have I said that? Pay attention. Who is crucifying Jesus? I am. You are. We do that from our hate, our selfishness, our fallen ignorance of the reality of God's glory and the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.

    Scripture is utterly clear. God is love, and also a consuming fire. God is unmeasurable grace, that should fill us with fear and trembling.

    But my clarity and yours appear to be founded on different things. On that, I think, we do agree. Ah well. At least I'm keeping you entertained. ;)

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  4. @ Frater Dave: Gotta call you out on the work of the Revelator, dude. I see the message of Jesus Christ all over this book, especially as it reaches its climax in the last two chapters:

    21Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

    2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

    3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
    ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
    He will dwell with them;
    they will be his peoples,
    and God himself will be with them;

    4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
    Death will be no more;
    mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
    for the first things have passed away.’

    5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

    6Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

    7Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

    8But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’


    I included verse 8 cause if I didn't, Mark would. LOL.

    @Mark: Brother, what are you going on about? While your comments here may or may not be accurate in general about Pastor Dave and the rest of us progressive types I really fail to see how they are related to Dave's post.

    Your brother in Christ,

    -Dawg

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  5. The book of Ezra is essentially Jesus-free, as it stands in diametric opposition to the proclamations of the Prophet Isaiah.

    Do you often get away with making Truth claims without referencing scripture?

    Before we rabbit trail, I will ask again - Who wrote the Bible?

    Who is crucifying Jesus? I am. You are. We do that from our hate, our selfishness, our fallen ignorance of the reality of God's glory and the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.

    David, you may want to re-think this statement, just a tad, and here is why:

    Isaiah 53:10 But the LORD was pleased
    To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
    If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
    He will see His offspring,
    He will prolong His days,
    And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.


    Re Revelation and Christ being absent - could you be more blind? Answer is - No. Nice try with the Luther equal's God's truth nonesense, does that too often work for you?


    Come on man, what really is the difference between our foundation? helpful Hint: God's word or its utter clarity?

    @ Dawg
    Relax... and what makes you think we are "bothers'?

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  6. @ Dawg: Yeah, I struggle with John of Patmos. Sometimes, he soars, as in most of the passage you cite. The book also has particular resonance with communities that have known intense oppression.

    Other times, he's a pinhead whose theology 1) lacks even a whisper of the Holy Spirit 2) vigorously disagrees with Paul and 3) cribs pretty intensely from pre-Christian and pagan apocalypses...like the "Pregnant Woman and the Dragon" bit, which is just the Greek myth of the birth of Apollo.

    @ Mark: I think Dawg said "brother," not "bother." Freudian slip, perhaps? ;)

    Rabbit trail? You mean where I point out that Ezra explicitly condemns inclusion of non-Jews of any kind in God's covenant people on the grounds of ethnic purity, and Isaiah says that they may be included if they are faithful? You know your scripture. This is...disagreement.

    So...you're not guilty before God? You don't look to the cross and weep that your sin did this to your Lord and Friend? It's just mean ol' God's fault that nice Jesus had to suffer, and you're not in any way to blame? Dang, son. Here I was thinking you were supposed to be the hardliner and I the self-esteemy lib'ral. We seem to be switching places. ;-P

    The difference between us, since you ask, is not that we're not both Bible-based. It is that you assume that all scripture speaks with the same authority and voice, and in equal measure. That, for you, is clarity. It certainly does simplify things.

    I see an equally clear internal hierarchy to scripture which governs my interpretive approach, in which the Law of Liberty stands as the measure against which all scripture is to be interpreted. I take this approach because Scripture says to take it. I'll go chapter and verse on ya if you like, but you should know exactly what I'm talking about.

    Hope you have a blessed day at church tomorrow!

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  7. You mean where I point out that Ezra explicitly condemns inclusion of non-Jews of any kind in God's covenant people on the grounds of ethnic purity, and Isaiah says that they may be included if they are faithful? You know your scripture. This is...disagreement.

    Ezra 4:2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

    Lets see here - their real intent was to be what? faithful? I think not David, the texts are utterly clear. Contradicts Isaiah? hardly sir. False professions of Faith, are nothigng new. Separating ourselves from the sinful practices of others, is good advice, and so are our prayers of confession as both Nehemiah and Ezra end with.

    It is that you assume that all scripture speaks with the same authority and voice, and in equal measure.

    Yes David, I do think (actually I know)scripture speaks with the same voice - God's. Do you fail to realize you in one intstance use scripture to support your views as being authoritative, and then dismiss that very same authoritaive voice?

    For example, you state I take this approach because Scripture says to take it.

    Really? Which is David? Your voice or God's? Yes, you are correct, it "certainly does simplify things" as you state - but more importantly, it keeps us fallen creatures from making up things like the "Law of Liberty" and applying them where ever we want, when the texts (God's word, not Pastor David's word) actually speaks otherwise.

    Perhaps unknow to you, your "system" of Biblical interpretation essentially renders the Bible, null and void. I think even you do not wish that this be true, am I correct? Key word "Literal" - the exact way Christ Jesus viewed the scripture when He quoted them rebuking Satan; Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16.

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  8. @ Mark: Perhaps I do need to chapter and verse ya. The Ezra passage to which I was clearly referring was chapter 9. Here's a sample:

    Ezra 9:1-2 "After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness."

    Ezra is in diametric opposition to Isaiah, who taught that those who are faithful to God...even if they are not of Hebrew heritage...will be honored in His sight. (Isaiah 56:6-8). You have to study a bit more, my friend. Spend more time in the Word, and less time in your preconceptions about the Word. It'll do you good.

    Me? Making up the "Law of Liberty?" Heh. Try reading the book of James. Need a verse? Try Jas 2:12.

    And no, I'm not concerned. My approach conserves and upholds the integrity and purpose of scripture. Jesus and Paul and James state that the Law of Liberty is 1) the highest principle of the law and 2) the sure foundation of all Christian behavior and decisions. It governs. Need some verses for that? I'll provide if you ask.

    You don't even have to ask nicely. ;)

    Did you have a good worship today?

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  9. My approach conserves and upholds the integrity and purpose of scripture. Jesus and Paul and James state that the Law of Liberty is 1) the highest principle of the law and 2) the sure foundation of all Christian behavior and decisions. It governs.

    “The law of liberty” is another way of saying God’s law. We will be judged by God’s word. The old covenant was bondage, the new is freedom, it frees us from the slavery of sin – thus the law of liberty. James is saying to those who are showing favoritism to speak and do as one who will be judged by God's Word. Partiality is a sin. Obedience is indeed, liberated living. Perhaps you think I show no mercy? If one does not have mercy or compassion David, they surely would be unconverted, and unsaved. Equally true of the unregenerate heart is when one thinks being “merciful” is condoning “despicable practices” to God’s holy will – homosexuality, child sacrifices etc...

    Regarding Ezra being “in diametric opposition to Isaiah” you need to actually read it again. Ezra is describing the “unfaithful” who practice despicable practices – Isaiah says all peoples are included in God’s redemptive plan of salvation, those “all people” being the “faithful.” Being a Hebrew is not a free pass, an idea repeated many times. When God says do not take wives from a foreign land, He means it and has good reason, they had the habit of picking up and practicing their despicable practices thus my point made once again.

    I am not sure why the two concepts of separating oneself from the sinful practices of others and God’s sovereign election of all peoples (Jew and Gentile) from all four corners of the earth, eludes you. What is most disturbing is your utter disobedience in rightly dividing the word of God; that being your assertion God contradicts Himself.

    Simple question David, who wrote the Bible?

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  10. Simple question David, who wrote the Bible?

    I'll take a crack at that one, Mark. A bunch of guys. A bunch of flawed guys that are as flawed as you or me. They were inspired by God and God was speaking through them, but they were still a bunch of imperfect "ordinary average guys" to coin a phrase from Joe Walsh. That being the case, the Bible is not a perfect book because it was written by humans. Jesus is the standard to which we ought to live, not a book.

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  11. @ Mark: Well, yes and no. Where the Law of Liberty is explicitly described in James, it refers directly to the Great Commandment. That is the Law that Defines the Law, and it does so because it is both an articulation of God's self and the highest gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Ezra was, to put it simply, a racist. The "cleansing" he mandated was not just religious, but ethnic. The text makes no mention of a test of the faith of them furrin' wimmen. They are..all of them, without exception or effort at discernment..to be cast out because they are not Hebrew. To be foreign, for Ezra, is to be automatically unfaithful. That is what the text says.

    Isaiah's witness is in resistance to this, as is Christ's. He is willing to see that God embraces those who are not of "our blood." Ezra is not. That is their core distinctive, and it is real.

    You cannot see this, not because it is not there, but because you will not permit yourself to consider that Scripture contains any disagreement. Admitting that would shatter your faith. That is because your faith is grounded in your need for certainty.

    That need is an interesting core theme in your comments. Again and again, you assert the crystal clear just-can't-miss-it nature of the Bible. A question: Is that how Jesus taught? Did everyone understand instantly, because he taught such simple and easy to grasp truths?

    If you want things to be easy, perhaps you might want to consider another Teacher. That isn't, as the kids say these days, how Jesus rolls.

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  12. "like the "Pregnant Woman and the Dragon" bit, which is just the Greek myth of the birth of Apollo."

    Uhh...have you been watching "Zeitgeist"? And worse yet are you buying into it's nonsensical rantings?

    I am pretty familiar with alot of Mythology and Apollo's birth had nothing regarding a Dragon. I think you're confusing his first "achievement" as a 4 day old babe, in the slaying of the underworld "dragon", Python. That is a far cry from the contents of Revelation 12, brother. Comparatively reading the two, one would have to do a serious amount of stretching to say they are the same account.

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  13. Again and again, you assert the crystal clear just-can't-miss-it nature of the Bible. A question: Is that how Jesus taught?

    Humm, why yes it is David. Find for your readers just one occasion in which Jesus inculcated doubt, or bid that men dwell in uncertainty?

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  14. @ Jonathan: Zeitgeist is a pile of conspira-poopy. No question about that. Suffice it to say, though, that John of Patmos does not impress me with the originality of his visions, or of his fervid poesy. It isn't so much that he's a bit derivative. It's that he seems at odds with most of the rest of the New Testament, in ways that are non-trivial.

    @ Mark. Sure thing, my friend. Let's go with Matthew 13:10-15:

    The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

    He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:"Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: " 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears,and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes,hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'

    Is he "crystal clear?" I'm afraid not. It isn't so much that he's inculcating doubt. But he sure has set a trap for the faith of the Pharisee, the selfish, and the spiritually lazy. That trap is parable and metaphor, which both demand that a disciple attend to the meanings of his Master's teaching that extend beyond the literal.

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  15. "Zeitgeist is a pile of conspira-poopy."

    Okay, good to hear. I figured you a far too rational being to entertain the Zeitgeist nonsense.

    As you know their claim to fame is reducing Christ to just another pagan myth. It's important Christians read up on their various world mythos and counter such inanity. Alot of younger folks especially seem fond of it.

    If you can find it on Google, it's just gotta be true!

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