The Lord’s Prayer

I have never been the kind of person who prays. I don’t resonate with speaking to the emptiness about my needs, wants, concerns, hopes, whatever. Which is not to say that I have not prayed. I have prayed. I have even found comfort in prayer on an occasion or two. I even grew up knowing a few of the prayers that tell me what to say. My grandmother taught me a nightly prayer which I still know, I am an avid user of The Serenity Prayer, and I was taught The Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer has always been this dull selection of words that I said because I was taught to. The same way you recite The Pledge of Allegiance in kindergarten; you don’t really know what you’re saying. However, when I read The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew I had  a moment (or twenty) that compelled me to read it, again and again.

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.”

(Matthew 6:9b-13)

This spoke me a great deal on a recovery level. In recovery we talk about the will of a Power greater than ourselves being active in our lives. This is a major aspect of step two and step three.

Second step work is about coming to believe in a Power greater than yourself. Third step work is about turning your will and your life over to the care of God, as you understand Him. We usually use the Serenity Prayer as a verbal reminder of this acceptance of God’s will as a replacement of our own will. But, I think The Lord’s Prayer also serves as a reminder of these steps.

Something that I was taught to do when writing my steps is to break down some of the words to gain a better understanding of what the step actually means. When reading The Lord’s Prayer, that is what I felt would help me identify more greatly with the prayer itself. In doing so I found a simple and inclusive beauty to the prayer.

God in heaven, you are holy. May your leadership be here, and may what you wish be so on earth the way it is in heaven. Provide for us what we need, and forgive us for our mistakes the same way we forgive others for their mistakes. Guide us to do what is right and keep us safe from evil.

The Parables

Parables are a major part of what Matthew writes. He goes over the parables that Jesus spoke, and I believe that Matthew writes in such a simple and concise way that his writing makes the parables much easier to understand.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep. (Matthew 18:10-14)

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And, if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than he rejoices over the ninety-nine that never went astray.” (Genesis:18:12-13)

When I read this parable, I hear that it’s intent is to say that God will always seek you when you’re lost. That God doesn’t want a single one of us to be left behind. But, I have a problem with the metaphor of the parable itself. Let’s get real for a minute. If I am the shepherd of one-hundred sheep, and I’m up on a mountain when one of the sheep runs off, I am not going to abandon my other sheep to hunt down this sheep that ran off. If I do I risk losing the other ninety-nine sheep. Now, sure, God is supposed to be grander than I am, so maybe the depth of His care about each sheep is beyond my comprehension, but this parable is lost on me. It’s intent is not. The intent of this parable is beautiful. I love the idea that God loves each and every one of us enough to be willing to seek us out when we’re lost in the mountains, I just think it’s communicated poorly in this parable.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. (Matthew 18:23-35)

In this parable, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a king who is collecting debts from his servants. One of the servants cannot pay and begs for mercy in the eyes of the king, which the king grants him. Then, the same servant goes to collect a debt from a fellow servant who is unable to pay and begs for mercy. The former servant grants no mercy and sends his fellow to prison until his debt is paid. When the king hears of what the servant has done, the king imprisons the servant for the lacking the mercy that had been shown to him.

This parable is one of my favourites because it displays an expectation of forgiveness and kindness. God, and the kingdom of heaven, will be merciful to you when you ask to be forgiven. And so, God expects you to forgive others in your life, also. Which, is something that I have not seen reflected in the Christian communities that I have been exposed to. I’ve seen so many Christians who turn their noses up, or live their lives in judgement of the choices of others, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus talks about ever. Especially here. Here, I think Jesus is saying the exact opposite. It is not my place, or your place, or the place of people at all to judge others. It is our place to be patient and have compassion for those around us.

The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), and The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46).

I decided to read these two parables together as both were spoken by Jesus to The Pharisees (The Jews) about their faith. In The Parable of the Two Sons, there is a man who has two sons. He asks each son to go and work in the fields. One son says that he will not, but changes his mind and does as his father asks of him. The second son says that he will go, but then does not. Jesus then tells The Pharisees that they are less welcome in the kingdom of heaven than are the greatest sinners (tax collectors and prostitutes) because they are like the second son. They claim the word of God, but had not listened to the prophet John when he came. Then in The Parable of the Tenants a man rents a room in his vineyard to some people, and he leaves the country. When the fruit should be picked, the man sends his servants to collect his fruit from the tenants, but the tenants beat, kill, and stone the servants. Then, they kill the man’s son who was also sent to collect the fruit. Jesus then asks The Pharisees what they think the man will do when he arrives to collect from the tenants. “They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’” (Matthew 21:41) So Jesus tells The Pharisees that they will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven.

With the knowledge that these parables are aimed at men who believed in the Old Testament of God, but were not seen by Jesus as acting in the word of God, it is difficult for me to form an opinion about these particular parables. I think most of what I hear in each of these parables is that action is greater than word in the eyes of the Lord. Jesus is warning The Pharisees to act in the name of God, not just to speak on His behalf.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14)

In this parable there is a king who is holding a wedding feast for his son. The king has his servants  send for those who are invited. But, they would not come. The servants are then sent back out to bring anyone to the wedding feast who wants to come. So, they return with all the people they find. But, when the king came to look at the guests he found one who had no wedding garment. So the king sent him away.

This one was initially confusing to me because of it’s ending. I ended up having to go through and mark up my bible a bit to figure out what was what here. I ended up rewriting the story a bit for myself. This is what I came up with.

God is opening the kingdom of heaven for his son. He has invited The Jews to join Him in the kingdom of heaven, but The Jews did not come because they do not accept Jesus as their Messiah.  So, when the disciples are sent again to retrieve people to join God in the kingdom of heaven, they return with The Gentiles. But, God sees that among The Gentiles is a man who has spoken the word of God but does not embrace his place as a sinner or appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus. That man is sent to hell.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

Ten virgins, took their lamps to await the arrival of a bridegroom. Five of them forgot to bring oil for their lamps and the bridegroom was late. When the bridegroom was approaching, the five virgins were out of oil for their lamps and left to buy more oil. The bridegroom arrived while the unwise virgins were away and the bridegroom refused to let them enter when they arrived later.

This parable is discussing the arrival of the rapture. The virgins are man, the bridegroom is the rapture, the lamps are the purity with which you live your life. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

This parable compares God and the kingdom of heaven to a man who is leaving his home and entrusts his servants with his money and his land. To one servant he gives five talents, to another he gives two talents, and to the last he gives one talent (each one is given a number of talents based on their ability).  The servants with five and two talents end up doubling the talents they were given, but the servant with one talent buried the money so as not to lose it. When the master returned he was pleased with the two servants who had doubled his gain, but from the servant who only returned what he had beginning the money was taken away and he was sent away from his master.

This parable uses a phrase that come up a lot in Matthew that has grated across my nerves for awhile. “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29) This bothers me because it seems so senseless. My opinion is that if you have something, you should do everything that you can to share it with those who do not have it. So, in this example.. I possess the grace of God which is given to me in the acceptance of Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. By the parable I will be given in abundance the grace of God. For me, that means I should share that grace that is given to me with others. I should try to help others who want it seek the grace of God in their own lives. But, by the parable, if I do not accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, I will not be given the grace of God, and even the happiness and prosperity that I do have in my life without the grace of God will be taken away from me. That is morally not sound for me.

Overall, I find the parables to be a fascinating aspect of what is in written in Matthew. The parables are, to me, such an odd way to teach others. This combination of parables was really great to read. It featured parables which had sentiment that I valued, parables which confused me or I did not find valuable in the modern world, parables which angered me. This reading was informative in a way that I did not anticipate.

Mathew 16:26

The line that stuck out to me was Matthew 16:26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

I have been in the process of determining my life’s path for the last year. I was, not that long ago, ripped down to the barest bones with no dreams left and every illusion of happiness taken from me. And now I spend my time trying to sort out what dreams belong to me and what dreams were socialized into me, what I will do with this life of mine, and how I can best make an impact.

So, what is my soul? And what cost do I place on it? I gave my heart and all my hopes and dreams easily not that long ago, now, putting the pieces together again, what shall I give, in return for my soul.

For Jesus, and for his listeners, the soul is that part of you that lives on after death. But I don’t believe in life after death. I believe that this is the only chance that I get and I need to use it wisely.

I don’t have deep insights, or wise questions, really no questions, just an awareness that this verse is the first time that something that I’ve read as part of this project is something that has struck home with me.

Matthew 15:10-20

“It is not what goes in the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11)

I’ve written before about what I see as an evolution, or a growth, of the law when Jesus said that it mattered not only what a person did, but what was in that person’s heart. Here, I see more of that growth. It isn’t your disobedience to the law that makes you unclean, it comes from the heart. Jesus says “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:18)

Jesus is calling the people to honor the Lord not just with their lips, but with their hearts, a sentiment I value. (Matthew 15:8) It is easy to show someone respect to their face and hide disrespect in your heart, or behind their backs. This seems to be what he is telling the Pharisees as they attempt to call him out for not following the laws exactly as they do, that he may not wash his hands before eating, but he honors God in his heart and that matters more than a corruptible human practice.

“Blessed,” Jesus tells us, “are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Over and over Jesus calls his followers to be pure of heart, that what matters to him is not the actions of praying or fasting, but the heart that does those things not with glory in mind, but thinking of obedience and faith in him and in his Father. (see Matthew 5:21-22, or 5:27-285:27-28)

I wish I could put together Jesus’ call for a pure heart with my own experiences and say that I believe purity is common in the Christian world, or that things are usually done with the call to God’s desires in mind.

I certainly can say that it does exist as I have good and dear friends who are pure and free of judgement, and who are faithful Christians.

Unfortunately, it was from within the church that I was taught to be ashamed of my body because the sight of me could cause men to sin by lusting in their hearts. It was from within the church that I was once asked to apologize to a man, and his wife, because my appearance, in jeans and a t-shirt, had caused him to sin, not in his own heart but against my actual body. I walked away with the bruises of what he’d done, but he walked away feeling injured because my appearance had tempted him and he had not resisted. Shortly after that an anonymous donation was made to my church, money dedicated to buying me more modest attire, something to cover my “dangerous” clavicle.

Blessed are the pure in heart, indeed.

The Purpose of the Parables

Matthew discusses many times the parables Jesus uses to preach to his followers. The parables are often metaphors of daily life which are intended to inspire a spiritual revelation in the listener. At one point in time, the disciples ask Jesus why he teaches in parables. I had found myself asking the very same question. If the intent is to teach others your beliefs, and encourage them to agree with you, why would you not teach in the most simple way? Jesus’ response was baffling to me.

In the early parts of Matthew I was refreshed by the relaxed, accepting, and loving attitude. Especially compared to the hostile nature I have seen in the God of the Old Testament, so far. The first time I was struck by this was in The Beatitudes. In this verse Jesus blesses all of the people.

He blesses the poor in spirit. He blesses those who mourn, and the meek. He blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He blesses the merciful, and the pure in heart. He blesses the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. He blesses each of us when we are reviled, persecuted, or have evil spoken of us.

I was so moved by this accepting nature. By the more free and loving spirit of The Son of Man. He seemed to be someone who did not care where you came from, but hoped he could help all those in need. So, you can imagine my disappointment when this attitude began to subside. I first noticed this change when He explains his reason for preaching in parable. Most especially I noted Matthew 13:12 “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” On this subject I also took to heart the prophecy of Isaiah, which states that people will hear but not understand, and they will see but never perceive. But, those who can perceive and understand will be healed by Jesus. (Matthew 13:14-15)

What I hear in that is Jesus saying that if someone does not understand, he will not try to help them understand. That doesn’t sound like a very great savior to me. I don’t want to go to a doctor who only heals those who believe in the medicine. I don’t want a teacher who only teaches the learned. I don’t want a friend who only gives what he gets. Therefore, I do not want a savior who only saves those who can save themselves.

Here’s the thing, though. I want so badly to not be disappointed by Jesus. I want to think that Jesus is amazing and wonderful. I want Jesus to be the thing that works as a Higher Power for me. But, I can’t deceive myself to the negative qualities I see here. I want a Higher Power, but I don’t want to force a Higher Power to fit a mold. Nor do I want to force myself to fit a mold for a Higher Power. Which is not to say that I can’t see the positive attributes in Jesus, or even in the God of the Old Testament. I know that they are there, but are they enough? Is it enough to me to have God’s perfect lamb be a man who is still not kind and accepting? Is that what perfect looks like?

In this journey to discover what I believe in, have I become closed to opportunities because of previous experience?

I genuinely hope not.

I do not want to be the person who loses faith in my life because of the way others have faith. I want to find faith that makes sense to me. I want to find faith which rings true and complete in my heart. Maybe that’s too much to ask for. Maybe I’m looking for something that doesn’t exist. Maybe Jesus is who I’m seeking, but right now, I don’t know.

Matthew 5:17-30

In a previous reading, I was so pleased to learn a new interpretation of Jesus’ baptism, that John was preparing the people to look to the savior rather than the law for their redemption. Matthew 5:17-18 provided some more context for me. Matthew quotes Jesus, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Jesus came, according to my understanding, not to change the law, nor to make the people turn away from the law, but to fulfill the law. It seems to me that the fulfillment of the law would cause an evolution of the law, but Jesus says here that it does not change, nor relax the smallest bit. (Matthew 5:19)

Indeed, not only does he not relax the law, he intensifies it. Before the law had focused on actions “do this” or “do not do this” but Jesus takes it further. Not only “do not murder” but also “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.” (Matthew 5:21-22) Not only “do not commit adultery” but also “do not lust.” (Matthew 5:27-28) Jesus changes the law by making it bigger. It’s no longer only what you do that you are held accountable for, but also what you hold in your heart.

I appreciate the idea that what is in your heart matters more than what you actually do, but I would have loved to see the weight of the good in your heart also because based on what I have seen of the God of the Bible, good matters little, only obedience.

 

Matthew 1-2

If Genesis contains the creation myth of all three Abrahamic religions in the creation of the world, Matthew contains the first take on the creation myth of specifically Christianity, the birth and life of Jesus.

While in Genesis the world is created from nothing (Genesis 1:2a), Jesus is not born into a void. Instead he comes from a long line of the faithful, and from the line of Abraham, with whom the first covenant to bring the savior through a specific line was made. (Genesis 12:3b) He is born, also, into great turmoil. His father, Joseph, is about to quietly divorce his wife, believing her to have cheated on him, but he has been convinced to keep her by the words of an angel. Within a short time from his birth Jesus and his family must flee Bethlehem to avoid an early destruction of the Son of God by the cruel hand of Herod.

Which brings me to my first questioning of the nature of the God of the Bible.

I never questioned the story of the flood, even when I reread it as part of this project. All humanity, except for Noah and his family, were destroyed because “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” (Genesis 6:12) Violence ran through the earth and so God choose to destroy his creation.

But I question here the nature of God. The wise men are given a signal, a star in the sky, to find Jesus. God, here, is a deity who knows all. He knows that these wise men will become lost, that Herod will hear of them, and that Herod will react the way he does to the news of the new prince.

Herod’s reaction is one of grotesque violence. He determines the time the star appeared, and where the prince was to be born and then orders the death of all the male children aged two or under in all of Bethlehem and it’s region. (Matthew 2:16-18) It is clear that this God knows what will happen because he has sent his chosen family, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, out of Bethlehem and into Egypt to avoid the killing. (Matthew 2: 13)

This is a God who is believed to have all power. He could have softened Herod’s heart or mislead him, he could have kept Herod from hearing of the birth of Jesus, he could have killed Herod before the death of the children. But he choose instead to allow the murder of these sons of his chosen people to bring about a prophecy that he himself gave. (Matthew 2:15b)

I understand the need for prophecies and signs to show that Jesus is the intended fulfillment of his covenant, but it seems that the signs he spoke of were all signs of destruction and pain rather than signs of blessings, and that is what causes me to question the nature of God. Jesus, or rather the savior, is meant to be a blessing to his people but here, before he does anything else, he is the cause of pain, a curse on the people he is meant to bless.

Why would this God not bring signs of blessing and wonder to his people? Why would he choose to introduce his son, his savior, and the fulfillment of his plan, with death?

This is the creation myth of the founding of Christianity. A couple is blessed with a child, but his birth brings the death of other children. And from there we will move forward, to see God’s plan in action and to see the foundations of the new faith.