Friday, May 29, 2015

What do you mean the "Our Father" is dangerous - part 8

Letter to Dan J. Russ, continued…

“Lead us not into temptation.” This one is just confusing. Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation? Doesn’t the Bible say, “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one?” (James 1:13) Then why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation?  Look a little more closely. We are not asking God not to tempt us. We are asking God not to lead us into temptation. 

Well, isn’t it the same thing? Not at all. In fact, the Greek verb involved here is “eispherein” which means to “carry into” or “bring into.” In the Gospel of Mark we read that immediately after His baptism in the Jordan the Holy Spirit, Jesus was thrown into the desert to be tempted by the devil. If we Christians are correct. The Holy Spirit is God. Isn’t He tempting us?  What can all this possibly mean? 

The text form St. James continues: “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” God doesn’t have to tempt us. The devil doesn’t even have to tempt us. We can do that all on our own. It’s like a parent who brings a small child into the kitchen where a beautiful cake is sitting on the counter. The parent then leaves the room for a moment and when that parent returns, the cake is a pulverized mess and the child is a chocolate smudge covered with crumbs. 

Then Mommy or Daddy asks did you eat that cake? And Junior says through chocolate stained lips, “No!” Junior is not only a pastry thief; he also gives evidence that he has a shaky grip on reality. Junior's true character is evident to everyone but Junior. So it was with Adam and Eve. Did you eat the fruit of the tree which I forbad you?” asked God. “Eve made me do it,” said Adam. “The devil made me do it,” said Eve. God allows us to expose ourselves to temptation and we do the rest.

Why is there temptation in the first place? Simple, we are like Adam and Eve and Junior all rolled into one. It’s not our fault! It most certainly is our fault, and until we can admit that to ourselves, God will refrain from intervening in our lives. 

God, in His great humility will not compel us to be moral, but as soon as we admit our weakness He is swift to forgive and swift to help. The most interesting thing to me about the text is that the word for temptation — “peirasmon” in Greek — is exactly the same as the word for test. God may not tempt us, but He allows us to be tested. God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1Cor 10:13.

 Confession is good for the soul. People ask me, “Why should I go to confession? I don’t do anything really bad.” Then they confess the sins of their friends, relatives, spouses and children. I remember the story of an old priest who was a bit short with a faithful penitent. She knelt in the darkened confessional and said, “Bless me Fadder, I got no sins. I come fer da graces.”  (She spoke fluent Southside Chicagoan) The old priest said, “No sins, no graces!” and slammed the little confessional window shut. True story. He could have been a bit more pastoral, but his theology was spot on. 

God will not deal with unconfessed sin. By that I mean He will not forgive a sin we don’t admit. A lot of confessions go like this: “Bless me Father, I got no sins, but my wife, she makes me drink.” Until we are ready to admit our sins, God allows us to tie His hands. I suspect that our spouses, our families, our neighbors and our friends could make a better confession for us than we can for ourselves. “I’m a nice guy. I get along with everybody. I don’t commit any big sins, maybe just a white lie now and then.” 

Ask those around you. They’ll probably agree with you because they are afraid of your explosive temper and vindictive nature. If you could be a fly on the wall, you might hear things like, “Boy, that guy has a hair trigger temper. He’s so tight he squeaks. Trying to get some help from him is like trying to steal a bone from a junkyard dog.” Talk to his wife. “He’s sullen and never talks to me. I feel like a doorknob in an unfurnished room when he’s around.” We have a very high opinion of ourselves and rarely do we deserve it. 

Why do we go to confession week after week? Hopefully, if we go often enough we will hear ourselves and realize that we really are sinners. Then the Lord can forgive and change us, but the Lord has such a high regard for the freedom He gave us that He won’t take anything from us that we don’t freely give Him and this includes our sins. 

We are adept at lying to ourselves. I remember the story of a very devoted missionary who was a member of Christian group that allowed its ministers to marry. This fellow was absolutely devoted to the mission on which he was sent that he never married so as to have freedom to go to poorest and most dangerous mission outpost.  He had a budget from his church that would allow him to live decently, but he hired no staff or servants, wanting to live simply for the sake of the Gospel. 

In this mission outpost there was a poor girl who was considered too stupid for meaningful employment, so this minister decided to hire her with the allowance he had been given. She was more a hindrance than a help, but he didn’t mind. There were a number of other missionaries and their wives in the district and one day this devout minister decided to invite them all to his poor parsonage for an afternoon of reflection and then fellowship. He planned a meal that would resemble dinner back home, an orderly presentation of soup, salad, main course and dessert, just like back in the States.

For days, he coached this poor girl in the right way to serve a western style meal. When the great day came and were seated for a luxurious dinner, the poor local girl brought the ice cream out first and the soup out last. All the arduous preparation and all the tension of the past few days of preparation were wasted. The overwrought minister lost his temper, went out to the kitchen and struck the girl. He struck her again and again and again until she fell dead at his feet. He committed murder just feet from the horrified fellow ministers who rushed into the kitchen at the sound of commotion, too late to save the girl. The minister was a murderer. 

Had you asked his congregation that morning, “Is your pastor a murderer?” they would have looked at you in disbelief. They would have said, “No, he’s the best the home office has ever sent.” Had you asked his coworkers that morning, “Is your colleague a murderer?” They would have laughed and said, “No, he’s the best of us.”  Had you asked the minister himself, “Are you a murderer,” he would have said, “I beg your pardon! What!?!” 

No one would have thought him a murderer, but he was a murderer in the morning just as surely as he was a murderer that night. He was a murderer who had not yet committed murder. So it is with us. We are adulterers who have not yet committed adultery or thieves who have not yet stolen. We hide these crimes in our heart and, usually because of our cowardice, we never commit them. We hide our sins from ourselves by our religion, though we can seldom hide them from our friends and can never hide them from our God.  

God allow us to be tested not so that He can know what’s in our heart. He already knows. He allows us to test ourselves so that we can know our hearts and give them to Him. When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are really saying, “Lord, let me admit my sinfulness without having to be exposed to the opportunity to sin. May I admit my weakness and failure without having to do it the hard way?”  

If we refuse to be honest then heaven holds a mirror in front of us. Heaven does not cause the deformity we see. Heaven simply allows us to see what it sees and even then some of us refuse to be honest. It’s not my fault. Keep saying it to yourself. Prisons are full of men who insist they are not guilty, and I expect the only song lyric sung in the noise of hell is, “It’s not my fault.”

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, May 22, 2015

What do you mean the "Our Father" is dangerous? -- part 7

Letter to Dan J. Russ, continued.
 The next part of the Our Father may be the worst part yet. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” First, we have another language problem. The Catholics say, “trespasses” and the Protestants say “debts.” Which is it? The version of the Our Father we find in Matthew 6 uses the usual Greek word for debts (opheleimata), but early English versions use “trespasses”. This is the word paraptomata which is used St. Luke’s version of the Our Father (Luke 11). The Greek word “paraptomata” means a misstep, to cross a line, hence to sin. The third century author Origen used this word when referring to that line in the Our Father.
The Latin word “debita” or debts was used for thousands of years in the Latin liturgy throughout the Latin rite. Most English-speaking Christians (except Scottish Presbyterians and some other Calvinists) used “trespasses” when they prayed the Our Father. When Catholics started praying in English they just seemed to have taken over the word already in use by other English speakers that is “trespasses.” The Protestants now tend to use the word “debts” which is the word used in Matthew while we Catholics use the word “trespasses” when we say the prayer in English, though we have always said and still say “debts” and “debtors” in the old Mass or any other time we still use Latin. Go figure. Which is right? Your guess is as good as mine. For our purposes we will leave out the sins, debts and trespasses and just talk about forgiveness, because therein lies the real problem.  
What does it mean to forgive? In the Greek text of the New Testament the word is “aphiemi” which means to let go, to send away, to make something gone. This is a horrendous word. To forgive is not simply to fail to take revenge or even to accept an apology. It is to pretend it never happened.
This is an offense against our sense of justice. There are just some things we don’t believe should be forgiven. First allow me to say that to forgive doesn’t mean to stay in harm’s way. If you are being beaten by someone you don’t have to stand there and pretend it isn’t happening. You can get out of the way, and even defend yourself if necessary. It’s what happens after the beating is over that matters. To forgive is to let it go. You don’t allow evil to continue, but you don’t wish evil on the evildoer.
This, I suspect, is the hardest part of the Christian religion. Very few people are capable of it. Without grace I suspect that no one is capable of it. We cherish our grudges and our hurts. They are delicious. Our righteous anger is often our most precious possession. We won’t go to family gatherings, we cut people off in traffic, we storm out of a room if the ex-spouse who did us wrong is there.  “If you are such and such’s friend, you can’t be mine. So many of us live our lives in stomach-churning rage, and all the while the object of our rage doesn’t even know we are furious with them. Our anger doesn’t usually bother them. The only one who suffers from my bitterness is me. 
Isn’t it amazing that Jesus of Nazareth, whipped, tortured, mocked and crucified, prayed for His torturers as he died? “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” He prayed for them on the ridiculous grounds that were unaware. Talk about denial! They were mocking Him as he prayed and divvying up His few poor possessions, and still He prayed for them.  Ridiculous! That sort of attitude would absolve a Hitler, a Stalin, a Pol Pot, a Fidel Castro and a Mao Tse Tung as well as ISIS and the Ayatollah Khomeini. That sort of delusional fellow would forgive a Richard Nixon and that sort of fellow would even forgive me. An outrage! 
Have you ever wondered why, if God is as we believe, a Trinity of persons, a sort of God-who-is-Family, why did the Son of that Family come to earth to die as a sacrifice for our sins? Why didn’t the Father come? Was He busy that day? Was He afraid? It seems rather cowardly of a Father to give His son over to death. How often have you heard the saying, “I don’t care what you do to me, but you touch my child and I’ll kill you!”
What is our heart, if not our children? God not only gave us His only Son. He gave us His very heart, the only way that the Infinity of Heaven could say to the inhabitants of this tiny planet that, “I love you more than I love Myself.” Who would hand over a beloved child to torture just to save someone who didn’t even want to be saved? That’s what we believe God did on Calvary. There is enough love on the cross for the worst of human beings.  Amazing!
That’s bad enough, that a perfectly just God would forgive crimes and sins that go beyond our worst imaginings. It gets worse. He wants us to do the same. He would have us be kind to the people who have hurt us most deeply, not allowing them to continue to do harm, but still to hold no bitterness against them. It rankles against the very soul. Imagine sitting down to dinner with someone who killed a member of your family? That’s exactly what happens at every Mass. God prepares a meal for the very people who caused His Son to die on the cross. He invites you and me to the table. That is wonderful, but when He asks me to do the same, that is unthinkable.
Worse still, He ties the extent and nature of the forgiveness for which I hope from Him to the way in which I forgive others. “Forgive me AS I forgive them.” There is that pesky, much-ignored word “as.” The Bible would be an easier book to read if we took the word “as” out.  
 “Love one another AS I have loved you.” 
 “AS you measure out, so will you receive.” 
And now this! He expects me to sit in church every Sunday and publicly limit His forgiveness for me to the tiny confines of my own narrow heart and mind.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, May 15, 2015

What do you mean the "Our Father" is dangerous? -- part 6

Letter to Dan J. Russ continued...

(“Give us this day our daily bread” part 2) 

So now that you can stop worrying about what epiousion really means, I will go on to explain the concept. Psalm 119 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet.”  Whenever I hear that, I think of those ridiculous lights that one sometimes finds on upright floor vacuums. They light up the floor for a distance of about an inch and a half. They are close to useless.

I don’t want “a lamp unto my feet.” I want a high-power coal miner’s helmet lamp that will make the cave as bright as daylight for about a mile down. We don’t get that kind of lamp. We get enough light for about one step. We walk by faith, not by sight. In the same way, we ask for daily bread. I don’t want daily bread. I want a really good diversified stock portfolio that will guarantee I won’t ever have to work a day in my life. I’d also like some gold bars and Krugerands to stash under my bed just in case. 
Heaven doesn’t work that way. We get one day at a time. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice in it and be glad.”  And, “If today you hear His voice harden, not you hearts.” 

All we are guaranteed is today and, surprise, if we wake up tomorrow, it will  still be today again. The devil wants to get us living any other time but the present. C.S. Lewis puts it brilliantly in the 6th and 15th chapters of The Screwtape Letters.  If you have never heard of the book, it purports to be a correspondence between two demons on how to get their man safely into hell. Here are the sections pertinent to the idea of wanting no more than daily bread: 
Chapter 6 - We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy. He (God) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
Chapter 15 - Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind. Our choice between them raises important questions. The humans live in time but our Enemy (God) destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. …In it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present - either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity . . . It is far better to make them live in the Future… It is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time - for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays….Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. Do not think lust an exception. When the present pleasure arrives, the sin (which alone interests us devils) is already over. …To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too - just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. …His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future - haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth… We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.
 The devil wants us to live at any time but the present. A glorious future when the revolution comes. Or when I win the lottery or when I am retired is no different in the devil’s scheme of things than a horrible future full of sorrow and worry and sickness. “What will I do when I am old? What if something bad happens to those I love? What if I get sick? What if, what if, what if….”  The future doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as the future. It is unwritten. We are writing it now, and when it appears, it will be the present.  

To God all times are now and all places are here. When we say, “give us this day our daily bread” we ask to be good and kind and obedient to Him today. We are asking for the grace and the material necessities that today will require. We do our best today and trust the future to a Father who loves us. If the devil can get us to live reminiscing about the good old days, when things were better, or better still, worrying about or at least anticipating the future, we will never notice today. We will never see that there are people around us who love us or need our love; we will never notice the things that would give us joy or make us laugh. We will never notice the sunlight, the green grass, the good food, the dear friends and family. We will never actually live, and when we come to leave this world we will wonder where it all went.

The truth is that it never went anywhere it was and is right here and we have neglected to live the life that God gave us. In everyday there are sorrows that can lift our hearts to God, and there are blessings for which we can thank Him despite the difficulties that we encounter today. Few dreaded sorrows in life measure up to the bleak picture we can paint in our imaginations and few pleasures measure up to their anticipation. This moment, this daily bread is the gift. It is wonderful enough if we stop to notice.
This is the day the Lord has made. Give us this day our daily bread. We leave tomorrow’s feast in your hands, O Lord.

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, May 8, 2015

What do you mean the "Our Father" is dangerous? - part 5

Letter to Dan J. Russ continued...
“Give us this day our daily bread.”  This line starts with trouble. We’re not even quite sure what the word used for “daily” really means. The Greek word is “epiousion.”  This exact word is not found anywhere else in the Bible. It isn’t even found in classical Greek literature. It is what we pseudo-scholars call a “hapax legomenon” (which means “found once.” Are you impressed by my erudition, whatever that may be?) The Greek phrase normally used in the New Testament for “daily” is “kath’hemeran” (literally, “according to the day”).
Epiousion” was translated into Latin as “quotidianum” in the oldest Latin Bible translation, but St. Jerome, who could at times be tedious, translated it as literally as possible “supersubstantialem” in the his Latin Vulgate. People have waxed eloquent about this translation of the word epiousion as supersubstantialem. Epiousion and supersubstantialem both mean “upon being,” which is not something I say very much.  Perhaps it means necessary for being. Supersubstantialem seems to imply “above being” in the sense that supernatural means “above nature.” This has led more poetic souls than I to say that supersubstantialem must refer to the Holy Eucharist. I suppose it does ultimately. That’s the nice thing about the Bible. It has layers of meaning and I can lay it on pretty thick. 
The mystery seemed finally to be solved in the early twentieth century when Rev. Dr. Archibald Sayce, (whom I am not making up), a renowned Assyriologist (I am not making this up either) who was either careless or near sighted, discovered the word in a 5th-century AD shopping list along with other scraps of papyrus that had been found in an ancient Egyptian garbage dump. It was written on the little scrap of papyrus along with a few grocery items. This seemed to imply that the shopper had written down a few things that he or she was going to purchase for that day. The shopping list was subsequently misplaced and only resurfaced in 1998 at a Yale University library. It seems that Sayce was rather careless in his translating and transcribing ancient documents and the word he rendered as epiousion was really the Greek word “elaiou”, or oil, as in “Get bread, eggs, onions, etc. And, oh, don’t forget to pick up some olive oil.” 
So we are right back where we started. The word that you and I say every time we say the Our Father appears only once in history, that is, in the Our Father, and no scholar can tell you what it really means. This leads us to an interesting conclusion. The Bible is not self-explaining. Why do we translate “epiousion” as “daily” if it means above being or upon existence.
The answer is quite simple. There is a very interesting and ancient book, considered by scholars to be the first non-Biblical Christian text we have. It is called the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It’s easy to find online. It is commonly thought to date from around 90–110AD. Some scholars are beginning to date it earlier, even as early as 40-60AD which would place it at the time of the first writings of New Testament Scripture. For Example, the oldest New Testament documents, St Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, are dated to 50 or 55AD. The Our Father is mentioned in the Didache. Here is the quote:

And do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in the Gospel: ‘Our Father in heaven, holy be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us enough bread day-by-day. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.’ Pray this three times each day.
The word translated here, day by day is of course “epiousion.” Not only is the Our Father mentioned, but it is expected that the Christian will say it three times a day! That would imply they were praying the Our Father before the New Testament was even written.
The Church was established in Rome sometime in the 40’s AD. The Emperor Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome in 49 AD because of a riot over one “Chrestus,” which probably meant Christ. It is reasonable to think that the Jewish community of Rome was arguing about whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. This would imply that there were already Christians in Rome before Peter and Paul got there.  If there were Christians in Rome at that time, they were praying the Our Father and some of them were praying it in Greek, some of them were praying it in Aramaic, and some of them, I imagine, were praying it in Latin. And I imagine, because the word appears in the earliest Latin biblical texts, before St. Jerome’s Vulgate, they were using the word quotidianum when they prayed because they understood the Greek word “epiousion” to mean quotidianum, and quotidianum means “daily” in Latin. This is evidence of a fact little realized.
The Church and the Liturgy are older than the Bible. The Church chose the biblical canon from the texts they were using in the liturgy and their life of prayer. The understanding of the word “epiousion” as “daily” is a reminder that the Church is the mother of the Bible and not the other way around. If you hold to Sola Scriptura, (Bible alone), you are saying unintelligible gibberish when you ask the Lord to give you “over substantial” bread. We ask for daily bread because that is the traditional interpretation of “epiousion” that we have received from a time before the Bible was written. If you try to get back behind the Church to the original Gospel you are just making things up. There is no Gospel without the Church. In a certain sense, the Church is the Gospel. People who pretend to get back to the Gospel before the Church are usually just trying to say that Jesus agrees with them when they disagree with the Church. 
Extra Ecclesiam nullum Evangelium.” “Beyond the Church there is no Gospel.” You heard it here first. We translate the word “epiousion” as daily because we have been translating it that way since it was first translated into Latin, ten or twenty years after the Lord’s death and resurrection. The word means daily. You may quote me.
(Give us this day our daily bread continues next week)
Rev. Know-it-all