Monday, July 21, 2014

Learning to See the Beauty of the Person the Body Makes Visible

"Concupiscent [lustful] desire draws us away from affirming the person 'for his or her own sake' and makes of that person an object of selfish gratification.  This also obscures our perception of the beauty that the human body possesses as an expression of the spirit.  For the man of concupiscence [lust], 'beauty' is now determined not by the visibility of the person in and through his or her body, but by what type or kind of body satisfies or appeals to concupiscence [lust].  This concept of beauty is often totally divorced from the person."  --Christopher West

Learning to See and Live in a New Way

Probably not the easiest thing to understand if you do not understand all of West's terminology.  Still, it might be helpful to someone.  We looked at the Sermon on the Mount yesterday in our Bible study on Sunday night (here in Omaha).  No doubt, Christ's words condemn us as guilty before God.  But he also calls us to come to him for forgiveness and a new way of seeing ourselves and the world.

When West refers to the spousal meaning of the body, he refers to how our bodies as male and female are like a sacrament, making the invisible God visible.  Our bodies, and especially our sexuality as male and female, point us to the deepest meaning of life.  This deepest meaning is to mirror the communication of persons in the Trinity, who relate to one another in self-giving love, and further, to participate in this love of God through union and communion.  This union and communion is inscribed on our bodies, which image God.

West's words:

"In Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, he appeals specifically to the experience of historical [fallen] man.  There is nothing abstract about 'looking with lust.’  We all know immediately what that means in our own experience, in our own 'hearts.'  That is why Christ's words sting so much.  We know we are guilty.  But Christ wants us to penetrate more deeply into our hearts where that 'echo' of God's original plan still resounds.  Tapping into that deeper heritage gives us the key to reconnecting the objective meaning of the body and sex with how we  experience the body and sex subjectively.    It gives us the key to 'living the body' according to its true meaning and thus fulfilling the very meaning of existence.

"Through the previous analysis of man and woman's experience before sin, we have discerned the body's spousal meaning and rediscovered what it consist of as 'a measure of the human heart.'  The heart is still measured by this objective meaning of the body, that is, by the call to sincere self-giving.  Lust, however, attacks this sincere giving, depriving man and woman of the dignity of the gift inscribed in the beauty and mystery of sexual difference.  So when the man of concupiscence [lust] 'measures' his heart by the spousal meaning of the body, he condemns himself.  At this point he has three choices: normalize sin [this has what our society has done]; fall into despair; or turn to Christ who came not to condemn, but to save (see John 3:17). . . . Christ's words about lust do not so much condemn us but call us.  They call us not just to force a subjectively lustful heart to submit to an objective ethic.  They call us efficaciously to let the new ethos of redemption inform and transform our lustful hearts."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Receptivity toward God and Entering into Christ's Suffering


Luke 7:36-50
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman,“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
-------------------------------------------------

As we first begin to read Luke 7:36-50, things appear rather benign.  One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to dine with him, and he accepts.  But as we learn more, we see Jesus was walking into a hostile, cross-examination of his ministry by Pharisees, who were inclined to reject him and his message.

We learn this from the unthinkable lack of hospitality our Lord was shown by Simon.  Hospitality in Palestinian culture was a highly held value.  It was simply expected courtesy that an invited guest, much less a visiting rabbi, would receive the basic amenities of water to cleanse one's feet (v. 44), a kiss---equivalent to our handshake (v. 45), and olive oil to wash and anoint one's head (v. 46).  But Jesus, the Son of God come from heaven, is insulted by receiving none of these marks of hospitality and welcome!

From verse 39, we may also glean the probable purpose of this invitation.  The Pharisees were going to try and determine Jesus' credentials as a prophet, as though his public ministry in word and signs were not enough!  How hard and unreceptive were the hearts of these men!

How fitting, then, that a woman, whose body, like the bodies of all women, pictures the spiritual receptivity toward God the human race lost through original sin, should show us how we should once again respond to our gracious God.

At this display of fallen, hard-heartedness and insult for her Lord, the woman begins to weep.  Although she came with expensive ointment to anoint Jesus' head in gratitude for the gift of forgiveness, this lack of hospitality brings a change of plans.  Since the Pharisee will not provide water for her Lord's feet, she will use her tears; since the Pharisee will not provide a towel, she will use her hair; and since her Lord's head is not available to her, probably because the lack of hospitality has caused Jesus to recline more quickly than normal, she will use the ointment for his feet instead.[i]

Because of her new found identity in Christ as a forgiven sinner, the woman sides with Jesus, despite the animosity of the gathered Pharisees.  As Dietrich Bohoeffer so insightfully says, the woman "has been swept into the messianic suffering of God in Christ."[ii]  She publicly declares her loyalty to Jesus, though undoubtedly such loyalty will bring Pharisaical scorn.

This woman, who sometime before this occasion received forgiveness and entrance into our Lord's kingdom, is given insight into the beauty and glory of Christ.  Surely this insight will grow even greater, after the suffering and rejection of Christ on the cross, which this incident with the Pharisees already foreshadows.  May we, who live after the cross, pray to receive similar insight, so that we might display the same trust, loyalty, and love that leads this woman to identify with Jesus, even in his rejection and suffering at the hands of a fallen world.



[i] Bailey, Kenneth E.  Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. p. 243-44.  Bailey explains how the omission of hospitality causes Jesus to enter and recline first at the meal.
[ii] Ibid. p. 247.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hymn Based on Luke 7:36-50

We Pour Out Our Heart's Affection

Suggested tune: WARUM SOLLT ICH MICH DENN GRAMEN (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=23).  Meter: 83368336.  Based on Luke 7:36-50.  Words: William Weber, 2014. (after sermon, God's love, forgiveness, love for God, after confession and assurance, devotion to Christ, suffering, persecution/insults)

v. 1
We pour out our heart's affection,
to our Lord,
who has bore,
all of our transgressions.
For His cross a demonstration,
of His love,
from above,
saves us from damnation.

v. 2
By God's grace we are forgiven,
on the cross,
paid the cost,
Jesus opens heaven.
For such love what can we offer?
Thanks and praise,
all our days,
love to no one other.

v. 3
In His love how much He suffered,
paid the debt,
by His death,
all to free His brothers.
For such love what can we offer?
Thanks and praise,
all our days,
love to one another.

v. 4
Jesus came but was rejected,
was denied,
in men's pride,                                    
to their hate subjected.
 Let us join our Lord in suff'ring,
let us side,
as the bride,
with our Savior's off'ring.


Women and the Receptive Posture toward God


The body of the woman with its receptive nature is an icon of what ought to be our spiritual stance toward God.  Women have the great privilege of representing in their bodies what it truly means to be human in relation to God.  Jesus taught the same truth when he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," or, when he pointed to helpless, little infants as a picture of those who are in his kingdom.  Receptivity is the only stance possible before the true God, who alone is self-existent and independent.

But this great privilege of women, sadly, leads to misogyny, for it reminds the world of its sin and rebellion against God.  Rather than a receptive attitude toward the Lord, the world opts for an independence and lust-filled grasping, that wants to be like God, without God.  Thus, the world opts for masculine idols that encourage independence, self-assertiveness, and self-gratification.  Thus, in fighting against God, we also fight against what it means to be truly human, with a receptive attitude toward the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Do You See This Woman?" --- Devotion and Hymn Based on Luke 7:36-50

Luke 7:36-50
                        
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Morning Devotion

"Do you see this woman?" our Lord asks Simon.  After the entrance of sin into the world, all of us have difficulty seeing.  We no longer see things as God or his Son sees them.  This is particularly true when it comes to our sexuality --- our creation in God's image as male and female.

The Lord created man to live in a temple/garden.  Ancient cultures filled their temples with images of the gods.  Our Lord did the same thing in his temple, but the man and the woman were his images, meant to reflect and display his character in the temple of the earth.

Vital to bearing God's image is our sexuality as male and female.  In the marital union between husband and wife, God inscribed the deepest purpose of our lives on our bodies.  Man was not created to be alone.  Rather, he was created for relationship. 

The marital union, is a picture of our deepest purpose, namely, fellowship with God and then one another.  The spousal union was supposed to reflect the self-giving love that characterizes God's triune life, as each person of the trinity lives in a wonderful exchange of self-giving love.  The marital union also was supposed to picture the union of the Lord our bridegroom with his bride, the church. 

In Jesus, our bridegroom, self-giving love, which is the opposite of self-grasping lust, was expressed by our husband's incarnation, who did not grasp for equality with God, but took the form of a servant.  This self-giving love was ultimately expressed when he gave his life in love for his bride on the cross.

"Do you see this woman?"  "This woman" is not mentioned by name, so that she might serve as an emblem of the intimate fellowship with God all of us were created for.  In her response to our husband's self-giving love on the cross, which restores forgiveness and intimacy with God, we see the way things were meant to be from the beginning, and can be again through the redemption Jesus accomplished, and will consummate at his return, when his wedding supper will be celebrated with his bride.

There is a sexual component in the woman's actions, though it is not out of place given who Jesus is, the archetypal bridegroom, and given who she had become, a forgiven sinner.  In that culture, a woman unloosening her hair, was a spousal act reserved for a husband.  The word for "touching" Simon uses in verse 39 is used in 1 Corinthians 7 to refer to the sexual act. 

"Do you see this woman?" If we see this woman as Jesus sees her, we will see that she has been restored to the place of fellowship and intimacy with God for which all of us were created.  May we enter by faith into our Lord and husband's love and joy.  Amen.

O Lord, You Gave Your Body

Suggested tune: LANCASHIRE Lead On, O King, Eternal (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=403).  Meter: 7676D.  Based on Luke 7:36-50; Romans 12:1-2.  Words: William Weber, 2014.  (after sermon, Christ as bridegroom, God's love, sanctification)

v. 1
O Lord, You gave Your body,
it was the wedding price.
For we could not come to You,
without Your sacrifice.
How great beyond all measure
is Your redeeming love,
that raises earthly sinners
to You in courts above.

v. 2
Our Husband came from heaven,
He left His Father's home.
He came to pay the bride price,
for sin must be atoned.
This love for us is wondrous,
for Jesus came to serve.
He gave for us His body,
such grace we don't deserve.

v. 3
So give Your body to Him,
for all He's done for you;
and let His Word transform you,
that you may be renewed.
He is your Lord and Husband,
the Lover of your soul.
For at the cross He bought you,
and He will make you whole.

v. 4
O Lord, our lives are broken,
we mourn our sinful state.
We long for You in heaven,
exceeding joy awaits.
'Til then we pray Your Spirit
will work in us in might,
that we may turn from darkness,
to live in You our Light.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Sacrament of Our Bodies

Isn't it amazing that in making us male and female in his image, God inscribed on our bodies the deepest purpose of our being. Man was created, not to be alone, but to live in fellowship with God, and that fellowship is inscribed on our bodies, as male and female. For when the man and woman come together, their very bodies picture the union, first, of the trinity in its self-giving love, and second, of man's union with Jesus Christ, the God-man. Furthermore, the reason the first couple was "naked and not ashamed" in Genesis 2, is that the first couple viewed one another, not in lust which brings shame, but saw the theological meaning of their bodies, which is to give oneself in love, rather than grasping in lust the other person as an object. The world is corrupt through lust of self-grasping (see 2 Peter 1:3-4), but transformation comes through the self-giving of love, first, of the Son of God who gave himself for us in love on the cross, and then in the self-giving of our bodies in love to him in worship (see Romans 12:1). Our sexuality as male and female made in God's image, points to the truth that the body is a sacrament, making that which is invisible, visible to the world, for those with eyes to see.

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