Asher

April 27, 2016

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

We’ve studied Mrs. Eddy’s Glossary definitions for several of Jacob’s sons and their backstories. (These readings may be accessed by typing their names in the blog search bar: Reuben, Levi, Judah, Benjamin, and Gad). Today we are reading about Asher whose definition reminds me of a prayer for those times when we watch and wait with spiritual expectancy for the next step in our human experience. Or as Peter Henniker-Heaton wrote in a poem, “What high reward have all who watch and wait, trusting the law of Love to compensate… (“Watchers,” December 1974 issue of The Christian Science Journal).  There is little information about Asher in the Bible, but here is what was gleaned from the Jewish Encyclopedia:

According to classical rabbinical literature, Asr had informed his brothers about Reuben’s incest with Bilhah, and as a result Asr came to be on bad terms with his brothers, though once Reuben confessed, the brothers realized they had been unjust towards Asr; Asr’s motivation is described, by classical rabbinical sources, as being entirely innocent of evil intent, and always in search of harmony between his brothers…. Asr is regarded as the example of a virtuous man who with singlemindedness strives only for the general good.

Certainly this background about Asher gives some insight into this part of Mrs. Eddy’s definition of Asher: “the ills of the flesh rebuked”  (Science and Health 581:15-16).

The story of the prophetess Anna of the tribe of Asher provides a great example of the steadfast watching and waiting required with “hope and faith,” another part of Asher’s definition.

“Spiritual compensation” is the reward of the shrewd steward (or dishonest manager), which is one of Jesus’ parables described as “enigmatic” in the annotations to the New Revised Standard Version. The notes continue:

The meaning of the story for those hearing Jesus’ teaching is that the dishonest manager was prudent in using the things of this life to ensure the future, so believers should do the same. More generally, however, the probable sense of the story itself is that the steward was dishonest in his squandering his master’s estate. When confronted, he does not necessarily engage in dishonest behavior (in fact he is praised for his actions), but he calls in the debtors and reduces their bills by eliminating his own commission. Thus, he shrewdly uses material goods to win gratitude from his master’s debtors. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p.1860)

Bible scholar and Christian Scientist Madelon Maupin also addressed this parable in one of her recent newsletters which you may access here:

http://bibleroads.com/the-shrewd-steward-puzzler-of-a-parable/

The comments accompanying the article are also worthwhile, and it made me think of the difference between the old and new covenants according to Paul. The old covenant was compared to a contract that if we obeyed God, we would be compensated with a big house, many children, and so on.  Then Jesus gave us a new covenant based on sacrifice and love for our fellowman which the steward demonstrated by sacrificing his own commission and only collecting the true debt. I suppose he almost had a Zacchaeus moment, and his “spiritual compensation” was his Master’s praise.

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Nehemiah’s Wall – Fasting, Firmament, and Persistent Progress

April 20, 2016

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

Have you ever started a building project, a career choice, travel plans, and so on, and then began to doubt your decision? Are your good efforts and intentions being thwarted by rumors, jealousy, or ignorance? The story of Nehemiah’s wall provides guidance and inspiration to support our honest motivation and the decisions we make.

Even though Ezra and Nehemiah are divided into two parts, you can really understand why these books were originally one book. It is like being both  “wise as serpents AND harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). I noticed when I was putting these readings together that it is God who is creating the firmament in Genesis 1, even though we might think we are the ones building a wall of protection based on knowledge we’ve gained from our material education, the news, our experience dealing with different personalities, etc. God has already built the wall of our Holy City, where we already dwell; and until we progress to that understanding, we can be wise as serpents (discerning the Truth and fasting from evil) and harmless as doves (nurturing your nest with ever-soaring and maturing Love). This has been such a practical prayer for me — that God didn’t make man naive or corrupt, and that the Christ and the Comforter give man that discernment through spiritual understanding.

A few years ago, one of my sons called to let me know that he was about to skydive out of an airplane for his 19th birthday. We had been talking about the Holy City in our Time for Thinkers Book Club, so that is where I safely placed him in my thoughts. And he had a wonderful jump — wise as a serpent with all the safety precautions; and harmless as a dove, loving every moment on this new experience without fear.

Ezra and Nehemiah – Purity from within

April 13, 2016

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

Immigration, the Biblical definition of marriage, morality, corruption by wealthy mortgage bankers, a crumbling infrastructure, and building a wall are all hot topics in our current presidential elections.  But did you know that all of these same issues were also controversial 500 years BCE during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah? For the next two Wednesdays, we will be learning about Ezra and Nehemiah, a priest and a layman. They are two books in our Old Testament, but they were originally one book about rebuilding Jerusalem, making it great again, or perhaps making it whole. This Wednesday, we will read about Ezra and Nehemiah’s steps to insure the purity of Jerusalem’s citizens — their inward purity; and the following Wednesday, we will read about Nehemiah’s famous wall, or how to protect your citizens from impurity from the outside — their external purity.  These are stories about inward prayer and external fasting, and it is really inspiring to spot some of our modern problems while you are reading, such as overpaying civil servants or the mingling of politics and religion.

There is also a link to Bible Notes on Ezra and Nehemiah. The comment that “the fuller restoration of the house of God goes beyond the Temple to include the rebuilding of the community” certainly reminds me of how rebuilding our churches was a first step in our own city’s restoration after Hurricane Katrina.

Mental Health

April 6, 2016

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

Why do you think the mentally ill in the Bible so quickly recognized Jesus as the Christ?  For example, a man with an unclean spirit told Jesus, “I know thee who thou art, the holy One of God,” (Luke 4), and this story appears several chapters before Peter identified Jesus as the Christ (Luke 9). Perhaps the mentally ill were the first to recognize the mental nature of disease as requiring a spiritual cure, not a physical one.

And on this subject, here is a quote from a recent article in The Washington Post by a theologian and psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.  In his review of the current movie “Miracles from Heaven,” Jeffrey Rediger wrote:

I’m trained in both medicine and theology. I’ve been investigating the medical evidence in stories like these since 2003. And I can say unequivocally that much of physical reality, remarkable as it may sound, is created in our minds….

It’s amazing to me that in the history of medicine we have never studied the people who beat the odds and find a path to health after being told that their illness is incurable or that they are going to die. You would think that these are the people that we would most want to study, that perhaps they found golden keys to health and vitality that we would want to understand. Certainly it’s true that if I wanted to become a great athlete I would study Michael Jordan or Serena Williams. But in medicine we have too long ignored or dismissed people with remarkable recoveries….

I disagree with one common viewpoint that the movie espouses. At the very beginning, it defines a “miracle” as a contradiction of natural law.

I believe that miracles only contradict what we know of nature at this point in time. Modern physics is, for example, way ahead of traditional science, and its implications have not been fully incorporated into its perspectives and methods yet. So I believe that miracles actually are consistent with mental and spiritual laws that we are only beginning to study. This is the only way I can understand the similarities among all those with remarkable recoveries whom I have been interviewing.

(“Harvard Medical School professor says ‘Miracles from Heaven’ and other remarkable cures could be real,” by Jeffrey Rediger, The Washington Post, March 29, 2016)

 

I found these Bible notes helpful in understanding the story about the man with the unclean spirit and the herd of swine in the Gadarenes:

Once the unclean spirit is cast out, it is possible to find out its identity. A legion was a division (usually of about five or six thousand troops) of the Roman military, who had conquered and, in effect, still occupied the country. Having entered the herd of pigs (which Jews were not permitted to eat), the Roman “legion” of unclean spirits, in a military image, charged into the sea and were destroyed, alluding to the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in Israel’s Exodus deliverance. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th edition, p.1799 & 1801)

 

Another commentary gave these insights:

And all the devils besought him, saying—”if thou cast us out” (Mt 8:31). Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them—Had they spoken out all their mind, perhaps this would have been it: “If we must quit our hold of this man, suffer us to continue our work of mischief in another form, that by entering these swine, and thus destroying the people’s property, we may steel their hearts against Thee!” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

In other words, if the devils couldn’t destroy this man, then they would destroy the pigs (the people’s livelihood), and thus the crowd would turn against Jesus because their livelihood was destroyed. But the loss of their hypocritical pig business “startled mortal mind in order to remove its beliefs” (SH 421:7), and the crowd eventually came to appreciate from their new evangelist that one cleansed and healed life is worth more than the value of any material business.  I have been looking at this story as “preventive and curative” — the man with the unclean spirit was cured (healing of sickness) and the crowd was prevented (in a very dramatic way) from further exposure to sin.

Along with the readings, I’ve included a photo from the British Museum of a wild boar with the Legion inscription.  Apparently, we’ve had quite a history of political madness, and how grateful we are when it self-destructs.