Category: Reflections/ Messages (page 1 of 12)

Yeast Mustard Seed and a Feast

Two Small (but mighty) Parables of the Kingdom:

The Leaven (Luke 13:20-21) [Matthew 13:33]

The mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19) [Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32] {Thomas 20}

There is general acceptance, including the Jesus Seminar, that these are original stories by Jesus. The general themes are:

  1. Transformation: the leaven thoroughly transforms the dough
  2. Hiddenness: you can’t see the yeast hidden in the flour/dough
  3. Mysteriousness: difficult to explain exactly what happens
  4. Limited human capacity: it is not the woman who makes the dough grow
  5. Irresistibility: certainty that the dough will rise (assuming the yeast is good)
  6. All-embracing: it doesn’t stop until all the flour is leavened

Something extraordinary is happening: the kingdom is breaking in, shown by Jesus in his teaching and life. Something is happening now and the invitation to enter the kingdom is open to all people, although many people don’t know about it. God wants all people to be with him—in his kingdom. The process is not controlled by human action.

There is a small, insignificant beginning, but great final results. The kingdom is not imposed upon people, yet there is an irresistible power about it. As one writer has said “No matter what you do, the yeast works anyway” (Capon 1985:123). Jesus proclaims that the kingdom will definitely happen.

In these parables there are images of hope and the certainty of an invitation to enter God’s kingdom. God will bring about the desired results.

The Banquet/Feast (Luke 14:16-24) [Matthew 22:1-10]

Different groups op people: Jews and Gentiles

An urgent invitation to fellowship with God: God wants all people to fellowship with Him.

The people invited do now seem to grasp the splendor of the occasion. God does not want to force anyone to come—they separate themselves from God.

What about God’s threat? Is it a traditional Jewish rhetorical device of hyperbole? The invitation is declined because people are preoccupied with other things. The question of priorities is a key component of Jesus’s teachings.

What does it mean for God’s dining hall to be full? It is only full if all people take their places. It seems to also suggest that certain groups of people can be replaced by others.

Distinguish the logic of the images from the logic of the message. St Isaac of Nineveh (1995:171) wrote “Just because (the terms) wrath, anger, hatred, and the rest are used of the Creator, we should not imagine that He (actually) does anything in anger or hatred or zeal. We need to note that metaphorical figures are not God’s true nature. Fire, darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth “suggest suffering and regret as well as the need for a painful process of transformation and purification.”

The exclusion from the banquet is self-inflicted, but is it permanent? Did Jesus say that religious authorities would not enter the Kingdom of God or only that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter first?

Translating the Parables

The nature of a story in other cultures: in Kewa there are two main genres: iti (legends) and remaa (stories). There are also sub-genres, for example “parables” (hidden talk) is an example of a story, but not one told by the ancestors.


Kissing or Shaking Hands?

When we read a passage of scripture that has an injunction (a command or order) in it, we have to know the context of the passage: to whom it was written (and under what circumstances), as well as to determine the extent it is applicable to us now.

For example, following the KJV, there are four instances in the NT that ask Christians to greet or salute one another with “a holy kiss”: Romans 16;16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:13 and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. Paul wrote each of them as an ending to his particular letters.

Are we therefore to conclude that members of every Christian church today should greet one another with a “holy kiss”? If not, on what basis do we decide that this was a cultural way of greeting and not a universal command for all churches?

First of all, we can examine other cultures of the world to see how people greet or say goodbye to one another? Do they kiss? If so, how do they do it (one cheek, both cheeks, lips?) and how well do they have to know one other in order to do it? And where do they do it—church meetings, social occasions, card games, etc.?

Secondly, we ask if there is any moral feature that accompanies the act: Suppose, for example, that a “holy kiss” is supposed to be cursory , i.e. hasty and in passing, and not dynamic, i.e. lively or forceful so that there are no moral ‘side-effects’. Can we judge the difference and decide what is a “holy kiss” and what seems to be more “unholy” or secular and profane? That seems pretty subjective and may be open to all sorts of arguments. But, as I show later with the names of some Western cultural kisses, not all are holy.

Thirdly, does a different action, such as “shaking hands” or “hugging” have the same social effect: a greeting between two people, but nothing more than that? In other words, does it matter—is a greeting of sufficient cause—to lead into doctrine? A doctrine arises out of discussion by church leaders, just as the Creeds arose out of the judgment and writing of the Church Fathers. And, if the matter of how greeting were performed became a doctrine rather than a “custom”, who would decide and how would they go about it? A council? A vote?

Some NT versions do not use “holy kiss”; instead we find: “ holy (consecrated) kiss (AMPC); warm greeting (CEV); “the special greeting of God’s people” (ERV); kiss of peace” (GNT), “hearty handshake” (Phillips); “shake hands warmly” (TLB); “holy embraces” (MSG); “kiss of holy love” (NLV); and “sacred kiss” (NLT). Most English versions, I might add, stick to “holy kiss”.

If we turn to the OT, we find 31 examples of kisses as greetings, beginning in Genesis 27:26, where, with his mother Rebekah’s help, Jacob tricks his father into believing that he is Esau and therefore deserving of Isaac’s blessing. So he goes near to his father who “kissed him…and blessed him.” Generally, in the OT the kiss is between relatives. However, in other instances, “kiss” is used in a metaphorical way : Job 31:27 where Job implores that he has not secretly “kissed his hand” or Psalm 85:10, where righteousness and peace “kiss” each other.

This short example is one of many that we find in the NT that raises similar questions about taking certain passages literally, instead of figuratively. In other words, when it comes to passages like a “holy kiss”, are we provided with guides or opinions, or with absolute rules? Either can be inspired.

Now, with the biblical mandate in mind, what does our U.S. culture say about kissing? On the web, I read about 20 different kinds. For example, think of the “Eskimo Kiss,” which is rubbing noses and moving back and forth at the same time. This is good in cold climates so that the lips don’t get stuck together.

Quite repulsive to some, on the other hand, is the “French Kiss,” which involves “plenty of tongue action.” Or, how about the “Single Lip Kiss,” where you suck and sandwich the lip of your lover between yours? Just hope she (or he) has not been eating spinach or garlic. And when people get so close to each that their eyelashes connect, that is the “Butterfly Kiss” and is said to signal “mad infatuation,” much like a butterfly landing on a flower.

The “Lipstick Kiss” is when the girl wants to leave a “mark” on the boy, especially if the boy may be interested in another girl.

Of course, kisses don’t have to be on the lips: other common ones are on the forehead, hand, earlobe, nose (watch out for snot), jaw, and the cheek. If one of the couple gives a “deep passionate kiss on the neck that includes “sucking and a bit of biting,” it is called the Vampire Kiss.

There are many kinds of “hugs” as well—one Internet site names 11, but we’ll leave that alone, except for the Grandma Hug, which squeezes you so tight your eyes pop out.

This little essay should remind you that not all kisses are holy ones—maybe it is better to shake hands!


Rules and Regulations


I have commented elsewhere on how the biblical directive of a “holy kiss” can be translated, as well as how the notion of a “kiss” in our culture is most often quite different.

It follows that when we read  scripture with an injunction (a command or order), we have to know the context of the passage: to whom it was written (and under what circumstances), as well as to determine the extent it is applicable to us in our own or some other culture.

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Mary, Mother of God?

I am a layman, not a theologian, so what I write is from a personal view. It is therefore useful that I don’t write about theology because my questions may be quite simplistic. Nevertheless, I am not a Catholic, so I can presumably question some of the tenants of that faith. I do this with some trepidation and a great deal of respect, knowing that centuries of dogma prevail in the Catholic tradition.

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Clans and Churches

There are over 800 languages in Papua New Guinea, perhaps as many as 850, depending on who is counting and how they count. And many of the languages have “dialects,” the soldiers who make up the language army. There may even be several languages (and certainly dialects) in one geographical area.

People of one language group are often comprised of clans and subclans, groups that trace their descents to common ancestors. Each clan will have one or more leaders responsible for interacting with outsiders or forming alliances with other clans and groups. Some clans are large and some are quite small.

Clans have certain geographical boundaries and there is often fighting, or at least hard feelings, if the boundaries are not respected. There are usually stories, passed down through legend and tradition that tell where and when the boundaries were established. They may be marked by rivers, creeks, ravines, swamps, ridges, or special trees.

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