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Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy

Two Reflections are available this week. To go to the the second, covering the reading for Epiphany, click here

Second Sunday of Christmas

John 1. 1-18:
"Restored to former glory "

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together "The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community":

Share together some of your thoughts about the very different beginning to John’s gospel compared to that of the other three gospels.

The Text viewed from the 'Underside"

We are all familiar with the prologue to John’s Gospel (vs 1-18), one of the most beautiful pieces of writing about Creation in the Scriptures. Many scholars think that it was added to the original at a later date.

Here we have echoes of the first words of the book of Genesis. John tells us that Christ is the manifestation in history, of the energy that brought the Universe into being. He was at work bringing everything into existence, including planet Earth, and all its life forms.

John presents Jesus Christ as the great Revealer of God: the interpretation or explanation (exegesis) of God the Father. The Greek word used, logos, means utterance or self-expression. John says that Christ is the pre-existent utterance of God expressed in creation: God’s loving self-communication made flesh and blood, God become one of and with us (v 14). This logos is the "light" of human beings (v 9) but, sadly, people preferred not to be enlightened (vs 10-11).

The Greek word for ‘flesh’ (sarx v 14) has a very earthy ring to it. The author probably chose the word to counter (Gnostic) teaching that denigrated bodily existence. The Gnostics considered the material world to be evil and could not be commingled with the Divine. Humans were divine souls trapped in bodies. Humans should aspire to be liberated from their bodily existence. This could be achieved through special knowledge revealed by the Gnostic teachers. Countering this, John says that the redemption through Christ does not come by discarding, denigrating or abandoning the material world but by transforming it from within. Jesus enters into every dimension of earthly reality.

God breaks creation open in Christ in order to restore it to its original purpose. Humanity is part of nature, not apart from it. John reinforces the view that redemption has to do with the whole of creation and not simply the human part of it.

Responding as a community
  1. To what extent does the gospel proclaimed by your Christian community embrace the whole of creation? Do you think a focus on redemption apart from creation is consistent with John’s approach? Does it matter?
  2. The theologian Sittler says that "what pollution is to natural ecology, injustice is to social ecology." He argues that the focus on sin as personal human behaviour has narrowed the scope of grace in a way that had been damaging to humanity and to the Earth. What would we need to do to ensure evangelism includes a focus on care for and redemption of the whole created order and not just humanity?
  3. It has been said that we are in an unprecedented ecological crisis that stems directly from western emphasis on the individual at the expense of community. One writer goes so far as to say that “Christians should see market capitalism as presently practiced as one of the most explicit and recognizable forms of sin." "The market ideology has become our way of life, almost our religion, telling us who we are (consumers) and what is the goal of life (making money)". We lack an alternative vision to the industrial growth market economic model. How might we go about developing and promoting an "ecological economic model and worldview" – that is, one based on sustainability and inclusive of the care of creation? (e.g. when an item is costed under the current economic model, environmental impact factors are not included so the true cost eludes the customer).
  4. Governments around the world seem to think that the way out of the current global financial crisis is to borrow and spend. The assumption is that we should return to how things were before as quickly as possible. There is a total lack of an alternative vision. As a Christian community, what steps might you take to shift away from borrow and spend to a more "cruciform” way of living, that is, a lifestyle marked by "enoughness" - simplicity and frugality – with clearly defined limits on consumption, resource extraction, energy use, and sacrifice for the sake of others?
Praying Together

As this study focuses deliberately on creation and environmental concerns thin of ways in which this can be symbolised in the circle of prayer time. For example, you might want to have some earth and/or seeds at the centre surrounded maybe by (pot) plants, leaves or flowers. Think of ways of symbolising ‘the Word made flesh’ – e.g. the connectedness of Christ (the second adam) with the soil (adamah).

Begin your time of prayer in thanksgiving for Creation and its beauty.

Pray for those places known to you where Creation has been or is being abused – environmental vandalism – and the corporations, governments, individuals responsible.
Going Deeper
  1. If verse 19 was the beginning of the Gospel prior to the addition of the prologue then the beginning looks very much like Mark’s gospel.

  2. Johannine scholars are generally agreed that John’s Gospel arose in the context of intense conflict between a group of Jewish Christians and the local synagogue from which they had been excluded and that the key issue had to do with the question ‘who was Jesus?’ It is written in the idiom of Hellenistic Judaism.

  3. John’s gospel was addressed to a cosmopolitan audience and stands at the confluence of several streams of culture. It gives Christian answers to the question ‘what must I do to be saved?’ Most scholars date this gospel between 85 and 95 A.D. but some date it between 65-70 A.D.

  4. One way of thinking about the coming of Christ as outlined by John is of light beamed through a lens. The light pours through the lens and becomes focused to a sharp point of burning intensity. That focal point is described in verse 14 as the Word made flesh. Christ, God’s Son, who was active in Creation becomes a human being and dwells (tabernacles) among us (v 3).

  5. The idea of Jesus as God’s utterance is almost peculiar to John’s prologue. Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1 contain the idea but don’t use the word ‘logos’. The idea of a Creator committed to care of the creation to such an extent that “the word became flesh and lived among us,” was a concept altogether new (and unacceptable) to Judaism.
  6. John uses the word ‘life’ in a different way than the other gospels and Paul. Life is very much centred in Jesus’ person in John. In the other gospels Jesus points away from himself and to life. Jesus points to himself rather than through himself to God. He is the life of the world. Another way of putting it is that in John’s gospel Jesus is the power socket whereas in the other gospels he is the light bulb in the socket.

  7. Eternal life is about a quality of life rather than something that is never ending. It is the characteristic mark of the life of the Age to come.

  8. Light is closely associated with life. In the earliest Christian inscriptions we often find a cross formed by Greek letters for life and light. The two become interlocked as in verse 4. The life mediated by the Word takes the form of light which humans can perceive and have in them.

  9. Judgment comes with light and life – responsibility to discern between right and wrong. Light brings a crisis and divides people into those who come to the light and those who run from it.

  10. Internet comment of interest: http://www.geocities.com/jamesfrankmcgrath/Bible/NT/text1.htm http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/john_barrett.pdf http://www.quaker.org/quest/Issue13-4-02.htm

 

January 4th, 2009: Epiphany

Matthew 2. 1-12:
"What God Requires "

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together "The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community":

What stories do you know of searches for people, and journeys undertaken to find them (from your own experience, family, or friends, or ones you have seen or heard about)? What emotions do these stories arouse in you?

The Text viewed from the 'Underside"

Our attention here is drawn to two very different regimes (kingdoms) and two very different places.

The tyrant Herod, epitome of lies, oppression, violence and injustice, is contrasted with the in-breaking regime of God, marked by truth, freedom, peace, justice and love. The author of Matthew makes clear to his communities that, however it may seem, God is at work to save and restore humanity. The empires of this world will not have the final say.

Jerusalem, the great City of Peace (shalom), is focus for all the hopes and longings of the Jews, despite being the powerbase of Rome’s puppet king. They believed Jerusalem would one day be free and all nations would be drawn to her. (Isaiah 60)

Bethlehem, House of Bread, was a humble low-profile village completely overshadowed by its neighbour. Yet there was a long-held and oft-forgotten tradition that it would be the birthplace of a great ruler – ‘the one of peace’ (Micah 5:2-4). It became the birthplace of the One who would call himself the Living Bread.

Oriental astrologers (Gentile magi or wise men) were used to moving in royal circles. They’ve travelled from afar and at great cost to find the newborn king, whom they ‘read about’ in the ‘stars’ (v2). But they end up 9 miles off target, with the megalomaniac King Herod (v3).

Faking a desire to ’pay homage’ to the child-king (v8), Herod consults local experts in ancient prophecy (v4) to ascertain the location of his ‘target’.

In this story, despised foreign fortune-tellers are the ones shown to have wisdom, not the religious leaders. They pay homage, give gifts (v11) and depart for their homeland by a different route to save the child from Herod’s clutches (v12). In the midst of the dangers of Empire, God reveals another way home.
Responding as a community

Among other things, Matthew uses this story to encourage Judean Christians in his communities to embrace outsiders, particularly Gentiles who had converted from pagan backgrounds with occult practices. Clearly, Jesus’ communities were to be inclusive, because God’s love extends to all.

  1. Who is in danger in our world, and what gifts might we bring to them?

  2. How inclusive is your Christian community? What steps might you take to be more welcoming and inclusive of strangers?

  3. Worship, faithfulness and obedience to God’s purposes are the things that ‘save’ the world. Where have you witnessed such things?

  4. How might the global financial crisis impact upon Christian giving of gifts (including aid to very poor third world nations) in coming months? Are there ways in which your Christian community might be able to ensure such giving does not decline significantly?
Praying Together

Say the Lord’s Prayer together, pausing at the words ‘deliver us from evil’, remembering those who need such deliverance today. In particular pray for the country of Zimbabwe and the forgotten places where crisis is deep – e.g. Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan...

Light candles for the oppressed peoples of the world and place them in the circle of prayer (alternatively on a map of the world).

Keep a few minutes silence as you remember them before God.

Share other prayer concerns and conclude by saying the grace together.
Going Deeper
  1. Walter Brueggemann provides a fascinating account of the visit of the magi in an article entitled "Off by Nine Miles," in The Christian Century, December 19-26, 2001. Go to http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2103 to download it.

  2. See also Bill Wylie-Kellerman’s article entitled, “Another Way” at http://thewitness.org/article.php?id=333

  3. ‘The issue is not, “What must I do in order to secure my salvation?” but rather, “What does God require of me in response to the needs of others?” It is not, “How can I be virtuous?” But “How can I participate in the struggle of the oppressed for a more just world?” Otherwise our nonviolence is premised on self-justifying attempts to establish our own purity in the eyes of God, others and ourselves, and that is nothing less than a satanic temptation to die with clean hands and a dirty heart.’
    (Walter Wink, exerpt from Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, page 6.)

  4. Some scholars think that the Magi were descendants of Jews taken into captivity in Babylon whose ancestors had remained there since Nebuchadnezzar captured them. They continued the Jewish traditions and during the Feast of Tabernacles would have stayed out in tents. The tents had a hole in the ceiling so you could see the star of the Messiah!

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Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion

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