My first birth scarred my mother,
My second scarred my LORD.
In the last post I said that when gods and goddesses have proper names and specific characteristics as personalities and interact with fates of cities, they have descended from their origins in nature and spirit, and have been made more and more like humans– and here I am now about to speak of Jesus of Nazareth who is called The Son of God and Messiah.
Yes. Well; here we have gone beyond a city (Athens, Thebes, or even Jerusalem) or a state ( Abraham’s descendant would be a Light to all nations, a blessing to all people), and His birth in Bethlehem and death outside Jerusalem are recorded-history specific: His birth was when “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria,” [LUKE 2: 1-2], and His death was when Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea; these things could be verified by Roman records, as His cruifixion was.
This once, anyway, the myth was real, God became a man and was born, lived, died, and rose to from death to Life.
Last Sunday, to Christians, was Palm Sunday, celebrating when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey colt for Passover (commemorating the Israelites’ firstborn sons being saved from the Angel Of Death, and the nation’s freedom from Egyptian slavery). Crowds of his followers and of crowd-followers waved palm branches and cried out “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Jesus knew that he* was entering Jerusalem to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, to die, to be buried. He’d told his disciples this half a dozen times already and called Peter– the Rock– “Satan” when Peter said they’d never let that happen; Jesus said, “You’re thinking like a man, not like God,” [Matthew 16:23, my paraphrase]. (* “he” when he was the living, fleshly Jesus, ‘He” when He is the risen Christ.)
The crowd was making a disturbance, and a Pharisee told Jesus to quiet them. In one of my favorite verses, “He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out,'” [LUKE 19:40].
The very stones would shout Hosanna. The mountains and trees rejoice and clap, tremble throughout the Psalms and poetry of the Prophets– the ground, the Earth itself makes straight the way for the LORD, rejoices when the LORD is passing. Jesus is for all creation, not just humans. He is LORD of Heaven and Earth; he showed this when he walked on water to catch up with the disciples he had sent ahead of him in a boat– and scared the heck out of them when he did [ MATTHEW. 14, MARK 6, JOHN 6]; and again, in a boat, when a wild storm came up, frightening these same fisherman, naturally– except that that time Jesus himself was in the boat, asleep. They woke him up crying “Aren’t you going to save us?” and he opened an eye, said “Really?” [I paraphrase MATT. 8, MARK 4, LUKE 8] and quieted the elements.
All last month, before the buds themselves appeared, there were springtime stirrings in and under the ground, and the tree-tips were standing up in excitation and anticipation.
Today is Good Friday. I do not know why it is called “good” when it is an awful day, but: Jesus knew what he was alive for, knew what he was facing in Jerusalem that Passover week, and fulfilled his life-purpose. He prayed till he was sweating blood that, if there was another way, it would be presented quick, because he dreaded and feared the ordeals of torture– being slapped and spit on, flogged with Roman whips with shards of bone and stone to catch and rip the flesh twined in the leather ends, and being nailed to a cross and hung there until he suffocated from his own weight and died.
He was human; his flesh was terrified of torture. The flesh is weak. He submitted to the Will of God.
He was God. He was accused of blasphemy and presented to the high courts for execution, chosen by the crowd who voted for the guerilla Barabbas to be freed that day instead (the Romans’ nod to the Jews’ high holiday), was whipped and crucified.
This is what the Christian New Testament tells us. Over 300, some say up to 500, Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus, and for today I am going to stay in the scriptures that the Jewish-born man Jesus and his nearest disciples quoted and alluded to, although many sacred books from other cultures and groups, telling of dying and reborn gods, gods of heaven and earth, and incarnations may be precursors, pointing to Him, and are probably as valid as the Hebrew texts as history. I have not yet found a place in either Old or New Testament that says that this is the only recorded truth or the only place where truth can be found; in fact, the opposite: the truth is in everything around us [ Romans 1: 19]. Nonetheless: who can read Isaiah 53, written 700- 800 years before Jesus’ Passion, and not be shaken, I wonder.
Neither the Jewish guards nor Roman soldiers could have done a thing to him if he had decided not to go through with it– and I picture Gabriel and Michael, all the Hosts of Angels watching, waiting, twitching with the tension, ready to leap in to save him at a sign, an outcry from the man or God–.
The horror of this death, the horror “of a God who demands his Son be killed this way,” or of “a God who demands sacrifice and blood to” appease, atone, pay for, redeem…all of this is here, relived wherever Good Friday services or scriptures are attended or considered. It is horrific. Why did he have to die?
Why do any of us have to die?
Is this the greater mystery, or is the wonder, Why are any of us born?
I can’t answer either, except: “Because I AM said so.”
Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness was to do this salvation thing differently. Less painfully. The way most people would. Before he began his public ministry, Jesus went to where John the Baptist (another John than the Gospel writer, who may have been a disciple of the Baptist’s first) was baptizing people in preparation for the Kingdom of God which was coming near; John did not know the man Jesus, but upon seeing him, cried out “Behold the Lamb of God!” John was Jesus’ cousin, and another “miracle baby”; his mother had been barren and his parents were old when his father, High Priest one year and able to enter the Holy of Holies, the space behind the curtain in the most sacred precincts of the Temple, where he was visited by an angel and told that his wife Elizabeth would conceive, and the child would be blessed, a prophet of God who would be the “Voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord” as written in Isaiah [40:3]; Elizabeth was a relative of Mary’s, and Mary was visited and told that she would bear a son by the Holy Spirit when Elizabeth was six months pregnant, and Mary went to visit her. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” [LUKE 1: 41-42].
The Nativity story is in two of the four Gospels, the baptism and temptation in all four. John baptized Jesus, and, in all four Gospels, the Spirit, appearing as a dove, descended upon him from heaven and the voice of the LORD said “This is my Son”, and the three Persons of the Trinity are present all at once, as in Genesis 1, the “first” creation of this earth from the waters or chaos. Immediately after, the Spirit took Jesus to the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil– to rule the world, to win over mankind by making bread from stones, by performing grand miracles, by being a king on earth with vast kingdoms and wealth beyond that of any Pharaoh or Caesar. Jesus did perform signs and wonders, healing diseases, blindness and leprosy, lameness and deafness and demon-possession and raising at least three people from death– a widows’ son, a little girl, his friends’ brother Lazarus ( and though he knew and told his disciples that this was planned, he nonetheless wept over this death); soon before Jesus raised Lazarus, four days dead, to life — he said to his accusers: ” do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” [JOHN 10:36-38]– (“Father” is metaphorical, as is “Lamb”: Jesus the Lamb of God, the sin-sacrifice, taking our place as the lambs did in Egypt which Passover commemorates, and as the ram did, replacing Isaac after Abraham and teen-aged Isaac had followed, obeyed, trusted God in Genesis.)
— But the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament and Peter and Paul in the New also brought dead people back to life, and healed sicknesses, and doctors do so; these are not the reasons believers believe. Jesus fed five thousand men, plus however many women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish, and knew that many would follow him because of this, but that they would fall away when he was no longer passing out the free food; he told Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone but by the word of God,” and he said that he was the Bread of Heaven, and the bread was his body, remember him when we eat it. The stones that he could have turned to loaves of bread when he was hungry from fasting are the same stones that would cry Hosanna if the people did not.
But why? Why this bloody death?
Why were the Roman roads lined with crucified criminals, why were roads lined with the heads of enemies or convicts on stakes? Why are humans so cruel to each other? Why is there war and child abuse and rape and lynching?
Jesus was one of three men nailed to crosses that day, placed between them, and the one mocked him, Why don’t you save yourself? and the other recognized that while he was guilty of his crime, Jesus was innocent , and that thief recognized him as holy and entering His kingdom, and asked to be remembered [Luke 23:42].
Jesus said, “ For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father,” [JOHN 10: 17-18].
Why? Maybe exactly because humans are so ready to torture and kill what they fear, to keep their own position, power, money, land, or even for fun, which must be evil, if ever anything is?
Jesus was formed in a woman’s womb, his flesh and bone and brain from her flesh and blood and bone, as we are made of the flesh and bone of earth and stars, hydrogen oxygen calcium carbon selenium salt etc., and he was born in blood like we are. (I want to know how those who think that all the steps of evolution from singularity to volcanic rock planet and mist and single cell protazoa– all of which I am fine with– how, though, do they imagine the first living creatures of any water- or muck-dwelling, let alone mammalian kind, came to be? How was the first Neanderthal made? Were the first batch adult, or infant? What were babies born of if there were no adults of the species before? This is why I believe that, as each step was ready, the Creator created living beings– in batches, they’d have to be, or community, to survive– and set them in their proper habitat, where they adapted, bred, evolved according to their kind.).
Jesus’ DNA traced back through Mary’s people to David, through David back to Jacob, Isaac, Abraham and Sarah, back and back to Noah and back, they believed, to Adam and Eve. For Christians, the Old Testament contains the stories of the people who generated these ancestors, that DNA strand, of Jesus; He pointed out where He was spoken of in those scriptures. Through the Old Testament stories, God repeatedly warned the Israelites and Judeans that they were not chosen for their own goodness, and that if they were wicked enough the land would vomit them out as it would have the people they were chasing out of the Land Promised to Abraham (who was imperfect but trusted and followed God– and who knows how many people God addressed before him, if any, who said No?). The Eden story is mythical, but also true in the way of poem, story, myth. The universe is imperfect, orbits out of the perfectly round, because things are in motion and subject to change– this is being in space and time. When the singularity blasted out neutrinos and they banged into each other making quarks and electrons and atomic elements, there was order formed leading to solar systems, to habitations and creatures, and at some point order, which was Good, was skewed, and has been slipping out of the round, out of perfection, toward entropy, science says– will all the stars die and everything that is dissolve into chaos?
We are told that humanity Fell, through Eve and Adam, and is Restored through Christ Jesus who came to die to be resurrected and returned to Godhead. The Light became flesh, and the Darkness knew him not; the people who loved Darkness did not want him. Those who worshiped wealth or power or their own works or minds or pleasures did not want to know of love and forgiveness and equality and sharing the food which grows from the earth and would feed the world if the rich did not horde the produce and keep it from the poor as in the Great Potato Famine where the food rotted in ships while the farmers starved to death in Ireland in the 1840s.
We worship what we value before all else, what is most important to us, what we give the most time and energy and mind, and offer ourselves most wholly to.
In Genesis, humans male and female were given the job of taking care of the land, of managing the plants and animals so that all would thrive and have enough to eat and drink and have room to move, and we have failed in this. Humans have lived as if they are the only living things, the only beings with agency, with thoughts or feelings, too often, and the result has been poisoned water, toxic air, dead dirt, starvation and extinction, malnourishment and cancers and auto-immune disorders and neurological and developmental disorders–diseases which are probably as natural as malaria, as mosquitoes and tse tse flies, but out of sync, out of proportion, out of order– who feels that the world is, these COVID-19 days, all as it should be?
In Genesis, the Earth was told to “put forth life”: “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, each according to its kind, on the earth. And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation…..And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…” [GEN. 1:11, 23]. Every plant, every animal, is a living thing with a life; God cares about each sparrow, Jesus said, and all creation waits, creation moans as in the pains of childbirth and waits for the children of God to be revealed, and shall be restored. The stones perhaps did not shout Hosanna aloud because children were, but when Jesus died at three o’ clock on the Friday, there was darkness over the lands like at an eclipse or Demeter’s mourning for her daughter, and there was an earthquake— the stones cried out and graves opened and the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies in the Temple was rent from top to bottom.
What was the sin that separated us from God, from Harmony, from Order? Was it, as with Lucifer, Pride and worship of our own beauty– these long legs, round glutes, these wondrous hands?– or of our intelligence that led us to want to be gods instead of shepherds and vinters and stewards, which still makes us consider homemakers, nurses, child care workers, custodians, fruit-pickers less important, much less paid, than corporate CEOs who decide what accounts which exist only as graphs and numbers to invest money which is no longer even gold but data entered into this program or that? Is the banker who backed the factory operation more valuable than the workers who turn iron ore and coal into cable? Are mine owners more important than miners, and is a diamond worth more than a human life? Hubris. Old fashioned, Greek, Shakespearean hubris, inflation, self-worship: Pride?
And the Garden has become wilderness and desert and waste.
Jesus showed the Priests and Pharisees of Judea that in their pride at being bearers of the Law of Moses and the Words of God through the Prophets, they had fallen away from God and hidden the way and truth of It from the people– and they killed him.
Oh, I am guilty, guilty!
And I have so many ideas about the Fall, Individuation and knowledge and sin. I have theories of everything. I even worked up a whole thesis with a huge binder of notes “proving” that the God revealed by Jesus in the Gospels “was not” the God in Exodus, which could be read as Lucifer finding a people to set him up on a throne as high as God’s and to worship him, and I think this was a temptation of Intellectual Pride, because I was thinking that I should get my butt back to church. What I did believe was that Jesus was God and God was Love, and decided to make the leap even with the OT doubts– to leap to Jesus. That “theory” sort of dissolved as I read again, read more, studied the Bible, although I confess I sometimes wonder…
I left church in late teen years because I did not trust humans, and wondered how many human hands had been in the copies and translations of copies of copies and typesets of the book; I have come to have faith in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of copying, or writing, of reading, as it influenced my own reading and seeing. That was my biggest leap of faith– putting trust in the sciptures and that they are pretty darn close to what Isaiah said and what David sang and scribes wrote, and that the Gospels were written by people who knew him, that the epistles were written by John and Peter, by Jesus’ brother James, by Paul who was alive at the same time, a Pharisee converted, who was accompanied much of his time by Luke who researched and got stories first hand. Over 5,000 manuscripts, handwritten copies of the texts dating from within about a hundred years of Jesus’ death have been found. No ancient writing by anyone named Plato or Aristotle or Pythagoras or Ovid can be dated to any nearer their lifetimes than 500 years. Seven copies of Platonic dialogues were found which were 1200 years later than he lived. Nine copies of plays by Euripides (The Bacchae, The Trojan Women, The Frogs) were found 1300 years after he lived. The differences in the 5000-5600 copies of the New Testament were along the lines of spelling and grammar and exact towns and which order, but none doctrinal, and the differences make them more like humans’ accounts of events, for no three of us will describe any remembered vacation the same. (Just ask my family which day at Disney World we got the Invisible Dog.) The canon contains those writings which claim that Jesus was human and died, and is God and rose, which the gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, do not. There are many other writings, and John tells us that there are many other things that Jesus did that were not written down.
This Jesus came, reversing everything, blowing minds. He was a King who came as a carpenter’s son, a shepherd, a steward, a storyteller,a servant, a sacrifice– like the old primitive, agrarian kings who died to make way for the spring rebirth of the vegetation. He restored worship to that so-called “primitive” form, wherein any man, woman, or child could– talk directly to God in prayer, confess and receive forgiveness, baptize others, share scripture, make disciples, participate in the love feast of holy communion, eating the bread and drinking the juice, anyone could have visions and speak prophecy and heal, and worship could be in a house, beside a river, in a barn, in a field. (Paul established churches and church rules.) There is no recorded word against any other religion (sacrifices to specific “gods” and idols in the Old Testament, the idolatry God hated, was akin to the love of money over others’ lives, profits over others’ lives or health, love of Power and a palace over anything, devilish self-worship and Pride, not a love of God under another name, I think.)
By taking on a body, eating and drinking and fishing, He reminded us, that God made it all and made it good, and that this body is temporary, to be shed like a shell we outgrow for a new life. He called himself a Vine, and we his branches. He called himself bread– the wheat. He washed his disciples’ feet at the Thursday night, Passover, Last Supper, and he prayed that night for them and for the people who would hear of him and believe –like me– because of them. He had many more disciples than that group of twelve, including women. He talked with, had conversations with women– unmarried women, the Samaritan woman at the well, a Syro-Phoenician woman. When He rose from his horrible death, He appeared and spoke first to women; the men; Peter an Andrew and Philip, didn’t believe them when they first ran to tell them. They didn’t believe until they saw him and he spoke and ate with them again, and Thomas touched the wounds in his hands and side.
For fifty days after his death and Resurrection He hung out, teaching them and explaining scripture and preparing them to take over, to share the Good News of abundant eternal Life and the forgiveness of sins, freedom from bondage to sin and death, the Gospel of Love.
When Jesus had gone and the Holy Spirit had come upon His followers, Peter and John were ordered by the Temple rulers not to preach, but did anyway, so that “they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher in the law held in honor by all the people, stood up …And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” [ACTS 5:35- 39.]
Peter the fisherman who denied knowing Jesus three times ( before the cock crowed) on the night of his arrest had just stood before these high priests himself and said, “ The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.“[ACTS 5: 30-32. The commandment was to love one another.
Humans had made of themselves their own gods, and brought spiritual death (physical death is being-in-time); Jesus was God become human, and resurrected spiritual life for all who will believe.