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Scripture: Fact or Truth, Contradiction or Paradox?

Matthew 27:32 says: As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene, Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.
Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26 say pretty much the same thing.
On the other hand, John 19:16b-17 says: So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.
Although John’s gospel was written later than the others and written for the Christian community, John was the only Apostle that scripture actually places at the scene of the crucifixion.
My experience has been that the Spirit was not only involved in the writing of the Scriptures, but is also now involved in the reading of them.
For example:
In the last two weeks of my first year of teaching a combined class of first and second graders, I got completely overwhelmed. I was administering end of year aptitude tests. As each group finished a test, they saw a great light; summer vacation. And they began to bounce off the walls.
Also, as a first time teacher, I was having to face that some of the children were still operating below grade level. I was struggling to deal with the painful reality that there was nothing more I could do at this point.
All in all, I came home one night in a state of high anxiety. I took my bible to my equivalent of a prayer closet, my bath tub. Feeling so inadequate that I desperately wanted to bail out by calling in sick the next morning, I prayed fervently,
“Lord, I need help. I feel like such a failure, I don’t think I can face another day of teaching. I know I’m a horribly weak person to be like this. Please, please help me.”
I tearfully flipped open my bible and began to read. It was Matthew 27:32.
“ As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene, named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.”
My Catholic upbringing’s Stations of the Cross had left me with a vivid image of Jesus falling under the weight of the cross and needing the help of a stranger to complete his mission. The realization that the human Jesus had human limitations and needed human help brought tears of relief with the healing of my self contempt.
At that moment, the phone beside the tub rang. It was Alan, one of the teenagers from my church youth group. He said, “Mrs. Norman, I’m already out of school at the junior high. Could you use any help in the classroom tomorrow?”
“Yes, Simon,” I replied to his confusion. And I drafted my own daughter and son from junior high to help oversee playground games for those already in vacation mode as they finished their tests. And I finished the year with gratitude for God’s understanding of my human limits and the sense of His presence in my small life.
Some years later in a different situation, but asking God’s help for the same feelings of inadequacy, I opened to John 19:16b-17. “So, they took Jesus and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called Golgotha.”
Through this, I heard God calling me to persevere by trusting in His presence and grace in the challenge I was facing. He was bringing me to a new place of less dependency on other people through a closer relationship with him and a deeper faith in His grace.
The Scriptures are not treatises of fact and logic or even just doctrines or rules written in stone. They are also personal letters from God given by the Spirit long ago and continually being brought to life by that same Spirit within us. The combined truth of these two scriptures is that sometimes as humans we need the help of other people, but other times we are called to depend just on the Spirit of God within us.
Not only are humans very different from one another, but we are different people at different times in our life. What we need to hear today, may be the opposite of what we needed to hear yesterday. Truth for unfinished, limited human beings is paradoxical. In the larger picture opposites can be true.
Listen with an open heart and mind for the Spirit speaking to you today and be slow to judge anyone else’s truth.

bloggers-for-peace-badge                              Peace Begins Within

Conflict is not the same as hatred. Differences of opinion, conflicting needs, and misunderstandings are part of the human condition. But hatred is a whole other ballgame. And where there is hatred, there will be no peace.

Most, if not all, hatred and prejudice are rooted in a sort of primal human fear of being the least, of being at the bottom of our world’s value ranking.  Being at the bottom means being helpless and vulnerable to the ill will of others.

One way we assure ourselves that we are not the least valuable is finding others to consider inferior to us in some obvious way, perhaps morally.

Another way is to focus all our personal or group resources on developing a particular competitive talent or skill, so we can feel safely superior in that area and trust society to overlook our disdain for or even violence toward others.

Or, if intimidated by another person or group’s abilities, like the childhood bully, we can try to cut them down to our size with ridicule, or like Hitler, make them the scapegoat for everyone’s woes.

Hatred is a fear based response. It depends on denying our shared humanity with the “other.”
It allows us to demonize those we choose or are taught to hate, to project on them all the evil that we struggle to repress within ourselves.

I believe the increased incidence of suicide among our soldiers comes from wars that now involve being up close and personal with those in the invaded countries, who turn out to be just ordinary people like ourselves.  Then our shared humanity and helplessness expose wars of today as being murder.  And while fighting for our survival might be noble, fighting for our lifestyle is not.

Scripture says that faith casts out fear. Faith in what? Not faith that we are the chosen and somehow better than others, but rather it is faith that we are all loved by our creator.   In the hymn Amazing Grace, ‘without one plea’ means we are loved for no reason other than being God’s creations, God’s children, not for being good, or right, or a certain religion, or nationality.

Jesus says such extreme things as, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’ Does that mean that Jesus literally is in those we consider the lowest, those we ignore and avoid, treat condescendingly, or even hate and persecute?

He goes on to say that ‘in the kingdom of heaven, those that were last on earth will be first and those that were first will be last.’ Friends, I’m pretty sure the kingdom of heaven lasts a lot longer than our days on earth. It’s something to keep in mind when evaluating our priorities, particularly those that grow out of a need to not be the least or last in this world.

Paul’s treatise on love in First Corinthians 13 insists in no uncertain terms that without love, we are nothing. If we give everything to charity, if we become the poorest of the poor, but have not love, we are nothing. If we have great spiritual or intellectual gifts, but have not love, we are nothing.

Love is kind. Love is not arrogant, envious, boastful, rude, or resentful. Love does not insist on having its own way.
When my need to be “somebody” raises its ugly head, I reread these words, and  I have to  quickly go mentally to the back of the line.

So who are the least of God’s brethren? Those that know that without God, they are nothing. Those that walk humbly with  God.

Mother Teresa was able to undertake and persevere in her calling because she experienced both the unconditional love of God and even His discernable presence in her life before she ever began her mission and also during the times of struggle with church authorities to be allowed to do what she knew God had called her to do. Toward the end of her life, Mother Teresa went through a terrible dark depression. She had succeeded in doing what God called her to do and she had even received worldly honors and fame. But at the last, she no longer experienced God’s presence. And compared to that, nothing else mattered, not success in her mission, nor worldly acclaim.  She felt bereft.

The least are those that know that without God, who is love, we are and have nothing of eternal value. But that with God, we need nothing else.  Only then do we not suffer from the illusion that we are, or need to be, better than anyone else.

Peace begins within each of us as we grow in faith in a God who is love.

Related Article: Bloggers for Peace