31 December 2012

The Second Amendment, Gun Control, and Peace

Am I the only one who finds the view that some people have about guns extreme and unsettling? I keep seeing links to articles and videos by some people stating that other people are wanting to remove all guns from law abiding citizens. That all “they” want to do is ban the purchase of firearms. Some are even saying that the Socialist dragon is raising it’s ugly head to devour the Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment. Really?

I have not heard a single person of power speak about removing all guns or taking away the right to purchase guns, own guns, or destroy the Second Amendment. This is spin that has gotten way, way, out of control. (I’ll grant that I haven’t heard all of the spin the other way. There may be some people saying we should ban all guns. I’m just saying I haven’t seen it.)

All people are talking about is the need for reform.

Change.

Restrictions.

Are we so much more concerned about our personal rights to own a firearm that we’ve forgot the most important right of all? The right to life? Of loving and serving each other? The moment we put our own individual rights above the rights of other people we become bullies, villains, monsters. The “good guys” become the “bad guys.”

And, please, don’t spin that old yarn about the best defense against someone with a gun is someone else with a gun. That’s utter rubbish. There are way too many studies proving just the opposite. When there are fewer guns, there are fewer murders and suicides.

When talking with a friend of mine about this, we brought up the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. His argument was that if a few of those people in the movie theatre had been carrying guns, they could have returned fire and stopped the slaughter.

To which I countered, “The guy’s not going to stand in one place.” He said, “But that’s just what he did.”

“That’s because no one was shooting at him!” I replied. “As soon as someone else started shooting, the ‘bad guy’ wouldn’t have stayed stationary. He would have moved. Then, you have gunfire from different places in the theatre. How does a person determine at that point who’s the ‘good guy’ and who’s the ‘bad guy?’ It’s simple. You can’t. People will start shooting in the direction of gunfire. That would potentially lead to more people being killed, not fewer.”

To get to a different but related issue, let me tell you a story - like a little movie. It’s completely fiction. I’m making it up on the spot.

The scene opens with a shot of a lazy little town street. It appears to be fall as the leaves on the trees are filled with vibrant colors. The camera slowly pans to the left and we see a nice looking guy walking down the sidewalk, his hands in his jacket pockets. We follow the man into a diner. After looking around for a bit, he spots a couple he recognizes. He goes over to their booth and, after some awkward small talk, the man pulls a pistol from his jacket, opens fire, and kills the couple. Panic ensues and the gunman runs away.

In the next scene, we find out that the couple who were murdered had a daughter. She was in the bathroom. She returns to find her family murdered. She swears then and there to avenge their deaths (kind of like Bruce Wayne/Batman). She starts training - martial arts, weapons, etc. She bides her time. She follows the killer. She learns his habits. She watches and waits. She sets up what she believes is the appropriate reaction to her family’s deaths. She plays it out over and over again in her head. It has to be timed just right. After all, she doesn’t want innocent people getting hurt.

So, at just the right moment, she captures the guy and starts torturing him - she wants to make him “pay” for what he did to her life. But during the process, the guy explains over and over again that her parents had abducted him when he was walking home from school. They beat him, tortured him, and sexually abused him. For months. And he wasn’t the only one. He could hear the cries of other children. Her parents ruined his life and the life of other people! He was just giving them what they deserved.

Of course, he would say something like that, she says (and we think). He’s just trying to get into her head and get away. She knows that her parents were loving people, they would never do anything like that. They weren’t monsters. He’s the monster who ruined her life!

But this is just a story, right? We know how this works out. The police show up just before she kills him (they had been “keeping tabs on him” since the shootings). They arrest him for the double murder and the whole time he’s screaming that he’s innocent; that they had it coming. Blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard it all before.

The daughter is “cut a break” and not arrested for her crimes. And, like her, we feel that she was justified for her actions. “Justice was served,” we tell ourselves. The “bad guy” got caught and we got to live out a little “vigilante justice” vicariously through the daughter. We tell ourselves that, yep, we would have done the same thing.

Now, we’ve seen this type of story played out in movies and television all the time. It’s pretty obvious who’re the “good guys” and who’re the “bad guys,” right?

But, like a lot of movies are doing these days, there’s an “easter egg” during the final credits - another piece to the story that teases us to come back for the sequel. In this scene, we get a splash page that says something like, “Previously...” The camera pans out to a quiet little neighborhood street where a teenager is obviously walking home from school (he’s wearing a backpack, after all). Then, out of nowhere, this van pulls up next to him, a man jumps out and grabs the kid, putting his hand over the boy’s mouth so no one hears him screaming. The van pulls away and the sleepy little street looks like nothing happened.

Next, there are some disturbing scenes of the kid being beaten and tortured by the couple from the restaurant. We hear the muffled cries of other children in the background. And just as the sexual abuse starts, the scene mercifully fades to black as the camera pulls back from the pupil of the eye of the man in jail for killing the couple, tears streaming down his face.

All of a sudden, we don’t feel so good. The “bad guy” was telling the truth. But, to make ourselves feel better, we tell ourselves things like, “Well, he shouldn’t have taken things into his own hands. He should have gone to the police.”

But there’s a problem. This is a story. We get all of the pertinent information about why the violence occurred. Sure, we might have got the “good guys” and the “bad guys” mixed up (it’s not our fault, that’s the trick of the story-teller), but it all worked out in the end.

But that’s just the point. It doesn’t all work out in the end. Life isn’t a movie. We don’t know the backstory of the lives of others. We don’t know what drove (drives) people to act (or react) the way they do. We simply judge them by their actions and the outcomes of them. And we feel justified when the “obvious bad guy” gets “put down” for his evil crimes. The only reason we feel this way is because all we witness, all we know, is that in the immediate “scene,” the people killed were “innocent.” That is, at that moment of the crime, they weren’t doing anything “wrong.” Therefore, the guy who committed the violence is the “bad guy.”

Obviously.

But, as we’ve seen, things just aren’t that obvious. The world is not black and white, no matter how badly we want it to be. To be truly human, we have to do the hard work of listening. Of treating others the way we wish to be treated. We have to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have to even love our enemies.

All people, regardless of status, gender, sexual preference, religion, geography, color, or creed want the same things - to be loved, to love, to be safe, not to be worried about food and shelter, to live their lives without persecution from the “other.” We all want to live in a world without war, without violence, without prejudice, without fear. We all want peace. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we willing to give up our own selves for the sake of others to make that happen? Regrettably, the answer I keep hearing and seeing in the news, in social media, and in our communities is a resounding, “No!”

There is no quick answer to the gun debate. Scratch that. Yes, there is. We must have more restrictions on the purchasing of weapons. We must have tighter laws on what people purchase and carry. Guns - whether they’re pistols, rifles, shotguns, etc. - are all made for one purpose and one purpose only.

Killing.

When people train to use weapons they aren’t trained on how to maim or wound something or someone. They’re primarily trained to kill. To end life. Period. That’s it. That’s all weapons are made for. Sure, we can use them in “defense.” But the training is the same - taking the life of someone or something else.

As a culture, we’re so inundated with violence that we think it’s normal. When a person says that he’s a non-violent person, we look at him like he’s from another place and time. We think he’s naive. “That’s not life in the real world, bub. That’s a fantasy world that’ll get you and your loved one’s killed.” I had one guy tell me that a “real man” wouldn’t just stand by and let other’s be attacked. A “real man” would use deadly force to “take out the bad guy.” I’m not naive. But there are other ways of dealing with violent people. The problem is we want the “quick fix.” Sure, we’ll talk about peaceful resolutions, but as soon as things go south, we send in the weaponry.

We have to put away this type of thinking. It’s time. It’s past time. We must put the needs of others before our own. I know many people who would do this for the members of their family. Without hesitation they would gladly give away everything they have if it meant that their loved ones were alright. And that’s they way it should be.

But to move forward, we have to start thinking of our neighbors as our families. We have to start looking at other people as our long, lost relatives. To move forward as a people, as a global human family, we have to be serious about putting peace first.

To get theological for a moment, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a great future:

In the days to come the mountain of [G_d’s] house will be the highest of the mountains. It will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it. Many nations will go and say, “Come, let’s go up to [G_d’s] mountain, to the house of Jacob’s [god] so that [we may be taught G_d’s] ways and we may walk in [G_d’s] paths.” Instruction will come from Zion; [G_d’s] word from Jerusalem. [G_d] will judge between the nations, and settle disputes of mighty nations. Then they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war. Come, house of Jacob, let’s walk by [G_d’s] light (Isaiah 2.2-5; amended).


For those of us not in the know, this has been fulfilled. I know it’s shocking, but Jesus fulfilled this picture. At least, part of it. He said,

Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me...The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going. As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.” (John 12.31-32, 35-36).

Furthermore, John was clear that G_d’s Word and Light came through Jesus to Jerusalem and went out from there (John 1; cf. Hebrews 1). The earlier followers of Jesus were told that they were a new city upon a hill and their light would be seen by the world (Matthew 5.14). The people who follow The Way are “the house of Jacob’s god” with Jesus being the foundation (see Ephesians 3.19-20; 1Timothy 3.15).

Lastly, the “nations” in Isaiah are clearly the people we see following The Way of Jesus in the stories found in the book of Acts (see Acts 2, 10, 15, et al.) and the letters we have in the New Testament (see Philippians; Colossians, et al.).

But, as can be seen, there’s still something amiss. There’s still plenty of nations taking up weapons against one another. There’s plenty of war. There’s plenty of violence.

I say this too our shame.

We are the reasons there’s still violence. We have failed.

With every hateful thought that fills our minds, with every harsh word spoken, with every angry glare, and yes, with every punch, slap, kick, jab, fight, stabbing, gunshot, cannon fired, bomb dropped - with all this violence and so much more - we have failed.

The groundwork has already been laid. It is up to us to see the rest of Isaiah’s vision of G_d’s Realm finished. Christ showed us The Way. We have to live it. We can’t expect our world, our families, to change if we continue to act the same. It is up to us to stop the cycle. We have to be better people. We have to be the best of humanity. We have to be brave enough to say, “No more! Not another bullet fired! Not another bomb dropped! Not another life taken!” It is up to us, through G_d’s Spirit, to “beat [our] swords into iron plows and [our] spears into pruning tools.” No one else is going to do it. We have to be the ones, family. In all the stories we have about G_d and creation, we see that G_d works through people to bring about change. G_d has done the first part. The rest - and peace - are up to us.


~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

30 December 2012

More Q & R About "Church"

In my ongoing conversation about church, a friend asked:

In my Bible, (Ignatius, RSV, 2nd Catholic Ed.) John 6:41 says: “The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’” Would you please explain why this led you in the direction it has? When I read this verse, and continued on, it is clear to me that Christ is framing himself as the Bread of Life prior to introducing the Eucharist to his followers and others. Definitely, a difficult concept – one must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life? It’s difficult for a lot of people to grasp today – 2,000 years after it was introduced! But, I do not see where it leads us from Church to the The Way.

As I re-read this, I think I’ve found where the misunderstanding is coming in. It actually goes back to my second post (which you can find here). In that post, I referred to the difference between what the biblical writers meant by the word “church” and what that word means in most contexts today. To quote from that post:

The word translated “church” is the Greek word ἐκκλησίᾳ (ekklēsia - ek-klay-see'-ah) and it simply means, “called out.” Properly understood it’s a word used for a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly (see Acts 19.32). In the Septuagint, the Greek text of the Jewish Scriptures, it is often used when referring to the assembly of the Jewish people (see Judges 21.8; 1Chronicles 29.1; etc.). While ἐκκλησίᾳ doesn’t necessarily have any religious connotations in and of itself, the writers of the New Testament often used it when referring to the people who follow The Way (see the passages you suggested and scores more). In that context, ἐκκλησίᾳ is applied in a couple of different ways. First, it’s used when referring to local assemblies in different places - Galatia (Galatians 1.2; notices that there are many local ἐκκλησίᾳ there), Corinth (1Corinthians 1.2), and the group that met in the home of Prisca and Aquila (Romans 16.3-5).

Second, ἐκκλησίᾳ also refers all the people throughout all time and space who make up the mystical “body of Christ” and follow The Way. These are the people through whom god implements the Realm of god and uses them to expose the reconciliation of the world (see 2Corinthians 5.16-19).

By way of contrast, the word “church” is now understood to mean both the religious institution known as “Christianity,” in general, and of a specific tradition (in your case, Catholic), in particular.

Perhaps I need to rephrase this a little bit.

When the biblical writers wrote the word translated as “church” they were not using it the same way we use it today. They meant either the universal group of people who follow Jesus or the small local gatherings of those people. Neither meaning should be understood as the Institution we have today.

Before we get to the question about the Eucharist, there are a couple of different views regarding when the Gospel according to John was written that have direct bearing on the inquiry. One view is that John (like the other Gospels) was written before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This would mean that Jesus’ intention may have already been to reconstruct the Passover meal, i.e., see it in a different way.

The other view is that John’s Gospel was written later (between 85 and 100 CE). Some scholars believe this section of John 6 refers to a practice already going on in some churches and not necessarily what Jesus said. That is, the idea of Eucharist may have been written back into the story to support already established practices.

Personally, I hold that John was written early. In fact, I think that all of the New Testament was written before Jerusalem fell. But that’s for another conversation!

The reason I bring this up is that some people discount out of hand some of these texts (and to be fair, I tend to do this, too, although it’s extremely rare). That is, some people think some passages seem to be less “authentic” because they’re older or edited documents. That’s really not my point. Not here, anyway.

Now, regarding the Eucharist. Since I hold that John was written early, Jesus could very well have meant to have his followers understand the Passover in a different way. Does that mean that this can only be observed in the Institutional Church as we know it today?

Heaven’s no!

The early followers of Jesus didn’t have an institutionalized religion called “Christianity.” This is my main point! They were following a Way of Living that superseded religion. They met in each other’s homes for their common practices. And like the other common practices, the Eucharist started out in homes, around a shared meal. The liturgical “stuff” we have today was not even on the minds of those early followers. The closest thing we have to an early Eucharistic liturgy is found in 1Corinthians 11. There Paul wrote,

I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes (verses 23-26; CEB).

To me, I can see this unfolding with a somber feeling. A small group of people sitting around a table, perhaps just finishing off their common meal. Then, someone takes a cup of wine (perhaps it’s been on the table the whole time, similar to the way a Seder leaves a cup of wine for Elijah), and recites the words expressed above. The bread and the cup are then passed to each person; all sharing one bread and one cup, symbolizing their connectedness; their Oneness.

The contrast to that scene and the one that happens in our churches today is quite different. We have rules and gestures and words and responses, ad nauseam. According to Paul, however, when the early followers of Jesus got together, “each one [had] a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation. [So that] all things [could] be done for edification.” (1Corinthians 14.26; MOUNCE; adapted). The picture painted by this, for me, is about all of us working together when we gather. This really can’t be done because of the size and scale of a lot of our churches today. Again, this leads me to see that what we have today is not what was intended.

What I believe was intended, and what we see unfolding in the New Testament, is small groups of people meeting mostly in each other’s homes, having a common meal, with a common practice of worship, teaching, prayer, and Eucharist. Most of the people would take turns offering “a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation.” This, to me, is what’s supposed to be happening when the followers of Jesus gather together. It is in these small, intimate settings that people can actually grow together and help each other as we walk along The Way.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

28 December 2012

Fourteenth Understanding


14. In the Lindisfarne Community, we are willing to be out on a limb, to be vulnerable. In doing so we always run the risk of being rejected, which is at times an intense form of suffering. Nonetheless, to that we have been called. Jesus was the most vulnerable on the cross and in our discipleship we willingly embrace the cross — to be vulnerable, to be out of control, knowing the freedom that vulnerability brings.

Being vulnerable. That’s difficult for some people. Some of us are pretty guarded. We’ve been hurt so deeply that we don’t trust people the way we used to. We’re suspicious of even those who are closest to us. We “know” that they could, at any moment, hurt us again. So, we guard ourselves. We try to be the people we once were, but the damage is too great. It take years before we become trusting people again. Sometimes - a lot of the time - we never trust people again. We remain distant. Guarded. Broken. Some of us have even changed the “Golden Rule” to reflect our new way of being, “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

There are others of us though, who live in a constant state of vulnerability. We have our “hearts on our sleeves,” as the saying goes. We’re too emotional. Sometimes, even the slightest thing can bring tears to our eyes. We give and give and give. It doesn’t matter if we get hurt or trampled upon.

Other people look at us in these groups and label us as “strong” or “weak,” respectively. But, let me let you in on a little secret...

That’s backwards.

It’s the people who are seen as “weak” who are actually the strongest. It takes a very strong person - stronger than others even realize - to be vulnerable. We see this played out in so many ways. From the person who “turns the other cheek” in a physical confrontation to the one who continually loves others but gets treated like a “doormat.”

But Jesus was very clear about these things. One just has to read through the “Sermon on the Mount” to see his take on it. Those “in the world” resort to hurt and abuse to get their way, but Christ’s admonition to us is not to be like that. To follow Jesus, we must put away our own selves for the sake of others. And, if that means being treated unfairly, so be it.

The difference is that we are making the conscious decision to not react in the same manner. We are choosing the “road less traveled.” We are choosing the “narrow gate.”

As I edit this, today marks the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents, i.e., the government sanctioned murder of children when G_d came into the world through the birth of Jesus (and one can’t help but add the children and adults recently murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as the unnamed children who are killed daily through war, starvation, disease, etc.). As we know, Jesus was born in extreme conditions to an unwed mother, a child herself (by today’s Western standards, that is). When Herod the Great was notified by the Magi that the rightful King of the Jews had been born in the small town of Bethlehem, he dispatched soldiers to “kill all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger” (verse 16; see all of Matthew 2).

This tells us a lot about G_d. G_d didn’t become human in a grand and glorious way. Quite the contrary. G_d became human in the most vulnerable of ways during a very hostile situation. Once more, G_d stood with the vulnerable. As a vulnerable person. To vulnerable people. During a hostile and violent time. For the sake of creation.

Furthermore, Christ’s whole life and ministry was one of vulnerability. His closest friends and followers were seen as the outcasts of society. He exemplified a way of non-violence with love as it’s core - love for G_d, love for neighbor, and love for enemy. He not only taught this way of living, he also walked it and taught his followers to do the same. He was mocked, rejected, and ridiculed at almost every turn. For all intents and purposes, he was a “doormat.” Once, when he was rejected by a city, the “Sons of Thunder” wanted to call down fire from heaven and burn the place to ashes. They were openly rebuked (Luke 9.51-56). At another time, during his capture and arrest, Peter tried to defend him by attacking Malchus, the slave of the High Priest. During the attack, Peter cut off the man’s ear. Jesus again rebuked this behavior stating that, “All those who use the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26.52). That is, violence only creates more violence.

Throughout the life of Jesus, we see vulnerability again and again. Likewise, those of us who follow Jesus are called to live this same type of life. A life that sides with the rejected, the outcasts, the sinners. A life of non-violence in the midst of the violent world around us. To walk The Way of the cross and daily, moment by moment, lay down our lives for our friends and, yes, even our enemies.

Being vulnerable is not a weakness.

It is strength personified.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

03 December 2012

Thoughts on the Immaculate Conception

A very dear friend and I have been discussing many wonderful things! One of these is the Immaculate Conception. For those who don’t know, the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, being conceived without sin. My contention is that there is not any biblical support for the doctrine and furthermore, there isn’t a need for it. My friend did some digging and sent me a great article that outlined some of the major points for the doctrine and also some of the arguments against it. I’ll briefly address some of those here.

First, the author of the article clearly indicates that the tradition is not explicitly stated in the Bible but only inferred. The passage that makes this inference is Luke 1.28. In the Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament1, that verse is translated as,

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, highly favored one, the Lord is with you!”

The words “highly favored one” are the ones that infer Mary’s sinlessness. They’re actually one word in the Greek - κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitōmenē) which is based on the word χαριτόω (charitoó). The meaning of which can be seen from the HELPS Word-studies:

Cognate: 5487 xaritóō (from 5486 /xárisma, “grace,” see there) – properly, highly-favored because receptive to God’s grace. 5487 (xaritóō) is used twice in the NT (Lk 1:28 and Eph 1:6), both times of God extending Himself to freely bestow grace (favor).

The idea, then, is that Mary is considered “highly favored” because she was receptive to the favor (or grace) which God extended through Godself to her. I bring this up because the author contends that, because the verb is in the perfect tense, it is something that Mary had since her conception. He states,

“Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence.”

That is, because of this grace (or favor) bestowed upon Mary at her conception, she did not “inherit” the sin of Adam and Eve, known as the doctrine of “Original Sin.” She was born without sin and lived her life without sinning (it should be noted that no other churches, including the Orthodox church, hold to this doctrine).

While this is certainly true of the perfect tense in the Greek language (that is, it refers to something that happened in the past but has present results), remember, all of this is inferred. It’s not plainly stated. We have no clear record of when God gave this favor (or grace) to Mary. It could just as easily happened at the moment God chose her or when Gabriel spoke with her, contrary to the author’s view (since there’s no way of “proving” it one way or the other). Also, there’s nothing in the text that indicates that the grace (or favor) bestowed means “sinless.” That is also an inference and not in the Greek. The Greek only indicates that God’s favor (or grace) was given to Mary at some point in the past.

Also, I think “infer” is too strong of a word. To infer means to “deduce or conclude from evidence and reasoning.” To me, there is no evidence or reasoning for the Immaculate Conception. There’s nothing in the Greek to deduce or conclude that Mary was without sin her entire existence.

Furthermore, I don’t believe the context supports this dogma. Here’s the context from Mounce:

Luke 1.26-38: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee that was called Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, highly favored one, the Lord is with you!” She was thoroughly troubled by what he said, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this could be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Look, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus. This very one will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for all time, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have no sexual relationship with a man?” And the angel answered, saying to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. Look, your relative Elizabeth, she also has conceived a son in her old age; indeed, this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible for God.” So Mary said, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I think the context is quite telling, especially verse 30, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” If, as is maintained, Mary was “full of grace (or favor)” from her conception, she wouldn’t have “found favor with God;” she would have been favored her entire life. The way the Greek reads, it’s not Mary seeking favor (or grace) from God, it’s rather God seeking one upon whom God could bestow grace (or favor). If Mary was “full of favor (or grace)” from conception, God wouldn’t have to search for her, she would have been the chosen vessel from the very beginning.

There are several examples of God choosing people from birth and before for the purpose of God. Take as an example Jacob and Esau. St Paul stated in Romans 9 that God chose Jacob over Esau “before they were born or had done anything either good or bad” to fulfills God’s purposes (Romans 9.6-13; MOUNCE). Or look at Jeremiah. God told him, “Jeremiah, I am your Creator,  and before you were born, I chose you to speak for me to the nations” (Jeremiah 1.5; CEB).

What I’m trying to say is that the doctrine of Immaculate Conception feels forced (we’ll get to why in a moment). The only passage the author used for supporting this dogma doesn’t address the issue or give any indication that Mary was either sinless from conception or throughout her life. What I see, however, is just the opposite. The context of the passage seems to indicate that God was searching for a vessel through whom Jesus could be born. Granted, God’s favor (or grace) was given to Mary at some point (and I personally think it was prior to the sending of Gabriel; see Daniel 10, note verses 12-13), but since the text doesn’t tell us one way or the other, the best thing to do is not build a doctrine of the church upon it.

At another point in the article, the author compares Mary to the Ark of the Covenant (or Testimony). This is the chest that carried the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (among other things). The idea goes that, since the Ark was carried by people who were “sanctified” (that is, set apart for service), how much more would Mary be honored for carrying the incarnate Word of God.

I have no problem with that. Mary should be honored.

However, honoring Mary for being the “bearer of God” is one thing. But to claim that she has to be sinless so Jesus can be born without sin doesn’t make sense (this is where the doctrine feels forced). Think about it. If God mystically made Mary to be free from “original sin” so that “original sin” wasn’t passed on to Jesus, why couldn’t God just do the same thing with Jesus in Mary’s womb? If Mary didn’t “inherit” sin from her parents by God’s Grace, certainly God could have done the same thing for Jesus. And we have biblical proof of that very thing! Without inference! It’s plainly stated in several passages:

Hebrews 4.14-15; CEB: Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin.

2Corinthians 5.21; CEB: God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.

1Peter 2.22; CEB: He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive.

Therefore, I don’t think the Immaculate Conception is a necessary doctrine. In my humble opinion, it’s just not needed. One can - and should! - honor and respect Mary! She’s the “God-bearer.” Mary’s a shining example of how ordinary people (especially women) can be used by God for extraordinary things. If Mary was “just” an ordinary person, just a “regular” gal, what better example for all of us “regular” gals! God doesn’t have to bestow a certain grace upon you to be able to use you. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God doesn’t do that. We’ve seen examples where that was the case. Nor am I saying that God doesn’t grant gifts for service. What I’m saying is that God is seeking “ordinary” people who will be willing vessels for service; those who are willing to be Christ to those around them. For me, that’s what’s so empowering about all of the saints. They’re just “ordinary” folks through whom God does extraordinary things. We need more of those type of people in God’s good world today.

May it start with me.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC


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