John 20 and Cain and Abel

When you read John 20:19-23 there are a couple of Old Testament stories that come to mind. The next two posts will look at these parallels.

The first is the Cain and Abel story - Genesis 4:1-16.

Notice that the disciples function like Cain in that they participate in the death of the other character - Jesus and Abel.

Then you might notice that both the disciples and Cain are gripped by fear. 

You will notice that both stories have the murdered speaking beyond the grave. In the case of Abel his blood cries out to God. While in the case of Jesus he appears in the room the disciples locked themselves into. 

Cain and the disciples both receive a 'mark' from God. 

The stories are similar in a number of ways, until the way the one who is murdered responds. Abel's blood "cries out" to God - the same way the Israelite cry out to God under Egyptian oppression. When this blood cries out it is "shrieking" and "clamoring" to God. But the blood of Christ does something different - he proclaims peace and forgiveness. 

Could it be that John 20 is making reference to the first murder (Cain and Abel) in order to make a distinction that the response of the second murder (the murder of Jesus) is a new commandment?

Are we being invited to consider how we will respond to when someone kills us, stabs us in the back, slanders, destroys, criticizes, diminish, hurts and abandons us? Will we respond like Abel and "cry out" or will we declare peace and forgiveness like Christ? 

It seems if we are Christians - rather than "Abelists" - then it is clear what we are to do.

Science supporting Jesus?

There is this idea in our culture that if you are angry then you need to pop off or let of steam.  This idea excuses a number of behaviors of people in relationships.  I cannot express how many people I hear (myself included) say, "I just needed to get this off my chest" or "I just need to yell and get this anger out."  If you have ever thought that popping off in order to release steam then you too have, at least one time, bought into the idea that letting off steam alleviates anger.

And it does.  Which is why we do it.

The issue is that letting off steam in this way may make us feel better but it never stops us from having to let of more steam in the future.

Take this little bit from You are Not so Smart.  Please note that it takes a bit of set up to get to the interesting stuff, but we have to see the set up before we can get into it.  So first the set up:

"In the 1990s, psychologist Brad Bushman at Iowa State decided to study whether or not venting actually worked. He divided 180 students into 3 groups. One group read a neutral article. One group read an article about a fake study that said venting anger was effective. The third group read about a fake study that said venting was pointless. He then had students write essays for or against abortion, a subject about which they probably had strong feelings. He told them the essays would be graded by fellow students, but they weren't.  When the students got their essays back, half were told their essays were superb. The other half had this scrawled across the paper: "This is one of the worst essays I have ever read!" Bushman then asked the subjects to pick an activity like playing a game, watching some comedy, reading a story, or punching a bag. The results? The people who read the article that said venting worked, and who later got angry, were far more likely to ask to punch the bag than those who got angry in the other groups. In all the groups., the people who got praised tended to pick non-aggressive activities."

No big shocker there.  When we are told by an authority that some behavior is good/not good for us then we tend to heed that advice.  While this is no surprise, it might be worth taking note that this also creates feedback loops.  If we are told "venting" is good then we will more likely seek out opportunities to do it, and if we are told "venting" is not good then we will seek out other ways to deal with anger.  

Now onto the interesting part in which another experiment is created like the first but with a twist, in which the group that was told their essay was the worst essay the grader ever read was then divided in half and and were told they were going to have to compete against the person who graded their essay. "One group first had to punch a bag, and the other group had to sit and wait for two minutes. After punching and waiting, the competition began. The game was simple: Press a button as fast as you can. If you lose, you get blasted with a horrible noise. When you win, your opponent gets blasts. The students could set the volume the other person had to endure, a setting between zero and ten, with ten being 105 decibels. Can you predict what they discovered? On average, the punching bag group set the volume as high as 8.5. The time-out group set it to 2.47. The people who got angry didn't release their anger on the punching bag-their anger was sustained by it."

This may be common sense to you.  It may not be. For generations Christianity has taught about loving the neighbor who is sometimes also your enemy. Forgiveness is critical to the life of the Christian. Jesus is said to have spoken words of forgiveness while on the cross. 

It is good to see that science is catching up :)

Parable of forgiveness - Matthew 18

Matthew 18:21-35 is a parable of Jesus only found in the Gospel of Matthew in which there is an servant who after just being forgiven of a great debt, is unforgiving toward a servant of his own for a minor debt.  I have encountered this parable as a proof of God sending people to hell, as per the final verses in which it says, 

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Perhaps this is indeed a story of God punishing those who are unforgiving.  It seems weird to me that God would not forgive but punish those who do not forgive.  Does that mean that God should be punished until God forgives the unforgiving people?

It is for these reasons that we need to remember this is a parable.  As such there is great symbolism in these stories and to quickly literalness them blinds us to potential deeper meanings.

So in an effort to help open imagination of parabolic reading, I would offer this idea. 

When I live my life and am not forgiving my neighbor, then I find that I am tormented by the grudges I am holding toward those who I am called to forgive.  

Could it be that God allows us to be handed over to the one responsible for punishing prisoners when we do not forgive not because God is punishing us, but because we are punishing ourselves?  In my life I find that I am my own worst critic and hardest on myself.  When I hold grudges and refuse forgiveness when I know I should not, I feel terrible.  I feel tormented.  

And I will continue to feel this way until my debt is paid off.  That is to say that I will be tormented by my lack of forgiving until I forgive.

Prayer from Sunday

I was asked by a few people for a copy of this prayer I shared on Sunday. It was inspired by the opening chapters of Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean (which by the way is a great book, but seems a bit redundant through the opening sections).

As we breathe in the breath of life we become aware that we are dependent upon you Spirit of life. We cannot make it on our own; we cannot do this thing called life on our own. If it were not for you we could not even breathe. We are completely dependant upon your grace in our lives but the fact of the matter is, most of the time we think we can do just fine without you.
We are caught up in a great deception and lie. We live our lives saying all the “Christian” things and being “nice” to people all the while believing we have submitted ourselves to your Will of sacrifice and de-centered ourselves. It is embarrassing to even admit it in these quite moments that we live with the expectation that you a butler waiting on us to snap our fingers so as to meet an immediate desire we have. It is amazing that even in our arrogance and refusal to change our life to reflect Your desire and mission, you still love us. You still traverse time and space, life and death in order to enter into our lives, defrost our hearts and call us to sacrificial love. Why do you do it? Why do you have compassion for a people who constantly push you away and treat you like a parlor trick? In this very moment, in our collective embarrassment and awareness of our shame, please forgive us. Transform our minds to the point where our desires are your desires, transform our heart so that what you have compassion for we too would have compassion for.
You are a God of great compassion not only in dealing with us individually but with the entire world. While we are blaming other people for the problems of the world, you have compassion for them. While we are busy looking for a way to make ourselves look good, through Jesus Christ you died for the very people we demonize. Your demands of compassion are high and your grace calls us to a greater love than we embody at this time, but we seek to move toward being made perfect in love. For being perfect in love we are transformed to embody your Love and Grace; for it is the embodiment of Grace that we follow as we join our voices with the Great Cloud of Witnesses, the Saints of the Church past and present in the unending prayer which Jesus taught all his disciples to pray saying: Our Father...