Holy Week

Pray then Contemplate then Meditate then Pray...

Photo by  Motoki Tonn  on  Unsplash

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Listening to different groups of people I hear three words used to describe some of their practices. The religious (often conservative) use the word prayer, academics (often liberal) use the word contemplate, and mystics (not just Christians) use the word meditate. Sometimes there words are used interchangeably in popular culture, but my lived experience teaches me that these are not different words for the same practice, but rather three different practices. The trouble is, most of us just do one of these when we really need all three.

Prayer is many things, however at the core, prayer is paying attention. it is the act of paying attention to the needs around us. It is paying attention to gratitude. It is paying attention to the hurts and pains in the world. It is paying attention to what the still small voice of God whispers to us.

While prayer is using our peripheral vision to pay attention, contemplation is the practice of focusing on something. It is focusing on one scripture or one concern. It is focusing on what God is inviting us to do or become.

Meditation is the practice of letting go. If prayer and contemplation are about opening our eyes to different degrees, meditation is about closing them. Not closing them to the pain of the world or the concerns of God, but closing them so to empty ourselves. Meditation gives us access to our limitations and shows us how we are not in control or in what ways we are limited to effect change.

To pray, contemplate or meditate in isolation is not only difficult to do but we are missing out on the fullness of these practices. They each build upon one another and connect to one another. We pay attention, we focus, we release, only to pay attention once more.

Since we are just out of Lent, perhaps it is easier to pull the example of Jesus from Matthew 26 36-42. First Jesus prays (pays attention):

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 

Jesus is praying and in doing so he is paying attention. He is paying attention to his situation becomes grieved and agitated, even to death. Jesus asks the disciples to “stay awake with me” to pay attention to what God desires.

The story continues:

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 

Now Jesus moves from praying to contemplating. He is focused on the real possibility right before him. He narrows his choices to two - let this cup pass or thy will. Additionally we wonder if Jesus frustrated with the disciples because they are asleep or because they are not paying attention? The story then makes the final turn toward mediation:

Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Jesus lets go of a desire to control the outcome. He is aware of his limitations in the situation. He clears his mind through meditation and said “the same words” of release to God. Once this threefold movement is complete, Jesus remains frustrated, not at his impending death mind you but at the disciples who could not even do the first step to stay awake, pay attention, pray.

Ethnophilia and Holy Week

Photo by  Markus Spiske  on  Unsplash

Often racism is thought about in terms of what it hates. Speaking to, acting toward and building structures against others on the basis race are among the different ways racism is discussed. Racism is an evil that needs everyone to work to eradicate, but racism is like many things: it evolves.

Of course it does not evolve like an animal might evolve to keep feathers, but it does evolve in the way ideas develop and change in order to be more palatable to society. Hard forms or racism are quickly called out, as they should be; however, there are softer forms of racism that are just as toxic. The problem is this toxicity, at first glance, sounds like a good. It is called ethnophilia.

An ethnophile is someone who loves and admires their own ethnic group, nation, or culture. This sounds like a good thing. Who would not desire to love their own? But love of own group has the dark side of hostility toward those not in the group.

So the ethnophile can talk about how wonderful their group is and even say things that sound loving but in fact are anything but. “Love the sinner and hate the sin” might be a classic example. The expression indicates that there is love for the other but really the love for the other comes at the cost of hating. When love and hate mingle there should be concern because I don’t have that high of a view of humanity. I think humans will err on the side of hate over love.

It might be argued that Holy Week was set in motion by the ethnophile, Judas. Who loved his own kind so much that he betrayed the savior of the world. Holy week was propelled by a people who loved their own kind so much they called for the crucifiction of Jesus.

If love for your own comes at the cost of hurting, killing or otherwise enslaving those out of your group, then we may be under the sin of ethnophilia. Or as Jesus said on the sermon on the mount: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

"Don't screw this up!" - Jesus

It is sometimes said that the crowd did not understand Jesus and this is why they became angry and shouted "crucify!" It is said that people thought he was a specific type of leader or king or messiah and when it turned out he was not, the crowd became angry.

Perhaps the crowd shouted for Jesus to die not because they misunderstood Jesus, but because Jesus understood the crowd.

It is the case that tension in the world needs to be resolved and one of the most universally accepted ways to resolve tension is to locate, isolate and destroy a scapegoat. Jesus knows this and Jesus also knows this cycle of tension, blame and death is a cycle that no one has been able to break. But Jesus thinks he might have a way to break the cycle, as long as the disciples don't screw it up.

Here is part of the story from Luke:

He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

Why would Jesus ask for a sword? Jesus needs the Powers That Be to count him as an insurrectionist and a rebel leading an armed revolt, so he asks for a sword. Jesus does not plan to use it all he needs is a prop to ensure that the crowd thinks he is dangerous. This points out the fact that while Jesus never intends to use the sword nor has he been violent at all, people will make "evidence" even when there is not any to be had. Jesus works to ensure that people will make evidence, because he is without fault.

But why does Jesus want the Power That Be to find fault with him? So that Jesus becomes a scapegoat. Jesus knows that in order to break the scapegoat cycle, he must enter into the cycle in the place of the scapegoat.

What Jesus does not need is for the Disciples to screw this up. There have been other times when people were able to kill Jesus but it was not "his time". The full force of the scapegoat cycle had not reached a breaking point. But now it has. Jesus cannot have the Disciples screw up all this work and time. Jesus cannot have the Disciples screwing it up by becoming the scapegoat instead of Jesus. So Jesus asks his disciples to pray that they will not come into the time of trial.

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

Now that the disciples have failed again in their work, Jesus is nervous that they might screw this thing up again. How will they act when the crowd comes? If they piss off the crowd then they will become the scapegoat and they will just become like one of the million of other past scapegoats unable to break the cycle. Jesus knows what to do and how to do it, but he cannot have the Disciples screw this up.

And they almost do.

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

When the ear is cut off there is a potential that the crowd would take the Disciple and kill him as a scapegoat to the tension. Jesus has to redirect the crowd away from the Disciple and back to himself. So he heals the high priest and then shouts to the crowd, "Hey! you never came to get me in the open, now you come at night! You all are cowards and jerks! I am Jesus. I am the one you want." 

And so the wrath of the crowd turns back to Jesus, the last and Ultimate scapegoat. 

And Jesus did not screw it up.

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