Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.
Welcome to the Can I Say This At Church podcast. I’m extremely excited about today's interview. Everyone has someone on their list that you think to yourself, there is no way that they would say “yeah”, I'm happy to talk about that this person that I was able to have this conversation with, is on that list. I had the privilege to talk about Jesus, and the Gospels with Dr. Alexander Shaia. It is an enlightening conversation. And I will promise you, it's going to stretch you; this view of the gospel is one that most people don't think about. It is not a flat reading of the Bible. It is not a “historical reading”, it is another way to read the scriptures. It is a way to see Jesus as we move through the seasons of our life and the seasons that are inevitably going to come. So I'm ready. Let's hear it.
Dr. Alexander Shaia, sir, I've been excited and looking forward to this interview for many, many weeks, and I appreciate you coming on to the podcast.
Seth, it's a delight to be here. It's always an honor to be asked and I thank you.
So this is probably not an understatement. Reading just reviews of your book and Googling you. I think it's fair to say that many are uncertain or unfamiliar with this view of the Gospel, but also unfamiliar with you. And so I think that it would probably be best to start with just a bit of your background, a bit of your story, ultimately, maybe coming coming to close at the kind of the genesis of of your book, which will go and plug that now Heart and Mind: The Four Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation.
Yes. My history probably is fairly unique to Christians in the United States, at least. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I am the son of Lebanese immigrants who came to the United States in the early years of 1900 through Ellis Island and made their way to Birmingham, Alabama. And they brought with them an ancient Christianity from the Middle East called the Maronite rite, which is part of the Roman Catholic Church. But it's a tradition in Lebanon, which continues the use of Aramaic, the language that we know that Jesus spoke as part of our worship service, and also continues the tradition that if anything is sacred, it's never said…it's chanted.
So I grew up in Birmingham, in this very small, tight Christian community. And whereas many people might have heard, folk tales read to them and, and fairy tales as children, that wasn't experienced in my family. For me, I was sitting on my grandmother's lap, hearing that the Gospels chanted to me in a mixture of Arabic and Aramaic. And that really, is a fundamental experience to everything that I've done with my life, because what I discovered sitting with her was that the Gospels have a heart, they have a felt heartbeat in them. It's not, as well was certainly, not only the words, but there's a rhythm, there's a cadence, there's an experience of the text, which is underneath or in the words.
And she conveyed that to me and I in the book start out by my recounting a rather horrific story, as a seven year old boy standing outside of her home, after it had been firebombed by what we believe was the KKK. And there was a very particular way a KKK set a house on fire. And that was the way that that her house had been set on fire. And as horrific as that night was, what really is more important to me was five days later, Sunday dinner in the American South, and we were at my grandmother's table again, as we had been every Sunday of my growing up years, except on this Sunday, we were sitting in a basement on one wooden planks and metal card tables. And after she said grace, which she said, every Sunday, we waited because you never began to eat until she lifted her fork, and she didn't lift a fork that day.
She looked around the room. And she looked at each one of us, just for a moment. And then she very quietly and consistently said,
no hate, no hate, no hate”.
And in that moment, she changed the tenor of our family.
But as a small boy, she also confirmed what I had learned from her heart and her mouth when she chanted the Gospels. And everything that I've tried to do since then has been to bring both her spirit of no hate, and love and the truth of the Gospel(s)s to others.
So I go along, I'm set on a path in my family to be the next priest in the family line. We have 11 ancestors in my family line, who were Maronite, Roman Catholic priests. And I was so chosen to be the next priest in that line. And I go off to college, at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, and on my way to seminary after college. But when I got to college, and I started taking theology and philosophy classes, I had a crisis of faith, which was I wasn't finding in all the beautiful information that I was learning, and it was incredible information, but I wasn't finding the experience of the Christ of Jesus in what I was learning, I was, it was a lot of head stuff, but it didn't have the ability to hold me through difficult times in the way that I had learned as a child.
So I started a search, which was literally how to put heart and mind back together. I did not want my Scriptures to be irrational. But nor did I want my Scriptures to be devoid of passion and heart and feeling. And I continue to sense that as I walked into a church by church, they were asking me to check one of the other I had to leave my head outside, or I had to leave my heart outside. And that was not a fair negotiation for me. So through years of study in research, and many, many pieces of this puzzle, I finally had a moment in the year 2000.
And I was reading this book in Christology by the Rev. Robert Griffith-Jones, Anglican scholar in London. And I've been out hiking all day. And my body was tired, but my brain wasn't. And so I thought, well, if I start reading this book, I'll get to sleep very quickly. And about, I don't know, a few minutes into reading this book, he started to summarize the communities for which the gospels were written. And when I read his narrative about each community, I immediately recognize something that in all of my training I had been trained to look for. I’m a spiritual director, and I'm also a psychologist, and my major training was in was in trauma work. And in trauma work, we understand that there is a four path healing as you journey through trauma.
And as I read, Robin Griffith’s book, it's like I began to see the text. I began to see each of these four gospel texts as a particular question, rather than only the great sacred story of Jesus. So what I discerned on that night in a flash was that the text of Matthew was asking the question about how we face change, through the light of the resurrection of Jesus, how do you face change?
And the question of Mark was, through the light and resurrection of Jesus, how do you face moments of great trial and obstacle? And john, through the life of the resurrection of Jesus how do you receive joy, and know the meaning of joy? And then lastly, through Luke, again, through the light of the resurrection of Jesus, how do you know how to mature and serve? And in that sequence of those four questions, is the same sequence that we find in all the spiritual traditions. And all the great spiritual traditions of Christianity, you know, that sequence in the only thing that happened for me in that great moment of seeing was that I recognized that perhaps each of these Gospel texts was written as a spiritual practice, to one of those four questions. Telling the story of Jesus not as a historical life story, but telling it as the life of Jesus bore on the practices we need, when we're facing such a question or dilemma.
Sure. So to dig into that a bit, then I guess, I guess it would make the most sense to just kind of go through those four questions. And so you said Matthew, is how do we face change? And so what are we be called to do? As we read Matthew, I guess, I guess, how should we reread or re-entertain the thoughts as we read through the text of Matthew?
Well, Seth, walk me through this because you're you're much closer to where the people listening are then 20 years down the road with this metaphor? Is it helpful to sort of give the touchstone of why and how the text was written to its first hearers and then relate it and then relate it to us today?
Yeah, I think so. Because I think the way that everyone reads scripture today is so flat, so literal. So Gosh, static, I guess is a good word.
So yeah, I think maybe just a bit on on, I guess anthropologically, or historically. If I was a someone living at that time period. And I'm reading Matthew, as it's written to me, how is that instructing me to face change, or how is that helping me walk through facing change?
Okay, so this text that we call Matthew, we believe was composed initially composed in the great city of Antioch, Antioch is which is now in Turkey. Antioch is about a week's journey walking about a week journey north of Jerusalem. What's happened is, is that in the summer of 70, the Emperor Vespasian, the Roman Emperor, has decided to end the Jewish faith. Now, this is not the Hitler-ian answer, which is the end the Jewish people, but Vespasian had just come into power; Rome and Roman authority was shaken. And he decided that he was going to make an example of someone and his example was he was going to destroy the Jewish faith. He was going to do this by three things.
He was going to annihilate the temple is going to bring the temple down, in his way, as if we saw the World Trade Towers coming down into a pile of rubble. He wanted that entire structure to be reduced, so that nothing was left. The second thing he wanted to do was he wanted to end the Jewish priesthood by massacre. And so his soldiers, killed every member of the tribe of the Levites and the Cohens. And thirdly, he wanted to leave the great city of Jerusalem desolate and largely destroyed. And in fact, he did. And one of the things that we know is that the Jewish people didn't go back into Jerusalem for almost 50 years. That after what this patient accomplished, that the holy city was a ghost town up on the mountain side.
So Judaism woke up in the days after this horrific moment, decapitated. There was no one left that had authority to lead them forward in the spiritual realm. In that moment of utter chaos, and we can relate to this in our own lives whenever we are in a moment of great change, we are going to feel, we innately have the question about, is this the apocalypse? It happens every time, we're in a moment of great change. And think about this individually, as well as culturally or corporately. I mean, a few years ago, I was about to leave on a on a six month trip around the world. And just a few days before I left, the doctor's office called me and said, “You need to be on your phone at five o'clock this afternoon, the doctor needs to talk to you”. And I just went alone with went to sort of an interior apocalypse about what is those tests that had been taken, what are they shown and yada, yada, yada. So when we look at this dramatic moment that the Gospel of Matthew was written to, in the drama, if we step back from it will recognize all the small ways that we may feel stuck, or going backwards, or fear that we’re at an end moment for ourselves, or we're at and end moment, for culture, those all of those are not signals about the end moment, all of those are signals about the enormity of the change that we're in.
And the most important message, Matthew gives us right at the beginning of the text, which is exactly the white spiritual message and the right spiritual practice. Matthew's text is the only text of the four gospels, that continues the refrain “God is with us”. And, here's an example of what I'm describing it out the text, the text is, is bringing from history, the truth of that great word Emmanuel, and God is with us. But it's not giving it to us as a historical reference only, it's giving it to us as a spiritual message and the spiritual practice. For the moment that we feel our life is turned to ash.
This moment is not about we have gone away from God. This moment is not about God's judgment of us. This moment is about growth and change in whatever way, the moment is alive for us. And the most critical thing to know in this moment is…God's right here in it with us. And this is part of the deep drumbeat that is underneath almost every word of Matthew's text. These stories, the way the whole text is is described, is to give these early Jewish Christians in the city of Antioch, and Antioch is the second largest Jewish population after Jerusalem, and now that Jerusalem is destroyed…Antioch is the largest Jewish population in the Middle East. And many people in Antioch are saying, God is going to destroy the world by fire or water, prepare yourself. With the loss of the temple and the loss of the priesthood these are the last days. And Matthews text comes along and says, These are not the last days, these are days of enormous change.
And first thing to know, in a time of enormous change, you're not alone. You've got you've got to start a new journey. And the journey, you might have a lot of question in the wilderness, and perhaps even anxiety and depression as part of it. There's going to be trials and obstacles on this journey. But the most important thing to know God is with us, and at the beginning of Matthew's text, and it's there in the very last line of the text on the mountain of the resurrection, where Jesus appears to the disciples, and he says,
lo, I am with you, until the end of the age,
which in that metaphor means until time is no more, there will never be a place or a time, when I will not be with you.
Hmm, yeah, that's beautiful. And that, as you lay that out, I hear echoes back to well, you hear a similar story, as exodus of you know, there's, there's someone in charge that wants to decimate the entire Jewish people. And so yeah, I can see, at least there seems to be a correlation between, you know, God was with us then he was he's still with us now. And he will continue to be with us.
Yeah. And Seth, one of the transitions about reading the gospel in this way. And I'm not asking people to set aside so that they know about the gospel, this is just another way. It's not the only way. It's not the way it's another way. Now, it's like to say when something is so true, it's going to be true in 1000 ways it's going to be true in a million ways that can be true, and only one way.
So when when these communities heard the text, they knew that Jesus was alive with them. And these texts are not written to be historical verification of a time passed. They're written as a present moment experience of the risen Christ, teaching them white then in what they're dealing with.
Or teaching us right now.
Exactly. Exactly. So it's predicated on history, yes. But it's not a historical document. And it's not a verification of history, except that what's going on in your life right now. The Christ will work in your heart in the same way that you see the text describes it from 2000 years ago.
And so that leads in to the second question, which is how we…well Mark is how you said, how we move into suffering or how we, we live through suffering. And so how did those two then read together?
Um, well, first of all, the first shares of the text of Mark comes out of the city of Rome in the year 64, first century. And again, the Emperor's Nero. And Nero has wanted to rebuild Rome in an architectural style that will rival Athens. And, to accomplish this, he wants to tear down the wealthy people's houses. And he’s surprised that the wealthy Romans don't like his idea very much.
I wouldn’t either.
Shortly after this, um, there's a great fire in Rome. And surprisingly, the fire destroys precisely the areas that Nero was wanting to tear down. And we know that the Roman Emperor, when the Senate turns against him, his life span could be very short. So Nero has got to find a scapegoat. And he's got to find a scapegoat pretty fast. And what he does is he turns on the traditional scapegoat of Rome, which is the Jewish community. Someone convinces him and we don't know how this happened, but someone convinced him that it was not the entirety of the Jewish community. It was this particular group of Jews who believed in the Christ figure. And they convinced Nero that the Christ figure was the enemy of the Emperor. And so he sends out the edict that all Christ followers are to be executed and they are going to be rounded up and they're going to be taken to the old Circus Maximus and staked to the floor and fled to starving dogs, very gruesome. Because what Rome didn't like execution, as much as they like torture, and the wealthy Romans love to watch torture.
Well, what's happening now is that the Roman soldiers, the Centurions are going through the Jewish Quarter, they're knocking on doors. Are you a believer in the Christ? If you say, yes, you and her household are going to be arrested and taken for execution. If you say, no, the horror doesn't stop, because now you've got to name someone. And on your account, without them even being even asked, they and their family are going to be arrested and taken to execution. So this is a moment of Holocaust, in this very small, tight Jewish quarter in Rome.
And in the midst of this, someone, by great inspiration, and grace, is led to compose the first gospel text, which is Mark, which is the prayer of resurrection, in the midst of great suffering. This is the great prayer and meditation about how you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but knowing the resurrection of Jesus. Because it's only by knowing that resurrection that you can so endure, what you're going to have to endure in these moments. Let's look at the how the text of Mark opens, which, you know, if I'm going to tell the life story of Jesus, well, I'm going to start with something about how Jesus was born. Mark doesn't do that, because Mark’s not telling that story. Mark's telling the spiritual practice of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. And he's going to give us the first meditation, which is John the Baptist. Because here's John the Baptist, who died on the drunken whim of a governor in Palestine. Now, the Jewish Christians in Rome immediately can identify they too are John the Baptist, they too are likely to not get out of this life without facing their own execution.
or surrendering someone else to that to that end.
Yeah. So the power of this text, are the way the stories are sequenced, not as again, not as historical verification. But as these are the meditations on death and resurrection, that hold your heart steady. So when that knock comes at the door, you know what your answer must be. And this text is so powerful for us today, when we're in those moments of personal extremists, when you know, I'm lying in bed in the hospital at 2am and every breath feels like a knife in my gut. Or when financially my life has turned to ash or my marriage and my partnership is breaking apart. a loved one dies. I mean, all of those moments, when when our nervous system is just at its at its edge. This incredibly beautiful, powerful, practice of Mark is about how we move through this moment.
Yeah, so in the midst of rage, and doubt and anger and anger, how you weave in Jesus or Christ, daily into that as you wrestle between the change that is causing the suffering, and how those two just continue to repeat upon themselves.
Right and this probably would be a great moment to talk about Psalm 22. Because this text is the one that brings forward that Jesus was praying Psalm 22, on the cross as he dies. What we have forgotten because we live separate from our Jewish brothers and sisters, Psalm 22, was the prayer that every devout Jew at the time of Jesus prayed to have on their lips as they died.
This was the journey psalm. And it's the psalm that's starts with
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Because Jesus wants us to fully live into that anger, anxiety, and emptiness as a beginning place in a journey with him. And that's not where this pslam is going to end. And that's the beauty and the power of the psalm. It's like, how frustrated I am now realizing the power of this psalm, to hear how many sermons I gave in my earlier days about
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Jesus is praying Psalm 22, which ends with the praises about God, we give you praise, for your justice, for your light for your radiance, for generations, not yet born, will praise You for Your presence for your saving presence with them. Psalm 22 is the perfect story of Mark's text, about don't pull yourself back from the feelings of anger and emptiness and being forsaken. But those are the beginning stones of your journey, not where your journey ends. None of us ultimately dies feeling that God has forsaken us.
Hmm. Yeah, I never heard that Psalm 22 correlation to that. That's, that's beautiful. Why have I never…I feel like I've been cheated that had never heard that?
Well, it's really only because of in the last 30-40 years, we've drawn back together with Jewish scholars and began to understand their history with the use of the Psalms. So it makes absolute and perfect sense that Jesus as a devout Jew, on the cross begins the prayer of Psalm 22. And the evangelist doesn't need to put the entirety of the psalm in the text any more than if we are today, a Christian died saying our Father who art in Heaven. Everybody knows the rest of the psalm by heart.
So Matthew is change is coming? Here's how you live in change. And then when that change breaks everything Mark is going to lead us through that suffering into the resurrection and living with that hope. And so then, what do we do? I know you change the order slightly. So we would go on into the way that we structure it, Luke, or would we go into John?
Yeah, now we go into John.
And I mean, I didn't change the order. The order got changed in the 10th century, when they put together liturgical books. Because in church, they read the text, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and stopped 100 days every year and read John in the midst of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And when they put together the liturgical text, they said, Well, we should have John either at the beginning of the four or at the end of the four, because John is with the other three.
So John is the supplement or not the supplement, John mixes and merges in between all three.
Yes, yeah. I mean, it reminds me of, you know, John is always the rest of the story. So we come to the text of john, we start in a moment of change as we except the movement of change, we go into trials and obstacles. And Jesus leads us through those trials and obstacles to the moment, which is the moment that we sort of feel resurrection. It is that moment. It's the aha, it's the relief of the burden. It's the new insight, it's increased vitality, and creativity and energy.
And we find all of that in the text that we call John, which is the story of how I receive joy and union and know the meaning of the joy and union. John's text we believe is coming out of the great Turkish city of Ephesus, I’d like to remind all of us that three of the four gospels are written in Turkey. And the fourth gospel is written in Rome. And none of them are written in Palestine / Israel. Ephesus late in the first century, is an a fluent city. It's a the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. It has a very lively women's community. And at the end of the first century, it's the oldest and the most developed of the Christian communities because it was founded by Paul or by Paul's disciples, in the mid 40s. So if this gospel text is coming close to the year 100, we're talking about a community, or a city that's had a vital Christian community for almost 50 years.
Paul's preaching founded this community and it’s preaching is founded upon the his understanding of Christ has come for everyone.
And so the Christians and emphasis you walk in this paean of praise of this new revelation, which moves us beyond tribe. Up to this point in the history of religion on the planet, we're all tribal. Buddhism is tribal, Indigenous people are tribal. We can even say that Judaism, although Judaism believes that all people are made of one God. Judaism's organization at this moment is tribal, you worship God on your side of the wall, and we'll worship God on this other side of the wall. Ephesus is the first community that we have on historical record, which says, we have a table - come, it no longer matters, whether you are Jew or Greek - come, it no longer matters, whether you are male or female - come and sit side-by-side.
It no longer matters, whether you are free or slave, come. This is this is a huge sociological and human consciousness development, which is brought by the presence of Jesus into the first century. But many today, we are beginning to be prepared to be a diverse, culturally diverse Christian community. But when you have the first moments of this reality in the first century, we don't know how to do this. We don't know how to be a communion of people from all over the globe. And so John's text comes late in the first century, because Ephesus is struggling. They’ve heard the great vision. And they've said yes to this great vision of oneness, but they don't know how to do it. They've come up against the limits of their own ego thoughts and judgments, and all the old hierarchies, and all the old Jew and Greek problems, all of that has come back into the community. And now it feels worse than it was before we knew we were One. Because now we've got this thought that we are One and we don't know how to get there. The text of John is, and this is the book that I've yet to write. It's like I begin to lay this out in Heart Mind, but the text of John is the spiritual meditations and the blueprint about how you by the grace of Jesus Christ, create deeper oneness amongst the world's enormous diversity.
Yeah, we struggle with that today. You see that, I mean I saw it just before I started talking with you, the media beginning to treat anyone from Russia the same way that we treat anyone from Mexico, with the way that they speak about them, and the way that they talk about them. They just, they are “they and we are we” and the two are never supposed to never supposed to have any contact.
There are two things and I've heard you say them before, and honestly, they made me reread John, and I, it is quickly becoming one of my if not the right up there with one of one of my favorite ones to consistently read. So you speak a bit about the conflict of Nicodemus. And so I was hoping you could speak a bit to that, as well as at the end of John, the relationship with Peter, and the Hebrew or the Greek word for stone or for rock, which you'll have everyone become quoting here fairly soon in our calendar.
Let me just briefly say John's got this enormous task, which is to try and bring an Aramaic understanding of God to the Greek world. The Aramaic understanding that God is that everything belongs, everything in right measure holds together. The Greek world is about everything is a series of competing opposites that light and dark fight each other, that men and women must fight each other ,that heaven and earth must fight each other that's the that's the Greek worldview.
So one of the first things you got to do when you read John is the Greek world view is what's being deconstructed by this text, this text is not deifying the Greek world at all, the Greek world is oppressive. The Greek world is enslaving people. And the reality of the Aramaic Jesus is saying to the Greek world, you lost it. Everything in this text is, if you only read the Greek and don't understand the Aramaic, you're not going to get this text, because you're going to think this text is about light and dark fighting each other and nothing could be further from the truth.
Let's move to Nicodemus: One of the things that will hold us back from moving to Communion, is Nicodemus mind. And in Nicodemus, I don't know who this person was, or whether he was an amalgam metaphor that John uses, but Nicodemus mind is the good thoughts of your parents, of your teachers of your favorite theologian or your pastor, etc, who years and years ago taught you something and you ingested it and have believed it, and you've never gone back and rethought it. Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says, look, Jesus, I see the goodness in you. But we know in our Jewish tradition, that you can only have the privilege of worshiping Yahweh in our community if you have Jewish blood in you.
This whole thing about born again is not we we've gotten so metaphysical about this, the Nicodemus issue is a tribal issue. And the first tribal issue was about blood. And Nicodemus is challenging Jesus about little Jesus, how can you take a grown person and put them back in a Jewish woman's womb and give them Jewish blood? And if you can't do it, how dare you give away our privilege to everybody? So the first thing about Nicodemus is Nicodemus mind is the point that anybody says, “Well, we've always done it this way.” Every time you hear that, you know that you're dealing with Nicodemus mind, because God is always creating something new. God is always leading us to a larger heart into a wider consciousness. And so Nicodemusis trying to say, “Well, we know that this was true a year ago, or 100 years ago or 1000 years ago, and therefore must always be true”.
What's always true, is that God is doing something new with us. And what Jesus says to Nicodemus is, you You better go back and ask the wind where it comes from. Go back to God and say, God, teach me a new today what you want me to understand? And don't you dare, staring at a 1000 year old tradition, or 2000 year old tradition, or a belief that it's always been this way, because the moment you do that, you will bring division into what God wants to be whole. So this is a profound confrontation right at the beginning of John's text, and it's the most important fundamental lesson to learn if we're going to say that we're going to build a diverse community, which recognizes that God is everywhere in the cosmos?
Yeah, I've heard I know, we talked about it a bit before we started recording, you know, I've heard Richard Rohr say the same thing. And when he argues with other texts, with Galatians and whatnot, that Christ's resurrection is not resolving just you or me, it's resolving the entire cosmos, everything is spiritual, and everything is being redeemed, and everything struggles, and everything lives into that hope, and that joy of resurrection…
and because of this reality. We don't go and take God anywhere. We don't go and take Jesus anywhere. We go everywhere and evoke that the Spirit is already there. This turns our evangelism on its ear, because Paul has already taught, and the gospel of John profoundly drives the point home. Jesus is already everywhere Jesus is the grain sand across the cosmos. So go discover what that far part of the cosmos has to teach you about Jesus.
So when we go to minister, or when we go to evangelize, it is not for the purpose of telling you what to think about Jesus. It's for the purpose of teaching you how to hear, and see, and be with Jesus where you're at right now, regardless of contempt, or struggles or richness or joy, or hatefulness, or whatever emotion that you're dealing with.
Thats right. Find the presence of Jesus that is here and learn how to listen to that presence.
And so John ends and it feels a bit like a rebuke to Peter. But it may not be a rebuke, but can you speak a bit to how John ends with Peter and then how that kind of dovetails into Luke?
Well, yes, and I love this sense of Peter…Simon is given the name Petros in the Gospel of John. And Petros means “stone or rock”, can mean both. And in Judaism, stone is the incorruptible substance. It's why in the temple, or at home, that your washing vessels are made of stone, because you can wash yourself physically and you can wash yourself spiritual, and the stone takes on no contamination. So what one of the messages in this text is, is that listen, Simon, and listen, Seth, you’re Petros you are made of an incorruptible substance and nothing you do in your life could ever take that away from you. We cover it over, you can forget it, but that's in essence who you are. So then when we come to the end of the text, and get this beautiful, final story of Jesus and Peter.
Jesus cooks breakfast, and then he's going to ask Peter three times, you know, as Peter turned away from Jesus three times at the fire in the courtyard during the trial, now Jesus asked Peter three times do you love me? But the beauty of this is, Jesus, his answer is giving the spiritual practice. Now Peter is responding to Jesus ..Well of course! You’re right here! I see your radiance, feel your love, of course, I love you.
I've just been on a great retreat. You know, I've just heard a fabulous homily. I've just had a spiritual experience I’m on a high, of course, I love you! Jesus’ response is.
Go feed the lambs and take care of my sheep.
Now, this is code language for first century. Because in the first century, this is not 1000 years earlier, during the time of David, when shepherds were the great heroes of the Jewish people. There's a reason that John's Gospel has to talk about the “Good Shepherd”. Because in this first century, the Jewish people like most of the Roman world, have left the fields and they've gone to the cities. And when someone has hurt the bonds of the village, to a point that they're going to be shunned and shamed. They're turned out to be shepherds in the fields, so that they will smell of sheep, so that when those people come into polite society, it's far better than having a bell around your neck. Somebody can smell you a block away, and know who you are and what you've done.
So when Jesus, at the end of this magnificent gospel of the presence of the Christ, and every grain of sand in the cosmos says, but if you want to be a steward of that, being a steward of it is going to be whether you can do the work of the least, and the lowly. And whether you too, can bear the smell of the sheep. And in the midst of that see resurrection.
Is it a fair hearing of what you're saying, now to say, you are stone or you are incorruptible, and so you have no other excuses to go and be with those that would normally corrupt you or the tribe that you don't agree with?
One of the things one of the reasons that John doesn't give us particular names so much is because he wants his texts to be the text of every person. So when Jesus says to Simon, you're Petros, Jesus is saying each one of us, you're Petros. you're made of an incorruptibility. Go, go and serve that.
And so then that leads into Luke which is how we then how we then serve. So what, I guess, how do we serve?
What is so beautiful about Luke is that Luke gives us a lot of parables which turn everything upside down, because Luke wants us to go into situations without preconceived notions, and take our good training, but also take the Spirit of the Christ. And it if we do that, we will find our way through. Luke is written in the 80s of the First Century and written at a moment where Christianity and Judaism are in a horrible mutual divorce. There's nothing worse than such a painful fight in the family. And as we are coming out of our mother tradition, Judaism, and have to stand on our own, the Emperor looks out and goes, “Oh, no, we've got a new, zealous, religious, community on his hands. And he fears zealousness, he fears passion.
Because the Emperor is dedicated to keeping his empire “gray”. “Gray” people are easy to control. And he doesn't care anything about the name of Jesus or who we serve. All he wants to know is are we going to obey the rules of Roman society and are we going to obey His rules? And his rules are, the wealthy are on top…everyone else is property. A wealthy person can use us in any way they want to. Wealthy people have no responsibility to the poor whatsoever. We're not sure that slaves have souls, on women or property, on and on and on.
Along comes the Christian community and we're coming to understand the radiance that lives in each person, the incorruptibility and the radiance that lives in each person. And we are offering people a way to live beyond tribe, we're offering a way to live in a new communion, in the presence of our God, Jesus the Christ. So what we are doing is a threat to the Roman Empire, it's a threat to the good order, quote, unquote, good order of the Roman Empire. And so the text of Luke is trying to teach us new Christians in this new battle, quote, unquote, bad against the important that, yes, we are going to evangelize. Yes, we see to change the order of the Empire. But we seek to do it in non violent ways, that we seek to speak truth to power, which is the easy part, we seek to seek truth to power in love.
Which means even our most fierce adversary will not be someone that we will cast out of our heart. And we will never think of our adversary as less than human. And that we will do the work of receiving their bitterness and their rejection, and lack of esteem, and no approval, we will receive that, and we will understand in that, that that's the work in which we meet with spiritual practice. That you do not change your culture, by changing who you elect or changing your laws. You need all of that for the good working of a society that's on the way. But ultimately, you change your culture by conversion. You change your culture, by touching a heart, touching a heart, touching a heart, touching a heart, touching a heart.
And so Christians took the Gospel of Luke is their walking companion with the Roman Emperor for 250 years for 250 years, we were illegal outcasts executed. And we never took up arms. We met and justice with our resolute spiritual practice. And ultimately, we converted the Roman Empire with hardly a battle. So I tell the story of Martin Luther King Jr's address in the south in the late 50s, early 60s. And I remember these words, and I relate them to standing outside of my grandmother's house and seeing it firebombed. Martin Luther King said,
Send your hooded perpetrators into our neighborhoods at the midnight hour. Burn our homes, beat our children, break our bones, and we will not hate you. We cannot in good conscience, obey unjust laws. And we will win our freedom, we will. But we will so appeal to your heart and to your conscience by our ability to suffer that when we win our freedom the victory will be twofold. For we will have won yours, as well. That's the text of Luke.
That's beautiful. And it reminds me, I don't know where in your book, you say
when we fully absorb the epiphany that we received in John's Gospel, then we act on that which is Luke, then we abolish dualism and joyously welcome the complexity and paradox and the paradox being this life that we're called to live.
And I think that speaks well to how you're, you need to know going in, that there is a price for living in a truth that speaks about injustice, or speaks for rights for women, or that there's a lot of corollaries there to America as today and the world as today and there's so I think it's beautiful, how you how you talk too speaking to the price of living in that truth and, and using all four as a way, not just for today but to live with that that strife in that anxious and and what that hope looks like on the on the back end.
And I want to just add one piece to that Seth, and you've said it so beautifully. But I love that Luke always adds, he brings the long work ahead back to “just today”. And I love his phrase where he says pick up your cross daily, which also means put it down. If you want to do the long work of conversion, you cannot be on duty 24 seven, let it go rest, have some play, have some fun, regenerate, come back and pick the work up again. And it's really all the way through his texts, he keeps bringing it back to Don't look down the road. If you look down the road, you're going to get tired, exhausted, bitter, resentful. Do what you can do today with a light heart and let it go and take it up again tomorrow. That's the long work ahead.
That's beautiful. I think that's a perfect spot to stop. Alexander, thank you so much for your time today. I have many other questions that I could ask but will save those for a different date. Where would you point people to that hear this, as they are listening to it, that not necessarily questioning but are curious on this view of the gospel as a way, another view of the gospel? So where would you point people to, to get engaged, obviously, I would point people to buy the book. Second Edition is on Amazon,
You can buy the book only through either Amazon or Kindle, worldwide. And secondly, if people would be so kind and go to my website, which is “quad” for “fourness”, RATOS. QUADRATOS.com. And on that website is a page, which has a lot of podcasts that I've done. And this one will be on that page soon after you release this. But also on that page is a process that I call the Heart and Mind Community Guides. And if people don't want to simply read this book, but if people want to begin to practice living this way. That's what the guides are for. And I asked for your prayer for the people doing this work. As I pray for everyone who's listening to this podcast.
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