Life is about growth.
When I was a child, I couldn’t leave my toy soldiers out all day long, or I would be reminded to put them away.
But life is not about war and “winning.” It’s about love, and the amazing growth that love will draw us towards. In adulthood, most of us no longer play with toy soldiers.
Maybe in the future there won’t be toy soldiers.
In recent weeks and months there has been much talk in Christianity about rules regarding marriage, and how to think about these rules.
Obviously, rules are important. Even if rules are not always followed and considered divine and absolute and eternal in themselves, they still shape good things in society, and in our growth.
What are rules for? What is their purpose?
Although some big rules seem to remain basically intact over longer periods of time, many rules change significantly.
As humanity evolves, things change.
Many things happen in historical processes. With the Enlightenment, we saw an explosion of hard-won individuality, and many celebrations of the human mind, reason, and sciences.
Scripture itself is an ongoing historical process. Scripture reveals more things through time.
Here is an example of that:
Liberation Theology Was Not What Jesus Discussed;
But His Teachings Lead Directly To This
In the days when Jesus was walking about ancient Palestine and Israel, Jesus did not spend any time, apparently, teaching his disciples about social organizing for progress or movements to liberate the world, per se. Despite the fact that the beauty and dignity of every human person are vital—each person is central to Jesus—he did not talk about the evils of slavery, which was prevalent in many places in the world back then. There are lots of things that Jesus did not cover.
What did Jesus talk about?
Jesus talked about the Turn. The Pivot. Jesus talked about the Quiet Evolution that Love is making in Humanity. Jesus talked about images of growth from agriculture—many such images. Jesus talked about trees. Jesus talked about leaven in the dough, hidden there by a woman.
Why did he talk about these?
Metaphor and parable are modes of communication that blossom over time. They grow as we grow (the entire Bible is like this).
What did Jesus do with his disciples? He probably spent a lot of time teaching them how to individually grow in love, forgiveness, and community-building.
Look at the disciples Jesus chose, probably just as the hidden signs of the Holy Spirit directed him to—look at the radically different pairs that were in his community! He had a tax collector and a zealot. These two might have instantly hated each other; One was a patsy to the Romans, the other a possible murderer of Romans. Can you imagine their first few meals at the campfire together? Jesus may have broken up some fist fights.
Jesus was probably patient, usually, with them, teaching them how to live together. Teaching them to relinquish smaller outlooks and to focus on large goals, and vaster outlooks on life and community. Teaching them to recognize jealousy, fear, and greed within themselves. And showing them the growth of love in community.
So there were a guerrilla zealot and a tax-collecting collaborator in the same group.
And there were Peter and Judas. Judas annoyed Peter greatly because Judas and Peter shared some similarities. Both had powerful expectations of “how things should be.”
It was likely Judas who was infuriating him when Peter approached the Lord and said, “Jesus! Teacher! How many time do I have to forgive this guy?” Maybe he waited. “Jesus, 7 times?”
Not 7 times, but 7 x 77 times.
Jesus is talking about massive changes of perspective.
Jesus is talking about the growth of our will, of our love.
Here, in this little talk of encouragement, in this little pep talk to a frustrated student, Jesus is advancing our Evolution.
Cain, fearful, centuries earlier, asked God to broadcast that anyone who hurt him would be punished 7 times as much.
Lamech, a bit later, went even more full-throttle: he said that if anyone did anything to him he would respond with 77-fold retribution in revenge.
Early humanity, and sometimes us today, can go overboard in our violent ways and in violent thinking.
Hammurabi and the law of Moses reduced the violence. They said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There is early wisdom here, as rules bring order and an end to endless violence and wasteful retribution in society.
Jesus, however, is teaching a great series of further steps: Love, and deeper community.
“Hey dear disciples, forgive each other.”
Peter doesn’t yet know where this is leading.
“Jesus, how many times do we have to forgive? 7 times?”
But 7 times 77 times is the rule: that is, learn this attitude of Love. Get this verb, this habit of love, in your being. Peter, in his struggles to incorporate this radical teaching, is already light years beyond Cain and Lamech and the earlier lawgivers.
In the early descent/ascent of humans from animals, with a deadly mix of memory and human anger, society got more violent, with 7-fold retribution becoming 77-fold retribution.
God knew this would happen. God is bold. God loves our evolution.
(I once asked a spiritual teacher what God might have been thinking in the ice ages, when early humans lived by gnawing on bones. He answered with a smile, “Ah, those great dark mysteries.”)
(Maybe part of the throes and difficulties of our evolution is so that we can claim the physicality of our natures.)
Jesus teaches the overcoming of hate with love. “Love is stronger than death,” says the Song of Songs.
Humanity is encouraged to practice, and so to incarnate, this wonderful Reality. Forgiveness is the earthly mirror of Love.
Forgiveness is the deep body work, the deep psyche work, the deep mystically-connected-body-of-humanity work of Love.
7 times do we forgive? No, 7 x 77 times.
People criticize Christianity, and her institutions.
But how many billions upon billions of times in history have humans, encouraged by religious institutions and leaders, made bold and beautiful acts of forgiveness?
This may be the leading cause of human evolution.
This is a key thing that Jesus taught his disciples: interior growth, and love.
Jesus had his disciples meditate on these around the camp fire.
During 2000 Years of Development
The love grew.
When society allowed it, Churches were built.
People invented orphanages. And hospitals. Poor children were taught, a radical and astonishing idea! People dedicated their lives to the development of Love in Humanity. So much good has happened.
So many different forms of Christian life appeared in the Churches. Servants in the streets, or preachers, or monks, or hospital workers, or professors, or artists, and more.
Jesus never said to do those things (although he did say to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner). But it is as clear as day that these later developments spring from love, and from his word, his teaching, his being—even though he himself did not say to do them.
(All the prophets, and Psalm 72, reveal that society will be happiest when the poorest are loved and incorporated into our communities.)
Jesus praised the centurion. The Roman centurion. The leading religious figures, upon hearing this about Jesus, must have been positively furious!
Jesus never advocated revolution against this horrible foreign army that had so violently taken over his land. And he resisted all efforts to make him a leader who would liberate the land by means of a war.
But today is different. Humanity has grown. We have figured out, we have learned, some more things about what’s right and wrong in society. Slavery has been made illegal in the whole world (and everyone knows that where it still exists, it’s evil). But look how many people resisted this idea initially! Today, it’s obvious to all.
We have known for many decades that colonization is wrong, despite its having previously been done for centuries.
Impelled by the Gospel, pushed forward by Jesus, driven by the positive forward momentum of his message, raised by the leaven in the dough of humanity—we have learned.
2000 years ago Jesus praised the centurion. Today, in a different motion, we rightly condemn dictatorial governments as we try to care for all human beings and their human rights. Evil governments must go. So too must trickle-down economics, and the massive divides between rich and poor.
Was Jesus wrong to praise the centurion? 2000 years ago, it was the thing to do, correct on various levels, stunningly good even. (That mediated encounter, not quite a conversation, is exceptionally deep.)
But today, however, it is right and proper for people to demand the correction of evil government. And these processes might be neither smooth nor instantaneous. Remember that the United States had trouble getting established, despite having had some of the best situations in global history to attempt to build a radical new democracy. Patience and hope are required. God likes our evolutionary efforts at progress.
Do you see how 2000 years has resulted in a dramatic growth of new forms of the same Love that Jesus so patiently taught his disciples around the campfire?
We are creatures of growth.
We are creatures of healing.
We are creatures of evolution.
St. Paul talked about radical freedom; and yet he himself was a highly disciplined person.
The Holy Spirit is among us in new ways, today. Self-discipline and proper conduct are crucial if we want to enter into a new relationship with the Holy Spirit, which we are invited to.
Morality is more important than ever. We need to purify our conscience, our intuition, if we would have the Holy Spirit dwell in us more deeply, and to greater effect. Our decisions, choices, words, and actions are more important than ever. These are the means by which we invite the Holy Spirit in, or send the Spirit away.
(By the way, the final Surah of the Qur’an, Surah 114, is all about this.)
Yet the world today is multifaceted and confusing. In this new world, we also have to help people swim to each other. The human connection they find, perhaps one who knows the Spirit already, may become their teacher. Of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a tall order, yet there is nothing to worry about. Jesus, or love, has conquered the world.