“Behold Thy Mother, Behold Thy Son”

BEHOLD is a key word to the third saying of Jesus while he was being crucified. I realize it is not a word we use in our everyday language. However, it still is used but mainly for dramatic effect in writings.

  • In 2014, Huffingtonpost published an articled titled, “Behold, The Most Influential Contemporary Black Artists In The Industry Today”.
  • In 2017, USA Today printed a headline, “Behold the Michelada, Dodgers Stadium’s signature spirit at the World Series”.
  • Arstechnica.com announced, “Behold, 157 new emoji for 2018”.

Because it is not widely used, many contemporary bible translators remove the word from their texts. Yet the standard translations retain it. The reason is because it is the exact word used in the original language.

“Behold” is a verb in the transitive preterit tense. As a participle passive we would use the word “beheld”. It means “to fix the eyes upon; to see with attention; to observe with care.” Think about that as you compare the readings from contemporary translations with the standard ones.

“Behold, thy son!” [Dramatic] verses “Here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” [Impersonal, almost flippant]. What a difference! Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Jesus Lamb Cross

Yes, the word is much used in this manner for exciting attention and admiration. It is in the imperative mode, expressing command, or exhortation; and by no means a mere exclamation. Why am I making this such a big deal?

The Greek word being translated is ἰδού. The term is second person singular imperative middle voice of εἴδω. This particle has an active voice. Its imperative mood demands you “see” something. It calls attention to what may be seen or heard or mentally apprehended in any way. It is drawing attention to a literal, physical object or being.

“Behold” is imperative mood “to see,” calling attention to what may be seen or heard or mentally apprehended in any way. These are regularly rendered “behold.”

If your bible uses the word “here” instead of “behold”, that is because it is translating a different Greek word. The Greek word is Ide instead of idou. It comes from ὁράω (horao, hor-ah’-o). Like idou, ide also means to see, perceive and attend to. However, where it differs is that, by definition, it demands your discernment to beware of something!

“HERE is your son” is a message of wariness, not responsibility.

Idou/behold, is reality. Ide, here, has a METAPHORICAL meaning! The term ide implies it is not literally true.

And herein lies my personal dispute. To flippantly use the phrase, “Here is your son…here is your mother” opens the door for the entire narrative to be interpreted as a metaphorical passage. It is based on a Greek word that implies a metaphorical meaning.

Our ancient creed from Nicaea assumes a literal, physical crucifixion of our Lord. It is not a made up story.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

Reflections on Peace During Trouble

Last winter, I was walking along Tamaki Drive in Auckland’s Eastern suburbs. I left out on a quest: to follow the sunset from St Heliers to Mission Bay. The constant change in beauty was breath taking. 

You can see the picture of a couple sitting on the beach. They are surrounded by the peaceful colours of the sun setting over the North Shore. The flattened ball of light reflects toward them across the waters. It is for moments like these I enjoy walking in Auckland.

Sunset

Reading Mark 1:21-28, I reflected on the topic, Peace During Troubles. Jesus was confronted with a contrary person. This person was heckling Jesus while he taught inside a place of worship. Jesus commanded this person:

‘Hold your peace’.

The opposite of peace is not war; it is the absence of fear.

Fear of the unknown robs you of your peace. I pondered the connection in the liturgy between the Gospel text and the reading from I Corinthians 8. Then I realized worshipping idols is a manifestation of fear. Devotion expressed to inanimate objects is a manifestation of fearing the unseen forces those objects represent.

In the Corinthian passage, this condition is referred to as being ‘unclean’. Our internal struggles require the power of peace. Peace is found through worship – but not worship of non-living forms.

Peace can be found in the midst of our internal struggles. Peace can be found during troublesome periods in our life. This is because you already possess peace! It is within you. Circumstances hide your peace. Look beyond your troubles and:

  • Find your peace!
  • Hold your peace!
  • Uplift your peace!

Spoil not the calm inside of you. Be not afraid of your troubles.

I believe one of the reasons I love to walk at days end is the feeling of peace it supports. The image I bring before you is that of the Orekei Basin. Although the Basin itself is not a secret, many are not aware of its lovely trail. You can circumnavigate these still waters without the trauma of Tamaki Drive’s numerous walkers. The trail is not suitable for bikes so you can walk without constantly looking over your shoulder.

There is peace on this walk.

The trail around the Basin is equivalent to 14 flights of stairs. There are so many different angles to capture beauty. Tress in the bush; birds over the water; clouds playing in the sky: all are ready to pose for a picture. I find this a very spiritual place where worship is natural.

Wharf

One particular evening last Autumn, I captured the wharf for this image. I could not help but think about how many are on a similar path. Looking for a way across unstable water, they excitedly enter on a built path. Yet the path is incomplete.

There are many paths to take through life. There are many spiritual leaders to follow. But to us, as Christians, ‘there is but one God’, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:5,6). Our God teaches us not to fear. He calls us to sound minds. When you let your mind run away to fulfill negative alternatives, you are robbing your own being of its peace. You are stealing from yourself. Stop the robbery! Hold your peace.

What is peace? It is the opposite of fear.

Where is Peace to be found? It is found in Christ.

How can you enjoy peace? The Corinthian passage emphasizes unity among Christ’s followers. Being at peace with your spiritual siblings allows individual peace to flourish. We are all connected. We are one in Christ. There is peace in Christ.

Child Slavery

Slavery was an impetus for Christ’s Advent. The issue still exists today in a more evil form: Child Labour.

Sorry about the sobering topic during a glorious New Zealand Summer – but I have to share this burden.

Over the Christmas season, I helped to organize 6 related services and 2 memorials. It was a tough time. In one of the services, I presented the talk on the Advent Wreath.

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Part of organizing was being prepared to lead other services, if necessary. As part of that preparation, I wrote a talk for the Sunday following Christmas.

It was not needed but the research for that topic still burdens me.

Traditionally, the dedication of baby Jesus at the Temple is commemorated. Many years after the account given by Luke, his ministerial colleague, Paul, connected the Advent with Slavery.

I know — its a bit shocking.

What was even more disturbing was learning that Slavery is still an issue – even right here in Godzone New Zealand!

Salvation Army isn’t running from the issue. Their challenging article asks the question, “Are There Slaves In New Zealand?”

The answer, sadly, is yes.

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Along the way, I came across some disturbing images from LifeHack.org. I selected 10 of them to include in the PowerPoint.

Although I didn’t present the talk that Sunday, I feel compelled to post a video of the PowerPoint. I’m reading the notes for the message.

It is called, Divine Adoption. It is saved under my Videos page. You can go directly to the talk here.

At least there is good news – the Advent teaches Soul Liberty is now possible. But we all must still work toward protecting our children.

Thank you for allowing me to share this burden. Together, I’m confident we can create effective measures to put this societal cancer into remission.

The Blessing of Poverty, part 1

“The poor” is a technical term with specific meaning within biblical genre.

The Poor is a phrase with particular meaning. Like the term beatitude, it is a technical term. Perhaps you have not thought of the phrase in that manner. Perhaps because the New Testament has been so widely read and propagated on a weekly basis it is forgotten these words were addressed to a specific group of people in its day. When the definite article is noted, one discovers that the two word phrase is used 145 times within 142 verses of Christian scriptures. Only 25 of those verses are found in the New Testament. The remaining 117 verses containing the poor are found in the Old Testament. That indicates it is predominately an Old Testament people being recognised. Looking at its historic meaning is the beginning of understanding this Beatitude as a help. Jesus Christ was addressing a people living under an Old Testament Legalism. While remaining faithful to the texts, Jesus was offering liberty from Legalism.

There is a traditional rule of interpretation which states a term’s first mention fixes its meaning. In the least it becomes the standard for comparison. The axiom provides a guide-line to follow the meaning of a word within the genre of scripture. Applying this rule, the poor is first mentioned in Exodus 23:11. The text is instruction for land-owners. They are encouraged to exercise sustainable practices and to allow charity access to their profits.

Historically, Jesus was speaking to a specific culture. They were aware of an ancient code of ethics where the property owners were not to be greedy. There was not a condemnation for owning property or benefiting from that property. The principle revolved around what to do with the excess.

The poor are those dependent on the harvest leftovers. They are not lazy for they are willing to glean their own food. They were, in the eyes of society, a step above the beasts of the field; grazing for food. Yet they are people whom Providence had sympathetic feelings. He guarded their place in society commanding those more affluent to be contented with their harvest. The owners of the fields from which the harvest is drawn do not need its gleanings. The harvest is sufficient to meet their costs and fund their life-style. Any resources left behind in the main gathering were meant to be left for the benefit of others. They were for the poor.

The dignity of the poor is noted in that they were to labour for their sustenance. Welfare systems distributing to those in need without giving them the opportunity to contribute in a non-monetary fashion disempowers and robs their dignity. The dignity of the poor is preserved when they are required to labour for their sustenance. Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was one such person. She discovered she was in a situation of poverty. She chose to glean from Boaz’s harvest thus protecting her virtue.

The first Beatitude is a place of dignity. It knows deep down within you are worthy. Your worthiness is not determined by material ownership. Blessed are the poor is an historic reference to divine protection. Is there a better place to be? The poor who glean off the goodness of Providence is at peace with their circumstances. Most often it is those with plenty who struggle with purpose.

Spend time each day in books of wisdom. It might be only 5 minutes and every minute is an investment in YOU. You will find the ability to respond to life’s challenges instead of reacting to them. You will empower yourself to determine the circumstances instead of them determining you. Concentrate your energies on recognising there is a Power greater than you on your own. Tap into that Power and in so doing you will be ministering to your fellow human being. This inner quality learned from the position of poverty is far more valuable than houses, lands, or possessions.

[reprinted from sermon series originally delivered in Auckland, New Zealand, 2005]

You Are the Salt of the Earth

A dramatic illustration introducing nine keys to intentional living

One of the unique aspects of growing up in the Great Lakes region of North America is associated with its hard winters. The Lake effect on the weather meant large volumes of wet snow fell often during the cold months. The heavy precipitation on frozen ground during freezing temperatures damaged the road ways. In Michigan, to make the roads passable, the local governments poured salt along the way. The vast store of salt in the region has been slowly depleting over the years. Not that the local residents are too sad about the situation. Salt on the roads creates havoc on motor cars. It encourages rust and limit’s the life of the vehicle. It is hoped that one day it won’t be necessary to use road salt. But salt works so well. It is a very useful compound.

And salt is the first ingredient in understanding who you are! You are the salt of the earth.

The introduction of salt into the Sermon on the Mount was given to illustrate the effect of the Beatitudes in your life. Applying the virtues championed in this ancient homily make YOU a worthy citizen of humanity. Like road salt you add value to the lives of others.

Salt is widely distributed in nature. As a solution, salt makes up about 3 per cent of ocean water by weight. As believers, we feel like 3% scattered abroad! You are more significant to society than you may realize. Just as cattle are instinctively drawn to salt, which all warm-blooded animals need to stay healthy, so too are others drawn to people like yourself.

According to Microsoft Encarta 2004, an adequate intake of salt maintains the ionic balance necessary for cellular functions in a human body. Thyroid problems can result from inadequate intake of salt. The world suffers from lack of ethics and requires a dose of salty people who dare to be true to themselves. You are needed! You have been distributed wherever you are—Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceania in accordance to Providence. Providence makes no mistakes.

Salt is used as preservative on things that are dead, not living. Many in our World are dead to themselves. Society’s work is lacking life. If it were not for people like YOU wanting to live a purposeful meaning life of integrity, society would destroy itself. Salt does not work in its container. It must be applied to the object needing preservation. It is not good enough to possess these virtues; you must testify of them house to house; in the highways and byways; at work, play, and home.

Salt is used to treat wounds, preventing infection. You are like a nurse spreading virtue for the community’s wellbeing. It does no good to leave the medicine in the storeroom. It cannot be effective until it is applied. As someone who understands the value of principled living you have a moral obligation to administer the cure to Society’s woes. Quite often our actions are like salt thrown into an open wound and we all know how painful that can be! Yet we also know that the painful dosage protects the wound from infection and assists in its healing through the cleansing merits. Beatitude practicing individuals are the salt of society!

Salt has other uses, with fertilizer being among them. Nitrogen and potassium are forms of salt that many use in their gardens. Salt encourages growth, and so too ought we as Christians. We need to be a source of edification to our neighbour. The disciple of Christ is a source of blessing, not curse, to those around him.

The greatest use of salt is to add flavour to a meal. Too much, of course, ruins the taste of your dish. The world requires only the salt of Gospel Truth. Don’t expect them to embrace the entire Word of God. A pinch of Ten Commandments and Beatitudes are about all their taste can handle. The Christian life is not palpable to their taste. Nonetheless, Society needs Saviour. Salt is used to generate thirst. As believers, we need to be just salty enough where those without God will be thirsty enough to seek the water of life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Salt can loose its savour. Those salty persons who live the Beatitudes give flavour to their given society.

With such a dramatic illustration, let us turn to the first of Jesus’ nine keys to intentional living. The first Beatitude speaks of the blessing of poverty. It is the foundation for divine blessing and in contrast to individualism.

[reprinted from sermon series originally delivered in Auckland, New Zealand, 2005]

 

Beauty From The Mountain

Jesus gave a list of items revealing where on earth you find the greatest happiness.

One of the joys of good health is being able to walk. On a trip to the United States of America, I had the privilege of walking up two Phoenix, Arizona peaks. The first was the Camelback. The mountain range is so named because of its similarity to the animal. The small vertical span lies within the heart of the city. The walk is two-and-one-half kilometres to reach the summit of the camel’s ‘hump’.

It is not a straight walk to the hump. There are several natural obstacles that must be overcome. It is not an average walk for average persons yet obtainable for all average persons who want to extend the boundaries of their comfort zone.

Reaching the top, we were rewarded with a wonderful full circle view of Sun Valley. Seeing four million people in one area with room for many millions more was hard to comprehend—especially when I was viewing the equivalent of New Zealand’s entire population in one space.

Having conquered Camelback, I was keen to take up my cousin’s offer to trail-blaze a path up another mountain not usually climbed. My brother, cousin, and cousin’s seventeen year old son all set out for our adventure before the sun was up over the horizon. We reached the area of our endeavour, and began walking through the desert to reach the mountain’s base.

We walked two-and-one-half kilometres before commencing our ascent. We had set our sights on the sole communications tower. Its lofty position atop that mountain challenged us to touch it.

So we climbed.

Our biggest difficulty was time. My brother had to fly out that afternoon. We were racing against a turn-around time. That is the time when we have to turn around in order to get back on time. Our goal was to reach that tower before the turnaround time expired.

As we climbed, we passed wildlife and beautiful desert vegetation. There were occasional stops to chase lizards and look for snakes, but as we climbed higher, we knew the snakes were less likely to be present. Our attention began to be focused on the view.

The higher we climbed, the more insignificant human dwellings became. We did have to stop for rests. Water is a very important part of desert exercise. On one such rest stop, we calculated we would be able to reach the peak before our turnaround time. We were so excited! We set off with renewed vigour.

The thing about climbing peaks in the midst of a range is that everything looks different once you are in the midst of those peaks. The closer you get to your goal, the more obstacles become apparent. At one point, we realised we lost half-an hour minimum by climbing to the right around a pinnacle instead left up a wash. Not to be detoured, we pressed on even harder to reach our mark before the turnaround time.

The higher we climbed, the more difficult it was. Our bodies began to feel the forty-plus years of wear and tear. It would be no excuse to quit; just a realisation that we had to pace ourselves differently from the seventeen year old trail-blazer.

As we were close to conquering the crest of our chosen mountain peak we were troubled by the loss of sight on our objective. It had been some time before the communications tower was in our view. We sent our robust teenager ahead. His father shouted out to him, ‘How close are we to getting there?’ The answer was not what we expected.

‘About three hours’.

My cousin and I exchanged anxious looks.

‘He can’t be right’ I recall my cousin declaring.

The three men rested for the final assault. We were standing nearly straight up as we laid down against the mountain. The height was producing some dizzying views. The hot, dry, thin desert air receded even further from our lungs. We then set out.

My brother was the first to see what the teenager was talking about. We climbed the wrong peak! If we had gone left up the wash we would have been on the right path. However, our chosen route took us up a false peak.

We finally saw the communication tower from our mountain peak, but not the peak we wanted. From the ground, our conquered peak was directly in line with the same peak upon which the tower stood. From the ground, they appeared as one. They obviously were not. My brother looked at the situation and asked, ‘Anyone got a mustard seed?’

It was a reference to the statement by Jesus Christ that if you command a mountain to ‘Move’ it will be thrown into a sea of water. Well, that mountain didn’t move, and we had to begin our descent. Our turnaround time was reached.

We snapped pictures of ourselves on the peak we ascended. The views were awesome. We could see over and beyond the mountain peak climbed the day before. We were very high. Mountain top experiences are captivating. They hold you in place and make you realise how insignificant one person is in the midst of Nature. It is difficult to comprehend the relevance of an individual when staring at such vastnesses.

This particular mountain top experience inspired me to do some research after returning home to New Zealand. I was fascinated by my brother’s reference to the words of Jesus Christ. They are part of a literary classic known commonly as The Sermon on the Mount.

Whether or not those words were even spoken on a mountain has been debated. What is universally accepted is that its message transcends time giving relevance. The opening remarks of this immortalized discourse have become an unofficial Manifesto for Judaeo-Christian cultures. Societal members without religious associations attempt to live by these immortal words. They inspire every one of us to strengthen our inner being and identify our core values. Jesus Christ challenges us to a higher calling beyond the daily routine.

I set about searching for a practical application in the twenty-first century. This series is a result of that research. It focuses on sermon opening known as The Beatitudes. Beatitude is a technical term. You won’t hear the word in your TV conversations or evening socials. Every industry has its own set of words which are understood by insiders and ignored others. Beatitude is one such term. The Western religious world has a tendency to create technical terms with Latin origins. Our language imported the term from the French béatitude that in turn was assimilated from the Latin beatitude. In all languages the term means blessedness. The closest we use this term in everyday life is when someone sneezes: “Bless you!” And therefore beatitude is a declaration of blessedness.

There are nine different sayings that begin with the words “blessed are…” Scholars have assigned the term Beatitudes to describe these sayings. Each one of the beatitudes presents a desired virtue. The outcome of internalising these virtues is understood by the equivalent in Solomon’s writings, “happy is the man…” The Beatitudes teach us what is worthwhile in life to pursue. The items listed by Jesus contain the place for the greatest happiness to found on earth. The eighteenth century American experiment recognised the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right of each human soul. It resulted in a revolution altering the face of human government. More than 200 years later happiness is still being pursued. What if you could find it right now?

Jesus equates divine blessing as happiness. His sermon teaches you how to find that happiness. The Beatitudes are a map to find peace in your Self. Exercising these virtues is a pursuit of happiness. In its spiritual context beatitude is a divine blessing on a person pursuing the stated virtues. As such it is a priceless revelation on how you can live a fruitful life!

Abundant living; a stronger inner being; purposeful decision making; all of this awaits YOU! I hope you too will admire the timelessness of the ancient Prophet’s message and share with me the beauty from this mountain top experience.

[reprinted from sermon series originally delivered in Auckland, New Zealand, 2005]