A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

17 Forgiveness

17. Forgiveness

The text, on which today's sermon is based, is the same as last week:
 John 13:34
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."

The connection between this text and the title of the sermon, "Forgiveness", is that: only be achieving infinite love will we ever be able to forgive with Divine Forgiveness. In other words, until we become completely spiritualized, in Jesus' Infinite Love, we cannot function on a Divine level in our daily mundane activities--we cannot bring Heaven to Earth.

Usually when I create a sermon I have a point. Today, I don't really have a point, except to repeat one sentence from my sermon of two weeks ago concerning forgiveness and the "pearls before swine" paradox:
"I'm sure there's a line somewhere, which any kind of sane person will not allow himself to cross--but let's face it, most of us put that line a lot closer to ourselves than we have to; we should be constantly making an effort to reach out to our enemies, placing that line, over which we must not cross, further and further into their ballpark."
To be sure, forgiveness, like all things human, is governed by sequences of degrees, similar to the passage of time in the material plane--we think, "Surely, as puny carbon-based units, there must be a finite limit to how much we can give "AS BEFORE!" And yet, the COMMANDMENT of Jesus:
"as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."
seems always to ask more of us; it asks us to reach, beyond that which is reasonable, for that which is divinely unreasonable; in forgiving more and more than we think it is possible to forgive, we approach the point of infinite forgiveness which transcends the restriction of material sequentiality. As the poet Robert Frost says of the heavenly star:
"And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid."

To forgive a grievous transgression is much like reaching for a star, because, in forgiving, we must look past the petty mundanities of life, toward the higher-minded signature of spirit. It is a central universal theme, and a pivotal universal struggle.

So today, in searching for comments on forgiveness, it was no trouble to find a wealth of material. Forgiveness is a very big subject: it is not only a very big deal in Christianity, it's very big in Judaism, very big in Islam, very big in Buddhism, etc. The dogmatic liturgies of all the worlds' religions, include major sections concerning forgiveness. And so, by simply accumulating a lot of articles on forgiveness, I found an assortment of very beautiful passages to read, so that we can just think about forgiveness a little bit more, and listen to what all these people have to say about it.

As usual, we begin with a summary From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as 'to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt'. The concept and benefits of forgiveness have been explored in religious thought, the social sciences and medicine. Forgiveness may be considered simply in terms of the person who forgives including forgiving themselves, in terms of the person forgiven or in terms of the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven.
Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness."
[Sidebar: On this subject, there were several pertinent comments:]
Christianity: Considering Matthew 6:14,15, that follows the Lord's Prayer:
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Forgiveness is not an option to a Christian, rather one must Forgive to be a Christian. Christians must practice unlimited forgiveness. Take to heart these two verses:
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32)
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Col. 3:13).
Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, summarized:
"It is not that God forgives, while human beings do not. To the contrary, we believe that just as only God can forgive sins against God, so only human beings can forgive sins against human beings."
Sincere repentance is required, and once again, God can only forgive one for the sins one has committed against God; this is why it is necessary for Jews also to seek the forgiveness of those people who they have wronged. 

Islam: Depending on the type of wrong committed, forgiveness can come either directly from Allah, or from one's fellow man who received the wrong. In the case of divine forgiveness, the asking for divine forgiveness via repentance is important. In the case of human forgiveness, it is important to both forgive, and to be forgiven.

LDS Forgiving Others:
In addition to seeking forgiveness for our own sins, we must be willing to forgive others. The Lord said:
”Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men“ (D&C 64:9-10).
It can be seen, from these quotes, that the question, of Divine versus Earthly Forgiveness, is one which has provided many thinkers material for deep thought.
From here, we retreat to a more general overview of forgiveness as preached in many world religions:

Religious views

The Tefila Zaka meditation, which is recited just before Yom Kippur, closes with the following:

•     "I know that there is no one so righteous that they have not wronged another, financially or physically, through deed or speech. This pains my heart within me, because wrongs between humans and their fellow are not atoned by Yom Kippur, until the wronged one is appeased. Because of this, my heart breaks within me, and my bones tremble; for even the day of death does not atone for such sins. Therefore I prostrate and beg before You, to have mercy on me, and grant me grace, compassion, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all people. For behold, I forgive with a final and resolved forgiveness anyone who has wronged me, whether in person or property, even if they slandered me, or spread falsehoods against me. So I release anyone who has injured me either in person or in property, or has committed any manner of sin that one may commit against another…”
Thus the "reward" for forgiving others is not God's forgiveness for wrongs done to others, but rather help in obtaining forgiveness from the other person.

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of the importance of Christians forgiving or showing mercy towards others. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the best known instance of such teaching and practice of forgiveness.

[Sidebar: I think I'll do a sermon on The Prodigal Son next--such a great story--it would make a great opera.

Back to wikipedia:]

"Elsewhere, it is said, "Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV)
[Sidebar: The question of number must always play a part in this discussion: how many times? The suggestion, of Jesus, of an impossibly high number is echoed in the parable, below, of the Unforgiving Servant, whose debt was unpayable. I guess a crucial part, of achieving spiritual realization, must be: to forget how to count. It IS POSSIBLE to form the habit of throwing off all care and resentment, every day, and thus live free to explore Heavenly terrains. If you forgive everything, all the time, you will definitely lose count.

Back to Wikipedia:]

Jesus asked for God's forgiveness of those who crucified him. "And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'" Luke 23: 34
[Sidebar: "Forgive them for they know not what they do" is a very power- packed expression, because it majorly references responsibility and intention. Jesus did not hold his murderers responsible for their horrible acts, because they didn't know what they were doing. They did not intend to do what they were doing, and since intention is the outward manifestation of the heart, the the people who murdered Jesus were pure of heart; just as were the Puritan witch burners, and the Italian Inquisitors, and all the other misguided tormentors who violated God's Will by doing what they thought was God's Will.

The Nazis simply thought they were doing something good, so their intentions were pure--and, although they committed the most heinous crimes against humanity, crimes which were obvious to all the rest of humanity, the evil was invisible to them: so they could not be held responsible. Who WAS responsible, we will get to in a minute, but, for now, we must admit that the Nazis are prime candidates for an exercise of Divine Forgiveness. Anyone who intends evil is an evil doer; but one who does not intend evil cannot be thought of as an evil doer: he can be thought of as a fool, and, as we shall see, a victim, but not an evil doer. I myself find it a much more comfortable thought to forgive a population of fools, than to try to forgive a population of evildoers.

But who IS to blame for this evil, this OBVIOUS EVIL?

As I have mentioned before, I have a habit of revisiting old wounds, especially when I'm sitting around working. My mind will begin to wander, and suddenly I'll find myself thinking about various people who have hurt me; I have a list of prepared speeches, which I will deliver to all these people, in case they ever get in my face again; I rehearse these speeches repeatedly. I have a speech that I say to the student who betrayed me, I have a speech that I say to my old friend from high school who has abandoned me, I even have a speech for the cop who stops me on the highway (for I don't know what).

I find myself revisiting these speeches, ad infinitum, and they are such a burden: sometimes I feel that I simply can't stop rerunning these these inner monologues. However, I am learning, from Jesus' encouragement, to love divinely: if I focus my mind on putting myself in the other persons shoes, if I try to make what he says or does become true, then I can really get behind what made him do the things he did to me, and can much more easily forgive. With understanding comes love; it is universally held that understanding is one of the gateways to love; or perhaps it is the other way around: perhaps love is the gateway to understanding? Perhaps forgiveness and understanding may be thought of as two polar opposites on a single continuum: forgiveness is on one end, and understanding on the other, with love right smack in the middle dominating everything.

So, to put myself into somebody else's shoes is to understand him, to understand why he hurt me, to understand why he could conclude it was a good thing to hurt me; and in understanding him, I come to love him; and, of course, with love comes forgiveness, with forgiveness comes the relief of a burden which has long tormented me, and made my life miserable. This forgiveness is all within me, changing my self-based carnal attitude to one of heavenly tolerance. With this type of forgiveness, I don't even touch, in any way, the offending party, who, by the way, was never going to get in my face again, and to whom I will never, ever deliver that speech.

Back to wikipedia:]

The Prophet was the most forgiving person. He was ever ready to forgive his enemies. When he went to Ta’if to preach the message of Allah, its people mistreated him, abused him and hit him with stones. He left the city humiliated and wounded. When he took shelter under a tree, the angel of Allah visited him and told him that Allah sent him to destroy the people of Ta’if because of their sin of maltreating their Prophet. Muhammad prayed to Allah to save the people of Ta'if, because what they did was out of their ignorance.

[Sidebar: Again we forgive them because they know not what they do.]

Bahá'í Faith
Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness."
— `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 92


In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind. Instead, Buddhism encourages the cultivation of thoughts that leave a wholesome effect.

[Sidebar: No matter what else may be said, unforgiveness is, first and foremost, an inhabitant of the mind; thus, the instruction to cultivate "pleasant thoughts to replace the evil thoughts" is very good advice. I believe that when I am working hard, living in the mind, I expand my consciousness outward into higher dimensions: just enough to make my mind easily accessible to Satan. I know now, and ever more clearly, that it was the devil at my elbow all those times--it was he who was taunting me with all those negative thoughts--bad thoughts revived and resuscitated time and again by inattention and foolish pride--attributes of the Luciferic mind set.

It is worth it to expand a little bit on this idea of the Devil at your elbow: we have said, many times, that Satan and Satan's minions stalk us incessantly, always trying to find a way to insinuate their way into our thoughts, filling our minds with lies. As I have mentioned, one prime time target for Satanic attacks is when we are concentrating, and we send our consciousness up into higher dimensions; this puts our egoic inner monologue within a viable proximity to Satan, who jumps at the chance to attack our heightened vulnerability.

Another one of the best times for the Devil to hold sway over us, is when we are teamed up in the pursuit of justice. Someone who wrongs us is obviously a bad person--we can think of him as a bad person because of what he did to us. This equation is fair. The Devil is FAIR. Someone, who did something bad to us, deserves to be punished, deserves to suffer, deserves to repent and be humiliated by us for this wrong. It's only fair! Thus do many people pave their way to hell in exchange for the fairness of the Devil.

Remember that FAIR has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with this: we are all victims of Original Sin, and, in a just world, we would all merit NO MERCY in God's eyes; but thanks to Jesus, we can ask his forgiveness, and it is given to us. Thus, just as we love as He does, we must forgive as He does. The only way we can open our hearts to His personality is to take on his burdens with His blessings. Thus, do we achieve freedom.

Back to Wikipedia:]

Addressing Dhritarashtra, Vidura said:

"There is one only defect in forgiving persons, and not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect, however, should not be taken into consideration, for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness." (From the Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva Section XXXIII)
An even more authoritative statement about forgiveness is espoused by Krishna, who is considered to be an incarnation (Avatar) of Vishnu by Hindus. Krishna said in the Gita that forgiveness is one of the characteristics of one born for a divine state. It is noteworthy that he distinguishes those good traits from those he considered to be demoniac, such as pride, self-conceit and anger (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16, verse 3).
Village priests may open their temple ceremonies with the following beloved invocation:
"O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations: Thou art everywhere, but I worship thee here; Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms; Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations; Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations."
[Sidebar: The issue of consciousness without form, yet worshipping in these forms, brings in the idea of FAITH. We do things that would seem to have no relevance in the world of Spirit, and yet we do them anyway, as our best efforts to achieve a Heavenly state of consciousness; also, we have Faith that it is enough.

The word "Belief" may be best defined as: backing an idea you can't quite get your mind around, but having the courage to hold to it, even in the face of doubt. To perform a formal rite, and, at the same time to transcend that rite, is a true act of faith, beyond our powers of literal comprehension. For us to even contemplate the enormity of the proposition:
"as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."
we must enter the "cloud of unknowing" and forsake all our pre-conceptions, and prejudices, and especially our complaints against others. We must lose our personal will, merging with the Divine Will: and thus we will love, forgive, and be free.

The following article recounts the parable of The Unforgiving Servant:


Rev. P.G. Mathew
"After listening to Jesus' teaching on reconciliation, unity, restoration and forgiveness, Peter asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Matt. 18:21) Peter thought seven times would be very generous. It was the rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive three times. One rabbi said that if a man committed an offense once, twice or even three times, you must forgive him, but by the fourth time you did not have to forgive him. Peter understood this idea, and being very generous, he doubled it and added one more time for good measure. So he asked Jesus what he thought: "Up to seven times?" I am sure he expected to be commended for his gracious attitude.

Jesus' answer surprised Peter. Peter's problem was that he was still thinking in terms of justice and legality. Jesus' reply was not based on law and justice, but based on the gospel of grace. "Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,'" (Matt. 18:22) meaning without limit!

Jesus' answer contrasts with that of Lamech in Genesis 4:24. A descendant of Cain, Lamech boasted about his ability to avenge himself on his enemies. He says, "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times." Lamech, as an unbeliever, was boasting that he would practice unlimited revenge. But in the gospel this is reversed. If a sinner is saved by Christ and transformed by the gospel, he now must forgive his brothers without limit. So Jesus told Peter that even seven times was not generous enough. He needed to forgive his brother as God in Christ forgave him: limitlessly.

To drive home his teaching about unlimited forgiveness, Jesus told a parable to his disciples. (Matt. 18:23-35) There was a king, representing the King of heaven, to whom people owed great debts. A man who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. The words used to describe this debt demonstrated its enormity. Ten thousand was the highest number in daily use, and the talent was the highest unit of money. Although it is not specified, we can also assume that the talents were made of gold. In his book, The Parables of Jesus (Moody Press, 1983, p. 183), Dr. James M.Boice figured the debt in today's values: if there were ten thousand talents, each talent weighing seventy-five pounds, and if each pound was 12 ounces and each ounce of gold would be worth about $400, then this man's debt would be about $3.6 billion. The idea is this: that this man's debt was infinite, and he was absolutely incapable of paying it. In the same way, the debt we owe God is of infinite proportion.

This man could not pay up, and the great king commanded that the servant, his wife, his children, and all he owned be sold to cover the debt. The man fell down before the king. "'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.'" (Matt. 18:26) Of course, he could not do that. It was impossible, and the king knew it. We are told, though, that the king was moved with compassion to release the man and forgive him all his debt. The man was free! He owed absolutely nothing. Through the king's great mercy alone, he was forgiven his infinite debt.

But in Matthew 18:28 we see the forgiven man looking for a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii, which would today equal about $4,000 (Boice, Parables of Jesus, p. 183). Compared to his own infinite debt, this was nothing! But when he found the man, he grabbed him, choked him and demanded his money. This other man also fell down and begged for patience. But the forgiven servant was not moved by any kind of compassion. His heart had not been changed in any way by his master's merciful actions. Even though the debt was comparatively nothing, he showed no mercy and threw the man into prison until the debt could be paid.

The great king was told about this wretched man's cruel behavior. "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'" Then the master dealt with the unforgiving man according to law instead of mercy. "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." That represents eternal hell. Then Jesus made this stunning declaration: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matt. 18:32-35) In effect, Jesus answered Peter's question: "You have received unlimited mercy from God through me; therefore, you must demonstrate unlimited mercy."

We discovered in Matthew 5:23-24 that we must forgive before we pray. If we will not forgive, our prayer will not be heard. Understand that God refuses to answer us on the basis of mercy when we refuse to deal with others on the basis of mercy. But when we forgive, what God promises in Isaiah 58:9 will be true for us. "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." Isn't that wonderful? God will answer your prayer. Then, as God declares in Isaiah 58:14, "you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." There is tremendous joy in the Lord for those who live by these words of forgiveness, who remember what unlimited mercy has been poured out on us through Jesus Christ and who show the same mercy toward others. This joy is as abundant, as rich and as unlimited as the Lord's abundant forgiveness of us. It is my prayer that you would experience this forgiveness, practice this forgiveness and, in so doing, receive this joy.

The following psychological perspective views forgiveness as a process.

Back to Wikipedia: ]
"Although there is presently no consensus for a psychological definition of forgiveness in the research literature, agreement has emerged that forgiveness is a process and a number of models describing the process of forgiveness have been published, including one from a radical behavioral perspective.
Dr. Robert Enright from the University of Wisconsin–Madison founded the International Forgiveness Institute and is considered the initiator of forgiveness studies. He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness. Recent work has focused on what kind of person is more likely to be forgiving. A longitudinal study showed that people who were generally more neurotic, angry and hostile in life were less likely to forgive another person even after a long time had passed. Specifically, these people were more likely to still avoid their transgressor and want to enact revenge upon them two and a half years after the transgression.
Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Another study at the University of Wisconsin found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems.
The research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, and author of the book "Learning to forgive" presented evidence that forgiveness can be learned based on research projects into the effects of forgiveness, giving empirical validity to the concept that forgiveness is not only powerful, but also excellent for your health.
In three separate studies, including one with Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland whose family members were murdered in the political violence, he found that people who are taught how to forgive become less angry, feel less hurt, are more optimistic, become more forgiving in a variety of situations, and become more compassionate and self-confident. His studies show a reduction in experience of stress, physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.
Popular recognition:
The need to forgive is widely recognized by the public, but they are often at a loss for ways to accomplish it. The Gallup poll revealed that the only thing that was effective was "meditative prayer".

Forgiveness as a tool has been extensively used in restorative justice programs, after the abolition of apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa), run for victims and perpetrators of Rwandan genocide, the violence in Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and Northern Ireland conflict, which has also been documented in film, Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness (2012)."
This next is from Dr. Eileen Borris:
What Does Freud Have to do with it - The Forgiveness Process that Is!
Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Although during Freud’s time psychology and spirituality were kept quite separate from one another that relationship began to change dramatically during the 1960’s. A “Third Force” known as Humanistic psychology came into existence, (with psychoanalysis and behaviorism being the first and second). From it emerged theorists such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers. Their focus shifted from the psychoanalytical view that reduces human behavior and experience to unconscious sexual forces, to a view which respected our creative and spiritual strivings, placing a greater emphasis on the present and future rather than being chained to the past.

As Humanistic psychology further developed, a “fourth force” began to grow known to the field as transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal psychology began to explore the ‘S’elf, which they defined as our source of creativity and spirituality and beyond our personal self. This led humanistic and transpersonal psychology to look increasingly to spirituality as a guiding force for their investigations bringing them closer to the Eastern spiritual traditions, predominantly Hinduism or Buddhism.

With the advent of humanistic and transpersonal psychology we began to understand the struggles we were having in accepting our spirituality. As theories emerged they expanded that of Freud’s, opening up the possibility that within us is a divine spark or “Higher Self.” As these newer theories matured, Freud’s ‘ego’ took on a different meaning. Carl Jung who was a student of Freud defined the ‘ego’ as meaning ‘false self’ or the persona we put out for the world to see. This persona included our shadow, those parts of ourselves which we keep hidden. Jungian psychology then went beyond Freudian theory acknowledging that there is also a part within us that transcends our ‘ego’ and which makes up our higher nature. Unfortunately we have focused so much on creating who we think we should be, getting so wrapped up in our ego, that we have come to deny our divinity.

According to Jung, when we denied our spiritual nature we imposed an image on ourselves based on a false belief that it was possible to be separate from our spiritual source. In accepting this belief as fact, we created a conflict within our psyche. The psychological pain of this conflict is so deeply imbedded within us that we experience this state of separation as anxiety. Karen Horney, a prominent psychoanalyst, describes this anxiety in terms of feeling isolated and helpless in a world conceived as potentially hostile.

The psychological term used to describe basic anxiety is neurosis. Carl Jung considered neurosis a warning issued by a higher authority, reminding us that our personality is in need of broadening to ultimately include the central “power,” that part which embraces all of who we are."
Jung indicates that neurosis is a warning. There are several attractive symbologies begging to be suggested by this expression. I'm just spitballing here, but I suppose "separation as anxiety" might be a proper analog to "Paradise Lost". The "Higher Authority", from whom the warning is issued, might be thought of as our most advanced level of spirit consciousness. So, in this sense, might feelings of unforgiveness be recognized as warnings that Satan is at our elbow, because only the Devil would tempt us with bad thoughts. The thing about bad thoughts is that, more often than not, they make perfect sense. The only way to defend ourselves from this false truth is to recognize and remember always, that: BAD THOUGHTS JUST FEEL BAD!

The following is a collection of random quotes on the subject of forgiveness:
"Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much."
Oscar Wilde

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
Mahatma Gandhi

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."
Mark Twain

"I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one."
Henry Ward Beecher

"Forgiveness is the final form of love."
Reinhold Niebuhr

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.”
― Rita Mae Brown

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim--letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”
― C.R. Strahan

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

“When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines upon you.”
― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

“Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
― Corrie ten Boom

 “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.”
― C.S. Lewis

[Sidebar: Again, "THE WILL". Acts of Will are, to me, acts of God. To me, the declension is:

The Will and the Word are, to me, a unified first cause; and to get to the place of Divine Love and Divine Forgiveness, we must use the Will in us that is an extension of the Divine Will. From the Will comes all action, including the expurgation of sin.]

I am a sinner. I have been a sinner for a long time, and am quite practiced at it. However, I have recently experienced a renewed commitment to forgiveness, and, through this simple little process, I am freeing myself of so much emotional weight, I feel years younger. Would to God more old people would learn to get out from under the accumulated residual pains of their life. I say, "Today is a new day, and you see it through eyes of one who has suffered and learned--this is your advantage: by this time we MUST have figured out how to free ourselves from the bondage of the past!"

Let us pray: Jesus, from your example and your encompassing personality raise us to heights we can't imagine. The heights exist within us, within this tabernacle of blood and bone. We must prepare the tabernacle for the new day: which dawns every day more, in greater glorious splendor. Please give us courage and clarity of attention in order to do this. Amen.

Monday, September 9, 2013

16 A New Commandment I Give You

16 A New Commandment I Give You

Call to Worship: John 13:34
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

To begin with, although there are several more transparent versions of this text, this one here is slightly complicated by punctuation. The text is a single sentence, divided by a semicolon. The thing is, we usually read,

"A new commandment I give unto you,
That ye love one another as I have loved you."

and yet, the semicolon comes between "
love one another" and "as I have loved you". In obedience to the punctuation, therefore, this passage must be read:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; (PAUSE)
as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

By altering the word order, Jesus has placed the emphasis of the commandment on Himself. This subtle change in value is the primary subject of this sermon; we will be discussing love between one another that is: AS Jesus loved us. But first some background:

From Wikipedia:
"The New Commandment of Jesus to "love one another" is part of the final instructions given to his disciples after the Last Supper had "ended", and after Judas Iscariot had departed in John 13:30.

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. —John 13:33-35

This commandment appears thirteen times in twelve verses in the New Testament. Theologically, this commandment is interpreted as dual to the Love of Christ for his followers. The commandment can also be seen as the last wish in the Farewell Discourse to the disciples.

Gospel of John
The statement of the new commandment by Jesus in John 13:34-35 was after the Last Supper, and after the departure of Judas. The commandment was prefaced in John 13:33 by Jesus telling his remaining disciples, as little children, that he will be with them for only a short time, then will leave them.
In the commandment Jesus told the disciples: "Love one another; as I have loved you".
[Sidebar: This is the corruption of meaning caused by ignoring the punctuation, as we discussed earlier, but let it go.]
Just after the commandment, and before the Farewell Discourse the first reference to Peter's Denials took place, where Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crow.
Two similar statements also appear in chapter 15 of the Gospel of John:
    •    John 15:12: This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you.
    •    John 15:17: These things I command you, that ye may love one another."
    •    Interpretations
    •    The "New Commandment", the Wycliffe Bible Commentary states, "was new in that the love was to be exercised toward others not because they belonged to the same nation, but because they belonged to Christ...and the love of Christ which the disciples had seen...would be a testimony to the world".
    •    One of the novelties introduced by this commandment – perhaps justifying its designation as New – is that Jesus "introduces himself as a standard for love". The usual criterion had been "as you love yourself". However, the New Commandment goes beyond "as you love yourself" as found in the ethic of reciprocity and states "as I have loved you", using the Love of Christ for his disciples as the new model.
    •    The First Epistle of John reflects the theme of love being an imitation of Christ, with 1 John 4:19 stating: "We love, because he first loved us."

We, at the basin Bible church, have all, in one way or another, preached the gospel of unity consciousness. We have all affirmed, in this or that language, that we are all one, that we are one with God, that we are one with Jesus, and that we are one with each other. We are defined and unified in God's Love.

The best definition of love I know is: "connection"; as lovers of each other, we are connected, we share space consciousness (affinity).

Therefore, Jesus' command to love one another, is merely a reiteration, in a different form, of the fact that we are all one; that is to say: by affirming our love for each other, we are affirming our connectedness to each other, and thence our connectedness to Him.

From whence comes the "newness" of this message? What is so new about this commandment? To answer this question we have to point back at the barbaric past of Man, in which, in his animal-like self- absorption, (his newly forming, child-like, ego) he denied the connectedness of all men, defied the gods in prideful separation; very soon after his installment into Paradise, he became separated from his spiritual self because of the fruit of the tree of literal consciousness; in the aftermath of Original Sin, he continues to languish. Man's fall from grace in the garden, was effected by an invasion of Adam's soul by literal consciousness; the tree of knowledge opened his eyes to literal realities, but blinded him to the subtle corporate connections which are inherent in our spiritual constitution. Adam's nemesis is passed down to us every day by the world of literal consciousness; it is a world in which is lost the connection to higher dimensions; in it we spin idly in the feedback loop of material consciousness, never growing never seeing and becoming the light.

Thus, at this time, the idea of putting another's needs ahead of your own, was fairly new in itself, but there is more: to love each other AS GOD LOVES YOU-!-that was a very tall order in these primitive days; (an unprecedented stretch of the mind!); it was a miracle of linguistic ingenuity that He could even put it into words at all! So the newness of the commandment is not necessarily in its quality, but in its magnitude.

From: Pulpit Commentary
Verses 34, 35. -
(2) The demand which this glorification would make on the mutual fidelity and affection of the disciples. Verse 34. - A new commandment I give unto you (with the purpose and scope) that ye love one another; even as (or, seeing that) I loved you, that ye (also) love one another. The interpretation of this verse largely depends on the meaning given to the καθὼς, if, as many translate it, "even as I loved you;" or, "after the manner and type of my love to you;" then an amply sufficient explanation arises of the novelty of the ἐντολή.

So new a type of love is given that, as the Greek expositors generally have urged, there is a deeper intensity in the love than can be found in the Mosaic principle, Love thy neighbor as thyself." In this commandment, which embraces the whole law, self-love is assumed, and is made the standard for the love of neighbor. This ἐντολή, on the other hand, would be based on a new principle, and measured by a higher standard, and even mean more than love of self altogether. Christ's love to his disciples was self-abandoning, self-sacrificing love. This view of the passage is urged by Lucke, and really removes all necessity for the varied translations of the καινή, such as "illustrious" (Hammond); "last" (Heumann); "one that is always new" (Olshausen); "renewed commandment," a "renewing commandment" (Augustine and Maldonatus); "the institution of the Eucharist" (Lange).

But it is doubtful whether the ideal image of a perfect love constitutes the novelty, and whether the double ἵνα and the transposition of the second ἵνα be found in the simple style of John. If, however, καθώς ἠγάπησα be taken as "seeing that," or "since I loved you" (see John 17:2), Christ's love becomes not so much the manner or type, as the motive, ground, and principle of love to one another. As if he had said, "I have loved each of you unto death; in loving one another you are loving me, you are loving an object of my tender love.

The desire of mere imitation, however strong, is not equal to the demand I make, while the bestowment of the 'new' principle of life arising from a response to my love is." For the first interpretation speaks John's own use of the idea (1 John 3:16). There is a third interpretation, which makes καθὼς ἠγάπησα ὑμᾶς a sentence parallel with the δίδωμι. "Even as up to this moment, and up to my death, and to the uttermost, I have loved you, I give," etc., "in order that ye may love one another, and, inspired by me, may imitate my love one towards another" (Westcott). This is an endeavor to combine both interpretations. Alford suggests that the "newness" of the commandment consists in its "unicity," its being the prime injunction of the new covenant, and the first-fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 13.). Tholuck sees the expression of self-renouncing love - the love of the highest to the sinful, the love which is more blessed to give than to receive, the all-embracing love."

Thus, the commandment "to love one another as I have loved you" goes one step beyond the original commandment to love one another as you love yourself; by asking Christians to love one another as He has loved us, Jesus is raising the bar quite a bit; He has, once again, pointed out to us our own divinity, our own higher self, our personal identity with the Messiah, in whom resides our higher self, and in which all our higher potentials for love and connectedness are stored, waiting for us to enliven them.

It is interesting to consider: the historical Jesus revolutionized the idea of love in three dramatic stages. Indeed, in the evolution of the philosophy of love, there is a clear three-part declension:

1. in the first stage, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself, which is, after all, a very easy and obvious thing to ask (well, duh, people whom you like already, are easy to love as yourself);

2. but then comes, second, the radical new idea of loving your enemies, which was a truly new idea in Jesus' time; to love your enemies would be to redefine, through action, the brutal social context in which this phrase was spoken;

3. and so the final, third, stage turns out to be: to love each other as Jesus has loved us; to love each other with supernatural, with divine love--to put ourselves in Jesus' place, and love, not as we, as paltry human beings, might love, but loving as He, the son of God, must love; we must love each other as GOD loves us. Hence, the only way for a disciple to know the true character of God's infinite love, is to become God.

Thus, by asking us to love each other as he has loved us, He is asking us to put on the mantle of the Sons of God, and to love in the highest, old way of Heaven; he is, furthermore, asking us to become the highest old way of Heaven.

Now, it might be said that the main thrust of Jesus' ministry is to call to the attention to men, that: even though they reside in a physical body, they are spiritual beings. Indeed, it is our spiritual natures which reach out to each other, and connect us, creating the love bond between us which gives us satisfaction and peace, in the face of paradoxical physical reality. Loving as the Father loves us revolutionizes the dimension of love, exploding it into an infinite space; man loving, as a God loves, is a new idea.

But there is another sense in which this message may be thought of as new, and that is, as we have spoken of many times: in terms of the epiphanic response. As we have mentioned many, many times, the epiphanic response is the opening of the inner literal eye to spiritual dimensions which defy literal definition, and which always are experienced as something new. The newness of life is a constant awakening, a constant discovery of dimensions of being, which are hidden from us by our literal consciousness. As we take our rollicking voyage through life, we discover at every turn, something new; because, as we travel toward the light, toward the Father, as we look into the face of the Father and see constant evolutions of realization extending into infinity, the newness of life is expressed in newness of love. We discover the virgin birth in ourselves and each other, with every second of profound meditation; and thus the new commandment is not merely to love each other, but to love each other anew.

As I have confessed from this pulpit many times, I am very often arrested and dragged down by memories of the distant past, which continue to torture me as I relive them. Alas, the sequential character of the physical dimension promotes the reliving of the past, the recycling of memories, and the revisiting of old pains. So, once again, the new love which Jesus holds out to us, is not only a feeling of connectedness to others, but a feeling of connectedness to ourselves, as we grow and evolve and leave the past behind us; this newness of love supports us as we discover and cherish new positive universal vibrations, from which the past has always previously blocked us. Too often we have allowed the veil of the past to drape over our eyes and block our vision of the forward movement of life in the spirit; our journey back toward the Father has been impeded by this veil. Only by lifting the veil of literal consciousness, only by entering the cloud of unknowing, will our vision clear and our ability to experience love, as a new experience of the Father, and a new experience of each other, be effected. Let us rejoice in the possibilities of newness.

Many people attempt to experience newness by interrupting routines. We take a vacation from ourselves by going to a different place; sometimes to a different time, sometimes to a different family, sometimes to a different altitude. However, all these surface differences are trivial, compared to the huge differences in perspective we may achieve by simply moving up or down the continuum of consciousness-created existence. Indeed, sometimes the routine of life may contain the very essence of spiritual growth, because in reviewing the old routines we discover new significance, the ever-changing face in the mirror.

It is often said by performers of Bach, that every time they play Bach they discover something new. I used to scoff at this attitude as a form of dilettante-ism, because obviously the notes are always the same and the historical context from which it comes is always the same; but I was forgetting that every time you play a piece of music you're playing a different piece of music, not because the piece of music is different, but because you are different.

Furthermore, opening yourself, to the differences in yourself, will make the subjective reality of the music become an ever-evolving epiphanic experience. Thus, we have the old metaphor of the string lying slack on a table, unrestricted, as a symbol not of freedom, but of bondage; for, to be truly free, the string must be drawn out over the bridge of the violin, stretched, constricted, and restrained by physical tension. This tension allows the string to vibrate, and to express itself; and, in this self-expression, the string finds true freedom, because an expression of, (an affirmation of), self connects us with the Father; and only through the Father do we find true freedom.

Thus, a routine may develop into the most exciting evolution of free acts that can be imagined. This is not necessarily so, because people, who get stuck in the same thought processes, and repeat the same inner monologue to themselves over and over, are not achieving freedom, and they're not achieving any sort of evolution they-- are simply stuck in a rut. But the repetition of an act, or the repetition of a word does, not necessarily mean that they are repeated in the same place at the same time; remember that you can never step into the same river twice, because the river keeps moving, and it is different water that touches your feet at every second of the river's life; stepping deeper into the river brings us closer to losing ourselves, finding ourselves, but it is all still the same river, the same rock. Thus, ought the experience of our lives be such that: every moment is a renewable and renewed experience of ourselves, an ever widening perception of our spiritual possibilities, and an ever more glorious affirmation of our source of being in the Eternal Father.

I'll be honest, the question of unconditional love, in a world in which we are constantly hurting each other, and  abusing each other, is a difficult proposition. I still have bugaboos which seem to compromise my ability to love unconditionally: one of them is the question of forgiveness, and the other one is the question of throwing pearls before swine:

The difficulty of forgiveness, in a situation where, by forgiving, you open yourself to the same abuses which closed you to forgiveness in the first place, is a very go very difficult knot. I've struggled with this many times. There are people in my life whom I do not trust with my most precious pearls anymore, and yet Jesus instructs me to forgive these people and give to them as BEFORE. But I have never known whether that means:

to pretend the abuse never happened and is not likely to happen again, or

merely to love in an abstract way, while retaining physical or social distance from these people.

The most burdensome aspect of unforgiveness is its weight on the self, we know this. When you don't forgive someone, it has no effect on them whatever, it only has an effect on you. But when you forgive, you affirm your connectedness to this person, who has abused you, and the knowledge of this connectedness softens the pain and fear associated with such abuses; and when YOU abandon the fear, it opens the door of connectivity with, yea, even our very enemies. Alas, I find it very difficult to forget, but the aspect of the savior, before my blurry eyes, gives me some patience, some peace.

If we are truly born anew, every second, then that past abuse should not be able to touch us; and yet we constantly allow that past to wield an intolerable power over us--a power that compromises our spiritual progress, and which prohibits the possible growth of relationships with these abusive people in anything like a new way.

So, I admit to having problems. However, I am both chastened and encouraged by listening to this doctrine of new love--the doctrine of raising the bar, so that I may love other people not as I would love myself, but as Jesus would love them-- Jesus the forgiver of all Mankind, for the most atrocious abuses. It makes my fear of throwing my pearls before swine seem trivial indeed. It is the most magnificent "giving away"; it is giving away the harbored grudge, the painful slight, the lie, the insult--giving  them away whom we snuggled with, who protected us from freaking out when the wound was new--it is releasing ourselves from our self-created bondage, into freedom; it is giving away pain for joy.

Still, the question of throwing pearls before swine is definitely in the Bible; it's definitely a piece of wisdom to heed. The sense of it is this:

you're being stupid if you just open yourself to guaranteed abuse--

but you do have to be willing to throw yourself open to abuse;

you have to be willing to turn that other cheek and let new possibilities unfold without impeding them.

I'm sure there's a line somewhere, over which any kind of sane person will not allow himself to cross-- but let's face it, most of us put that line a lot closer to ourselves than we have to; we should constantly be making an effort to reach out to our enemies, placing that line, over which they must not cross, further and further into their ballpark.

I feel like this is the only way that we can liberate ourselves from the thralldom and the weight of unforgiveness. By unconditional forgiveness we admit the possibility of unconditional love, and with unconditional love comes the connectedness of us all spiritually, as we all are emanations of the Father, and all return, at some time or other, to the Father.

Thus, the process of forgiveness must necessarily involve a redefinition--a rediscovery of an old relationship and a living redefinition of what has happened in the past.

An old teacher of mine told me that "you should always listen to music as if it were written by human being, that is to say, that it has something about it that is true."

Indeed, it is always possible, in any statement, to find something that is true. When we think over the actions of our enemies' abuses, in order to find the truth of their actions, we have to put ourselves into their shoes; and by putting ourselves in their shoes, we are performing an act of love.

From: Orthodox church in america
Volume IV - Spirituality
The Greatest Virtue is Love
The New Commandment
The commandments to love God and neighbor are found in the law of Moses. They are not commandments for God’s people. They are the commandments “written on men’s hearts” and given “by nature” itself. (Romans 2:14-15) They are the commandments given by God in His Words to man “from the beginning.” (I John 2:7)
The new element in this “new commandment” is not the teaching of love, for this was written in the law. The new element is that believers in Christ must love as Christ Himself loves. The new commandment is to love “as I have loved you.”
He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He trusted to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. (I Peter 2:22-24; cf Isaiah 53)
Having no sin, Jesus took our sins upon Himself and became sin “for us men and for our salvation.” (Nicene Creed) In this the perfect love of God was perfected in a human being, that all humans might share in the love and glory of God. As all of the holy fathers have said, “He became what we are, that we might become what He is… God became man that man might become god.”
“God Became Man that Man Might Become God”

God became man that man may become God.

This provocative statement, “God became man that man might become God,” is from the church father Athanasius (ca 298–373), and was in his massively influential On the Incarnation.  It is one of his best-known quotes.

It will be noted that HISTORY is a big deal in this sermon, because we are not only interested in the CURRENT state of consciousness, but also in the past, so that, from the past, we might accurately predict the future. There is prophetic material in this scripture if you look for it.

Rudolf Steiner has provided us with a lovely insight in his The Riddles of Philosophy; he talks about "transcending nature", and draws a link between spirituality and the knowledge of E=mc2:
       “Insofar as man considers himself within the world of natural things and events, he will find it impossible to escape the conclusions of [Einstein's] theory of relativity. But if he does not want to lose himself in mere relativities, in what may be called an impotence of his inner life, if he wants to experience his own entity, he must not seek what is 'substantial in itself' in the realm of Nature, but in [the realm] of transcending Nature, in the realm of the spirit.

       “It will not be possible to evade this theory of relativity for the physical world, but precisely this fact will drive us to a knowledge of the spirit. What is significant about the theory of relativity is the fact that it proves the necessity of a science of the spirit that is to be sought in spiritual ways, independent of observation in nature. That the theory of relativity forces us to think in this way constitutes its value within the development of world conception.”
--- Rudolf Steiner, The Riddles of Philosophy, p. 444

From this Steiner excerpt, the primary insight, to be gained, is that, over eons of time, the relationship, of man's body to his mind and his spirit, has been evolving; and, as Steiner has said many times elsewhere, Jesus was a major climax of this evolution. The spiritually revolutionary concept of loving as God loves, embodied by the commandment to love as He loves you, is not only miraculous, it is historic. So it is not just that we need to get together as people and love each other, it's that we have reached a new level of consciousness as a race; and this new level of consciousness is defined by: the accessibility of God consciousness through love.

Let us pray: Jesus enter our lives, our minds, and our souls. Take us by the hand; let us reach out to each other with your loving arms. Amen

15 The Servant Is Not Greater Than His Lord

 John 13:1-16

15 The Servant Is Not Greater Than His Lord

 John 13:1-16
  1Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
2During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him,
3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,
4got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
 5Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
6So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?”
7Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.”
8Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
9Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
10Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”
11For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.

This scripture has been very meaningful to me since the very beginning of my career as a Christian. From my earliest years, one of my big gripes against God was that I was not getting what I deserved—I looked around me at people less qualified than I, less capable, less inspired, and yet they were reaping worldly rewards that seemed to be, and indeed eventually proved to be, completely beyond my reach. I thought that my superiority as a music professional earned me some rights, some privileges, above and beyond the common. It was the picture of Jesus, the most highly qualified of all, doing menial labor, that finally impressed me with the idea that with great gifts do not necessarily come great rewards, but, rather, great responsibilities. I had previously thought that my gifts justified an exalted place in the hierarchy of men, but after reading this scripture I realized that a position of humble service was the highest exaltation I could ever achieve. True, I am wracked with depression, now and again, over my lowly impoverished state, but then I remember the small flock of my own devoted disciples to whom I minister steadfastly on a daily basis, and I rejoice. Furthermore, I acknowledge that it was a pre-ordained destiny that brought me to this place; nowadays, imagining myself in other more elevated situations, endowed with more worldly honor and respect, seems more a matter prideful distraction than an actual desire.
The insight was so integral to my evolving spiritual conversion, that I set the scripture to music. Here is a synthesized recording of the piece:

What follows are some commentaries on the scripture.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Because of their incessant bickering about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom (Luke 22:24-27), Jesus gave the disciples an object lesson designed to show them what their real position was under Him. He tells them, "He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves" (verse 26). He shows them that they must be willing to do whatever task—even the most menial—that is necessary for the good of their brothers. This should have put them in the proper attitude for the Passover's greater purpose, Christ's sacrifice for our forgiveness and redemption.

Exegetical (explanatory) Commentary on John 13
Study By: W. Hall Harris III
From the Series:
Commentary on the Gospel of John
13:15 Jesus tells his disciples after he has finished washing their feet that what he has done is to set an example for them. In the previous verse he told them they were to “wash one another’s feet”. What is the point of the example? If it is simply an act of humble service, as most interpret the significance, then Jesus is really telling his disciples to serve one another in humility rather than seeking preeminence over one another. If, however, the example is one of self-sacrifice up to the point of death, then Jesus is telling them to lay down their lives for one another.

by K.W. Leson--More Christ website 

Some commentators point out that foot-washing was, properly, a slave’s job. Of course, the poor didn’t own slaves, and had to wash their own feet. But in the ancient Jewish culture, the students of a rabbi were considered his slaves—in both his mind and theirs. He was their teacher and lord, and it was their honor and privilege to not just learn from this holy man, but to do every little thing for Him. Like have food ready for Him or go get it or fix dinner or clean up after Him while He waited; like get things ready for Him, go where He instructed them, and carry His messages. Properly, they should have washed Jesus’ feet. And they probably had.

The idea of a rabbi washing His students’ feet, however, was unthinkable in the ancient Jewish culture. What Jesus was doing to them simply was not done. It was considered beneath His dignity. It would lower Him in most people’s opinion—which is something He was willing to risk. It humiliated Him. But considering how great Jesus is, it didn’t humiliate Him. It elevated service.

John 13 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Having taken off his outer garment (himation), Jesus was left with his tunic (chiton), a shorter garment like a long undershirt. Slaves would be so dressed to serve a meal. Jesus tied a linen cloth around his waist with which to dry their feet, obviously not what one would expect a master to do. A Jewish text says this is something a Gentile slave could be required to do, but not a Jewish slave. On the other hand, footwashing is something wives did for their husbands, children for their parents, and disciples for their teachers. A level of intimacy is involved in these cases, unlike when Gentile slaves would do the washing. In Jesus' case, there is an obvious reversal of roles with his disciples. The one into whose hands the Father had given all now takes his disciples' feet into his hands to wash them.

Slaves were looked down upon in the ancient world, and Peter cannot stand the thought of his teacher doing the work of a slave. It would have been appropriate for one of the disciples to have washed Jesus' feet, but the reverse is intolerable. In the Greek both pronouns, you and my, are emphatic. This response expresses Peter's love, but his is a defective love. It lacks humility, which is one of the essential attributes of discipleship according to this Gospel. Indeed, humility is the very thing illustrated in Jesus' present action. In Peter's response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the cross will atone and bring healing. Peter is working from a worldly point of view, and not for the first time. Jesus realizes this act is scandalous and mystifying, given their current ignorance: You do not realize now what I am doing, but later (literally, "after these things") you will understand. On one level, Jesus' act is an example of humility, and they are expected to grasp this point. But as with most of what Jesus has said and done, they will fully understand this event only after the cross and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, who will lead them into all truth.

In response to Peter's rejection Jesus says cryptically, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. The word for part (meros) can be used of one's share in an inheritance, though other words are more commonly used for this idea (meris, kleros and kleronomia). If Peter is to have a share with Jesus in his community and the eternal life that comes through faith in him, then he must be washed by Jesus. Since this is Peter's greatest desire he responds, Then, Lord, . . . not just my feet but my hands and my head as well! Again we see his love, but again there is still a strong element of self. He is not simply receiving with humility what the Lord is saying and doing. Peter at this point is an example of religious enthusiasm that is really a manifestation of the unregenerate self rather than of genuine discipleship. He has not discovered the depths of his own brokenness and selfishness and thus does not have a solid foundation in reality to build on. His denial of Jesus, soon to be predicted by Jesus, will tear down his pride and clear the way for the genuine humility that is necessary for any real spiritual life.”

Richard Foster:
"Consider the perspective of a slave. A slave sees all of life from the viewpoint of slavery. He does not see himself as possessing the same rights as free men and women. Please understand me, when this slavery is involuntary it is cruel and dehumanizing. When the slavery is freely chosen, however, everything is changed. Voluntary servitude is a great joy.  . . Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered. If we stoutly refuse to give in to this lust of the flesh, we crucify it. Every time we crucify the flesh, we crucify pride and arrogance. . . Right here we must see the difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When we chose to serve, we are still in charge. We decide whom we will serve and when we will serve. And if we are in charge, we will worry a great deal about anyone stepping on us, that is, taking charge over us. But when we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. There is great freedom in this. If we voluntarily choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated. When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable."

The next comment deals with the idea that “the world owes me a livin”. The idea that gifted people do not deserve to be spared the pains of life, that everybody else is subjected to, has always been a tough nut for me.

Pulpit Commentary
“The servant is not greater than his lord. In John 13:16 the idea was used to enforce the spirit of humility and mutual service; it applies also here, but in another sense. The disciples are not to expect better treatment from the world than their Lord met with. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. The "if" is remarkably explicit; there is no doubt about it in Christ's case, and the supposition is one of definite and acknowledged fact, and the conditional sentence most positively assures them of antagonism and persecution. It is probable, though not certainly known, that these disciples all endured a living martyrdom, if not a cruel death in his cause.”

As I have mentioned before, Christians may don the powerful armor of God, which provides miraculous spiritual protection against many levels of negative vibration; but that point is distinct from the idea that virtue buys us any kind of guarantee or bulletproof protection from carnal assaults. Just because we serve does not mean that we do not fall victim to the evils of the world.

The following excerpt is especially meaningful to me—as one who has always sought a special niche in the temple of fame, and who has thought himself ill-used and slighted because he has been denied this niche, it is some comfort to read that there must have been many men, operating behind the scenes, who did great work but who, nevertheless never came before the public eye. It is hard to avoid the “sour grapes” component of this syndrome, but it definitely has its basis in scripture.

Let Us Reason Ministries

/Men with No Name or Reputation on Earth

Not all the great saints in history are well known. In fact, the ones who will get the most rewards are probably going to be those we never heard of. There are numerous ways to make one famous. Hollywood knows that it only takes some backing and money and one can have a TV series in which they are advertised to the public. The longer they are around the more familiar people become with them. The Religious sector has borrowed strategies from the world and applied it to the church.

There is a difference between God raising one up to do ministry, and those who have done their own self- promotion. The people who have the most air-time on Television are usually (not always) those who are making merchandise of their viewers. This does not mean that godly men cannot be famous but it is more often the exception to the rule. In our day we look for stars, those who have fame, importance and influence. But this is not what the Bible teaches about those who are great in God’s eyes. Jesus spoke of the hypocrites that prayed to be seen. 
"For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward”. You can substitute anything else besides pray, whether it’s their good works, giving, spiritual gifts… “They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues”. They lived to be noticed and seen as more important than others. Speaking of the Pharisee’s John 12:43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” 

Our intent should be as the psalmist Ps 67:1-2 “God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us. Selah That Your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations”. Instead we see men’s names replacing Christ’s name, and their reputation presented to the people as business leaders, healers and miracle workers (though they may give secondary honor to Jesus). We always need to be careful of the traps of being sought after and exalted. Once pride sets in it becomes harder to return to walking in humility and letting God use you as He once may have. 

Jesus said, "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

When people want to be noticed for what they do, they do it in the public’s eye. They have strategies to make the most out of the event. Even if it is good deed what they do builds up their pride and importance. Jesus instructed, "But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, "that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly”(Matt 6:3-4). Many will already have their reward by being noticed and have no treasure in heaven. 

The real servants are those who work without the cameras on them, without the news reporting their good deeds, without touring to give a personal testimony that will promote themselves or make them important. The real servant has an attitude of not trying to be found in the spotlight while they do God’s work. A real servant is busy doing God’s work whether he is noticed or unnoticed. He doesn’t care if anyone watches him. His reward will be later.”

It has been seen that it was narcissistic pride that ejected Satan from heaven—it is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that its opposite, humility, is the ticket back into Heaven—not only the Heaven of the hereafter, but the Heaven of here and now.

Saint Augustine:

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”

Saint Vincent de Paul:
“The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.”

The topic of this service inevitably invokes the subject of taking credit--ownership—whose life is it anyway? One consequence of pride is the taking of credit for accomplishments on which we have no claim. The whole complex of illusions surrounding status, fame, and immortality is saturated with Satan’s deceptive maya. The idea that Beethoven’s music is immortal, adopts an exceedingly naïve view of the vast scope of human history. Rudolf Steiner would point to the new age conceptual entity called the “Akashic Record”; this record is supposed to contain the sum total of every idea, or expression, or image that ever existed or will exist. I am not willing to flatly deny or affirm the reality of such a thing, but real or not real, it is a record that is not available to us in our current dimension. Therefore, even the most profound and deeply resonant expressions of our time are doomed ultimately to reverberate into silence; therefore, people who lust after immortal earthly reputation and respect, are yearning for something that is, in the long run, just as perishable as a tabloid article on Julia Roberts’ eye makeup. Those of us who altruistically sought, and failed, to contribute to the deathless sum of human knowledge, must simply accept the possibility that there has been enough said, or that what was being said was destined to fall on deaf ears.

I have repeated this quote from The Screwtape Letters several times:
"He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or a great poet and then forgot about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one. Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy's side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all, since he can very well go on improving them to the best of his ability without deciding on his own precise niche in the temple of Fame."
I recently ran across another statement on the same subject in Bernard de Clairvaux’s book, On Loving God:

“We must know, then, what we are, and that it is not of ourselves that we are what we are. Unless we know this thoroughly, either we shall not glory at all, or our glorying will be vain. Finally, it is written, ‘If thou know not, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock’ (Cant. 1.8). And this is right. For man, being in honor, if he know not his own honor, may fitly be compared, because of such ignorance, to the beasts that perish. Not knowing himself as the creature that is distinguished from the irrational brutes by the possession of reason, he commences to be confounded with them because, ignorant of his own true glory which is within, he is led captive by his curiosity, and concerns himself with external, sensual things. So he is made to resemble the lower orders by not knowing that he has been more highly endowed than they.

We must be on our guard against this ignorance. We must not rank ourselves too low; and with still greater care we must see that we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, as happens when we foolishly impute to ourselves whatever good may be in us. But far more than either of these kinds of ignorance, we must hate and shun that presumption which would lead us to glory in goods not our own, knowing that they are not of ourselves but of God, and yet not fearing to rob God of the honor due unto Him. For mere ignorance, as in the first instance, does not glory at all; and mere wisdom, as in the second, while it has a kind of glory, yet does not glory in the Lord. In the third evil case, however, man sins not in ignorance but deliberately, usurping the glory which belongs to God. And this arrogance is a more grievous and deadly fault than the ignorance of the second, since it contemns God, while the other knows Him not. Ignorance is brutal, arrogance is devilish. Pride only, the chief of all iniquities, can make us treat gifts as if they were rightful attributes of our nature, and, while receiving benefits, rob our Benefactor of His due glory.”

Thus, our moral imaginations ought not to be attending to the value of our acts of service in anything like the terms of a “social currency”; our attention must be focused on the efficient performance of the tasks assigned to us by God before the world began. In the larger scheme of things, it is the SPIRITUAL value of our activities—the mythic or archetypal resonance of our acts, not their temporal effect-- that is of any importance whatever.

I always thought that people who claimed to “live a life of service” were kind of pretentious, do-gooder types, who relished the feeling of being morally superior; but, in recent years, I have changed my mind. I’m sure the list of self-righteous do-gooders is long, indeed, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some people who have responded to the call of service as open-hearted Sons of God--who have seen that we are all one, and that any service performed for the good of others is a service performed for God, which is a service performed for themselves.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for your perfect example. We fail every day, in our selfishness, to heed your example perfectly, and we thank you every day for every day giving us another chance to do better. Let us continue in our attempts to emulate your magnificent giving, so that we may one day receive all. Amen.