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Y…did Jesus die? A Minority/Franciscan view (O.F.M. – Order of Friars Minor)…Reality has a cruciform pattern…

Updated: Feb 8

As I mentioned in the previous Cross post, once Ram Dass introduced me for the first time to a LOVING version of "G-d"...I was handed off to a young Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. Been with him and the folks he hangs with ever since then - as he and they continue to help me see our shared world with ever-widening vision.


Richard will be our Subject Matter Expert as we consider this post's opening question: "Y...did Jesus die?" I'll be using his Daily Meditations from the first week of February 2019.


But first, we can benefit from a look inside what Rohr calls the "alternative orthodoxy" of Francis of Assisi to help us see what Francis chose to focus on.


Francis emphasized BEING the change: Orthopraxy (correct practice) over Orthodoxy (correct belief)



[As an understanding of his way of seeing is vital to appreciating the rest of this post, here's the complete meditation.


"Francis’ starting place was human suffering instead of human sinfulness, and God’s identification with that suffering in Jesus."]


Richard Rohr explains that Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) paid attention to different things than the Catholic Church of his time. Eventually, his prophetic witness and emphasis became an “alternative orthodoxy” through the Franciscan tradition. Richard begins: 


In the Legend of Perugia, one of the earliest accounts of his life, Francis offers this instruction to the first friars: “You only know as much as you do.” [1] His emphasis on action, practice, and lifestyle was foundational and revolutionary for its time and remains at the heart of Franciscan alternative orthodoxy. For Francis and Clare, Jesus became someone to actually follow and imitate.   


Up to this point, most of Christian spirituality was based in desert asceticism, monastic discipline, theories of prayer, or academic theology, which itself was often based in “correct belief” or liturgical texts, but not in a kind of practical Christianity that could be lived in the streets of the world. Francis emphasized an imitation and love of the humanity of Jesus, and not just the worshiping of his divinity. That is a major shift.  


Throughout history, the Franciscan School has typically been a minority position inside of the Roman Catholic and larger Christian tradition, yet it has never been condemned or considered heretical—in fact, quite the opposite. It simply emphasized different teachings of Jesus, new perspectives and behaviors, and focused on the full and final implications of the incarnation of God in Christ. For Franciscans, the incarnation was not just about Jesus but was manifested everywhere. As Francis said, “The whole world is our cloister!” [2]  


Francis’ starting place was human suffering instead of human sinfulness, and God’s identification with that suffering in Jesus. That did not put him in conflict with any Catholic dogmas or structures. His Christ was cosmic while also deeply personal, his cathedral was creation itself, and he preferred the bottom of society to the top. He invariably emphasized inclusion of the seeming outsider over any club of insiders, and he was much more a mystic than a moralist. In general, Francis preferred ego poverty to private perfection, because Jesus “became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich out of his poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  


I sincerely think Francis found a Third Way, which is the creative and courageous role of a prophet and a mystic. He basically repeated what all prophets say: that the message and the medium for the message have to be the same thing. And Francis emphasized the medium itself, instead of continuing to clarify or contain the mere verbal message; this tends to be the “priestly” job, one which Francis never wanted for himself.  


Both Francis and Clare saw orthopraxy (“correct practice”) as a necessary parallel, and maybe even precedent, to verbal orthodoxy (“correct teaching”) and not an optional add-on or a possible implication. “Why aren’t you doing what you say you believe?” the prophet invariably asks.  


[There's a link at the end of this Sunday Meditation to the rest of this week's offerings on the Franciscan Way.]


Reality has a Cruciform pattern




Y...did Jesus die?


Here are some of the new perspectives Richard's helping me see...

  • At-one-ment rather than atonement...I am loved just as I am...I don't have to try to appease an angry G-d...

  • Restorative justice not retributive justice…Loving rather than punishing...

  • We must transform our pain...or, we will transmit it...usually onto some one, some group

  • Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie.



Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The cross is not just a singular event. It’s a statement from God that reality has a cruciform pattern. Jesus was killed in a collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of his day. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured—holding together all the primary opposites (see Colossians 1:15-20). —Richard Rohr


SUMMARY


[Here, in this summary section, the links at the end of each day's snippet lead to that day's full meditation.]


Unfortunately, with the widespread acceptance of the substitutionary atonement theory, salvation became a one-time transactional affair between Jesus and his Father, instead of an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul and for all of history. (Sunday)


Christianity’s vision of God was a radical departure from most ancient religions. Instead of having God “eat” humans, animals, or crops, which were sacrificed on altars, Christianity made the bold claim that God’s very body was given for us to eat! This turned everything around and undid the seeming logic of quid pro quo thinking. (Monday)


A view of God as punitive and retributive nullifies any in-depth spiritual journey: Why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God? (Tuesday)


The Franciscan School of theology claimed that the cross was a freely chosen revelation of Love on God’s part, meant to utterly shock the mind and heart and turn it back toward trust and love of the Creator. (Wednesday)


The Divine Mind transforms all human suffering by identifying completely with the human predicament and standing in full solidarity with it from beginning to end. This is the real meaning of the crucifixion. (Thursday)


Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie. (Friday)


HIGHLIGHTS


[In this section, I've selected portions of each day's meditation. The links at the top of each will lead to the complete meditation.]



I take up this subject with both excitement and trepidation because I know that substitutionary atonement is central to many Christians’ faith. But the questions of why Jesus died and what is the meaning and message of his death have dominated the Christian narrative, often much more than his life and teaching. As some have said, if this theory is true, all we needed were the last three days or even three hours of Jesus’ life. In my opinion, this interpretation has kept us from a deep and truly transformative understanding of both Jesus and Christ.


Salvation became a one-time transactional affair between Jesus and his Father, instead of an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul and for all of history. I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is a revelation of the infinite and participatory love of God, not some bloody payment required by God’s offended justice to rectify the problem of sin. Such a story line is way too small and problem-oriented.



The theory of substitutionary atonement has inoculated us against the true effects of the Gospel, causing us to largely “thank” Jesus instead of honestly imitating him. At its worst, it has led us to see God as a cold, brutal figure who demands acts of violence before God can love creation. There is no doubt that the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—is filled with metaphors of sacrifice, ransom, atonement, paying the price, opening the gates, et cetera. These are common temple metaphors that would have made sense to Jewish audiences at the time they were written. But they all imply that God is not inherently on our side.


Anthropologically speaking, these words and assumptions reflect a magical or what I call “transactional” way of thinking. By that I mean that if we just believe the right thing, say the right prayer, or practice the right ritual, things will go right for us in the divine courtroom. In my experience, this way of thinking loses its power as people and cultures grow up and seek actual changes in their minds and hearts. Then, transformational thinking tends to supplant transactional thinking.


Restorative justice, of course, comes to its full demonstration in the constant healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus represents the real and deeper level of teaching of the Hebrew Prophets. Jesus never punished anybody! Yes, he challenged people, but always for the sake of insight, healing, and restoration of people and situations to their divine origin and source. Once a person recognizes that Jesus’ mission (obvious in all four Gospels) was to heal people, not punish them, the dominant theories of retributive justice begin to lose their appeal and authority.


This “whole” meditation invites reflection:


When we look at history, it’s clear that Christianity is an evolving faith. It only makes sense that early Christians would look for a logical and meaningful explanation for the “why” of the tragic death of their religion’s founder. For the early centuries, appeasing an angry, fanatical Father was not their answer. For the first thousand years, most Christians believed that the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross—the “price” or the ransom—was being paid not to God, but to the devil! This made the devil pretty powerful and God pretty weak, but it gave the people someone to blame for Jesus’ death. And at least it was not God.


Then, in the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109) wrote a paper called Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) which might just be the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written. Thinking he could solve the problem of sin inside of the medieval code of feudal honor and shame, Anselm said, in effect, “Yes, a price did need to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father—by one who was equally divine.” I imagine Anselm didn’t consider the disastrous implications of his theory, especially for people who were already afraid or resentful of God.


In authoritarian and patriarchal cultures, most people were fully programmed to think this way—working to appease an authority figure who was angry, punitive, and even violent in “his” reactions. Many still operate this way, especially if they had an angry, demanding, or abusive parent. People respond to this kind of God, as sick as it is, because it fits their own story line.


Unfortunately, for a simple but devastating reason, this understanding also nullifies any in-depth spiritual journey: Why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God?

Over the next few centuries, Anselm’s honor- and shame-based way of thinking came to be accepted among Christians, though it met resistance from some, particularly my own Franciscan school under Bonaventure (1221–1274) and Duns Scotus (1266–1308). Protestants accepted the mainline Catholic position, embracing it with even more fervor.


Evangelicals later enshrined it as one of the “four pillars” of foundational Christian belief, which the earlier period would have thought strange. Most of us were never told of the varied history of this theory, even among Protestants. If you came from a “law and order” culture or a buying and selling culture—which most of us have—it made perfect sense. The revolutionary character of Jesus and the final and full Gospel message has still to dawn upon most of the world. It is just too upending for most peoples’ minds until they have personally undergone the radical experience of unearned love. And, even then, it takes a lifetime to sink in.


Our predestination to glory is prior by nature to any notion of sin. —John Duns Scotus [1]


The Franciscan School, led by such teachers as Duns Scotus, refused to see the Incarnation and its finale on the cross as a mere reaction to human failure. God was much more than a problem solver. Instead, Franciscans claimed that the cross was a freely chosen revelation of Love on God’s part. In so doing, they reversed the engines of almost all world religion up to that point, which assumed humans had to spill blood to get to a distant and demanding God. On the cross, Franciscans believed, God was “spilling blood” to reach out to us! [2] This is a sea change in consciousness. Instead of being a theological transaction, the crucifixion was a dramatic demonstration of God’s outpouring love, meant to utterly shock the heart and mind and turn it back toward trust and love of the Creator.


[He concludes with this cosmic perspective…]


Christianity can do so much better, and doing so will not diminish Jesus in the least. In fact, it will allow Jesus to take on a universal and humanly appealing dimension. The cross cannot be an arbitrary and bloody sacrifice triggered by a sin that was once committed by one man and one woman under a tree between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Frankly, that idea reduces any notion of a universal or truly “catholic” revelation to one planet, at the edge of one solar system, in a universe comprised of billions of galaxies with trillions of solar systems. A religion based on required sacrifices is just not glorious or hopeful enough or even befitting the marvelous creation. To those who cling to Anselm’s understanding, I would say, as J. B. Phillips wrote many years ago, “Your God is too small.” [3]


This “whole” meditation invites reflection:


The Divine Mind transforms all human suffering by identifying completely with the human predicament and standing in full solidarity with it from beginning to end. This is the real meaning of the crucifixion. The cross is not just a singular event. It’s a statement from God that reality has a cruciform pattern. Jesus was killed in a collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of his day. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole.


He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured—holding together all the primary opposites (see Colossians 1:15-20).

In so doing, Jesus demonstrated that Reality is not meaningless and absurd just because it isn’t perfectly logical, fair, or consistent. Reality, we know, is always filled with contradictions, what St. Bonaventure and others (such as Alan of Lille [c. 1128–1202/03] and Nicholas of Cusa [1401–1464]) called the “coincidence of opposites.” This is what we all resist and oppose much of our life.


Jesus the Christ, in his crucifixion and resurrection, “recapitulated all things in himself, everything in heaven and everything on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). This one verse is the summary of Franciscan Christology. Jesus agreed to carry the mystery of universal suffering. He allowed it to change him (“Resurrection”) and us, too, so that we would be freed from the endless cycle of projecting our pain elsewhere or remaining trapped inside of it.


This is the fully resurrected life, the only way to be happy, free, loving, and therefore “saved.” In effect, Jesus was saying, “If I can trust it, you can too.” We are indeed saved by the cross—more than we realize. The people who hold the contradictions and resolve them in themselves are the saviors of the world. They are the only real agents of transformation, reconciliation, and newness.


Christians are meant to be the visible compassion of God on earth more than “those who are going to heaven.” They are the leaven who agree to share the fate of God for the life of the world now, and thus keep the whole batch of dough from falling back on itself. A Christian is invited, not required, to accept and live the cruciform shape of all reality. It is not a duty or even a requirement as much as a free vocation. Some people feel called and agree to not hide from the dark side of things or the rejected group, but in fact draw close to the pain of the world and allow it to radically change their perspective. They agree to embrace the imperfection and even the injustices of our world, allowing these situations to change them from the inside out, which is the only way things are changed anyway.



The image of the scapegoat powerfully mirrors the universal, but largely unconscious, human need to transfer our guilt onto something or someone else by singling that other out for unmerited negative treatment. French philosopher and historian René Girard (1923–2015) demonstrated that the scapegoat mechanism is foundational for the formation of most social groups and cultures.  We need another group to be against to form our group!


For example, many in the United States scapegoat refugees who are seeking asylum, falsely accusing them of being criminals. This pattern is seen in many facets of our society and our private, inner lives—so much so that we might call it “the sin of the world” (note that “sin” is singular in John 1:29).


We hate our own imperfections in other people, and sadly we often find the best cover for that projection in religion. God and religion, I am afraid, have been used to justify most of our violence and to hide from the shadow parts of ourselves that we would rather not admit. Yet Jesus revealed the pattern two thousand years ago. “When anyone kills you, they will think they are doing a holy duty for God,” he said (John 16:2).


The Scriptures call such ignorant hatred and killing “sin,” and Jesus came precisely to “take away” (John 1:29) our capacity to commit it—by exposing the lie for all to see. Jesus stood as the fully innocent one who was condemned by the highest authorities of both “church and state” (Jerusalem and Rome), an act that should create healthy suspicion about how wrong even the highest powers can be. Maybe power still does not want us to see this. Much of Christianity shames individuals for private sins while lauding public figures in spite of their pride, greed, gluttony, lying, killing, or narcissism.


As John puts it, “He will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was really in the right, and about true judgment” (John 16:8). This is what Jesus exposes and defeats on the cross. He did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie.


FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION...




We shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach. When we can hold our pain consciously and trustfully (and not project it elsewhere), we find ourselves in a very special liminal space. Here we are open to learning and breaking through to a much deeper level of faith and consciousness. Please trust me on this.


We must all carry the cross of our own reality until God transforms us through it. T


These are the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.


CROSS Roads




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