Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jesus Respected The Human Mind

Jesus Christ respected the abilities of the human mind.  Some reading this morning reinforced a thought I have harbored for a long time.  That is that Jesus Christ honored the mind that God endowed each human with.  That led him to teach principles that went far below the surface level one might expect the average person in Palestine to understand. Moreover, there are indications in the scriptures that he and his Father took joy in and thought man should also take joy in the life of the mind.  I give just two examples of these ideas below.

Let me start with the second idea first since it was in my reading this morning.  In Mark 12 and parallels in Matthew and Luke, Jesus gave what has been called the parable of the wicked husbandmen.  The story tells of a man who planted a vineyard with appropriate accessories and let it out to stewards to care for it and he went elsewhere.  Repeatedly he sent servants to gather the proceeds from the venture, but the husbandmen abused them, brought violence on them, and even killed them.  Finally, he sent his son but the husbandmen cast him out and killed him.  So the lord of the vineyard destroyed the husbandmen and gave the vineyard to others to care for.  The story concludes with a quotation of Psalm 118:22 “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.”

I was fascinated to learn that an interesting wordplay in Hebrew hides here.  The Hebrew words for “son” and “stone” ( ben, eben)  have the same two first letters, but the word for stone has an additional third letter. Jesus was the “Son” of God and he was also the cornerstone of the church.  This metaphor is used several times in the scriptures, each time suggesting that the stone which the builders rejected is the Son of God.  This is only evident in Hebrew, not in the Aramaic or Greek prevalent in Jesus’ day.  Would the average Jew have understood this?  It turns out that something Josephus said suggests they may have. In describing the Roman attack on Jerusalem, he says when the rebels saw the large Roman catapult stones coming at them they cried out “The Son is Coming!”  (Josephus, Wars, 5:6:3.)  There is a debate about what this meant at the time, given they were probably using Aramaic or Greek, but the wordplay in Hebrew is interesting.  

God seems to love wordplay.  It is scattered throughout the prophetic and poetic writings of the Old Testament and frequently used in the New Testament.  My point, it does not necessarily take a brilliant mind to hear and catch a wordplay or pun, but it does take an awake and thinking mind and one that can also enjoy a play on words.  There is a subliminal message here–God trusts the human mind and he understands some of the things that delight and prod it.  He and his representatives frequently use those tools to teach his children and it is possible that they can learn to take intellectual delight in and derive insight from the subtleties of language as well.  The life of the mind can be enjoyable and that is permissible–even intentional.

My second example also contains an implied message completely different from the intended teaching.  John 4 recounts the well known story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  In this encounter Jesus asks the woman for some water.  She, knowing the animosity then extant between Jews and Samaritans, asks him why he asked her for help.  His reply suggests how Jesus felt about the human mind–in this case a female human mind.  He said:  
“If thou knewest the gift of God and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”
Did he really expect her to understand what he meant by offering her “living water”? Probably not, but he wanted her to ask him about it, which is exactly what she did.  Notice in his reply, how quickly he takes her into an even deeper theological discussion:
...whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
It has always seemed to me that these are pretty heady concepts to discuss with one who was probably a peasant woman.  I doubt there was a Samaritan University in Shechem, and even if there was, it is even less likely that she, a woman, was a student there.  No, but she is one of the extraordinary “ordinary” people we so frequently encounter in the life of Christ.  He obviously trusts that her mind is capable of understanding and believing him.  

As we read we see that she does have important intellectual attributes.  Her mind was quick, inquiring, and supple, and Jesus responding to her questions took her from calling him a “Jew”, to “sir”, to “prophet”, to “Messiah” in one conversation.  She had a thoughtful, confident, and independent mind.  She picked an argument with him about where the correct place to worship was.  She had a religious mind.  She knew about Jacob, the Samaritan temple, and the Messiah.  She had an open and honest mind. When he told her the history of her relationships with the men of her life she acknowledged he was a prophet.  Her mind was willing and believing.  She believed a Messiah would come and when he plainly told her he was the Messiah she went back into town and said to the men there, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” 

This conversation with a peasant woman about abstractions of Christian theology is every bit as high leveled as the one recorded in the previous chapter between Jesus and Nicodemus a Pharisee and a “ruler of the Jews.”  He was doubtless one of the better educated of his people, but as far as the stories of the two show he had nothing over the Samaritan woman intellectually.  Both possessed several billion God-given brain cells and Jesus knew and expected both could use them to perceive, understand and believe his message.

Jesus trusted the minds of people of all religious, social, and economic ranks and genders he encountered. He challenged them to use their intellect to consider high and deep spiritual concepts.  If they did so with a certain degree of humility, integrity and interest the Spirit of the Lord could act upon those minds and the results were often miraculous.  The same is true today!

Lets think together again, soon.

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