Tag Archive: personal


Mindfulness of God: Blessings

These essays record my studies of the Gospels. The intention is to remind myself, and anyone who is blessed enough to read this, what Jesus did, and what he said: the parables and the miracles. Along the way, in these bonus essays, I share my personal progress in interpreting how to live by his example.

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

The way he treated us is the way that we should treat each other: This is the first fundamental precept in my studies. Whatever else Jesus was—the Son of God, the Son of Man, the way, the truth, and the light, and/or the Word of God—he was meant to be an example.

I set aside all definitions, except for this one that he told us himself, as I practice mindfulness.

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”—Matthew 6:34.

Mindfulness is a way of staying in the present. It is a goal that Christianity shares with many other religions and spiritual practices. The theory is that if you stay focused on what’s happening right now, then you won’t suffer fear for the future, or doubt from your past. I have been attempting this state of mind by using lessons from the Gospels.

My first step was to forgive every sin, as it happened.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matthew 6:14-15.

If we don’t forgive, then our sins go unforgiven. Further, sins fester when we don’t release them. I can’t be happy with the weight. So I attempted to forgive every sin, as it happened.

I never realized how much other people bugged me, especially in traffic. Lord, all I needed to complete this study was to take a drive. I’m sure you know what I mean. People are crazy out there, behind their steering wheels. Their actions are selfish, as if by necessity, violent, provocative, and threatening.

If you’ll pardon the joke, I’m pretty sure that “the valley of the shadow of death” was a prophecy about highways, and how we are seduced into sin just to keep up with the flow of traffic.

I was in a state of constant forgiveness while driving around, especially when I realized that I was judging them, and that I needed to be forgiven.

That was my second step. I forgave them, then myself, over and over.

No matter what someone else does, we are responsible for how we react.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? / …Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”—Luke 6:41-42.

All of this kept me in the present, mindful of God.

God is always there, no matter where we are.

“The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”—Proverbs 16:4.

He made everything and exists as everything.

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

This is my second fundamental precept: Heaven is within you.

It’s blasphemous to hate someone when you consider that God is with them. Instead, I want to bless God, because God has blessed me. This led me to my third step in mindfulness, which was to bless everyone.

“…Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. / Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”—Luke 18:16-17.

I wanted to understand how to be reborn, as taught in the Gospels, because that is how you get to Heaven. I began by blessing children and their families.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”—Matthew 19:19.

This led to me blessing the elderly, who are the fathers and mothers. Jesus taught us how to love our neighbors. He gave us a step-by-step process for how we can reach Heaven. I put this into practice because, frankly, I have a tough time loving my sinful neighbors. And since I’m sinful, I can hardly love myself either.

By blessing someone, what do I mean?

It’s kind of like when someone sneezes and you say, “Bless you.” Their heart skipped a beat, as they sneezed, and you’re just wishing them well. A blessing is a little stronger than saying good luck. If we were to alter that phrase to be a blessing, we might say, “I wish you the best of luck possible; stay well and strong, and have compassion for others, as I have had compassion for you.”

The point is that if I’m going to get involved in someone’s life by judging them, or forgiving them, then, instead, I can choose to trust in God, have faith in the Heaven within that person.

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—Genesis 12:3.

That was God’s original covenant with Abraham, the one that Jesus renewed with his blood.

“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”—Matthew 26:28.

By blessing others, we are blessed; and by cursing others, we are cursed. It’s your choice.

So now I stay in the present by blessing children, the elderly, and, the most recent addition, all animals.

Children and animals live in the present. Sure, they want food or affection, and “hunt” with a future feast in mind. But they remain focused on the present moment as they do so—ready to pounce or run away.

Jesus loves the little children, and the animals love Jesus.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”—John 1:11.

Rejection is an important component of Jesus’ story.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”—Luke 2:7.

There was no room for him in our hearts. We rejected him, and killed him so that we could remain in the dark.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”—John 3:20.

We’re addicted to sin. But the animals in the manger didn’t mind him spending the night with them.

This is an important point. There is something about animals that allowed them to accept him. They remind me of what Jesus said about children: “…of such is the kingdom of God.” By blessing what is God’s, we accept God. But to accept God’s will, we must come into the light.

Jesus is the light, or, more specifically, his lessons light the way. His story is an example for how we can bless and comfort one another.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—1 John 4:8.

This is the third fundamental precept in these essays: God is love.

All of my other theories and deductions must fit with these three fundamentals: Jesus is an example; Heaven is within you; and God is love.

With that as my starting point, my studies of the Gospels became a prayer for us human beings. It’s all about us, how we can learn to get along, and find peace and dignity within ourselves, by treating each other with the same compassion that Jesus showed to us.

This takes practice.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.

To worship in spirit and truth, we must be in a mindful state, focused on the kingdom of Heaven that is within all things. We are alive, right here and now, and so is God.

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”—Luke 20:38.

To that end, I’ve followed these three steps to keep myself in the present: forgive others when they sin; forgive myself when I sin; and bless everyone. My goal is to keep God in my heart, to keep love in my heart at all times.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”—John 8:29.

I feel that by following those three steps, I am pleasing God. And when I do that, God is with me. When God is with me, I have love in my heart.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33.

We don’t have to overcome the world; Jesus did it. We don’t have to judge anyone; Jesus does it.

“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”—John 5:22.

We don’t have to take revenge, an eye for an eye. God does that.

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”—Hebrews 10:30.

All we have to do is be who we are, and allow others the same, and forgive ourselves for being who we are, while allowing others the same: easier prayed than done.

Sin comes no matter how prepared we are. It is our nature, our cross to carry, that we slip into selfishness, or hate groups of people, so that we can feel loved by our own group. Every action has a potential sin attached; each and every thought can lead to darkness. We lack the instinctive toolset for balancing our animal urges and the growing complexity of our society. We can’t cure this disease.

All we can do is accept it: release the need to make the universe bend to our will, and, instead, bend our will to the universe. This takes practice. Stay mindful. Replace judgments with blessings. Be thankful for each and every moment, no matter how bad or painful, joyous or rapturous. It is all of God, made by the connection we all have to each other, as we walk through the valley, terrified of death, and hopeful of forgiveness.

The connection is that we all love, and sin, and need constant, automatic forgiveness, which we can only attain by forgiving others. This is the definition of love as taught by Jesus in the Gospels. If you can see this, understand it, and are willing to attempt it in practice, then you are ready to be reborn.

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Rich Young Ruler

This was my first step in understanding how to forgive, and why: “…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”—Luke 23:34.

We lack the infinite wisdom that’s necessary to judge someone. We don’t know everything, and so we’re unable to make informed decisions. It’s a miracle we ever do anything right. Therefore, forgiveness should be automatic, right? Though I see Jesus’ quote from the cross as the first step, and all that really matters at the end of the day, there is a second step.

We know exactly what we’re doing when we sin.

“And, behold, one [rich young ruler] came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”—Matthew 19:16.

Since he asked what he should do, he must not have known the answer.

“And [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God; but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”—Matthew 19:17.

Instead of just telling the young man to follow the Ten Commandments, Jesus added a seemingly tangential definition of what is good. At first I thought he was making fun of the fancy man—come to hang out with all the cool kids. But we aren’t talking about some snarky teenager.

Though we might throw the word around, especially in more formal settings (my good sir), only God is good. Does that mean we aren’t even capable of doing what’s right?

“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed; saying, Who then can be saved? / But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:25-26.

But we’re jumping ahead in the story. After Jesus told the rich young ruler to follow the Commandments, which would seem pretty obvious, the young man asked which ones he should follow. To me, he might as well have asked which laws he should follow, so that he doesn’t break the law. The answer is all of them! Jesus had patience, though, and spelled it out even further.

“He said unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, / Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”—Matthew 19:18-19.

Jesus cut the Ten Commandments in half, and attached the Golden Rule. Still, he wasn’t specific enough for that rich ruler.

“The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”—Matthew 19:20.

That was the point I started thinking, we know when we sin.

Did he actually believe he’d kept the Commandments for his entire life? Had he never broken the Golden Rule, even before Jesus stated it as the ultimate goal of his lessons?

“…He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”—John 8:7.

None of us are without sin. We all make mistakes. Remember, Jesus said that only God was/is good. Was the ruler lying to himself? Maybe he lacked the introspection to recognize that he’d sinned.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”—Matthew 19:21.

That changed his tune. Don’t just give everything away, but sell it all, and give the money to the poor, then leave your old life, and follow Jesus.

He asked how to get eternal life, as if he didn’t already know. When he was told to follow the Commandments and Golden Rule, he said that he’d been doing so all his life. Therefore, he did know how to attain eternal life. But he wanted to be “perfect.” Despite his bravado, what he did next showed his true colors:

“But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”—Matthew 19:22.

At the start of their exchange, the rich young ruler thought he had it all under control. He had never sinned, and was hoping that whatever Jesus claimed he lacked, he could then respond how he’d been doing that all his life too. When he found out the truth, he turned away, because he knew that he could never be perfect.

The Bible has many such stories of people doing what they know to be wrong.

Adam and Eve:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”—Genesis 2:17.

Lot’s wife:

“…Escape for thy life; look not behind thee…/ But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”—Genesis 19:17, 26.

Most of the time, it was only one thing they couldn’t do, one simple act. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples fell asleep three times, when they were supposed to be guarding him.

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”—Matthew 26:41.

That’s our biggest problem: strong spirit, weak flesh. In other words, our physical lives take precedence over our spiritual needs; or, as Jesus put it:

“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”—Matthew 19:24.

That doesn’t apply to just literal riches, like gold. Instead it could mean any earthly, physical possession that means more to us than loving our neighbors; I’ve always interpreted the first commandment (No other Gods before me) in that way. Maybe that meant God was jealous. But I think it’s a reminder that we can serve only one master; only one thing can be first in our lives.

Think of what you put first; consider what you would (or wouldn’t) do to protect it; and ask yourself if you’d be willing to give it up, surrender this all-consuming part of your life. Also, think of what you do that isn’t healthy, that benefits only you (possibly at other’s expense); be honest. We can’t just confess our sins to a priest; we must confess them to ourselves. Now think of giving up all those sins.

For me, smoking is a big one. I can’t give it up! I won’t! But I need to, badly. I just lack the strength. Like Eve, I know that, by smoking, I shall surely die. First, I have to forgive myself for being so stupid. Then, I have to accept that I did this knowingly. Finally, I have to find the strength to surrender a sin that I’ve come to depend on.

“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed; saying, Who then can be saved? / But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:25-26.

Since I’ve reached the second step of forgiveness, accepting that my sins are deliberate, maybe it’s time for my second step in understanding God. The first, if you’ll recall from earlier essays, was this: God = Love. At the end of the day, that’s all I really need to know. But since God’s presence accomplishes what would be impossible for me, I feel there is a greater understanding required.

“Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalm 23:4.

Thou art with me: omnipresence.

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yeah, I will help thee; yeah, I will aphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”—Isaiah 41:10.

I will strengthen thee.

God gives us strength. God is everywhere, everything.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”—John 1:3.

Look to your right. What’s the first thing you see? Whatever it is, God is there; He made it, and exists as it. That person or object deserves the same love and respect you’d give to God. Look to your left. Whatever you see, that is also God—both of them, left and right. Stop and consider them.

This is why we love our neighbors. They, and everything you see, and everything you don’t, it is all God. This is where our strength comes from.

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: / Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:20-21.

Not just within you, but within everyone and everything. You can gain strength to accomplish the impossible just by looking to your right, and loving what you see. This is what empowers us to forgive.

The first step of a new journey continues the last step of the old. Jesus came to fulfil a covenant that began with Abraham, and was then passed on to Moses, and prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist; it was an agreement, a relationship that evolved over centuries, even millennia.

This isn’t just the story of the Israelites, and the formation of their religion, it’s a metaphor for personal growth that applies to us today. Sometimes, when I’m too lazy, willfully ignorant, and afraid of change, my complacency makes me stumble; but I have to pick myself up again, despite being hurt and embarrassed. This is when we show our true selves: during times of extreme hardship.

This is our time in the wilderness.

“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: / And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—Genesis 12:1-3.

That first part sounds like a great deal, like what young adults might think when starting out on their own. If they have courage and faith, the Israelites were promised a paradise. But courage and faith are reactions; until we experience a personal apocalypse, we can’t know if we have those traits, which brings us to the catch in God’s covenant (or testament) with Abraham:

“And [God] said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; / And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.”—Genesis 15:13-14.

That would’ve taken the wind right out of my sails. I really don’t know if I could’ve been as courageous as the hero Abraham. Courage and faith aren’t givens; we have to step up, sprinting after running for so long that our legs feel like rubber.

God was referring to the Israelites being enslaved by Egypt for 400 years. While Abraham wasn’t told who would enslave his people, he did know that it would be 400 years before they even began to settle the Promised Land; like Moses, he would never reach it.

“Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. / And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.”—Exodus 12:40-41.

Abraham acted for God, a proxy doing the Lord’s work. There were others who would be the voice of God, like John the Baptist. God needed someone here, on Earth, to do His work. To continue this old covenant, He needed someone new to take over for Abraham.

“And when forty years were expired, there appeared to [Moses] in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. / …Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.”—Acts 7:30, 32.

We decide (or discover) who we are when we’re young. As our situation changes, we step up, accepting with humility that we are always learning and discovering new things about ourselves, or we fall. For me, I usually fall first, and then find my courage, reaffirm my faith, and sally forth. It might take a while for me to build up strength; so long that I’m a new person by the time I cast aside my shackles. Even then, it’s a long road:

“And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, /…And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.”—Numbers 14:26, 33.

Though the Israelites did reach the Promised Land, eventually, holding onto it was a daily battle. Just so, it is a daily battle within our souls for us to hold onto our paradise—what we love and aspire to most. Accepting weakness, striving for greater strength, Moses rose from the ashes of Abraham, as John the Baptist continued for (and was prophesized by) Isaiah:

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. / Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: / And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”—Isaiah 40:3-5.

The prophets were His voice, the mouth of the Lord—proxies, not for what God wanted to do, but what He wanted to say. They symbolized our internal voices, our conscience. The part I put in bold shows a fundamental break from the eye-for-an-eye philosophy, which dominated the Old Testament. This new approach became central for Jesus and the new covenant:

“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 14:11.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

He quoted Isaiah 61:1. Isaiah prophesized about Jesus and John the Baptist; he paved the way, as John and all the prophets did, for a new understanding—not just between God and the Israelites, but with God and everyone who would listen, not just listen to the Word of God, but to their own inner voices: the knowing within us all.

What John and Jesus preached about was not a literal promised land, a location on the map, but the satisfaction of being fulfilled, of facing the overwhelming force of life with the humility that comes from recognizing your place, and finding the courage to always strive to make things better.

“And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”—Matthew 3:4.

How I love crazy John the Baptist! (For further reading, and a real treat, check out this example of one of his sermons from Matthew 3:7-12.)

John was willing to show humility, weakness of mind before the Lord. Would you dare to act tough in front of a tiger, standing solid in the midst of a hurricane, or would you be willing to bend your knee, acknowledging the overwhelming force of infinity?

“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. / But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? / And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.”—Matthew 3:13-15.

For those of you following along with a King James Bible, note that what I put in bold is the first red lettering, the first time Jesus spoke.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”—Matthew 5:17.

Just as Moses took the torch from Abraham, and as the prophets passed the Word of God from one to another, Jesus came because of that original covenant. He came to continue it, improve on it, but most of all he came to fulfil God’s promise of paradise.

But, first, he would have his time in the wilderness.

Prodigal Son

When we say love, what do we mean? I’ve been told that there are different kinds of love, different shades, manifestations, or expressions of love: romantic, platonic, familial. I love this color, that book, this song, and I love God. And God loves me.

If God is love, then love, itself, must be infinite, while also being singular. A paradox!

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”—John 1:3.

All things were made by love, for love. So why do we have such a hard time loving each other? What am I doing wrong? If love is infinite, then how can we mortals comprehend it, let alone express it? In times of confusion, I return to the well, to the simplicity of storytelling.

You’re with all your friends, each a singular expression of your love for life. Since we leave judgment of good and evil to God, you have all kinds of friends. You sit and laugh with them on the beach, as the Sea of Galilee pulses with fish and fisherman. A couple of Pharisees show up, causing trouble:

“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. / And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”—Luke 15:1-2.

Who are these people to tell you who to love? Why can’t they see and understand the connection you feel? Is love relative (i.e., not an absolute)?

Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Remember, we are ignorant, weak sinners. It’s okay to have trouble comprehending infinity. To explain to the Pharisees why he loves sinners, Jesus shares three parables.

1. Parable of the Lost Sheep

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? / And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. / And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. / I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”—Luke 15:4-7.

I added the bold so you could keep that phrase in mind when reading the second parable.

2. Parable of the Lost Piece of Silver

“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? / And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. / Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”—Luke 15:8-10.

See the pattern? Let’s break it down. There are three things being illustrated here: love, forgiveness, and repentance. None of these can exist without the others.

We cannot forgive without showing compassion, and without the repentance of the person who did us wrong.

We cannot repent without feeling love, and the possibility of forgiveness, if not by others, then forgiveness of ourselves after admitting that we were wrong.

And we cannot love unless we’re willing to accept repentance, forgive the sinner, and love the sinner.

All things were made by him: including sin and the sinner. There is nothing that is unnatural or unclean. It is all of God.

“And [Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”—Acts 10:28.

It is not for us to judge; that’s God’s job. Our job is to love each other, because we are all of God, even when we choose to leave him, abandoning love for our own selfish entitlement.

3. Parable of the Lost Son

“And he said, A certain man had two sons: / And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto his living. / And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.”—Luke 15:11-13.

There are three characters here: the father, younger son, and elder son. The father begins this parable by showing patience—which you need when the other person does you wrong as a result of their own selfishness. The younger son wasn’t trying to hurt the father; he was only thinking of himself. This isn’t always a bad thing.

Loving yourself is part of love. But sometimes we do this at other’s expense. Love is still there. God hasn’t abandoned you. Part of being connected to others is allowing the connection to grow. And sometimes growth is catastrophic.

“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. / And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. / And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.”—Luke 15:14-16.

We cannot love only ourselves. Remember, God is love. God is everything. By loving only himself, the younger son left his father, abandoning the balance of love between himself and his family. When out of balance, that is, not shared equally with everyone you know (including yourself), love turns toxic.

The only way for the younger son to save himself is to repent.

“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! / I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, / And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”—Luke 15:17-19.

I am no more worthy.

That’s the key. If God is love, how can we approach love, except with humility?

“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 14:11.

Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness. If I can’t accept that I have done wrong, then how can I hope to fix what is causing my unhappiness?

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.

The young son admits that he didn’t show love for his father. His thoughts were only for himself. He corrects this imbalance, which is ruining his life, with repentance. It’s okay to admit we were wrong. Since we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s a miracle we ever do anything right. While that won’t hold up in a court of law, it’s the truth. And truth is part of love, but so is compassion.

“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. / And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”—Luke 15:20-21.

Without the father’s compassion, this scene would’ve gone very differently. The father showed patience when his son sinned and compassion when his son admitted that he had done wrong.

In the heat of the moment, no matter what our personal convictions are, we are liable to say and do anything. The only way to prepare for that involuntary reaction to a perceived threat is to practice love and forgiveness at all times. Make it your first priority, your first thought. But don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail. That’s why we’re practicing, because our ability to love needs work and focus.

“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; / And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry; / For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”—Luke 15:22-24.

I have found my sheep which was lost.

I have found the piece [of silver] which I had lost.

Without love we become lost; more than that, we die. The younger son couldn’t survive on his own, that is, without love, without repenting to his father, and forgiving himself. Self-interest is at work here, for both father and son. The father lost his son, who was precious to him. The son was starving to death. Love is in our best interest. If you want to look out for yourself, always look out for others.

I know…I know…paradox!

“Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. / And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. / And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.”—Luke 15:25-27.

Finally, the elder son gets some story time. Hopefully you didn’t forget about him, because he is crucial to the moral. In the heat of the moment, despite being a good, loyal son, how does he react?

“And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and entreated him. / And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends; / But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”—Luke 15:28-30.

Though the elder son loves his father, he has no patience or compassion for his brother.

If we take the father to be God, the younger son represents us, as we wander to and away from love. If you remember that Jesus is telling this story to the Pharisees, I can’t help but think that the elder brother represents them. And, looking at the story of Jesus as a parable, the Pharisees symbolize our tendency to be unyielding, to cling to old understandings, without new wisdom. (Remember the Parable of the New Cloth from Matthew 9:16.)

Love comes through the understanding that we are weak. We need each other. Humility leads to wisdom, illustrated by the father’s patience and compassion toward a child who repented.

“And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. / It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”—Luke 15:31-32.

Love is the merging of self-interest and altruism; it’s expressed through patience, compassion, repentance, and forgiveness. It is the humility of admitting your limitations, and the strength of the hope that we can go home again.

Lord’s Prayer

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. / Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. / Give us this day our daily bread. / And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. / And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
–Matthew 6:9-13

In the early days of his ministry, having been baptized by John, and spent time in the wilderness facing temptation, Jesus taught in synagogues and healed the sick. He had just chosen his first four disciples. People were coming from all over to hear him and witness (or receive) his miracles. There were so many that he climbed atop a mountain, so that everyone could see and hear. During this Sermon on the Mount he talked about praying with sincerity.

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”—Matthew 6:5.

Prayer silences distractions so that we can think with our purest thoughts, our true selves. If we are sincere, then we can connect with that part of us that wants to do good. It takes time to get there, like losing weight or learning a new language.

Make every prayer the prayer, as if it’s the only one you’ll ever speak. Commit to the moment. You don’t have to spend the time asking for favors, whether it’s a new job or a hope that a relative will get well.

“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”—Matthew 6:8.

This leads into how Jesus said we should pray, what’s called the Lord’s Prayer.

First verse: “Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”

From my first essay, and I John 4:7-8, we begin with God, our Father, being love. Save further contemplation on infinity for later. Now, we focus on the message. If God is love, then Heaven is being with God, being in a state of love, what we know as the Golden Rule. This was another gem from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 7:12.

We reach Heaven by following the Golden Rule.

Second verse: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

Let it come. Let it happen. This verse is confirmation of our acceptance to let love happen. We have so many ways to prevent it. We’ve made an art of selfishness, more than that: We’ve made a society of it. There are always reasons to not trust someone, if you’ll remember the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:30-37.

There are reasons to not trust the Bible. It has gone through many revisions. Who knows what the original text said? And there are reasons to not trust ourselves. Who am I, really? What is my worth?

That line of thinking is a trap, an intellectual and emotional vortex that spirals like a snake eating its own tail. We do this out of pride, in refusal to accept that we might’ve been wrong. But even in that state of blind ego, we can choose to change.

Some old choices might have seemed right, under different circumstances. We can’t use old reasons for new experiences. We need new reasons, those resulting from who and where we are now. When this realization comes, let it happen. The will of God is the will of the universe, as a whole. It is all of nature, all of humanity, as one—not the one you, but the one us. This “will,” therefore, is not yours alone. Acquiesce to what you feel is the will of all things; acknowledge your place, both large and small.

Third verse: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

This reminds me of the Manna from Heaven story in Exodus.

“And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. / And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.”—Exodus 16:14-15.

God provided food when there was none. This is a recurring theme in the Bible, especially in Jesus’ teachings. Love is nourishment.

This verse of the Lord’s Prayer says, in part, that we need to share in the experience of love every single day; it is a plea, an expression of humility, a willingness to let the will of all things sweep you up like a mighty river, then turn the steering of the boat on that river over to you.

Fourth verse: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

This one is my favorite. Forgiveness is a key component of love. And it is central in Jesus’ parables. At some point, I realized that our forgiveness by God was conditional.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”— Matthew 6:14-15.

I can’t forgive myself if I’m unwilling to forgive others.

We amass guilt while holding a grudge. Maybe it isn’t noticeable, but it’s there. Remember, God is the one us. We cannot hurt ourselves without feeling pain. Further, we can’t love others if we hate ourselves. Self-loathing is a result of the guilt that arises because we haven’t forgiven ourselves. And I can’t forgive myself until I’ve dealt with the bad feelings I have for someone else.

Stop hating others and you stop hating yourself, and vice versa.

Fifth verse: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.”

If God is love, then what is temptation and evil? Temptation is meant to lead us away from love, and toward evil. Temptation is doubt. Not all doubt is bad, though. If you can’t question your heart, your direction in life, then you could keep making the same mistakes. Unfortunately, we don’t know ahead of time what is right or wrong for us. Temptation can seem to be appealing. That’s its job. And that’s when you let it go.

“But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”—Psalm 75:7.

We have no right to judge anything or anyone. We don’t have all of the answers. We can’t make informed decisions. That’s why God can judge, and why the Bible repeatedly states that it’s wrong for us to judge. Let it go. Release yourself to the river, then steer the boat you’ve been given. It is a mix of the control we desire, and the humility to accept that we have no control. A paradox!

Accepting our place, acting for the good of all will deliver us from evil.

“Kingdom, power, and glory” represents our mortal desire for control. It was how the serpent tricked Eve.

“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”—Genesis 3:5.

We want the power and glory, to forge our own kingdom, to have the wisdom to judge good from evil; Eve sure did. But what might seem good to me, may have unforeseen, even evil ramifications for someone else. I can’t know every detail, every potentiality. Only everything can know everything.

“…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”—Matthew 22:21.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”—Romans 12:19.

This is why we should forgive, because we can’t judge. We have no place to judge, no means. Turn that over. Let it go. The judgment of what is good or evil belongs to God, and so does “the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”

Amen.

In his first parable, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees why he and his disciples didn’t fast. Why didn’t they follow the old ways, like the Pharisees?

Stepping back for a moment, thinking of Jesus’ story as a larger parable itself, the Pharisees represented our pride, ego, and overconfidence. They saw their beliefs as knowledge, unquestionable, unadulterated, absolute truth. With them in opposition to Jesus, who was the obvious protagonist, these accepted scholars and leaders of men were a warning to the ages, which Jesus stated repeatedly: “…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 18:14.

The Pharisees were the original passive aggressive types. Jesus was a threat to their order, their roles as important men. No one wants to be made to look like a fool.

The ultimate hero archetype, Jesus was too cool-headed to trip over his words. How he reacted to the Pharisees was a lesson too, echoed here: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”—Matthew 5:39.

Don’t answer hate with hate. You can’t win that fight.

Instead of answering their specific question about why he and his disciples didn’t follow the laws of Moses by fasting, Jesus told his first parable.

“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.”—Matthew 9:16.

Before they could protest or ask for clarification, the Pharisees were hit with the second part of the parable:

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”—Matthew 9:17.

There are some indisputable truths. We all like to think we have a monopoly on these, and that everyone else is stupid. But our “truths” are often little more than beliefs, because we just don’t know that much. We can’t let on that we’re ignorant, though. People admire confidence. Who can blame them? If someone knows the way out of this darkness, then who wouldn’t want to follow them? While we may be confident about our abilities in certain, limited fields, none of us knows everything.

Jesus used two simple, indisputable truths to illustrate his point to the Pharisees. New cloth shrinks. If you use it to patch already shrunken garment, then both the cloth and the garment will be lost, wasted. As wine ferments in wineskins, the skins stretch and then harden. If you pour new wine into the already hardened wineskin, then the skin will burst as the fermentation causes it to expand.

Before the Pharisees could say anything else, and I imagine they were quite tongue tied, a man approached, asking Jesus to accompany him, and bring his dead daughter back to life. So the crowd followed, and the Pharisees were left to ponder the meaning of the parable. They couldn’t argue with the facts. New cloth shrinks. Wine ferments and causes wineskins to harden, which will then rupture if any more is poured into them. They came expecting a debate, but he didn’t answer them in the way they were prepared for.

Jesus offered what is still, today, a radical idea. Let us not put our rules, rituals, and busywork before love. But some people need to be busy. They depend on the concrete quality of rules to provide solid ground where what would, otherwise, be quicksand. That’s all fine, except these ideas that we just made up, because we’re bored and need structure, distract us from loving one another.

The rules become more important than the people.

This radical idea is the “new” component in the parable. It is the patch and the new wine. The garment and the wineskin are both vessels. They symbolize our old ways.

You can’t shove the new and old together, and expect them to play well.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”—Matthew 10:34-35.

Balance that with this:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”—Matthew 5:17.

Jesus didn’t want to destroy what we have. But we need to change, otherwise we cling to what, long ago, might have seemed like a good idea, but it just doesn’t work anymore. We have to change, be made new so that we can receive the new message, so that we can put love above our worldly rules, so that we can be happy, and fulfilled.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. / This is the first and greatest commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. / On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 22:37-40.

For the purpose of this (and future) essays, I use this definition of God:

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. / He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:7-8.

I added the bold to illustrate the definition. Thinking of an infinite being, considering what they want of us, can be very confusing. By the time we work through, come to despise, or given up on comprehending infinity, we have lost the original intention of the gospels. I don’t mean to say there isn’t a God, or that there is, and He is really a She, or who knows what all. Believe what you will. But, to simplify my meditation on Jesus’ parables, I will assume God = Love to be an axiom.

Looking at the above quote from Matthew 22:37 again, the greatest commandment is that we love…period. Not only that, but that we should grow to love loving. Want to know why we’re here, what our purpose is? That’s it. Everything else comes after it.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”—Exodus 20:3.

Put nothing before love. That was Jesus’ radical idea. All of his parables were lessons, ways to meditate by means of storytelling, passed down to us so that we not hold onto our old, comfortable ways. Each parable is another step, another personal apocalypse. Will we follow the Pharisees’ example, or Jesus’? It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Which path are you on? Which path will you take?

The first step is the hardest: no momentum yet. You have to be new to embrace what’s new. But you can’t be new until you’ve embraced it. A paradox!

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34.

Jesus said we’re pretty ignorant. So I think it’s okay that we don’t know everything. We don’t have to get it right on the first try, or ever, even. The point is that we try; we make the effort. We’ll mess up almost always. But sometimes we get it right. And when you get love right, everyone wins.