Psalms 19:8-10, 15
Hebrews Chapter 4:12-16 is alive with metaphors that reflect cultural attitudes and beliefs regarding human frailty and deep spiritual longings in times of need. How we recognize the difference between our human condition and the spiritual force that overcomes that condition is the product of cultural processes. As a cultural anthropologist, it is interesting to consider how my cultural ways of knowing help or get in the way of my ability to understand what the Bible says to me.
For example, when I read that “the word of God is living and active,” I assume that it means God’s word has the power to motivate people to act on what they read or hear through the Bible. But when I read further in verse 12, I find that the word of God is so alive and so active that it pierces to the division of the soul and spirit to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. I am not sure I know what is the division of the soul and the spirit and how that is related to the thoughts and intentions of my heart. From the perspective of my culture, I think the soul, the spirit, and the heart are all psycho-socio-religio concepts that represent the innermost dimension of the individual in a society where individuals are encouraged to keep their inner act together.
Most of us are willing to let the word of God engage us in self-reflection to discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, but not to the extent that it would pierce the division of the soul and spirit, something that would make most of us very vulnerable. We are reminded, however, that the exposure of our inner frailties is not to make us more vulnerable. It is to make us more confident. The passage in Hebrew encourages us to not be afraid. If we confess our weaknesses before God, we receive mercy and grace to address our needs. This is difficult to accept for those of us whose culture defines the human condition in terms of a self-centered and autonomous individual soul and spirit. Through our cultural emphasis on this autonomy, most of us turn away from encounters with God’s word that challenge our self-control. We need to be reminded that the word of God is living and active enough to “pierce the division of the soul and spirit” to the extent that we loose this self-centered control.
In this new year, as I examine the thoughts and intentions of my
heart and confess the weaknesses I find there, I look to our high priest
Jesus, who sympathizes with me, for direction. In Mark, Chapter 2:17,
Jesus challenges me to move away from my comfort center to identify the
equivalent of sitting down with the tax collectors and sinners in my life
to help bring healing to the world. I pray that I may receive mercy
and find grace to discover ways to sit down and work with persons recently
elected to meet the needs of the poor, the sick, and the excluded.
And, I pray, that if I open the division of the soul and spirit, I can
draw even nearer to the throne of grace. These are cultural metaphors,
I think, for recognizing that without spiritual support, I personally feel
pretty frail up against the needs of our society. What the readings
for today are telling all of us is that we need to feel more confident.
We can meet those needs.
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