Barak (but not Obama)

About 25 years ago, my job moved from Red Wing, MN, to Memphis, TN. I moved from a small factory office building to the massive corporate offices. I moved 800 miles from a private office to a world of cubicles. Privacy didn’t exist. Early in my cooperate cubicle experience, I sneezed and was greeted by a dozen or so “Bless Yous,” which caught me by surprise. Apparently part of the Memphis culture was to communicate a blessing on anyone and everyone that sneezed.

In the last post, we talked about the song The Blessing, based on the Priestly Blessing found in Numbers 6. I have always been intrigued by the word bless as it appears in scripture (~500 times), wondering what the word meant to the ancient readers and hearers. It is used in a number of different ways, which was always a bit confusing to me. God blesses us as we bless him (especially as seen in the Psalms). It always sounded to me like a mutual admiration society…

Suspecting the word means far more than mutual admiration, I started to look at occurrences of bless in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some significant instances from the beginnings of Genesis:

  • God blessed Adam and Eve
  • God blessed the Sabbath
  • God blessed Noah after the flood in a similar fashion as he blessed Adam and Eve
  • Noah, in turn said, “Blessed be the Lord”
  • In the calling of Abram, God said he would bless Abram so he and his descendants would, in turn, be a blessing to others (a significant departure from God being the sole ‘blesser’)

This is interesting, but on the surface it still smacks of mutual admiration. So, being a dabbler in Hebrew, I decided to see what I could discover about this word bless. The basic Hebrew word for bless is barak. Barak is the word for ‘knee’ and implies kneeling. That makes some sense. One approaches royalty on bended knee out of reverence, respect, and humility. In Philippians 2, we read that “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” – bended knee. So we bless God with great reverence, literally and figuratively, on bended knee. A Psalmic example:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits… (Ps. 103)

So, blessing God makes sense but what of God blessing us? What immediately comes to my mind is Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet. In John 13 we read:

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…and began to wash his disciples feet.”

This is a great visual. Jesus, knowing full well who he was as God incarnate, showed the full extent of his love and began to wash his disciples feet, presumably on his knees. Picture that for a bit. The God of the universe, the Lord of lords, the King of kings in human form on his knees, serving his creation!

What kind of God do we serve that serves us? What royalty, when approached by a subject on bended knee, would in turn kneel before that subject? And then wash their feet? I remember watching a movie in which a young king left his throne to comfort a young subject (female, of course). He was quickly reprimanded by the elders for his impropriety – it was a scandalous act! I suspect to Jesus’ disciples, his washing of their feet was scandalous. It certainly was to Peter who anxiously tried to refuse Jesus’ gesture.

This is something worthy of our pondering. What does it mean that the God of the universe would want to bless us so scandalously? Does it make you anxious or give you peace? As you ponder…

The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.

Chili Con Carne

Fall is here (though it doesn’t feel like it – as I write this temps, are approaching the mid-80s with the dew point in the 70s). The advent of cooler weather increases my appetite for chili. I like all kinds of chili – mild or spicy, and the thicker the better. In restaurants, I like to load up a good bowl of chili with onions, cheese, and sour cream. At home, its the addition of buttered soda crackers (you have to try it sometime!).

Last week I was sitting with my mom at Guardian Angels Care Center, watching one of her two favorite TV shows – The Rachel Ray Show (the other favorite being Jeopardy). Rachel Ray was making chili. I could almost smell it as she did the prep work. Along with all kinds of good looking ingredients, she included some chorizo. Brilliant!

You may or may not be aware of this, but what we simply refer to as “chili” is technically known as “chili con carne” – chili with (con) meat (carne).

As we consider Jesus’ directive to his first century followers “In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you” (John 20:21), it’s imperative that we start at the very beginning of his time on earth. The opening of the Gospel of John tells who Jesus is: “At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God, and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning… So the word of God became a human being and lived among us” (John 1:1-2, 14, JB Phillips New Testament).

How did the Father send the Son? In bodily (human) form! In Jesus! The theological term for this is incarnation, which is connected to the Latin word carne. Incarnation means God in the flesh, God with ‘meat’ (con carne). It’s easy to gloss over this as simply a theological reality and miss it’s implications for Christ-followers who are wanting to discover the practicality of theology.

Continuing in the JB Phillips New Testament, I want to direct our attention to Philippians 2, written by the Apostle Paul: “Let your attitude to life be that of Christ Jesus himself. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges* as God’s equal, but stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a [human being]” (Philippians 2:5-7). What kind of privileges did Jesus give up to become a human being? I can think of a few to start with…

  • His omnipresence (another theological term) – the ability to be anywhere, anytime, all the time. He gave up that privilege and confined himself to the womb of one of His own creations – not much movement there! And after his birth, he had to learn to sit, crawl, stand, and walk just like everyone else. As a grown person, he was limited to walking about 3 mph, just like everyone else.
  • His omniscience – his knowledge about everything, past present and future. When Jesus came out of the birth canal, his brain was a piece of flesh that required input and learning, just like everyone else. Keep in mind this was provided by family and teachers who were also his creations.
  • His omnipotence – his unlimited power. He was limited to the physical abilities of a human body, susceptible to injury and disease, just like everyone else.
  • (Likely we could think of other privileges Jesus gave up to become a human being. I highly encourage you to ponder other examples.)

Since we tend to gloss over the incarnation as simply a theological reality, it’s important to realize that we also gloss over and have domesticated Jesus’ birth – that sweet little boy lying in a fresh bed of hay in a cute manger. Try viewing his birth through the realities of what we’ve discussed above. It will change everything for you. I promise!

* The online version version of the JB Phillips New Testament uses the word prerogative. In my hard-copy, its privileges.