Prayer & Fasting

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February 16, 2017

by Dr. Lani Wilson

Good day, prayer and fasting faithful. Thank you for remembering to fast and pray for our little outpost today even though I am late with this message (that “bug” has return and is just lingering a bit).

We are “in the midst,” aren’t we? It seems odd to think we are going back civilly when in actuality God is moving us forward: We just cannot see it. The long view of the Lord and the miracle of The Christ is the essence of our faith, is it not? The word this week is consumed. Such a loaded word; not consume or consuming but specifically, consumed. The word is usually associated with food, right? A verb from which we get the familiar word “consumer.”

verb [with object] eat, drink, or ingest (food or drink): people consume a good deal of sugar in drinks.• buy (goods or services).• use up (a resource): these machines consume 5 percent of the natural gas in the U.S.• (especially of a fire) completely destroy: the fire spread rapidly, consuming many homes. • (usually be consumed) (of a feeling) absorb all of the attention and energy of (someone): Carolyn was consumed with guilt.ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin consumere, from con- ‘altogether’ + sumere ‘take up’; reinforced by French consumer.
New Oxford American Dictionary

But the Bible uses it metaphorically to discuss being completely taken up by something.

When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength. Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!" That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture,"Zeal for your house consumes me."
John 2:13-17 (TMB)

The scripture that the disciples were thinking about comes from Psalm 69:9.

Certainly zeal for your house consumes me; I endure the insults of those who insult you.
Psalm 69:9 (NET)

Read how The Message Bible translates this passage.

I love you more than I can say. Because I’m madly in love with you, They blame me for everything they dislike about you.
Psalm 69:9 (TMB)

As the disciples watched an enraged Jesus devastate the Temple economy with a whip, they referred to the first half of a scripture in Psalm 69:9a: Jesus was consumed with absolute love for His God. But at least in what was recorded in the Johannine Gospel, the disciples did not recall the second half of Psalm 69 (9b):

I endure the insults of those who insult you. (NET)
Because I’m madly in love with you, they blame for
everything they dislike about you. (TMB)

Here are a few other translations of John 2:17 (Psalm 69:9a).

His disciples remembered that God's word says, 'My love for
your house is like a fire burning in me. (WE)

The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, “My
love for your house burns in me like a fire.” (CEV)

When this happened, his followers remembered what was
written in the Scriptures: “My strong devotion to your Temple
will destroy me.” (ERV)

When this happened the followers remembered what was
written in the Scriptures: “My strong love for your Temple
completely controls me.” (ICB)

It could be said we’re quibbling about semantic details, but it is important for us to remember that the scriptures were translated many times. For the West, the earliest and most significant translation was LXX, from Hebrew (originally, Aramaic) to Greek.

In its neutral sense, σύμπαν is used much as it is in the rest of the NT and in the LXX, referring to the ‘‘world,’’ the ‘‘inhabited world,’’ and the ‘‘creation’’ as a whole.
S.B. Marrow. σύμπαν in John Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 64(1), pg. 96.

What might we learn if we look at what was not cited in John 2:17 from the entire verse of Psalm 69:9 in different translations?

My devotion to your Temple burns in me like a fire; the insults which are hurled at you fall on me. (GNT)

because zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult You have fallen on me. (HCSB)

My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.

When people insult you, it hurts me. (ICB)

Zeal for your house consumes me, and the mockeries of those who insult you fall on me. (ISV)

In other words, to be consumed with love for God risks that one will suffer the pains, the insults, the anger intended for God instead. We might ask what pains, insults, and anger? And toward God?

There was no definitive word for the word “universe” in Greek or Hebrew for the concept of “universe.” The Greeks developed a philosophy of order or orderliness.

Figuratively, σύμπαν could be used even for the ‘‘ornament’’ itself. But it is in its application to the world, the universe, the orderly heavens, that the word came to assume its important place in Greek thought.
Ibid., 91.

The starting point at this stage is the realization that Hebrew has no term for σύμπαν, the universe. Usually, the Hebrew Bible speaks of ‘‘heaven and earth,’’ as in ‘‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth’’ (Gen 14:19); ‘‘For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them’’ (Exod 20:11); ‘‘Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves therein’’ (Ps 69:34).1.
Ibid., 93.

It came to represent a whole, a totality that was inculcated into Greek culture.

When Greek philosophy accentuated the unity of the σύμπαν, its integration into a totality of the individuals within it and, consequently, the resultant beauty of the whole, it was only being faithful to its understanding of beauty in terms of order and unity…’God desired that all things should be as like himself as they could be. This is in the truest sense the origin of creation and of the world. . . God desired that all things should be good and nothing bad, so far as this was attainable. Wherefore also finding the whole visible sphere not at rest, but moving in an irregular and disorderly fashion, out of disorder he brought order.’ (Timaeus 29e-30b, Plato).
Ibid., 92

(It is critical for us to remember that the Greeks learned their philosophy from North Africa at Alexandria, Egypt. See Stolen Legacy, George G.M. James, 1954.) Therefore, it is this concept of the orderliness of the universe that is attributed to God who brings order out of chaos. It was Philo of Alexandria (Egypt, North Africa) who integrates the concept into Judaism.

But it was really Philo of Alexandria who won admission for σύμπαν into the world of Judaism, and his role in that rapprochement between the two usages cannot be exaggerated. ‘‘No thinker of antiquity,’’ says Sasse, ‘‘used the word more than he did.’’ Within the Platonic-Stoic background against which he wrote, Philo could not but raise issues about σύμπαν, which necessarily brought philosophical reflection to bear on the Bible. In the LXX text of Genesis 1, he found the basis for distinguishing the ‘‘universe, incorporeal, we know, and discerned by the intellect alone.
Ibid., 94.

By the time the Gospel of John is written, there exists a concept of wholeness, order out of chaos, σύμπαν in Greek, the universe and this concept includes all the good and all the bad that exists. And into this all-consuming universe comes The Nazarene.

We previously noted that the disciples mentioned only the first half of Psalm 69:9 that speaks of the absolute fiery, engulfing, consuming love that Jesus must have for God as He violently trashes the Temple court. He is furious because of the economic oppression of the common people of God by the pharisees, scribes, saducees, money lenders, and tax collectors. But if we linger with Who Jesus was and what He did in His short three-year ministry, we might see that it is not just because they were abusing the most vulnerable of society that Jesus exhibits his only instance of violence recorded but that they were doing it in the name of God. In America we have morphed love, loyalty, patriotism, goodness, and independence into one word: Consumption, a word derived from consume. It is the notion of constant consuming of everything, especially if it can be purchased, that has become the eidetic imagery of the West. Only when we are unable to attain and/or maintain a level of symbolic material consumption (houses, cars, clothes, vacations, education, degrees, brands) does it become clear how deeply embedded is the notion of consuming in the cultural gestalt of the United States.

If we look back at Psalm 69:9b we see that it is really referencing the fact that if one is consumed by the love of God for God, then one will have to suffer and absorb the rage, pain, and insult that was originally aimed at God. The idea in the Hebrew Bible that one could be angry with or question God is inimical to Judaism. The witheringly familiar and deeply human Book of Job is that quintessential dialogue. And our answer? There is only one God who reigns supreme and gives, takes, and protects us. But then we have The Christ.

• Who was human
• Who was reviled
• Who suffered physically
• Who suffered emotionally
• Who was abandoned
• Who loved
• Who was loved
• Who died
• Who lived (and lives) again

Because He was all of those things and more, those disciples were able to question, disagree with, disappoint, and be renewed while God walked the earth. When it came time to take the ultimate punishment, to demonstrate their consuming love for their Master, they, as we are prone to do, slipped away. In Psalm 69:9 it is clear that if one has that all-engorging love for God, one will suffer the indignities it will reap. Perhaps, the disciples unconsciously remembered that Psalm 69:9b meant exactly that: They would have to stand and take the abuses, torture, and even death meant for God-in-the-flesh. He warned them, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to face it.

"They are going to do all these things to you because of the way they treated me, because they don’t know the One who sent me.
John 15:21 (TMB)

It was only after they witnessed His horrible death on the cross and His physical resurrection were they able to boldly take on verse 9b (TLB):

And because I advocate your cause, your enemies insult me even as they insult you.

What astounds even more is that The Nazarene requires that we see ourselves in those who hate us. We are required to be patient with them. We are required to forgive them.

The malicious but indomitable urge would be to say that the two points are inseparable one from the other: The ‘‘world’’ is firmly ensconced in the community and, consequently, the severe condemnations of the Fourth Gospel are aimed more at the members within than at those without.
Barrow, σύμπαν in John, 103.

All because of this consuming love for something, some One we cannot touch or see Who lived 2000 years ago. And then John writes this about The Nazarene:

“I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread-living Bread!-who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live-and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self. At this, the Jews started fighting among themselves: "How can this man serve up his flesh for a meal?" But Jesus didn’t give an inch. "Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you. The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life and will be fit and ready for the Final Day. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you. In the same way that the fully alive Father sent me here and I live because of him, so the one who makes a meal of me lives because of me. This is the Bread from heaven. Your ancestors ate bread and later died. Whoever eats this Bread will live always."
John 6:47-58 (TMB)

  • The disciples observed this Jesus, their Master, in a violent rage against the hypocrisy and oppression of their contemporary culture.
  • They referred to their own ancient scripture that described this as all-consuming love of God (Psalm 69 9:9a).
  • They leave out the part of their scripture that says whoever loves God so completely will suffer the insults and pain meant for God (Psalm 69:9b).
  • Then, God-in-flesh tells them that they must consume Him, the symbolic representations of His physical sacrifice, of His radical intrusion into humankind, and thus, live forever.

Quite a meal.

But the Jews were upset. They asked, "What credentials can you present to justify this?" Jesus answered, "Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together." They were indignant: "It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?" But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. Later, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this. They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.
John 2:18-22 (TMB)

As Christians we know that we are duty-bound to resist the desire for excess material consumption. Does that mean we don’t enjoy the life that God sustains in us? Does it mean that we don’t appreciate those things that give us comfort? What exactly does it mean? In this time of political and moral excess and turpitude, perhaps we are presented with extremes to force the question. Most certainly, there is an incomprehensible range of interpretations and opinions on this topic within American churches today. Did Jesus infer that it was left up to individual interpretation? Is it a denominational (or more frequently, a non-denominational) position? Just how far does the Nazarene, The Christ want us to take this idea of consuming Him, His spirit, His love, His life, His body? If we are consumed with love for Him, then a priori, there would be no room for other spirited distractions like clothes, cars, title, vacations, houses, position, ambition, right?

Oh, we how we love the Psalms! Psalm 69:9a.

It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; (NRSV)

I love you more than I can say. (TMB)

It’s that tail end of that Psalm that we would like to slide by, Psalm 69:9b, maybe just like the disciples of old.

the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. (NRSV)

Because I’m madly in love with you,
They blame me for everything they dislike about you. (TMB)

O LORD, create in me a consuming love for You that will withstand all the blows to come and heal all the old wounds behind. Keep a candle burning out there where we must go to follow You. Help us not to cannibalize each other but gorge ourselves on Your Spirit. Please, as Your Spirit consume us, fill us with courage to keep going when Psalm 69:9b follows. You already know when we faint, when we fall, when we tire, when we want to throw it all down, and just walk away. Thank You for reminding us that it was Jesus the Christ Who made the meal of life possible. Even when we weary, bring us back to You. Otherwise, we waste away.

In You, we bloom.
In You, we live.
In You, we die.

And then the REAL banquet begins.