Dr. Richard Beck once made an argument in a lecture I attended at ACU. The lecture primarily drew from Dr. Beck’s work on purity psychology.
Dr. Beck did several demonstrations. One was that he took an apple, touched a piece of dog poop to it for a few seconds, and then asked the students if they would eat the apple. Their answer was a resounding no. After a bit they decided that they could eat the apple if they consciously thought about it. What they meant, of course, is that their brains knew that the apple wasn’t really contaminated by that one touch of poop, and if they told their bodies to ignore their natural psychology, then they could eat the apple. This assumption that pure things become impure by contact with something impure rather than the other way around (the apple become gross; the poop doesn’t become good) is called negativity dominance.
Because Jesus associated with prostitutes, tax collectors, addicts, gluttons, drunkards, lepers, blind people, deaf people, lame people, stupid people, etc, the assumption was that he had absorbed their impurities and become impure himself. That answer, however, could not be farther from the truth.
You see, Jesus never sinned. But, more than that, his purity rubbed off on the people around him. Remember the time that woman who had a chronic period touched the hem of his garment and was instantly healed? Remember how he touched the blind, deaf, the leper and they were all healed? Remember how he just instantly forgives sins? Jesus, it seems, embodies positivity dominance.
And guess what? We, as his people, are invited to do the same. We are invited to exude positivity dominance. We are called to eat with sinners, hang out with sinners, befriend the annoying, ugly, and homeless. We are to consciously think about it and, thereby, overcome our naturally fallen psychology.
Jesus saves us from sins and heals our wounds, but he also saves us from a psychology of negativity dominance and replaces it with a redeemed psychology.
When we pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” we invite the rule of God to break into our present reality; we ask to be the ones bringing the Kingdom.
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Dr. Ray Vander Laan, once did a fascinating piece of midrash for Matthew 16:13-28. He noted that Caesarea Philippi had a massive river coming up out of the ground from beneath a hill called the Rock of the gods. The place where the river came up was called the “Gates of Hades” because it looked like it led to the underworld. Caesarea Philippi was also the center of Pan worship. Pan was a Greek fertility god whose massive penis was revered by his worshipers. Rain was viewed as his semen, the fruit of which were new crops and baby animals. The sacrament of the god involved the entire congregation being engaged in a massive sex orgy, along with the sacred goats, in the mud in front of the temple to Pan.
Jesus took his to the Rock of the gods. The Rock of the gods is a hill which has one sheer face. In the face of the cliff are the various idols of Pan and his mistresses. Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying he is. Peter responds with the confession that Jesus is the messiah, the son of the living God. Jesus affirms that confession and then declares that on “this” rock he will build his church. According to Vander Laan, Jesus is referencing the rock on which they are standing: the Rock of the gods. And, seemingly to confirm this point, Jesus mentions that the Gates of Hades, which are in plain view, will not overcome it.
Vander Laan’s point is that Jesus is arguing that the Church is not modeled after a castle—easily defended and secluded—but is on the offense. It is knocking on Hell’s gates. It is built on the Rock of the gods—upon people who were trapped in the mud with the goats and find a way out. The Church is not sanitary, protected, or pretty. It engages the hurt and the dirty. It says to the person in the mud with the goat, “What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” Jesus commands his disciples to fix THIS; to creatively re-imagine what is possible in the world; to hug the hurt, broken, destitute, sick, and addicted; to get down in the mud with the people and the goats and begin ordering things as they are in Heaven.
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Our Gospel can be more robust than “God forgives us and we go to Heaven.”
It can be re-imagined.
It can be more creative.
It can, I think, be expressed in terms of Faith, Hope, and Love.
Faith that God has done business on the cross.
Hope that the Kingdom is coming fully.
Love that sacrifices everything for others.
Gregory Jeffers is a senior at Abilene Christian University and is studying English and Bible. You can catch up with him on his blog.