This is actually the third post I started on Life Lessons for Zoe.
The first one which was to be Ten Life Lessons, ran into about 40 lessons.
So I started a second one. Which, despite ruthless editing, still ended up with almost 20 lessons.
So this is my third attempt and I have decided to limit it to Lessons from the Bible.
You know. Cos we’re Catholic.
#1 “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
A lot of the problems of this world can (perhaps) be traced to people casting stones, or people believing that they are without sin, or people thinking that others are sinners who need to be stoned.
The lesson here is, we are all sinners, and we need to have the humility of sinners. We are called to love, not to judge.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin”? Yes and no. We are called to love, sinner or saint. Hate the sin? Not part of the lesson.
Otherwise Jesus would have said, “Let he who has good aim, stone the sin, but not the sinner.”
At the end of that particular narrative, Jesus found that the accusers of the adulteress had all left, without stoning her. And he told her that he too will not judge her or stone her. And if he does not feel the need to judge her before her time, who are we to?
#2 “What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean.’”
This can be taken literally, but it should also be understood figuratively. Nothing done to you makes you unclean (sinful). It is what you choose to do of your own free will that defiles you, defines you. Temptation is only temptation. It is not a sin to be tempted. It is only when you give in to temptation, that you have shown your weakness.
There is also a lesson here about the power of the tongue – it is not what people say about you, but what you say about people, to hurt, to belittle, to undermine, to criticise, to destroy, that defines who you are/defiles you.
Here’s a contemporary reference: two lines from “Some Nights” by FUN.
Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights, I wish they’d just fall off
Lips or words can build a person up, paint word pictures, a future, a dream, something to hope for, something to work towards. Or it could just tear people down, make them feel small, and useless, and hopeless.
Watch what you say and watch what it does to people.
#3 Mary & Martha – know what is important
Martha shows her love through acts of service. Mary gives her time and attention. So, Martha asks Jesus to tell her lazy sister (Mary) to help her. Jesus replied, “You worry about many things. But you need only one thing.” (Cue reference to Game Of Thrones meme “You had One job!”) Mary had that one thing.
The first obvious lesson is, the most important thing is to pay attention and listen to God.
The next lesson is, understand what is most essential and important. Understand the real priority. Everything else is gravy. Understand that “that which is essential is often invisible” (From “The Little Prince”). And may also be intangible or non-material. People often focus on the material, the visible, the trappings, but lose the essential.
Another message is, give people what they want, not what YOU want to give, when you want to give it. Jesus wanted Mary (and Martha too!) to simply listen. Their time and attention was all he wanted. But often, people are Marthas, giving what they want to give, are proud of being able to give, and then expecting you to be grateful for their gifts, whether you wanted or needed it or not. (I’m looking at you, Mom!)
Silent companionship can sometimes mean more than lavish gifts.
#4 “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
We are multi-faceted creatures. We are social creatures. We are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, friends and colleagues, church-goers and party-goers. We have different roles. And most of the time we chose roles that allow us to be who we need to be, and most of the time we manage to keep our roles unconflicted.
BUT, sometimes our roles conflict.
A man cannot serve two masters. Yet we sometimes have to. Then render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar (the State, your mundane roles), and to God what belongs to God.
As far as possible.
The lesson in this is that, the world is a complicated place, and living in society is a complicated process. We are pulled by our obligations in different directions. Sometimes when we are pulled by many needs or duties, it may be helpful to ask what exactly are we called to do in each of those roles and to give what is due to each role and no more.
It seems like a simple advice: Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. Have we ever tried to render to God what belongs to Caesar and vice versa?
#5 Five Loaves and Two Fishes
The best sermon I ever heard about this reading was for Vocation Sunday.
After a long day talking to the people on a hillside far from civilisation, it was well past meal time and the Apostles told Jesus, “send the people away so they can find food”
Jesus told them, “you feed them”.
So they asked around and then brought a boy to Jesus. “All we could find was this boy who has five loaves and two fishes.”
Then Jesus took the five loaves and two fishes, bless them, gave the food to the disciples and told them to feed the people (who were in the thousands).
And the people had enough to eat.
And the priest (who was giving this sermon that I remembered – or it might have been a Brother) pointed out that if the boy had not come forward and offered what little he had, Jesus would not have been able to work the miracle of feeding the multitude with just 5 loaves and two fishes.
Miracles start with someone giving what he (or she) has regardless of whether it is enough, trusting that God will make it sufficient.
“When nothing you do matters, all that matters is what you do.” (Angel, Season 2 TV Series, “Epiphany”)
Which, to an extent, echoes this sentiment that I like too:
“It’s OK if it’s impossible… The object is not to win. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done… But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough, good things will happen.” – B. Velasquez
#6 “The Sabbath was made for Man and not Man for the Sabbath”
Jesus said the above in explanation for why he worked miracles on the Sabbath, and was criticised for flouting the rules about not working on the Sabbath. But the Sabbath was to give people a day of rest, a day for good of the people. But the religious leaders twisted it to make it a burden on the people.
The point is, understand the reason for rules.
If you know the rules and know the reason for the rules and you break the rules, you’re a revolutionary. (Maybe)
If you know the rules but don’t know or don’t understand the reasons for the rules and you break them, you’re just a rebel. (Probably)
If you don’t even know the rules you’re breaking (accidentally), you’re just a punk.
Be a revolutionary, but understand why you are one or what you are revolting against.
#7 “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light”
A very wise woman (Catholic) explained this to me. This is not canon, and not official dogma, or explanation but I like it. Think of it as an alternative explanation or perspective that complements official explanation. Or not.
She explained that there are three ways to approach God (or heaven).
The Way of Faith.
The Knowledge and Understanding of Truth.
And a Light of Love. (This was how she explained it to me. I believe the phrase is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” not “Light”.)
It made sense to me. (I think we were talking about how would non-believers who are good be accepted by God – like what we thought matters).
Together with, “#1 cast no stones” this helps remind me to make no judgement.
So what if he is not Catholic or Christian? He has a loving soul. It is not for me to say (and therefore judge), he is not a believer and he will go to hell. God will decide when it is his time. It is not for me to go around saying “infidel!” or “Godless person!” Or to be God. There are lots of people who follow the One True God (OTG), and think they know the OTG, and then they think (maybe) that they are God, and can judge people.
But of course, some will read this, and the line following it (not quoted here) as judgement for non-believers of the OTG. They seem very hung up on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. I guess, it is like an exclusive country club membership for them. And they feel the need to keep out the riffraff (non-believers).
(It’s not a country club to which you have joined and paid your membership with your faith. It is the house of God and he gets to decide who is allowed in and who is not. Maybe.)
#8 “Whoever is not against us, is for us” and “He who is not with me, is against me”.
There are two lessons here. The first is the simple lesson: the Bible can be confusing and even, on the face of it, contradictory. Just as the Sabbath was made for Man, the Bible was given to Man, and Man makes a mess of it.
The second lesson, is to dig deeper for answers. What appears on the surface to be contradictory, may simply mean you need to dig deeper for understanding.
Of course, sometimes when you dig deeper, you only find dirt. Or worse.
Sometimes, understanding does not come immediately. Sometimes you need to mull over the contradictions, re-read, think, reflect, meditate. Or just leave it alone.
In any case, the link provides one rather good explanation, and if it is enough, then it is enough.
BUT the message or lesson here is, messages or ideas (and even the Bible) can be ambiguous and even contradictory. Maturity is the ability to accept that contradictions happen in life, and not all contradictions need to be resolved. Or resolved immediately. (Secondary lesson, patience.)
These are called paradoxes. Have fun with them.
Or have Faith.
[Addendum: There is a third lesson – the lesson of the false dichotomy. Whoever is not for me, may NOT be against me. But it is a subtler lesson. And actually requires a leap of logic. So never mind.]
#9 “Faith, Hope, and Love. And the Greatest of these is Love.”
Faith helps us overcome doubt or when our understanding is lacking. Hope sustains us in our journey, when things seems impossible.
Love unites us.
But the darker side of Faith is that it can divide people. Beliefs can schism. Faith then becomes a competition. A wise teacher once told us, “why do some people pray, ‘Increase our faith’? Either you have faith, or you don’t.” I have come to realise that there are people who think Faith can be increased, and therefore Faithfulness is a competition. Beware these people.
While Faith can be divisive (“I’m more faithful than you”, “Your faith is the wrong faith!”), Love, real love, true Love, Divine Love, unites.
If Love divides (“I have more love than you!” “God Loves me more cos I’m prettier/ wealthier/ healthier/ <insert blessed part of your life>!”), that is not divine love. OR that may be Divisive Faith (it requires faith to believe that God made you prettier because God loves you more) masquerading as Love.
When the Kingdom of God has come, there is no need for Faith. there is no need for Hope, because all you have hoped for, all you believed, would have come to pass.
Faith and Hope will pass away. Only Love remains.
And yet, the “faithful” pursue Faith.
#10 “The Last will be the First, and the First shall be the Last”
I had to think real hard for a 10th lesson from the Bible. Then I recall the Parable of the Workers in the Field.
And I think this parable has many lessons. The first is: Life isn’t fair.
The last workers to be hired worked only about an hour and were paid the same as the first workers hired who worked a full day. The first workers hired felt that they should be paid more because they worked more.
They felt that they were paid unfairly because they compared themselves with the last workers. Which brings us to the second lesson: Don’t compare.
The employer’s answer to the disgruntled first workers was, “did we not agree on the wages for a day’s work?” So the third lesson is: Honour your agreements. Say what you will do and do what you said you would.
The employer went on to say, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my money? Are you envious because I am generous?” Which brings us to the fourth lesson: Don’t be envious. Not of other’s generousity. Not of other’s good fortune.
In the second of this series of lessons for Z, I elaborated on this lesson:
There will always be people more fortunate than you. Don’t envy them.
There will always be people less fortunate than you. Don’t despise them.
And that’s 10 lessons from the Bible for Zoe when she is old enough.