Monday, February 25, 2013
Jesus And Meditation: Matthew 1: 1-17. The Jewish Roots
I know what you are thinking: What can a genealogical record (and a disputed one at that) tell us about Jesus and Meditation? Plenty! This genealogical record tells us how the early Messianic Jewish community being addressed in Matthew's Gospel viewed both Jesus and itself. It also puts us squarely in touch with the Jewish roots of one Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus called Christ in Matthew), and challenges us to seek out the Jewish roots of Meditation.
Most Christians tend to see Jesus as just springing up out of nowhere creating the Christian Church from scratch. Actually Jesus was the product of generations of Jewish thought and practice. Sadly this history is lost on the average church goer who lacks a basic background on Judaism. Yet it is important to go back and form a basic understanding at this point.
The genealogy presented here in Matthew 1:1-17 gives us 42 generations of Jesus' family tree. How many families do you know of can go back 42 generations in their own history? Probably not very many. The average person in today's world is doing good to know who their own fathers and mothers were, and then perhaps their grandparents and great grandparents. Pushing the family history back beyond that would likely take a computer and a genealogical website. We are simply not as connected to our roots today as people were in ancient societies.
The same can be said for our religious history and our church histories. Most church goers would know whether or not they like their current pastor, but they may be at a loss as to what their church doctrine is and where in fact it came from. Lutherans would probably say their doctrine came from Martin Luther who rediscovered the Bible during the Protestant Reformation. Calvinists would say the same about their doctrines and John Calvin. But do they know the history connecting themselves back to the teachings of Jesus, and the teachings of Jesus back to early Jewish tradition? Most, even scholars, would have a difficult time at this task. In fact, for many, it remains a work in progress.
About three years ago I began to wonder if Jesus practiced Meditation. I had been a scripture student for over 30 years, yet I had missed the Biblical texts pertaining to Meditation. I did some research and found a surprising mix on the topic of Jesus and Meditation. Some theologians thought Jesus did in fact practice Meditation (a camp I am firmly in), and others thought that Meditation was "of the devil;" a practice that found it's way into the West via Buddhism and Hinduism, and which had no firm foundation in either the Christian or Jewish Scriptures. I think we will now begin to see that if these latter theologians had a firmer grasp of their own religious history, their conclusions would be completely different.
Meditation has a sound history in both Scripture and Jewish practice. In Genesis 24: 63 we read concerning Isaac, "He went out to the field one evening to meditate..." Also in Joshua 1: 8 it is written, "Do not let this Book of the Law (Torah) depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night..." The Psalms of David likewise speak to Meditation. Psalm 48: 9 states, "Within Your temple, O God, we meditate on Your unfailing love." Psalm 77:12, "I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds." And finally Psalm 119: 15, "I meditate on Your precepts and consider Your ways." This is just a sampling. There is much more, especially if one digs deeper.
Jewish practice over the years has preserved the meditation practice, for those who have the eyes to see. The Jewish Sabbath, long taught by Christians to be only a day of restriction upon which work was prohibited, is actually much more than that. The Sabbath is actually set aside as a special day for prayer, Torah study, and Meditation. True no work can be done (except in an emergency) because the time has been set aside for a more noble pursuit and discipline. Far from being a burden, the Sabbath can be seen as an opportunity for Spiritual growth; a day of Meditation one can use on a weekly basis. And this is not the end; only the beginning!
Back in the 1960's and into the 1970's both Christian and Jewish institutions in the West faced a growing problem: Their young people, influenced by The Beatles and the practice of TM, began leaving their churches and synagogues to seek meditation instructors in Buddhist Sangas and Hindu Ashrams. They had so completely forgotten their own religious and spiritual roots that they felt they had to forsake the ways of their ancestors (the ways that even their own parents and grandparents had forgotten over the centuries) to embrace Meditation as if it were something brand new. Sadly, this need not have been the case. I am grateful that the meditative tradition was keep alive in the East, even as it had been forgotten by most of the religious West. If this had not been the case Meditation might likely had been reserved as a discipline set aside only for the elite few who still had enough of their roots intact to know what the practice entailed. But this has not been the case. Indeed we are fortunate to live in a day and an age in which this most ancient practice is now being rediscovered by many in both East and West alike. A day and age in which all peoples, regardless of their religion, can come together to share their experience and help to guide one another along the way. We now live in a time in which Meditation can be seen as something which has always been. Something which was forgotten by many in the West, then rediscovered and debated in the 20th, and now, the 21st century. Let us return to our ancient roots without regret or fear!