Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Eternal Life: Part One

A man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? The man then recited the Ten Commandments and commented that he had kept them from the time of his youth. Jesus replied, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The Gospel of Mark 10:17-22 
This story from the Gospel of Mark challenges its Christian audience for several reasons. On the surface, it appears to be making a statement against material wealth. It further suggests that obedience to the Law of God is insufficient for inheriting eternal life, usually understood as life after physical death. However, this text challenges me in a different way. I think Jesus was emphasizing that although obedience to religious life is important, it is not completely life giving, even in this life.  Life in its fullest sense comes through sacrificial giving, not hoarding, of whatever riches a person may have; these riches may be talents, resources, special traits, monetary wealth, or other gifts. To follow Jesus, in this case, is not so much about dutiful obedience to the Law—or even about fervent belief in Jesus and his teachingsas it is about living fully every day through the giving of oneself to others. 

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This is the first of three reflections on Eternal Life, originally posted in October 2011.  During the summer, we will rerun several conversations that didn't receive much attention (according to Google Analytics) when we first launched the blog. Please tell us what you think in the comments section!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Giver of the Torah (Part 3)

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has chosen us from all peoples and given us Your Torah. Blessed are You, Giver of the Torah.” 
(blessing recited before studying/reading Torah, from the liturgy)

Do Christians and Muslims believe that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people? If so, do Muslims include this appellation among the 99 names of God? [follow links to read Tziporah's original post & Yasmina's response]

Tziporah, I love  your struggle with sacred text, and appreciate your sensitivity both to what could be an alienating and boundary-drawing text and also to what is so clearly for you a cherished and essential part of your theology and  liturgical practice as a Jew.  These simultaneously “comforting and uncomfortable” texts, as we have seen, appear in all our faith traditions.  The mischievous part of me wants to respond to the question of whether I believe the Jewish people are God’s chosen “from all peoples” to receive Torah/God’s Truth with “Oh, my goodness, no! We Christians are!”

In serious response, however, I do think devout adherents to each of our faiths inevitably have to wrestle with the question of “Can I be thoroughly, purely Jewish/Christian/Muslim and still recognize and affirm the legitimacy of the other?” When this text is understood in the light of God’s goodness, grace and generosity, without the overlay of an assumption that God is partial to a select cultural or religious group, I can affirm the “yes” to your question, Tziporah, and also affirm, without uneasiness, your recitation of this blessing in your liturgy. At the same time, I am grateful that you can do so without extrapolating from this text that I, as a Christian or Yasmina, a Muslim, must somehow then reside outside of and apart from God’s “chosen.”  Indeed, I believe that I am chosen—and that, in fact, God chooses each and all of us to know “how wide and long and high and deep…is the [knowledge-transcending] love of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19) It delights me that we can each view our “specialness” in the wide embrace of a God who sees all of us as beloved children to whom God seeks to impart every good gift.

Grace's response marks our final "new post" before summer hiatus. We will re-post some of our earlier conversations throughout the summer, and we hope that you will share your thoughts and comments. If you have a reflection on a sacred text that you would like to submit, send it in the body of your email to

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Giver of Torah (continued)

Do Christians and Muslims believe that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people? If so, do Muslims include this appellation among the 99 names of God? [read Tziporah's full post]

Yes, the Quran mentions the Torah as a book of guidance and criterion given to Moses for the Children of Israel. This is consistent with one of the central tenets of Islam that many nations were honored and chosen, and some were given Scriptures through other illustrious and revered messengers of God.* I consider the long line of prophets from Adam to Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon them] and the gradually increasing complexity of their teachings as indicative of the evolution in societal complexity. I believe that the final guidance “in the form of a book” was given to Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon him]. The Quran upholds the importance of all Scriptures sent by God, but it also places itself as a book whose universal message and relevance evolves over time and extends to all places. Therefore, I see the progressiveness of religion not as new revelation, but as continued guidance from God.

The Guide, the One who bestows continuous and kind guidance to help all humans in their life journeys, is one of the names Muslims would call upon when seeking religious knowledge and readjustment to their lifestyles to please God.

* “Indeed, God chose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of Imran [father of Mary] over the worlds.” (The Family of Imran, 3: 33)