So. I’ve been listening to an interview with Alexander John Shaia. Fascinating. I had not heard of him before. He’s interviewed here on the Nomad podcast, and also in Rob Bell’s Robcast.
There are a load of things to talk about, but just an aside to start with – he talks about the Passover meal, and the central theme being slavery and freedom. It never occurred to me before that they wouldn’t all have gone with Moses!! Some would have followed him, for sure, but there would have been those who thought that they were better off staying in Egypt. They made that choice.
Now why didn’t I realise that ? I just assumed they all went. But of course some would have found the idea of such a radical move to be too difficult.
So on to where this is going to lead – to four questions that map the road of transformation.
I’m just going to try and summarise what Alexander was saying, but I hope you might go and listen to the interview, because I found it mind blowing.
We need to begin with a Jewish Passover:
According to the Ashkenazi tradition, the order of the Four Questions at the Passover meal is as followed:
Question 1: Why on all other nights do we eat either leavened bread or matza, but on this night only matza?
Question 2: Why on all other nights do we eat different types of vegetables, but on this night only bitter herbs?
Question 3: Why on all other nights do we not dip our food once, but on this night we dip it twice?
Question 4: Why on all nights do we eat either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we recline?
These questions traditionally bring to mind:
Question 1: Eating matza commemorates how the Jews were in such a hurry to leave Egypt they could not wait for their bread to rise.
Question 2: Eating bitter herbs represents the bitter difficulties of life as a slave in Egypt.
Queston 3: Dipping food was a luxury reserved only for the aristocracy and upperclass in ancient times, so the practice of dipping is meant to reflect freedom.
Question 4: Reclining while dining was also a luxurious behavior historically, which stresses the privilege of freedom.
But Alexander Shaia refers to an older practice in Judaism at the time of Jesus that has four similar, but different questions, that might be paraphrased as:
Question 1: Thinking about the Exodus, when God’s people were set free from salvery in Egypt … Where in your life are you lost in a place of emotional paralysis, a state of being unfree, enslaved ?
Question 2: Thinking about the forty years when God’s people wandered in the wilderness … Where are you in a death experience ?
Queston 3: Thinking about the time when God’s people crossed over Jordan into the promised land … Where do you hear God’s new promise for you ?
Question 4: Thinking about life in that land of promise … What new action is God asking of you, for your life, the life of your community ?
So … in summary, the four questions relate to
1. The path of transformation includes times to consider making a change. How are are you going to respond ? Choice
2. The path of transformation will involve tension, and trials. Suffering
3. The path of transformation will include the offer of newness in some way. Gift
4. The path of transformation will challenge you to think about acts of service you are being called to give. Service
Interestingly, these four aspects of the life of faith were a central part of the practice of the early church in preparing candidates for baptism. Not surpisingly really, the church drew on the heritage of Jewish practice in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Now here’s the thing … the early church also, according to Alexander Shia and others, linked these four aspects of discipleship to the four Gospels.
Matthew – addressed to the Jewish community – Choice.
Who will you choose ? Will you choose this new way in following Jesus ?
Mark – addressed to the Christian community in Rome, suffering persecution under Nero.
Stay strong as you seek to make Jesus the Lord of your life, even in the midst of persecution. Suffering.
John – addressed to the diverse Christian community in Ephesus, which was beginning to revisit old divisions
Even though you come from different backgrounds. Receive the gift of unity. Gift
Luke – addressed to the Christian community in Antioch.
Remember that you are called to serve. Service
So, when you think of the Gospels, think rather of one Gospel. The Gospel that is shown to us in four different ways, to help us understand the fourfold path of transformation.
I found these insights really helpful, and will be praying that I will be aware when I am being asked to make a choice about something –
The challenge of moving on to something new, and leaving other things behind.
The challenge of hanging in there when it gets tough
The challenge of seeing how I am being called to serve.
Grace and peace.