In my last blog I introduced three concepts as critical, noting that I had derived them from my bible study: ecumenism, ecology and economy, all of which are derived from the Greek word oikos = a house.
Ecumenism means thought and practice based on residence of the “oikumene”, the whole inhabited world.
Ecology means knowledge of the universe as the home of life
Economy means the household management of the the wealth of a community
My use of these terms rests on an understanding of “House of God” as one of the keys to understanding the bible. Some time ago I wrote more extensively about this topic, and readers can find my thoughts at: emmock.com oikos
Here I will simply remind the reader with knowledge of the Bible that from the book of Genesis to the book of The Revelation the presence of God in human houses (think of Abraham and “Behold I stand at the door and knock” ) and of human beings in God’s house (think of Jacob at Bethel, Solomon in the Temple, and the believers in heaven whose tears are wiped away by God), are central to the great stories of faith. There is a double meaning involved which is expressed in a pun in the story of Nathan and King David, who wanted to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. Nathan tells him that he will not build a house for God, but that if his descendants keep the true faith, God will build him a house, that is a dynasty, which will rule Israel. Nathan suggests that what God desires is not a house but a household, not a holy temple but a holy people.
This ambiguity, this fruitful quarrel between holy place and holy people, is expressed in many books of the bible. Jeremiah warns against those who think the “temple of the Lord” will keep the people safe in spite of their failure to be holy, while Isaiah sees the temple as the place of unity where jews and gentiles will worship God together. Jesus told his followers that God’s kingdom would dwell amongst them, but also demanded that Temple should be a house of prayer for all nations. The emphasis on household protects believers from imagining that being in a holy place is all that matters, while the temple as an image of the universe protects believers from imagining that the household of faith is all that matters to God.
The ecumenism of God’s house tells us that the truth of God’s love belongs to all creatures. It is never the property of one group, or race, or church. Although it is made known in Jesus it will never be fully expressed until the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of the Lord.
The economy of God’s house tells us that God’s gifts belong equally to all creatures. It is well expressed in the marxist slogan, “from each according to ability; to each according to need.” As opposed to marxism and capitalism it does not advocate unlimited growth, which it sees as idolatry, but prays, “give US today OUR daily bread.”
The ecology of God’s house tells us that life belongs equally to all creatures. With our brother creatures we share life in this universe, learning to respect its natural systems as indicators of God’s wisdom. Killing our brothers and sisters for profit, convenience, sport, or pleasure is always wrong; and even in necessity we should be careful to minimise it. Our attitude should be, “Let all things their creator bless/ and worship God in humbleness.”
A house of God is a part of God’s life which God has set aside as space for creatures: in God we live and move and have our being. God has limited Godself, withdrawing so that the creation may have freedom, absent from the house only in the sense that a mother is absent from her womb, which is separate from her will but nourished by her life. The purpose of God’s house is that God’s children may be born there. This birth is different from their natural birth; it is a completion of their natural birth which requires their full consent and cooperation. It is what St. Paul meant, when he wrote that the universe groans as if in the pains of labour awaiting the birth of God’s children. Jesus himself voluntarily submitted to this birth through the labour of his cross.
The church is a part of the universe in which its identity as God’s house is recognised, lived and celebrated. The ecumenical, economic and ecological practices which I have outlined are a means of affirming that identity. It will always do so partially and imperfectly because the perfection of God’s house (hold) lies beyond the horizon of history, although even now it impinges on our history and tells us to wake up. A story from Mark’s gospel shows how this happened through Jesus, as he dealt with the traditional sexual taboos of his time:
Mark’s Gospel 5:22-43
Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Ja’irus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet,
23: and besought him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
24: And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.
25: And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years,
26: and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.
27: She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment.
28: For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.”
29: And immediately the haemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
30: And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”
31: And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, `Who touched me?’”
32: And he looked around to see who had done it.
33: But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
34: And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35: While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
36: But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
37: And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.
38: When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly.
39: And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
40: And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.
41: Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Tal’itha cu’mi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
42: And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.
43: And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
In the masterly storytelling of Mark the healing of a sick woman is nested in the story of the healing of a twelve year-old girl. Jesus is asked to come to Jairus’ house. It is noted that he is a synagogue official. On his way, in the midst of a crowd drawn to Jesus as the dwelling of God, a woman suffering from continuous bleeding who has found no help from doctors, touches his cloak. She, from within the socially constructed house of uncleanness, breaks through the taboo and knocks at God’s door. Jesus, the one in whom God dwells, reaches out across the taboo of purity, to invite her in.
But now messengers arrive to say that the girl has died. Perhaps Jesus’ delay in healing the sick woman has allowed this to happen but Jesus asks the father to trust him. When they arrive, the house has become a house of death: ritual wailing and other women’s ministrations to the dead have begun. The young Jewess, daughter of Zion, is in the power of the “strong man.” Religious rules isolated the dead as sources of pollution. As Jesus prepares to break into this “closed house” he is mocked for his cavalier attitude to death, “She’s only sleeping,” he says. Jesus goes to the girl, takes her hand, and says in Aramaic, “Talitha Cumi!” which means something like, “Time to get up, my wee dove.” She gets up, and walks. Her age, the age of transition from girlhood to womanhood is noted at the end of the story. A true understanding of this story, as of all the stories in Mark’s gospel is only given to the second- time reader who knows of Jesus own death and resurrection. From that perspective the story of Jesus walking into the house of death to bring life has added meaning, and the beautiful Aramaic injunction to the girl, can be heard as the eschatological call by the one in whom God dwells, for a new awakening of women, of society, of the world: it’s time to get up.