Saturday, August 15, 2009
Mar 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.
Mar 4:11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables
Mar 4:12 so that,
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!' ”
This is a hard story to unpack. Well its not hard to unpack, but its implications are hard to swallow.
The crowds have come out to hear this infamous rabbi who teaches with a new authority.
But he refuses to just give them the rules.
There is no 5 steps to a happy marriage
No 13 steps to health and wealth
No lists of do's and don'ts
Jesus keeps challenging them with strange stories that appear to be metaphors...
If Christ is truly God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, is there not something more important for him to communicate to us then stories of weeds, yeast, and mustard seeds?
Dan Stiver suggests in his book, Theology After Riceour, that parables contain “a surplus of meaning” AND are a “catalyst of new meaning.” emphasis mine.
In other words parables do not simply instruct, they teach.
Jesus's parables demand mental, spiritual, and emotional struggle and energy. As Ricoeur suggested the parables require a “re-orientation by disorientation”
Jesus's parables are not just truth claims to be mentally assented to, they draw the us in and make us re-examine our understanding our actions our very lives. There is personal development that the parable demands. Which is perhaps what we could miss if we are "ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding..."
The things Jesus is teaching are impossible to articulate literally. The thoughts we arrive at through wrestling with the parables are just glimpses of the Kingdom of God. The dreams of God are so great that words just fall flat. Like trying to explain a sunset to a blind man Jesus attempts to shed a small light on our understanding of the way God intends things to be.
The parable transcends a set of rules and commands that can be handed down through the generations. Rules and commands can not get us close to where we need to be. That's the problem we have faced since the beginning. Adam gave Eve rules without helping her to think about them. (compare what Eve tells the serpent in Gen 3:2-3 with what God tells Adam in Gen 2:16-17)
The human mind needs to discover truth on its own merit. A parable, in a unique way, guides us down a path only to leave us at the doorstep of a newly discovered truth. If we just glance at it we miss the deeper reality Jesus is trying to show us. The parable invites us to question and explore the teaching and thoughts.The truth within a parable has to be discovered.
Be careful that you don't try to boil a Parable down to try and set a new rule or static teaching...
I play bass guitar. I often play with other musicians, guitarist mostly. When I play with a guitarist I need to be able to listen to a cord as they play it and pick out the root note (usually the lowest note). To do this I need to listen carefully hear the several notes being played and pick out the right one to play with.
The right note for me may not be the right note for another guitar player who is playing along with us. He may be listening to the cord and playing several of the notes in the cord, one note at a time, as a scale. His notes are not better than or more correct than mine. He is listening and playing from a different circumstance.
This gets infinitely more complicated if we add a totally different instrument such as a piano, or saxophone or even the human voice. All of which will hear the cord differently because of their need and subjective experience, and thus use the original guitarist's cord slightly differently.
It occurs to me that no one ever says "your not playing the same notes." We are all aware that we contribute to the music together in our own unique way... As long as we stay in the same rhythm and stay in the right key, we all remain true to the music.
So it is with Parables. We can find many meanings and applications hidden in Jesus Parables. When we listen to a parable we need to know Jesus is giving us several notes, and the spirit may make anyone of them, or any combination of two or more of them, come to the forefront in the time and place we find ourselves in. In this way the Parable can speak truth to our life and current circumstance.
Also interesting to note here...
The 12 were not the only ones who Jesus gave his secret to!
"Twelve and the others around " (NIV)
"Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around" (NLT)
"As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve," (NASB)
Jesus waited for those who only wanted to glean a set of rules and or who were just out to see the new hip Rabbi who was shaking things up, to go away.
He waited until only those who were serious about wrestling with the issues he was raising were present.
How can we know they were serious?
They are the ones who stayed behind and asked him...
And then he answers them.
And verse 12 is a reference to Isaiah 6... Which is God warning the overly religious, yet shallow, people that he is far from happy...
Thursday, July 09, 2009
And we do him a great disservice when we act like he was some Mr. Nice guy...
the greek word praotēs:
“A settling down and quieting of anger”
The Greek word orgē:
"burning anger, accompanied by pain, for an apparent injustice … done by someone who was not entitled”
What makes you angry?
There are 2 main types of anger in The Greek Language are:
1. eris - contention, strife, wrangling, seeks revenge
2. orgē - anger, movement or agitation of the soul, deep hurt
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.
The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"
He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?
In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."
Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
This bread Concreated holy was only to be eaten by the priest and only in a holy place (lev 24)
David was chosen by God to be King. There was only one problem... Saul still wanted to be king.
So David and his men were on the run. And Saul was trying to kill them at every turn. They were considered enemy's of the state.
Its hard to get much to eat when your wanted in every village, town, and city.
So one day David went to the temple and asked the priest for food. The priest had none, so David ate, and shared, the Concreted holy bread.
Jesus and his disciples were traveling and being hungry began to pluck and eat the grain in the fields they were walking through.
Who were the pharisees?
The Pharisees considered this threshing wheat, a Sabbath violation.
This was a natural thing to do and should not have drawn much attention. The problem was not theft. The law had a provision for this.
If you enter your neighbor's grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.
But the Pharisees were so legalistic that they claimed this was a violation of the Sabbath observance.
And so Jesus uses this Judo kind of move...
He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?
Of course they had heard... Remember these were the best of the best students. They had memorized the scriptures. They knew the story of King David by heart.
Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
The reason for the rules is to give people a rest, not make them work harder to avoid breaking the rules.
And then as if to twist the knife a little deeper he adds
So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
Son of man is a title given to the mesiah. He's telling them he has the athority to make the rules, not them.
Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.
Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone."
Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Which type of anger is Jesus displaying here?
1.eris - contention, strife, wrangling, seeks revenge
2. orgē - anger, movement or agitation of the soul, deep hurt
If the man has a shrivled hand he faced all kinds of challenges.
He would be outcast from much of socity for his deformity...
Remember they had no toilet paper, so what hand does he wipe with, eat with...
This would have made it hard for him to get married or have a family
It probably would have made it hard for him to own or work land or a business.
Jesus had a Popeye moment!
“That's all I can take, I can't takes no more!”
He had lots of these, and we'll be looking at some of them in the coming weeks.
It should kinda reminds us of the prophets...
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
What are some examples in modern day life of these two types of anger?
Monday, July 06, 2009
Mar 3:29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."
First lets look at the setting...
Jesus said this in response to the Pharisees, the religious elite, who were calling the Jesus and the spirit he was infused with a demon or unclean spirit (see Mar 3:22). We can also see that this is one of the popular responses to what He was doing and saying because his family had come down "to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind." (see Mar 3:21)
Often what happens is this verse is taken out of context and used to mean "if you have said somthing bad about The holy spirit, Jesus, God, the Church, The Pope, (or what ever other ax the person speaking has to grind) then God will turn his back on you and you get the punishment you deserve...
But we can see from the preceding verse that Jesus is not talking about this.
Mar 3:28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.
Which harmonizes well with the other things Jesus said:
Jhn 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
Jhn 6:38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
Jhn 6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
Jhn 6:40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
When Jesus said this to the religious elite he did so knowing they had an excellent knowledge of scriptures (most of them had them memorized). So when he uses the term Blasphemies he is drawing on a very specific understanding of what it means to blaspheme..
Which brings to a more important point...
What does it mean to use the Lord’s name in vain or blaspheme?
This is a question that might seem self-evident to most people in western society. Whether you are religious or not, you would probably not even hesitate with your answer...
I often struggled with how to reconcile my faith in God with my occasional under my breath damming of something or other. So I've done some researched on the original words used, naqa (vain), I read several commentaries, researched on-line, and prayed. These are the best explanations I have found.
Some people believe the reason why this is a violation of the third commandment is because people are using God’s name in a “vain,” “worthless,” or “empty” way. In this case, to say “God damn it is not the same as seriously calling upon God to damn something or someone. For these people, if you say it seriously, fine, but if you say it casually, then you have used His name in an empty way and thereby broken the third commandment.
If the principle that we are going by is that we are not to use God’s name and not really mean it, then I believe that we are very inconsistent in what we take offense to as a culture.
Why don’t people get offended when others say “God bless you?”
Do you think that every time someone says this that they really mean it?
Do you think that in their mind they are talking to God, beseeching on your behalf for a blessing?
Just about every email I get ends with the phrase, “God bless.” I seriously doubt that that person actually said a prayer for me before he or she hit send. If this is the case, then why is saying ”God bless you” not just as much a violation of the third commandment as saying “God damn you?”
Is it more biblical to ask for God’s kindness or judgment?
I don’t think anyone who is honest with themselves can say that they are consistent in this regard. Saying “God damn it” and not meaning it should be just as bad as saying “God bless you” and not meaning it.
This is the most important reflection so I have saved it for last. In fact, if what I am about to say is true, then other arguments really don't make any difference.
The question is this: What does it mean to use God’s name in an empty or vain way?
What does the third commandment really mean?
What would the orginal hearers have understood it to mean?
It is hard to tell from a simple word study on the Hebrew term naqa (vain). Also our understanding of a “name” and what it signifies is much different than what it meant in the context in which this commandment was given. What we have to do is to try to understand what it meant then, so that we can understand what it means now.
It does us no good to anachronistically impose our understanding upon an ancient text. This is exegesis (reading into the text what we presuppose), not exegesis (letting the text speak on its own terms).
This is what my studies have shown.
The nations to which the Israelites were going had many gods. They were highly superstitious. Their prophets would often use the name of their god in pronouncements. The usage could be in a curse, hex, or even a blessing. They would use the name of their god to give their statements, whatever they may be, authority.
To pronounce something in their own name would not have given their words much weight, but to pronounce something in the name of a god meant that people would listen and fear. They may have said;
“In the name of Baal, there will be no rain for 40 days.”
“In the name of Marduk, I say that you will win this battle.”
This gave the prophet much power and authority. But, as we know, there is no Baal or Marduk. Since this is the case, they did not really make such pronouncement and therefore the words of the prophet had no authority and should neither have been praised or feared.
God was attempting to prevent the Israelites from doing the same thing. God was saying for them not to use His name like the nations used the names of their gods.
He did not want them to use His name to invoke false authority behind pronouncements. In essence, God did not want the Israelites to say that He said something that He had not said.
This makes sense. God has a reputation to protect. He does not want anyone saying “Thus sayeth the Lord” if the Lord had not spoken. All of you have experienced this. You have had people say you said something you did not say. This can be very damaging to your character.
It is very destructive to your name. Why? Because it makes you out to be something that you are not. How much more important is it for God to protect His character? It is fitting that God would have put this as one of the ten most important commandments as the nation of Israel moved towards Canaan.
What does this mean for us?
Well, for starters we understand that the third commandment is certainly not focused on something so trivial as saying “God damn it!”
The funny thing is that while some people may never think of using that phrase, people all over the Christian religious landscape are breaking the third commandment every day, damaging the Lord’s reputation. “Thus sayeth the Lord . . .” “God told me to tell you . . .” “God says that if you send in money to build our minstry you will be blessed.” I could go on and on, but you get the point.
Using the name of the Lord in vain means that you do damage to His reputation and character through false and unsure claims. This is what Blaspheme is all about.
They were trying to speak for God and comdeming the spirit that was in/working through Jesus.
And Jesus lets them know that what they are doing is highly offensive to the trinity...
It has nothing to do with you having said somthing bad about The holy spirit, Jesus, God, the Church, The Pope, (or what ever other else people try to use this passage to mean)
Monday, June 29, 2009
It sounds easy enough, I've read and re-read the Gospels tons... But as always happens when you undertake a serious reading of scripture, and approach the text with an open mind, new things crop up that you have never seen before and they can lead to questions and doubts and hopefully, in the best of circumstances, new understandings about how God moves in our world.
This part of the story has really caught hold of me over the last week:
Mar 1:12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Mark uses a very active verb to describe what happened to Christ after his baptism in the Jordan.
Matthew and Luke both have Jesus being "led" by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark doesn't paint the picture as something gentle. Mark has the Spirit driving, thrusting, propelling Jesus into the desert, the wilderness, the barrenness.
Mark's statement "The Spirit immediately drove Him," makes it feel almost as if Christ went against His will...
Jesus story begins with a Divine affirmation, a reunion of the trinity, a granting of authority but immediately leads to an extended even forced stay in the wilderness. But we find historically He is in good company:
Abraham, wandered in the desert between the promise and the birth of Isaac.
Israel wandered between the liberation from Egypt and the entrance of the promised land.
David hid in desert caves between finding God's favor and stepping to the throne.
Elisha dwelt in the wilderness between receiving Elijah's spirit and bringing God's word to his people...
You get the point.
So what if bouts in the wilderness are an essential part of life in the Spirit?
Could the desert wilderness represent the barren and harsh places in our own lives?
Are they the places of trial and abandonment where we are forced to realize that we are not in control?
Is the wilderness a terrifying space where we are able to realize we are completely vulnerable and completely dependent?
Since we were banished from the Garden the wilderness has been a part of our journey.
But this doesn't fit with much of what we are told in Western Christianity, does it?
We are led to believe that "life in the Spirit" means constant joy, peace, happiness, and smugness (knowing all of the answers without even asking the questions). We are left to assume that any period of doubt, sadness, or just general unjoyfulness is the result of Satan's activity or OUR OWN sin's alienating power.
But what if that's not always the case?
What if there are seasons when the Spirit drives us out?
What if there is a Divine Wisdom in wilderness that can be learned nowhere else?
What if seasons in the desert are simply part of the path we are on following Jesus?
What if the wilderness is an essential part of life in the Spirit?
What if robust faith lives somewhere between absolute trust and deep doubt?
What does it look like to really embrace our wilderness, not just endure it, or pray to be out of it, but to accept it and allow it to shape us.
Where are the wilderness places in my journey, in your journey, in our manifestations of ekklēsia, in our world?
What does it mean for us to embrace them?
What do we have to learn from them?
And what might the spirit be preparing us for?
It's been a week of hard driving and penetrating questions for me as I wrestle my own theology and hope to see the word with new eyes and hear it with new ears...
Please share any thoughts, questions, or answers from your own journeys.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
I have spent a lot of time studying Jesus and teaching about the actions of this infamous rabbi and the unpredictable way he moved in this world. But in doing so I have neglected much...
Looking at the history of the human race reveals just how often we totally miss the point and mess everything up.
God gave Mankind a new creation and we couldn't handle it. We build structures and accumulated wealth and power by violence and oppression.
And each time God tried to help us, tried to show the human race a better way to live we managed to muck it up.
Take Noah, If anyone had a chance at moving us in the right direction it was this guy. He had a freshly power washed earth, he and his family were the only people around and he had a direct line to God (God spoke to him and he to God). And yet he dies drunk and naked.
The Israelites, having been rescued from slavery in Egypt, knew first hand the dark side of human power and how centralized human control can be corrupted. And yet they cried out for a human King. Eventually their kings used slave labor to build massive temples and palaces, horded 666 tons of gold (an interesting amount), and used their wealth and power to fortify citys and build armies to the point they were importing and exporting weapons (we would call them arms dealers).
And those are just the highlights!
So when God announces through his prophets that he is going to enter the world and help guide us we should take note...
And when He does show up in the flesh we should listen and do everything he says...
And so with-out further wasting words from me lets get on with the studying of what he said.
First lets look at His teachings on prayer (being that this may be the single most important spiritual discipline).
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
What is a hypocrite?
hypocrites - Greek for One who plays a part, The classical word for an actor.
Why would they stand?
If you were in a noisy room and want to get everyone's attention what would you do? You would probably raise your voice and maybe even stand up to make people look and see what you are doing. this is why they had the Reader of the scrolls stand in the synagogue...
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Most of the folks Jesus was teaching were poor fishermen and peasants (If you follow Jesus travels around on a map you will see he carefully avoided the shiny fancy city's and stuck almost exclusively to small poor villages). They mostly lived in small one or two room houses. The only interior door was to a small store room where they could lock away their family's most prized possessions. I imagine the most beautiful and tragic things happened in those closets...
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
The Romans considered Caesar a God. This is how they addressed him:
"Emperor Caesar Galerius Valerius Maximianus Invictus Augustus, Pontifex Maximum, Germanicus Maximus, Egyptiacus Maximus, Thebaicus Maximus, Sarmaticus Maximus (five times), Persicus Maximus (twice), Carpicus Maximus, Holder of Tribunician Authority for the twentieth time, Imperator for the nineteenth, Consul for the eighth, Pater Patriae, Proconsul."
This was done to impress Caesar and make him feel important. If you addressed him well he would more disposed to grant your request or show you mercy. But if you botched it or rushed through it it was not going to be a good day for you.
But Jesus says You can't impress God. He doesn't care about all your titles. This harmonizes with what the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests about appraoching god.
Ecc 5:1-7 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.
So from 1-3 we see We should- listen, be patent,use few words... We should not- offer sacrifices, or speak with out thinking
Then in 4-6 we are warned against trying to make a vow (a bargain with God)
and in 7 the writer sums it up with the best way to approach communication with God "Stand in Awe"
And these attitudes also harmonize with Jesus parable on prayer.
Luk 18:10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
What is 6:8 all about?
**Just a note I don't have a "prayer life." I have a life, and I pray. I reject any idea that the two should be seperate which is probably not what was meant when the phrase was first coined, but that is what it has become for many.**
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
What images do you see?
To understand Jesus vision of the church we need to explore what Jesus taught his first disciples about his ekklesia (Church).
The first place Jesus ever uses the word ekklesia is in Matt 16...
Jesus has called these disciples to follow him. They are mostly young guys who were learning the family trade, because they did not make the cut to study under another Rabbi. So When this crazy Rabbi with a new yoke tells them to drop everything and follow him they do.
But remember how young they were, and the influence their culture had on them.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
What was Caesarea Philippi?
Caesarea Philippi was a place outside of the religious culture the disciples were use to. It housed large shrines to pagan Gods, but more on that in a minute.
Caesarea Philippi's location was especially unique because it stood at the base of a cliff where spring water flowed out to feed the Jordan river. At one time, the water ran directly from the mouth of a cave set in the bottom of the cliff. Now the water no longer gushes from the cave, but only seeps from the bedrock below it.
The pagan people commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. IE the winter comes and plants die, animals migrate and or stop reproducing “the fertility Gods must have left us...”
They saw water as a symbol of the underworld (hades) because it mostly came up from springs or people dug wells down to it. And they thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves.
The Hebrew word for hades is SHEOL. Both the Hebrew word SHEOL and the Greek word HADES are often translated Hell in English.
Sheol" is a Hebrew word used for the abode of the dead. It is thought of as a place situated below the ground (e.g. Ezek. 31:15), a place of darkness, silence and forgetfulness (Job 10:21; Ps. 94:17, 88:12). Although the dead in sheol are apparently cut off from God (Ps. 88:3-5), he is not absent (Ps. 139:8), and is able to deliver souls from sheol (Ps. 16:10).
Worship of the god of fertility Pan was centered at the cave and the spring at the high rock bluff. Several niches carved into the rock are identified as being dedicated "to Pan and the nymphs."
* the image of Pan is where most contemporary art depicting the devil comes from *
To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld—the gates of hell. In order to entice the return of their god, Pan people would come to Caesarea Philippi and engaged in horrible deeds, including prostitution and sex between humans and goats.
So are locked in to what the disciples must have thought they were seeing?
When Jesus brought his disciples to the area, they must have been shocked. Caesarea Philippi was like a red-light district in their world and good young Jewish boys would have avoided any contact with the area and its people at any cost. They would have been more likely to eat burning coals than go there.
It was a city of people eagerly knocking on the doors of hell. A huge cliff with nitches carved out to hold idols.Feasts, festivals, and rituals to pagan Gods abounded.
It is located twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus did most of his ministry. Can you imagine the conversations that must have taken place among the disciples on the way up there.
Standing near the pagan temples of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?”
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
We like to think “Peter boldly replied, you are the Son of the living God.” but it is more likely that he said it so that the crowd would not hear...
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Jesus continued, You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church...
Christians have debated the meaning of those words for a long time. In your bible it may even contain a foot note saying that Peter means rock. Remember that this is a foot note added later by a well intentioned monk or scribe. The word Jesus used for Peter is Πέτρος (Petros) a proper masculine noun, and the word Jesus uses for the rock is πέτρα (petra) a feminine noun. It seems to be more a play on words than a doctrinal statement.
But in this context it IS pretty clear that Jesus words had symbolic meaning.
This understanding harmonizes perfectly with Jesus teaching style. He is always using real word pictures to reveal truth to the folks he is teaching.
"The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed...""Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees...""Take this bread..."
So Jesus is saying his church will be built on THIS rock?
of Caesarea Philippi?
A rock literally filled with niches for pagan idols, where ungodly values dominated?
Further more didn't Jesus know that gates were defensive structures built to keep invaders out!
By saying that the gates of hell would not overcome was Jesus suggesting that those gates were going to be stormed?
Its also interesting to note that this is the first time Jesus speaks of his establishing a church. Until this point the disciples must have believed that they would follow Jesus forever...
Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi:
He didn't want his followers hiding in a building. In fact there is clearly a lack of any kind of building structure in Jesus vision, the only structure are the gates and they belong to another army...
He has commissioned us to build an ekklesia (Church) that will storm the gates of hell, and rescue those held there.
Are you part of Jesus ekklesia?
What images do you see when you think of church?
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Do you have any money with you?
Take it out and examine it...
Write down what you see.
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax
Adult Jewish males throughout the Empire paid an annual two-drachma tax based on Exodus 30:13-16, for the upkeep of the temple. Priests were exempt from the two-drachma tax, but even more significant here, dependents of a king were naturally exempt from his taxes... But lets roll on here.
"Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes-from their own sons or from others?"
Notice that Jesus doesn't need to ask Peter what the men wanted. They did not approach Jesus directly, even though they obviously knew he was back in town, but choose instead to try and collect from one of his disciples. What do you think that means?
One has to wonder if they somehow felt subbed. How could this famous (or rather infamous by this point) Rabbi come to their town and not come to see them? Didn't he know how important they were? Didn't he know that they were the pious ones? Not only that but he had not even paid his taxes yet...
"From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him.
At this point Jesus could have left it alone... Or He could have kicked the door open and laid the smack down (We know he was not afraid to do just that). But He chooses a different option.
"But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."
First notice Jesus and his disciples are without money...
And what is this coin in a fishes mouth?
And note that the fish has just enough money for the tax not a surplus...
Lets look at another time Jesus interacted the powerful and talked about taxes (and or mass media)...
Who were the Pharisees?
Who were the Herodians?
The Pharisees thought conspiring with Rome was tantamount to treason against God. And the Heordians got their power because they continued to conspire with Rome.
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.
They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
The pharisees would not be seen in public with the herodians, so they send their disciples... (we see this in modern culture when a political party sends its public relations folks out as media pundits and experts of one kind or another)
Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?
Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius,
Funny again nether Jesus nor any of his disciples have a coin on them...
They think they have devised a clever trap for him:
If he sides with paying taxes to Caesar then all of the people he has been traveling with, healing, and teaching are left out to dry. He would be endorsing an unjust system.
If he says don't pay your taxes then he is guilty of conspiring against Rome.
* this is one of the reasons they give Pilate to have Jesus put to death.Luke 23:1-2
But Jesus sees this as a trap from the minute they open their mouths...
and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
If you live in a world with no TV or Radio or any other form of mass media, How do you get your message out across a wide geographic and economic spectrum of people?
How can you make everyone remember it?
Who uses Money? Everyone
Who knows what is on a bill?
Have you ever seen someone check a $100 dollar bill?
They hold it up to the light to look for special threads and water marks, they feel the paper for the right thickness and texture, they may even have a special pen or marker that changes color when the bill is real...
Caesar minted coins. The only official coin of the whole empire. These coins had his image on them. And they had his Gospel.
The root of the word evangelical, evangel, is derived from the Greek word euangelion which is often translated as “good news.” From that same word, we derive the word gospel. In the ancient Roman imperial world, the “gospel” (euangelion) was a proclamation that the “kingdom” of Caesar was at hand and that Caesar was the “Savior” who had established peace and security, this was accomplished by military invasion and subsequent crucifying of anyone who opposed Roman rule.
"Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
What does that last line mean?
Is it a reference to Gen 1:26:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
Also notice Jesus doesn't say then pay the Tax, he says give back to Caesar what is his, all of the coins have his image and inscription on them!
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Its almost like an inside joke at this point... Can you hear the disciples snickering and saying "remember the fish"
What was Jesus saying to the Pharisees and Herodians?
Often these text are interpreted as Jesus saying "Just be a good citizen and pay your taxes." But That complete misses the point here.
Because coins were the mass media of the first century, Jesus is essentially saying reject and give back this false image, this false gospel, that has been handed to you. And Give to God all of yourself and all of creation, because God will settle nothing less...
Remember that list I told you to make, at the begining of this post, of the things you saw on the money you have with you?
Whats on the list?
Does the fact that someone consciously borrowed Gods name mean the money is any less secular?
Who does that money belong to?
What do commercials teach you?
Is it God honoring?
Thursday, May 07, 2009
I have wrestled with this question for quite some time now... I found inspiration (in a book, big surprise for those of you who know me) from Phyllis Tickle’s extraordinary new thoughts in "The great Emergence."
Let me take a stab explaining at a new incite I gained from her...
What is Emergent? It depends on where you are comming from, or rather what your perspective on following Jesus is.
Lets start with a picture of concentric rings (five circles ones inside the other like a bulls eye) and a metaphor of inheriting a house:
There are some folks, on the outer most ring, that will not change anything ever. the furniture and even landscaping will always remain the same. to even suggest that there is anything wrong with the house they inherited from their grand -parents is tantamount to treason.
The next group of folks, on the next ring in, are willing to redecorate, get new furniture, plant new flowers and maybe pave the driveway but nothing to extensive. They view the house as fine just a little dusty and dated.
The next group of folks, on the next ring in, are willing to gut the house and do a total remodel. The house and land are an important inheritance, and they have fond memories, but they also recognize that the house is not functional (because it was built by their ancestors and added on to by several successive generations).
The next group of folks, on the next ring in, are going to bulldoze the house! They see the land as a heritage and have a firm grasp of their roots. But they know that the house is not the treasure but the land is. They will build new structures and seek new ways to use the land.
The last group of folks in the center is going to burn down the house and walk away from the land. They will become nomads, because they only remember the abuses and negative things that happened in the house. They will carry with them their inheritance in their hearts and minds.
Now each group sees everyone else who is farther inside of these circles than they are as emergent (which is just a way to describe a new form of Christianity).
So the question has become where are you?
That will help you discover how you can follow Jesus in these new (some would say ancient) things he is doing.
Does that make sense?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
39At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"
So john knows Jesus In the womb
1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "[a]
4John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
John was a prophet. Why was he sent?
Why were people coming out to the desert to see him?
7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11"I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
What did he expect would happen?
What did he expect Jesus to do?
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
15Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
So john endorses Jesus In the again!
22After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew[i] over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him."
27To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ[j] but am sent ahead of him.' 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.
So john endorses Jesus In the again!
1After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.[a]
2When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
What is going on here?
John Knew Jesus in the womb, he endorsed him 3 times...
Why is John Doubting?
So Jesus gives his credentials.
4Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor
which is a direct reference to:
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Which is a direct reference to:
But John knew all that... In fact that was the problem.
2When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples...
Jesus is not the messiah john expected... He did not come in the political way the Jewish people expected.
Jesus did not fit who they expected the Messiah to be. In fact, most of what Jesus did ran contrary to their view of the Messiah.
The Old Testament Scriptures do contain a multitude of prophecies about this Messiah who will come as ruling, triumphant King and set up his kingdom. And so they of course envisioned a ruling king who destroyed his enemies...
They had been looking forward to a political Messiah, one who would finally, and forcibly free them from conflict with other nations. In Jesus' time the Jews were under domination from the Romans. And many Jews were hoping that Jesus was the Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government and make THEM rulers of the world.
They did what we as humans tend to always do...
They remembered the best of times and forgot the bad parts...
This is the problem with the "good old days" they were not so good.
They remembered the splendor and power of Solomons Kingdom.
But they forgot about the forced labor and amassing of wealth, and the military buildup...
They are trying to make Jesus fit into the mold of their view of who the Messiah is and how he should operate.
But what is this last line all about?
6Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
Jesus knows what john is expecting...
John knows who Jesus is...
John is hearing about all the things Jesus is doing...
John's disciples must have heard Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God being "at hand"
But Jesus is saying to John, yes I am who you think I am, but I'm not going about things the way you think I should.
or to put it another way
I'm not coming there to bust down the door and rescue you John. And you will be blessed if that doesn't make you loose faith.
See God doesn't always rescue us from bad things...
7As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written: " 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'
Jesus is reminding the people that they went out of the centers of power into the desert. They did not find what they were looking for in the culture they lived in. Herod and the Romans had brought great luxury and shiny new things to Jerusalem, they build new city's and made centers for entertainment. They brought commerce and relative military security (even being on the low end of the totem-pole in the roman empire meant some protection from raiding bands of barbarians).
But Jesus reminds the people that ultimately that doesn't satisfy the deep longing of their souls...
Jesus has come to bring another kind of kingdom...
Have you ever longed for the good old days in your life?
Have you ever wondered why God allows you to suffer through things?
Have you ever wondered why God allows suffering in our world?
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
37On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as[c] the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. 40On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." 41Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family[d] and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" 43Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders 45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?"
46"No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared.
47"You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. 48"Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them."
50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51"Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?"
52They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet[e] does not come out of Galilee."
So in round one:
Jesus is in Jerusalem, celebrating the feast of booths, and the Pharisees are like who does this Rabbi think he is?
He is changeling them on their own turf...
He can't talk like that!
We have to stop him!
So they round up their thugs and send them out to arrest Jesus so that they can privately quiet him.
Perhaps they thought a few days in jail would cool him off a little.
The leaders in the south thought the same thing about Martin Luther King Jr. too. But that's where King wrote some of his most famous material (such as his letter from Birmingham Jail).
But the Thugs show up and are struck by what Jesus is teaching, even they are transformed by what hew has to say...
So the Pharisees next devise a plan to confront Jesus publicly...
They set a trap, to embrace him into submission or get him killed.
Getting stoned (round 2)
1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
If they could humiliate Jesus in public by posing a question about the scriptures that Jesus could not answer (without destroying what he was teaching) then his popularity would fade.
So that night they arrested a woman "caught in the act of adultery." And held her until the morning when Jesus came back.
Jesus could have avoided the temple, he must have seen the thugs who had come to arrest him the day before. But he must have also known that there would be considerable confusion among the people he had taught the day before. He chose to walk back into the temple despite the fact that the religious elite would be gunning for him.
According to Jewish law the day after any major feast has to be observed as a Sabbath. So no work was allowed.
Jesus shows up and sits down (as any good Rabbi should ) before he begins teaching.
Only then did the Pharisees make their move. They could have tested him at the gate, but they waited until they had LOTS of witnesses.
so they bring out the woman "caught in the act of adultery"
which raises some questions:
"how/where do a group of religious leaders find/catch a woman in the act of adultery?"
Adultery is rather hard to do by ones self...
"Where is the man?"
The Law dictated that both should be stoned Lev 20:10
In round 1 the leaders had invoked a curse on the crowds for not knowing what the law said... Now they are acting as if they only know part of the law...
It is the same today as it was then...
People tend to highlight the parts of the bible that they like and ignore the parts that they don't...
Can you think of an example?
Back to our story...
The religious elite are clearly only concerned with beating Jesus and preserving their own status and power.
The woman is just a prop in their plan...
Just as humans tend to do, they have forgotten her humanity...
But there is something else going on here as well. If they can't get their local thugs to arrest Jesus then they will have to get some one else to do it.
Around three sides of the second story of the temple was a Long covered walkway. Connected to and overlooking this walk way was a military fort built by Herod the Great. He knew that civil unrest often began in the temple area.
The Jews were not allowed to sentence anyone to death (that's why the religious leaders drag Jesus in font of the Romans, but we're getting ahead of ourselves in our story).
Roman soldiers would have had a clear view of what was going on in the temple area that day.
4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"
They are quoting Moses directly and then asking Jesus to agree or disagree...
So if Jesus follows the letter of the law and sentences the woman to death by stoning then :
2the incident would cause an outcry from the people Jesus was teaching
3the soldiers will see the incident (the stoning and the outcry) as an uprising and the religious leaders would point to Jesus as the one who started it.
If Jesus breaks with the Law and tradition and says that the woman should be forgiven:
1 the religious leaders can discredit Jesus as a heretic for ignoring the law, they would have called him a coward, and said things like "are you unwilling to pay the price for our freedom?" ;-)
SO it seems that their trap has left Jesus with no where to turn.
Moses or Rome?
Dammed if you do and dammed if you don't
The people were listening, the Romans were watching!
The religious elite are so sure of their victory that they planed this confrontation in public on their own turf!
The question is about Justice...
The religious leaders see justice as a strict (public) application of the law.
Jesus sees justice by looking at the woman as a human in need of grace...
6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
Remember this is a Sabbath?
The primmer requirement of the Sabbath was to refrain from doing work.
Jesus is a rabbi...
The Pharisees had determined that writing could be considered as work for a Rabbi.
But this required that they define what writing was.
They had settled on writhing as making some kind of permanent mark like putting ink on paper.
So what does Jesus do?
This is so brilliant...
He bends down and begins writing in the dust!
This is not a permanet mark... Its gone as soon as the wind blows.
He is making it clear to them that he is familiar not only with the written law but also with their interpretation and man made rules surrounding it!
Remember in round 1
They said "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet[e] does not come out of Galilee."
Jesus is saying look I'm no country bumpkin.
So what does he write?
We don't have a definitive answer on this...
But his following words presuppose that he probably wrote something that would give the men pause, since they didn't start throwing stones straight away, and still gave a strict observance of the Law. perhaps he wroteLeviticus 20:10 :
'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death."
Where is the man?
Then Jesus announced the method of execution...
7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
Jesus calls them out!
"Which of you is willing to step out and claim that they have never sinned?"
And remember the Romans are still watching...
If one of the leaders steps up and throws the first stone they will be the ones arrested!
Jesus pulls the ultimate Jujitsu move and traps the Pharisees in their own trap.
Now they must admit that they are ether sinners or are heretics for ignoring the law, and/or are unwilling to "pay the price for their freedom."
8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
Interestingly Jesus is not interested in gloating or bringing further shame on them. He does not want revenge! He doesn't stare them down or watch as they withdraw. He refuses to "twist the knife."
He bends down and continues writing in the sand, giving them the chance to change their mind (and perhaps their hearts).
10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
Imagine being this woman...
She has been arrested in the middle of the night and kept in jail until the morning. She knew what the penalty was for her crime. She had spent the whole night knowing she had committed a capital offense and would be stoned... She was dragged in-front of a mob of people and the religious folks condemned her with scripture on their lips...
Brutal violence could only be next, and she had had all night to think about it!
But then this crazy Rabbi shows up and transfers the anger of the religious folks from her to himself. Her terror must have slipped away as she saw the humiliated men one by one dropping their rocks and quietly slipping away.
What a cost this man has paid, shifting the anger of such powerful men from her to himself. And he doesn't even know her name. What will he want in return? How will he treat her?
11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
Jesus is the one without sin! If anyone could condemn her it is Him!
Jesus nether condemn her no overlooks her self destructive lifestyle.
The woman's past in no way diminishes his willingness to save her.
He sets her free
The woman is able to walk away, from the incident but also from her former life.
Do you you see a pattern emerging?
Jesus is taking the pain and anger of the world upon himself.
He is setting captives free
He is giving the powerful a chance to change their path as well...
Do you play the part of Jesus in this story, offering grace to the wonam and the judgemental religous folks?
Do you play the prt of the woman needing grace and repentance?
The Religous leaders being scandelized by the people Jesus lets into the kingdom, and yet being offred a chance to change your ways?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.
Remember part 1, when we talked about how the visiting Rabbi would have been expected to stay for a banquet, and perhaps teach a little? But our story affirms that Jesus was Just "passing through."
Imagine how the disappointed the community is...
A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
The tax system in place was called Tax farming. The local person who acquired the right to collect the taxes was expected to turn over a set amount to the authorities. The tax collectors were often the only ones who could read Greek and had precise knowledge of the tax laws. This system naturally promoted and produced economic injustice.
It was bad enough that Zack was a tax collector, but we are also told another seeming small detail. He had become rich in the process. So of course the people hated him.
He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.
Zack's problem was that he was short AND hated. If he were a respected and rich man people would have made way for him. The culture required it.
Zack dared not even mix with them... If he was short and surrounded in a crowd of people who hated him, the quick flash of a knife, a cry that wouldn't be heard over the excitement of the crowd, it would all be over for him.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
He does two things that powerful men in his culture would never do.
1 He ran...
2 He climbed a tree
Both of theses are/were cultural taboos that would bring public shame
Sycamore trees have large leaves and low branches. They are easy to climb and offer a good hiding place among their thickly clustered broad leaves.
According to the laws the sycamore trees were only allows to be planted out side of town. they were to be grown fifty cubits out side of town.
This is because they have wide spread branches. And the Pharisees regarded them as a kind of then tent. They sighted the old testament law that said that if you were in a tent when some form of uncleanness happened it was automatically transferred to you. So in the Pharisees interpretation of the law if a tree in your back yard had branches that hung over into your neighbors yard then you were responsible for the sins they committed too.
So Zack ran outside of town hoping that the crowd would disperse so that he could get a good look at this Rabbi who was causing such a stir. And when he saw that the crowd was still with him Zack hid in a tree.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."
How did Jesus know Zack's name?
Think about this...
The crowd has just watched Jesus side with the oppressed. They are all fired up, here is the liberating King, the son of David. It is passover after all, the day they celebrated their political liberation from the empire of Egypt.
And here is an oppressor, a guy who collects more than the fair share of taxes for the oppressive empire that is holding them down now. Many of them would have fresh memories of stepping into Zack's office and begging for a break or a reduction in the overwhelming amount they were required to pay. Perhaps some of them even knew neighbors who had been arrested or lost their homes for non-payment...
And now they have him up a tree. They are a name less faceless mob of people. Anyone can shout from the crowd using any four letter word they want. One insult stimulates another, and another, and another... The atmosphere quickly darkens and produces a whiff of anticipated violence.
Jesus sees this and decides to intervene...
The crown expects Jesus to side with them against the oppressor, but Jesus again defies their categories.
Having before signaled that he does not intend to stay for a banquet in the town, Jesus now says
"Zack I'm coming to stay at your house!"
And Zack's response?
So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
Well duh... Jesus decides to save Zack from an ugly situation, of course He takes it. I mean we're talking about a guy who has not hesitated to line his pockets whit the money of his fellow Jews. His life until now has been about seizing opportunities.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "
The word guest here is the word: katalyō
which means: to halt on a journey, to put up, lodge
Jesus has just transferred all of the peoples anger to himself.
How will Zack respond?
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
Everything he has is because he has cheated someone.
if he fives Half of his money to the poor, that leaves him with 50%.
If he then tries to repay everyone he has cheated four times what he has taken...
He will quickly run out of money!
Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
After receiving such love acceptance and grace from Jesus Zack will never be the same...
Jesus says salvation has come to Zack... Even though he has not given out the money yet. Zack has not arrived, he has a long process ahead of him.
But Jesus takes the hostility of the world upon himself, and watches for the change to occur in Zack's heart. And then Jesus says good job Zack you get it. salvation has started here and now. Your life is somehow different...
Zack has the remainder of his life to live out that salvation.
Jesus salvation includes a radical transformation in Zack, his entire life will change...
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Jesus once again affirms that he came for the lost not the religious people.
He is always saying things like "its not the healthy who need a hospital but the sick."
Jesus sides with the oppressor, and gives him a chance to repent, that is to change his ways.
Jesus also rejects the idea that the problem of oppression can be solved with violence!
Friday, March 06, 2009
Preaching and teaching is important for our congregation today not only because we have a powerful message that needs to be herd, but because we have entrusted to us the word of life that matters urgently in a society bent on self destruction. We can see in our culture on a large scale, but also in our own city and neighborhoods, the downward spiral towards apathy and darkness.
With the disestablishment of Christianity and the collapse of the supremacy of the christian world view in our culture, the formation of a distinctive community of praise and obedience now becomes more urgent than it has ever been. If the body of Christ is not to evaporate into an ocean of consumerism and anti-neighborly individualism, then our summons to an alternative community is necessary. The idea of an alternative community requires an offer of a choice and the requirement of a decision that is Scripturaly rooted and that touches every facet of the life of the community and its members.
Transformation is what lies at the heart of my motivation for preaching and teaching.There are only rare texts in the bible that are holding actions, everything else in the bible urges us to move towards an alternative to the dominate culture. People do not transform their lives because someone explains an abstract theological point to them. But people can and do in fact engage in transformation through the hearing and living out of the message. We do not need to adjust our theology to match our practices, but we need to adjust our practices to match our theology.
The act of preaching and teaching is a powerful act of imagination, an offer of a new image through which perception, experience, and finally faith can be reorganized in alternative ways (not of this world but in it). Preaching and teaching to me is primarily a chance to summon and nurture an alternative community with an alternative identity, vision, vocation, preoccupied with praise and obedience toward the God we know fully in Jesus of Nazareth.
The next year will be filled with all the challenges of the last year, but will also present us with a new challenge. The challenge of discovering this alternate community among ourselves... This will require being open to transformation in every aspect of our lives as individuals and as a community. It will require listening more than we speak, to God, to our community, and to each other. We must learn to reject as false the wicked spirit that whispers selfishness into our soul, and leads to apathy and death. This is not "My church" but is Jesus body. This must become more than an abstract theological point for us!
If we are to be active partners with Christ in the rescue mission he has given us (go and make disciples) we must surrender our vision for our church and accept His vision for His bride. We live in a culture that is crying out for help, it is unthinkable that we would retreat into our building as if it is a fortress, and bemoan our cultures decent into darkness. If we are to be a shinning city on a hill attracting weary travelers who are stumbling through the darkness, then we must together hold our light high.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Jesus loves the Oppressed and the oppressor
WE tend to see the world as black and white, us and them, Your ether with us or against us... But Jesus doesn't see it quite that way.
Two stories that take place at the edge of Jericho provide us with an opportunity to see how Jesus seeks a third way, a way to rescue the oppressed and restore the humanity of the oppressor.
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.
In the middle east village people show honor to an important guest by walking a distance out from the town to greet and escort them into the village. The popularity of the honored guest can be measured by how large the crowd is and how far they walk. Large crowds have been known to walk up to ten miles for political and religious leaders.
In 1972 the united states lost the Olympic gold in basketball for the first time ever (and under a dark cloud)... Basketball had been invented in the united states and was as popular as soccer is in most of the rest of the world. So when The original U.S. basketball Dream Team dominated the Olympic competition, beating their eight opponents by an average of 44 points and won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. They captured the attention of the world. More important to my point here, when they came home people came out to the airport to greet them, And not just to wait in a line to politely wave at them... It was chaos as excited fans screamed, cried, waved flags...
But back to our story...
Part of the tradition would be to welcome the guest with a banquet and public celebration. The famous Rabbi would be expected to stay the night and perhaps teach a little.
Jesus turns this offer down, but that's more important to the second half of our story.
When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.
The beggar hears the crowd and asks whats going on.
They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."
He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Son of David? Where have we heard that before?
The beggar is asking a question...
"What kind of son of David are you?"
"Are you like Solomon who ignores the cry of the oppressed,
"Are you the kind of son of David the prophets talked of"
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Mark records the crowd as saying Shut up! and also says the mans name is "Bartimaeus" which means son of filth...
Jesus stops and commands the beggar to be brought to him...
WHO has to bring the beggar?
One would expect Jesus to stand up on a large rock and yell "You idiots, don't you know I'm here for the poor, the sick, the lost... Stop demeaning this man, get out of the way so that he might find me."
But he doesn't!
He makes the very people who were insulting the beggar escort him through the crowd to Jesus for an audience.
Jesus makes people see and touch the oppressed, he brings them into a place where they have to serve them.
And one might think the story ends there, the man has found Jesus...
But once the beggar gets to Jesus, he is forced to face an exam, a pop quiz.
"What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, I want to see," he replied.
The question seems heartless,
Duh Jesus THE GUY IS BLIND! What do you think he wants you to do?
In traditional middle-eastern society beggars are recognized as an necessary part of the community, they are seen as offering a service to it.
NOT like today when we may say something like "Get a job"
In that culture Pious people are expected to give to the poor.
The traditional beggar did not say "excuse me mister can you spare some change for a crust of bread?"
Instead he would sit in a public place and challenge passersby with something like "Give to God"
He is really saying "My needs are beside the point, I am offering you a golden opportunity to fulfill one of your oblations to God (a mitzvah), furthermore in this public place everyone will see you and you will gain a reputation as an Honorable and compassionate guy."
If the beggar receives money he usually proclaims in a loud voice the givers greatness. " this is the most noble and generous person I've ever met."
The important thing with this profession is that some handicap be visibly present. In fact the worse the condition the better... A man with one leg or arm would get by.
But a blind man was golden to those who needed to be seen giving.
Being blind meant that the man would have been left out of the educational system, he wouldn't have inherited his family's land/home, he wouldn't have been trained in a trade... His only means of supporting himself would have been begging, which would require being blind.
If hes healed his only means of self support goes out the window.
Whats he going to do?
He can't beg anymore...
He has no education...
He has no employment history...
He has no employable skills...
Every hope for food, housing, survival is tied up in his blindness.
And Jesus asks "What do you want me to do for you?"
The man doesn't even hesitate
He responds "Lord" acknowledging Jesus's authority, and moves from requesting a vague "mercy" to expressing a yearning need to be healed of his blindness.
Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you."
Jesus sides with the oppressed beggar, but who is oppressing him?
Who has lost sight of his humanity and is using him as an object to boost their own standing?
The crow, the people of this town who are trying to shove the beggar away the way you would shoe a dog who is begging for food at the table.
They assume the beggar is only wanting this traveler to give him a few coins. And they think they are already giving Jesus honor, which they think is greater since they are giving it. So they tell the man to shut up!
And so Jesus gives the crowd a verbal slap, by making them bring the man to him. He gives the oppressor a chance to be transforms , to repent, to change their direction in this matter...
And they do
They join their fellow human being in celebrating and praising...
Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
We are also creatures shaped by our culture of greed and self loathing. We long for the things that are out of our reach, just a little better than what we have now. Those things that we are told will satisfy our cravings, and make us better more fulfilled people. And we are urged, by subtle and not so subtle messages, to look the other way over some injustices to get these things (as if the ends justify the means).
An Inner voice can urge us to dive into an icy river and save a child from drowning. Another inner voice can urge a us to pocket a bracelet from a jewelry box when visiting a forgetful elderly relative.
Learning to tell these voices apart is the work of a lifetime, because the selfish voice can mimic a very convincing imitation of the other when we are willing to let ourselves be deceived. The Problem is our deep longing for Glory...
Is it one of those things that you sing about, read about, maybe even talk about, especially if you have been around a church for any length of time. But what does it mean “Glory to God in the highest?”
To help us unpack this a little lets look at the word Glory a little, as it appears in the scriptures.
The word glory is a very complex nuanced sort of word...
For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
The Hebrew word for Glory is the word kabowd (kä·bode')
and it means :
honor, glorious, abundance, riches, splendor, glory
And it comes from the root word kä·bad'
Which means to be heavy, or weighty
The heavens declare the Kabowd of God ?
If you want to get a good perspective on this spend some time looking at the stars , maybe through a telescope, or watching an eclipse or mediator storm.
When I was a kid my dad took me out in the country away from all the man made lights to watch a mediator storm first hand...
Which is another good point, we live on a planet that is designed to protect us from all of this floating space junk...
Do you get a feel for how big the universe is?
Kabwod is heavy, signifying that other things are light, temporary, Its as if the wind could blow at any minute and they would be gone...
Dust & Rust
Everything eventually turns to dust and rust
This is the case for everything we lust or long for. (even other people) They always return to Dust or rust.
Kabowd is like the kick drum of the universe, its what happens when you come face to face with the bigness of the universe and you are reminded of the proper proportions of the universe and that you are not the most important thing in it!