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.