Monthly Archives: May 2015

ChristInTheWilderness_1In these last few years I’ve come to realize that the temptations that Satan put before Jesus must have been incredibly challenging and difficult for him to resist.  I think I failed to realize this because of an overemphasis on his divine nature (Doceticism) that ends up ignoring the human nature/aspects of Jesus and the world in which he lived.  If looked at closely each temptation came with the prospect of an easier life, not only for Jesus but for the people and the world that he came to save.

Jesus grew up and lived in the midst of very poor people.  Poverty was not something he had no contact with growing up, it was all around him.  Work, debt, poverty, taxes were par for the course for a Galilean peasant which meant that food was a source of anxiety as well.  Turning the stone into bread would not have only relieved Jesus’ hunger but it could have immediately relieved the hunger of so many around him.  When he fed the 5,000 in John 6 their response was to make him king and for good reason.  Full bellies make a happy people.  Quick solutions make a people happy as our consumerist culture bears witness to each and every day.  If he had just turned that stone into bread his life would be a lot easier.  Of course, things would get rough again for the people when he eventually grew old and died but 40+ years of bread is a good deal.

Many who rose up to fight the Romans desired the type of kingship that Satan offered Jesus and for good reason too.  Jesus grew up during a very tumultuous time.  Add to this the familiar stories of King David’s glory as well as the Maccabean revolt and triumph and you can understand why many were ready to fight and usher in the Kingdom of God.  The Romans did horrible things, they supported an oppressive King Herod and then his sons, they levied oppressive taxes, they disrespected their place of worship, the Temple.  Lastly, due to various uprisings, they brutally killed Galilean peasants, crucifying thousands in order to send a message.  If Jesus just bowed the knee to Satan this could’ve all be gone in an instant.  No more crying, no more pain, no more living hand to mouth because there would be have been no more Romans.  Jesus’ people could’ve finally lived in peace without worry.

The Temple was a sore spot for many of the Jews who lived outside of the city of Jerusalem and in the northern area of Galilee.  The high priests worked closely with the Roman procurator and along with Rome oppressively taxed the people.  These religious leaders disregarded Torah requirements in order to make a buck and did not lift a finger for those in need.  Keeping the status quo the status quo is what was most important to Temple leadership.  Corruption was par for the course and everyone knew it.  If Jesus just threw himself down from the Temple allowing God’s angels to catch him in broad daylight he could’ve easily won over the people of Jerusalem.  There would be no way for the high priests to counter him and to work to put him to death.  The crowds would have immediately hailed him as the one who had come to cleanse the Temple of corruption.  It could’ve been that simple.  No calls for him to crucified.

Nonetheless, Jesus did not come to validate our ways instead he came to show us God’s Way.  For His Kingdom is not from this world.

In the Gospels Jesus only references King David two times.  This has always struck me as odd considering that he is the Son of David and is referred to as such by quite a few people from disciples to beggars.  One would think Jesus would have taken more license and used his being the “Son of David” to his advantage, but not so much.  In fact, Jesus’ use of King David is rather odd when we look closely.  Let me explain.

When dealing with matters of Sabbath questioning from the Pharisees Jesus likens himself to King David while he was on the run from King Saul (Mark 2:23-27).  During this time David had surrounded himself with an army of outcast Israelites.  He was consistently on the move, hiding in caves, and going from city to city in order to escape from the hand of Saul.  Here’s the passage from 1 Samuel 22:2:

“Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about four hundred.

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Jesus sees himself as an outcast on the move, hiding, and going from city to city, in order to escape from the hands of his enemies.  Not only that, but Jesus surrounds himself with an odd cast of characters from terrorists to prostitutes to fishermen to IRS agents.  This is his army and he is leading a campaign against the powers and the principalities.  It’s important to remember that Jesus could not openly enter towns because he had a target on his back, the Pharisees and Herodians wanted to destroy him just like Saul wanted to destroy David.

Later Jesus will refer to David again but it will be to undermine the people’s expectations that he would be a worldly king just like David (Mark 12:35-37).  He will teach this in the city of David, namely Jerusalem.  A few days later he will find himself on a throne but it will not be a normal throne but rather the throne of a Roman Cross.  There the people will see a King coming “in clouds with power and glory.”

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16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. – Luke 4: 16-20

Luke places this scene at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and it ends with the people of Nazareth attempting to throw him down a cliff and kill him.  Much of the crowd’s anger stems from Jesus’ use of Isaiah 61.  It’s where he stops that bothers them in his reading of the prophet.  Right after the line “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” comes the line “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Is.61:2b).  In the crowd’s minds there was to be favor for them and vengeance for their enemies, namely the Romans, who had viciously oppressed them.  Heck, according to the following lines of Isaiah, the Romans were going to become their slaves, they were going to become their shepherds, their farmers and vinedressers.  Jesus stops too soon and doesn’t read these following verses from Isaiah.  In so doing, Jesus gives a glimpse of what his ministry will look like.  He’s come not to bring vengeance but to proclaim the year of Lord’s favor which translates into actions of mercy, love and forgiveness.  It consists not in tearing down but in restoring people and the creation to their proper places.   Unfortunately, for the people of Nazareth, Jesus stopped too soon.  While they liked the idea of jubilee for themselves, they didn’t like it for their enemies as well.   Yet God loves all people, “for He is kind to the grateful and the evil.”

the_prodigal_son_zoomThere’s something in the story of the Prodigal Son that really stands out to me and catches my attention every time I read it.  It’s the foolish love of the Father that is best captured in verse 20 of chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel.  Luke writes, “But while he (son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him.”

Middle Eastern men didn’t run in public, to do so would be scandalous and unbecoming, it exposed them to public shame.   More specifically, to do so for a son who has already shown great disrespect by asking for his inheritance early (which was akin to treating his father as if he were already dead) would be perceived as a great show of foolishness and weakness.  At this point in the story it was the son’s duty to come to the father and apologize and beg for forgiveness.  Despite these things the father still runs after his son, and he does this publically, for the entire the village to see.

Why?  He does this to shield his son from the wrath of the Village.  The Prodigal Son brought much shame upon his family by asking for his inheritance early and the proper response of the community was to have nothing to do with him, to cut him off.    If the father treats him well, everyone else will treat him well.  And that’s exactly what happens, a party is thrown and all are invited because this son who was dead is alive again.  Restored by the foolish love of his father.

Such foolish love that doesn’t need anything from us.

For more on this you can check out Kenneth Bailey’s “Jacob and the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story”

Often, the Gospels strike me as simply wonderful.  One example of this is how Luke begins his Gospel.   Now, I’m not talking about the first 5 verses wherein Luke dedicates his Gospel to a person named Theophilus.  Rather I’m talking about how he begins his narrative and thereby sets its tone.

Alexandr_Ivanov_010Luke begins with a priest named Zechariah (v.5).  He begins with the man who would become the father of John the Baptist.  He begins with a professional theologian who encounters Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, while working in the Temple.  The angel tells this old priest that his barren wife, Elizabeth, will be found with child.  This child will have the task of preparing the way of the Lord.  Upon hearing such news Zechariah responds skeptically with the infamous question that would get him into trouble, “how shall I know this?”  Please bear in mind that this priest has heard of his God, Yahweh, doing such things before, from opening the womb of Sarah the wife of Abraham to opening the womb of Hannah the mother of Samuel.  He should know better than to ask such a quizzical question.  Zechariah’s God has opened the wombs of barren women before, his God has parted seas and delivered his people from the hands of their enemies time and time again.  “How shall I know this?” is a poor reply especially when considering the source.  Instead of the angel Gabriel explaining to Zechariah how this would be so, he silences him until the day that John is born because he did not believe these words.  Ouch.

Right after this Luke transitions to a city of Galilee named Nazareth where the angel Gabriel visits a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, her name is Mary.  Let’s first begin with the fact that Mary has no status.  She is a woman in a patriarchical culture, she’s young, probably around the age of 13, and she’s a peasant.  By ancient standards she’s not the ideal candidate.  Yet Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the Messiah and that she should name him Jesus.  Mary responds to Gabriel by asking, “How will this be, since I am virgin?”  This is different from Zechariah’s response.  Mary knows the Lord can do it, she’s just wondering about how the Lord will go about doing such a thing.mary-is-visited-by-the-angel-gabriel2

Luke sets a wonderful tone for his Gospel.  It’s what some scholars call the great reversal theme found throughout it.  Zechariah is first and foremost a male which was a big deal in ancient Palestine.  There was a rabbinic prayer that thanked God for not being a woman.  He was a priest who worked in the Temple, a status filled profession if there ever was one amongst the Jews, and he lived in Judah near Jerusalem, the center of religious life for Jews.  It was where God was said to reside.  Instead, though, the one who “gets it” was a female with no sort of life experience or status.  She is from up north, in rural Galilee, residing in a peasant town known as Nazareth with a population of no more than few hundred people.

It turns out the young peasant girl who is wet behind the ears knows better than the priest with years of life-experience.  Thus, Luke sets the tone for his Gospel.