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Showing posts with label #ChristAlmighty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #ChristAlmighty. Show all posts

19 November 2018

The living bread wants to save us.

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

John 6.30-42

To recap: Jesus is the living bread, and wants people to pursue him instead of ordinary bread—or any other ordinary material possession which gets used up, goes moldy or stale, or otherwise perishes. He wants an eternal relationship with us. Whereas sometimes all we seem to want of him too often are the fringe benefits of heaven.

So went the discussion Jesus had with the Galileans who sought him after he and his students fed 5,000. (John refers to them as Yudaíoi/“Judeans,” people from Judea who settled the Galilee centuries after the Assyrians drove the northern Israeli tribes out. I stuck with “Galileans” because obviously they’re Galilean Jews—same as Jesus.) The Galileans figured he was the Prophet from the End Times because he fed ’em bread like Moses fed their ancestors manna. Like they say here.

John 6.30-31 KWL
30 So they told Jesus, “So what miracle are you doing so we can see it and trust you?
What’d you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.
Like it’s written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Ps 78.24

As I said previously, it wasn’t because they wanted a handout of free manna. It’s because being able to do such a miracle proved to them the End Times had come, and they oughta follow Jesus ’cause he was about to overthrow the Romans. Of course their timeline—and motives!—looked nothing like Jesus’s.

So he threw ’em for a loop by stating something which they’d immediately think was incorrect.

John 6.32-34 KWL
32 Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven.
Instead my Father gives you actual bread from heaven.”
33 For God’s bread is the one coming from heaven, giving life to the world.”
34 So they told Jesus, “Master, give us this bread, always.”

Whenever Jesus says “Amen amen” (KJV “verily, verily,” NIV “Very truly,” NJB “In all truth”) he’s not kidding. Not lying, not exaggerating; you can take this statement to the bank. It might be a metaphor though. But it’s still entirely truthful, which is why I interpret légo ymín/“I tell you” as “I promise you.” And what he promised ’em was manna isn’t bread from heaven. He is.

Thing is, biblical literalists are gonna insist manna totally is bread from heaven. ’Cause the LORD Ex 16.4 and Nehemiah Ne 9.15 said so! Asaph wrote this in Psalms!

Psalm 78.23-25 KWL
23 God commanded the clouds from above. He opened the heavens’ doors.
24 God made manna to rain down upon them, to eat. He gave them the heavens’ grain.
25 People ate potent bread. God sent them abundant food.

(The word “potent” in verse 25 translates abirím, which means “stallions” or “bulls”—basically any uncastrated animal, who’s mighty strong, but sometimes hard to control. You know, like Hebrews. Pharisees were a little weirded out by that idea, so in the Septuagint they changed it to árton angélon/“angels’ bread” in the Septuagint, even though abirím isn’t translated “angels” anywhere else in the bible. But that’s why we find “bread of angels” in most English translations. Turns out our translators are just as squeamish about testicles. But I digress.)

Obviously Asaph wrote poetry, and was being hyperbolic, as poets will. But literalists don’t know and don’t care what hyperbole is, and only wanna fixate on their favorite literal interpretation: God gave the Hebrews angel food! As if spirits eat. Wasn’t the whole point of Jesus eating after his resurrection to prove he’s not just a spirit, ’cause spirits don’t eat? Lk 24.38-43 Why would any angel need to eat manna?

Manna comes from heaven in that God, who’s in heaven, provides it. But it doesn’t literally come from heaven, as Jesus correctly points out. Get off the manna. ’Cause he’s offering us actual heavenly bread—and again, that’s a metaphor, but one we shouldn’t struggle to understand like the Galileans did.

12 November 2018

Seek the living bread! Accept no substitutes.

Because some of our visions of New Jerusalem are awfully materialistic… and aren’t so much about being with Jesus.

John 6.25-29

At the beginning John’s chapter 6, Jesus had his students feed 5,000 people with five rolls and fish spread. The people’s conclusion? Jesus was the Prophet, the End Times figure, the “prophet like Moses,” Dt 18.15 whom the Pharisees wondered whether John the baptist was. Jn 1.21 Because Jesus fed ’em bread, just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna. So he’s a prophet like Moses!

The next day they sought Jesus and couldn’t find him. So they returned to Jesus’s home base of Kfar Nahum… and there he was.

John 6.25-27 KWL
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 In reply Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you seek me not because you saw miracles:
Instead it’s because you ate the rolls and were filled.
27 Don’t toil for perishable food! Instead seek food which lasts for eternal life.
The Son of Man will give it to you, for Father God sealed this man.”

Various preachers love to claim this lesson is all about the people coming to Jesus for free bread, and Jesus responding he didn’t come to teach people to expect handouts. And whenever I hear this, it’s obvious they didn’t study the text, and instead they’re preaching their stingy politics instead of God’s kingdom. God doesn’t want us to be dependent on him for daily bread? Have they heard of the Lord’s Prayer? What bible are they reading?

Being dependent on God is precisely what God wants. You do realize he gave the Hebrews free manna for 40 years. The only work they had to do for it, was go pick it off the ground and stick to a liter a day. (Two liters on Friday; no liters on Saturday. Sabbath, y’know.) No planting, no watering, no waiting, no harvesting, no winnowing, no grinding; just free manna. As easy as when we buy flour at the grocery store; easier ’cause you pay nothing. You wanna agitate about handouts? You need to learn about God’s generosity, ’cause you’re deficient in it.

Free bread, free food in general, is one of the traits of Kingdom Come. Because of sin, humanity was cursed to toil for our food. Ge 3.17 Once God deals with our sin, the curse gets lifted and no more toil. That’s what we expect in heaven: Eternal rest! The Galileans expected it too. And suddenly after one of Jesus’s lessons, his students walk round handing out bread the Galileans didn’t have to work for. Then Jesus tells them about “food which lasts for eternal life,” and “the Son of Man will give it to you.” It doesn’t sound at all like Jesus was telling them, “I’m not here to give people handouts.” Just the opposite!

But.

Yeah, there’s a but. A big huge one. A but which also applies to us, because we’re guilty of precisely the same thing as the Galileans. Jesus told ’em to not seek perishable bread, but eternal-life bread. Because they were seeking perishable bread. They were seeking something material. Lots of it; enough so they’d regularly be filled; an abundance of it; so they were seeking a wealth of this material. Do I have to spell it out any more? Fine: Material wealth.

So… how many Christians are hoping to make it to Kingdom Come so they can have a crown filled with jewels, and a mansion on a street of gold?

And instead Jesus wants us to have living bread. Which—spoilers—is Jesus himself. Jn 6.35

05 November 2018

Seeking Jesus—who’s curing people in the next town.

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

Mark 6.53-56 • Matthew 14.34-36 • John 6.22-25

After Jesus and Peter walked on water, the gospels go in different directions. Mark heads down south to Khinnerót, a town about 8 kilometers south from Kfar Nahum. Once they land, Jesus and his students do some stuff there. Matthew follows Mark’s lead and tells much the same story.

Whereas John stays in Beit Sayid, where the 5,000 got fed, where everybody was wondering what happened to Jesus. Then they went to look for him, and it looks like they found him at his home base of Kfar Nahum. Which isn’t Khinnerót.

Readers get their choice as to how to interpret this divergence. Some of ’em claim it’s a flat-out contradiction: Jesus went either one place or the other, and can’t possibly have gone to both places. Others point it doesn’t need to be a contradiction: First Jesus landed in Khinnerót, then walked the 8 klicks to Kfar Nahum, and by the time the people finally found him in John, he was home. The stories can have happened simultaneously, y’know.

But I remind you: The authors of the gospels weren’t trying to make their stories line up, and didn’t always care about chronological order. They were sharing the parts they considered important, in an order which flowed naturally to them. If they don’t line up precisely, big deal. (If they did line up precisely, people would think they’re quoting one another—which is exactly what scholars think is the case with the synoptic gospels.) So don‘t fret that it looks like a contradiction: It’s not. The writers are just telling different stories.

But for fun, we can always pretend these stories happened simultaneously. It creates a little dramatic tension. Which, I admit, is entirely unnecessary; it’s why I say we’re doing it for fun. In real life there was probably no tension at all: No wild, desperate hunt for Jesus while he’s meanwhile busy in Khinnerót.

John 6.22-25 KWL
22 In the morning, the crowd staying on the near side of the lake looked for a boat.
But it wasn’t there; just the one.
For Jesus hadn’t gone off with his students in the boat; the students left alone instead.
23 Boats from Tiberias instead came near the place they ate the rolls for which the Master gave thanks.
24 So when the crowd saw Jesus wasn’t there, nor his students, they entered the boats and went to Kfar Nahum, seeking Jesus.
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Why were they so anxious to find Jesus? ’Cause they deduced he’s the End Times prophet, so they wanted to stick around and follow him, and see whether he’d overthrow the Romans. The rest of John 6 dashed these hopes; I’ll discuss that in more detail later.

29 October 2018

Jesus and Peter walk on water.

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

Mark 6.46-52 • Matthew 14.23-33 • John 6.16-21

Right after Jesus had his students feed 5,000-plus listeners, he sent ’em to the far side of Lake Tiberias (i.e. “the Galilean Sea,” although it’s not quite that big. The Great Lakes are way bigger.) So while Jesus dismissed the crowds and left to pray, the students rowed their way south.

And the rowing wasn’t easy, ’cause the weather didn’t cooperate.

Mark 6.46-48 KWL
46 Saying goodbye, Jesus went off to a hill to pray.
47 Much later, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land.
48A Seeing the students tortured by the rowing, for the wind was against them…
Matthew 14.23-24 KWL
23 Saying goodbye to the crowds, Jesus went up a hill by himself to pray.
Much later he was alone there. 24 The boat was already many stadia away from land,
tortured by the waves, for the wind was against it.
John 6.16-18 KWL
16 When it became later, Jesus’s students went down to the lake,
17 got into a boat, and went to the far side of the lake, to Kfar Nahum.
It had become dark, and Jesus hadn’t yet come to them.
18 The lake’s wind increased, blowing greatly.

Now, the title of this piece tipped you off what’s about to happen next: Jesus is gonna walk to them on the surface of Lake Tiberias. You’ve heard the story before. Heck, everybody’s heard of this story; walking on water is one of the most famous stunts Jesus ever pulled.

Though I should point not everyone who’s heard of this story, knows the details of this story. Pagans regularly assume Jesus is the only person who ever walked on water. Who ever could walk on water; there’s a widespread pagan interpretation that Jesus could do it because he’s so good, God would never let him sink! It surprises them when I tell ’em Simon Peter walked on water too—and then they leap to the conclusion Peter must’ve been a really good person too. Hardly. But I’m getting too far ahead of the story.

I bring up how everyone’s heard this story, to point out how most folks don’t know this story in context. They don’t know what happened before it. They don’t realize what happened before it, should’ve had enough of an impact on the students, they’d behave far differently than they did. But like Mark points out at the end of the story, these kids were pretty dense.

So I remind you there were three experiences the students should’ve bore in mind as the events in this story were taking place:

  • They weren’t unfamiliar with Lake Tiberias’s rough weather. And they also weren’t familiar with the fact Jesus once stopped this weather.
  • Day before yesterday, the Twelve had just returned to Jesus after going round the Galilee preaching the gospel, curing the sick, and throwing out demons. They had personally done what Jesus did.
  • And yesterday, Jesus had ’em feed the 5,000.

You’d think they’d be used to the impossible by now. Apparently not.

22 October 2018

When the crowds realized Jesus is the Prophet.

Wanna win a kingdom? Give ’em freebies.

Mark 6.45-47 • Matthew 14.22-23 • John 6.14-17

Christians are far from decided about how the End Times are gonna play out. Well, most of us are undecided: We recognize God was deliberately vague about the details, and aren’t gonna presume to declare what his apocalyptic revelations mean. Sometimes because we’re too intimidated to try; sometimes because we know better than to try. Of course some of us aren’t so humble, and have even made intricate timelines.

What did the Pharisees do when it came to End Times speculation? Oh, they totally made timelines. You probably guessed that about ’em.

Not that their timelines lined up with one another. If you ever read the Mishna, you’ll notice Pharisees disagreed about everything. So of course there were dozens of theories about the order of events, and the various End Times figures whom the Pharisees expected would appear. There’s Messiah of course; that’d be Jesus the Nazarene. Some Pharisees couldn’t figure out how Messiah would both rule Israel and suffer and die, so they guessed there had to be two Messiahs—of course a first and second coming never occurred to them. There’s Elijah, who was raptured to heaven in a whirlwind 2Ki 2.11 and therefore hadn’t died; Pharisees figured God was gonna send him back before the End, Mk 9.11 and Jesus identified him as John the baptist. Mt 11.13-14 And there’s the Prophet, whom certain Pharisees insisted was what God meant here:

Deuteronomy 18.17-19 KWL
17 The LORD told me, “What they said is good.
18 So I raise them a prophet, like you, from among their family.
I put my words in his mouth, and he tells them everything I teach him.
19 If a person won’t listen to my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I examine them.”

Yeah, the LORD generally means any prophet he raises up—in any culture. But Pharisees imagined there’d be a quintessential prophet who especially fulfilled this word, whom the LORD would raise up special for the End Times. And Simon Peter indicated this guy also as Jesus the Nazarene.

Acts 3.17-24 KWL
17 “Now family, I know you’re acting in ignorance, just like your leaders.
18 This was how God fulfilled what he foretold through all his prophets’ mouths:
His Messiah was to suffer.
19 So turn around, turn back, so your sins can be patched up!
20 So a refreshing time can come from the Master’s face.
So he can send you his appointed Messiah, Jesus.
21 Heaven has to have Jesus till the time he restores all—
which God spoke of in the prophets’ age, through his saints’ mouths.
22 Moses said this: ‘Your Lord God will raise up a prophet for you,
from your own family, like me. Listen to him, to everything which he tells you.
23 It’ll be that every soul who doesn’t listen to this prophet
will be utterly destroyed from the people.’ Dt 18.18-19
24 All the prophets since Samuel, and those who followed him,
spoke of and proclaimed these days.”

I know; Peter didn’t quote Deuteronomy accurately. The LORD said it, not Moses; and the consequence of not listening to the prophet was “I examine them” (or as an Aramaic bible has it, “my Word examines them”—you know, Jesus). Turning that into utter destruction—well that escalated quickly. But utter destruction was kinda the mindset Pharisees had about ignoring God’s prophets. If God’s speaking, and we won’t listen, we’re kinda doomed. It’s happened before.

Hence the Prophet wasn’t a minor End Times figure. He was a big deal. The Pharisees wanted to know whether John was this Prophet, and John was pretty sure he wasn’t; he didn’t even think he was Elijah. Jn 1.19-24 Pharisees were on the lookout for the guy.

Well. Once Jesus’s students fed ’em bread in the middle of nowhere—just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna in the middle of nowhere!—guess what conclusion the crowd immediately jumped to?

John 6.14 KWL
So, seeing this miracle Jesus did, the people said this:
“This is truly the Prophet who’s meant to come to the world!”

But here’s the problem: Rather than listen to anything the Prophet might have to say about what his role really consists of—you know, like the LORD told ’em they oughta do—they immediately fell back on their culture’s expectations about the Prophet. They wanted to defy the Romans, defy Herod, and make Jesus their king. Right there. Right then. Right away.

Uh-oh.

15 October 2018

Jesus’s students feed thousands of people.

God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from shortages.

Mark 6.35-44 • Matthew 14.15-21 • Luke 9.12-17 • John 6.5-13

This story is basically Jesus’s riff on a similar situation with Elisha ben Šafat:

2 Kings 4.1-7 KWL
1 A woman, one of the women of “the sons of prophets,” cried out to Elisha
to say, “Your slave, my man, died. You know your slave respected the LORD.
He was a debtor, and a collector is coming to take two of my children as slaves.”
2 Elisha told her, “What can I do for you? Tell me. What do you have in your house?”
She said, “Your slave has nothing in her house but a pot of oil.”
3 Elisha said, “Go ask all your neighbors outside for pots for yourself.
Empty pots. Not just a few!
4 Come in the house and shut the door behind you and your children.
Pour oil into all these pots. Set aside the full pots.”
5 She went with this, and shut the door behind her and her children.
They came to her with pots, and she poured.
6 When the pots were filled, she told her children, “Bring me another!”
They told her, “There are no more pots.” The oil held out.
7 She came to tell the God’s-man of this. He said, “Go sell the oil.
Be freed of your debt. You and your children can live on what’s left over.”

God multiplied oil to bail out this prophet; God can likewise multiply food to feed the big crowd who’d accumulated to listen to Jesus’s teaching.

Usually this story’s titled, “How Jesus fed 5,000 people.” Obviously ’cause people don’t bother to pay close attention to the text. Or they remember it from Jesus movies: Jesus puts the bread and fish in a basket, lifts it to the sky, prays, lowers the basket… and now it’s magically overflowing with food. They think of that instead of reading the bible.

Jesus came up with the idea to feed the crowd from what food his students had on them. Jn 6.6 In part to show his kids Elisha-style miracles are still doable; in part to show them God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from the limitations of this world; in part to show them they could do this. ’Cause he told his students—read it again!—“You give them something to eat.” Then Jesus made them give the people something to eat. And that’s where the miracle took place.

Seriously. Read the story. Double-check it in other translations.

09 July 2018

Trying to get away from it all… and failing.

Sometimes we need to take a break from ministry… if people will let us.

Mark 6.30-34 • Matthew 14.12-14 • Luke 9.10-11 • John 6.1-4

The bit where Jesus sent out his students to proclaim God’s kingdom and cure the sick, and where Jesus had them feed an audience of 5,000, were placed right next to one another in two of the synoptic gospels. Namely Mark and Luke.

Mark 6.30-31 KWL
30 Jesus’s students were gathered together to see him,
and reported everything to him—whatever they did, whatever they taught.
31 Jesus told them, “Come, by yourselves, to a place in the wilds. Stop for a little bit.”
For many people were coming and going, and they hadn’t time to even eat.
Luke 9.10 KWL
Returning, the apostles detailed for Jesus all they did.
Taking them, he withdrew with them to a town called Beit Sayid.

The reason they’re right next to one another? Because Jesus was training his students to be his apostles and minister on his behalf. With that came how to minister. And when he sends us to minister apostle-style, feeding the 5,000 is one of the ways in which he wants us to do so: Feed the hungry!

There are those Christians who figure our only job is to tell people about the kingdom—not demonstrate the kingdom by doing good deeds in Jesus’s name. Tell, not show. It’s a warped mindset, but I grew up among people of this mindset: They don’t actually love their neighbors, and this is how they weasel out of doing anything for ’em, contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Yeah, they need to get saved.

But after you’ve spent a bit of time intensively ministering to people, you do need to take a break. Get your Sabbath rest. Too many ministers work all week long: Saturday night services, Sunday morning services, and then it’s back to the usual workday ministries. They take no days off, then burn out. Jesus is the LORD who commanded Israel to take a break every week; he understands the value of rest. Don’t work yourself to death, even if your works are good works. Take a day!

Christians don’t always catch how Jesus sending his kids on a mission, is immediately followed by feeding 5,000. Because most of us aren’t in the habit of sitting down to read gospels all the way through. We break ’em up into daily readings, separate the stories from one another, read them without the previous story fresh in our minds, and don’t catch any of the context. Then people like me point out these fairly obvious facts, and Christians go, “Wow, I never realized that.” Yeah, well, stop reading it the way you’ve been reading it. You’re missing more than you realize.

Mini-rant aside: So, three gospels emphasize how Jesus took his students away for a brief rest. Problem is, they couldn’t catch a break. The crowds found out where Jesus had gone and went to see him. They had sick people and wanted ’em cured. Or they heard rumors Jesus might be Messiah, and wanted to see for themselves, and had a few days free ’cause they were getting ready to go to Jerusalem for Passover (no that’s not speculation; it’s bible Jn 6.4), so they took a detour to check him out.

So much for rest time.

02 July 2018

John the baptist’s death.

Because despots care more about power than people’s lives.

Mark 6.21-29 • Matthew 14.6-12

As I mentioned previously “Herodias,” as she’s called in the King James Version, is Herodia Salome (or as I’ve westernized it, Salome Herod), granddaughter of Antipater Herod, the first “King Herod.” She’s the daughter of Aristobulus Herod, the wife of Aristobulus’s half-brother Philip, and later the wife of Aristobulus and Philip’s half-brother Antipater, or “Antipas,” as he’s usually called. Yeah, that’s how it was in the Herod family.

You might recall Salome held a grudge against John the baptist, who at this point in the gospels was in Antipas’s prison. She wanted John dead for publicly criticizing her marriage. In those days before anyone thought to protect free speech, criticizing the Roman governor was considered sedition, and treason, and got the death penalty. So as the Roman governor of the Galilee, Antipas could’ve executed John whenever he pleased. But he didn’t, either because he feared the crowds Mt 14.5 or because he liked to talk religion with John. Mk 6.20 Pick your favorite explanation; the bible’ll back you up.

Salome’s chance came on Antipas’s birthday, when Antipas—who held the hereditary title of king, though not really the job—was feeling particularly royal. Probably fortified by drink. He decided to offer a royal grant to Salome’s daughter, his stepdaughter—who, following Roman custom, was also named Herodia Salome. I’ll just refer to the mom as Senior and the daughter as Junior.

Mark 6.21-23 KWL
21 An critical day came, because Antipas Herod threw a dinner party for his birthday
for his magistrates and generals, and the princes of the Galilee.
22 His daughter, Salome Herod, came in and danced.
She pleased Antipas Herod and his guests.
The king told the girl, “Ask me whatever you want and I’ll give it to you.”
23 Antipas promised Salome, “Whatever you ask me. I’ll give you up to half my kingdom!”
Matthew 14.6-7 KWL
6 When Antipas Herod’s birthday came, Salome Herod’s daughter danced in the middle.
It pleased Herod, 7 so with an oath he promised to give her whatever she wanted.

Salome Jr. was born in the year 14. Jesus’s ministry started round the time he turned 30, Lk 3.23 which would probably be the year 22, when Salome Jr. was eight. Both gospels call her a korásion/“girl,” which means younger than the age of adulthood, 13 years old. So that helps pin down the date for this story: Between the years 22 and 27.

But a lot of Christians imagine Jesus’s ministry was only three years long. Based on what? Well they imagine Jesus died at age 33 (mixing up the year 33 with his age), and if he started at 30, that gave him only three years for all the events of the gospels to take place. Plus the gospel of John only mentions three Passovers Jesus attended, which jibes with their theory. So if Salome Jr. did her birthday dance in, say, the year 32, that’d make her an 18-year-old woman.

And then people start to leap to all sorts of unsavory speculations about what sort of dance this was—as if a Judean princess is gonna cavort in front of every civic leader of a very religious region. (And their wives, y’know.) Or they imagine what sort of relationship Antipas had with his grandniece/stepdaughter—which considering how the Herods had that reputation for inbreeding, ain’t that far of a stretch for the imagination to go. So they like to imagine a lustful Antipas leering at the girl, offering her absolutely anything she wanted, with naughty thoughts about what he wanted running through his mind.

Not that unsavory speculations don’t run through their minds even if they realize Salome Jr. was still a little girl. Me, I figure this says way more about the speculators than Antipas. And they’ve been speculating for centuries. With all sorts of inappropriate art to go along with it.

25 June 2018

Antipas Herod and John the baptist.

The despot who ruled the Galilee, and the prophet who dared critique him.

Mark 6.14-20 • Matthew 14.1-5 • Luke 9.7-9

After Jesus turned loose the Twelve to go round the Galilee, do miracles, and proclaim God’s kingdom, word of Jesus got back to the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod.

Luke 9.7-9 KWL
7 The governor, Antipas Herod, heard all that was happening and was confused by it:
Some were saying John the baptist was raised from the dead.
8 Some said Elijah appeared; others said one of the ancient prophets had risen.
9 Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who’s this man about whom I hear such things?”
He sought to see Jesus.

Mark and Matthew give details about just how and why Herod beheaded John, but today I’m gonna focus on Herod himself. The gospels don’t provide a lot of details about him, which is why we have to turn to the history books to fill in the blanks.

The Herodus family was Roman. That’s why so many of them have the same names; that’s why the scriptures refer to all of them as either Herod or Herodia (the female form of Herod; KJV “Herodias”). To Romans the family, not the individual, was most important. And each member of the family represented the family; not so much themselves.

Because of this, Roman fathers tended to give all their children the same name: Their name. Gaius Plinius Secundus’s son would also be Gaius Plinius Secundus. (They might add “senior” or “junior” to indicate who was whom… but that’d get extra confusing when all the brothers had the same name.) Sometimes the kids were given a praenomen/“personal name” to differentiate between one another; sometimes a nickname; but most of the time all you knew was their cognomen/“family name.” Herod and Herodia.

Easy to mix them all up, but that was kinda the point in Roman culture.

So the Herods of the New Testament were actually one of these guys:

  • HEROD THE GREAT. Who wasn’t all that great. His Judean-style name was Herod bar Antipater; his Roman name was Herodus Antipatrus; he can also be called Herod 1. He’s the Idumean/Edomite who, with the help of the Romans, overthrew the Hasmonean royal family and took over Israel. He tried to have baby Jesus killed. I already wrote about him. His son Archelaus Herod tried to succeed him, but Augustus Caesar instead divided Israel into multiple provinces, and put three of them under Herod family members.
  • HEROD ANTIPAS. The Herod in this story, one of the sons of Herod 1, whose name was Herodus Antipatrus same as his father. (“Antipas” for short; I call him “Antipas Herod” western-style. I should mention he had a brother, also named Herodus Antipatrus, so technically he was Herodus Antipatrus Junior.) Caesar made him a tetra-árhos/“quarter-ruler” of Israel; the quarter he ruled was the Galilee. Technically he was still royalty, which is why the gospels still call him king. But he was a Roman governor, an employee serving only at the pleasure of the emperor.
  • HEROD AGRIPPA 1. Herodus Marcus Julius Agrippa, grandson of Herod 1, was a personal friend of Caligula Caesar, who made him king of Israel. He’s the Herod who had James bar Zebedee killed. Ac 12.2
  • HEROD AGRIPPA 2. Herodus Marcus Julius Agrippa, same as his father; Claudius Caesar put him in charge of various Israeli provinces. He’s the King Agrippa whom Paul testified in front of. Ac 26

We’ll just deal with Antipas Herod today.

18 June 2018

What Jesus had to say about John the baptist.

But for the best of reasons.

Matthew 11.7-15 • Luke 7.24-30

After John sent two of his students to ask Jesus who he was, Jesus turned to his crowd of listeners and began to say complimentary things about John. (Which is further evidence John wasn’t going through some crisis of faith about who Jesus was, contrary to popular belief.)

Various “historical Jesus” scholars like to pit John and Jesus against one another ’cause their ministry styles were so different, and like to exaggerate their different emphases into full-on contradictions of one another. John was supposedly about wrath and perfectionism; Jesus about grace and peace. Ignoring of course all Jesus’s instructions to behave ourselves, and warnings about wrath; ignoring John’s declaration that Jesus came to take away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 For “historians,” they sure do skip a lot of history in order to push their theories, but I already ranted about that.

First thing Jesus brought up is what people expected to see when they first heard about John and wanted to check him out. Starting with two things they clearly didn’t expect to see, because John’s reputation was that of an Elijah-style hairy thunderer. Mk 1.6

Matthew 11.7-8 KWL
7 As these students were going, Jesus began to tell the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
8 What did you see instead? A person dressed in finery?
Look, those who wear finery are in kings’ houses.”
Luke 7.24-25 KWL
24 As John’s messengers went away, Jesus began to talk with the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
25 What did you see instead? A person dressed in fancy clothes?
Look at the glorious clothes and luxury which is in the king’s palace.”

Certain commentators wanna claim these statements were kind of a knock on the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod, who had imprisoned John at this time. Lk 3.19-20, Mt 11.2 The idea is Herod, as a politician, was the sort of guy who would sway like a papyrus reed in the breeze, and say or do anything to convince the Caesars to leave him in power. And of course he wore fancy clothing, as nobles do.

I don’t know that these statements were necessarily made about Herod. I suspect they’re more about wannabe prophets.

Because it’s precisely the sort of behavior we see in wannabe prophets nowadays. And human nature hasn’t changed any in the past 20 centuries: If somebody was a self-described prophet, they wanted acknowledgement. Respect. Maybe a little bit of fear. After all, they heard from God. They lacked the humility we oughta see in a real prophet, who recognizes they’re just the servant of the Almighty and nothing more; whom God doesn’t always grant the sort of messages that’d make ’em popular. Fake prophets, on the other hand, don’t have enough experience with God to realize their proper place way under him. And they’ve no trouble adjusting their messages to suck up to their audiences, because God didn’t really give them anyway. That whole wind-shaken reed thing? Applies to phony prophets just as much as it does to phony leaders.

Essentially Jesus’s message was, “When you went to check out John, did you expect to find a fake? And that’s not what you found at all.”

11 June 2018

John the baptist checks in on Jesus.

But for the best of reasons.

Matthew 11.2-6 • Luke 7.18-23

In Jesus’s day there was no such thing as freedom of speech or religion. Your religion was either what the king said it was, or what the king permitted within his borders. Your speech was whatever the powerful couldn’t take offense at, ’cause if they did, they would kill or persecute you. That’s why Jesus taught in metaphors and parables on a frequent basis. It wasn’t just to make people think.

His relative John bar Zechariah, also known as John the baptist, was not so vague. John flat-out said the governor of the Galilee, Antipas Herod (frequently called “king” because he was the son of King Herod 1, but properly a Roman tetrárhis/“ruler of a quarter-province”) was in violation of the Law, ’cause he had married his brother’s ex. Lv 18.16 Plus she was his niece, which generally violates the command against having sex with close relatives. Lv 18.6 Since John wouldn’t shut up about it, Mk 6.17-18 Antipas threw him into prison, and so much for his ministry. John never got out alive.

In both Matthew and Luke, John heard what Jesus was up to, and sent some of his own students to ask Jesus a question. In Matthew we find out why John couldn’t do this personally: It was by this point John was in prison.

Matthew 11.2-3 KWL
2 John the baptist, hearing in prison of Messiah’s works,
sending some of his students, 3 told Jesus,
“Are you the one to come, or do we look for another?”
Luke 7.18-19 KWL
18 John the baptist’s students informed him about all these things.
Calling two particular students of his, John 19 sent them to the Master,
saying, “Are you the one to come, or do we look for another?”

And this question really confuses Christians. Because we’ve read the other parts of the gospels, in which John was entirely sure Jesus is the one to come. So it’s a little confusing when John suddenly sends Jesus some students with the question, “So are you the one to come?”

Most of the time, Christians assume John had a massive crisis of faith. After all, he’d been tossed into prison, he was gonna die, and when you ponder your mortality like this, you start to rethink everything. Maybe John didn’t believe anymore. So, to make himself feel better, he send students to Jesus with the unspoken request, “Please tell me my life hasn’t been in vain. Please tell me you’re Messiah.”

I don’t care for this interpretation. Mostly because I think the interpreters are projecting their own doubts upon John. He had no such doubts.

04 June 2018

Jesus interrupts a funeral.

But for the best of reasons.

Luke 7.11-17

Whereas Jesus mighta raised the dead before—though he insisted she was only asleep—here it looks like he definitely raised the dead. Only Luke tells this story, and sets it the day after Jesus cured the centurion’s servant.

The location is Nein, which is not pronounced as the Germans do. (The KJV has “Nain.”) It was a tiny village 14km south of Nazareth—and 40km southwest of Kfar Nahum, which is quite a day’s walk; and Jesus must’ve got to this place before sundown, as we’ll see from historical context. As you might recall about Nazareth, people in the region didn’t expect much of Jesus, and certainly never expected him to do anything like this.

Luke 7.11-17 KWL
11 This happened the next day: Jesus went to a village called Nein.
His students, and a large crowd, were traveling with him.
12 As Jesus approached the village gate, look: One who died was being carried out.
He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd was with her.
13 Seeing her, the Master felt compassion for her and told her, “Don’t cry.”
14 Walking over, Jesus touched the coffin and its carriers stopped.
He said, “Young man, I tell you get up.”
15 And the dead boy got up, and began to talk. Jesus gave him to his mother.
16 In fear, everyone praised God, saying this:
“A great prophet rose among us!” and “God visited his people!”
17 This word about Jesus spread in all Judea and all the region.

Skeptics like to point out this story is similar to pagan stories. Which stands to reason: Back then, people used to bury or cremate you when they thought you were dead. Or at least pretty sure you were dead… and yeah, sometimes if they really wanted you to be dead, and weren’t particular about how you weren’t quite dead yet. But more than once they buried or cremated someone alive. Every once in a while they dramatically discovered they were wrong—someone’d wake up from their coma on the funeral pyre, or after they were stuck in a sepulcher. Standard worst-nightmare stuff. And that’s where our urban legends come from… and of course our old myths.

Anyway the hero of more than one myth would check out the “corpse,” find out they were only mostly dead, and there’s your happy ending. Well, unless they died soon thereafter of whatever made ’em look dead.

For Pharisees it was a little more likely they’d inter someone prematurely: Their custom required them to put a body in the ground before sundown. It was based on God’s command to bury a hanging victim the same day, Dt 21.23 and if you gotta do it for a criminal, you should do it all the more for anyone else. So if it looked like someone had died, you didn’t always have a lot of time before you had to dispose of the body. Plenty of chance people would be mistaken.

But Luke said this boy was dead, so there was no mistake here. Jesus didn’t come across a boy who wasn’t really dead, so it only looked like a miracle. Jesus raised the dead. First time we know of that he did that.

28 May 2018

The centurion’s servant—and his surprising faith.

A gentile whose level of faith surprised even Jesus.

Matthew 8.5-13 • Luke 7.1-10

Luke tells this story after Jesus’s sermon on the plain, and Matthew after his Sermon on the Mount—but curing an infectious man first. Mark doesn’t tell it. And John… tells a whole other story, although certain Christians try to sync it together with this one. But not well.

The story begins with Jesus again returning to his home base of Kfar Nahum, and in Matthew encountering the local centurion; in Luke hearing from local elders about this centurion. Y’might know a centurion was what the Romans called the captain in charge of a century, 100 soldiers. I don’t know whether all 100 were stationed in Kfar Nahum, or spread out over multiple cities in the province; it all depended on how far the Romans felt they needed to clamp down on the people.

What we do know is this particular centurion had a home in town, and an employee who was either suffering greatly, or dying. Luke calls him a slave who was éntimos/“held in high regard.” Ancient slaves were either debtors, convicts, or had lost a war, and were bought and worked as punishment. Attitudes towards them are significantly different than American attitudes when slavery was legal here: Slaves were still considered fellow human beings. The centurion held his slave in high regard either because he was a good guy, a good worker, or had a valuable skillset. We don’t know which. Matthew calls him a servant, and maybe that’s how the Roman thought of him.

So the slave’s illness was enough to bring to the attention of a rabbi well-known for curing the sick.

Matthew 8.5-7 KWL
5 On returning himself to Kfar Nahum,
a centurion came to Jesus and encouraged him to help him,
6 saying, “Master, my servant has been bedridden in my home, paralyzed by terrible suffering.”
7 Jesus told him, “I will come cure him.”
Luke 7.1-6 KWL
1 When Jesus finished putting all his words in the people’s ears,
he returned to Kfar Nahum.
2 A certain centurion’s slave who had an illness was near dying.
The slave was highly esteemed by the centurion.
3 Hearing about Jesus, the centurion sent him Judean elders,
asking him, since he’d come, if he might cure his slave.
4 Those who came to Jesus encouraged him earnestly, saying this:
“The one for whom you’ll do this is worthy.
5 For he loves our people, and built us our synagogue.”
6A Jesus went with them.

In both cases Jesus had no problem with going to the centurion’s house to cure the slave. Now, compare our Lord’s attitude with that of Simon Peter, who admitted he still thought of gentiles as unclean when the centurion Cornelius called him to Caesarea. Ac 10.28 Jesus was happy to go; Peter had to first see a vision about butchering unclean animals. Ac 10.9-16 Why Peter hadn’t adopted his Master’s attitude about gentiles, I’m not sure. My guess is he had some very old prejudices, and they took a while to break off him. Paul still had to fight him on it, some 20 years later. Ga 2.11-14 But I digress.

Notice how Matthew describes the centurion and Jesus having a personal conversation, but Luke has the centurion send some of the presvytérus/“elders” to Jesus with a recommendation. These’d be the mature believers in the religious community, the Pharisees who probably founded their synagogue, ’cause synagogues are a Pharisee thing. They told Jesus this guy had built their synagogue—so we’re talking a believer who was willing to put his money into his faith. Worthy by their standards; maybe by Jesus’s too. In any event, off they went.

21 May 2018

The Twelve and the miracles.

The hangups Christians have about how the apostles could somehow do miracles before Pentecost.

Mark 6.12-13 • Luke 9.6

Of Jesus’s students, he assigned 12 of them to be apostles, “one who’s been sent out,” and eventually he did send ’em out to preach the gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise unclean spirits.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Mark 6.12-13 KWL
12 Going out, the apostles preached that people should repent.
13 The apostles were throwing out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil—and they were curing them.
Luke 9.6 KWL
6 Coming out, the apostles passed through the villages,
evangelizing and curing the sick everywhere.

Yep, all of them. Even Judas Iscariot.

And here’s where we slam into a wall with a lot of Christians. Because they cannot fathom how these apostles went out and cured the sick and exorcised evil spirits.

They’ll grudgingly acknowledge that the apostles did it. The gospels totally say so, and who are they to doubt the gospels? But y’see, their hangups come from the fact they have a lot of theological baggage about how miracles work, how the Holy Spirit empowers people, when the Holy Spirit historically empowered people, and the fact miracles seem to have nothing to do with the apostles’ maturity level: Once they were done doing these mighty acts, they came back to follow Jesus, and seemed to be the same foolish kids they always were.

Oh, and we can’t leave out Judas Iscariot. Christians really don’t like the idea Judas was curing the sick and casting out devils. Since he was one of the Twelve, and since these verses imply he did as the others of the Twelve did, it means Judas did miracles. And this, many Christians cannot abide. I remember one movie in particular where Judas specifically did no miracles; he lacked faith, so Simon the Canaanite, whom Judas was paired up with, Mt 10.4 did ’em all. ’Cause later Judas turned traitor and appears to have gone apostate—so Christians don’t want him having power, and balk at the idea the Holy Spirit really entrusted him with any such thing. It violates their sense of karma.

First thing we gotta do is put down the baggage and accept the scriptures: Jesus sent out his apostles, young as they were, green as they were, to go do supernatural acts of power. Which they did. We can debate the how and the why, but none of this hashing out should violate the fact they did the stuff. If it does, we’re doing theology backwards, and wrong.

14 May 2018

Sending out the Twelve.

It is why he picked ’em.

Mark 6.7-11 • Matthew 10.1-15 • Luke 9.1-5

I’ve previously written on the Twelve, the guys among Jesus’s students whom he designated apostle, “one who’s been sent out,” whom he actually did send out once or twice before he returned to the Father. Here we reach the point in the gospels where he sent ’em out. Mark puts it right after teaching in Nazareth, Matthew after Jesus commented the workers are few, and Luke after curing Jair’s daughter.

Mark 6.7 KWL
Jesus summoned the Twelve, and began to send them out in twos.
He gave them power over unclean spirits.
Matthew 10.1 KWL
Summoning 12 of his students, Jesus gave them power over unclean spirits,
so they could throw them out, and cure every illness and every disease.
Luke 9.1-2 KWL
1 Calling together the Twelve, Jesus gave them power,
authority over all demons, and ability to cure disease.
2 Jesus sent them to preach God’s kingdom and to treat the sick.

Matthew even goes on to list the particular 12 students:

Matthew 10.2-8 KWL
2 These are the names of the 12 apostles:
First Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother. James bar Zavdi and John his brother.
3 Philip and Bartholemew. Thomas and Matthew the taxman.
James bar Alphaeus and Levvaios surnamed Thaddaeus.
4 Simon the Canaanite and Judas the Kerioti—who also turned Jesus in.
5 These are the Twelve Jesus sent, and he gave orders to them,
saying, “You shouldn’t go down the gentile road, nor enter Samaritan towns.
6 Rather, go to the lost sheep of Isarel’s house.
7 Go preach, saying this: ‘Heaven’s kingdom has come near!’
8 Cure the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Throw out demons.
You took it freely; give it freely!

And off they went to preach the kingdom.

’Cause prior to this point, Jesus had singled out the Twelve as his particular apprentices. They were meant to observe everything he did, learn what he preached, watch how he threw out evil spirits so they could do it themselves, and otherwise follow his example. Mk 3.14-15 Because that is what he expected of them.

And it’s what he expects of all his students. Us included. He didn’t make us Christians so we could bask in his salvation, then do nothing more. We’re to proclaim his kingdom, same as he. We’re to drive out evil spirits and cure the sick, same as he. We’re to do good deeds, same as he. We’re to be Christ to the world—while meanwhile Christ is representing us to the Father, getting us equipped, and preparing for his own invasion.

The Twelve were never meant to be Jesus’s only apostles, you know.

11 May 2018

Short-staffed for the big harvest.

Pray for more workers. We’re short.

Matthew 9.35-38 • Luke 10.2

I’ve ranted quite often, and written regularly, about the fact the majority of Christians aren’t religious. We believe in Jesus and expect him to save us, but following him is another deal altogether: We don’t. We figure we don’t have to; that because we’re not saved by good deeds, there’s no point in doing any. Even though there’s so very much for us to do—so very much God wants to include us in—we sit things out, figuring God can do it himself, or even expects to do it himself. Meanwhile he’s waiting for his people to obey, and getting really annoyed at us that we don’t. And so the stuff doesn’t get done.

’Twas ever thus. Jesus knew from experience. When he ministered to the people of the Galilee, that’s what he found. People who needed to be ministered to, but who never had been, because the Pharisees had the bad habit of only taking care of those they deemed worthy, or only tending to their own. Which which meant they didn’t venture outside their narrow communities to help the truly needy. That’s why Jesus kept running into so many people who were demonized: If the Pharisees had done their job, had been compassionate like their LORD, the locals wouldn’t have been turning to witch-doctors to get cured—and the witch-doctors wouldn’t have been able to put all those critters in ’em.

Fact is, the people didn’t know God cared. They didn’t know God loved them, and wanted to make them his people. They were lost, scared, confused, looking for hope, and didn’t know where to find it. Same as people today.

Jesus went out and found them, and found them everywhere. And even though he’s Jesus, empowered by the unlimited resources of the Holy Spirit, it’s still too big a job for only one man. He said as much to his students.

Matthew 9.35-38 KWL
35 Jesus went round all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, curing every disease and illness.
36 Seeing the crowds, Jesus had compassion for them:
They were mistreated and thrown away, like sheep which had no pastor.
37 Jesus told his students, “The harvest is truly great—and so few workers!
38 So beg the Master of the harvest, so he can send workers into his harvest.”

Jesus later repeated this when he sent out his 72 apostles to do some of this work:

Luke 10.2 KWL
Jesus told them, “The harvest is truly great—and so few workers!
So beg the Master of the harvest, so he can send workers into his harvest.”

Because if people aren’t gonna get off their butts on their own and do their part, the Holy Spirit is gonna have to light a fire under us and get us off our butts. So we have to pray: “God, bring us more workers!” We always need more, because there’s no shortage of lost and needy people.

10 May 2018

Jesus visits his homeland.

It didn’t go well.

Mark 6.1-6 • Matthew 13.53-58 • Luke 4.16-30

Luke puts this story right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, right after he got tempted by Satan and gathered some students. It sounds like the right spot for it—if you’re gonna start teaching, you do it in your hometown, right?—but it’s not really. Because it seems Jesus already had a reputation as a teacher and faith-healer, which he got from somewhere… like the other synagogues and towns where he taught.

Mark has it after Jesus cured Jair’s daughter, and Matthew has it after Jesus shared some parables. It begins with Jesus going to his patrída/“fatherland,” or as Luke nails it down, Nazareth, the town he grew up in. Friday evening after sundown, he taught in synagogue.

Mark 6.1-2 KWL
1 Jesus went out from Kfar Nahum to his homeland. His students followed him.
2A When Sabbath came, Jesus began to teach in synagogue…
 
Matthew 13.53-54 KWL
53 When Jesus finished these parables, this happened:
He left there, 54A went to his homeland, and taught in their synagogue.
Luke 4.16-21 KWL
16 Jesus came to Nazareth, where he was raised.
By his custom, he entered synagogue on the Sabbath day, and arose to read.
17 Jesus was given the book of the prophet Isaiah.
Unrolling the bible, he found the place where it’s written:
18 “The Lord’s Spirit is upon me because he anointed me to evangelize the poor.
He sent me to proclaim forgiveness to captives, and restored sight to the blind.
To send away the shattered in forgiveness,
19 to proclaim a year of the Lord’s acceptance.” Is 61.1-2
20 Closing the bible and returning it to the assistant, Jesus sat to teach.
Every eye in the synagogue was staring at him.
21 He began to tell them this: “This scripture has been fulfilled today, in your ears.”

Luke gives us more of a glimpse of synagogue custom: The men stood round the podium up front. (The women stood in back, sometimes behind a partition, sometimes not, and had to be quiet ’cause synagogue was for men.) The teacher would stand to read the bible, ’cause respect. Then the teacher sat down and interpreted what he’d just read. The men would ask him questions about his interpretation—sometimes to understand him better, sometimes to challenge it.

Well, Jesus just gave ’em something challenging. He claimed Isaiah’s statement about what God had sent him to do, also applied to himself.

Yeah, let’s look at Isaiah. The guys who wrote the New Testament tended to quote only part of a verse, partly ’cause they wanted to save papyrus, partly ’cause they expected their readers to know the rest of it—or to unscroll a bible and read the rest of it. They didn’t quote it out of context; we do that. So it’s unlikely Jesus only read the first two verses of Isaiah 61: He read the whole chapter, and maybe chapter 62 too. I’ll quote a little bit more than Luke did:

Isaiah 61.1-4 KWL
1 My master LORD’s Spirit is upon me because the LORD anointed me to bring news to the needy.
He sent me to bandage the brokenhearted,
call captives to freedom, release to those in chains,
2 to call a year of favor from the LORDand a day of revenge from our God.
To comfort all who mourn, 3 and to set an end to mourning in Zion:
to give them a fine headcovering instead of ash,
oil of joy instead of mourning, clothing of praise instead of a dim spirit.
God wants to call them righteous oaks, God’s planting, his glory.
4 They built ancient ruins, abandoned by the first people.
Now they’re building cities anew—the generations-old abandoned ruins.

And so on. Israel gets restored, the gentiles come to know Israel and their God, blessings and peace and so on forevermore. And it all starts with Jesus. So, y’know, good news!

Except the locals had their doubts: It all starts with this guy?

09 May 2018

Curing a bleeder.

Wasn’t actually Jesus who cured her. It was the Holy Spirit.

Mark 5.25-34 • Matthew 9.20-22 • Luke 8.43-48

Smack in the middle of the story of curing Jair’s daughter, where Jesus was on the way to Jair’s house, a woman snuck up behind him, touched him, and the Holy Spirit cured her of an ailment.

I know; you thought Jesus cured her, right? But if you know the story already, you recall Jesus didn’t do a thing. Wasn’t his idea to cure her—and yet she got cured. People naïvely presume this is because Jesus was so charged with special healing power, anyone who touched him would get zapped. But that’s not how miracles work at all. Jesus did things by the power of the Holy Spirit, Ac 10.38 same as everybody. She was cured because somebody chose to cure her—and that’d be the Holy Spirit.

Traditionally the woman’s been known as St. Veronica, even though her name never comes up in the bible. Doesn’t matter. Art and movies tend to depict her as an old woman; after all she had been suffering more than a decade. But Jesus called her thygátir/“daughter,” which means he was older than she. Possibly she’d suffered this illness all her life. Certainly all the life of the 12-year-old girl Jesus was planning to heal. But as a gyní/“woman” in Jesus’s culture, she was at least 13, she hadn’t suffered it all her life anyway.

We also don’t know what Veronica’s ailment was. Here’s the entirety of what the gospels say about it:

Mark 5.25-26 KWL
25 For 12 years, a woman had a bloodflow, 26 and had suffered greatly under many witch-doctors,
spending everything she had, and never improving. Instead she was much worse.
Matthew 9.20 KWL
Look: A woman suffering a 12-year bloodflow,
coming up behind them, grabbed the tassel of Jesus’s robe,
Luke 8.43 KWL
For 12 years, a woman who had a bloodflow, who all her life spent lavishly on witch-doctors,
wasn’t better, with no one to cure her.

Commentators speculate it might’ve been related to her menstrual cycle, though you notice they’ve no basis at all for saying so. But if it did begin at puberty, she would’ve been in her twenties when the Spirit cured her.

In any event her treatments had bled her dry as well. People in the United States are pretty familiar with the idea of healthcare emptying your bank account, so we can kinda relate. (Well, unless we’re rich.)

Other than asking God to cure her, Veronica’s only resort was yatrón, a word the KJV (and many current translations still) translate “physicians.” But remember: Nobody practiced the scientific method back then. These guys didn’t know jack squat about medicine. They practiced folk remedies, some of which were downright silly. Sometimes they assumed evil spirits were the problem (’cause hey, sometimes they were), and tried to take ’em out of you. Sometimes a gentile yatrós might even try to put one of those spirits in you, on the grounds it might cure you—and that was why so many unwell people also needed Jesus to perform an exorcism. But basically these guys were witch doctors, not physicians.

So all these quacks could do was take her money, promise they had a method which provided relief, but she’d get no usable results. Like Luke said, there was no one to cure her. So, same as most people of that day, she had no other recourse but God. And sometimes our doctors can’t treat us, or we don’t like how they treat us, so in desperation we try non-western medicine… which means we’ve resorted to the very same “physicians” Veronica tried out, who took her money but had nothing to show for it. Again, we can relate.

08 May 2018

Jesus raises a dead girl. (Or was she only asleep?)

When Jesus rescued the president’s daughter. (No, seriously.)

Mark 5.21-24, 35-43 • Matthew 9.18-19, 23-26 • Luke 8.40-42, 49-56

There’s a story in the middle of this story, about a woman with a bloodflow. I’ll get to it later.

Mark and Luke tell this story after Jesus’s side trip to the Dekapolis, and Matthew puts it after Jesus taught on fasting.

Mark 5.21-43 KWL
21 After crossing back over the lake in the boat,
a great crowd again gathered around Jesus. He was on the shore.
22 One of the synagogue presidents, named Jaïr, saw him, fell at his feet,
23 and urged him to come with him, saying this: “My daughter is at the point of death.
If you come lay your hands on her, you can save her; she can live.”
24 Jesus went with him. The great crowd followed—and was crushing him.
Matthew 9.18-19 KWL
18 While Jesus said these things, look: A ruler came and knelt before him,
saying this: “My daughter died just now, but come lay hands on her and she’ll live.”
19 Getting up, Jesus followed him, as did his students.
Luke 8.40-42 KWL
40 Upon Jesus’s return, the crowd greeted him, for they were all expecting him.
41 Look: A man named Jair came. This man had become president of the synagogue.
He fell at Jesus’s feet and prayed that he come to his house,
42 for he had an only-begotten 12-year-old daughter, and she was dying.
As Jesus was going away with Jair, the crowd was choking him.

Maybe you caught the discrepancy; most Christians totally miss it. In Mark and Luke the girl’s at the point of death. In Matthew she’s already died.

Changes the story a little; there’s no longer any sense of urgency in getting to the house before death takes her. Not that curing illness, or curing death, makes any difference to Jesus. Does to doctors—and to us, because we have a bad habit of projecting our limitations upon God. We gotta not do that. Jesus can cure anything. Death too.

But the girl being dead already is why Matthew doesn’t include this bit in mid-story about people running up to tell them she’s died. Didn’t need to.

Mark 5.35-36 KWL
35 While they were speaking, some came against the synagogue president,
saying this: “Your daughter died. Why keep bothering the teacher?”
36 Jesus refused to listen to their message, and told the synagogue president, “No fear. Just trust me.”
Luke 8.49-50 KWL
49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone from the synagogue president’s house came,
saying this: “Your daughter has died. You needn’t bother the teacher.”
50 Jesus, hearing this, told Jair, “No fear. Just trust me: She’ll be saved.”

So was the girl already dead or not? Obviously most Christians vote not—because it’s a more dramatic story that way. But that’s not enough of a reason to pick one gospel over the other. I lean towards the idea she wasn’t dead yet, mainly because there’s no good reason to make it up. “Don’t be afraid; just trust me” is a common theme in the gospels regardless.

07 May 2018

Killing the pigs.

How the destruction of 2,000 pigs wasn’t at all Jesus’s idea—and actually got in his way.

Mark 5.11-20 • Matthew 8.30-34 • Luke 8.32-39

Picking up where I left off: Jesus and his students traveled to the Dekapolis, a province (well, more like 10 provinces) in northern Israel inhabited by Syrian Greeks, located on the far side of the lake. They encountered a man (Matthew says two of ’em) infested with the sort of evil spirits which pagan Greeks worshiped as minor gods, a.k.a. demons. The spirits were making the poor demoniac’s life hell. They realized Jesus wouldn’t tolerate what they were doing to the man, and would order them out of there. But they had an idea, which maybe they could get Jesus to go along with.

Mark 5.11-13 KWL
11 There was a great herd of pigs grazing near the hill.
12 The demons begged Jesus, saying, “Send us to the pigs, so we can enter them!”
13 Jesus allowed them, and coming out, the unclean spirits entered the pigs.
The herd stampeded to the cliff over the lake—like 2,000!—and drowned in the lake.
Matthew 8.30-32 KWL
30 Far off from them was a herd of many pigs, grazing.
31 The demons begged Jesus, saying, “If you throw us out, send us to the herd of pigs.”
32 Jesus told them, “Get out.” Coming out, they went off into the pigs.
Look, the whole herd rushed off the seacliff and died in the waters.
Luke 8.32-33 KWL
32 There was a great herd of pigs grazing on the hill.
The demons begged Jesus so he’d send them to enter the pigs
Jesus allowed them, 33 and coming out of the person, the demons entered the pigs.
The herd rushed off the cliff into the marsh, and drowned.

You might remember devout Jews don’t eat pork. It’s because the LORD identified any animals which aren’t ruminant, which do have split hooves, as ritually unclean. And God specifically singled out pigs, Lv 11.7 because nearly every other culture raises and eats them, and the Hebrews might get the idea a popular food animal might be an exception.

No, ritual uncleanliness does not mean pigs are sinful, nor that eating them is a sin. The only consequence in the scripture for eating an unclean animal is you couldn’t worship. You’d first have to baptize yourselves and wait till sundown. Realistically, if your only worship consisted of going to temple three times a year, Ex 23.14 technically you could eat pork all year long, abstain during the temple festivals, and you were good. Well, not that good. But good enough for worship, which is why certain Jews eat treyf (unclean things) all year round, and only abstain for the holidays.

But Pharisees strived to stay in a constant state of ritual cleanliness. Their custom dictated that you had to be ritually clean to go to synagogue, and they wanted to be prepared to enter the synagogue at any given time. (Lessons went on all week long, y’know.) So this meant a constant state of ritual cleanliness, which means no pork ever. In fact the idea of a herd of pigs, raised on land that was historically part of Israel’s covenant, would’ve bugged Pharisees greatly.

Anyway some commentators figure this fact puts a new spin on the story: Here are some animals which shouldn’t even have been in Israel anyway. So Jesus likely had no qualms about the demons destroying them, and even permitted them because he wanted the pigs dead. Go ahead demons; purge Israel of its swine.

Okay, now back up a few yards and let’s think about how contrary to Jesus’s character this interpretation is.