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

18 November 2019

That time Jesus called Simon Peter “Satan.”

Mark 8.31-33, Matthew 16.21-23, Luke 9.21-22.

Most people are aware Simon Peter was Jesus’s best student. That’s why he’s always first in the lists of the Twelve—even ahead of Jesus’s cousins!—and why there’s all the stories about him in the gospels and Acts. Thing is, because there are so many stories about him, we regularly get to see how he screwed up.

And certain Christians wind up with the wrong idea about him—that he was nothing but a screwup till the Holy Spirit empowered him. Nope; sometimes he got it right. When Jesus asked what the students thought he was, Peter correctly answered, “You’re Messiah,” and Jesus blessed him for it. Blessed him so good, Peter’s fans still venerate him. Maybe a little too much, but that’s a whole other article.

Today’s story is about one of the times Peter screwed up, and it comes right after the story where Peter identified Jesus as Messiah and got blessed. But bear in mind the stories come after one another. The time these two stories occurred might’ve been weeks apart. ’Cause once it was clear Jesus’s students recognized him as Messiah, Jesus had to set them straight about what Messiah had to undergo. Contrary to popular expectation, contrary to everything Pharisees claimed about how the End Times timeline went, Messiah wasn’t about to violently overthrow the Roman Empire and take over the world. He was going to be rejected by the Judeans, and die.

Mark 8.31 KWL
Jesus began to teach his students it was necessary for the Son of Man to greatly suffer;
to be rejected by the elders, head priests, and scholars; to be killed; and to be resurrected after three days.
Matthew 16.21 KWL
From then on, Jesus began to teach his students it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem,
to greatly suffer under the elders, head priests, and scribes; to be killed; and to be raised on the third day.
Luke 9.21-22 KWL
21 Jesus rebuked them, ordering them to never say this,
22 saying it was necessary for the Son of Man to greatly suffer,
to be rejected by the elders, head priests, and scholars;
to be killed; and to be raised on the third day.

And be resurrected on the third day. Or “after three days” in Mark, which probably got tweaked by the other gospels’ authors since literalists might nitpick. But considering how Jesus’s students reacted on the first Easter, they seem to have forgotten all about that part. Hey, sometimes kids just don’t pay attention.

Now, if you grow up only hearing one interpretation of the End Times, and someone you respect suddenly introduces you to another interpretation (or in Jesus’s case, the fact it’s actually not the End yet, and won’t be for millennia) your first response, your basic instinctive self-defense mechanism, is to not believe it. Because you’ve never heard that before. Because you prefer your old ideas: Y’might not even like them, but you’re used to them; you’re comfortable in them. And frankly the idea of Messiah overthrowing the Romans, is way more satisfying than Messiah being killed by the Romans. Who doesn’t wanna see Jesus kick some ass? Heck, certain Christians are still hoping to see him do that at his second coming. Deep down, they don’t really like the idea of a kind, gentle, humble, loving Lord; they want his wrath to look exactly like their wrath.

So some of the students didn’t like this new teaching of Jesus’s. Peter in particular.

11 November 2019

What do people think Jesus is?

Mark 8.27-30, Matthew 16.13-20, Luke 9.18-21.

Provincial leaders in the Roman Empire liked to suck up to their emperors, which is why there were cities named Καισάρεια/Kesáreia, “Cæsarea,” dotting the empire. Ancient Israel had two. The usual city referred to in the New Testament as Cæsarea is also called Cæsarea Maritima; it’s on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel. The other is in Philip Herod’s province, so it got called Cæsarea Philippi. Today it’s called Banias.

Banias is actually an Arabic distortion of its original name, Πανειάς/Paneiás. It was named for the pagan god Pan. Likely Pan was originally Baal-Gad, one of the many Baals in the middle east, and when Alexander and the Greeks attached Greek names to everything, they referred to this Baal as Pan. The Greeks depicted Pan as a goat-man with a flute, but Pan comes from πάντως/pántos, “everything”: It’s a nature god, and therefore the god of everything. It’s considered a minor god because it didn’t have a large following, but Pan-worshipers thought their god was a big, big deal. They built a big ol’ shrine to Pan there, and it’s still there for tourists to gawk at.

Overt paganism tends to creep out certain religious Christians, who stay far away from any “wicked” city which practices such things. Of course Jesus knows all about the covert paganism going on in our supposedly “righteous” cities, which is why Caesarea didn’t bug him any more than Kfar Nahum… or Jerusalem. People are messed up no matter where you go, and our “righteous” avoidance of the appearance of evil doesn’t make us any more holy, or score us more karma points with God, like we imagine it does. On the contrary: We can’t minister to the lost when we’re “too good for them,” and we’re not all that good when we refuse to obey God and love our neighbors, pagan or not. Jesus doesn’t discriminate in that way, so of course he took his students to such cities.

In a city named for Caesar, you’d naturally see monuments dedicated to Caesar-worship. Herod 1 had deliberately built a temple there for the purpose. (Yeah, he also rebuilt the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, but don’t think for a minute he did it for anything other than political reasons.) Technically they weren’t worshiping him, but his genius (pronounced 'ɡɛ.ni.us, not as our English word 'dʒin.jəs), his guardian spirit. Our word genie comes from the Latin word… and the Greek word for it would be δαίμων/démon.

But over time, Romans stopped worshiping the guardian spirit and simply worshiped the Caesars directly. After each Caesar died, the Roman senate voted to declare them to be gods. They believed whenever you worshiped ancestors as gods, they actually became gods; the Olympians would actually have to include ’em in their pantheon. Some pagan Romans didn’t even wait for ’em to die, but worshiped the living emperor as a god. Same as the ancient Egyptians worshiped their pharaohs.

So that’s what people said the Caesars were… so naturally Jesus wanted to talk about what people said he was.

Mark 8.27 KWL
Jesus and his students went into the villages of Caesarea in Philip Herod’s province.
On the road he was questioning his students, telling them, “What do people say I am?”
Matthew 16.13 KWL
Jesus went into the Caesarea area in Philip Herod’s province,
and questioned his students, saying, “What do people say about the Son of Man?”
Luke 9.18 KWL
It happened while Jesus was praying alone, though with the students around him,
he asked them, saying, “What do the crowds say I am?”

As you know, plenty of pagans nowadays admit Jesus is a wise man and great moral teacher… and little more. Muslims, and some Jews, say he’s a prophet… and again, little more. People of other religions, plus nontheists and skeptics, say much the same as the pagans, although they’re more honest in their disregard: Wise or not, they have no interest at all in following him.

So what do we Christians think he is?

04 November 2019

Jesus is the good pastor: The sheep come first.

John 10.11-21.

Roman Catholics tend to call their clergymen “father,” but Protestants prefer “pastor,” which means “shepherd.” Some Protestants are okay with “father” too, but some of ’em really aren’t. Usually they’re anti-Catholics, who like to argue we’re not to call one another “father” because Jesus said so; because we only have one Father, in heaven. Mt 23.9 Fine. But in today’s bible passage, Jesus points out we only have one pastor, namely him, Jn 10.16 so if they wanna be so literal about the one passage, it’s kinda hypocritical for them to ignore the other. But I digress.

If we’re using Jesus as our example (’cause duh) we need to look at the ways in which he’s our pastor, and should expect the same of our various church leaders—whether we formally gave ’em the title “pastor” or not. And when Jesus speaks about being the good pastor, he defined it in pretty much one sentence, the one right after “I’m the good pastor.”

John 10.11-18 KWL
11 “I’m the good pastor. The good pastor puts down his soul for the sheep.
12 For the hiree, who’s not a pastor, the sheep aren’t theirs.
They see the wolf coming and abandon the sheep and flee. The wolf snatches them and scatters.
13 This is how a hiree is: Unconcerned about the sheep.
14 I’m the good shepherd. I know who’s mine, and my own know me,
15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I put down my soul for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep, who aren’t from this sheepfold: I have to bring them in.
They’ll hear my voice, and they’ll become one flock with one pastor.
17 This is why my Father loves me: I put down my soul so I might pick it up again.
18 Nobody takes my soul away from me, but I put it down on my own.
I have the power to put it down, and I have the power to pick it back up again:
I received this command from my Father.”

In case you missed it, ’cause some of us are pretty dense when it comes to reading comprehension: The good pastor puts down his soul for the sake of their sheep. The sheep come first. Not the pastor.

It’s really popular nowadays for pastors to get up in front of their congregations and proclaim how some things in their life have to take priority over their congregations. Like their spouse and kids. Like their physical and mental health. Sometimes—I kid you not—their creature comforts; the reason they gotta have two weeks vacation four times a year is because ministering to this church is so hard. And of course ministry is hard; we minister to sinners, and some of these sinners are mighty selfish! But I absolutely disagree our personal lives should take priority. No they shouldn’t. Jesus’s didn’t. He shared his eternal life with the entire world, and offers it to us as our salvation.

Pastors need to learn how to minister to their families and church families, simultaneously. How to budget their time properly. How to take proper Sabbaths instead of working seven days a week and burning out. How to teach the kids their soccer games don’t take precedence over Sunday morning services; how sometimes a needy person’s dire circumstances really do come before family.

Particularly now to not covet the conspicuous materialism of their more worldly church members, and justify doing likewise on the grounds they work so hard, so God’s gonna reward them with Mammon. Your working-class church members also work hard; sometimes harder. How d’you think they feel when the pastors whose salaries they donate to, take pleasure trips they can’t possibly afford? Maybe it’s not right that they feel envy, but still: Look at all the vacations Jesus took in the gospels—and notice he wouldn’t stop ministering on every single one of them. So much so, his family thought he was nuts. Because his flock always came first. Still does.

29 October 2019

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

Mark 11.25, Matthew 6.14-15, 18.21-35.

Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer we gotta pray,

Matthew 6.12 BCP
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

He elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6.14-15 KWL
14 “When you forgive people their misdeeds, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
15 When you can’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your misdeeds either.”

And in Mark’s variant of the same teaching:

Mark 11.25 KWL
“Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone.
Thus your Father, who’s in heaven, can forgive you your misdeeds.”

And he elaborated on it even more in his Unforgiving Slave story.

Matthew 18.21-35 KWL
21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,
and I’ll have to forgive them? As many as seven times?”
22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as many as seven times,’ but as many as seven by seventy times.
23 This is why heaven’s kingdom is like a king’s employee who wanted to settle a matter with his slaves.
24 Beginning the settlement, one debtor was brought to him who owed 260 million grams silver.
25 Having nothing to pay, the master commanded him to be sold
—and his woman and children and as much as he had, and to pay with that.
26 Falling down, the slave worshiped his master, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’
27 Compassionately, that slave’s master freed him and forgave him the debt.
28 Exiting, that slave found his coworker, who owed him 390 grams silver.
Grabbing him, he choked him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe!’
29 Falling down, the coworker offered to work with him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’
30 The slave didn’t want to, but went to throw him in debtor’s prison till he could pay back what he owed.
31 Seeing this, the slave’s coworkers became outraged,
and went to explain to their master everything that happened.
32 Then summoning the slave, his master told him, ‘Evil slave: I forgave you all that debt, because you offered to work with me!
33 Ought you not have mercy on your coworker, like I had mercy on you?
34 Furious, his master delivered him to torturers till he could pay back all he owed.
35 Likewise my heavenly Father will do to you—when you don’t forgive your every fellow Christian from your hearts.”

The “delivered him to torturers” bit Mt 18.34 makes various Christians nervous, and gets ’em to invent all sorts of iffy teachings about devils and curses and hell. And misses the point: God shows us infinite mercy. What kind of ingrates are we when we don’t pay that mercy forward?

28 October 2019

Jesus is the gate: Don’t go around him!

John 10.1-10.

Right after Jesus cured a blind guy on Sabbath, for which the guy’s synagogue threw him out, Jesus commented some folks only think they can see, but they’re blind as well. Then he segued straight into talking about sheep. Like so.

John 9.40 – 10.10 KWL
40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus, “We aren’t blind too.”
41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin.
You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.
1 Amen amen! I promise you one who won’t enter through the sheepfold gate,
but gets in some other way: This person is a thief, a looter.
2 One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s pastor.
3 The gatekeeper opens up for this pastor, and the sheep hears the pastor’s voice.
The pastor calls their own sheep, and leads them out.
4 Whenever the pastor drives out their own sheep, they go on ahead of the pastor,
and their pastor follows, for they know their pastor’s voice.
5 The sheep will never follow a stranger, but will flee from them:
They don’t know the stranger’s voice.”

Sounds like a non-sequitur: He goes from blindness to sheep? But the connection between the situation with the former blind man, and pastors properly leading their sheep out the gate, is that blind or not we oughta be able to hear. The sheep don’t need to identify their pastor by sight; they can hear. Strangers don’t sound right.

And yeah, Jesus is the good pastor. (Or “good shepherd,” as Christians like to call him.) Although we actually haven’t got to that analogy yet. We do in the next verses, and I’ll write about ’em later. Be patient.

In the meanwhile Jesus isn’t yet saying he’s the good pastor. In this bit he’s the gate.

John 10.6-10 KWL
6 Jesus gave them this analogy. That audience didn’t know what he was talking about,
7 so Jesus told them again, “Amen amen! I promise you I’m the sheep’s gate.
8 Anybody who goes around me is a thief and looter. But the sheep won’t hear them.
9 I’m the gate. When one enters through me they’ll be saved,
and they’ll enter, exit, and find pasture.
10 A thief won’t come unless it’s to steal, murder, and ruin;
I come so the sheep might have life, might have abundance.”

21 October 2019

Jesus’s discussion falls apart.

John 8.45-59.

So Jesus was trying to explain how if we stay in his word, we’re truly his students, and this truth’ll set us free. Jn 8.31-32 True to the Socratic-style way Pharisee instruction worked back then, Jesus’s listeners tried to pick apart his statements, and resisted the idea they weren’t free—that they were still slaves to sin. Jesus pointed out this was because they were still following their spiritual father, Satan… and you don’t need to be omniscient to predict they didn’t take this well.

So why’d Jesus say something so provocative? Well I used to think it’s because he was kinda done with them; they weren’t listening to a thing he said anyway. But we have to remember Jesus is patient and kind—’cause God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and those are the ways love acts. 1Co 13.4 So he did mean to provoke, but not to antagonize. Some in his audience heard what he was saying (like John, who recorded it) and repented and followed him. And others decided these were fighting words—and that’s what we read in the rest of this chapter.

Back to Jesus:

John 8.45-57 KWL
45 “You don’t trust me because I say the truth.
46 Who among you can convict me of sin? If I say the truth, why don’t you trust me?
47 One who’s from God, hears God’s words. This is why you don’t hear: You’re not from God.”

Determinists have used this passage to claim we first have to be elect before we can listen to God. If he never intended to save you, you weren’t created with the special innate ability to receive his words, and receive him. You were predestined for hell. Supposedly these Judeans were likewise predestined for hell, so Jesus was just talking to them for show. He knew they were doomed, but he had to at least look like he was engaging them, and pretend he wanted to lead ’em to truth. All to keep up the illusion God is love… ’cause in a deterministic universe, he’s really not.

In reality, Jesus figured telling them the unvarnished truth might shake a few of ’em out of their complacency. In John we only see the responses of those this tactic didn’t work on. Their bad behavior was a calculated risk on Jesus’s part. Well, now he had to deal with them.

John 8.48-49 KWL
48 In reply the Judeans told Jesus, “Don’t we rightly say you’re Samaritan and have a demon?”
49 Jesus replied, “I don’t have a demon, but honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”

Just to remind you: “You have a demon” is a Judean euphemism for “You’re insane.” It didn’t mean they literally thought Jesus was demonized. Demons make people act insane, but not all insanity is demonic.

“You’re Samaritan” was also a euphemism: It was their way of calling Jesus heretic, ’cause Samaritans were heretics. Certain commentators claim “Samaritan” was a slam on Jesus’s parentage, ’cause of the old doubts about who Jesus’s biological father is. (It’s presumed to be the source of the Judeans’ comment, “We weren’t begat by some fornicator,” Jn 8.41 but that ignores how they contrasted this with God being their father.) I seriously doubt the Judeans were trying to goad Jesus about his odd conception; they were just trying to call him a crazy heretic. The easiest way to dismiss someone: Claim his brain’s defective.

07 October 2019

Are we free—or the devil’s children?

John 8.30-47.

Those who haven’t read the gospels, but only know of Jesus by reputation, often wonder why on earth anyone’d want to kill him… because Jesus is so nice. He only said nice things. He loved kids. He was so friendly to sinners. Why would anyone wanna kill such a nice guy?

And they’re partly right. Jesus is kind. He has the traits of the Spirit’s fruit, and kindness and niceness overlap greatly: He’s gonna be nice more often than not. But even so, kindness and niceness aren’t the same thing. Sometimes when we tell the truth, we’re gonna say things people can’t handle. As kind as we might be, as tactfully and constructively as we might put things, they’re not gonna see them that way: They’ll read their own bad attitudes into it, and interpret us as cold or cruel.

So in Jesus’s following discourse, that’s how many people have chosen to interpret him. They don’t look at him as accurately diagnosing the real problem with people who won’t listen to him, and warning us of it. They look at him as calling people names. They read their own hostility into Jesus—probably same as Jesus’s audience at the time. They desperately didn’t want him to expose their hypocrisy, and figured he only did it to be cruel. And that’s why they wanted him dead.

And the discussion started so nicely…

John 8.30-32 KWL
30 As Jesus was saying these things, many believed in him,
31 so Jesus told those Judeans who’d believed him,
“When you remain in my word, you’re truly my students.
32 And you’ll know the truth, and the truth will free you.”

We Christians still quote this passage. It’s a reminder that truth’s a good, liberating thing. Truth will set you free. Sometimes we aren’t particular about which truth, and figure any truth will set us free. Well, truth is always better than error and lies. But in context Jesus was talking about τῷ λόγῳ τῷ ἐμῷ/to lógho to emó, “my word,” the stuff he taught us about the Father. That stuff really sets us free. Other truths, less so.

Thing is, the way the ancient Judeans taught was Socratic style, which meant as soon as you made a statement like this, your pupils responded by taking your words apart to see whether your statements could stand up to intense scrutiny. It’s a good method, but in the hands of nitpickers who don’t care to learn and only wanna cut you down, it can quickly disintegrate into harsh words and hurt feelings. John 8 is a really good example of this.

John 8.33-38 KWL
33 The Judeans answered Jesus, “We’re Abraham’s seed. We’ve never been enslaved, ever.
How can you say ‘You’ll become freemen’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Amen amen! I promise you everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave,
35 and a slave doesn’t remain in the house in this age.
In this age, the son remains, 36 so when the son frees you, you will truly be free.
37 I know you’re ‘Abraham’s seed’—but you seek to kill me, because my word doesn’t take hold of you.
38 What I see with my Father, I speak, so you’ll hear what’s from the Father and do it.”

The discussion goes downhill from there, but I’ll get to that.

30 September 2019

If you don’t follow Jesus, of course you misunderstand him.

John 8.21-29.

As you know, those who imagine Jesus is only a great moral teacher, and figure “I’m the world’s light” means that and no more, tend to ignore the radical statements Jesus made about who he is, what he can do, and who sent him and why. They refuse to recognize him for who he is. When he made roundabout statements about it, they deliberately chose to misinterpret him; when he made blunt statements about it, they wanted to kill him. John 8 contains both such things.

So let’s get to those things. Back to temple, Jn 8.20 where Jesus was teaching yet another lesson to skeptical people.

John 8.21-29 KWL
21 So Jesus told them again: “I’m going away.
You’ll seek me, and you’ll be destroyed by your sins: You can’t go where I go.”
22 So the Judeans said, “He won’t kill himself, will he?
—because Jesus said, “You can’t go where I go.”
23 Jesus told them, “You’re from below. I’m from above.
You’re from this world. I’m not from this world.
24 So I told you you’ll be destroyed by your sins,
for when you won’t believe who I am, you’ll be destroyed by your sins.”
25 So the Judeans told him, “Who are you?”
Jesus told them, “I’ve been telling you who, since the beginning.
26 I have much to say and judge about you—but my Sender is truth.
And what things I heard from him, I speak to the world.”
27 The Judeans didn’t understand he spoke to them of the Father,
28 so Jesus told them, “When you exalt the Son of Man, you’ll then know who I am.
I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things just as my Father teaches me.
29 My Sender is with me; he’s not left me alone, so I can always do what pleases him.”

As the world’s light, those who follow Jesus get our eternal life from him. Jn 8.12 And those who don’t, who have no intention of following him, can’t possibly go where he does. Don’t wanna go where he’s going. He’s leading us to his kingdom. They might imagine they want God’s kingdom, but they want something radically different than what he’s creating, so they’re not going in. So their sins will destroy them.

16 September 2019

More than a great moral teacher: The world’s light.

John 8.12-20.

If we skip the Adulterer Story as we read John (as we probably should, ’cause whether it happened or not, it didn’t happen at this point in John), this lesson took place right after Sukkot was over, after the Judean senators had decided Jesus isn’t a relevant prophet. Because, among other things, he’s Galilean.

Which only goes to show they didn’t know anything about Jesus’s family and backstory. They could’ve found it out with some very minor investigation. Talk to any of Jesus’s family members; they knew the entire story. But the senators didn’t bother, and stuck with their fairly superficial observations—which Jesus, in today’s passage, calls judging “according to the flesh.” Jn 8.15 They presumed they knew better, and missed their Messiah.

So when Jesus made really bold statements about himself, they naturally balked: These statements are too bold. You can’t go making unsubstantiated statements like this. Like “I’m the world’s light.”

John 8.12-20 KWL
12 So Jesus spoke again, saying, “I’m the world’s light.
My followers should never walk in the dark, but will have light and life.”
13 So Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t true.”
14 In reply Jesus told them, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true:
I know where I come from and go to; you don’t know where I come from and where I go.
15 You judge according to flesh; I judge nothing.
16 When I judge—and I do—my judgment is true, for I’m not alone:
Instead I and my sender, the Father, agree.
17 It was written in your Law that a testimony of two people is true. Dt 19.15
18 I’m a witness to myself, and my sender the Father witnesses about me.”
19 So the Pharisees told him, “Who’s your father?”
Jesus replied, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you’ve known me, you’ve also known my Father.”
20Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, teaching in temple.
Nobody seized him, for his time hadn’t yet come.

And y’notice Jesus kinda agreed with them: No, he can’t make unsubstantiated statements about himself, but his statements are substantiated, because they’re backed by the one who sent him to us, his Father. Whom, he radically commented, they don’t know. If they did, they’d listen to him, and know from him Jesus is legit.

09 September 2019

The Adulterer Story… if it even happened.

John 7.53 – 8.11.

Today’s passage is called the Pericope Adulterae, the Adulterer Story, about a woman caught committing adultery, and Jesus was expected to judge her, and didn’t. It’s a really popular story in Christendom, and even pagans know the line, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Jn 8.7 KJV It’s used as the basis for a lot of live-and-let-live, “who am I to judge?” beliefs.

Two things though.

  • That’s not what Jesus meant by “He that is without sin.” I’ll get to that.
  • This entire story isn’t found in the earliest copies of John. Nor the gospels. It got added in the 300s. It’s a textual variant.

That second thing tends to really freak out Christians when I point it out to them. But just about every copy of the bible but the KJV points this out. The whole passage is put in brackets, or prefaced by “The oldest copies of John don’t have this story.” Some more daring bible translations even put the whole thing in the footnotes, and John 7.52 is immediately followed by John 8.12.

Here’s the story as the UBS has it. Lighter-text parts come from the Textus Receptus, which is where the King James Version’s translators got it.

John 7.53 – 8.11 KWL
53 Each person went to their house, 1 and Jesus went to Mt. Olivet.
2 At dawn Jesus went again to temple, and all the people came to him. He sat to teach them.
3 Scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught red-handed in adultery.
They stood her in the middle 4 telling Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultering.
5 In our Law Moses commanded us to stone such people to death. Lv 20.10 So what do you say?”
6 They said this to test Jesus, so they could have an accusation on him.
Stooping down, Jesus was writing on the ground with his finger,
as if he weren’t listening, 7 while they continued to question him.
Then Jesus stood and told them, “Whoever among you haven’t sinned: Throw the first stone at her.”
8 And again Jesus bent down to write on the ground.
9 The listeners, one by one, convicted by their consciences, left, beginning with the elders.
Only Jesus, and the woman in the middle, were left.
10 Standing, seeing no one but the woman, Jesus told her, “Woman, where are they?
No one condemns you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”
Jesus told her, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and don’t sin from now on.”

02 September 2019

The senators dismiss the Galilean prophet.

John 7.37-52.

The last day of the Sukkot festival was treated like Sabbath. Lv 23.36, Nu 29.35 Every day, God was presented a ritual food offering; on the last day they presented a ritual drink offering. The priests drew water from the Šiloakh pool (where Jesus later sent a blind guy to wash himself) then walked round the temple’s altar with the water. Then the officiating priest lifted his hand to indicate the ritual was over… and then this happened.

John 7.37-39 KWL
37 On the last day, the great day, of the Sukkot feast, Jesus stood and called out,
saying, “When anyone thirsts, come to me and drink!
38 When one believes in me, as the scriptures say,
‘Rivers of living water will flow from his womb.’ ”
39 Jesus said this about the Spirit who was about to receive those who believed in him:
The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come, for Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified.

Jesus’s bible quote isn’t an exact quote of anything. He was going for a general idea of water bubbling up from within, as implied in verses like this one.

Isaiah 58.11 KWL
“The LORD led you constantly. He satisfied your soul in scorched lands. He strengthened your bones.
You’re like a well-watered garden, like a water spring which doesn’t produce foul water.”

It’s similar to what he told the Samaritan at the well:

John 4.13-14 KWL
13 In reply Jesus told her, “All who drink this water will be thirsty again.
14 Whoever would drink the water I give them, won’t be thirsty in the age to come.
Instead, the water I give them will become a water spring within them,
bubbling up into eternal life.”

As John said, this is a prophecy about the Holy Spirit, who wouldn’t come Ac 2.1-4 till after Jesus was raptured and glorified. Ac 1.9-11 Come to Jesus and receive the water of life; receive the Holy Spirit.

Still, it galvanized the people, who were pretty sure Jesus was either the Prophet or Messiah… although as you can see, there was still some debate about his credentials to be Messiah. He was Jesus the Nazarene, after all—and they knew Messiah didn’t come from Nazareth.

John 7.40-44 KWL
40 So some from the crowd who heard this word said, “This is truly the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “This is Messiah.”
And some said, “No, for Messiah doesn’t come from the Galilee!
42 Doesn’t the scripture say Messiah comes ‘out of David’s seed’ Ps 89.4
and ‘from Bethlehem,’ Mc 5.2 the village where David was from?”
43 So there became a split in the crowd about Jesus.
44 Some of them wanted to arrest Jesus, but nobody put their hands on him.

We know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I remind you John didn’t include Jesus’s birth story; he just showed up in his 30s to be baptized by John, gather students, and start teaching. John states multiple times he came from heaven, sent by the Father, which was good enough for John. Not so much for the Jerusalemites, who were looking for any reason to disqualify him. Jesus is descended from David ben Jesse, Mt 1.1 and wasn’t just born in Bethlehem but had ancestors from Bethlehem; Nazareth was founded by Bethlehemites. His provenance definitely doesn’t disqualify him from being Messiah. But for doubters, any excuse will do. We get the same way nowadays; all humans do.

26 August 2019

Can’t follow Jesus where he’s going.

John 7.25-36.

Back a few verses, Jesus told his opponents,

John 7.19-20 KWL
19 “Moses didn’t give you the Law, and none of you does the Law: Why do you seek to kill me?”
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?”

Then he objected to how they violated Sabbath to practice ritual circumcision, yet when he cured people who couldn’t walk, this was somehow worse? Jn 7.21-24 But y’know, even though Jesus had a point, and made it very logically, humans aren’t logical. They did want him dead, Jn 5.17-18 and would eventually kill him.

Meanwhile some of Jesus’s listeners—who apparently weren’t aware the Judean leadership wanted him dead—debated whether that was truly so. Remember, in the first-century Roman Empire there was no such thing as freedom of speech and religion: You could be beaten or killed for heresy. Yet nobody censured Jesus from teaching in temple, so the question came up: Maybe Jesus was somebody important. Like Messiah.

John 7.25-26 KWL
25 Some of the Jerusalemites were saying, “Isn’t this who people seek to kill?”
26 “Look, he speaks boldly, and nobody says a response to him.”
“Maybe the rulers truly know this is Messiah!”

“Maybe the rulers truly know this is Messiah,” some speculated—for if Jesus is really Messiah, the Pharisees taught those who opposed Messiah would be destroyed with the breath of his lips. Is 11.4 (Paul later swiped this idea for 2 Thessalonians 2.8, and John transforms it into a sharp sword in Revelation 19.11.) Messiah would vanquish his opponents, take his throne, and rule the world. So if the Judean senate suspected Jesus is Messiah, it explains why they’d be hesitant to arrest him: They didn’t wanna get vanquished. They were hoping he’d vanquish the Romans, but certainly not them. So they let him be.

Others weren’t so sure he’s Messiah:

John 7.27 KWL
“But we know where this man is from.
If Messiah ever comes, nobody knows where he’s from!”

Y’might not be familiar with this idea, “Nobody knows where Messiah’s from.” This is the only time we see it in the New Testament. Not all Pharisees believed it—as proven elsewhere in the gospels, including this very chapter. In John 7.41-42, some Judeans stated they know Messiah comes from Bethlehem, Judea. Not Jerusalem; not Nazareth nor Capernaum; not the Galilee. And of course when the magi sought Messiah, the head priests and scribes pointed Herod to Bethlehem. Mt 2.4-5, Mc 5.2 They did so know where Messiah’s from.

But some Pharisees believed they couldn’t know. Not till after Elijah’s second coming, when he’d identify Messiah for everyone. Then they’d know… but till then, Messiah would be hidden, invisible, unseen, secret. The idea loosely comes from the apocryphal book 2 Esdras, also called 4 Ezra, in which Ezra had this conversation with God:

2 Esdras 13.51-52 KJV
51 Then said I, O Lord that bearest rule, shew me this: Wherefore have I seen the man coming up from the midst of the sea? 52 And he said unto me, Like as thou canst neither seek out nor know the things that are in the deep of the sea: even so can no man upon earth see my Son, or those that be with him, but in the day time.

In St. Justin Martyr’s dialogue with the Jewish philosopher Trypho, apparently Trypho likewise believed Messiah was hidden.

“But Christ—if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint him, and make him manifest to all.” Dialogue with Trypho 8.4

But like I said, not every Pharisee believed it. Christians today have differing theories about the End Times; so did Pharisees. Those who believed in a secret Messiah, figured knowing Jesus was from anywhere meant he couldn’t be Messiah. The rest probably didn’t know Jesus was born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth. Not that either group wanted Jesus to be Messiah: He cured people on Sabbath, y’know.

19 August 2019

Fair judgment.

John 7.19-24.

The people of Jerusalem found Jesus teaching in temple, and wondered where he got his education; Jesus pointed out if we really pursued God instead of our own bright ideas, we’d know where he got his education.

Then he took a bit of left turn:

John 7.19-20 KWL
19 “Moses didn’t give you the Law, and none of you does the Law: Why do you seek to kill me?”
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?”

Where’d that come from? Well, largely the fact, two chapters ago, they totally sought to kill him.

John 5.17-18 KWL
17 Jesus answered them, “My Father works today, just like I work.”
18 So the Judeans all the more wanted him dead for this reason:
Not only was he dismissing Sabbath custom,
but he said God was his own Father, making himself equal to God.

And they still wanted him dead. Oh, they might’ve pretended otherwise, but Jesus knew better. So he bluntly called them on it: “Why do you seek to kill me?” And they flagrantly pretended otherwise: “You have a demon”—that culture’s way of saying, “You’re nuts.”

Yeah, certain Christians claim the Judeans meant “You have a demon” literally. Y’might recall the other gospels, in which the Jerusalem scribes decreed Jesus’s exorcisms were done by devilish power. John’s gospel doesn’t include that story; in fact Jesus never performs an exorcism in John. But this wasn’t an accusation of Jesus working via Satan’s power; it was the culture’s presumption about how madness works. Nowadays we’d leap to the conclusion you’re off your medication (or need some); back then they’d leap to the conclusion you had some critters in you. So we can dismiss the Judeans’ comment as mere hyperbole… for now.

But Jesus wasn’t nuts. He knew they intended to destroy them; he’d known it since they first started plotting. He knew they’d ultimately succeed. He was gonna use it as part of his grand plan to save the world. But he didn’t want them to think they were cleverly slipping anything past him, or getting away with anything. He knew what they were up to.

12 August 2019

Pursuing God’s ideas. Not our own.

John 7.14-18.

After Jesus decided he was in fact going to Jerusalem for Shavuot, he went privately, (KJV “as it were in secret”) Jn 7.9 and at first people weren’t sure he was there. Till he started teaching in temple.

I need to remind you synagogues, at this point in history, weren’t Jewish churches: They were Pharisee schools. They were created and run by Pharisees, to ensure future generations knew the Law and followed it. Specifically, followed it the way Pharisees interpreted; Jesus has his own interpretations. Hence they butted heads.

There were also prejudices among Judean Pharisees about the quality of education you’d find among Galilean Pharisees. So when the Judeans listened to Jesus, they immediately realized here was a guy who knew as much as any of their scribes. (Knows way more, actually. But they wouldn’t always admit this.) Thing is, Jesus grew up in the Galilee. Went to Galilean synagogues, not Judean synagogues. Never attended their schools. Therefore he must surely be “uneducated”—a presumption they’d later make about Jesus’s students. Ac 4.13

John 7.14-15 KWL
14 During the middle the Shavuot festival, Jesus went up to temple and taught.
15 So the Judeans were in awe, saying, “How does this unstudied man know what scribes know?”

Unfortunately, various anti-intellectual Christians make the same presumption about Jesus and his students: “These were uneducated, illiterate men!” and use this to justify their lack of education. Illiterate men? These guys wrote the New Testament, and no they didn’t just hire secretaries to make up for their inability to read: Synagogue taught you to read. You had to read, if you were read the Law and follow it. Jesus can read; Lk 4.16 and what kind of sucky teacher would he be if his students couldn’t likewise read?

Rants about ignorance aside, Jesus was educated enough to engage Pharisees on their level. Even quote their own rabbis back at them. Mk 7.11 But the reason he teaches better stuff than they, more godly stuff than they, is because he knows his Father… and they didn’t. Claimed to, but didn’t.

John 7.16-18 KWL
16 So in reply Jesus said, “My teaching isn’t mine, but from God who sent me.
17 When anyone wants to do his will, they’ll know if the teaching’s from God, or from my own speaking.
18 Those who speak for themselves seek their own opinion.
Those who seek the opinion of God who sent them, are truthful. There’s no wrongness in them.”

See, Jesus teaches the scriptures and the Law correctly because he cares about what God thinks of it. (And yeah, since he’s God, it’s also what he thinks of it. But that wasn’t what the Judeans needed to hear at that time.) He seeks his Father’s opinion on the matter. The Pharisees only sought their own opinions.

Like many people, Christians included, they were self-promoting: They wanted to be recognized for their own wisdom and insight, and be lauded as great teachers. And if you wanna stand out, you gotta be different. Not necessarily in a good way. It’s always easier to be weird for weirdness’s sake, to pitch novel ideas for novelty’s sake, to claim “I’m just trying to be thought provoking” when really we’re just throwing intellectual grenades.

Many bibles translate δόξαν/dóxan, “opinion,” as “glory”—

John 7.18 ESV
“The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

—and yeah, there’s some overlap in the ideas. When you’re promoting your own opinions, it’s usually to get a little glory for yourself as a wise person. Problem is, we’re wrong. And when we teach our own ideas instead of God’s, we’re gonna teach wrongness. Not necessarily lies. Some of us, like politicians, lie to promote political allies or selfish agendas; the rest are unwittingly wrong, and spreading falsehoods because we never bother to fact-check ourselves. But in general we just promote wrong ideas, which is why I don’t care for the ESV’s “falsehood” as an interpretation of ἀδικία/adikía, “not right” (KJV “unrighteousness”). It’s not mere falseness. We’re wrong.

So why’s Jesus the best teacher ever? Because he seeks his Father. And, he points out, everyone else who truly and selflessly seeks our Father who sent us, gets it right.

05 August 2019

When Jesus said he wouldn’t go… and did.

John 7.1-13.

If you read the synoptic gospels (meaning Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the three which sync up a lot), you might get the idea Jesus only went to Jerusalem once—to get arrested and crucified. That’d be historically inaccurate. Jesus obeyed the Law, and the Law decreed every adult male should go to temple three times a year for the festivals. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jesus went to Jerusalem a lot, and John—which largely takes place there—fills in the blanks of what happened during those many Jerusalem trips.

Including when Jesus cured that one blind guy. The context of that story was when he went to Jerusalem one year for Sukkót. That trip began a few chapters back; since I skipped that part I figure I’d better backtrack. Here y’go.

John 7.1-13 KWL
1 After these things, Jesus traveled the Galilee.
He didn’t want to travel in Judea, because the Judeans sought to kill him.
2 Sukkót/Tents, a Judean festival, was near, 3 so Jesus’s brothers told him,
“Leave here and go to Judea, so your students will also see you and the works you do.
4 Nobody who seeks publicity, works in private: If you do things, reveal yourself to the world!”
For Jesus’s brothers didn’t yet believe in him either.
6 So Jesus told them, “My moment hasn’t arrived yet.
Your moment is always ready. 7 The world can’t hate you.
It hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.
8 You go up to the festival. I’m not going up to this festival: My moment isn’t fulfilled.”
9 This said, Jesus stayed in the Galilee.
10 As Jesus’s brothers went up to the festival, Jesus then also went up—not publicly, but privately.
11 So the Judeans were seeking Jesus at the festival, and said, “Where is that person?
12 There was much grumbling about him in the crowds.
On the one hand, some said he’s good; others said, “No, but he misleads the crowd.”
13 Even so, nobody spoke openly about Jesus, for fear of the Judeans.

I’ll admit right now: This story has always kinda bothered me. ’Cause y’notice Jesus initially told his brothers, “I’m not going up to the festival; you go.” Then, one verse later, he did go. But “as it were in secret,” as the King James Version puts it. On face value, it totally looks like Jesus lied to his brothers and snuck to the festival.

I know, I know: Christ Jesus never sinned. He 4.15 I’m not claiming otherwise. I don’t think the passage is claiming otherwise either. Certainly no Christian is gonna interpret it that way. But anybody who honestly looks at this passage—including skeptics who have no qualms about accusing Jesus of all sorts of things—are gonna come right out and say, “Looks like Jesus deceived his brothers.” (That is, once pagans get over their initial surprise: “Wait, Jesus has brothers? I thought he was an only child!”)

So instead of letting little doubts poke at the back of our minds for no good reason, let’s deal with this bible difficulty today.

29 July 2019

Claiming to see, but won’t see Jesus.

John 9.35-41.

Picking up right after Pharisees ejected a formerly-blind man from their synagogue for believing in Jesus, our Lord re-enters the story and delivers the punchline, so to speak.

John 9.34-41 KWL
35 Jesus, hearing the Pharisees threw the formerly-blind man out,
upon finding him, said, “You believe in the Son of Man?”
36 In reply, that man said, “Who is he, sir?—so I can put my trust in him.”
37 Jesus told him, “You’ve seen him: This man is talking with you.”
38 The formerly-blind man said, “I trust you, sir,” and fell down before Jesus.
39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for people’s judgment:
Those who don’t see, can see; and those who see can become blind.”
40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus, “We aren’t blind too.”
41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin.
You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.”

For some reason, a lot of preachers assume this guy shouldn’t have recognized Jesus when he encountered him: He was blind at the time y’know. But I’m pretty sure he’d have easily recognized Jesus’s voice. And after his trial, he knew plenty about Jesus… or at least what certain Pharisees claimed about him, though he himself was pretty sure Jesus is a prophet. Jn 9.17

Though it appears here, he didn’t know of Jesus’s common practice of calling himself “the Son of Man.” That was the prophet Daniel’s title for an End Times figure who’d conquer and rule the world—you know, like Jesus is gonna do someday. Pharisees expected the Son of Man to emerge directly from heaven, not get born like an ordinary human (well, more or less) and live among us for a few decades. If you didn’t connect Jesus with that Son of Man, you’d presume calling himself τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου/ton yión tu anthrópu all the time was just another way to say “human”—like the LORD meant whenever he called Ezekiel בֶּן־אָדָם/ben-Adám, “son of Adam” (KJV “son of man”) Ek 2.1 You’d be… well, blind.

22 July 2019

The trial of the formerly-blind man.

John 9.13-34.

One Sabbath, Jesus cured a blind guy with spit-mud. His neighbors caught him seeing, and decided to bring him to the Pharisees, figuring these’d be the guys who could identify if this miracle was a God-thing or not.

John 9.13-16 KWL
13 They brought the formerly-blind man to Pharisees:
14 The day Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes, was Sabbath.
15 So again, Pharisees were asking him how he received sight.
He told them, “He smeared mud on me, on the eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
16 Hence some of these Pharisees were saying, “This person isn’t from God: He doesn’t keep Sabbath.”
Others were saying, “How can a ‘sinful person’ make such miracles?” They were divided.

Yeah, they weren’t much good at it.

Lemme start by pointing out the obvious: By definition, miracles are God-things. They’re anything the Holy Spirit does in our physical universe. Might look natural, or resemble natural phenomena. But because the Spirit personally does ’em, they didn’t happen naturally; they don’t have a natural origin; they are always more-than-natural, or supernatural. The sick might naturally get better; or they might have the sort of disease which never gets better, but the Spirit intervened, so they get better anyway. And skeptics object, “Well, there was a chance…” because they don’t wanna acknowledge the Spirit. For two usual reasons:

  • They doubt miracles happen anymore, or ever happened.
  • They doubt the particular miracle-worker.

In these Pharisees’ case, they doubted Jesus the Nazarene. After all, he was notorious for interpreting “Remember the Sabbath day” his own way… and in so doing, violating their Sabbath customs. They didn’t wanna work in any way that inconvenienced them; he feels helping others is an entirely valid exception. Christians should agree with Jesus… and don’t always. (Heck, often we don’t help others the other six days of the week either.)

As usual, when John or the other authors of scripture refer to “the Pharisees” or “the Judeans,” they don’t necessarily mean all the Pharisees or Judeans. Some of these Pharisees correctly recognized a legitimate miracle happened, and therefore it was incorrect to presume Jesus wasn’t from God. Since their judgment didn’t hold sway in this case, it’s clear these believing Pharisees weren’t in charge. (It’s not clear whether they were a majority or not; ancient Israel wasn’t a democracy, so even if they were a majority, ’twouldn’t matter. Synagogue leadership could overrule the majority, same as a judge can overturn a jury’s verdict.)

The rest simply tried to get the formerly-blind man to distance himself from Jesus. That didn’t work, so they turned on the man himself.

John 9.17-34 KWL
17 So they told the formerly-blind man again, “Because Jesus opened your eyes, what do you say about him?
The man said this: “He’s a prophet.”
18 So these Judeans didn’t believe him—
nor even that he used to be blind and received sight.
Not till the point they called the parents of the one who received sight 19 and questioned them,
saying, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? So how can he now see?”
20 So in reply the man’s parents said, “We know this is our son, and he was born blind.
21 We don’t know how he now sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him! He’s an adult. He’ll tell you about himself.”
22 His parents said this because they feared the Judeans:
When anyone recognized Jesus as Messiah, the Judeans had previously agreed they’d be out of the synagogue.
23 This is why the man’s parents said this: “He’s an adult. Ask him.”
24 So the Pharisees called the formerly-blind man a second time,
and told him, “Swear to God you’re telling the truth. We know this person’s a sinner.”
25 So this man replied, “I don’t know if he’s a sinner. I know one thing: Having been blind, now I see.”
26 So they told him, “What did he do to you? How were your eyes opened?”
27 So the man told them, “I already told you, and you don’t listen.
Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to be his students. Do you?
28 They raged at him, and said, “You’re that man’s student. We’re Moses’s students.
29 We know God spoke to Moses; we don’t know where this man’s coming from.
30 In reply the formerly-blind person told them, “This statement you made is confusing:
You don’t know where he’s coming from—and he opened my eyes!
31 We know God doesn’t listen to sinners.
But when one’s a God-fearer and does his will, God listens to this person.
32 Someone opening the eyes of a person born blind is unheard of in this age.
33 If this man weren’t from God, he’d be unable to do anything!”
34 In reply the Judeans told the man, “You were entirely born in sin.
And you try to teach us?”—and they threw him out.

15 July 2019

Curing a blind man… on Sabbath.

John 9.1-14.

Previously I wrote about some blind guy Jesus cured with spit. Today I figured I’d jump to the other story of Jesus curing a blind guy with spit. That one is only found in Mark; this one comes from John. And this story is probably better-known because it created a huge controversy… ’cause Jesus cured the guy on Sabbath, ’cause he’s the Sabbath’s master.

The story begins with a lesson, ’cause Jesus’s students see the blind guy and make the typical human assumption: He’s blind because of karma. Either he did something, or his parents did something, and now he’s suffering the wrath of God for it. It’s a poisonous attitude too, ’cause people use it to justify not doing anything for the needy: Hey, they’re needy because they deserve it, and who are we to undo God’s righteous judgment? (Or the judgment of the universe, or the marketplace; whatever god you’re into.)

John 9.1-3 KWL
1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person, blind from birth.
2 His students questioned him, saying, “Rabbi, between this man or his parents,
who sinned so he’d be born blind?
3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents.
He was born blind so God’s works could be revealed through him.”

Determinists make the mistake of presuming Jesus’s answer applies to every situation. This, they say, proves every disability, every birth defect, every type of human suffering, is so God’s works can be revealed, and God can gain glory. God makes people suffer so God can cure their suffering, and show off his power. God makes us needy so he can take care of our needs, and show off his power. And then we’ll worship him.

Um… if you set fire to a building so you can rescue people from the burning building, you’re not a hero; you’re an arsonist. Likewise if God creates evil so he can save us from this evil, he’s not good; he’s evil. Don’t go there.

I’m sure determinists mean well, but their beliefs really mangle their theodicy. God’s not creating problems just so he can solve them, and look good in so doing. God’s solving the problems we created with our sins. Jesus died for our transgressions, not for our falling into the booby traps he sovereignly set in our paths. He’s not the trickster god the nontheists imagine. He’s rescuing us from the natural consequences of our sins: Suffering and death.

And yeah, sometimes blindness is the result of those natural consequences. Sometimes a man is born blind because his parents did sin. Sometimes a woman later goes blind because of her own sins. Jesus’s kids knew this, so it wasn’t totally invalid for them to presume sin was the root cause of this man’s circumstances. But neither is it the only possibility. Sometimes accidents happen; some meaningless thing which has nothing to do with sin or judgment or God or any conscious decision. Life sucks that way.

In this specific person’s situation, he was blind because God was gonna do stuff through his blindness. Talk to certain blind people, and they’ll tell you their blindness was an unexpected blessing. Because they can’t see, they have to depend on their other senses. (Usually this is described as “all your other senses get sharper,” but they don’t just do this on their own; they get sharper because you pay more attention to them.) As a result they feel things others don’t notice, hear things we overlook, smell and taste what we take for granted, and are much better at discerning their environment than people who solely depend on their eyes. Disabled people tend to hear God better than able-bodied people. (That is, when they’re not bitter at him for not curing them on their timetable.)

And that’s what you’ll see later: This blind guy realized who Jesus is. Much better than the other folks in this chapter. His mind was sharper than theirs. Which of course it would be; without his eyes, he had to use his mind to observe his world. His blindness was preparation for God’s revelation.

08 July 2019

Jesus cures a man… in stages.

Mark 8.22-26.

People are fascinated by healing stories where Jesus cures people with spit. ’Cause he didn’t just do it the one time. Twice he cured blind men with it; here, and in John 9. Previously in Mark he cured a deafmute, and spat in the course of doing it—and while I don‘t believe he spat on the guy, or touched the guy with his saliva, plenty of Christians believe otherwise.

What mainly gets us is the ick factor. Our culture doesn’t think of saliva as sanitary. Even though people spit-shine things all the time—glasses, phones, jewelry, shoes, their children—a number of people cringe at such behavior, because spit has germs in it. And yeah, human saliva has bacteria in it. But it also has a lot of digestive enzymes and white blood cells in it. Saliva protects us from a lot more than we realize.

Whenever Jesus cured people with spit, it was reflective of the ancients’ attitudes about spit. Like us, they cleaned with spit. And when Jesus cured people with spit, it represented cleaning. The Hebrews thought of sickness as a form of uncleanness. It made you ritually unclean for worship, obviously; and if you suffered leprosy you were expected to warn people away with the shout, “Unclean!” and stay away from people and the local well, lest you infect anyone. ’Cause the ancients figured uncleanliness, or unclean living (i.e. sin) caused your illness.

Blindness too. ’Cause let’s face it, sometimes people get stuff in their eyes, and it blinds them. Happens to me every allergy season. In the apocrypha we read where this happened to Tobit:

Tobit 2.9-10 KWL
9 That night I sat shiva, and slept by the courtyard wall because I was unclean. My face was uncovered.
10 I didn’t know there were sparrows on the wall.
My eyes were open, and the sparrows emptied their bowels into my eyes.
My eyes became white as tablets. I went to “physicians,” and they didn’t help me.

Tobit spent the next four years blind, till an angel instructed his son Tobias to cure him by anointing his eyes with fish-gall salve. And while this story isn’t in the Hebrew bible, it wasn’t unfamiliar to people of Jesus’s day: Blindness was related to uncleanness. People had stuff in their eyes. Tobit had bird poop, Paul had scales, Ac 9.18 and everyone Jesus cured had something which needed to be washed away. So, spit.

Yeah, I’ve heard theories the ancients thought spit had magical properties. Did not. People cleaned with it. So did Jesus. When he felt it necessary, he spat.

Nowadays when people ask for prayer ’cause they want God to heal them, sometimes they ask for certain things. They want us to put our hands on their head, or on the affected area. They might want to be daubed with oil. They might want a certain prayer. They don’t actually need any of these things, y’know. They only need Jesus. And sometimes they know they don’t… but it comforts them, and there’s nothing wrong with comforting people. Jesus didn’t need to cure anyone with spit, but he recognized his patients needed it, so he provided, because he’s kind. Let’s follow his example—although I’m pretty sure nobody’s gonna ever ask us to spit on ’em. But you never know.

Oh yeah, the story:

Mark 8.22-26 KWL
22 Jesus and his students went to Beit Chayda.
People brought him a blind man, and encouraged Jesus to touch him.
23 Grabbing the blind man’s hand, Jesus took him outside the village.
Spitting in the man’s eyes, placing his hands on the man, Jesus asked him, “Can you see anything?”
24 Recovering his vision, the man said, “I see people—like trees. I see them walking around.”
25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again.
He saw clearly, his vision restored. He gazed at everything clearly.
26 Jesus sent him to his house, telling him, “You ought not enter the village, nor say anything in the village.”

01 July 2019

The yeast of hypocrisy.

Mark 8.14-21 • Matthew 16.5-12 • Luke 12.1.

After the most recent encounter Jesus had with Pharisees—namely where they wanted an End Times sign from him, not because they wanted proof Jesus is Messiah, but so they could shred his “sign” as bogus—Jesus decided to remind his students what sort of people they were dealing with. Not that all Pharisees were this way… hence his choice of metaphor.

Mark 8.14-15 KWL
14 The students forgot to take bread,
and they hadn’t one roll with them in the boat.
15 Jesus instructed them, saying “Listen. Watch out for the Pharisees’ yeast and Herod’s yeast.”
Matthew 16.5-6 KWL
5 Jesus’s students, coming to the far side of the lake,
forgot to bring bread.
6 Jesus told them, “Listen and pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
Luke 12.1 KWL
When the crowds of 10,000 gathered together such that they were trampling one another,
Jesus first began to tell his students,
“Watch out for yourselves about the Pharisees’ yeast—which is hypocrisy.”

Luke, which has this story take place after Jesus had just critiqued several Pharisee behaviors he identified as hypocrisy, straight-up interprets his own metaphor. He wants no confusion. Because in Mark and Matthew there was a lot of confusion: Jesus’s students were fixated on the fact they didn’t bring any bread with them.

As if Jesus was concerned in the slightest about a bread shortage. As he immediately pointed out.

Mark 8.16-21 KWL
16 They talked among themselves about not having bread.
17 Knowing this, Jesus told them, “Why are you talking about not having bread?
You don’t yet think nor understand; you have hardened hearts.
18 You have unseeing eyes and have unlistening ears, and don’t remember:
19 When I broke the five rolls for 5,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Twelve.”
20 “And when I broke seven for 4,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Seven.”
21 Jesus told them, “How do you not yet understand?”
Matthew 16.7-12 KWL
7 They talked among themselves, saying this: “We didn’t take bread.”
8 Knowing this, Jesus said, “Why are you little-faiths talking among yourselves about not having bread?
9 You don’t think nor remember the five rolls for 5,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Nor the seven rolls for 4,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How do you not think?—because I’m not talking to you about bread!
Pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
12 Then the students realized Jesus wasn’t saying to pay attention to bread yeast,
but the teaching of Pharisees and Sadducees.

It’s an all-too-common human problem: We get so fixated on immediate concerns, we miss the bigger, eternal point.

And that’s still true of Christians who read this passage, get some really funny ideas about yeast, and again miss Jesus’s entire point. And wind up misinterpreting other parts of the bible too.