Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jesus' Day Off

by Keith Brenton

posted by WKB; written by John Alan Turner

It had been a busy week, and it was just Wednesday. Things had started off with a bang and a parade, Jesus looking more like a comic rendition of a conquering king — riding into town on the back of a donkey with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of peasants throwing down their coats before him and waving palm branches. It looked like the Messiah was coming to claim Jerusalem.

But all was not well.

The Pharisees complained about the level of excitement (Pharisees frequently do). Can’t you get those kids to calm down and be quiet? Jesus goes toe-to-toe with the religious establishment and refuses to back down. They lack the popular appeal and the official power to enforce their demands and can only stand there red in the face.

Jesus, however, does not rejoice in his temporary victory. Instead, he weeps over the city of Jerusalem. This is the last time he’ll see the city like this. In a few short decades, the city itself will be ripped to shreds by the Romans. And he knows what this passionate week will cost him. So, he sobs. Undignified, gut-wrenching sobs.

Bright and early Monday morning, Jesus and his disciples make their way to the Temple. On the way there, he curses a fig tree. Once he gets there, he turned over the tables and benches. People and animals scrambled this way and that. The Sadducees must have joined the Pharisees now in the anger and hatred of this man. But he had the people on his side. If they tried to stop him, they might have a real fight on their hands. And the ever-present Romans were not too far away, hands on swords, watching and waiting for their cue to quell a potential rebellion.

Tuesday was a day of conversation. Following two days of action, everyone wants to talk to Jesus now. Some Greek people. Members of the Sanhedrin. Herodians. Sadducees. Pharisees. The people. Everyone wants to hear Jesus talk about who he thinks he is and what he intends to do. They question his identity, his authority, his politics, his eschatology, his ethics. The whole series of conversation builds to a fever pitch as Jesus launches into a diatribe against the Jewish leaders (specifically the Pharisees).

Afterwards, Jesus breaks down in tears again.

But Tuesday ends on a positive note. As he is leaving the Temple, he sits down in the court of the women and watches people as they approach the 13 trumpet-shaped bronze receptacles. Each was labeled, telling what the money would go towards. Jesus sees wealthy people casually tossing money, the coins sliding down the bronze, clanking metallically, attracting attention.

That’s when he sees her. Unnoticed by anyone else, an unassuming widow drops two tiny coins in the coffer.

Jesus gets so excited that he calls his disciples over to tell them her story. It must have seemed strange to them, given the scale of everything else that’s been happening this week, that Jesus would get this worked up over a mere shaving of metal. But to Jesus it’s a big deal.

The week has been full to overflowing, pregnant with meaning and import. It will get heavier as we move towards the finale: the brooding tune of Thursday evening’s meal, the somber note of devastating loss that is Friday afternoon, the silent and uncertain pause that is Saturday, the eternally resonating major chord of victory that is Sunday morning.

But before we get there, Jesus, it would appear, takes a day off. Nothing is recorded about his whereabouts or activities on Wednesday. Perhaps he was making plans with the cryptic man who appears to Peter and John carrying a water jug. Perhaps he was watching Judas wrestle with the demons that eventually prompt him to do his dastardly deed. Perhaps he spent the day praying and gathering his thoughts.

Regardless, it’s instructive enough that Jesus — knowing full well that he had less than a week to live — chooses to do nothing the biblical writers deemed noteworthy on one of his days.

Given my normal level of activity and busyness, I should probably follow Jesus more closely — especially when it’s Jesus’ day off.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Temple: A Great Place for Murder

by Keith Brenton

They had a suspect. They dragged her into the temple courts where Jesus was teaching. She was accused; caught in the act of adultery; condemned by the law. They asked this young Rabbi's approval. He baffled them. They slunk away, all but her. After a few words with Jesus, she left too.

But He went right on teaching, and baffling - right there close to the place where the cash offerings were thrown in. He still had a crowd, including some Pharisees who said His testimony wasn't valid because He testified about Himself. He said He was testifying about His Father, whom they did not know. But nobody put a hand on Him, because it wasn't His time yet.

Yet even some who believed in Him were offended when He said His words would set them free. They countered that they were Abraham's children and had never been slaves. Pretty funny, when you think about it ... as close as the temple was to the Roman garrisons. It wasn't funny to them. They were ready to kill Him.

Instead of backing off for His own safety, He told them that God should be their Father; that before Abraham existed, He had been with the Father. For that blasphemy, they took up stones to kill Him ... but He slipped away. (John 8)

After that, He moved cautiously - but couldn't help having compassion on a man born blind, and couldn't help but heal him and teach His followers that physical handicaps aren't punishments for sin; they are opportunities to glorify God. After the poor man and his parents had been grilled about the healing, Jesus sought him out to leave a few words of teaching with him. But, overheard by some Pharisees, He replied to their retort that they were the blind ones. (John 9)

By the time He finished explaining His role as a shepherd, they were convinced He was possessed by a demon.

Then winter came, and He returned to the temple - to Solomon's Colonnade - to teach. When pressed to be the kind of Messiah that others wanted, He refused. And once again they picked up stones to throw at Him and kill Him. And once again He escaped their grasp. (John 10)

Right there in the temple. Just the place to kill someone. Not outside the city or camp, as commanded by God in Leviticus 24:14 or Numbers 15:35. No; right there in God's house ... right on the doorstep of God's sanctuary.

They had probably been incensed when Pilate had mixed the blood of some Galileeans with their sacrifices there (Luke 13:1). But this was different. This was a case of a blasphemer who healed on the Sabbath. The two wrongs made it right, right then and there.

I don't know how He got away; whether by divine intervention or miraculous transport or swift stealth and strength. I do know He escaped because it wasn't His time. And it was His place.

We would never think of doing such a thing. We'd never assassinate someone in our sanctuaries. Not literally; not figuratively. Those places are too holy to accuse and condemn another soul who claimed God as Father; to cast aspersions on their character; to consign them to hell and demand their penitence and apology before us. We wouldn't dare to do it in His place.

Would we?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jesus Gets Weird Sometimes

by Keith Brenton

Okay, I loved the first stories Jesus told today: the ones about the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost boy who used to feed pigs but couldn't bring himself to eat pig slop, so he went home to his dad ... oh. You've heard that one, too? That's a great story. And he really put the slam on the Pharisees and law-teachers. Because they love money and they love being right all the time, and they act like the Sabbath isn't a day to do good things if it takes any effort because that would be against the law. Sometimes Jesus is a hoot.

But then his stories took a bizarre turn. You know? About a guy who cheated his boss and was stupid enough to think that the guys that owed his boss less - because he helped them cheat - would trust him and hire him later, after he finally got caught and fired. What's that supposed to mean? Was Jesus, like, being sarcastic when he recommended helping people cheat so they'll have plenty of friends in the "eternal dwellings" he talks about? It was pretty clear to me he was talking about trust. And loving money too much. More than loving God.

Then he - just out of the blue - put a slam on those Pharisees when they sneered at his story. He keeps talking about the kingdom of God coming, and he makes it sound like they don't know the law. If they did, they'd know that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery, and so is anyone who marries his ex-wife. Man, that's a hard saying. That goes on all the time. Moses' law permits divorce - under the right circumstances - so what's with this "automatic adultery" thing when you get divorced?

To top it all off, he jumps to this story about two dead guys. Two dead guys who are still alive. One of them is rich, and - get this - he's in the place where dead people go and he's miserable, tormented by flame. Have you ever heard of such a thing? And the really poor guy, the beggar who was sick all the time outside the rich guy's house - he's in Abraham's embrace, being comforted. A bum, who obviously never did anything worthwhile his whole life; just begged for other people's money. And Jesus says his name was Lazarus - the same as one of his friends up in Bethany; the guy with two sisters.

The rich guy, he's hurting; and he begs Abraham to send old Lazarus over with some water and Abraham says he ain't-a gonna do 'er. Because Lazarus hurt his whole life while the rich guy had everything. So the rich guy, he's trying to look out for his brothers who are still alive, and he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them to straighten up so they won't end up in torment ... and Jesus has Father Abraham saying "ain't-a gonna do 'er" again! Says if they wouldn't listen to Moses and the prophets, they wouldn't listen to somebody coming back from the dead!

Now what do you make of that?

You know what's really spooky about it? Jesus talked like it was real. Like he really knows Abraham. Like he really knows what it's like where the dead people live. But he couldn't possibly know.

Could he?

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Thunder, Angels and Oracles

by Keith Brenton

We went up to Jerusalem to worship for the Passover feast, my friends and I, and our journey went well until the last few miles. Just outside of Jerusalem, we stopped with everyone else to crowd the sides of the main street into town from the south. We heard the rumor about the One who passed us on a colt, greeted by palm branches and shouts of "Save! Save!"

We heard He had made his dead friend Lazarus alive.

This was a new facet to the faith of Abraham to which my fellow Greek friends and I had proselyted ourselves. Life out of death ... immortality ... the very essence of the legendary old gods our ancestors had foolishly worshiped.

It was difficult to see Him at a distance, and for the crowd; He looked pretty much like any Jewish man. Yet there, in the entourage of the One they called Jesus was Philip, an acquaintance of mine from Bethsaida in Galilee.

When we came into town later, we asked around for Philip and were directed to him. I assumed that he had earned a position of great status with this celebrated One who gave life to His friends. "Sir," I said to him, "...we would like to see Jesus." He had an odd look on his face - I had forgotten that my friends and I were foreign strangers in this strange land - and he went to tell someone who was doubtless of greater status; one called Andrew. Then, together, they in turn went and told Jesus. So we followed them.

He was teaching a crowd when they whispered that we had come. Jesus nodded and went right on teaching: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."

Yes! we thought; this is the One we're looking for! He's talking about life and death as if they were as ordinary as seeds! About loving life too much; about life that does not end! But who was this "Father" He mentioned?

He went on: "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"

Then an extraordinary thing happened; the kind of thing our land's legend said happened only at holy oracles to prophets of old. An indescribable voice came from heaven itself, saying: "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. My friends and I just looked at each other, and I released my grip on Philip's arm, giving him an apologetic look. He just grinned.

Then Jesus said, almost dismissively, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

His words were as mysterious as those of any oracle. We didn't have a notion what he meant by "the prince of this world" or being "lifted up from the earth."

Someone in the crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?" I turned from looking to see who had spoken to see the One who would answer.

Then Jesus said, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."

It wasn't dark. It wasn't close to dusk. While we wondered what He could have possibly meant, Jesus left and hid himself somehow. More like He vanished ... no amount of searching would turn Him up.

Finally, the sky did start to darken and it became apparent that we would see Him no more that day. The answers we sought would have to wait.

A peculiar instinct hit me as I sent one of my friends to find a place for us to stay and celebrate the paschal meal. "We may not find this Jesus for a long time again. He may have important business; hosting the meal, and so forth. Perhaps they have plans to use a - what do the Romans call our apo mekhanes theos in theatre? Deus ex machina? - to lift Him up and make it easier for people to see Him and hear His teaching about life that does not end. So make reservations for quite a while."

My friend looked at me curiously. "How long?"

I thought about it. "Through Pentecost, at least."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Jesus The Model...Parent?

by john alan turner

Jesus was many things when he lived here on earth: sinless Son of God, atoning sacrifice, masterful teacher and storyteller, perfectly righteous model with no hint of self-righteousness.

It is baffling to me why the Christian community has largely failed to apply the teachings and example of Jesus in the realm of parenting, claiming that since he was not a parent, he has nothing relevant to say about it. It is even more ironic since Jesus never ran a business, never led a church and never got married -- yet we apply his teachings in these areas on a regular basis. Maybe we should ask ourselves how Jesus might raise our children. And there is one area that is particularly worthy of our attention.

On the night before he was betrayed, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells Peter: "Satan is going to tempt you like you've never been tempted before. But I'm praying for you. After it's all over, remember to come back and strengthen everyone else, okay?"

It's interesting that Jesus doesn't try to fix Peter, doesn't give advice or a lecture. Neither does he try to protect Peter from the trail he's about to face. He just prays for Peter. And he tells him so.

At his moment of deepest concern, Jesus decides that the single most powerful thing he can do to benefit this person whom he loves deeply is to pray. I must admit that very often I want to control my kids or manipulate their circumstances. I even ask God to help me in this endeavor. But God is too smart for that. He's designed kids so that -- even at a very young age -- they defy my attampts to control and manipulate them. Sometimes it looks like my tactics are working -- they often produce behavior the short ter. But in the long run, most kids resent and rebel against micro-management.

That's incredibly frustrating for me, but it's liberating for everyone in the long run. If I was allowed too much control over my children, I'd end up doing unspeakable damage to them, stunting their development and hindering them from cultivating healthy relationships with God, others and themselves. God is wise; and he has established patterns of growth and maturity that we ignore at our own peril.

Imagine this: Jesus -- second member of the Trinity -- only begotten Son of God -- Alpha and Omega -- the One through whom and for whom all things were created and hold together. And yet he demonstrated his power most completely in his ability to let go and launch his disciples out into the world without micromanaging their every decision and action!

That's the kind of parent I want to be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Even the Puppies

by c s bunyan

Philip and Bartholomew walked quickly because they thought they were late. Their hosts sent with them a jug of wine and a large basket of figs. Philip, whose load was lighter, put distance between himself and his fellow disciple.

"Slow down," said Bartholomew. "Maybe we should put the wine in here with these figs I'm carrying and work together."

Philip stopped and turned. Bartholomew's face was flushed from exertion.

"There's a rock, there, under that tree," said Philip as he reached out to help carry the basket of figs. "Why don't we just rest a minute. I'm sure the Lord won't mind if we're a bit late for the meal."

"I don't need to rest," said Bartholomew. "I just wanted a little help."

"Sit. We've been running for days."

Philip gently placed the jug of wine on a soft grassy, piece of ground in the shade. Bartholomew placed the figs in the shade next to the wine. Both disciples sat on the ground with their backs to the rock to soak up its' coolness. For the first time, both disciples noticed how many other people were traveling the same road as they.

"Do you think this is normal?" asked Bartholomew. "All these people in this place?"

"Word spreads quickly," said Philip.

"Have you noticed their clothes? Their speech? We must be close to the Great Sea." Bartholomew wiped his forehead with the edge of his robe. "We walk any further we'll be out of Israel."

"I'm wondering if we might have crossed the border already," said Philip. "What's this?"

Philip nodded towards a woman making her way frantically down the road. She stopped travelers and spoke to them. Her gestures were animated, almost manic. Many listened for only a moment and then turned away, waving their hand as if to say, "Go away. Don't bother me." Others listened patiently and then shook their head. After many rebuffs or negative answers, she would move on to the next group of people moving along the road.

Philip and Bartholomew, from their vantage point, watched the woman for about two minutes before she was on the roadside directly in front of them. Her shoulders slumped; she sighed. She squinted to see who or what was under the tree in the shade. She moved towards them with short, hesitating steps.

"Greetings," said Philip. "We were just finished resting here. This rock feels cool if you lean against it. I don't think the sun's been on it at all, today."

The disciples stood as she approached. As her eyes adjusted from sun to shade, she looked at them carefully.

"You are Galileans, no?" She spoke Aramaic with an accent.

"We are," said Bartholomew.

The woman's next utterances came in spurts, in excited Greek. Her daughter was sick. More than sick. Her daughter was possessed. A devil lived inside the poor girl. She was suffering. Terribly. She heard about the man from Galilee and heard that he was here, just across the border from where she lived. Maybe there was a chance she could speak with him. For only a minute. Not much time. Only a half a minute.

"Do you know him?" she asked. "Can you help me find Jesus of Nazareth? Is it true about what they say?"

"It is true," said Philip. "We are following him and…"

"And we don't know where he is," said Bartholomew.

Philip shot Bartholomew a withering glance, but said nothing.

"We arrived here late last night," Bartholomew explained. "We slept most of the day because we were so tired. I'm afraid we're going back to Galilee. He's probably a half day, or more, away."

The woman looked at the men with blank, despondent eyes. She shook her head and mumbled a thank you and started after a group of three heading the way Philip and Bartholomew had just walked.

"You lied to her," said Philip. They began walking again carrying the wine and the figs.

"I didn't lie," protested Bartholomew. "Not about everything. We don't know where he is. We got here late last night. We went to our host's house after dark. We had to be told how to get back. We're not there yet, so I don't know for sure if the directions were accurate. And besides, he made it clear that he didn’t want anyone to know he was here."

"I don't think the Lord would approve."

"Remember his directions to us when he sent us out to preach?" asked Bartholomew. "'Go not into Samaria or unto the Gentiles. Go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel."

"We could have brought her with us."

"She's a Gentile, Philip."

It turned out they were much closer to their destination then they had thought. They arrived at a large, sprawling home built at the top of a hill. The late afternoon sun blazed yellow into the valley, which could be seen only after they had crested the hill. They met a handful of people just standing around and were told that this was, indeed, the home of Nehemiah. After some introductions, which included washing, Nehemiah himself escorted Philip and Bartholomew into the dining area of his home. The rest of the band was already lounging around the table. Jesus sat on the far side of the room. He nodded and smiled as they entered.

“Don’t tell me,” said Peter. “Bartholomew decided it was more important to sleep than to eat.”

The disciples laughed, a little too loudly for Philip.

“We were detained,” he said. “We met a woman…”

More laughter. Bartholomew nudged Philip ever so slightly as if to say, “Let us sit down and be quiet.”

After they sat, the blessing was said and the food was served.

“Where are we?” asked Bartholomew. “It seems were heard quite a bit of Greek spoken along the road.”

Jesus motioned to Nehemiah, who explained that they were just barely still in Israel. On a clear day, one could see the Great Sea. On a cloudy or hazy day, one could smell it.

“The valley you see from the garden of my house, and then further to the north, is populated by a number of different peoples, some refugees, some who have lived there for years, but still act like refugees. Joshua’s armies, oh so many, many years ago sent streams of Canaanites into the area. For many, their ancestral home was Galilee, which is why, I’m only guessing, that there is so much interest in a visit by this man.” Nehemiah nodded to Jesus. "Many Jews around here see these people as cursed, like Canaan was cursed by Noah after Canaan saw his nakedness. It is difficult for them to be anything but servants."

“The woman,” said Jesus to Philip and Bartholomew. “Who was she?”

“A Canaanite,” said Philip. “She spoke first to us in our own language, but then she spoke Greek.”

“Very quickly,” added Bartholomew. “I thought you didn’t want anyone to know you were here, so I told her that you were a half day away already.”

Jesus smiled. “She followed you,” he said. “She’s here. Please, let her in.”

Philip and Bartholomew only then became aware of the commotion outside the front door. Nehemiah motioned to a servant to open the door and to show the woman to where they were. In only a moment, the same woman, looking very disheveled, entered the room and stopped to survey the group around the table. When she looked at Philip and Bartholomew, she narrowed her eyes. Jesus, however, seemed oblivious to the woman, instead engaging Nehemiah in conversation about the figs that were provided by Philip and Bartholomew’s host. Philip moved enough to catch the woman’s eye and motioned his head to indicate where Jesus was sitting.

“Have mercy on me, Oh Lord,” said the woman in almost perfect Aramaic. “You are a son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”

“And the figs are dried?” Jesus asked Nehemiah.

“Oh yes,” he said. “And they lose none of their sweetness.”

Again, moving a bit farther into the room, the woman, using the same exact words, pleaded formally with Jesus.

“And the figs, do they keep well?”

“Yes, almost a year.”

Philip became impatient and said, “Lord, why did you allow her to enter only to ignore her?”

“Send her away,” said Bartholomew. “Or she’ll follow and cry after us all over the countryside.”

“I have not come,” said Jesus. “Except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

At this the woman became distraught. She ran to where Jesus was lounging, carefully avoiding the feet of the other disciples. She knelt and sobbed before him, with snippets of Aramaic and snippets of Greek coming between her sobs. Her forehead rested on the floor in front of her knees. Jesus tenderly touched her head. She lifted slightly. He took her by her shoulders and gently raised her from the floor. Together, they stood. Jesus placed his index finger under her chin until he looked her straight in the eye.

“It is not proper to take the children’s bread and cast it,” he paused as he scanned the room. “To the little dogs.”

The woman gathered herself. She took a deep breath. The room was shrouded in silence, the disciples and Nehemiah transfixed. Finally, the woman spoke again with a steady voice.

“This is true, Lord. What you say about the children’s bread. But, even the puppies eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus beamed.

“Oh, woman. How great is your faith.” Jesus motioned for her to begin heading for the door. “Let it be done for you just as you will.”

The woman hesitated for a moment. A smile broke out on her face as the excitement built. She almost leaped past the disciples, turned back again, bowed a little bow and ran past the servant waiting to escort her to the door. The disciples laughed as they heard her screaming jubilantly in the courtyard.

Jesus settled back into his seat and reached into the basket of figs. He studied one fig carefully.

“The little girl is healed,” he said. “The devil has left her and she is, right now, laying on her bed peacefully.”

Jesus tasted the fig.

“Is it still as sweet?” asked his host.

“Indeed, it is, Nehemiah. Indeed, it is.”

“What’d I tell you?” said Bartholomew. “Send her away or she’ll follow us all over the countryside.”

Jesus nodded and smiled. “We’ll talk later, Bartholomew.” He tasted the fig again.

[From the accounts in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30 See also Genesis 8:20-23]

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Jesus The Teacher

by john alan turner

In the last century, a debate that had been brewing in academic circles spilled over into more everyday discussions. People began discussing the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth may be nothing more than an incredible teacher. One side of the debate claimed that, while Jesus said many important and wise things, he was just a person. The other side of the debate said, "No, Jesus was more than that. He was a man, but he was also deity. The Jesus of history is also the Son of God."

(Just in case you were wondering, my own belief is that the Jesus we read of in the New Testament was both fully human and fully divine and is today living and vitally involved in human affairs. I believe and affirm the goodness of Jesus' virgin birth, miraculous activities and bodily resurrection. In fact, I believe that his triumph over the grave was the ultimate demonstration of his deity and gives credibility to everything else he said and did while on earth.)

However, an unfortunate consequence of this debate is that many people who believe in the divinity of Jesus began to de-emphasize the role of his teaching ministry. An assumption was often made that when people started talking about Jesus' teaching, they might be secretly trying to say that his teaching is all that matters. Some branches of the church even claimed that large portions of his teaching, such as the Sermon on the Mount, did not even apply to believers today. As a result, the importance of Jesus as a teacher has been largely passed over.

Teaching is not something Jesus did just to pass the time until the crucifixion. His teachings are not an optional, dispensable part of his ministry. Rather, accepting him as a teacher is essential to accepting him as Lord. Jesus' earliest followers were initially drawn to him because his teaching made so much sense. He was, among other things, simply the smartest man they had ever known. What he taught and modeled in his own life presented an accurate reflection of the nature of how things are. They had never seen anyone live like him -- had no idea that such a life was even a possibility. Jesus was more than, but never less than, a trustworthy and credible teacher.

It was laregly because these early disciples could trust him as their teacher that, after his death and resurrection, they were in a position to trust him as their Savior. If we want to fully experience the love of Jesus, we must receive one of the most important gifts he sends us -- his teaching. We must trust that he is right about everything, and when we disagree with him, either we are wrong or we do not yet understand what it is he was saying. In short, Jesus must teach us how to live.