Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Jesus Said About Stuff

Matthew 13:44-46
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Luke 14:31-33
What king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 12:13-15
Someone in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me."  He said to him, "Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" Then He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions."

Mark 10:17-30
He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, 'DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'" And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." They were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?" Looking at them, Jesus said, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.

Luke 12:32-34
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Luke 16:1-13
"There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.' And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

Matthew 25:31-40
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'”

Monday, September 22, 2014

How Jesus Wins Debates

Jesus spent at least a day debating with the priests and scholars of his day.  His answers were intelligent and showed a deep understanding of Scripture.  But Jesus didn't silence his contrarians because his answers were more true or were better argued.  Rather, he won the day because of his clear moral authority.

Jewish religion, including Jesus' theology, is based on law.  But not just the letter of the law, although some groups like the Pharisees built their reputation on focusing on the letter instead of the principle.  But Jewish understanding of religion is based on moral principles, no matter what the specific law says.  They don't just want to understand the fact of the law, but the reason behind the law, the moral principle upon which we should live our lives.  And Jesus clearly had a greater understanding of the moral principle of God's law for humanity.

Jesus shows that he shows respect for authority, especially the greatest authority who is the Lord.

Jesus shows wisdom in not getting caught in an answerable question by asking an unanswerable question.

Jesus undermines any authority that uses their power to oppress the innocent, even if the innocent is himself.

Jesus strips through confusion by getting to the basic principles of theology-- the power and love of God.

Jesus declares that all moral authority is based on love, love alone.

Then Jesus asks a question that indicates that Scripture itself is a mystery, to be revealed only by God.

On the internet it is easy to engage in debate.  But the one who wins debate isn't the one who is right.  It' is the one who demonstrates the moral authority of love.  Love always wins.

Debating with Jesus, part 2

Jesus made quite an impact in the first couple days he was in Jerusalem.  He came into the town as a victorious king, and then he declared the legal practice of selling in the Temple to be illegal in God’s eyes.  He fully represented the authority of God in that place.  But those who actually ruled the Jews in Jerusalem—the members of the Sanhedrin and the ruling priests—were upset and wanted to challenge his authority.

On Jesus’ third day in Jerusalem, he was teaching in the Temple area, which is where the ruling priests and elders found him.  Immediately, they challenged him, “Who do you think you are?  On what basis did you think that you could act like a king?  Who is your authority?”

            Jesus replied, “If you want me to answer your question, you need to answer mine: Where did John the Baptist’s authority come from—God or from someone on earth?”  
   The priests and elders huddled together, discussing quietly a proper answer.  They said among themselves, “If we say his authority was from heaven, then this teacher will rebuke us for not listening to him.  If we say that his authority was not from heaven, the people will be angry at us.”  So they turned to Jesus and said, “We don’t know.”  
   Jesus replied, “Even so, I won’t tell you who my authority is.”

            Jesus then spoke to the crowds listening to his teaching, “There once was a farm and the owner put the farm under the control of some shareholders.  The owner sent a messenger to the shareholders, wanting some fruit of the harvest.  The shareholders, however, just beat the messenger and sent him away.  The owner sent many other messengers, but the shareholders beat them all and killed some.  Finally, the angry owner said, ‘I will send my son to them, for they will respect him.’  When the shareholders saw the owner’s son, however, they said, ‘Here is the owner’s son.  We will kill him and then gain the farm for ourselves.’  So they grabbed the owner’s son, beat him, threw him out of the farm and killed him.  When the owner heard this, he gathered his army and destroyed the shareholders and gave the farm to someone else.”

            Jesus then said to the chief priests and elders, “The Scripture says, ‘The building stone which the builders rejected has now become the chief cornerstone.’  Everyone who rejects this stone will be crushed by it.”  They knew that Jesus was speaking specifically against them, and they wanted to see how they could make him be ashamed in front of the crowds.

            So they sent a group of Sadduceean scholars to confront him.  The Sadducees didn’t believe that there would be any resurrection, nor did they believe in any Scriptures except the first five books of Moses.  They came to Jesus and said, “Good teacher, we have a situation we would like you to judge.  As you know, the law says that a woman whose husband has died must marry his brother.  A woman among us has become a widow, and so married her husband’s brother.  Suddenly, her second husband died, so she married another brother.  Then her third husband died, so she married another, and so on until she had married all seven brothers.  Finally, she died.  Our question is this: which man will be her husband in the resurrection?”

           Jesus replied, “You do not know the Scripture or the power of God.  When the resurrection comes, there will be no more marriage, but everyone will be like the angels of heaven.  As for whether the resurrection is true or not, didn’t God say to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”?  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living—so there must be a resurrection.”  The Sadducees left, furious, but unable to answer him.

            Hearing his responses, a scribe came up to Jesus and asked, “Rabbi, what is the greatest command of the law?”  
  Jesus replied, “The greatest command is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind and with all of your strength.’  The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the law and the prophets rely on these two commands.”  After hearing his responses, no one asked him any more questions.

            Then Jesus said to his challengers, “Now I have a question for you:  David said about the coming king, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “I will set your enemies at your feet.”’  But if David is the coming king’s father, how can he call him ‘lord’?  But if he is not the king’s father, why do we all say that the coming king is David’s son?”  No one could answer him, and Jesus left Jerusalem for the day.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Black Jesus and Rabbi Jesus

The latest version of Jesus is pleasant, jovial, friendly and weed-smoking.  And there’s a number of good Christians that are up in arms about it.

Senior pastor Kerry Buckly says, "It was horrible, disgusting and completely offensive. Down to a person, everyone in the youth group was offended. It just shows where we are a nation. … We have no respect for God.”  And that’s just after watching the trailer.

Certainly the first episode had a number of questionable activities.  Jesus is living a party life, living in a van, partaking in weed and he hosts parties where he’s not welcome.  He’s a moocher, he participates in illegal activity, and is arrested.  The first episode also diminishes Jesus’ death by having a character say, “Yeah, that was 2014 years ago, that's old.”

But if this portrayal of Jesus is problematic with the modern church, then I suspect that they wouldn’t much care for the original Jesus.

Because that Jesus travelled from town to town, going to one party after another.  He described the kingdom of heaven a number of times as a “feast” (which is just another name for party).  In Luke 14, Jesus uses a party as an illustration of the kingdom of God at least three times.  And he says this while at a party.
The original Jesus was homeless, of course, having “nowhere to lay his head.”  He was poor, and a mooch, because he held his parties in other people’s homes.  One example is Zacchaeus in Luke 19, where Jesus just tells him that he’s having a party at his home.  Often Jesus held parties in places where he wasn’t welcome, such as Simon the Pharisee, where Jesus insulted his host because he wasn’t fawning enough (Luke 9).

What about weed?  Jesus certainly didn’t smoke weed, did he? Some more religious cannabis users want to show Jesus smoking janga, but since weed didn’t grow in the Middle East in the ancient world, that didn’t happen.  However, Jesus was about drinking wine.  A lot of it.  The good stuff, which is the more fermented kind.  He was known as a “drunkard”.  My more conservative friends say that Jesus never got drunk, but there certainly isn’t any evidence for that.  He certainly hung around with people who were drunk.  And really, what is the difference between alcohol and weed except that alcohol is more likely to make you violent?

Sure, Jesus is a moocher in the episode, but he gives as much as he takes, sometimes more.  He is seen as a joyful, generous, miracle-working man, trying to encourage everyone to be kind, compassionate and at peace with each other.  The statement about his death is called into question by the end of the episode because in the end Jesus helps everyone

So what really is the problem with Black Jesus?  It’s the same problem religious leaders had with the original Jesus—he is on the wrong cultural side of the tracks.  Religious folks are naturally conservative, always trying to reach back to a better time in which people were more polite, less irresponsible, more moral and generally safer.  It doesn’t matter that this time never existed.  But in general, religious folks like order.  They want to squelch any attempt at chaos or irresponsibility.

But Jesus was irresponsible.  He quit his job, left his family (even though he was responsible for his widowed mother), travelled from home to home with a number of disreputable men and women(!).  Jesus had no regular income and encouraged his disciples to live off other people’s charity.

And Jesus was chaotic. Sure, he talked about God’s will, but he was always tearing at the institutions of his day, whether the priesthood, the temple or even the law.  He challenged the political and economic institutions of his day and encouraged a sort of anarchy.

Let’s face it, the original Jesus, just like Black Jesus is an affront to middle class, reputable morality.  Religious people just can’t handle that.  So they will talk about how “blasphemous” Black Jesus is.  When really what they find blasphemous is the original Jesus, just like the religious institutions did 2000 years ago.

As for me (and the people in my congregation), I’d much rather hang out with Black Jesus than the Jesus that they have in their churches.  Constantly dying, rule-making, stern and institutional.  Mind you, I would find Black Jesus to be a bit more like the original Jesus if he’d talk about sacrifice and humility as well as joy and love.  But I’m willing to give the show a chance.  It’s a pretty good start. 

Monday, July 21, 2014


Scholars of Mosaic law note that the sets of laws are often grouped according to the ten commandments.  That there are laws about proper worship, and then laws about roles.  There are laws about killings and laws about sexual mores and laws about justice.  But sometimes you get groups of laws that don’t seem to be connected at all, like in Deuteronomy 22:

A woman shall not wear man's clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.
If you happen to come upon a bird's nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.
You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled.
 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.
 You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.
 Deut. 22:5-11 (New American Standard)

These laws just seem completely random.  But they aren’t.  In fact, the connection between not wearing another sex’s clothes and having a parapet on the roof gets to a deep theme in the Old Testament.  All of these laws have to do with setting proper boundaries.  That God created a natural order to things, and that things separated should not be mixed.  It is obvious that a roof on which people work and sleep (which they did in the ancient world, and in many places in the world today) should have a wall to protect people.  Even so, the OT claims that there needs to be walls placed between the sexes, walls placed between seeds, walls placed between species and walls placed between kinds of seeds, because mixing them brings disaster.  It is for this reason that there are food laws in the OT, and laws which declare that certain nations must be enculturated (perhaps up to 10 generations!) before they can be full citizens in Israel.  There must be an absolute border between Israelites and Canaanites, which is why the Canaanites were no longer supposed to exist as a race.  Some boarders cannot be crossed for any reason.

And yet when Jesus came on the scene, he seemed to have a different point of view.  The law that separated lepers and non-lepers, Jesus just ignored, touching lepers.  The laws that separated Jew and Gentiles, Jesus often ignored.  The laws that held men and women in different roles Jesus sometimes ignored (which is why Mary was allowed to have the male role of student, although Martha wanted her to take a more proper feminine role).  And what about Canaanites?

And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.  Matthew 15:22-28

At first, Jesus seems to be affirming the border of the Mosaic law—there is a firm distinction between Canaanite and Israelite, and they shall never pass.  In fact, Jesus calls her a dog.  But when she accepts this term, and claims that even dogs get crumbs, Jesus does a complete turnaround.  Why?  Because faith—trust and devotion to God—trumps all the other borders.  Borders mean nothing when there is faith and love.  In as much as the OT law affirms borders, Jesus breaks them.  Jesus insists that the very things that are separated by walls—male and female, Jew and Gentile, Moabite and Israelite, leper and healthy, sinner and saint—are no longer separated, but are, in fact, united by faith and love. 

And yet we have trouble with this even today.  We Christians want to re-establish borders because ultimately our love and faith isn’t strong enough to overcome our instinct to set up walls.  We want to distinguish Christian and non-Christian, homeless and housed, male and female, Jew and Palestinian, citizen and illegal immigrant, belonging to the right church group or the wrong one—all the very kinds of borders that Jesus did away with.  As quickly as Jesus takes down our walls and replaces them with love, we build new ones. 

We can either have walls, or we may have love.  We may either have borders or we may have a unity of faith. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Couldn't Bear to Watch

I wonder if some of the disciples ran from Jesus, not because they feared arrest or death, but because they couldn’t bear to watch him suffer for his love?  

Perhaps their motivation was mixed, but he was still alone, bereft of friends at the darkest of moments.  

The love that turns away from love— right when he chooses to suffer for his love— is that truly love?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Debating Jesus, Part 1

Jesus went out of Jerusalem that night to sleep.  The next day, he was back in the temple, teaching.  Some Pharisees came up the next day to challenge Jesus.  They flattered him, trying to make him give a foolish response to their question.  

They said, “Master, we know that you teach the truth and that everything you say is right.  So please tell us, should we pay taxes to the Romans?”  They knew that if Jesus said “no” then the Romans would arrest him, but if he said “yes” that he wouldn’t be popular with the people.

Jesus didn’t respond how they thought, however.  He said, “Why are you trying to trick me?  Do you have a Roman coin?”  One of the Pharisees pulled out a Roman coin and showed it to Jesus.  Jesus then asked them, “What image is on that coin?”  

Some of the Pharisees backed away, because they realized that Jesus was displaying to all the people that they had brought an image into the temple, which was immoral and illegal. One of the Pharisees responded, though, “That is Caesar’s image.”  

Jesus said, “All right then, since the emperor’s image is on the coin, if he wants it, give it to him.  It belongs to him, as you can see.  On the other hand, God’s image is on every one of you.  So give to God what belongs to Him.”

"Caesar Augustus/Son of God"

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What Jesus Said About Welcoming Sinners

Mark 2:14-17
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Luke 15:1-32
Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So He told them this parable, saying,

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:11-32
A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'

"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.' And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"

Matthew 20:28-32
But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For God’s prophets came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe them; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe them; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe.”

Luke 17:3-4
If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."

Matthew 18:15-35
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector…Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Luke 19:10
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.