Luke 15:11-12, Drop Dead, Dad

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

There are many levels to the parable of the prodigal son, but this one is often neglected. In Palestine, when a son asks his father for his inheritance while the father is still alive, it’s equivalent to saying “Why don’t you drop dead, Dad?”

The typical response would be to toss the son out of the house penniless. The son in Jesus’s parable, having had enough of whatever tension brought this about (with his father? with his brother?), was probably expecting this result and no longer cared. He was ready to give up his inheritance just to get away from the family. He would have been astounded at the father’s response and generosity.

Having little respect for the inheritance, but having suddenly come upon a windfall, his plans changed. The inheritance became his downfall. He squandered it all in “riotous living” and returned to the father’s house penniless and ashamed.

Thank God Dad didn’t drop dead.

John 5:14, A Second Look At Healing (part II of II)

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”

//Yesterday, I wrote about how Jesus “healed” a beggar at the pool of Bethesda. The man picked up his mat and walked off, only to encounter “the Jews,” who scolded him for working on the Sabbath. It seems that carrying his mat was against the rules.

Still in character, and probably still miffed at being chased from a prime begging spot, the man replied that he had been healed, and his healer told him to take his mat and go. “Who told you to do that?” the Jews demanded. He didn’t know, he hadn’t bothered to learn Jesus’s name.

Soon after, Jesus spies the man again at the Temple–the man had probably moved his begging operation there–and says something very interesting to him: “Stop your sinning, or something even worse will happen.” Worse than being chased from the pool? Is pretending to be lame really that big a sin? Is Jesus now going to ruin his ruse at his Temple begging spot too?

So the man hatches a vengeful plan. He marches immediately to “the Jews” and informs them that he now knows the name of the healer who keeps bugging him on the Sabbath. The plan works like a charm:

For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. –John 5:16

John 5:9 A Second Look At Healing (part I of II)

And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

//In John chapter 5, Jesus comes across a beggar who had for the last 38 years suffered an “infirmity.” The man had been lying for a long time at a magical pool, a pool with the power to heal him, but when Jesus asked him why he wasn’t getting healed, he had a ready response: “Nobody will help me into the pool.”

Um, yeah. For 38 years nobody would give this man a hand? Methinks he had found a prime begging spot, and wasn’t about to give it up.

Jesus was having none of it. “Rise, take up your bed and walk,” Jesus demands. I picture the man muttering as Jesus lifts him to his feet. Without a thought of a “thank you” and never bothering to learn Jesus’s name, the man storms off. He seems quite practiced at walking.

End of story? End of ruse? Nope. More tomorrow.

Psalm 104:23, Too Much Labor

Man goes out to his work

And to his labor until the evening.

//Oh, how I wish that were true! In the evening, our labor just begins anew.

Leslie and I are finding out that starting up our new Fantasy Football service demands more time than we have available, and something has to give. So the Dubious Disciple is taking a break as we try to meet our summer deadlines.

We’ll see y’all in the Fall!

Luke 24:46, How long was Jesus in the tomb?

And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: –Luke 24:46

//Most of us honor Good Friday as the day of Christ’s death, and celebrate the following Sunday as the day of his resurrection. Meaning, Jesus was in the tomb only two nights; he rose from the dead on the third day. A host of scriptural references corroborate this. See Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 27:64, Mark 9:31, 10:34, Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 24;46, Acts 10:40, 27:19, and 1 Corinthians 15:14.

What then are we to make of this claim in Matthew 12:40: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

I think it boils down to whatever source inspired the Gospel writers. Was it this one …

After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. –Hosea 6:2

… or was it this one?

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and threenights. –Jonah 1:7

Exodus 4:16, Moses as God

So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God.

//These words are spoken by God to Moses about Aaron. God tells Moses that Aaron will do the speaking for him, and he (Moses) will act as God for Aaron.

Does this make Moses divine, taking on the role of God? The Jewish writer Philo (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE) thought so. He wrote “Having given up and left behind all mortal kinds, [Moses] is changed into the divine, so that such men become kin to God and truly divine” (Questions on Exodus 3.29). He even goes further and suggests that moses was a preexistent divine being: “And even when [God] sent him as a loan to the earthly sphere and caused him to dwell there, he fitted him with no ordinary excellence, such as that which kings and rulers have, … but he appointed him as god, placing all the bodily region and the mind which rules it in subjection and slavery to him” (Sacrifices 8-10).

Does Moses sound a lot like Jesus in this discussion? Philo lived at the same time as Jesus, and wrote about Moses as the Jewish pre-existent, heaven-sent earthly spokesman for God.

Were both Moses and Jesus God? Or were neither? Or do we need to rethink what it means when a human is spoken of in the Bible as divine?

1 Thessalonians 5:17, When to Pray

Pray without ceasing.

//Do you believe in prayer? Stephen Hawley Martin, in his book Life After Death, Powerful Evidence you Will Never Die, describes an experiment performed by Christian Science practitioners. It relates to the effect of prayer in times of stress.

That it was Christian Science practitioners who dreamed up the experiment shouldn’t come as a surprise. See for more information about this belief system. But did they learn something useful?

Prayer, they found, doesn’t just affect people. It affects plants as well. Rye seeds were planted, and half of the seeds were prayed for. A statistically greater number of rye shoots sprouted among the prayed-for seeds. But is this convincing evidence?

Practitioners next began adding salt to the water, stressing the rye seeds. They started with a small dose of salt–one teaspoon per half-gallon of water–and found that out of 2000 prayed-for seeds, 800 sprouted. 778 out of 2000 unprayed-for seeds sprouted. Prayer helped 2.3% more seeds sprout. Convinced yet?

They added more salt, and naturally fewer seeds sprouted. But as more stress was added, prayer had more effect. When they put in 1.5 teaspoons of salt, the prayed-for batch sprouted 3.3% more often. With 2 teaspoons, prayer helped 13.8% more sprout. With 2.5 teaspoons, prayed helped 16.5% more seeds sprout. Encouraged, they tried 3 teaspoons. Now 30.8% more seeds sprouted among those prayed for.

So do dire circumstances make people–or in this case, plants–susceptible to the power of prayer? Now the practitioners went all out, adding 3.5 teaspoons of salt to the water. This time, way overstressed, the prayed-for seeds grew 5 times as often. Prayer seems to work best in times of distress.

It appears what they say is true: There are no atheists in foxholes.

Matthew 2:2-28, The Sacraments as Sacrifice

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

//Yesterday I posed a question: What are we to make of the ritual Jesus implemented, with the bread and wine, if we accept that Jesus himself was opposed to the sacrificial system? Jesus in many ways stood against the Temple system of sacrificial atonement, yet his own death quickly came to be understood as exactly that.

Is there another way to understand the verses above, about Jesus’s flesh and blood? Yes there is, even in the pointed wording that Matthew uses. Bruce Chilton proposes that Jesus was directly comparing his own teaching of communal sharing against the priestly rites of sacrifice for sin. The Temple had its burnt offerings of flesh, and Jesus had his offering of shared bread. The Temple had its blood sacrifices, but Jesus’s equivalent was his wine. Jesus was implying that simple offerings, just a bit of bread and wine shared with one another, was more holy than than the costly sacrifices of the Temple system. The ritual of a communal meal, accepting one another as equals, should replace the old ritual.

Perhaps Jesus was presenting himself as the new High Priest, shockingly replacing the existing priesthood. His followers would not call for blood sacrifices but for sharing and fellowship.

Matthew 12:17, The Sacrifice for our Sins

But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’

//Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

It was to save us from our sins, right? He was God’s substitutionary atonement, the sacrificial lamb, who gave his life for us so we could live. After his execution, his followers increasingly taught that Jesus became a human sacrifice. In fact, they began to associate Jesus with both the sacrificed Passover lamb and the “scapegoat” of Yom Kipper, who was driven out into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people.

But what would Jesus say if we asked him the same question? I don’t know. I speculate in my book about John’s Gospel how Jesus felt, but the interesting thing to note is that Jesus himself was seriously opposed to the sacrificial system. We see him protesting Temple activities and we see him proclaiming that sins are forgiven without the necessary sacrifice. Yet to claim that Jesus died “for our sins” means interpreting his death according to the very priestly logic which Jesus rejected.

What are we to make then of the ritual Jesus left us with: eating his sacrificial flesh, drinking his blood? How can we make sense of this ritual if we side with Jesus against substitutionary atonement?

More tomorrow.

Ephesians Chapter 6: Is Football in the Bible?

Put on the whole uniform of the Team, that ye may be able to stand against the blitz of oncoming linebackers. Don the hip pads of truth, the shoulder pads of righteousness, the cleats of preparation. Don’t forget the facemask of faith and the helmet of salvation. Then clutch the pigskin with much Spirit, for that is what the Play Book of your Coach in Heaven demands.

//Readers, I want to apologize for the distraction over the last few weeks. Leslie and I have been working furiously on a start-up business that we hope will carry us into retirement, and it’s cut into our blogging time. We’re going to offer a Fantasy Football commissioner service this year!

We also are leaving now for ten days to visit Disney with my grandson, so we’ll be taking a vacation from the blog for a while. I’ll leave you with today’s post, and if you get curious about what we’re taking on, you can find it here:

See you in a week and a half!

1 Corinthians 2:14-1, The Mind of Christ

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

//Read today’s verses carefully. How do you feel about them? Do they give you comfort, knowing that you are one of those who possess the mind of Christ? Or do they sound a bit condescending: “You can’t understand the things I know, because what I have learned was taught to me by the Spirit.”

Questioning another’s understanding is often met with this line of thinking. The reasoning goes, “I feel the Spirit, therefore God approves, therefore I have ‘spiritual understanding,’ which trumps natural thinking no matter how foolish it appears.” By this means, one Christian denomination distances itself from another, claiming the mind of Christ.

This was common way back in the second century, when the Gnostic movement latched onto the writings of Paul. (Today’s passage was written by Paul.) Gnostics claimed a deeper knowledge than other Christians, and had the scripture–such as today’s verse–to back it up. If ever there was a dispute over understanding, they could simply claim that their opponents were immature in their spiritual growth. A frustrating stance that works very well, both then and now.

John 20:9, The Mystery of the Resurrection

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

//In the spirit of mystery–for the resurrection story is a great mystery, whether we claim to know what happened or not–I present today’s verse. I honestly don’t know what to make of it, I’ve never read a convincing commentary on this verse. Maybe I’m allowed to present a mystery on this day of mystery?

The Apostle John arrived at the tomb, peeked in, saw it was empty, and believed. Then today’s verse comes next in the story, explaining why the apostles didn’t automatically believe Jesus had risen. They didn’t “know the scripture” telling them he would rise again.

But where is this found in scripture? How could they have possibly known from scripture alone? Can anybody help?

The Cult of Women, Part II of II

Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?

//Did yesterday’s post leave you thinking that women were as common as men among the leaders of the early Jesus movement? It’s hard to say. Yet it’s clear that women did serve in much the same roles as men.

I find the references to Jesus sending out evangelists “two by two” very interesting, because it is likely that many of these were male/female pairs. In today’s verse, Paul is speaking about the standards of the apostles, and mentions how their wives would accompany them on their travels. Cephas, by the way, is the apostle Peter.

But were the women ministering, too? Yes, they were. Paul names five of these male-female teaching teams: Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia, Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Peter with his wife. See Romans 16:3-15 for this discussion, where Paul indicates that all were “apostles.”

Bishop Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) explains that they traveled as male-female pairs so that the women could speak to women, while the men spoke to other men.

One scholar counted 32 times that the book of Acts uses the terms “brothers and sisters,” where the phrase is used interchangeably with the word “disciples.”

The Cult of Women? Probably not, regardless of early Christianity’s reputation. Merely a cult of equality.

Matthew 27:55, The Cult of Women, Part I of II

And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him.

//Today’s verse tells how, at Jesus’s crucifixion, it was his female followers who witnessed his death. All of the male disciples had run away. (John’s Gospel tells of the “beloved disciple” standing by, which may have been young John. Perhaps the Roman party felt no threat from a boy.)

It’s interesting to note that Jesus actually had many female followers in his entourage. Luke 8:1-3 tells us of three:

And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.

Finally, the Gospels record that it was a woman (or women) who reported the tomb empty and that Jesus had risen. Many scholars have expressed their amazement that this was recorded in the Gospels; after all, the word of a woman in Jesus’s time did not carry the same weight as a man’s.

Is it any wonder Christianity quickly became known as the “Cult of Women?” More tomorrow.

Mark 6:51, Escalating Worship

And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.

//Mark was the first Gospel written, about 70 CE. Then came Matthew, Luke, and John, probably in that order. When the Gospels are ordered chronologically, it’s much easier to see the evolution of the Gospel story as it grows.

For one thing, his followers are portrayed as more and more worshipful. In Mark, the Twelve are presented as a bit dull, slow to understand, who perhaps never do grasp Jesus’s magnificence.

Today’s verse is an example. Jesus walks on the water, and they’re amazed, unable to grasp what they just saw. The next verse explains that they hardened their hearts, presumably so as not to believe, when Jesus performed the miracle of loaves and fishes.

But now read the same story in Matthew’s Gospel. Suddenly, Peter becomes a quick believer, and asks Jesus to invite him out on the water as well. So Peter walks on water too. Then comes this verse:

And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. –Matthew 14:32-33

Wow! Never in Mark’s Gospel do the Twelve realize Jesus is the Son of God! Evil spirits do, the Centurion does, but not his disciples. Matthew has completely rewritten an important theme of Mark’s Gospel: that of Jesus’s slow-to-understand followers.

Matthew 7:21, Who Enters the Kingdom?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

//Sometimes the contradictions in scripture are subtle and other times they are direct. But sometimes they simply highlight the silliness of reading every word as if it were law. Take for example these words from Peter (quoted in Acts 2:21) which contradict what Jesus says in Matthew:

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Which is it? Does any person who calls on the name of the Lord automatically get saved, or do they have to the do the will of the Father?

I think we know the answer. Peter (in Luke) simply assumes that when a person calls on the Lord, he or she is ready to do the will of God, and the point is that God will not forsake a seeking person.

2 Corinthians 11:32-33, Paul Escapes in a Basket

In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.

//Luke, when writing about this event in Acts 9:23-25, tells us that the Jews took counsel to kill Paul, and the disciples lowered him in a basket to escape. But Paul’s own letter indicates that he was fleeing the governor under King Aretas, not the Jews.

King? Who is King Aretas?

He was king of the Nabataeans, a southern neighbor of Judea. Aretas wasn’t a Jew; in fact, he fought against the Jews in 4 BCE. His daughter married Herod the Tetrarch. Aretas carried political clout, but did he control Damascus as Paul indicates? That’s unlikely.

So how do we make sense of the different reports? Did Paul escape from Jews, from Nabataeans, from a small Nabataean community in Damascus, or is there some other explanation?

Historians haven’t put this puzzle together yet.

Luke 23:34, Forgiveness of Sins

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

//One of the big arguments in the early centuries of the Church was this matter of whether God would forgive. Marcion, for example, felt that the Old Testament God of hatred should be stricken from the Bible. He wanted to pare the Bible down to a few books which portrayed a loving God.

Tertullian violently opposed Marcion and blasted the notions of an all-loving and forgiving God. There is no such God, he insisted, who never grows angry, never inflicts punishment, prepared no fired in hell, does not cause men to gnash their teeth in outer darkness.

But Origen wondered whether even Satan would one day be forgiven. Origen cited Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:28 that God brought everything into being with love, and in the end all would be restored to love. By implication, God would eventually win even the Devil back to His love.

Demetrius of Alexandria grew so disgusted with Origen’s idea that God would forgive His enemies that he threw Origen out of the Egyptian church.

Everlasting fiery torment seemed to win the day, which brings us to today’s verse. Some copyists of the New Testament began to delete the line from Luke, lest we begin to think our God was a forgiving God.

The debate continues even today.

John 14:12, Greater Works than Jesus?

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

//Those who follow after Jesus will do greater works than Jesus? Is that really what this verse means? Doesn’t that sound a bit sacrilegious, or at least a bit presumptuous? Let me quote a couple more verses:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. –Luke 6:40

So apparently while we are not greater than Jesus, we are to be perfectly trained, so that we are like Jesus. But what does it mean to be like Jesus? Read the next verse carefully:

till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; –Ephesians 4:13

As perfectly trained disciples, our goal is to attain the stature of Christ in all his fullness.

Now, I don’t think this has anything to do with superseding the place Jesus held. Rather, it is about accomplishing the works Jesus did and taught. This way of Jesus is not about blindly believing, worshipping, and accepting grace. It’s about works, continuing the work Jesus did, to accomplish even greater things than he.

Matthew 2:15, Called Out of Egypt

And [Jesus, Mary and Joseph were] there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

//Jesus was apparently from Nazareth, but prophecy foretold that Israel’s savior would be born in Bethlehem. So our two New Testament birth stories contrive a way to put Jesus’s birth there. In Luke’s version of the virgin birth, Joseph travels to Bethlehem for a census, and there the child is born, after which the family returns to Nazareth. But in Matthew’s version, Joseph appears to live initially in Bethlehem, and they are uprooted by the threat of King Herod’s infanticide. They flee to Egypt, live there a while, and then decide to relocate in Nazareth.

Why this detour to Egypt in Matthew’s honorific story? He is referencing Hosea 11:1:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

Hosea dreams of the day Israel will be restored, and hundreds of years later Matthew sees Jesus as the savior who would restore Israel. As God led his “child” Israel out of Egypt in the great exodus, so Jesus becomes the next child of God.

By telling this story of Jesus being called out of Egypt, Matthew is honoring Jesus and pointing to him as the fulfillment of Hosea’s dreams. Did it really happen? That’s hardly important.

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