Matthew 22:10, The Bad and the Good

So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

//One day, said Jesus in parable, a king prepared a wedding feast for his son and sent out his servants to call those who were invited. But the invited guests weren’t in the mood. They had better things to do, it seems.

So the king was angry. Rather than waste his time with these rich and pretentious busy people, he sent his servants into the streets to call commoners, both good people and bad people; everyone was extended an invitation, and the wedding hall was filled.

But when the king came in to the banquet, he found there a man who wasn’t wearing a wedding garment. It was customary for the host–especially a king–to provide outer garments at the door for the guests to wear. Why was this man refusing to wear his garment?

Who did he think he was, refusing to be classed with the rest of the guests? Did he think himself better than the commoners? Was he one of the “good” refusing to dress like the “bad”, lest he be thought no better than they?

The king was incensed, and threw him out into the darkness. Apparently, the Kingdom has no place for snooty people.

Mark 2:14, Who Followed Whom?

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.

//Levi, elsewhere called Matthew, held a contemptible office. He was a tax collector, sitting in the tax office. He was working for the Roman government, taking money from honest working men and giving it to the Empire. His own personal income came from whatever excess he decided to charge, and many in his profession grew rich because of their less than scrupulous ways.

That was how tax collectors were commonly perceived. They were the traitors, among the worst of sinners. Jesus happened upon this man in his hated profession and called him. “Follow me,” he invited. So where did they go?

And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.

To the house of Levi. To the house of sin. Levi didn’t follow Jesus; Jesus followed Levi home. And there, he invited many more tax collectors and sinners to follow him. There, he probably received more invitations to more traitors’ homes.

Jesus’s call to “follow him” isn’t into the beautiful homes of the beautiful people. It’s into the nest of the spiritually needy, those we may never think to call a friend … until we get to know them.

Book review: Wanted

by Chris Hoke


Dark and yet hope-filled, this book carries you along on the journey of a young pastor through gangs, prisons, and illegal immigrants. These are desperate people. But these are the people–like the huckster tax collector Matthew in the Bible–that Jesus made a point of befriending.

It’s an emotional and frightening journey. Chris at first felt uncomfortable with the title of Pastor, but that’s what his outcast acquaintances insisted on calling him. Pastor means “shepherd” … in this case, a shepherd to the black sheep. It’s where Chris seemed to belong:

“Growing up in many churches, I never found them to be raw or extremely honest places–not places where you could show the worst side of yourself. But I found the jail to be a place where inmates didn’t have the option to hide their problems. Hard as one may try with weak laughter or macho fronts before guards, you can’t pretend your life is working out just fine when you’re locked in the county jail. Here, people are left staring–innocent or guilty of the specific charges–at the wreck of their lives. And in this place, in these rooms of unadorned life, I found something that clergy call sacrament, mysteries I could feel. More than bible studies, the one-on-one visits with the men were the sites of holy encounters for me.”

The fellowship in prison grew, and Chris’s faith grew alongside it.

“I felt like I was falling deeper in love as all this happened. It wasn’t just with these broken lives at the table with me. It was love for the One through whose eyes I was possibly learning to see. I began to suspect I was sensing the desire of Another–God’s desire for the locked-up.”

Raw and real, this is a book you don’t want to miss if you’re serious about being a Christian. I hope to provide a few excerpts from the book in future posts.

Harper One, © 2015, 367 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-232136-7

Mark 12:41-44, The Widow’s Farthing

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

//If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that there is not one right way to interpret the stories of Jesus. There is a richness of ideas and lessons contained in these simple stories and parables that I never imagined.

Take this story of the woman who put everything she owned into the temple treasury. Traditionally, I may have appreciated her willingness to give, even to the last penny. What a trust in God she had!

But what if Jesus wasn’t pointing out her faithfulness? What if Jesus was highlighting the blood-sucking ways of the Temple system, and pointing her out as a victim?

Then the parable says this: “Don’t be like this poor victim. The religious system will leave you empty and broke. This system may work for the rich, but for the poor, it only leaves them more destitute.”

Why would we think this is what Jesus was saying? Read the story in context! Jesus had just issued a warning about the scribes and how they “devour widows’ houses.” Then he points to this poor widow as an example.

Genesis 22:11-12, Did God Tell Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac? Part III of III

And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him.

//Continued from yesterday: Suppose, in the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, that the two names for God–Yahweh and Elohim–refer to different beings, rather than to the same god. Suppose that Yahweh is the god who called Abraham out of Ur, while Elohim refers to the gods he once worshipped.

Yesterday’s post ended with Elohim calling to Abraham, enticing him to return to his polytheistic, blood-sacrificing ways. The gods he once worshipped invite him to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son on an alter.

So Abraham goes. He binds his son, places him on the altar, and raises the sacrificial knife. Today’s verse is what happens next. (Hint: when your Bible reads “God,” the original Hebrew reads Elohim; when your Bible reads “the Lord,” the original Hebrew reads Yahweh.)

Did you catch it? It’s Yahweh back on stage now. Elohim calls for sacrifice, but Yahweh calls it off. Israel’s God has a different idea:

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. –Hosea 6:6

Genesis 11:31, Did God Tell Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac? Part II of III

And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.

//Yesterday I introduced the Documentary Hypothesis, and how it assumes two different Biblical authors contributed to the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. This assumption stems from the use of Elohim as a name for God by one author, and by Yahweh as a name for God by the other author. But what if this different naming is intentional? What if the story means to use two different names for God?

The story of Abraham (known as Abram in this verse) begins in the land of Ur. This might be significant. Ur is modern-day Iraq, and the religion of the Chaldeans there was polytheistic. They believed in multiple gods who demanded blood sacrifice. Yahweh instructs Abraham to leave this land and its gods and travel to another.

In this new land, there eventually comes a day when Abraham is “tested” by God. But this testing is by the god of another name; not Yahweh but Elohim. The title Elohim is often read as plural, the plural of El, meaning “gods.” It is also often used to refer to Canaanite gods. It’s as if the God of Israel (Yahweh) calls Abraham out of Ur, and then the gods of Ur (Elohim) entice him to return to his old ways, even asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. They tell him to go to the “land of Moriah,” which may mean the land of the Amorites. In other words, to leave Yahweh’s land and take his son to the land where human sacrifice was practiced.

The story continues tomorrow.

Genesis 22:2, Did God Tell Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac? Part I of III

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

//This story disturbs an awful lot of Bible readers. God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering. Abraham does what God demands, taking his son up a mountain, building an altar, and binding him on the altar. As he reaches for the knife to slay his son, God finally intervenes and tells Abraham not to kill Isaac.

Yes, God intervened. But what loving God would ask this of a person in the first place? What father would obey such a request? Which of you, today, could imagine that it is God doing the asking if such a thing were demanded of you?

It gets worse. Bible scholars recognize that there are multiple authors contributing to this story. Those familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis know the two authors as the Elohist and the Yahwist. The Elohist refers to God as Elohim; the Yahwist as Yahweh. The Elohist tells the story of Abraham’s call to slay his son, and tells also of Abraham’s descent back down the mountain after the sacrifice, apparently alone. It’s quite possible that in the Elohist version of the story, Abraham really does slay his son. The Yahwist adds the narrative of God intervening, providing a ram as a replacement for Isaac, so that Abraham doesn’t have to kill his son.

But there is another way to make sense of Elohim and Yahweh, and it doesn’t require the Documentary Hypothesis. This alternative interpretation is much more in line with a compassionate, loving God. The story continues tomorrow.

Book Excerpt: Revelation: The Way It Happened

“And so ends the Jewish nation,” Matthew pronounced, wagging his head appropriately.

Samuel smiled wryly at his son’s language, probably a phrase he had heard from his teacher. He sounded so grown up! “Yes, so ends the Jewish nation, a time of great darkness for the people of God. Did not the prophet Amos tell us these events would signal the end of times? God said, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

“Imagine if that really happened, Father! Children would be screaming in fright,” Matthew giggled.

“It did really happen, Son—just one more way we know that the final days have come! The Gospel tells us that when our Lord died on the cross, darkness fell at noon and lasted for three hours. It seems to me that a spiritual darkness began also on that day and hasn’t lifted yet.”

“Were you afraid when the war began, then?” Matthew teased.

“My son, I know you jest, but you must understand. Many felt afraid, but this was not the fear of a man for his life. While the Jews don’t all agree about doctrine, most know the scriptures well, and all of us recognized this war as an act of God. In times such as these, every man looks into his own heart and searches there to see whether or not he stands right with God. Many fled and hid in caves hoping to die, trying to escape the plagues God promised to inflict upon his people if they broke his covenant. Even now, Son, more plagues draw near; John has told us so.”

–Revelation: The Way It Happened, 2010, pp. 21, by Lee Harmon

Acts 10:28, Quoting Ancient Poets

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said

//These words are spoken by Paul in the book of Acts. Are you curious who he is quoting?

It’s credited to Epimenides, who lived six centuries before Paul. Here is another quote, supposedly written by Paul:

One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. –Titus 1:12

These quotes both originate from the same “poem,” known as Cretica addressing not the Hebrew god but Zeus. Here are the original words that made it into our Bible:

They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,

Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.

But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,

For in you we live and move and have our being.

Mark 5:5, Legion and the Roman Armies

And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.

//This verse describes a man who lived among the graves and was possessed by a “legion” of devils. He was untameable, self-destructive, unhelped and known only as “Legion.”

Whatever the purpose of this story, and whatever its historicity, it serves well as a parable of the Jewish nation under Roman suppression. The name Legion would have been easily recognized as a reference to the Roman legions, especially the infamous Tenth Legion. This hapless man, crying and cutting himself, portrays the violence and trauma of Roman occupation, and the self-hatred and self-destruction that colonized nations undergo.

In the Biblical story, Jesus, the Christian Messiah, overthrew the bonds of the afflicted man, casting the devils out of him. Jesus sent the devils into a passel of hogs, who ran pell-mell down a hill into the sea, presumably destroying the legion. A hopeful end, but unfortunately that isn’t how the story of the Jews played out in history.

Readers of my book on Revelation know how the Jewish nation self-destructed under their own revolutionary uprising. The implosion reached an epic climax 40 years after Jesus died when a messianic group calling themselves Zealots tried to take control of Jerusalem. Starvation and terror weakened the Jews, and the attempted military uprising brought down the wrath of the Romans. In real life, Legion cut himself half to death trying to drive away the demons, and the infuriated demons massacred him. No savior came.

Luke 16:31, The Warning From Hell

“But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

//This line comes from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. After life is over, Lazarus and the rich man both find themselves in Hades, separated by a chasm. Lazarus is stationed in a pleasant place, in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man, not so much. The rich man is in such torment that he asks Abraham to let Lazarus go up to the living world and warn his brothers about what will happen to them if they don’t learn to share their riches. Abraham says no, the brothers have Moses and the prophets to warn them. If they won’t listen to them, they wouldn’t be persuaded even if someone (meaning, Lazarus) came back from the dead.

The irony, of course, is that the parable does for us what it refuses to do for the rich man’s brothers. It warns us. But the presumption is the warning won’t help us; if we won’t listen when Moses and the prophets tell us how to care for the poor, we won’t be persuaded even if someone (this time meaning Jesus) comes back from the dead.

Matthew 26:50, The Friend of Jesus

But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.

//Can you guess who Jesus is talking to? It’s his betrayer, Judas. Judas has just delivered Jesus into the hands of his enemies, and Jesus calls him friend.

Often, much is made of this statement, as if Jesus was still considering Judas a true friend. But this ignores the literary reference to earlier in the book of Matthew. Here is an earlier reference to a friend:

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. –Matthew 22:11-12

Does it sound like the king is genuine in calling this man a friend? Then you haven’t read the next verse in the story:

Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 21:13, The Den of Robbers

“It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

//These words were spoken by Jesus to the money changers and vendors in the temple courtyard. I’ve always assumed Jesus was just a bit miffed about the temple system and the way it extracted money from visiting pilgrims for high-priced sacrifices. This understanding stems primarily from John’s Gospel. There, Jesus says nothing about a “den of robbers” and instead shouts, “Get these [items for sale] out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” He is alluding to the promise in Zechariah 14:21 that one day there will no longer be traders in the house of the Lord.

But this doesn’t jibe with what Jesus says in the other three gospels. In these gospels, Jesus complains about a “den of robbers,” which is a direct quote from Jeremiah 7:11:

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

As Jeremiah makes clear, a den of robbers is not where robbers rob. It is where they retreat to for safety, perhaps with their ill-gotten prize. What is Jesus protesting then by using this language? Was John correct or incorrect in reading the mind of Jesus?

Matthew 20:1-2 Jesus on Welfare

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

//I think nearly all of us agree the welfare system in America needs some patchwork. It’s easy to abuse, and consequently it frequently is. So what would Jesus do?

In this parable, told by Jesus, a householder is presented as a role model for the wealthy. Early in the morning he hires laborers for a denarius a day, which is the standard daily wage.

He goes out again the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, hiring more laborers.

And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

Now here’s the question of the day. What is the “right” amount to pay the laborers?

The householder decides to pay them all exactly the same. Each receives one penny (denarius), one day’s wages. Some worked eleven hours longer and received exactly the same wage. Is this fair?

One wonders how much the householder really needs laborers. He seems rather to be in the business of finding people in need and providing for that need, asking of them what they are capable of providing.

Matthew 4:3, Why Rock n Roll is Wrong

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

//Most of you think the devil first tempted us with Rock n Roll in the twentieth century. You’d be wrong. The old fella first tried to free the soul with his rock and roll in about the year 30 A.D., but Jesus was having none of it. When Satan suggested Jesus turn a rock into a roll, Jesus said nope, I’m gonna need a whole lot more than that.

But [Jesus] answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. –Matthew 4:4

So Satan took Jesus up to the top of a high mountain and showed him all the world. Okay, you can have it all, he says, but still Jesus turned him down.

What was the poor devil to do? No wonder he gave up on Rock n Roll for another 2,000 years.

Psalm 23 Comparing the Shepherd’s Psalm to Mark Chapter 6

On the heels of yesterday’s post, I thought it would be worth including Kenneth Bailey’s comparison of Psalm 23 to Mark 6. This comes from his recent book, The Good Shepherd, p. 175.


Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd”

Mark 6: Jesus had compassion on them, became their shepherd, and the flock followed him


Psalm 23: “He settles me down in green pastures”

Mark 6: He commanded them to “recline in green pastures”


Psalm 23: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness”

Mark 6: “He taught them many things” and demonstrated to them a righteous path of nonviolent response to injustice.


Psalm 23: “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”

Mark 6: John had just been killed. The shadow of death loomed over them


Psalm 23: “I will fear no evil”

Mark 6: He told them “Have no fear. I am!”


Psalm 23: “Your staff comforts me”

Mark 6: “Take nothing … except a [shepherd’s] staff”


Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me”

Mark 6: Jesus prepared a banquet of life in the face of Herod’s banquet of death


Psalm 23: “In the presence of my enemies”

Mark 6: Herod, an enemy, was “watching”


Psalm 23: “You anoint my head with oil”

Mark 6: The disciples had just “anointed many with oil”


Psalm 23: “I shall not want” and “My cup overflows”

Mark 6: They “were filled” and “they took up twelve baskets of broken pieces”


Psalm 23: He rests me “beside still waters”

Mark 6: “the wind ceased and they crossed over”

Psalm 23:1-2, The Two Banquets, Part II of II

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

//A sheep won’t drink from running water. The shepherd knows that if he brings the sheep to running water, he must then build an inlet where the water will pool. There, the sheep will cluster.

I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with yesterday’s topic, where I compared King Herod’s banquet in the palace to King Jesus’s banquet in the desert. Well, it turns out this “desert” was next to the water. Jesus went there by boat and left by boat, and he led the multitude there beside the still water.

There, Jesus taught, and spread his banquet of loaves and fishes. But not before this instruction to the disciples:

And he commanded them to make all sit down [anaklinō] by companies upon the green grass. –Mark 6:39

However, the Greek word anaklinō doesn’t mean sit; it means recline. Jesus commands them to lie down in the green grass. Is this beginning to sound like the twenty-third Psalm? If you haven’t made the connection yet, note this verse at the beginning of the story:

And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. –Mark 6:34

Is it coincidence that Jesus sees the people as sheep without a shepherd, so he leads them beside the still waters, and makes them lie down in the green pastures? I think not.

Mark 6:21: The Two Banquets, Part I of II

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;

//Today’s verse tells of the prelude to the death of John the Baptist. King Herod throws a banquet and invites the rich and powerful from all over the province. At the party, a young dancer so enthralls Herod that he offers her anything she would like. After consulting with her mother, the young girl asks for the head of John the Baptist.

The disciples bury John and then tell Jesus what happened. Immediately, Jesus and his disciples go off into a “desert place,” hoping to be alone, but crowds hear of his presence and follow him. This leads to one of the more remarkable comparisons in the Bible.

There in the desert, Jesus teaches and then spreads a banquet capable of feeding 5,000 men. We know this as the miracle of loaves and fishes. But what’s different about King Jesus’s banquet?

As Herod is sharing with the rich and powerful in the palace, Jesus is feeding the poor and needy in the wilderness. More tomorrow about this banquet Jesus spread, so that you can choose which one you prefer.

Zechariah 9:9, Jesus Chooses Peace

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you;

He is just and having salvation,

Lowly and riding on a donkey,

A colt, the foal of a donkey.

//Bible devotees from around the world know this verse. They know it because Jesus fulfilled its prophecy. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem, he chose a lowly donkey as his mount. Jesus was familiar with the writings of Zechariah, and he purposefully asked for a donkey so that he could fulfill the prophecy.

But these devotees may not be familiar with the choice Jesus made. If you read further into the next chapter of Zechariah, you find an angry God riding on a horse into battle. This is the choice Jesus made. Donkey or horse? Peace or war? Forgiveness or vengeance?

We know today’s verse because of the choice Jesus made.

Luke 10:33, The Priest, the Levite, and…

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him

//In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus pulls a surprising twist. A man lies half-dead along the side of the road. Who will help him? First, Jesus tells about the uncompassionate priest, who makes a point of walking by on the other side of the road. Next Jesus introduces the Levite, who follows in the footsteps of the priest. Next comes…

The Israelite, right? That’s how these stories go. Anyone listening to Jesus tell this story knows who is going to come along next. The third person, surely the one to show compassion, will be an Israelite. Priests, Levites, and Israelites always go together. Ezra 10:5 speaks of the the priest, the Levites, and all Israel. Nehemiah 11:3 tells of Israel, the priests, and the Levites. Everybody knows who is going to come along next and show compassion to the man on the side of the road.

Except it isn’t. It’s a hated Samaritan. An enemy of Israel. That’s who shows compassion. Jesus often relies on shock value to make a point, and the story of the Good Samaritan is no exception. His listeners that day would have gone home with something to think about.

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