Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No One Knows The Hour (part 10)

Matthew, almost surprisingly, makes no mention of the widow and the offering box.  He does not position Jesus across from the offering box, to view the happenings, as does Mark.  Matthew does offer up the warnings about the experts in the law, their desire for greetings and the best seats, but he makes no mention of the devouring of widows’ property, or their long prayers.  Of course, Matthew’s lack of the warning about the devouring of widows’ property actually makes sense of the fact that he does not provide a record of the widow’s offering, as he does not have a need to demonstrate that which he has not mentioned. 

Where Mark and Luke record the warnings and the widow’s offering, Matthew, and Matthew’s Jesus are more evocative.  Some might say that what Matthew puts in place of the warning and the offerings is far more harsh; and it would be difficult to disagree, for this is the point at which Matthew presents the “seven woes.”  Because Matthew is using Mark as the basis for his narrative, we can assert, with reasonable confidence, that Matthew, even though he omits part of the warning and the story about the widow, has the whole of these things in mind as he presents Jesus’ pronouncement of woe.  Even if he does not have the devouring and the widow precisely in mind, we can certainly assert that he was aware of the story, since he presents half of the warning that we find in Mark and Luke.  Of course, the fact that the whole of the story is there in Mark and Luke, combined with the fact that Luke relies heavily on the Markan narrative, means that Matthew must have known the story of the widow.  Honestly, as we understand the setting and the narrative flow, it is almost unreasonable to surmise that Matthew is not here thinking about the second half of the warning and the widow’s offering.  So even if the widow is not going to be immediately called to the minds of Matthew’s hearers and readers, especially if his story is heard and read in isolation from the Markan and Lukan constructions, we, like the Gospel’s author, have the privilege of knowing the story, and it dances in our thoughts as we hear the words of Jesus through the twenty-third chapter. 

While still in the Temple, Jesus says “The experts in the  law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.  Therefore pay attention to what they tell you to do and do it.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (23:2-3).  The Markan warning comes out with what comes next, as Jesus says, “They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long.  They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’…  And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (23:5-7,9).  When we consider the fact that Jesus is saying all of these things at the Temple, which is thought to be the place where heaven and earth join together---the place where the realm of God’s dwelling and the realm of man’s dwelling meet, intersect, and overlap, Jesus’ contrast between earth and heaven takes on an interesting dimension that will be revisited at a later point in this study.  In addition, his talk of the calling of someone “father,” in juxtaposition to His sustained critique of the Temple authorities, while He also goes on to say “The greatest among you will be your servant.  And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (23:11-12), adds fuel to the critical, judging fire of His actions in the Temple and His words that follow that action.  Indeed, Jesus goes on to stoke the flames, providing stark contrast to the humble servant mentality, when He says “But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites!  You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven!  For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in” (23:13). 

When we place “kingdom of heaven” on terra firma, rather than thinking of it as some place “out there,” while also tying in the conjoining thoughts of land and Temple, we rightly hear Jesus continuing His critique of the Temple authorities and their mis-use of God’s Temple.  Shortly thereafter, Jesus makes explicit mention of the Temple and their mis-use of it, still echoing Jeremiah in style if not in substance, when He says “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the Temple is bound by nothing.  But whoever swears by the gold of the Temple is bound by the oath.’  Blind fools!  Which is greater, the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?” (23:16-17)  In a mocking report of the words of the Temple authorities, Jesus informs his audience of what they say and then comments on it, saying “’Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing.  But if anyone swears by the gift on it he is bound by the oath.’  You are blind!  For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  And whoever swears by the Temple swears by it and the one who dwells in it.  And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it” (23:18-22). 

There is a fascinating and almost imperceptible movement that takes place from verses thirteen through twenty-two.  It is only if we have the Temple firmly in view that we are able to pick up on it.  In verse thirteen, Jesus mentions the kingdom of heaven.  In sixteen, He mentions the Temple.  In eighteen and nineteen, in the same movement of thought, He speaks of the altar.  Beginning in the twentieth verse, Jesus draws conclusions.  In verse twenty, He again speaks of the altar.  In verse twenty-one, He mentions the Temple.  In verse twenty-two, He speaks of heaven and the throne of God.  Through this entire sequence, Jesus has moved out of and into the Temple.  As was said, this movement can only be seen if we keep the Temple in view, and it only comes together after we have heard Him speak all the way to the end of the twenty-second verse.  When Jesus mentions the kingdom of heaven, He speaks of the holy of holies and the place in which the Ark of the Covenant is supposed to be resting (though it was not there at that time)---where God would come down to sit, as if on His throne, to dwell with His people.  By mentioning the Temple, He moves outside of the holy of holies, to the holy place, for it is the holy place, that housed the holy of holies, that was thought of as the Temple proper.  Jesus then mentions the altar, which was positioned outside of the holy place, in the Temple court.  He then, in His conclusion, speaks of the altar that sits outside of the holy place, then the Temple (the holy place), and finally heaven and the throne of God, which is an unmistakable reference to the holy of holies and the throne-like lid of the Ark of the Covenant.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

No One Knows The Hour (part 9)

Staying with Mark, Jesus says, “How is it that the experts in the law say that the Christ is David’s son?  David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  If David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (12:35b-37a)  Luke’s record is essentially identical to Mark’s, whereas prior to Jesus’ longer statement from Jesus, Matthew reports that “Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?’  They said, ‘The son of David” (22:42).  Following Jesus’ words, Mark reports that “the large crowd was listening to Him with delight” (12:37b), and Matthew says that “No one was able to answer Him a word, and from that day on no one dared to question Him any longer” (22:46), while Luke offers no editorial comment.

As we have seen before and made abundantly clear, though Jesus is obviously offering a question that, according to the Gospel records, goes unanswered (thus, in the mold of rabbinic challenges in an honor and shame culture, asserting His final and unchallenged authority as a teacher), there is more than meets the eye (or ear).  This quotation by Jesus, lifted from the one hundred tenth Psalm, is designed to call to mind the entirety of the Psalm (as we should well understand).  Jesus, standing on the Temple mount, which is generally and idealistically referred to as Mount Zion (though the Zion mount may not have been the actual site of the Temple), quotes from a Psalm that says, “here is the Lord’s proclamation to my lord: ‘Sit down at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!’  The Lord extends your dominion from Zion.  Rule in the midst of your enemies!  Your people willingly follow you when you go into battle.  On the holy hills at sunrise the dew of your youth belongs to you.  The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it: ‘You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek.’  O sovereign Lord, at your right hand he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes His anger.  He executes judgment against the nations; He fills the valley with corpses; He shatters their heads over the vast battlefield.  From the stream along the road he drinks; then he lifts up his head” (110:1-7). 

Though Jesus frames the desired response with His follow-up question, He and the Gospel authors are undoubtedly communicating a great deal of information.  In this Psalm, not only is there talk of Zion, which is quickly translated into Temple-talk, especially with Jesus standing in the Temple while speaking, but there is also talk of an eternal priesthood occurring in the place where there were constant priestly functions occurring.  With the quotation from the Psalms potentially calling to mind a mention of Melchizedek and an eternal priesthood, it also calls to mind a replacement priesthood---a bold move, considering Jesus’ location.  Is it reasonable to make such a suggestion?  It seems to be so, especially when Mark and Luke do not follow-up with a theological and philosophical elaboration on what Jesus meant by His questions, but rather, report Him as saying “Watch out for the experts in the law.  They like walking around in long robes and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers.  These men will receive a more severe punishment” (Mark 12:38b-40).  Luke’s record is nearly identical.  Are the enemies the experts in the law, as stand-ins for the Temple authorities?  When Jesus mentions a more severe punishment, is He speaking in generalities, or does He have something in mind?  If it is something in mind, we might ask “A more severe punishment than what?”  Well, the striking down of kings, judgment against the nations, valleys filled with corpses, and heads shattered on battlefield seems to be fairly severe punishment.  Those that defile God’s Temple, and doing so through pretended service to His people (echoes of Jeremiah’s plaintive cry of judgment ringing through) will receive punishments of greater severity. 

To make the point about the devouring of widow’s property, Mark and Luke speak nearly identically with what comes next.  Using Mark’s record, they report that Jesus “sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it.  Many rich people were throwing in large amounts” (12:41-42).  By this, they secure the presence of experts in the law at their synagogues and their banquets.  Continuing, Mark reports: “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny.  He called His disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others.  For they all gave out of their wealth.  But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had” (12:41-44).  Far from being a praise of this widow, though it is certainly not a criticism, these are words of lament.  They portend judgment, for her property had been devoured.  Indeed, judgment---a more severe punishment---is what is coming.  

No One Knows The Hour (part 8)

Looking through the synoptic Gospels, and comparing the records that follow Jesus’ actions in the Temple and His being questioned as a result of those actions, we are forced to notice similarities and differences.  As we have seen, Matthew reports the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants, the parable of the wedding banquet, the challenge concerning Caesar and taxes, the question from the Sadducees about marriage the resurrection, and the rabbinic challenge concerning the greatest commandment.  From there, Matthew, has Jesus proceed to offering up the “seven woes” that comprise the twenty-third chapter of his Gospel.  Matthew built upon Mark’s account, traveling a longer path in the story of Jesus that he presented, and it must be said that Matthew’s account is the busiest of the three.   

Mark, which provides the basis for both Matthew and Luke, does not have a parable of the two sons, narrates the parable of the tenants, lacks a parable of the wedding banquet, recounts the conversation about the paying of taxes, reports the question by the Sadducees, and offers up a memory of the question about the greatest of the commandments.  In something of an anomaly, Mark’s presentation of the exchange concerning commandments is actually longer than that which is reported by Matthew.  Matthew and Mark differ in their account of Jesus’ words, with Matthew’s Jesus saying “All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (22:40).  In Mark, Jesus does not say this.  In addition, “The expert in the law said to Him, ‘That is true, Teacher; you are right to say that He is one, and there is no one else beside Him.’” (12:32b)  Here, the expert in the law quotes back to Jesus what has been said, which also informs us that Mark has another statement that is omitted by Matthew, in that Jesus here says, to begin His response to this man, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’” (12:29)  This is the preface to the specific quotation from Deuteronomy in regards to loving the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength.  This also reminds us that in Matthew, Jesus is not reported to have mentioned “strength.”  The man continued, conflating Jesus’ answers and the quotations together, saying “And to love Him with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (12:33). 

Just in case it may be thought that we were reaching a bit by calling attention to the fact that the section being called to mind with the neighbor quotation from Leviticus begins with mention of the peace offering sacrifice, and that by this we are given yet another reminder of the setting---that being the Temple and that which takes place in the Temple, the response confirms that we were not reaching at all.  Beyond that, just to reconfirm the intimate ties between the Temple, the importance of the promised land, and concepts concerning the kingdom of God, Mark reports that “When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” (12:34a)  This final statement is also part of a fuller account (in this particular periscope) than that which is on offer from Matthew.  Luke omits this exchange concerning the commandments entirely, which is not surprising.  We already know that Luke made no mention of the withered fig tree in conjunction with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, so it apparently does not fit with Luke’s overall purpose.  Following his report about Jesus’ actions in the Temple and the questioning from the authorities that He underwent there, Luke follows Mark by not presenting a parable of the two sons, and going right to the parable of the tenants.  There is no parable of the wedding banquet as part of Luke’s Temple narrative, though Luke does present a great banquet, with similar features, in his fourteenth chapter.  Following the parable of the tenants, Luke moves to the discussion about taxes, and then to the question about marriage and the resurrection.

All three of the synoptic evangelists present that which follows from the question about the commandments (though this is omitted by Luke).  Though we have spent most of our time with Matthew, Mark’s rendering will form the basis for our treatment of this section, primarily because it begins with “While Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts” (12:35a).  Though Mark feels the need to reiterate the fact that Jesus is still in the Temple, Matthew, reminding us that this section flows directly from the question and answer about the greatest commandment, begins with “While the Pharisees were assembled” (22:41a).  Luke moves from the Sadducees’ question about marriage and the resurrection to this next exchange, with a smooth “But He said to them” (20:41a).  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

No One Knows The Hour (part 7)

If the quotation from Deuteronomy conjures up a wider context, does Jesus other statement, about loving one’s neighbor as one loves self, which is taken from Leviticus, do the same?  Based upon what we know, we would be surprised if it did not.  Just as we were not disappointed when we turned to Deuteronomy, turning to Leviticus again disparages disappointment.  When Jesus speaks these words, He is quoting from the eighteenth verse of the nineteenth chapter.  As we examine what is to be found in the preceding verses, we are almost stunned at what we find.  Beginning in the eleventh verse, and quoting extensively (always remembering that calling to mind a larger section of Scripture, understood within Israel’s history, is the function of an isolated quotation), we read “You must not steal, you must not tell lies, and you must not deal falsely with your fellow citizen.  You must not swear falsely in My name, so that you do not profane the name of your God.  I am the Lord.  You must not oppress your neighbor or commit robbery against him.  You must not withhold the wages of the hired laborer overnight until morning” (19:11-13).  This last part, concerning the laborers, is of even greater interest if this entire section is being called to mind, taking on a more interesting dimension and revealing Jesus’ and Matthew’s theological genius, as Matthew, just before Jesus’ triumphal entry, records Jesus’ telling of the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which begins with “For the kingdom of heaven is like...” (Matthew 20:1a).   Once again, we are reminded that land, Temple, and kingdom are inseparably bound. 

Continuing in Leviticus: “You must not curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block in front of a blind person.  You must fear your God; I am the Lord.  You  must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich.  You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.  You must not go about as a slanderer among your people.  You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake.  I am the Lord.  You must not hate your brother in your heart.  You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him.  You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself” (19:14-18).  Now, we can all agree that this does in fact delineate the way in which the people of God should strive to live, and it would be wonderful to insist that Jesus was speaking in such a way so as to encourage His people (then and now) to live in such a way.  Certainly that is part of what He is doing, but considering the setting, we know it reaches beyond that.  Does this not remind us of something that Jesus has already said?  Does this not remind us of a narrative that has been called to mind by what Jesus said?  It should. 

Let’s review what happened when Jesus entered the Temple.  He “drove out all those who were selling and buying in the Temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.  And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are turning it into a den of robbers!’” (21:12b-13)  Then, “The blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple courts, and He healed them” (21:14).  This forces us to look again to Jeremiah, from which Jesus’ words of judgment are lifted, where we can see the Levitical parallels (and stand amazed at all that is going on in Jesus’ words and Matthew’s record) when we read “Change the way you have been living and do what is right.  If you do, I will allow you to continue to live in this land” (7:3b).  Notice the connection here made between land and Temple.  “Stop putting your confidence in the false belief that says, ‘We are safe!  The Temple of the Lord is here!  The Temple of the Lord is here!  The temple of the Lord is here!’  You must change the way you have been living and do what is right.  You must treat one another fairly.  Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands.  Stop killing innocent people in this land.  Stop paying allegiance to other gods.  That will only bring about your ruin” (7:4-6).  Here, we can make note that the Deuteronomy reference flows into a concern that Israel not fall into idolatry---worshiping the gods of the people of the land to which the Lord is bringing them.  Continuing in Jeremiah: “If you stop doing these things, I will allow you to continue to live in this land which I gave to your ancestors as a lasting possession,” as we note the land and Temple dynamic (7:7). 

Jeremiah continues: “But just look at you!  Your are putting your confidence in a false belief that will not deliver you.  You steal.  Your murder.  You commit adultery.  You lie when you swear on oath.  You sacrifice to the god Baal.  You pay allegiance to other gods whom you have not previously known.  Then you come and stand in My presence in this Temple I have claimed as My own and say, ‘We are safe!’  You think you are so safe that you go on doing all those hateful sins!  Do you think this Temple I have claimed as My own is to be a hideout for robbers?” (7:8-11a)  So not only has Jesus made reference, while dramatically acting in the Temple, to the whole of this section of Jeremiah’s seventh chapter, situated as it is within Israel’s history, its collective and active memory, and its understanding of past exiles and current subjugation to a foreign power, but He calls this to mind again, along with the Leviticus passage that Jeremiah seems to also have in mind, when He speaks about the demand to love neighbor as self.  To clinch the argument that Jesus’ words are not to be disconnected from His ongoing and primary concern with the Temple, as demonstrated in Matthew, we also point out that this section of Leviticus basically begins with “When you sacrifice a peace offering sacrifice to the Lord, you must sacrifice it so that it is accepted for you” (19:5).  The Temple, of course, was the place of sacrifice.

No One Know The Hour (part 6)

After the silencing of the Sadducees, one of the Pharisees, said to be “an expert in religious law” (22:35b), posed a question to Jesus.  The language used by Matthew, which is that the purpose of the question was “to test Him” (22:36c), informs the audience that this encounter was to be understood as a rabbinic debate, which would have an honor and shame dynamic.  This is fitting, since the greatest source of honor was a connection to the Temple, and Jesus is shaming the Temple and those connected to it.  If they are able to overcome Jesus in a rabbinic challenge, thus diminishing His honor, then they can also diminish the effectiveness of His words and actions against the Temple. 

Jesus’ opinion in regards to the greatest commandment of the law is elicited.  Quoting from Deuteronomy and from Leviticus, Jesus responds with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (22:37), and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (22:39).  Summing up His response, Jesus adds “All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (22:40).  Of course, we are quite familiar with these words of Jesus, as were the respective audiences of both Jesus and Matthew.  Remembering that the Temple and His judgment upon it lies in the background of both His words and the narrative that records His words and deeds, and considering that singular quotations of Scripture are designed to call to mind large sections of the Scriptural narrative (and by extension, Israel’s history), we are forced to look at the context for Jesus’ Scriptural quotations.  In doing so, we find that they fit within the overall movement of Matthew and of this section of the story he tells. 

Prior to His triumphal entry, in multiple parables, Jesus is shown to be speaking about the kingdom of heaven (God).  Talk of the kingdom of heaven fits together with thoughts about the restoration of the promised land of Israel, which would manifest itself in independence  of people and land from the rule of foreign and pagan nations.  Jesus’ triumphal entry aligns with such talk.  Jesus’ continued speech about the kingdom of heaven, in chapters twenty-one and twenty-two, following His judgment upon the Temple (which then cannot be disconnected from that which follows) fits neatly with what has been previously heard from Jesus and presented by Matthew.  So when we hear Jesus speak about love of God with heart, soul, and mind, and are thus thrust upon the pages of Deuteronomy, we would be disappointed if we did not find concerns within the same vein being voiced.  Naturally, we are not disappointed. 

The words quoted by Jesus are prefaced and followed by statements such as “Walk just as He has commanded you so that you may live, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land you are going to possess” (5:33); “Now these are the commandments, statutes, and ordinances that the Lord your God has instructed me to teach you so that you may carry them out in the land where you are headed… as the Lord, God of your ancestors, said to you, you will have a land flowing with milk and honey” (6:1,3b); “Then when the Lord your God brings you the land He promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you” (6:10a); “for the Lord your God, who is present among you,” which is a Temple/tabernacle reference---the place the Lord dwells, “is a jealous God and His anger will erupt against you and remove you from the land” (6:15); “Do whatever is proper and good before the Lord so that it may go well with you and that you may enter and occupy the good land that He promised to your ancestors” (6:18); “He delivered us… so that He could give us the land He had promised our ancestors” (6:23); and “When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy” (7:1a). 

His talk of the kingdom, His triumphal entry, His dramatic and judging words and actions in the Temple, are rooted in hopes concerning God’s promise to His people and the covenant faithfulness of that God.  Occupation and possession of that land, in which God would build His temple and in which He would dwell amongst His people, was always the evidence of God’s power and of the fulfillment of His promises to His people.  So when Jesus speaks in the way that He does, when challenged by the expert in the law, He is not simply offering up aphorisms on how the people of God are to live.  Rather, He is building upon the edifice that is already in place, and we must hear Him speak in the context of promise, land, Temple, and kingdom.  So even though it does not appear, on the surface, that this particular exchange is linked to His Temple concerns, we can affirm that it most certainly is, and that it continues in the narrative flow.  It is not an isolated statement or encounter, but one that demands to be understood in connection to the Temple, as has all that we have examined to this point of our study, and as we build to a conclusion concerning Jesus’ insistence that no man can know the day or the hour. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No One Knows The Hour (part 5)

After telling the parables of the two sons and the tenants, with Matthew having interjected Jesus’ thoughts concerning the kingdom of God, and letting his audience know that “the chief priests and the Pharisees… realized that He was speaking about them” (21:45), we hear Jesus moving on to His next parable, which is that of the wedding banquet.  Having suggested that the kingdom of God, with its Temple-related connotations, was going to be taken from those that represented the Temple and its regime, this parable begins with “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (22:2).  This parable, which shares similar features to the parable of the tenants, concludes with the king saying “For many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14). 

Though much can be made of this parable, and though there are obviously a great number of avenues of exploration that could be traveled (king and son and messianic understanding to say the least), as we are dealing with the issue of the Temple, with the Temple still serving as the backdrop, suffice it to say that the connection between the kingdom of God being taken away from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and the kingdom of heaven being limited to those that have been chosen for it, is rather obvious.  Let us be careful to not exhume this statement about many being called and few being chosen from out of the ground in which it has been placed.  This is not an isolated statement, nor an isolated parable, from which one can construct a theology of predestination or limited atonement.  Rather, this is a statement and a parable dealing with the Temple and those that represent that Temple, as Jesus builds on His previously enacted judgment of that Temple and those that run it.  Along with the setting and the audience, Jesus’ subject of concern is unchanged.  This is not lost on Jesus’ intended audience, as Matthew moves immediately to tell us that “Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap Him with His own words” (22:15). 

The Pharisees proffer a question about the paying of taxes to Caesar.  This cannot be disconnected from Jesus’ triumphal entry---an event which would have stirred revolutionary notions.  Taxes and revolution go hand in hand, and Jesus’ opinion in this area would have been used to great effect.  Also, it seems to function as an attempt to distract Jesus from His main concern, which is the judged Temple and its judged functionaries.  However, we continue to hear Jesus’ words with the Temple as a sounding board, and perhaps even hear a critical rebuke of His interrogators when He says to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (22:21b).

The Pharisees are stunned by Jesus answer, departing from Him only to be replaced by some Sadducees, who have made limited appearances to this point.  In fact, until now they have been rather marginal characters in the story.  They have been mentioned by John the Baptist in the third chapter and by Jesus in the sixteenth chapter, but only in pairings with the Pharisees (though the two groups had major disagreements).  Mark and Luke make no mention of them at all up until this same point, and they are completely absent from the Gospel of John.  They do have a presence in Acts, in connection with Peter and John’s arrest at the Temple and in connection with Paul’s arrest, which also took place at the Temple (a fact that should not be lost on us as we are dealing with the issue of the Temple).  These may be useful bits of information, as even though Acts was composed after Luke, the stories of Peter, John, and Paul’s arrest at the Temple, along with the “trials” that took place in connection with those arrests (all of which were carried out by the Temple authorities) were probably fairly well known to the early Christian community.  If this is the case, it is possible to presume that these stories that included the Sadducees would have been known to the respective audiences of the Gospels, because just as Israel defined itself by its history and the stories that they told about themselves that had the oppression of Egypt and the exodus as foundational, so too would the early Christian community seek to define itself, in strong Jewish fashion, by telling its own stories of oppression and deliverance.  It is not a stretch to consider the possibility that this type of thing was already taking place in the community for which Matthew primarily composed his Gospel, especially when we are able to see Herod as a new Pharaoh, ordering the death of children, which is unique to the Matthean narrative. 

So even though this is the first time that the Sadducees are going to speak, they are a group that is known to the community.  The Gospel authors make it a point to share some basic information about this group, informing (reminding) their audiences that the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection (in reference to the belief in the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the present age).  Obviously, this editorial comment carries significant weight for a post-Resurrection audience, and it would be a major point of contention for those that are claiming Jesus as their risen Lord.  Clearly, there is no respect whatsoever for the Sadducees, as they are almost comically presented, asking Jesus a ridiculously framed question about marriage in the resurrection (seven brothers, all having married the same woman, and all of which died---though there may be a mild allusion to the seven brothers of the Maccabean histories, who certainly hoped for a resurrection).  This is something of a comical presentation, for if they did not believe in the concept of resurrection, then this question would be illogical for them to ask.  Jesus’ response indicates His (and the church community’s) opinion of the Sadducees, as He says “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (22:29)  Mark adds (Matthew subtracting), “You are badly mistaken!” (12:27b)  The bottom line, when we consider this interaction with the Sadducees, is that they are connected to the Temple (as demonstrated by Acts), and represented some level of authority.  Silencing them, as Jesus is said to do with His answer (22:34), serves to discredit them and weaken their position, thus extending His judgment against the Temple.     

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No One Knows The Hour (part 4)

So, with the Temple as the backdrop, Jesus embarks on a series of parables.  The first one of these is known as the “parable of the two sons.”  Not only is the parable offered in the Temple, but it begins with a question, “What do you think?” (Matthew 21:28a), that is directed to “the chief priests and elders of the people” (21:23b).  They had posed a question to Jesus.  Jesus had not answered the question, but instead posed a question to them.  He continued to question them, as was just said, by prefacing a parable with a question.  The parable of the two sons, spoken in the Temple and to the Temple authorities, uses a vineyard as its setting, with a father and two sons as the characters in the story.  Israel as the point of reference is unmistakable.  The father and two sons theme is quite prevalent in Israel’s history: Abraham with Ishmael and Isaac, Isaac with Esau and Jacob, and Joseph with Manasseh and Ephraim.  The fact that it is being directed to whom it is being directed, in the place where it is being spoken, with the conclusion drawn about a failure to believe on the part of those to whom Jesus speaks (Temple authorities), is further judgment upon the Temple and its system.  Remember, Jesus has already pronounced judgment on the Temple by way of His actions and His words in the Temple.  The fig tree has withered and He has spoken of the mountain to be thrown into the sea.  The setting has not changed, so it behooves us to continue hearing Him speak in this train of thought, without any unwarranted deviations from this path. 

Following the parable of the two sons is the “parable of the tenants.”  Jesus commences with “Listen to another parable” (21:33a), thus reminding us that Jesus is speaking to the same people to whom He was speaking with the previous parable.  This parable tells a horrible story, and Jesus uses terms such as “evil” to describe the antagonists in the tale.  Of course, Matthew removes all ambiguity when he writes “When the chief priests (Temple authorities---representatives of the Temple) and the Pharisees heard this parable, they realized that He was speaking about them” (21:45).  Jesus is calling the chief priests “evil.”  Thus, He effectively de-legitimizes them, their positions, and that which they represent.  With this, one cannot help but think about the Apostle Paul, standing before the council in Jerusalem and being struck on the mouth.  Paul responds to his abuser by saying “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!” (Acts 23:3a)  The reply that comes to this statement is “Do you dare insult God’s high priest?”  (23:4b)  Now, this is not to say that Jesus was speaking to or of the high priest, and of course, He did not speak these words overtly, as they were implied in the parable and the chief priests made the connection themselves, but as we consider the issues of legitimacy and authority and the words of Jesus, it is interesting to note that Paul says “I did not realize, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You must not speak evil about a ruler of your people.’” (23:5) 

Because Jesus refers to the antagonists in the parable of the vineyard as evil, with the knowledge that this epithet was meant for those who were challenging Him there in the Temple, Jesus may very well have been emphasizing that these men (and even the high priest) were not legitimate rulers, and that they were nothing more than the caretakers of an illegitimate and judged Temple.  Indeed, Jesus also says “I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you” (21:43b), and it was the Temple---the place of God’s dwelling and the place where heaven and earth met---that represented God’s presence and His kingdom.  This carries meaning on multiple levels, especially if we consider that Matthew, using these words that are absent from Mark’s account, most likely writes in a time following the destruction of the Temple at the hands of the Romans. 

Prior to the words of the forty-third verse, and just to be sure that all understand that Jesus has the Temple in mind as He is speaking, Jesus rounds out His parable by saying “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (21:42)  Here, Jesus quotes from the one hundred eighteenth Psalm.  The selection on offer from Jesus, which is to be called to mind by the section that He has quoted, begins with “Open for me the gates of the just king’s temple!  I will enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.  This is the Lord’s gate---the godly enter through it.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me, and have become my deliverer” (118:19-21).  What follows that which is quoted by Jesus is “This is the day the Lord has brought about.  We will be happy and rejoice in it.  Please Lord, deliver!  Please Lord, grant us success!  May the one who comes in the name of the Lord be blessed!  We will pronounce blessings on you in the Lord’s temple” (118:24-26).  So not only is Jesus quite obviously speaking about the Temple, by using this Psalm He has actually gone back and effectively answered the question that was previously posed to Him about what He was doing and who it was that had given Him the right to do it.  He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord and He is acting in the Temple on behalf of Israel’s God.  In all of this, the Temple is the thing.          

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No One Knows The Hour (part 3)

For the sake of rounding out the Biblical picture, let us note what Mark presents in association with the fig tree and the mountain.  Mark reports Jesus as saying “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgiven him, so that you Father in heaven will also forgive your sins” (11:25).  Luke omits any mention of the fig tree our mountain, moving directly to Jesus return to the Temple courts and the challenge to Jesus’ authority.  Though we will not spill a great deal of ink with conjecture on why Matthew and Mark include the story of the withered fig tree whereas Luke does not, we could surmise that the appearances of the fig tree in the Matthean and Markan narratives, with both (Matthew most likely relying on Mark) connecting the withered fig tree with the mountain to be removed, could possibly have some bearing on the conclusions to be drawn.  Perhaps it’s appearance and correspondence to the mountain that is in view (both literally and metaphorically) is somehow linked to Jesus’ insistence that no man knows the day or the hour, which, as has been pointed out, is to be found in Matthew and Mark, but not in Luke.  Certainly, the fig tree did not expect to wither on that day and at that moment---it did not know the hour.  

In addition, it is incumbent upon us to report the divergence in the Gospel stories surrounding Jesus’ triumphal entry.  We do not simply ignore these things and pretend that they are not there, though we do note that differences in detail do not derail from the overall message of the accounts nor do the differences really present us with much cause for concern.  We have already detailed Matthew’s account quite well.  Owing to the fact that Mark is believed to be foundational for Matthew and Luke’s account, we bear in mind that it is Matthew’s account that is divergent, rather than Mark’s.  The divergences are accounted for by each author having slightly different goals that they want to achieve through the delivery of their accounts.  Though each has the goal of setting forth the story of Jesus, each comes at it from a slightly different angle, which is perfectly understandable.  Honestly, if each told the story in the same way, we would have no need for multiple Gospels, and we would lack the rich and manifold witness to Jesus provided to us by these evangelists, not to mention their diverse perspectives and portrayals of Jesus that serve to give us a more complete sense and picture of the one that is called Lord.

What are those divergences?  For Mark, Jesus does head to the Temple upon the occasion of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  However, Mark does not record Him immediately engaging with the buyers, sellers, and money changers, nor making His Jeremiah-esque stand.  In Mark’s telling, this takes place on the following day, which is also the day that Jesus speaks to the fig tree, while on His way to Jerusalem.  However, in Mark’s presentation of that detail, and though the fig tree may indeed have immediately withered, the disciples do not comment on this withering until the following day, which is when Jesus offers up His commentary concerning the fig tree, the mountain, and the need to offer forgiveness.  Here, we also add that rather than the withering of the fig tree being bracketed by Jesus’ actions in the Temple and a return to the Temple the following day in which He is challenged by the Temple authorities, it is Jesus’ dramatic actions in the Temple and pronouncement of judgment against it that is bracketed by the words spoken to the fig tree and the words spoken about and prompted by the withered fig tree.  It is then that Mark writes “They came again to Jerusalem” (11:27a), with Jesus being confronted with “By what authority are you doing these things?  Or who gave you the authority to do these things?” (11:28)      

So in Mark, the order of events is the triumphal entry that is accompanied by a trip to the Temple where Jesus merely looks around at everything (11:11), a departure to Bethany for the night, words to the fig tree the following day, another trip to Jerusalem and the Temple where He dramatically acts and speaks, another departure from Jerusalem (presumably to Bethany again), the disciples noticing the withered fig tree to which Jesus had spoken the following morning on their way back to Jerusalem (thus prompting the previously mentioned commentary), where Jesus makes another trip to the Temple.  By way of review and contrast, Matthew has Jesus triumphally entering Jerusalem, acting and speaking in the Temple, departing for Bethany, speaking to the fig tree which produces an immediate withering and subsequent commentary, and an entrance into Jerusalem and the Temple where He is challenged.  Luke, by way of further contrast, has Jesus entering Jerusalem (for which He weeps while on His approach), and then speaking and acting in the Temple.  He is a bit more ambiguous in His timeline, as following Jesus’ recitation from Jeremiah, he writes that “Jesus was teaching daily in the Temple courts.  The chief priests and the experts in the law and the prominent leaders among the people were seeking to assassinate Him, but they could not find a way to do it, for all the people hung on His words.  Now one day, as Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts and proclaiming the gospel, the chief priests and experts in the law with the elders came up and said to Him, ‘Tell us: By what authority are you doing these things?  Or who is it who gave you this authority?’” (19:47-20:2)     

All that follows from the twenty-third verse of the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, when Jesus re-enters the Temple courts, until the first verse of the twenty-fourth chapter, when Jesus goes out of the Temple courts and walks away, occurs without a change of scenery.  The same is true of Mark, as the setting does not change from the twenty-seventh verse of the eleventh chapter until the first verse of chapter thirteen.  In Luke, the Temple is the scene of the narrative from the first verse of chapter twenty to verse thirty-seven of chapter twenty-one, which does not neatly change the setting, but simply breaks-up the narrative by informing the listener that “every day Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts, but at night He went and stayed on the Mount of Olives” (21:37).  For Luke, though Jesus embarks on His triumphal entry from Bethany, He does not return there each evening.  This helps to explain his omission of the story of the fig tree and its withering, which takes place in Matthew and Mark on the road from Bethany.  Throughout this entire section of the narrative, we must see and hear Jesus in the Temple courts, which provides a dramatic backdrop for all of the words that He speaks.  

No One Knows The Hour (part 2)

Matthew is not the only Gospel in which Jesus words about the day and hour are reported.  Mark records these words as well.  In the thirteenth chapter we find “But as for that day or hour no one knows it---neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son---except the Father” (13:32).  Without any intervening material, such as is found in Matthew, Mark moves immediately to Jesus saying “Watch out!  Stay alert!  For you do not know when the time will come” (13:33).  Luke presents a similar narrative to what we see in Matthew and Mark, though it has its differences.  Luke does not have Jesus offering an opinion on whether or not one can know the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, but alludes to it when he writes “But be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of the life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap.  For it will overtake all who live on the face of the earth.  But stay alert at all time, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the Son of Man” (21:34-36). 

Returning to Matthew, we learn that the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which took Him to the Temple to pronounce a symbolic judgment against it in the mode of Jeremiah (and for the same reasons), and in which He referred to the Temple authorities as robbers (for engaging in insurrection against the God of the Temple---an insurrection that will cause God to bring upon Jerusalem and its Temple the same type of judgment that God brought upon it by way of Babylon, which are the thoughts that Jesus’ words and actions would have stirred, therefore setting him at odds with the Temple authorities and the people, as happened to Jeremiah), He returns to Jerusalem and to the Temple, having spent the night in the nearby village of Bethany (the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus). 

On his way back to Jerusalem, Jesus causes a fig tree to wither for not producing fruit (echoing Jeremiah’s repeated use of fig tree symbolism, and therefore a clear allusion to the nation of Israel, which is failing in its task to be a light to the nations, and which also functions as an allusion to the curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, which God---Matthew writes from the post-Resurrection perspective of Jesus as God---promised to bring upon His unfaithful people).  This causing of the fig tree to wither, for Matthew, appears to stem from the reaction of “the chief priests and the experts in the law” (Temple authorities) when they “saw the wonderful things he did” (21:15a).  Matthew alone (to the exclusion of Mark and Luke) reports that following Jesus’ talk of the Temple as den of robbers, “The blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple courts, and He healed them” (21:14).  In addition, there were “children crying out in the Temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’” (21:15b), which caused the chief priests and the experts in the law to become “indignant” (21:15c). 

Those that represented Israel before God were unable to celebrate Jesus’ entry in the way of Solomon as pronounced by Zechariah, they refused to repent when one who had been attempting to be a Jeremiah (and more than a Jeremiah) to the people for three years called them to account, and they refused to rejoice in what was a rather obvious coming of their Messiah (in the mold of Isaiah 61) and His healing of the blind and the lame in the Temple courts.  Little wonder then, that Jesus spoke to and about the fig tree in such a way.  Matthew writes that “When the disciples saw it they were amazed” (21:20a), and wondered at what they had seen.  To their amazed inquiry, Jesus replied “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.  And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive” (21:21-22). 

As we hear these words, we cannot forget that Jesus is on His way into Jerusalem.  Matthew will move immediately to add “Now after Jesus entered the Temple courts, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’” (21:23).  So the story of the fig tree and the words about the mountain are bracketed by Jesus being in the Temple, where the legitimacy of His presence is challenged by the Temple authorities.  We cannot allow ourselves to casually pass by this fact.  This informs us that it is the Temple mount that Jesus has in view when He speaks about the mountain being cast into the sea.  We simply must understand that it is the Temple that is central to Matthew’s narrative (along with Mark and Luke), and we must not lose sight of that fact while we work our way back towards Jesus’ statement about the day and the hour.    

Monday, May 23, 2011

No One Knows The Hour (part 1)

But as for that day and hour no one knows it---not even the angels in heaven---except the Father alone. – Matthew 24:36  (NET)

“Jesus was going out of the Temple courts and walking away” (Matthew 24:1a).  As He did so, “His disciples came to show Him the Temple buildings” (24:1b).  A couple of days prior to this, Jesus had made His “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.  He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  As He rode, “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road.  Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds went ahead of Him and those following kept shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!’” (21:8-9)  This was a dramatic exhibition, full of provocative imagery, stirring passions within the people of Israel in regards to their King and Messiah and the coming of the kingdom of their Creator.  Matthew reports that “As He entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar” (21:10a).  Jesus was playing upon and creating certain expectations, not the least of which, was that the time of Roman occupation was coming to an end.  However, rather than leading a mob to storm the Roman governor’s residence or the fortress housing the Roman soldiers in an attempt to take up His position of earthly power by overthrowing the local representatives of those that were then ruling over Israel, Jesus directed His steps toward the Temple. 

“Jesus entered the Temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.  And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are turning it into a den of robbers!’” (21:12-13)  Some misguided (but perhaps well intentioned) souls look at this and see Jesus taking issue with buying and selling and money changing taking place in the Temple courts.  Unfortunately, because these things were actually legitimate and sanctioned activities that needed to take place in order to facilitate the sacrifices for the people, this is a shortsighted view and misses the context provided by what He has said, quoting from the prophet Jeremiah.  In the seventh chapter of Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of Israel’s God, we hear the prophet say “Do you think this Temple I have claimed as My own is to be a hideout for robbers?  You had better take note!  I have seen for Myself what you have done!  says the Lord” (7:11). 

What was it that they had been doing?  Was Jeremiah simply conveying God’s disgust at the activities taking place in the Temple?  Yes, but on a far larger scale than what we might have in mind.  What preceded the question and statement of the eleventh verse?  Again, speaking for God, Jeremiah has said “You must change the way you have been living and do what is right.  You must treat one another fairly.  Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands.  Stop killing innocent people in this land.  Stop paying allegiance to other gods.  If you stop doing these things, I will allow you to continue to live in the land which I gave to your ancestors as a lasting possession.  But just look at you!  Your are putting your confidence in a false belief that will not deliver you.  You steal.  You murder.  You commit adultery.  You lie when you swear on oath.  You sacrifice to the God Baal.  You pay allegiance to others gods whom you have not previously known.  Then you come and stand in My presence in this Temple I have claimed as My own and say, ‘We are safe!’  You think you are so safe that you go on doing all those hateful sins!” (7:5-10)  It is this---far more than the simple acts of buying and selling---to which Jesus makes reference with His words and actions in the Temple.  By quoting from Jeremiah, Jesus is accusing the Temple authorities of doing all of these things.  Therefore, He actually legitimates the ongoing rule of Rome over Israel, as part of God’s faithful covenant actions towards His people, in the face of those that might be expecting Him to act to overthrow that rule and attempt to drive out the Romans, as it was these things to which Jeremiah points that contributed mightily to God’s bringing of Babylon to destroy the Temple and drag His covenant people into exile. 

It might be of interest to note that, in order to call Jeremiah to mind, that He quotes the from the eleventh verse of the seventh chapter.  He may have been able to quote from another portion of the section provided above, but He did not.  He references the portion of Jeremiah’s polemic that speaks of “robbers.”  The Greek word translated as “robber” in Matthew is “leston.”  Now, this is not to be found in Matthew’s narrative, but in the Gospel of John, we find the man named Barabbas described as a “robber,” using a derivation of the same Greek word used by Jesus and Jeremiah.  Matthew merely mentions the fact that Barabbas was a “notorious prisoner.”  The people knew who and what he was.  Barabbas, according to Mark, “had committed murder during an insurrection” (15:7), and Luke also mentions the insurrection and murder (23:19).  This is interesting, as the Greek term applied to Barabbas by John, and directed to the Temple authorities by Jesus, carries with it the notion of insurrection and revolution---going well beyond simple thievery.  We marvel at the genius of the author as ironically, through His triumphal entry, Jesus is stirring thoughts of an insurrection to be carried out against the Romans, whereas those that run the Temple are carrying out an insurrection against the very God that they believe is going to act to deliver them from the power of Rome.  Ultimately, as we know, Barabbas, the one that seeks to participate in revolutionary activity that may serve to drive out the Romans through armed conflict, is released rather than Jesus.  Eventually, Israel will undertake a violent resurrection against Rome that will result in the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, so that the very place in which Jesus stands and speaks will be thrown down to the ground.      

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Calling His Disciples (part 8 of 8)

With much foundation laid, we now move to clinch our argument that Abraham and God’s covenant with him are in view as Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John (to an extent) tell the stories of Jesus’ calling of His disciples, that Jesus Himself is relying upon a broad-based Abrahamic covenant-shaped worldview to inform the response to His words and deeds, and that this is functional for rounding out our perspective on the narrative.  Not only that, but it should become clear, as we take a wide angle view of what is going on if this is the case, that one of the points being made is that a disciple of Jesus, then and now, is called to be for the world what Abraham (and ultimately his descendants) were called to be for the world.  Abraham and his descendants were to be the means and the mediators by and through which the Creator God enacted His plan to redeem the world.  In essence, it could be said that the disciples were called to be Abraham’s. 

It bears repeating here then, that all disciples of Jesus---those that join Him in the way that He is marking out for the enactment of God’s kingdom in and for this world---are called to be Abraham’s.  Has what we have reviewed and analyzed been sufficient to make that point?  Most likely.  However, there is one final portion of Matthew’s narrative that we can include in our presentation to tie together all we have seen to this point in the building of our case.  It is not at all surprising to find it included almost directly and immediately following the call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John, with the additional information that James and John left their work and their father and followed Jesus.  Once again, mentioning a call by Jesus, who was being recognized and worshiped as God by the author of Matthew (who is constructing his historical narrative not necessarily as a chronological biography, but constructing his narrative in a certain way and for a certain purpose to communicate certain facts about the activity and nature of the God that is being more thoroughly revealed by Jesus), and adding the leaving of a father as a response to a summons, is sure to call Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant to mind. 

After a very brief interlude to round out the fourth chapter, in which Matthew describes Jesus’ ministry throughout Galilee, and concludes by telling us that “large crowds followed Him” (4:25a), we come to the beginning of the fifth chapter and read that “When He saw the crowds, He went up the mountain.  After He sat down His disciples came to Him” (5:1).  While we are tempted to notice the Moses motif that is also being laid into the narrative (teaching from a mountain, mentioning the law and recounting some of the “ten commandments”), we merely keep it in mind while remembering the more foundational Abrahamic context.  Though there are large crowds following Him, the author, very specifically, says that “His disciples came to Him.”  Though there were most likely more than just the four called and named disciples at this point, making mention here of the disciples, having just presented the calling of the first four, must be completely purposeful. 

What does Jesus do?  “He began to teach them” (5:2).  What does He say?  He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (5:3-6).  With a call from Jesus, the leaving of a father, words that are presented as being directed to those called---which are the disciples (though obviously there is a much larger audience present), and now this talk of “Blessed are…”, it is nigh impossible to not hear God speaking to Abraham (after he had heard “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you”) and saying “Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.”  Verses three through six clearly spell out God’s directing of blessing to the called one’s of Jesus, with them being given a nation (kingdom of heaven), comfort, and an inheritance (here, we think about the promise of an heir to Abraham and that which would be possessed by his descendants). 

Of course, Jesus did not stop there.  He continued on to say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (5:7-9).  Here, we can see that blessings are now bi-directional.  This sends us back to God’s words to Abraham, in which Abraham was told “I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing.”  Certainly, we can see that these three uses of “Blessed are…” are outwardly directed, in that Jesus’ called ones are to demonstrate mercy and purity of heart, while being peacemakers.  By this, they will exemplify divine blessing and be sources of divine blessing for the world, while also continuing to be blessed by God (also an exemplification of divine blessing, which obviously works on two levels), in that they will receive mercy, see God, and be called children of God. 

Jesus continues, saying “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad because of your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way” (5:10-12).  Does not this strike a chord in similar fashion to what Abraham was also told, which was “I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse”?  Beyond that which we see in chapter twelve of Genesis, this talk of a great reward in heaven reminds us of the fifteenth chapter of Genesis and where God speaks again to Abraham and says, “Fear not, Abram!  I am your shield and the one who will reward you in great abundance” (15:1b).  For sake of context, this follows the account of Lot being captured and Abraham defeating his captors to rescue Lot, after which he received the blessing from Melchizedek (persecution, blessing, and reward). 

Finally (for our purposes), Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth…  You are the light of the world… let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (5:13a,14a,16).  What rounded out God’s first words to Abraham?  “All the families of the earth will bless one another by your name.”  Abraham was called to be salt and light in a way that would reveal God’s glory and gather to Him the praise that He deserves---the abounding of blessing at the hand of God being quite obvious as it flows out in all directions.  The disciples of Jesus were called to do and effect the same.           

Friday, May 20, 2011

Calling His Disciples (part 7)

Luke’s record is similar, while also being different.  Like Matthew, Luke does not editorialize here, as does Mark, and so does not offer up the reasoning behind the calling and appointment of the twelve, which was “so that they could be with Him and He could send them to preach” (Mark 3:14b).  He takes Matthew’s route, also relying upon the Abrahamic covenant context, and communicating the similarity by reporting that “Jesus called the twelve together” (9:1a).  As we said for Matthew, this is equivalent to Mark’s “being with Him,” while also communicating the appropriate Abraham-related ideas. 

Luke’s sending is different from that of Matthew, in that there is no national, ethnic, or geographic restriction to Israel in their exemplification of divine blessing when “He gave them power over all demons and to cure diseases” (9:1b).  Let us take the time to notice that Matthew’s and Luke’s record operate on a dual level.  At one level, as they report the instructions of Jesus, they are also informing us as to what it was that these disciples were going to go out and do.  There is no reason to believe that they did not go out and follow these instructions, and indeed, Luke, ever the historian, moves from Jesus’ instructions to mentioning that “Then they departed and went throughout the villages, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere” (9:6). 

Shortly thereafter, again playing the historian, Luke reports that “When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done” (9:10).  Luke even expands upon this in relation to the time that Jesus, at the beginning of the tenth chapter, appoints and sends out a much larger group of His disciples with nearly identical instructions as that which was given to the twelve (either seventy or seventy-two disciples, depending on the manuscripts in use), informing his audience that “the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” (10:17)  Though the analogy is not precise, if the Abrahamic covenant is foundational, then the twelve can be looked upon as Abraham, while the seventy-two can be looked upon as Israel. 

At the second level, the instructions to the disciples are something of an elaboration on God’s words to Abraham.  When we hear Matthew and Luke recount Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, can we not also hear “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing”? (Genesis 12:2)  Luke rounds out Jesus’ instructions very quickly.  For Luke’s purposes in this setting, Jesus is done speaking at the fifth verse of the ninth chapter, concluding His remarks with the “shaking of dust.”  Matthew, on the other hand, extends this time of instruction all the way to the close of the tenth chapter.  In fact, the eleventh chapter of Matthew opens by informing us “When Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in their towns” (11:1).  Though the fact that the disciples acted on Jesus’ instructions is implied by Matthew’s presentation, Luke seizes upon the opportunity to make it explicit.  Though Matthew certainly implies that the disciples fulfilled the Abrahamic call to exemplify divine blessing, Luke wants to be sure that his audience knows that this is what took place.     

In the end, for Matthew, because he does not provide any type of report on the activity of the disciples themselves in relation to Jesus’ instructions, what is important is that Jesus went out teaching and preaching and presumably doing all of those things that He had instructed His disciples to do.  Does this mean that Matthew was unconcerned with the activity of the disciples?  Clearly, that is not the case.  In all of this, we do not forget that Matthew and His audience (like Mark and Luke) are viewing the story of Jesus through Resurrection-colored goggles as a community that recognized and worshiped Jesus as God.  What this serves to communicate, keeping in mind the context that has been created through the way that the story is being told and the covenantal context in which the life of Jesus unfolds and in which His teaching is presented, is that it is God’s activity that is of paramount importance.  Even in Abraham’s case, it was the God of Abraham that was to be recognized through Abraham’s life and actions---not Abraham himself.  It was God that was to be revealed through Israel---they were not to be made into a great nation (as promised to Abraham) simply to be blessed by God and to no greater purpose that simply being a great nation.  Being a blessing and exemplifying divine blessing, as these disciples were being called to do and be, is meaningless if it does not derive glory for the Creator.  Foundationally, it would be God at work, through Abraham.  It would be God at work, in Christ; and it would be God at work, through Christ’s disciples, when they carried out (and continue to carry out) His instructions.  

Calling His Disciples (part 6)

Is the call from Jesus to follow Him, combined with an account of leaving a father behind the extent of the similarities to the call of Abraham?  Of course not.  That would hardly be enough of a basis from which to build a credible argument.  Considering that God’s redemptive plan for His creation begins with Abraham, climaxes with Jesus and is to be continually carried out through His disciples, there must be far more points of contact between the Abrahamic covenant and the call to discipleship.  Fortunately, there are. 

Returning to Mark’s Gospel, we venture to the third chapter, and there find that Jesus “appointed twelve (whom He named apostles), so that they could be with Him and He could send them to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.  He appointed twelve” (3:14-16a).  The duplication of “appointed twelve” could easily be heard as an emphasizing of the re-gathering of the twelve tribes of Israel.  As God ordained Israel to be a light to the nations, so too Jesus has ordained twelve to the same end.  Naturally, any implicit references to God’s covenant with Israel also carries with it an implicit reference to the Abrahamic covenant, as there is no Israel without Abraham, and there would be no Mosaic covenant without the Abrahamic covenant. 

So as we understand the Abrahamic mental triggers that would be pulled by the appointment of twelve, we can make a rather broad analysis based on what Mark says next.  If the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are in mind when Mark writes “so they would be with Him and He could send them,” then this is yet another recapitulation of the charge to Israel, for God had promised Israel that He would dwell among them if they carried out His commandments.  Ultimately, this dwelling among them would be for the purpose of their revealing His glory to all peoples.  Certainly we can see this as Israel both being with their God and being sent by their God.  If that is the case, then we are forced to revert further to that which is foundational to Israel’s relationship with their God, which is the promise to Abraham. 

In Genesis twelve, following the directive to “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you” (12:1b), from which we could infer a being with (I will show you) and a sending out (go out from), we hear “Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing” (12:2).  This could very well serve to round out what Mark intends to convey with his talk of the disciples being with Jesus to be sent by Jesus.  It is not difficult in the least to here create one of those points of contact between the Gospel narrative and the Abrahamic covenant.  The disciples being with Jesus is functionally equivalent to God’s making Abraham into a great nation, blessing him, and making his name great, which clearly leads us to comfortably assert that the sending of the disciples to preach and to have authority to cast out demons is an exemplification of divine blessing. 

Turning again to Matthew, we find the same motif at work, as the tenth chapter commences with a record that “Jesus called His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness” (10:1).  After an interlude in which Matthew takes the time to name the disciples as part of his narrative that will be primarily communicated orally, we can pick up at the fifth verse and find that “Jesus sent out these twelve” (10:5a).  Clearly, conceptions concerning the Abrahamic covenant are again at play, with this mindset having been created by speaking about the leaving of a father (in the fourth chapter), along with the general Abrahamic mindset held by the people as part of their self-definition and self-understanding.  After restricting them, at this point, to the land of Israel, Jesus further instructs them to preach that “The kingdom of heaven is near!” (10:7b)  This actually makes sense of the temporary limitation of the message to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6b), as this message of the kingdom of heaven being near would not be comprehensible to Gentiles.  In a sense then, this is part of the “being with Him” that we saw in Mark. 

Jesus describes the activities that would exemplify divine blessings to be carried out in their sending, by saying “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  Freely you received, freely give” (10:8).  Then, a little bit later, and just in case we were doubting that the story of Abraham is in mind, Jesus is reported to have called to mind the story of Abraham and Lot, doing so in relation to Sodom and Gomorrah.  He effectively describes the story, before making this explicit at the very end, by adding “Whenever you enter a town or village, find out who is worthy there and stay with them until you leave.  As you enter the house, give it greetings.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or town.  I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town” (10:11-14).