Friday, August 22, 2008

Bloodfest: light v dark

"You are the light of the world."
+ + Matthew 5:14a + +

Light has no opposite.

When light and dark are in contrast to each other, dark loses. It's really weird when you think about it. If you go into a dark room, it is dark because the light has been blocked out, maybe with walls, doors, or blinds and curtains. Night is really just the earth blocking the sun. Shadows are merely an object eclipsing a light source.

So what is darkness?  Simply it's the absence of light. 

In thinking about it there are a few things I can think of that follow this pattern. Cold is not the opposite of hot, it is absence of it. Science teaches us that when energy is introduced to an object it's particles move faster thus it heats up. So cold is just a lack of heat. The principle is that there are some things that do not have opposites, instead what we think of as opposite is really just one thing in greater or lesser levels. (FYI: I think this conversation is at some level relevant with good and evil.)

Have you ever played hide and go seek in a dark barnyard or the woods? If you have I'm sure you've sat in a shadow and watched barely breathing as a person walks inches from where you're hiding. They couldn't see you because you were not in the light, they were. I've hid in places at night where during the day, I'd be be easily seen. 

There are some interesting parallels between this and what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount when he says we are the light of the world.

  • first it means that the darkness cannot stand up to the light. 
  • second, it means that darkness is really just an absence of the light. 
  • it also means that the issue with defeating darkness is an issue of shining the light into the darkness.
  • we like it in the darkness because we can hide there.

Monday, August 11, 2008

get behind me satan!

“If anybody wants to follow me and be my disciples,
he must take up his cross and follow me as a
-Matt 16:24

Matthew 16 finds Jesus in a very lonely place. He is in Caesarea Philippi (not Israel). He is only being followed by the twelve (not the huge crowds from earlier). Only his disciples are still interested in what he has to say (everybody else has written him off as a heretic). The Jewish establishment wants him dead (as opposed to liberator from Rome). At every level Jesus has been rejected by Israel.

Yet it is here that he finally proclaims to his disciples that he is indeed the Messiah. Why here? I mean, why not in the synagogues of Galilee? Why not in the Temple, or in the Holy City of Jerusalem? Why Caesarea Philippi? Caesarea Philippi is where pagans worship their gods. This is not the place to be announcing that you’re going to be the Messiah, the chosen one.

Then Jesus goes on to say the he is going go to Jerusalem and be killed. One must wonder if the disciples think he’s completely lost his mind. The Messiah will enter the city and reclaim the glory of Israel, not go to be killed. That’s what happened to failed messiahs. Maybe he’s just a little depressed because he’s been rejected by everybody.

Perhaps that’s what Peter was thinking when he pulled Jesus aside. Perhaps his rebuke was something like, “Come on Jesus! Stop walking around like you’re defeated. You’ve got to believe in yourself!” Maybe he thought he would infuse his rabbi with energy and new found hope.

Jesus responds by calling Peter “satan.” Now in the original language the word “satan” is written in a way to suggest that this is not a proper name. Maybe instead of meaning Satan: the devil, Jesus is calling Peter satan: advisory or tempter. Implying that Peter’s position is against what Jesus is talking about. Also, Jesus’ phraseology suggests this as he tells Peter to “get behind me” the same word in the original language he uses in the next paragraph when he says, “follow me.”

What are we to make of this?

It is at this point that the disciples who have been very well behaved. They have followed Jesus and have not questioned his teaching or his plans, suddenly are shown for what they really are: completely confused. Everything Jesus has been teaching them has gone in one ear and right out the other.

The rest of the book of Matthew, the disciples time and time again misunderstand and “misremember” everything that Jesus says and has said. Sadly, this goes on right up to and through the death of their rabbi. What’s even worse is that even today, many of the followers of Jesus do not understand what Jesus is saying.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Blessed are the mourners

Blessed are those who mourn? What does that mean? Does God delight when we’re mourning? Well according to Jesus words it does, but maybe not like we’re accustomed to thinking. Maybe this means that God wants us to mourn those things that are worthy of mourning. For instance: death.

I remember vividly the day that Sadaam Hussein was executed. I remember it for two reasons: I remember the gruesome video and I remember Stephanie made me run like 5 miles – both were traumatic enough for me to remember. We were at my parents house in Michigan and the morning news channels had the video coverage with the video on loop. It was an hour later when we were running that it occurred to me, nobody was really sad that a man (regardless of how evil he was) was dead.

As I realized that Sadaam was a human being, I realized that his death was tragic. If he is a human, that means he was created in God’s image. It means that he is a son of Adam, which means that he is my brother. His death suddenly became personal to me. No longer was this the execution of an evil dictator on the opposite side of the world, something changed.

As I was running, I began to mourn the fact that this evil man was dead. Even though he was evil, even though he did many evil things, even though he deserved to die it was still a very sad thing for him to die Maybe this is what Jesus is talking about when he says blessed are those who mourn, because they understand the brokenness that is in the world.

There is a quote out there (and I do not know who to credit this to) that says, “Killing for peace is like raping for virginity.” Now this is pretty gruesome, but it makes the point peace cannot be brought on by war. Those who mourn realize that as humans we are utterly confused about what makes the world a better place. We in our attempt to find justice are only doing more injustice.

Blessed are those who are able to see injustice and mourn. Blessed are those who, in turn do not create more injustice, because when they have eyes to see and ears to hear they then will be able to begin to move away from living that way.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

On a donkey

They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.
~Matthew 21~

Jesus is very purposeful with his ministry. He says and does things that to the 21st century American do not seem to make much sense. But from a 1st century cultural viewpoint he is purposefully making a very loud statement. So what is this statement?

Matthew earlier in the chapter says that Jesus’ riding the donkey was to fulfill a prophesy in Zechariah 9. What is this chapter discussing? Chapter 9 begins by talking about how all the people groups that surround Israel will be destroyed. In verse nine the chapter takes a new twist as it begins to talk about Israel’s king. Here is how he is described:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

So Jesus rides into Jerusalem capturing this motif of the King of Israel bringing peace and the end of all war. He is greeted with shouts of “Hosanna” and with waving palm branches. Waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna means absolutely nothing to somebody in the 21st century, but in 1st century Palestine it had a huge message. Let’s break this down.

Palm Branches were the symbol of Jewish nationalism. In the book of Leviticus the people were commanded to wave palm branches during the Feast of Sukkot. This feast, also called the Feast of Tabernacles, was the yearly celebration of God bringing the people out of Egypt. The people lived in temporary shelters to remember that once their ancestors lived in tents as they were in the desert.

This festival took on a new meaning when the Greeks who had been forcing the Jews to take on pagan practices were overthrown. Thus freedom became forever linked with a violent overthrow of the oppressor. The Feast of Sukkot was reinstated and as a result the palm branch became the symbol of the Jewish people.

Hosanna means literally “save!” a phrase uttered during the Feast of Sukkot when the people cried out for the messiah to come save Israel from her oppressors. Any cry for a Messiah to come save the people was politically loaded. The messiah was prophesied to come and free the people from their captors. Once again, the violent overthrow of the oppressors had become linked to the concept of messiah.

So as Jesus is riding into the city proclaiming that he is coming as a King to bring peace, the crowds expect him to come as a conquering king. It only makes sense that when they realize that he did not come to lead the revolution that they would turn on him. Their misunderstanding of messiah led them to demand that Jesus be killed and ask for the release of an insurgent named Barabbas.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Son of David

I would like to start a series that will work through the book of Matthew. This may be my favorite book of the Bible right now. My New Years Resolution for the past couple of years has been to memorize the book, so I am trying this year to start by mapping the book out. While doing that I decided to write out a series of almost verse by verse pieces working their way through the book. So, without any further comments…Matthew.

Matthew 1:1 - A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David

So the evangelist starts out the story of Jesus’ life by calling him the son of David. So often we gloss over this statement by thinking only of the prophetic and messianic aspects of what it would mean to be the son of David. In the text who is the literal son of David? The answer of course is Solomon.

Now Solomon was the third and the last king to rule the combined 12 tribes of Israel. He assumed leadership over the nation after his father crowned him in Jerusalem. David was known as the warrior, Solomon was known for being a peaceful man. In the early years of his reign, he begins to build the temple of the Lord. In I Kings chapter 10, the queen of Sheba comes and is given a tour of Jerusalem, and her reaction is telling. She is amazed with everything she sees, to the point of prophesying that all of his splendor and majesty has been given to him so that he my promote justice and righteousness.

Solomon, at the height of his rule, is described as the defender of justice and righteousness. Sadly, this is not the entire story. The two chapters that bookend this story give a damning picture of Solomon. In chapter 9 we see Solomon building up the city of Jerusalem using slaves, and in Chapter 11 he marries foreign women, worships other gods and becomes an arms dealer.

At the start of the story, the children of Israel find themselves in slavery to Egypt. Because of their suffering under the heavy hand of their slave masters they cry out to God and he brings them up out of slavery. So when Solomon begins to enslave his own people to build the temple, he seemingly is forgetting the story of his people. The people who were once slaves are now using slaves to build their empire.

It is Solomon who builds the temple of the Lord-a beautiful elaborate literally gold plated building for the people to worship God at. It is also this man who begins to build temples to other gods. Thus at the highest point of the Hebrew kingdom, we are seeing their king compromise. The people of God fail to be the people of God.

The author also seems fit to describe Solomon’s other activities. He begins to accumulate weapons and horses. He becomes an arms dealer of sorts gaining much wealth as a result. The author describes Solomon’s tribute that is brought in every year: 666 talents worth of tribute money. It is the final touch in painting a picture of how far from the trajectory laid before him, Solomon had moved.

Maybe one way of understanding this book is to say that Matthew starts out his Gospel contrasting Jesus against Solomon. Once again Israel is at a high point. Jesus like Solomon before him has a chance to show the world what the promise of the nation of Israel is. How will this story end? That’s what the rest of the book is about.