Friday, 29 April 2016

Chrysalis Bible Study Notes; 29.04.2016 Luke 7:18-50

There are two parts here

1              Jesus and John the Baptizer
2              Jesus and the Prostitute

John has been arrested by Herod Antipas and is being held at the Machaerus Fortress.  His crime is that he had gone a bit too far in voicing direct criticism of Herod.  If we think this is unlikely, consider for a moment the recent case of the Dutch journalist who was arrested in Turkey for criticising the Turkish President.   A background to why John was arrested is that if he had moved South he would have been working close to the border of a kingdom called Nabatea.  Nabatea is famous for two things, it is where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed, and the daughter of King Aretas IV married Herod, giving Herod good strategy.  Then Herod went to Rome and fell in love with one of his relations, Herodias.  The focus of John’s criticism of Herod was his relationship with Herodias.  Herodias insisted that Herod divorce his wife, who finding out about the plan ran back to her Father, who not surprisingly swore vengeance on Herod.  Bad Strategy.

So you can see if John was causing trouble near the Nabatean border, it could cause Herod serious trouble, so he acted as all good dictators do, he removed the problem. 

John is therefore in prison, and hears about Jesus activities, especially Jesus’ apparent lack of interest in the purity laws, a disagreement alluded to in John 3:26.   Now from the Machareus, John sends a message to Jesus, “Are you the one”.  I see this as another of those examples of it’s so bad it has to be true.  Why would any self respecting hero worshipper sow doubts about the hero of the story.  It is a bit like Peter’s denial.  John the Baptizer, it seems even has his doubts.

Jesus is not angry with John but answers with evidence of his activities and uses Isaiah revisiting his scripture reading he gave at Nazareth.  He challenges John to say firm in v23, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me”, an echo from the Sermon on the Mount.
He then tells the people present about John, describing him as a prophet and the greatest Israel has seen.  This is a huge compliment, and then adds that the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John.  Is that a slap in the face?  Commentaries offer differing views.  Most tend to suggest that over reliance on John will cause you to miss Jesus. 

Is Jesus equating himself with the least in the Kingdom of Heaven, Paul in Phillipians 2:6-8 says, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. “

Is this a further example of the economics of Grace and what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, don’t forget, it is not some otherworldly place, it is very real, it is about relationship with God in the here and now as much as in the future, it is about a return to Eden.  In the new age, power and status are being shown as meaningless, set against God.  We are all equal, we are all sinners and in need of God’s love and forgiveness.

And so we move on to part 2: 

Jesus and the Prostitute:

Jesus is still in Nain, that place about 22 miles from Jerusalem, and I am guessing his reputation was enhanced by showing his credentials when he arrived, you’ll remember he raised a widow’s son from death or imminent death.  Jesus is subsequently invited to the home of one of the local Pharisees, a man called Simon.  They have dinner, reclining  around a table head towards the table, feet away, when a women of ill repute wanders in.  It is not like this is in someone’s dining room, they were eating outside although within the perimeters of Simon’s house, and he wasn’t so rich or powerful to have security like Caiaphas.  The woman is called a sinner by Luke, but is most likely to be a prostitute.  At least Simon seems to know who or what she is, and he does live in Nain.  The story of this event mirrors in many ways a similar event set in Bethany during Holy Week, but the point here is radically different.  The common understanding is that this story in Luke is about love and forgiveness, interestingly the same as the previous point Jesus was making, about the Kingdom of God.

The more we are forgiven the more we can love; the more we love, and are loved, the more we can forgive.  It is also of story of hypocrisy, of image set against a totally different type of world values that Jesus is living out.  Jesus is not ashamed of behaviour that would be deemed outrageous in 1st Century Middle Eastern society.  Women’s hair was considered to be sexually provocative, in the way that cleavage is today.  Having your hair uncovered would be like wearing a skimpy bikini to work or to go shopping. 

We have already discussed how lowly women were viewed in the Roman Empire of the 1st Century, prostitutes were even lower down the scale.  They were the lowest of the low.  They were women for a start, they were slaves, they were unclean, because they mixed with gentiles.  So another interesting feature of this is that the woman would have made the home unclean, and certainly Jesus as she didn’t stop kissing his feet.  Jesus of course doesn’t bat an eyelid.

In the end, that is what this is about.  Jesus’ Kingdom is open to everyone, not just those who look the part, and you know perhaps they need to deal with that plank in their own eyes .  Again we have a practical demonstration of the Sermon teachings from Chapter 6 with Jesus’ host appearing snobbish and drawing a stinging rebuke in return.

Before we are too hard on Simon though, imagine you are having an open air BBQ with some local celebrity, when someone very odd turns up totally inappropriately dressed and behaving oddly to say the least, how would you react?  So like Simon, we too need to look for areas in us that need forgiveness.

1st Century Society was highly male favoured, and it looked down on women.  Anyone considered unclean was effectively excluded from temple worship and therefore communal life.  Jesus is challenging the boundaries with gusto.  John took the temple regulations and stretched them by applying sacraments outside the temple confines.  Jesus is rewriting them in a whole new way entirely.

Everyone is welcome to the Kingdom and we are all equal.  Equal in our beauty and equal in our brokenness and need for grace, love and forgiveness.

© Colin Waldock

Friday, 22 April 2016

Chrysalis Bible Study notes Friday 22.04.2016 Luke 7:1-17

7:1-10  The Centurion and his slave

The first part of today’s reading introduces us to a Centurion.  The venue, we are back in Capernaum, a place where Jesus made his home.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus and the centurion meet physically, whereas in Luke’s version the local Jewish leaders act as intermediaries.  Are these the same Jewish leaders who were opposing Jesus in Luke 5:17, if so it gives the story a potentially interesting slant. 

The story is about a gentile (a non Jew) accessing Jesus, and is placed here for the gentile church.  Those who never have met Jesus, can still approach him with faith and be confident.

It is possible that the centurion was someone serving with the forces of Herod Antipas; we know that some of the household were followers of Jesus, particularly Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager.  Could there be a link here perhaps.  It shows the wide appeal of Jesus as he himself does not seem to have any positive sense of Herod, and remains cautious of him, refusing to speak to him during the trial sequence when Pilate sends him to Herod.

The centurion was possibly a “God-fearer”, a term applied to a gentile who had embraced some of the Jewish way, but being uncircumcised was still considered external to the covenant, and therefore alien.  We are told that his slave was close to death.  We don’t know what was wrong but he was evidently seriously ill.  It appears that the Centurion was honourable, it could be that the slave was Jewish as they had better standards of slavehood than the majority of slaves, the majority of whom were slavs, hence the term “slave”. 

It appears that the Centurion was a major donor to the town, which in the leader’s eyes makes him worthy of Jesus’ attention.

Luke highlights the honour and sense of humility of the Centurion when he sends a legation to say,” I am not worthy to have you come under my roof”.  It suggests he knows about Jesus by reputation. He states that he can have no claim on Jesus, (he is a Gentile after all, and a member of the occupying forces) but states that he knows and recognises Jesus’ authority.  He understands what Jesus is about at least in power if not in who Jesus was.

Jesus marvelled at him.  Luke has Jesus being marvelled only twice, the other time was at Nazareth when he marvelled at the lack of faith.  Here in contrast, the centurion is said to have a faith that is greater than even found in Israel.  Matthew is a slight odds with Luke in that he gives a more negative impression of the faith of those in Israel, but Luke suggests that there are those with faith in Israel, but Jesus is surprised that this man’s faith in him is greater than most.  Is this again an example of Luke focussing on the outsider?
Jesus doesn’t even say a word of healing.  Who is this Jesus that he can heal without even seeing or speaking?
Where is Jesus’ message going when miracles are blatantly shared even with the enemy?  Remember the sermon on the mount, Love your enemies.

7:11-17  The widow of Nain

Nain is about 22 miles from Capernaum.  A day’s walk.  A mother’s son has died, her only son.  This leaves her in a precarious position.  She would have been left powerless, possibly homeless and at the mercy of others. 

People prepared bodies for burial when the ill person was close to death.  From a 21st Century perspective, it begs the question; was the son dead or just at death’s door and unconscious.  Similar stories are found in the OT in 1 Kings 17:17-24 New International Version (NIV)

“17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

And in Acts 9:36-42 with Peter’s rising of Tabitha;
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.”

It could be placed here deliberately to highlight Jesus forthcoming discussion about John and his defence of his ministry to calm John’s doubts.  Why was John doubting Jesus?  He was imprisoned, Jesus could save him but wasn’t even trying to.  He was preaching love of enemies and practising it too.  Did this sound like cleansing with fire and a winnowing fork at hand? 

What we do see is the Luke calls Jesus LORD here, and shows that Jesus has authority over death itself.  Jesus touched the bier, thus making himself unclean; we have seen Jesus’ attitudes to Sabbath laws and cleanliness laws.  It is normal behaviour for Jesus for whom human need outweighed ritual law.

This is not a magic show.  There is no ceremony, no prayer, Jesus just tells the young man to get up.

The reaction of the crowd, who would have included professional mourners, is described as one of awe.  We need to see this in terms of fear.  They glorified God not Jesus.  At this time, Jesus is seen as a great prophet through whom God is working great deeds.  Jesus’ fame further increased within Judea and elsewhere.  He is becoming a celebrity, but there is no awareness that he is God incarnate.  He is seen as a great Prophet in the line of Elijah.

Why do you think that is?

What does this bible study mean for us?

What does faith mean to you?

What effect Jesus’ authority have on you?  How does it make you feel?

Who do you think Jesus is?

Luke                                     L Morris
Oxford Bible Commentary     Barton & Muddiman
Simply Jesus                         T Wright

NRSV Bible

Friday, 15 April 2016

Luke Chapter 6

This is a fairly long piece for today’s bible study, but having given it some considerable thought I didn’t really want to break up the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sabbath

Chapter 6 starts with Jesus attitudes to the Sabbath.  His disciples are seen walking through a field helping themselves to corn.  It is not the theft that we see which is a problem rather for the Pharisees, it is that they are breaking Sabbath rules: 
They are reaping – plucking the ears
They are threshing – rubbing in their hands
Winnowing – throwing the husk away
Preparation – an implied necessary task before eating.

Jesus has a problem not with the Sabbath, but with the way the Sabbath has been developed and organised.  Essentially it favours those with means.  The poor would be unable to stockpile enough food in order to avoid preparing food for a whole day.  They would suffer hunger or be unable to keep the Sabbath rules leaving them at risk of being considered ritually unclean and therefore excluded from worship – which meant excluded from meeting with people.

He then elects to heal a man in a synagogue.  It could have waited until the following day.  Jesus could have met this man in private.  However it seems that Jesus is determined to make a point.  For Jesus, doing nothing about a problem is not an option.  Doing nothing is seen as essentially the same as doing harm.

He chooses the Twelve

First thing to say is the list of the twelve apostles seem to vary in the synoptic Gospels.  Houston, do we have a problem?  It seems that Thaddeus may be Judas, the son of James.  Luke quotes Judas again in Acts so at least he is being constant.  Perhaps Matthew and Mark are unwilling to use the name Judas more than they have to, who knows.  The main point is that  this is the only piece of administration that Jesus performs, and the relevance of the twelve is that they represent the 12 tribes of Israel.  It is a symbol.  Another piece of theatre so that the people he meets will understand what is happening.  Luke has Jesus echoing Moses in going up to the mountain to pray and then coming down with the new leadership.  A new Israel.  He then addresses his disciples, followers both male and female.  He heals those with diseases; although the word used for diseases is “Mastis”, a greek word which also means scourging.    Luke uses “Mastis” in 18:33 to describe Jesus’ scourging at the hands of the soldiers.  Mark uses “Nosos” for diseases in an extremely similar scene to 6:17 in Mark 1:34.  What if Jesus was healing those scourged by the Herodian Authorities?  It may explain why Mark has the Pharisees seeking an alliance with the Herodians after the Sabbath healing.

The Sermon on the mount

Let’s be straight about this.  It wasn’t a sermon, forget King of Kings, Jesus of Nazareth or the rest of the movies.  Forget the Life of Brian.

It was a discussion with his followers (male and female).

Jesus would have been sat down, he is setting out his Kingdom Manifesto.  Think of a party political broadcast, just more interesting, and more honest!

This is Jesus setting out his Kingdom.  It is the upside down economy of Grace. Happiness is not dependant on status, or riches.  It is dependant on being in a real, lifelong relationship with God.  Dependant on God and not on our own self sufficiency – because we can never be fully self sufficient. The idea that we can is just a fallacy.

Those looked down on by Society, when the Kingdom of heaven comes, their lot will improve because righteousness and justice will prevail.  Remember the words of Luke 1:46 The Magnificat:  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

Those who have kept riches to themselves, those who have obtained power by manipulation (think of off shore tax accounting) will feel threatened and at risk.  All of which leads to v 22;  being a follower of Jesus is to invite opposition and the threat of violence.  The current kingdom will not move over without a fight.

How are we to fight?

Love our enemies
Pray for those who abuse us
The word for cheek in greek is “siagon” which actually means Jaw.  Jesus is speaking of a punch to the jaw, not a slap to the face.  It is about not seeking revenge.  It is love and mercy that Jesus is seeking.
It is love and mercy that is at the heart of the Kingdom of God.

Grace is the economics of the Kingdom of God, where we offer undeserved forgiveness.  It’s costly but God promises a repayment in full, in fact in overflowing abundance.  This is NOT the Gospel of prosperity.  The overflowing abundance is about the presence of God, the Holy Spirit transforming us into an image of God; the person we were really meant to be.

We need to open our eyes and see before we lead others, otherwise we will be like the blind leading the blind.

Before judging someone else, we should examine ourselves.  Are we as squeaky clean as we like to think we are.  Those in relationship with God will produce fruit of God.  If someone is not in relationship with God, then how can they produce fruit of God.

People who are not Christian are not bad, but what are they missing?

Finally, it is not good enough to pay lip service, just prattle off the bible without application.  As disciples we are called to live out the way of the Kingdom.  We need in essence to walk the walk and not talk the talk.

Luke                                     L Morris
The Wrong Messiah             N Page
Oxford Bible Commentary     Barton & Muddiman
Simply Jesus                         T Wright
NRSV Bible

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

A creed in 5 minutes

Two days ago I attended a study day for the worship and local  preachers course:  As a mentor I wanted to keep myself up to date on what our students are having to learn, and I found it very interesting.  One of the tasks we were asked to accomplish was to write a creed in about 5 minutes.  It’s a tall order but the one I created I thought I would share:

I believe in God
I believe that Jesus is God incarnate
I believe that the Holy Spirit is God in word and breath
I believe in the birth, life and death of Jesus
I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead by God
I believe that the Holy Spirit was released globally at Pentecost
I believe that the Church’s role is to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven
I believe that creation will be healed in the fullness of time