Archive for April, 2011

Reading the Gospels: Mark, Chapters 5-8

Friday, April 29th, 2011 by JEL

Chapter 5 of Mark begins with Jesus and crew arriving in Gadarenes, on the other side of the sea. Right away, a man who lived in the tombs came out and met them. This man was possessed, and chains could no longer bind him. Day and night he howled from the tombs and cut himself with stones.

Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man, and asks him his name. He replies:

“My name is legion, for we are many.”

The demons then beg to be sent into a large herd of pigs grazing on the mountainside. Jesus complies, the demons enter into the pigs, and then the whole lot (about 2,000) plunge down a steep bank into the sea and drown. The man is so grateful, he asks to join the entourage. Jesus says no:

“Go to your house, to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.”

In some cases, Jesus tells people to keep His amazing feats to themselves, and in others asks that people spread the word. Why do you think he gives conflicting commands?

Anyway, the formerly possessed man does as he is told, and when Jesus crosses back over the sea,  a huge crowd is waiting for Him. One of the crowd is Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, has a daughter near death and begs Jesus to heal her. Jesus goes with the man and a throng follows. In the throng is a woman “who had an issue of blood for 12 years.” She touches His clothes thinking it will make her well. It does. Jesus, sensing some of his power had left him turns:

“Who touched my clothes?”

The disciples, feeling the mass of humanity pressing upon them, are incredulous at the question, but the woman, trembling, comes and falls down before Jesus and tells Him the truth. He tells her that her faith has made her well and to go in peace.

Some people come from the synagogue and tell Jairus that his daughter is dead. Jesus tells the stricken father:

“Don’t be afraid, only believe.”

He comes to the house where the girl lays, throws everybody out, except Jairus, his wife and a handful of disciples, and takes the girl by the hand. He commands:

“Talitha cumi!” [Girl, I tell you, get up!]

The 12-year-old girl immediately gets up and walks. Jesus orders everyone to keep quiet about what they have just seen.

Chapter 6

Jesus comes into his own country, and begins teaching in the synagogue. People who know Him are astonished, wondering where he got all this knowledge. They’re offended, thinking Jesus got a little too big for His britches. Jesus answers:

“A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house.”

He does a little healing and marvels at the unbelief of those around Him. He calls the disciples, gives them authority to drive out unclean spirits, and sends them out two by two. He tells them to bring only a staff, no bread, no wallet, no money.

The disciples do as they are told, cast out many demons and heal the sick. King Herod hears about it and thinks it is John the Baptist, risen from the dead. We hear the backstory of how John was beheaded (the daughter of Herodias dances well at a birthday celebration and Herod tells her he will give her whatever she wants. She asks her mother what she should wish for and the mother answers “the head of John the Baptizer.”)

Jesus and the disciples then depart to a deserted place. Many people follow and Jesus feels compassion for them as they are sheep without a shepherd. So He teaches them. Late in the day, everyone is hungry. Jesus feeds 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish…with 12 baskets of left-overs.

After dinner, He sends the disciples into the boat to go to the other side, while He heads up into the mountains to pray. In the middle of the night, He sees them rowing with great difficulty into the wind, so He walks out to them on the sea. The disciples, of course, think it’s a ghost, but He calms them down, gets into the boat, and the wind immediately ceases.

Chapter 7

The Pharisees and some scribes see the disciples eating bread with unwashed hands (the tradition of the elders was that all Pharisees and Jews must wash their hands and forearms before eating). Jesus answers their incredulity with:

“…you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things…Hear me, all of you, and understand. There is nothing from outside of the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man.”

Jesus then leaves and heads into the borders of Tyre and Sidon. He wants to go undiscovered, but a woman recognizes Him and begs Him to purge the unclean spirit from her little daughter. He does.

He next goes to the sea of Galilee where a deaf and dumb man is brought to Him. Jesus and the man separate from the crowd. Jesus puts His fingers in the man’s ears and touches his tongue and commands both to be opened. Instantly the man can hear and speak. Jesus warns the crowd not to speak of what they have seen.

Chapter 8

Jesus preaches to a huge crowd for three days and He wants to feed them. With seven loaves and a few small fish, He feeds 4,000 people.

After restoring the sight of a blind man, He asks the disciples:

“Who do men say that I am?”

They say that some think He is John the Baptizer and others say Elijah. Jesus asks them who they think He is. Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” Jesus tells them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, be killed, and then rise three days later. Peter gets mad and rebukes Jesus, who says to him:

“Get behind me, Satan! For you have in mind not the things of God, but the things of men.”

He then tells all the disciples:

“Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the sake of the Good News will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?

Next week: Mark, Chapters 9-12

Someone Who Needs to Read the Gospels

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by JEL

Oh, the irony. If you’ve been reading the Gospels along with us, you’ve seen countless accounts of Jesus healing those with demons, and leprosy, and paralysis, and withered hands, and the list goes on and on. Once you understand Jesus’ compassion for the sick and disabled, this story become all the more bewildering.

A Catholic church in Texas turned away an 8-year-old boy from his First Communion because the boy has cerebral palsy.

“When the Rev. Phil Henning of Sacred Heart Catholic Church denied Kevin his first reception of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, Henning said the boy had ‘the mental capacity of a 6-month old’ and didn’t have ‘sufficient knowledge of Christ’ to participate in the religious rite, even though Catholic doctrine doesn’t specify what level of knowledge is adequate.”

The boy, Kevin Castro, apparently had been preparing for months for the event, but instead was offered a ritual for the sick.

Easter Around the World

Monday, April 25th, 2011 by JEL

I, for one, tend to get a little too US-centric at times. Heck, I often get too town-centric when I don’t leave my own town for a week or two at a stretch. But it’s a big world out there, people. Different cultures, different environments, but filled with commonalities: people who want to raise their families in peace, strive for some kind of personal expression, and unite in active, happy communities.

In this light, I thought it would be helpful to see how others around the world celebrated Easter yesterday. You’ll note that neither the Easter Bunny nor any marshmallow chicks make an appearance.

Reading the Gospels: Mark, Chapters 1-4

Friday, April 22nd, 2011 by JEL

Boy, Mark gets right down to business. There’s no long list of who begat whom, and no story of the birth of Jesus. He starts his Gospel with John out baptizing in the wilderness. Good ol’ John, wearing camel’s hair with a belt around his middle and eating locusts and wild honey. He preached:

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen. I baptized you in water, but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus comes from Nazareth and gets baptized by John. As soon as Jesus comes up from the water, the heavens part and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. A voice says:

“You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The spirit then drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. Satan tempts Him, He lives with wild animals, and angels are there serving Him. After John is seized, Jesus begins preaching and collecting followers. He casts demons out of people, and heals others. The word gets out, crowds start to form, and Jesus heals many, many others.

Early one morning, seeking peace, Jesus goes out by himself in the desert to pray. Simon tracks him down and says, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus replies:

“Let’s go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason.”

So they move on and preach and heal more people, including a leper. Jesus tells the former leper to keep quiet, but the man does just the opposite and soon Jesus can no longer go into cities. He stays out in the desert and the crowds come to Him.

Chapter 2

Jesus goes into Capenaum for more preaching and forgiving of sins. Some scribes whisper among themselves that it is blasphemy, but Jesus tells them that the “Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” The scribes and Pharisees then see Jesus hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. They want to know why. Jesus answers:

“Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Then the Pharisees want to know why His disciples don’t fast, while others, like the disciples of John, do fast.

“Can the groomsmen fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they can’t fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then will they fast in that day.”

The Pharisees then complain about the disciples plucking ears of grain on the Sabbath. He sets them straight with:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Chapter 3

Jesus enters the synagogue and meets a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees watch carefully to see if Jesus will heal on the Sabbath. He asks them:

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or to do harm? To save a life, or to kill?

The Pharisees are silent, but Jesus gets angry at the “hardening of their hearts,” so He heals the man. The Pharisees immediately huddle up with the Herodians to figure out how they might destroy Jesus.

Jesus then heads to the sea, followed by a huge throng. You can get the sense he’s a little freaked out by the people pressing down upon Him as he tells his disciples to keep a little boat nearby just in case. He then heads up into the mountains and appoints 12 as disciples so that he may send them out to preach and to cast out demons and heal sickness. The scribes think He’s insane and say, “He has Beelzebul” to which Jesus replies:

“How can Satan cast out Satan?”

As in Matthew, Jesus’ mother and brother come, wishing to see Him.

“Who are my mother and brothers? [He looks at those sitting around him] Behold! my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.”

Chapter 4

In this chapter, Jesus preaches through the parable of sowing seed. Some seed falls by the road and the birds snatch it up. Others fall in thin, rocky soil and sprout quickly, but wither with the sun because they have no root. Other seed falls in among thorns and get choked. Finally, others fall into good ground and yield amazing amounts of fruit.

The disciples need help deciphering the parable so Jesus explains. The birds are Satan. The ones in rocky soil are those people who have no root in themselves and give up at the first sign of oppression or persecution. The ones in the thorns are those people consumed by material wants and the “deceitfulness of riches.” The seed that falls in good ground represents those who “hear the word, and accept it.”

Jesus preached only in parables to the crowd, but in private explained them to His disciples. He then decides to head to the other side and everyone jumps into boats. In the middle of the night, a huge storm kicks up and fills the boat with water. They wake up Jesus who is asleep on a cushion, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” Jesus rebukes the sea, the wind stops, and He turns to his disciples:

“Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?”

Next Week: Mark, Chapters 5-8

Happy Birthday, KJV!

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 by JEL

This year, the King James Version of the Bible turns 400 years old. It was commissioned by King James I in 1604 and seven years later, the work of 47 scholars and theologians was published. The new Bible was meant to establish the monarchy of James, who as a Scot, was viewed as a “foreigner” in England. He also wanted to form a bridge uniting the two Bible factions of the day: the “clunky” Bishops’ Bible that was used in churches and the Geneva Bible popular among the people. His motives were entirely self-serving. The Geneva Bible contained margin notes that were less than kind to the likes of kings, and James wanted them removed.

NPR did a fascinating story on the topic. Take a break and enjoy:

Calendar Confusion?

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by JEL

As we read through the Gospels together, we’ll find instances where the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John don’t agree. One such instance is when the Last Supper occurred. Matthew, Mark, and Luke say it occurred at the start of Passover. John, however, states that it happened before Passover. This is actually significant as the holiday of Passover was/is a very big deal.

Professor Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge thinks that the discrepancy was caused by two different calendars. Humphreys believes that Jesus was using an old Jewish calendar (and thus Matthew, Mark, and Luke), while John was using the new (at the time) lunar calendar.

“This would put the Passover meal — and the Last Supper — on the Wednesday, explaining how such a large number of events took place between the meal and the crucifixion. It would follow that Jesus’ arrest, interrogation and separate trials did not all take place in the space of one night but in fact occurred over a longer period. Humphreys believes a date could therefore be ascribed to Easter in our modern solar calendar, and working on the basis that the crucifixion took place on April 3, Easter Day would be on April 5.”

Giving Up Religion for Lent

Friday, April 15th, 2011 by JEL

What are you giving up for Lent this year? Chocolate? Swearing? Eating veal? How about your religion? The folks at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA are suggesting you do just that. They’re hosting a two-day conference called “Belief Beyond Religion: Giving Up Religion for Lent” which hopes to “bring together people from across faith boundaries and encourage dialogue, particularly among the three primary world beliefs of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”

Resist the urge to take their message too literally. Rev. Abel Lopez, senior associate clergy at All Saints, clarifies:

“What we mean by the conference title is giving up bad religion, and that means religion that’s complicit with violence, that throughout centuries has been used to promote war, like an empire religion. We’re trying to be critical of ourselves and responsibility. We want to show what good religion looks like … With this event, we want to find healthy, forgiving, life-affirming ways of being a religious person in the 21st century. What we’re suggesting is to give up bad religion.”

Crucifixion Nails

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by JEL

Shame on TIME Magazine for this headline which is refuted in the second sentence of the article. And you wonder why people hate the media?

Anyway, two nails were found which might be crucifixion nails and might have been in the bone box of a tomb which might have been Caiaphas’s, “the jurist who paved the way for the crucifixion.” Enough question marks in this one to walk the other way quickly. The tomb was originally found in 1990, but incredibly:

“Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) listed everything found in the cave, including two Roman nails. But unlike everything else in the grave, the nails were otherwise unaccounted for. They were not measured, sketched or photographed, and nowhere to be found in the IAA’s vast collection.”

And now they turn up in the hands of an Israeli TV journalist.

(Much) Better Than the Couch

Monday, April 11th, 2011 by JEL

This past Saturday night, after a long day of chores and dragging kids to and from birthday parties and soccer games, when all I wanted to do was watch the Masters and collapse on the couch, I instead grumblingly followed the lead of my wife who had secured tickets to entertainment for the evening. It beat the couch. By a long shot.

We had the distinct pleasure of watching/absorbing Regie O’Hare Gibson perform his poetry. He’s a past National Poetry Slam champion, so you knew he was going to have some chops. But the man’s chops are so very serious. His poems were incredibly well written and beautifully performed, but also devilishly clever. When his message could have been delivered with justifiable anger, it always found its way via the wide-eyed wonder of sheer positivity.

If you have the chance to see him in your area, jump at the chance. In the meantime, view a sample below:

Reading the Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 25-28

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by JEL

This is the last post for the Gospel of Matthew. Last Friday, we left Jesus at the end of Chapter 24 in the middle of a speech. Chapter 25 picks up right where we left off and He continues His description to the disciples of the sign of His coming and the “end of the age.”

Chapter 26

When Jesus wraps up the speech, he turns to his disciples and says,

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

The elders and chief priests are plotting how to take and kill Jesus, but decide to wait until after the feast to prevent a riot. Jesus goes to the house of Simon in Bethany where a woman pours very expensive oil on his head. The disciples are angry at the waste, but Jesus tells them to calm down, that the woman has “done a good work for me…shed did it to prepare me for burial.”

Judas Iscariot then goes to the chief priests and says,

“What are you willing to give me, that I should deliver him to you?”

The chief priests give him 30 pieces of silver. From the moment the silver hits his hands, Judas is looking for the right opportunity to betray Him.

The 12 disciples and Jesus then go to a house to eat the Passover. As they are eating in the evening, Jesus drops the bombshell:

“Most certainly I tell you that one of you will betray me.”

All the disciples are sorrowful and ask in turn, “it isn’t me, is it, Lord?” Even Judas asks, “it isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?” And Jesus replies “You said it.” You’ll note that the other 11 disciples address Jesus as “Lord,” and Judas addresses Him as “Rabbi.”

As they’re eating, Jesus gives his disciples bread and says,

“Take, eat; this is my body.”

And then passes the cup and says,

“All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.”

They sing a hymn and the head out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus tells them that they will stumble because of Him and that after He is raised up, he will go before them into Galilee. Peter states that he will never stumble and Jesus answers:

“Most certainly I tell you that tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Jesus then goes to Gethsemane and is troubled. He asks Peter and others to watch over Him as He prays:

“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here, and watch with me.”

As Jesus prays, he sees the disciple-lookouts asleep. He goes, prays, and returns three times and each time the disciples are sleeping. Finally he says:

“Sleep on now, and take your rest. Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let’s be going. Behold, he who betrays me is at hand.”

Judas appears with a huge crowd holding swords and clubs. He tells them “Whoever I kiss, he is the one. Seize him.” He then goes up to Jesus with a “Hail, Rabbi!” and kisses him. The crowd comes and takes Jesus. One of those with Jesus pulls out a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus tells him to put the sword away. The disciples then all take off.

Jesus is then taken away to Calaphas, the high priest. The scribes and elders are all gathered together. Peter follows at a distance and then sits to watch. The priests seek false testimony against Jesus. False witnesses come and go. Finally one says, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.’” The priests ask Jesus to reply, but He holds His peace. They ask him whether He is Christ, the Son of God. Jesus answers:

“You have said it. Nevertheless, I tell you, after this you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of the sky.”

The high priest goes nuts, tears his clothing and cries “blasphemy.” The others believe this blasphemy is “worthy of death.” Then they spit in Jesus’ face, and beat Him with their fists. Outside, Peter is hearing and watching. Three times, people come up to him and ask him if he was with Jesus, and three times Peter says,

“I don’t know the man!”

The rooster crows. And Peter weeps bitterly.

Chapter 27

In the morning, the chief priests decide to put Jesus to death. They bind him and take him to Pontius Pilate, the governor. Judas feels remorse and returns the 30 pieces of silver, departs, and hangs himself. The priests take the silver and buy the potter’s field to bury strangers in. That field is known for evermore as “The Field of Blood.”

The governor asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews. Jesus answers,

“So you say.”

When the priests and elders accuse him, He says nothing. Pilate marvels. It is a custom during the feast for a governor to release one prisoner to the multitude. The choice is between Jesus and Barabbas. While the judgement is still in question, Pilate’s wife says,

“Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.”

The priests persuade the crowd to ask for Barabbas’s release. Pilate asks what he should do with Jesus, and the crowd yells, “Let him be crucified!” Pilate is troubled. He washes his hands before the multitude and says,

“I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person. You see to it.”

The people answer:

“May his blood be on us, and on our children.”

Jesus gets flogged. They strip Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. They braid a crown of thorns and put it on His head. Then they kneel down before Him and mock, “Hail, King of the Jews!” before spitting on Him and hitting Him with a reed.

They then take Jesus to Golgotha (“the place of a skull”) and give him sour wine to drink mixed with gall. Then they crucify Him. They divide up His clothing and sit and watch. They put a sign up over his head that says, “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS”. Two robbers were also crucified, one on His left and one on His right. People walk by and mock Him:

“He saved others, but he can’t save himself. If he is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe him.”

The robbers on either side also mock Jesus. At the ninth hour, Jesus cries out:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

One of the watchers takes a sponge, fills it with vinegar, and puts it on a reed for Jesus to drink. Jesus cries again and yields up His spirit. Immediately, the veil of the temple is torn, and an earthquake begins, opening up rocks and tombs–many of the bodies of the saints were raised. The centurion on watch is terrified and says,

“Truly this was the Son of God.”

Many women watched, including Mary Magdalene. Joseph goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body. Joseph takes the body, wraps it in clean linen, and lays it in a new tomb which had been cut out of solid rock. He rolls a big stone across the door of the tomb and departs.

The priests then gather together in front of Pilate and say,

“Sir, we remember what that deceiver said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise again.’”

They ask that the tomb be guarded so that Jesus’ disciples can’t steal the body and claim that Jesus rose–the “last deception will be worse than the first.” So they go with a guard and seal the tomb.

Chapter 28

On the third morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to visit the tomb. When they arrive, an earthquake shakes and rolls the stone away from the door. An angel of the Lord descends from the sky and sits on the stone. The guards are petrified. The angel tells the two women:

“Don’t be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just like he said. Come, see the place where the Lord was lying. Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead, and behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold I have told you.”

The women run off to tell the disciples and Jesus meets them. He says,

“Don’t be afraid, Go tell my brothers that they should go into Galilee, and there they will see me.”

The elders hear what happen and bribe some soldiers with silver into saying that Jesus’ disciples came and stole him away while everyone slept. The soldiers take the money and do as they’re told.

The 11 remaining disciples then go to Galilee and see Jesus. They bow down to him, but some are still doubtful. Jesus says to them:

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

And that’s the end of the Gospel of Matthew.

We’ll take a break next week and then tackle the first four chapters of Mark the following week.