Archive for April, 2020

The Galilee Kingdom Tour

Apr 30 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Jesus commissioned six disciple-pairs, twelve men, to take his message to the towns of Galilee. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke provide background.

Matthew gives the scope of the operation. Jesus sent the twelve specifically to Israelite towns in Galilee, not to the foreigners of the north or the Samaritans to the south (Mt 10:5-6).

The basic message Jesus gave his men to speak: “The kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 10:7). Jesus also instructed them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons, and freely give.

Mark and Luke offer Jesus’ instruction on the logistics of the speaking tour: “Take nothing for the journey” (Mk 6:8; Lk 9:3). So the twelve would be entirely dependent on hospitality.

So without any luggage, the twelve were heading into Galilee, a province that was 50 miles long and 25 miles wide. The mountainous region of Galilee extended from the Lebanese mountains in the north to the Jezreel Plain between Galilee and Samaria in the south, and from Lake Galilee on the east to just inland from the coast. (Tyre controlled the coast.)

Josephus commented that Galilee included over 200 cities and villages (Life, 235). Concerning the economy, Josephus writes, “Their soil is universally rich and fruitful, and full of the plantations of trees of all sorts. . . [the land] is all cultivated by its inhabitants, and no part of it lies idle. Moreover, the cities lie here very thick” (Jewish War, 3.43).**

Six teams to cover a populated region about the size of Rhode Island.

** Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).

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Cultural Sources behind the SpendaYearwithJesus Experience

Apr 28 2020 Published by under Making SpendaYearwithJesus

The Gospels serve as primary sources for the SpendaYearwithJesus experience. They Gospels provide numerous details of setting, characters, time, and action from which to build a framework around Jesus’ experience in his culture.

When considering legal and temple practice, E. P. Sanders offered a rule of thumb that includes 5 sources:**

  • the priestly writer [Leviticus],
  • Jospehus,
  • the Mishnah,
  • Philo,
  • Others such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, late Biblical books like the Chronicles or Nehemiah, Pseudepigrapha, and Apocrypha.

For Sanders, Leviticus, Josephus, and the Mishnah together are a solid witness to first-century legal-religious practices. Josephus and the Mishnah together are also probable while also ranking as probable is agreement between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Mishnah.

Three witnesses are best, however. In addition, with all of the sources, one must be aware of potential dependence of the later texts quoting or deriving from Leviticus.

** E. P. Sanders, “Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography,” 2004. A paper read at “New Views of First-Century Jewish and Christian Self-Definition: An International Conference in honor of E. P. Sanders.” Pages 21-22.

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From common to sacred

Apr 26 2020 Published by under Uncategorized

Sacred traditions grow from common roots.

At one time, now-venerated places and people were passed by without even so much as a glance. They were common. They were unknown and unnoticed in a crowd.

From the humble seeds of place and people grow towering trees of tradition, often with many branches representing more key growth stages. It all started with a seed–an event involving a place that and a person who was so common as to go unnoticed.

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Scheduling Jesus: Torah Calendar

Apr 23 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Jesus was a devout first-century Jew. Thus, the calendar from the Torah (or Moses’ Law) in the Hebrew Bible established his yearly rhythm.

Holidays (or holy-days) restricted Jesus’ activity or required travel.

The following are key days and weeks.

  • Sabbath, the seventh day of the week
  • New Moon, the first day of the month
  • Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem, seven days during the first month, spring barley harvest
  • Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem, seven weeks after Passover, third month, spring wheat harvest
  • New Year, the first day of the seventh month
  • Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the seventh month
  • Feast of Huts (or Tabernacles) in Jerusalem, seven days during the seventh month, fall fruit harvest

On Sabbath and New Moon the Torah ruled that businesses were closed and people could travel only a limited distance.

The Day of Atonement included Sabbath-limits on work and a fast from food.

All adult males had to attend the three major festivals in Jerusalem.

Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi who lived by the rules of the Torah. The Torah’s schedule including travel destinations and activity limitations establish guidelines through which we better understand Jesus’ experience.

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No other name

Apr 22 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

“The name Jesus underlines the real humanity of our Lord.” — William Barclay, Scottish Theologian

Just for a moment (or a year), I encourage you to hold the theological question and take up Jesus’ story as he lived it.

Along these lines, William Barclay spotted something noteworthy in the Gospels concerning how the writers remembered their subject.

In the Gospels [Jesus] is by far the commonest name of our Lord, for in them he is called by this simple name almost six hundred times. It is at first sight an astonishing fact that in the four Gospels the expression Jesus Christ occurs only four times, in Mark 1.1; Matt. 1.1; John 1.17; 17.3; and the expression Lord Jesus occurs only twice, and in both cases there is doubt about it. Luke 24:3 and Mark 16:19.

The Gospel writers appear to recognize and preserve by his name that humanity that qualifies Jesus’ experience.

I invite you to approach the human Jesus afresh, to visit Jesus’ experience as definitively human.


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The Soundtrack of Jesus’ Life

Apr 21 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Speaking of routine and petty frustration…

I was listening to the Gospel of Matthew as I was driving downtown on my commute. With cars all around me on the crowded six-lane street, I was constrained to the speed and flow of traffic. Stuck in traffic, I felt tense. It seemed like every red light was strategically positioned to stop our progress.

At any rate, inside my car, I listened carefully to the reader and the words of the Sermon on the Mount hoping my ears would spot some significant pattern that my eyes had failed to see. Heard something, I did, but it was not what I expected. There was a soft, subtle, pious-sounding music track playing in the background. And that was not all. I noticed a reverb, a slight echo, in the speaker’s voice.

Please allow me clarify, Jesus’ life did not have a soundtrack as he lived it. His voice did not have a reverb effect when he spoke. Unlike Hollywood action heroes, he did not move in slow motion as he walked into town.

Jesus’ life did not have a soundtrack . . . then. NOW, we hear the music of his life! The music of Jesus’ life is that epic and melodic soundtrack of faithfulness that resonates through history.

Our lives make music too. As we see his melody of faithfulness played out in Jesus’ experience, may it inspire us to compose our own music of a well-lived life.

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No shortcuts

Apr 20 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

I love the authenticity and sincerity of the scene in the “The Bible” mini-series when Jesus meets Peter. First, Jesus walks in water to the boat. Then Jesus reaches out his hand for Peter’s help to climb aboard.

The Bible: Jesus meets Peter

“The Bible” mini-series: Jesus Meets Peter

With so much said and sung about Jesus walking on water, what a great reminder of the fact that Jesus normally walked through water.++

Jesus walked in water with every brief trip to the shores of Lake Galilee and with every lengthy trip to Jerusalem through the fords of the Jordan River.

A trip to Jerusalem with holiday crowds would have been a great venue for walking on water or parting the river. I’m sure that the crowds would have appreciated the shortcut.

Judging from the reaction of his family and the crowds, Jesus’ experience at least when it came to traveling was fairly normal, like ours. No shortcuts.

As we follow Jesus’ experience, we will walk through a lot of water with him. In the long run, that may even be more significant for us.

++ Jesus would be awfully difficult to baptize if he didn’t sink occasionally. 🙂

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Science-Fiction meets Jesus’ experience

Apr 19 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

We live in space and time. We occupy space, and we pass time–days and distance. When we travel, space and time overlap. We apply both minutes and miles as measures. “How long is your commute?” Are we asking for space or time or both?

Enter twenty-first-century space and time. The provocative and compelling ideas of the authors of modern science fiction imaginatively reorient us to space and time. They give us teleportation devices and time machines to leap through miles and minutes overcoming our present space/time limitations.

Almost imperceptibly, we diffuse the leaps into the day-to-day of Jesus’ experience. I have talked to a number of people during this project, who one-after-another acknowledge with sheepish grin that it is instinctive to teleport or time-machine Jesus from event to event  without considering the limitations of his space and his time. How did he get from one place to another?

Days and even months pass in just a few summary phrases in the biblical accounts as they do in all literature. We live, however, in the minute-to-minute and day-by-day of the routine and frustration of present experience.

While reading a good story, it is easy to forget that life moves more slowly, sluggishly even, as you live it, and naturally speeds up when you narrate it.

SpendaYearwithJesus with its time-limited narration is an opportunity to engage Jesus’ experience more like our experience, even in our experience.

Along the way, we remember that Jesus did not have a teleportation device, he walked; that  Jesus did not have a time machine, he passed time like us.

In fact, he never broke the rules of space and time and human relationships for his own advantage.

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Spending a Year with Jesus

Apr 18 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

SpendaYearwithJesus tells the story of Jesus’ last year day-by-day.

The biblical record provides rich primary source material. With some study of first-century time and space, a natural sequence of events emerges from the details to yield a cohesive account of Jesus’ human experience.

As in any ancient history, there are gaps in the record of Jesus’ last year. We can conclude logically that the Jesus’ experience in the gaps connects to the patterns recorded in the Gospels, to human experience in general, and to those unique experiences in Jesus’ first-century time and space.

In terms of human experience in general, we know he ate and slept, for example. In terms of specifics, we can refer to ancient sources such as the writings of Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archeologists’ discoveries.

In addition, topography, climate, and agriculture provide a rich context in themselves for deducing events and movements. Traveling in the rain, for example, is unlikely.

Filling in the gaps from the available historical and geographical data allows us to meet Jesus in his space and time.

Filling in the gaps also exposes the assumptions that we continuously project onto the past from our own imaginations (such as science fiction devices to leap through time or space from big event to big event).

I invite you to spend a year with Jesus day-by-day in the hill country of Israel. He was human like us, and like us his context was critically important to his message and activity.

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Imperceptibly Obvious Experience

Apr 17 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Life stories are made up of big events, but living is day-to-day.

Late writer David Foster Wallace captures this idea in his 2005 college commencement speech. He observed, “The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

I am intrigued by Wallace’s observation. I agree.

In the speech, he refers to the day-to-day trenches of adult existence and unpacks the reality of the “day in and day out.” At one point, he says,

There happens to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

If I may repeat/adapt that observation, when it comes to Jesus’ experience, there happens to be whole, large parts of his adult life that nobody talks about. Boredom, routine and petty frustration are imperceptibly obvious in Jesus’ story as well as our own.

Implicit in this observation is a small, quiet encouragement. It echoes through David Foster Wallace’s speech. Choose to pay attention.

Give attention to those imperceptibly obvious parts that make up a significant part of adult life. The tedium of adult living will drive us senseless, unless we engage our senses to that routine and petty frustration as a meaningful part of life.

In fact, when we pay attention to Jesus and to one another through that tedium, it is one of the most costly, loving acts we can perform in our brief existence.

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