Archive for August, 2020

A legendary shortcut

Aug 27 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

There is a delightful legend in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. It comes from Jesus’ youth when he and his parents were fleeing from the land of Herod’s rule south to land of Egypt.

Now when they [Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus] were journeying on, Joseph said to Jesus: ‘Lord, we are being roasted by this heat; if you agree, let us go alongside the sea, that we may be able to rest in the coastal towns.’ Jesus said to him: ‘Do not fear, Joseph; I will shorten your journey; what you were intending to traverse in the space of thirty days, you will complete in one day.’ And while they were speaking, behold they perceived already the mountains of Egypt and began to see its cities (Ps.-Mt. 22.1).**

Anyone who has been on a journey under adverse circumstances relates to Joseph’s plea.

Picture failed air conditioning on summer road trip or screaming child on airplane or rush hour gridlock. Oh, how nice it would be to have the relief of just thirty minutes compressed into one!

We need to pause at this point, however, and ask a question. Does Jesus break rules of time and space uniquely to bring relief? (Careful, think of Jesus’ compassion in feeding large crowds.)

Questions of authenticity surround every story about Jesus and cut to the heart of Jesus’ identity.

In the 8th or 9th century someone recorded this story about a legendary shortcut. I invite you to follow SpendaYearwithJesus and consider the questions and options for yourself.

** Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, trans. R. McL. Wilson, Rev. ed., vol. 1, 2 vols. (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox/James Clarke, 2003), 464.

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What is the Hallel?

Aug 25 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Do you ever wonder where church song writers get their material? If you’re a church-goer, you might have sung recently, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory” (Ps 115:1). Or another popular line, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Ps 118:1).

Jesus also sang (or chanted) these lines–at least four times a year, in fact. We call these Psalms, 113-118, the Hallel. The Mishnah (the 2nd century code of the Rabbis) gives their title and use.

At Passover, Israelites brought their lambs to the temple for butchering and sacrifice, and while the priests were preparing the meat … “[The Levites meanwhile] proclaimed the Hallel Psalms [113-118]” (m. Pesahim 5.7)

[In between courses] “The first Passover requires the recitation of the Hallel Psalms when it is eaten” (m. Pesahim 9.3).

According to the Mishnah, the devout also recited the Hallel at the Feast of Huts (Tabernacles) (m. Sukkah 3.9; 4.1) and possibly also on New Year’s day (m. Rosh Hashshanah 4.7) in the fall.**

L. Finkelstein makes the case from the Babylonian Talmud and Rabbinic practice that the Hallel was recited at the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in the winter and at the Feast of Pentecost (Weeks) in the spring.++

Jesus and his disciples would have known the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) pretty well by repeating it at least these four times a year — year-after-year. I imagine that it was like some of the popular stadium-event tunes we hear repeatedly today.

** Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988).
++ Louis Finkelstein, “The Origin of the Hallel,” Hebrew Union College Annual 23 (1951): 319–337.

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The Penalty for Mutiny

Aug 20 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

The late summer period of Jesus’ last year. A time of preparation – for the winter rains and for the fall feasts. In Capernaum, homebase for Jesus’ family and closest disciples, the residents live in a rare tension. They, at least their leaders, must determine whether to silence Jesus.

The Hebrew Law states that from time to time prophets will make predictions and perform miracles and then propose worship of previously unknown gods … as a test of loyalty. The penalty for this mutiny is death by stoning. (Deut 13:1-11)

Throughout human history in culture after culture, mutineers and traitors receive the stiffest legal penalties. The Hebrew law is no different. But for the people of Capernaum, the law continues:

If that prophet-scoundrel leads his neighbors  to worship other gods, if they all conspire together, then the town must receive the mutiny-punishment as well. (Deut. 13:12-17)

Conspiracy to commit treason is treason and receives treason’s penalty. Rules always sound so clean and forceful when read from the rulebook. But on the ground in human experience, there are always complicating factors. A major theme of Jesus’ experience, a theme that appears over and over in the Gospels, is this conflict over Jesus’ identity — teacher … false prophet … The Prophet … Messiah … And the people of Capernaum lived in the tension, at least for another month…

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A Prophet like Moses?

Aug 18 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Sabbath. Capernaum gathered at the Synagogue. The townspeople listened as one of their elders read from the scroll about the coming prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-19). Perhaps some wondered, “Is Jesus that prophet?”

[In the SpendaYearwithJesus timeline, the reading took place Saturday.]

The scroll reading continued by posing the question, “How will we know?” (Deut 18:21) It was a difficult, urgent question with no easy answers.

For the average person, most of what they knew about Jesus’ experience was gathered from hearsay or rumor — not from first-hand experience. (What do you know about your doctor’s medical training, for example?)

There was constant speculation around Jesus’ identity. His teaching tours and healing activities sometimes aligned with and sometimes collided with his listeners’ expectations.

Jesus himself posed the question among his followers. Earlier this month, subscribers received this text message:

After bread. Secluded area of woods by a stream. Jesus asks the disciples: Who do you say I am?

. . . later, Jesus’ followers, Peter and Stephen, quoted the scroll to validate their conclusion concerning Jesus’ identity (Acts 3:22-23, 7:37).

But let’s not skip ahead too quickly! Follow SpendaYearwithJesus.

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They’re going to kill me

Aug 13 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Michael Grant, author of Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels writes, “He must have seen what lay in store for him.”**

I heard a story from a part of the world where religious hostility is intense. A young man left home. While away, he crossed a religious boundary. He knew that when he returned to his town, his family would kill him for his religious choice. He said his fateful good-bye to his friends and returned home. A few weeks later, his friends received word he was dead.

Jesus made the comment, “No prophet can die outside Jerusalem…” (Lk 13:33).

The Gospels relate the hostility: first Herod tried to kill the infant Jesus because of the visit of the Magi (Mt 2:13, 16) then the Pharisees and the Herodians because of Jesus’ healing fame (Mk 3:6; Mt 12:14) then Jesus’ childhood neighbors in Nazareth because of Jesus’ rebuke (Lk 6:29) then Herod Antipas because of John (Lk 13:31) then the chief priests because of Jesus’ teaching fame (Mk 11:18).

Jesus’ experience was apparently full of conflict, and here we see that Jesus was aware that his situation was not going to have a happy ending or was it?

** Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Scribner, 1977), 135.

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Illumination? Information?

Aug 11 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Imagine you’re a student of Elizabethan literature. Suddenly, one day in your seminar class, your professor is joined by none other than … William Shakespeare! You’re speechless. You fumble for words, for just one intelligible question for the “bard.” You are in the presence of the greatest writer of his age!

Peter, James and John had that experience. They met the greatest writer of his and their age–Moses. Every Sabbath, Sabbath after Sabbath, they gathered and read Moses’ writing!

The Gospels relate how Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain to pray. The summer seems a likely time since winter on the mountain would be quite inhospitable. As they were praying, Jesus’ clothes glowed bright and white, then “Elijah with Moses” appeared (Mk 9:2-8).

This moment was something beyond the modern-day celebrity “meet-and-greet.” Can you imagine meeting one of your heroes from history?

If you met Moses, would you ever be able to read the books of Moses the same again? You would know something that no one else knows. What the author looked and sounded like!

I can imagine that Peter, James and John had a hard time keeping it to themselves at first. Of course, Peter eventually did tell (2 Peter 1:16-18).

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Dashed Expectations, Diagnosis Terminal

Aug 07 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

The disciples felt exuberant. (Yesterday in the SpendaYearwithJesus storyline) Jesus confirmed that he was Messiah!

Shortly thereafter, their hopes were shaken by Jesus’ comments about dying and raising.

Exuberance and disappointment.

In the summer of 2013, my brothers and their families, my parents, and my family were planning to go to Orlando. We had taken a trip two years before and it was great. So we were excited to get together again.

You can imagine our disappointment when my dad called to let us know my mom was not going to be able to make the trip. The fact is, my mom had been under treatment for myeloma cancer for almost five years. We thought she was stable, but we were wrong. Our excitement to go to Disneyworld turned to concern for my mom’s condition.

Exuberance and disappointment.

We can connect with the disciples’ and Jesus’ experience. We can feel the uncertainty of human experience — both the exuberant uncertainty of happy opportunities and the weight of grief in a terminal diagnosis.

Perhaps Jesus’ disciple-optimists were thinking about implications of Messiah’s leadership (of course, not without its challenges: dying and raising as a metaphor rather than literal prediction). The disciple-pessimists were probably concerned about their future.

Either way, I don’t think they got much sleep after the news of that day.


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Turning Point

Aug 06 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered,Telling the Story

It went by so fast

On a fall Saturday in 1994 at a rooftop restaurant in Atlanta, Ga, I asked my girlfriend to marry me. She said, “Yes.” Actually she said more than yes, but that’s another story. After that 6 hour long evening, my fiancee and I said to one another, “It went by so fast!”

All year, Jesus’ closest disciples try to understand the man to whom they gave their loyalty. They see crowds gather around Jesus, and towns cool to his presence. They witnessed the mixed support of civic leaders and opposition of religious leaders.

In Jesus’ experience from Passover to Passover, today is a turning point — the stuff of speeches and books. Yet in only six verses (Mark 8:27-33)…

Jesus reveals his demise.

The disciples expected greatness. They could not mistake the foreboding nature of his words.

The limits of a human day

Jesus’ experience, like ours, is wrapped in the limits of a human day. Today is a big day in Jesus’ experience, but it passes like any other day.

The sun sets, emotions calm, people sleep. The sun rises, a new day, new emotions. And naturally …humanly… memory slides slowly from vividness to oblivion.

Today is a turning point in Jesus’ story. I wonder if his followers felt about this day like my wife and I do about the night of our engagement. The event passed so quickly.

Like important days in our lives, however, the significance accumulates with time.

Join the story at

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Jesus and the Olympics

Aug 04 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

I enjoy following the Olympics. The competition, the athletes’ backstories, the surprises, the heartbreaks, and even the behind-the-scenes operation of the games.

During periods of Olympic interest, it strikes me to ask, Why didn’t Jesus talk about sports?

Jesus talks about life — farming and fishing, fields and trees, building a tower. Sports were not off-limits to the religious people of the day. So why doesn’t Jesus talk about sports?

Simply put, sports did not make a significant imprint on Jesus’ experience or culture.

One reason is that Jewish participation in Roman sports posed some major incompatibilities in the participant’s “uniforms.”

So even though archeologists have uncovered a sports complex (hippodrome) located in ancient Jerusalem, this find does not factor into Jesus’ story.

Jesus apparently had other interests and occupations, even though sports were a part of ancient life.

Knowing the context helps us frame and tell Jesus’ story.

Connect with Jesus’ experience.

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