Archive for December, 2020

Did Jesus say … “You are gods”?

Dec 24 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Timing is everything.

It was the Feast of Dedication. As the people engaged Jesus in a heated argument over his identity, Jesus quoted a song. Today, we read about the exchange in John 10:22-42, but we hardly know the song.

What Jesus said was, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?” (10:34). The people revolted against Jesus’ title “Son of God,” so Jesus invoked the authority of the Hebrew Scripture and Psalm 82 to validate the designation.

The problem is the next few lines in the song (which to most readers today are unfamiliar) — “But you will die like men and fall like one of the rulers” (Ps 82:7). The Psalm itself is about God judging injustice! Was Jesus trying to enrage his listeners?

But it gets even more interesting because there is a reference in the Mishnah to the songs that the Levites sang in the temple corresponding to the days of the week (m. Tamid 7.4).** On the third day of the week (Tuesday), guess what they sang? Psalm 82!

This song, Psalm 82, was well-known in Jesus’ experience. His words cut like a knife. And the attendees of the Feast of Dedication, the people in the temple court, mobbed to grab him.

** Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah : A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 873.

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The difference between good and bad shepherds

Dec 22 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

The “good shepherd” is an important leadership image from Jesus’ experience. Jesus referred to the metaphor during the Feast of Dedication when the nation celebrated political independence.

The national significance of the shepherd image originates from the Hebrew Scripture in the writings of the prophet Ezekiel, among others.

Ezekiel described how bad shepherds feed themselves and ignore the needs of the sheep. They fleece their followers for wool, and kill them for meat. Strays are abandoned (Ezek 34:1-6).

At the Feast of Dedication, Jesus suggested that he stood (right there in the temple courts) as the antithesis of Ezekiel’s scathing metaphor. Jesus was the “good shepherd” (John 10:14).

One can imagine the reaction of the religious authorities. They wanted to finish what they had started at the Feast of Huts, but once again, Jesus retreats.

In the previous posts, we looked at Jerusalem’s resilient leaders and the preservation they achieved for their nation. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were part of that tradition.

So was Jesus trying to pick a fight with people in power?

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Extreme preservation from national threats, even Alexander the Great

Dec 17 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

As Jesus’ story continues, the plot thickens. On one side, the religious leaders’ work to preserve their nation. On the opposing side, the unpredictable popularity of an obscure teacher threatens the status quo.

The leaders in Jerusalem had a great heritage of national preservation. Their ancestors had survived invasions by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Syrians.

Josephus, the Jewish historian from the latter half of the first century, relates in detail the miraculous delivery of Jerusalem from Alexander the Great.

As Alexander approached the city, the high priest Jaddua dreamed instructions from God to go out and meet the conqueror (Ant 11.326ff. **). When Alexander saw the procession, he greeted Jaddua peacefully. For Alexander, too, had seen a vision of the scene many years before (Ant 11.331ff.).

After Alexander entered the city, the priests showed him the scroll of Daniel (possibly  Dan. 7:6; 8:3–8, 20–22; or 11:3). Josephus writes, “Wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that [he] was the person intended.” (Ant 11.337)

National preservation and national participation in the Law converged in the next scene. When Alexander asked how he might favor the people, Jaddua replied that they wished to follow the Mosaic law, the people in Jerusalem as well as those scattered among the nations.

Jesus collided with Jerusalem leaders committed to political and legal preservation within a world of foreign dominance. And as Jesus’ last year passed, it was becoming clearer to the authorities that Jesus threatened the gentle balance of peace.

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


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A once-in-a-millennium opportunity

Dec 15 2020 Published by under Telling the Story

Around 200 years before Jesus’ last year, Judas Maccabees led his army into Jerusalem liberating the city from foreign invaders.

1 Maccabees 4:36-61 tells the story of the rededication of the temple — later called the Feast of Dedication and now known as Hanukkah. Judas and the people celebrated for eight days beginning on the 25th day of the 9th month Kislev.

During the two centuries from Judas Maccabees to Jesus’ day, the temple feasts grew in national significance and participation. A major part of Jesus’ experience was the calendar of holy days and feasts reinstituted from the Law of Moses. In fact, the Gospel of John tells of Jesus’ travels to the feasts in Jerusalem including the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22).

The irony is that in the previous 1,000 years, the nation had inconsistent feast celebrations and participation at best. Kings David, Solomon (2 Chron 5:3), Hezekiah (30:1), and Josiah (35:1) as well as reformers Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh. 8:18) led efforts to revive the instructions of Moses including the celebration of the Feasts — during their lifetimes.

In the first century, the Mosaic Law was definitive not only for Jesus personally but also for the nation around him and not just a few devout leaders.

One of the major statements of Jesus’ teaching was that he came to fulfill the Law. Jesus could not fulfill the Law without the celebrations of his nation. When Jesus entered the scene, the stage had already been set starting centuries before his birth.

His was a once-in-a-millennium opportunity.

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Becoming a friend with Jesus

Dec 10 2020 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

“Your dear friend is sick” (John 11:3). Jesus received this message from Mary and Martha concerning their brother, Lazarus.

Two words caught my attention — “dear friend” (ὃν φιλεῖς: often translated word-for-word from the Greek as “the one you love”). Jesus dropped what he was doing and willingly put himself in danger to help his friend.

The issue here is a question of friendship formation. How many people can interrupt your life? Of those, who will you face danger to help? Frankly, there probably are not that many people. And that depth of friendship generally takes years to develop.

The Gospel of John does not develop Jesus’ friendship with Lazarus. We are simply given this introductory statement and then a story that serves as a plot turning point in the Gospel. What we know is that Jesus was willing to be interrupted and face danger for his friend.

So how does one become a dear friend? Human friendships develop around shared space, shared time, shared interests, and shared respect. Proximity of space and time alone, however, does not create deeper connections.

So what were Jesus’ and Lazarus’ shared interests and shared respect as well as their shared time and space? The SpendaYearwithJesus storyline suggests an activity.

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