Archive for February, 2021


Feb 28 2021 Published by under Telling the Story

I don’t envy the town leaders of Capernaum. I get to read the story of Jesus after twenty centuries of clarification. They had to live it in the confusion of real-time.

That said, Jesus doesn’t mince words about their fate. He pronounces “woe” on the three towns where he made his home base — Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida (Luke 10:13-15).

Let’s assume for just a second that the language is kind of like a radioactive sign. It’s a warning rather than retaliation.

Jesus had experienced plenty of social ambivalence during his teaching and healing tours. In fact, he had been asked to leave some places. People come and go around Jesus without “woe.”

But I take it that in these three cities there was some sort of official rejection since they had the most to lose if Jesus was condemned as a false prophet (which he ultimately was). And it’s that official rejection that Jesus warns against for the general population.

After Jesus left Galilee the summer of his last year, his world grew smaller and smaller until his final, fateful feast-visit to Jerusalem.

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What does it mean to be like Jesus?

Feb 23 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

“Be like Jesus.” I’ve heard that phrase my whole life in articles, sermons, and now blog posts.

Some tell me that Jesus was focused on the poor. As a result he participated in the challenges of living common to the poor. And we should, too.

Others emphasize that Jesus was singularly focused on teaching, and therefore didn’t have time for the chores of common folk. Teaching is the goal of being like Jesus.

Still others relate that Jesus was always on the road (teaching), so go, go, go.

And further, Jesus could be an itinerant preacher always on the road because he had the support of wealthy people.

But wait a minute, I thought Jesus was poor and related to poor people.

SpendaYearwithJesus developed out of this puzzle of paradoxes with a focus on Jesus’ experience in the daily grind of first-century life — like I live in the daily grind today. Being like Jesus means filling the daily grind with the kind of person Jesus was.

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Plunge into the origin of the phrase, “Fishers of men”

Feb 18 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Walking along the lakeshore, Jesus said to some fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17). Great turn of phrase.

In Jesus’ experience, however, the phrase has an assorted history. In prophetic use, the phrase refers to God’s judgment of exile.

Prophet Amos warns the people of Israel, “The time is coming when you will be carried away in baskets, all of you in fishermen’s pots.” (Amos 4:2)

Habakkuk also describes, “The Chaldean brings all of them up with a hook . . . and gathers them in his fishing net…” (Hab 1:15; See also Ezek 38:4 for another reference to hooks.)

Jeremiah declares, “Look! I will send many fishermen,” announces Yhwh, “And they will catch them” (Jer 16:16).**

I conclude that Jesus knew his Hebrew Scripture. So is he using the fishing metaphor in spite of its earlier use? Or perhaps the disciples should have heard Messianic overtones. Who appointed fishermen? God did.

In broader first-century Jewish thought, we stumble across a reference to humanity-fishers in the Psalms/Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls that echoes the Messianic ring.

You made my lodging with many fishermen,
those who spread the net upon the surface of the sea,
those who go hunting the sons of iniquity.
And there you established me for the judgment,
and strengthened in my heart the foundation of truth.
The covenant, therefore, for those looking for it. (1QH XIII (=V) frag. 29 ++)

The entire psalm deals with rescue of the God’s approved ones, but the judgment of God toward oppressors.

There is an interesting reference to man-hunting in Plato’s Laws, 823b.

“There are…very many varieties also of hunts of land-animals—not of beasts only, but also, mark you, of men, both in war and often, too, in friendship [i.e. hunters of men]…”

Plato’s reference simply gives a larger Greco-Roman context to the use of the metaphor. Was Jesus aware of Plato? It’s worth considering but hard to build a case for or against. Some early Greek Gospel readers surely would have thought of Plato, however.

So what did Jesus mean, “Follow me, I will make you fishers of men”? The discipleship calling is clearly stated in the invitation, “Follow me.” Up to this time, it is God who appointed fishermen for epoch-transitions (Assyria-Israel, Babylon-Judah, Approved-Oppressors). The metaphor is startling because it was Jesus who was making this appointment.

** For more info, see Robert Eisler, Orpheus—The Fisher (London: J. M. Watkins, 1921), 75—83.

++ Florentino Gracía Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996), 337.

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Story-alert…Lazarus wasn’t the only one

Feb 16 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Earlier in Jesus’ experience, he was preaching and healing in Galilee when he approached a town called Nain.

A crowd had followed Jesus to the village. And a crowd, a funeral procession, was coming from the village when Jesus approached. A widow was burying her only son.

The Gospel of Luke tells the story (Lk 7:11-17).

Jesus saw the widow and had compassion on her. (If you know your parables, this same expression is applied to the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and the Father in Luke 15.)

This couldn’t have been the only funeral Jesus experienced, yet this death he interrupted like Lazarus’.

Nain was far away from power centers and political conflicts. Jesus was still relatively unknown. Life, as it always does, returned to normal.

Bethany, however, was a suburb of Jerusalem at the heart of religious politics. Here, the escalating drama of religious conflict took a decisive turn in a graveside moment.


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Why did Jesus weep?

Feb 11 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

“Jesus wept.” This phrase captures the humanness of Jesus’ experience.

When he received the news about his friend Lazarus, Jesus was involved. He was vested in the relationship. He felt the hurt and the pain surrounding the death of his friend.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch observe in The Shaping of Things to Come that Jesus was an “authentic human being” who engaged his world. In fact, they write,

 Jesus was Jesus precisely because of Mary and Joseph, his twelve disciples, the poor to whom he ministered, and all the others who interacted with him … He was changed in some way by all those he came in contact with in precisely the same way that we are changed by our relationships — for good or ill. To be a genuine human being, Jesus must have had such [interactions]… If this is not true, then his humanity was a sham (The Shaping of Things to Come, 36).

Jesus was moved by his friends’ experience. He wept.

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“No other name,” but actually it’s like any other name

Feb 09 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered,Ideas Vizualized


The Gospels refer to this common name almost six hundred times.
Only four times do they refer to “Jesus Christ” (Mk 1.1; Mt 1.1; Jn 1.17; 17.3). My attention was drawn to this fact by William Barclay in Jesus as They Saw Him.

Pick up a Septuagint Greek Old Testament and you will notice something more. The sixth book, commonly titled “Joshua” in English Bibles, carries the name Ἰησοῦς (translated “Jesus” in the NT). In the Greek, the name appears over and over throughout the OT book. If you’re thinking, “Not so fast!” link over to the Septuagint book list in Wikipedia to see for yourself.

Barclay observed, “The name Jesus underlines the real humanity of our Lord.” Would we say the same about the name “Jesus” today?

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Feel the familiarity and shock as Jesus confronts the Law

Feb 02 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

“Do not think that I have come to put an end to the Law,” Jesus said. Then he added I have come “to fulfill” it (Matt 5:17).

This week the Sabbath reading includes the ten words (aka commandments) from Moses’ Law book, “Names,” (aka Exodus).

Every year, year after year, Jesus’ friends and neighbors gathered Sabbath day to Sabbath day to read the Law of Moses. Plus the priests read the Law at the Temple feasts.

In Jesus’ experience, whenever he spoke about the Law, his listeners only had to think of their previous Sabbath synagogue reading to consider his meaning.

Reading Jesus’ story today, the familiarity with the Law as well as the shock of Jesus’ words is often lost.

So consider this. It would be like someone telling Americans about re-writing the U. S. Constitution because there is a way of governing better than its democracy.

And of course, to make the illustration completely parallel, Americans would need to read and re-read excerpts from the Constitution every Saturday.

“I have not come to put an end to the Constitution but to fulfill it!” Whoa. What does that mean?

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