Archive for March, 2021

Appearing normal, but underneath…

Mar 30 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered,Telling the Story

The experience was normal. What everyone would expect. Jesus, his family, his disciples, and their families walked the Jordan Valley roads along with hundreds of holiday travelers. The festive occasion: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Underneath the normal of that moment was the disruptive fact that Jesus was a wanted man. 4 weeks previously, in a suburb of the capital city and to the amazement of all, Jesus resuscitated a family friend. The religious authorities regarded this action as an exercise of trickery or sorcery – either was criminal – so they issued a warrant for his arrest (Talmud Sanhedrin 43a).

For 3 weeks afterwards, Jesus and his men withdrew into the hills between Judea and Samaria. Then they re-emerged to join the crowds for the feast.

Observe most people, and their lives appear normal. But like Jesus’ experience, underneath the normal are life-challenging disruptions. If attentive, we can see beyond the surface-normal, see into those challenges even as life goes on, just as it did around Jesus as he neared his own end.


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If you had one week to live…

Mar 25 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

“You have a short time to live.” More regularly than we like to admit, we hear of a family member or friend given that diagnosis.

If you had one week to live, how would you spend it?

Jesus knew he had a short time to live. On his way to Jerusalem, he took his closest followers aside privately. He confided to them that he would be handed over to the temple authorities, condemned, mocked, flogged and crucified (Mt 20:17-19). Jesus’ description of his own end is quite specific.

Jesus’ experience included the anticipation of his own death. But as we follow Jesus the last week of his life, we do not see him chasing a new adventure or hurrying to try a new pastime.

So how did Jesus spend his last week?

He did what he had always done: eating meals with family and friends, teaching in the temple courts, spending time with his closest followers. I notice a change in Jesus’ teaching content but not in his pace of life.

Unhurried, Jesus depletes his remaining hours engaging friends.

Does he seem like he really only has one week left to live?

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One fact everyone knows and no one knew

Mar 23 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered,Telling the Story

One of Jesus’ followers, Paul, writing after Jesus’ death in his letter to Roman Christians begins with the phrase, “…the one who was descended from David with respect to the flesh” (Rom 1:3; also 2 Tim 2:8). Today, everyone knows that. It’s introductory.

The idea that the Messiah would be a descendant of Israel’s King David was well-established in Jesus’ day.

During Jesus’ “Kingdom Tour” and throughout his public activity, people approached his healing activity with the words of the accolade channeling their hopes as well as uncertainties.

  • Two blind men asked Jesus for healing calling him “Son of David” (Matt 9:27).
  • After Jesus healed a blind and mute man, the crowds around him observed, “This one is not the son of David, is he?”
  • A foreigner referred to Jesus as “Lord, Son of David” when she asked for healing for her daughter (Matt 15:22).
  • Two more blind men outside Jericho asked Jesus for healing using the title, “Son of David” (Matt 20:30).

During the Feast of Huts, some members of the crowd rejected Jesus observing from their Scripture (the Prophets and Writings; 2 Sam 7:12-14; Ps 2:7; 89:4; Mic 5:2) that the Messiah would come from the descendants of David and from Bethlehem (John 7:42). Wait a minute!

Jesus rode into Jerusalem at the next Passover, his final visit to the city, surrounded by crowds cheering, “Hosanna to the Son of the David” as well as “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD” (Matt 21:9; a phrase from the Hallel). Were they sure?

In that final week, Jesus posed the question to some religious leaders directly, “Whose son is the Messiah?” Their response, “The son of David” (Matt 22:42). And I want to ask, To whom were the religious leaders talking?

Can we approach the story with the uncertainty of its original participants? I think we can. We only need pause for a moment and allow the fog of uncertainty in our own lives to roll in … and we connect with Jesus’ experience.

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Eager hope…election night

Mar 22 2021 Published by under Telling the Story

Imagine election night. It’s a close race. You’ve been promised a spot in the candidate’s government if the votes come in. You wonder what that spot will be, right? Cabinet-level, executive staff…

The disciples reveal their anticipation at various points in Jesus’ story, this one who proclaimed, “The kingdom of God is near.”

It is the mother of two disciples who has the moxy to ask directly for kingdom positions for her sons (Matt 20:21). Otherwise, the disciples generally just argue among themselves (Mark 9:34; Luke 22:24).

As the disciples wait for their Messiah to reign, they have that same feeling of anticipation.

The Passover feast is coming up. In Israel’s history, the gathering of the nation at a feast is a prime time for positive changes in government. There were good times during the leadership of Kings Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah (2 Chr 7, 30, and 35) as well as Governor Nehemiah (Neh 89).

Other than past experience, how could they know what to expect two weeks before they head to Jerusalem?


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Family Feast Travel Revisited

Mar 18 2021 Published by under Telling the Story

Because of the events of this particular Passover trip, the Gospels mention a group of family members and friends who travel with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Mark lists Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joseph, and Salome (15:40). Matthew 27:56 lists Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joseph, and instead of Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s sons–possibly because she is already mentioned as such in 20:20.

Luke adds Joanna (Luke 24:10; possibly the same one as in 8:3). John adds Mary the wife of Clopas and Jesus’ aunt (John 19:25). Jesus’ aunt and Mary’s sister may be one of the women–not named Mary–mentioned in Matthew or Mark or Luke.

This larger community around Jesus might be a one time phenomenon but more likely families traveled together to Passover. Luke writes that Jesus’ parents went to the Passover feast every year (2:41). Since Joseph is not mentioned, the reasonable assumption is that he has died.

In John 7, Jesus’ brothers are preparing to go to the fall Feast of Huts, so it is reasonable to assume that they are part of the caravan as well.

While the record shows that the Twelve were Jesus’ common companions, the historical context and hints in the records suggest a community of friends and family who traveled with Jesus at least for specific events.

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Why did Jesus stay in the Ephraim region?

Mar 16 2021 Published by under Telling the Story

The Ephraim region is about a day’s journey north of Jerusalem. As one travels toward the Jordan River, the region becomes more and more unpopulated.

The Gospels sometimes refer to these regions as “wilderness” or “uninhabited places.” John 11:54 refers to a town named the same as the region where Jesus stayed.

The events of John 11 created quite a stir among the Jerusalem leadership (John 11:46-53). Jesus had to withdraw in order to de-escalate the situation. (See also B.San. 43a)

This wasn’t the first time Jesus avoided a city in order to de-escalate conflict. During the summer, he went on an extended tour away from Capernaum visiting the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon and lakeside region of eastern Galilee called the Decapolis (Mark 7:24-8:10).

A previous post (Is Jesus a false prophet?) mentions why Jesus does not return to Capernaum to get his family like the married disciples do. His neighbors had rejected him.

The “woe” Jesus spoke on Capernaum (Matthew 11:23; Luke 10:15) combined with his recent censure in Jerusalem suggests that returning to his hometown was dangerous.

The Jerusalem authorities might try to intercept him in his hometown since they knew where he lived, and Jesus’ rejecting neighbors surely wouldn’t stand in the way.




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When family comes first

Mar 14 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered,Telling the Story

It may seem jolting if you have never considered their experience—that this glued-group of twelve mean would split up, that some would periodically leave Jesus’ side, that their families would actually trump their touring activity and take priority!

When we read the itineraries in the Gospels, we seldom visualize detours.

But to call the priority of family a detour is to undermine the Torah-world in which the disciples and Jesus lived.

In a previous post, “Rogue husbands or loyal followers,” we looked at the Torah (Exodus 21.10), the Mishanh (Ketuboth 5.6) and a letter of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7.3) as three witnesses to the priority of a man’s presence with and provision for his wife.

It was lawful for Jesus to respect the schedules of his married disciples (see Mark 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:5).

As they lived out their year, we can conclude that Jesus and his disciples honored this priority of presence and provision for one’s family, and that their itinerary adjusted accordingly.

In the context of the current events of the SpendaYearwithJesus story, “Family feast travel” was one of those moments when the disciples’ responsibilities, their touring activity and family duties, converged.

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Dying as Living Well

Mar 13 2021 Published by under Telling the Story

saywj_header_lParadoxes and polarized responses.

Crowds cheered, authorities sneered. A worshiper washed his feet, accusers punched his face.

Jesus lived with magnetic calm and mesmerizing resolution.

His questions captivated listeners, and his answers stumped accusers.

He was so vested in life that he did not fear death.

I invite you to sign-up to receive text messages at key moments in Jesus’ experience during the last week of his life. Join the text-message short story, “Dying as Living Well.” Sign-up now.

Daniel J. Pfeifer, Th.M.
Founder, SpendaYearwithJesus

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Can you see greatness?

Mar 11 2021 Published by under Experience Reconsidered

Can you see greatness . . . like height or hair color?

Jesus’ followers did not see God standing before them. In fact, that thought was blasphemy.

The God of Israel was not subject to fickle human foibles like Zeus or Neptune, both of whom had been imported into Galilee following Alexander’s conquest. The God of Israel did not share his glory with a man, even though emperor worship had already begun with Caesar Augustus. (Keep in mind that Lake Galilee was renamed for the reigning emperor, Tiberias.)

The devout of Israel rejected the Greek gods and Roman emperor worship. In Jesus, they were looking at one like their pre-eminent king, one like David. But unlike David, Jesus never engaged in a fight. He had no armor, no sword, not even a sling.

But at the same time, a few had seen Jesus calm a storm, and twelve had seen Jesus walk on water. Surely, this power could be weaponized!

Can we pause for a moment? Let us inhabit the story as Jesus and his disciples wait in the remote region of Ephraim. Philip Yancey comments on the challenge of this task:

“The creeds repeated in churches tell about Christ’s eternal preexistence and glorious afterlife, but largely ignored his earthly career. . . . [This] is the problem with most of our writing and thinking about Jesus.  We read the Gospels through the flash forward lenses of church councils like Nicaea and Chalcedon, to the churches studied attempts to make sense of him.”**

Let’s return to the story. Inhabit the moment. It makes us ask, for example, why didn’t Jesus weaponize his power? And why did the disciples continue to follow one who constantly did not meet their expectations?

Did the disciples see greatness in the earthy carpenter-turned-teacher sitting in front of them?

** Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 22, 24.

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Hold on, Jesus. I have work to do.

Mar 09 2021 Published by under Telling the Story

In the first century, as in any century of human existence, people need food and clothing.

The Mishnah records some of the daily tasks assigned to a wife.

She grinds flour, bakes bread, does laundry, prepares meals, feeds her child, makes the bed, works in wool (Mishnah Ketuboth 5.5).

A wealthy woman with servants had the same scope of responsibility, but she would manage her servant’s activity rather than performing the tasks herself.

This passage from the Mishnah doesn’t mention single women, but I conclude that this “division of labor” generally reflects gender roles in the first-century.

Jesus’ experience included eating bread and meals prepared first by his mother, by Peter’s wife and mother-in-law, by his friends Martha and Mary, and the numerous other hostesses he met on his travels, including some wealthy women who had servants to perform the daily tasks.

Jesus had to eat. The work, while mundane, was necessary. A person can miss a meal or two, but eventually…

“Hold on, Jesus. I have work to do.”

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