Identity Indicators

Jul 18 2024

Before Jesus’ last year, Jesus’ cousin John sent messengers to confirm that Jesus was the one for whom the nation was waiting — the Messiah. Jesus replied to them that

  • the blind see,
  • the lame walk,
  • lepers are cleansed,
  • the deaf hear,
  • the dead are raised,
  • and the poor are given the good news (Mt 11:5; Lk 7:22).

These indicators echo phrases from the Hebrew Scriptures including Isaiah 35:5-6, Isaiah 61:1, and Psalm 146:8 — with the exception of the dead raised.

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the fragment entitled the Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521) reflects the same indicator-understanding of the Messiah’s activity including the phrase, “the dead are raised.” Jesus wasn’t the only one thinking and talking this way.

Though the application of the statements diverge between the Scrolls and the Gospels, they share the reversal of fortune for the down-and-out as a key indicator of the Messiah’s identity.

For the Scrolls community the apocalypse was a future event, but for the Gospel writers, they describe Jesus’ experience.

During the summer of Jesus’ last year, subscribers receive text messages relating how people, among the hills east of Lake Galilee, marveled because they witnessed the mute speaking, the lame walking, and the blind seeing (Mt 15:30).

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Return of the Crowds

Jul 18 2024

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). “Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches,” 1886-1894. Oil on board. Brooklyn Museum.

It feels natural to imagine Jesus sitting on a large, elevated rock speaking to  quiet, riveted crowds.

This elevated image makes sense given the typical church experience like a wedding or a funeral. You sit quietly. An eloquent speaker stands on an elevated platform. (In what time was the average church experience outside; if it ever was?)

Many people have pointed out that the first-century experience is remote from our own. While some of the experiences are very different, we do not want to miss the similarities. The core of human experience persists.

For example, Jesus observed the hunger of the members of more than one listening crowd. How attentive are people in your crowd when the speaker continues into the lunch or dinner hour?

Among a crowd of thousands, a man yelled at Jesus to settle his inheritance dispute. Jesus responded with a general rebuke of greed. I can’t imagine that man or his party were very attentive after that response. And surely the man’s comment was one of many outdoor interruptions.

At the temple, Jesus joined in alongside other Rabbis offering commentary on the Law. While Jesus spoke with authority, he was competing with other lecturers among the alcoves, perhaps more eloquent orators.

In addition, the noise of the temple courts and the surrounding city reduced earshot, limiting the crowd size even if there were ready listeners.

In making the leap from our experience to Jesus’ experience, we need to introduce appropriate amounts of friction. Perpetually-attentive crowds are just not realistic, even for Jesus. (That’s why I love the looks on the people’s faces in the Tissot painting above.)

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On the other side of Lake Galilee…

Jul 16 2024

Mark, Luke, and Matthew tell a story of events that seem rather random. While the sensationalism of the events arrests our attention, I wonder what happened to the participants.

Here’s a summary: Spontaneously, Jesus tells his disciples, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake” (Mk 4:35). When they arrive on the other side (after an episode amazing in its own right), they are greeted by a hostile, raging, tormented man.** Jesus heals the man and sends him back home to the astonishment of his community. #irony Naturally, the townspeople ask Jesus to leave.

Where are they now?

The human question arises, what happened to the guy? The Gospels don’t say…

Was the world of Jesus’ experience so large that people randomly appeared and then disappeared never to be heard from again? Like the people you sit near on an airplane going overseas.

Or was his a world where interaction led to more interaction? Similar to meeting a like-minded colleague at a conference and exchanging business cards.

I conclude from research and personal experience that it was the latter – that contact generally resulted in more contact. Jesus probably saw the man during his second longer stay on the other side of Lake Galilee.

** Two men according to Matthew 8:28.

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Rogue husbands or loyal followers?

Jul 11 2024

We must not neglect the wives of Jesus’ disciples. Neglect, you ask? Those men are on the road with Jesus!

In Jesus’ experience, loyalty to the Torah was authoritative. And the Torah warned against neglecting one’s wife.

If a man [who is already married] marries another woman, he may not neglect [his first wife’s] food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. (Exodus 21.10)

This particular regulation seems obscure within the larger body of Law, but it apparently caught the attention of the Rabbis and is therefore worthy of our notice.

In the Mishnah, the discussion concerning conjugal rights prohibits lengthy absences by the husband as follows:

Disciples may go to Torah study without their wife’s consent for thirty days.Workers go out for one week. . . . Sailors for six months. . . (Ketuboth 5.6)

Paul echoes the Torah’s concern for conjugal integrity in his letter to the Corinthians.

The husband should fulfill his wife’s conjugal needs and the wife her husband’s. (1 Corinthians 7.3)

It would seem lawful of Jesus to respect the schedules of the disciples who were married (see Mark 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:5). And that affects how we schedule Jesus’ experience.

Jesus was not under the Mishnah. The Mishnah simply gives us a context in which to form our own assumptions.

In other words, expect during the SpendaYearwithJesus story for the married disciples to break off from the group to visit their families. And don’t be surprised if Jesus stops praying, teaching, and healing to honor his mother every once in a while.

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Pan and Zoom, “Three Weeks Later”

Jul 09 2024

During the summer, Jesus journeys from Capernaum to the Mediterranean Sea, then along the Phoenician coast (present-day Lebanon), and finally inland (present-day Syria) around upper Galilee.

The Gospel of Mark summarizes Jesus’ experience in two phrases. “He went to the region Tyre.” And the return: “He came through Sidon to Lake Galilee in the middle of the region of Decapolis” (Mark 7:24, 31).

Twenty days of walking summed up in twenty words.

wJes.us Map 2 Outside Galilee

withJes.us Map 2 Outside Galilee

In a few weeks, a person accumulates a lot of experiences. Sunrises and sunsets. Sleeping and eating. Talking with old friends and new acquaintances. Home life and village visits. Mostly forgettable food with some memorable meals.

The Gospel writers were able to assume that their readers’ “normal” experience approximated Jesus’ experience. Therefore they could summarize twenty days in a twenty words.

The “normal” experience today includes cell phones, microwaves, automobiles, and credit cards. (see Science-Fiction meets Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John)

We need a way to pause and relate to the reality of the twenty days. And by relating Jesus to that reality, we can better relate to ours like Jesus.

Connect with Jesus’ experience.

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So we meet again

Jul 04 2024

During the height of Jesus’ popularity, people from all over the region of Palestine came to hear him speak.

People traveled from the regions of Tyre and Sidon in the north to Idumea (Edom) in the far south; from the Decapolis and Perea east of the Jordan River to the central regions of Samaria and Judea west of the Jordan; and of course from Jesus’ home region of Galilee (Mk  3:7-8). (See the map below.)

Since Jesus’ itinerary in the Gospels includes these locations, I conclude that some of the folks who traveled to hear Jesus invited him to come and speak to them in their home towns.

The alternative is that Jesus randomly chose the region of Tyre and Sidon to get out of Galilee.

Regions of Palestine in the First-Century

Regions of Palestine in the First-Century

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SpendaYearwithJesus: The Intersection of Experience

Jul 02 2024

What if you could follow Jesus’ experience for a year? To see where he walked… what he ate… who he met… in the country… in the city… on the mountain… and on the road… day after day after day.

Regardless of religion, Jesus’ story is worth following. In fact, most people agree that if more of us lived like Jesus, the world would be a better place.

So the question follows, how did Jesus live? More specifically, did Jesus experience irritations like getting stuck in traffic? Did he deal with workplace challenges like politics?

Questions from my experience compelled me to dig into Jesus’ experience. The first-century sources are pretty rich with background information, which limits the possibilities concerning Jesus’ day-to-day.

Long story short, after years of research and over 1,000 text messages, I feel more connected to Jesus experience – in my work, on my drive home and at the dinner table.

I am excited to invite you to SpendaYearwithJesus. Connect with Jesus’ experience day-by-day and who knows, you may see ways Jesus’ experiences intersect with your own.

SpendaYearwithJesus.com

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Is Jesus a false prophet?

Jun 27 2024

I don’t envy the town leaders of Capernaum. Quite likely, they were under pressure from the Jerusalem religious authorities to deal with Jesus.

Given Jesus’ pronouncement of doom against Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida (Luke 10:13-15), the logical conclusion is that these towns rejected Jesus — but without going so far as to arrest him.

Now Jesus’ experience had its share of conflict. He had even been asked to leave a town before this. And people come and go around Jesus without “doom.”

There is no record of eviction, and it seems unlikely that the town leaders could reach consensus if the synagogue ruler Jairus or local businessman Zebedee were influencers. (Analogous to the presence of Nicodemus and Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin.)

I take it, however, that there was some sort of majority rejection among the leaders to preserve the standing of their communities.

After all, if Jesus wasn’t a political Messiah, what did the political leaders really stand to gain from his activity? Contrast that against what they stood to lose if people listened to Jesus’ criticism.

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Scheduling Jesus – The Weather Cycle

Jun 25 2024

Why are we talking about the weather? The weather cycle affected Jesus’ experience just like it does ours today.

Although we do not have a daily forecast for Jesus’ last year, we have descriptions of the region’s weather. There were two seasons: summer heat and winter rains.

Simply put, there is no precipitation during the summer months. Dew is the only form of moisture. People were free to gather outside or travel without the threat of rain.

Winter weather was another story. Rains impacted travel and other outdoor activity. Concerning precipitation:

  • “Average annual rainfall in Jerusalem is roughly that of rainy London, but Jerusalem has 50 days of rain to London’s 300.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, 124)
  • “From November to February, rain falls in periods of a few days, sometimes with intensity.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, 122)
  • The Hebrew Bible records a story where the people protested gathering in the rain (Ezra 10:9-15).

The SpendaYearwithJesus story gives subscribers a sense for how Jesus and his followers adapted to their climate. Blue skies, hot days, winter rains and even snow at higher elevations were all part of Jesus’ experience.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1991).
Jesus and His Times, ed. Kaari Ward  (Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1987).

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Animate your understanding with the Sabbath reading

Jun 20 2024

Every week, week after week, month after month, year after year…

Jesus’ friends and neighbors gathered Sabbath day to Sabbath day to read the Law of Moses.

The founders of the early church verified and upheld the practice.

Paul referred to the practice in his missionary preaching:
“… the utterances of the prophets … are read every Sabbath” (Acts 13:27).

James also confirmed the habit as part of the ruling of the Jerusalem Council: “For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21).

Other first-century writers comment on the practice of gathering for Sabbath instruction. Philo was a Jewish philosopher from Alexandria, Egypt. Josephus was a historian of the Jewish War.

Philo explains, “…on the seventh day there are spread before the people in every city innumerable lessons of prudence…during the giving of which the common people sit down” (Special Laws 2.15 §62).

Josephus also explains for his readers, “And the seventh day we set apart from labor; it is dedicated to the learning of our customs and laws” (Antiquities of the Jews, 16.2.3 §43).

In another book, Against Apion, Josephus continues concerning the learning of the law, “…for he did not suffer the guilt of ignorance to go on without punishment, but demonstrated the law to be the best and the most necessary instruction of all others, permitting the people to leave off their other employments, and to assemble together for the hearing of the law, and learning it exactly, and this not once or twice, or oftener, but every week…” (2.17 §175).

The Law of Moses** animates Jesus’ experience. In particular, we understand the rhythm of Jesus’ story in the seven day increments marked by the Sabbath rest (Saturday). We also hear the Law informing the teachings, the challenges, and even the arguments in Jesus’ story.

Every Sabbath, Jesus’ devout friends and neighbors gathered to learn the Law.

** In English, Moses’ Law is called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Interestingly, in German, the books are titled Moses I-V.

 

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