Archive for April, 2015

When evil has become official policy, initial resistance is no less courageous for its quiet beginnings.

Luke narrates how 1st-century Jewish religious officialdom and the humid presence of Rome managed to collaborate in executing Jesus, this despite unsuccessful thrashing around for justifiable reasons to do so.

Not everyone agreed. But against this powerfully convenient coalition, what was one to do?

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (Luke 23:50–52 ESV)

This Joseph of Arimathea is described, as a righteous minority in a conflictive moment that demands silence and cooperation often is, from a variety of angles.

He was ‘a good and righteous man’. One surmises that it was this strength of character that explains his failure to ‘consent to their decision and action’ regarding the swift dispatching of Jesus to the rolls of for-a-while messiahs.

Yet there is more to Joseph. His eyes were among those that scan the landscape fore evidence that the God of Israel is quietly on the move. He was ‘looking’, this Joseph, ‘for the kingdom of God’. Most would imagine that the descriptions of power and the powerful were pretty well complete by the time one had taken the Herods and the Pilates into account.

Joseph did not. He was awaiting something more, something deeper, something enduring, something beyond the self-referential conspiracies of the religious and political elite.

What do you do in such dangerous times?

For Joseph, you do the next, merciful thing. You ask Pilate for the dead man’s body and give it a decent burial.

Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. (Luke 23:53 ESV)

Such is the this-worldly care of men and women who are better than this world, yet in loving it look for its true king.


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By all reckoning, it should have been the end of Peter’s story.

Like Judas, he might have hanged himself. Or turned recluse. Or lurched in his bitterness towards Stockholm Syndrome, throwing in his lot with Jesus’ taunters.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61–62 ESV)

A text familiar with tears and their descriptors takes special care to characterize Peter’s particular kind of weeping. ‘He went out and wept bitterly.’

Nothing is left for Peter, even if Jesus‘ life might stagger on for a few more hours before the killing is over.

Indeed Luke’s narrative never pauses to allow a polite space for Peter’s grief. Hurrying on from Jesus’ and Peter’s fateful locking of glances, he reports:

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. (Luke 22:63–65 ESV)

But Peter is ended.

His credibility gone, his soul crushed by his own unforeseen betrayal of this man for whom he had vowed to die, what can possibly become of this once audacious follower of Jesus, whom the text now with increasing frequency calls simply ‘the Lord’?

Yet, stunningly, Peter is not over.

The events unfolding before eyes that have perhaps read them too quickly, too often, would produce more than one resurrection from the dead. Peter, the New Testament will lead us to understand, had a future, indeed a complex, contentious, and fruitful one.

Nor does the resurrection count end at just two.

For we are all Peter ended, capable of the unthinkable and often its very perpetrators, shattered by our own weak hand.

Yet we are all potentially Peter remade, remembering our nadir not as our end, but rather our beginning.

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No biblical proverb has challenged the delicacy of its translators more than 14.4. The squirming is like unto a spectator sport.

If there are no oxen the crib is clean, But a rich harvest comes through the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4 JPS)

Clearly, the conditions of productivity are in play. (more…)

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It is probably impossible for us credibly to imagine Jesus’ solitude in the garden called Gethsemane.

As his heart and mind writhed in agony before his impending execution and the lived experience of abandonment by his Father, his friends, too, deserted him for sleep. (more…)

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It was inevitable, as the early Jesus movement spread from one city to the next, that people would covet its power without loyalty to its source.

One imagines that the movement’s leaders were as surprised as anyone to see the power of Christ flowing through their words and hands to liberate the mad and heal the sick. Happily, the Book of Acts provides more than one glimpse of the earliest stewards of such remarkable power fending off the misguided adulation of the crowds. But sometimes the threat of corruption reared its head via the jealousy of impressed onlookers who stood outside the immediate circle of the Jesus community. (more…)

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Sometimes those closest to Jesus understand nothing, while someone with no ‘Jesus history’ comprehends immediately. It has always been so.

Jesus explains to his disciples that Jerusalem, their portentous destination, holds out for him no obvious good:

And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ (Luke 18:31–33 ESV)


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The biblical proverbs rarely aim for the fence. They just keep poking singles.

Rarely does the Book of Proverbs open a window to stupendous secrets that were heretofore unknown. Rather, it gradually builds a home out of the cumulative lessons learned by people who pay attention, brick upon brick, one small board after another fixed in just the right place with little fanfare and no shouting.

One man pretends to be rich and has nothing; Another professes to be poor and has much wealth. (Proverbs 13:7 JPS)

Attentive people know that things are often not as they appear. (more…)

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A kind of self-oriented religiosity craves a formula.

We want a rule, a predictable sequence, a guaranteed outcome.

Admittedly, the Christian message is, from one angle of view, simple. Its redeeming beauty hides behind no intellectual prerequisite, no gate-keeping aesthetic sensitivity, no necessary spiritual predisposition. It’s the walking wounded, the drooling madman, the self-loathing sinner who seizes its promise before the sophisticate can get past his first reflexive sneer. (more…)

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Rational calculation, as we know it, is of limited value in assessing life’s larger moves.

Take Jesus’ parables about people, animals, and things that have gone missing. He intends to speak, of course, about his Father’s love. Such stories are not permeated by the sentimental, but neither do they hew to the mathematics of evaluation. (more…)

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Jesus rarely made things easy.

He forced upon his hearers choices they would rather have avoided. When he found that a kind of celebrity had attached itself to him, he faced down the crowds with a kind of rhetorical fury that must have been only partially offset by the love in his voice.

The gushing of the masses appears to have represented a kind of threat. In the face of it, he said the damnedest things. (more…)

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