Back in John’s telling of the first recorded miracle of Jesus, turning water into wine…
So yes, On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The third day as in Tuesday, as in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…also as in the doubly blessed third day from Genesis, a doubly blessed day that must be the day the Jews in Israel would have to be married on. But never forget…and John will not let you forget, the third day is also the day Christ himself rose from the dead…
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Cana of Galilee. Funny thing about Cana of Galilee is, we know exactly where this is. You can still visit Cana today. It’s only 5 miles from Nazareth. Which probably tells us exactly why Jesus was invited to this wedding. Because he was known in the community, he was local. Yes, let’s invite Yeshua, the carpenter, remember him, he fixed our steps and built the gazebo a couple years ago. Let’s invite him. Jesus was invited, his mom was invited, his disciples were invited. Not because they were Jesus’s disciples but also because they, too, were known.
But Jesus only has six disciples at this point. This is the very beginning of his ministry. He’s got Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, and Nathanael. Nathanael specifically has just joined the day before. He has just become a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus had told him “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” John 1:50 NIV. Better hold onto your hat, you’re going to see some awesome things. And sure enough, the next day they are at the wedding in Cana, and Nathanael will something truly amazing.
It’s a Jewish wedding of the first century. And we need to understand about Jewish weddings, or we might be confused. When we think of a wedding, we think of a quick ceremony followed by a wedding reception. But this is not a reception with mints and nuts and cake and punch in a plastic cup. This is a feast that will go for days. This is not a 20 minute ceremony followed by an hour long reception. You would have the ceremony, the bride and groom would disappear for a short time (not for pictures), the happy, blushing couple would return and the feast would begin!
It sounds crazy, but that’s how it was done. Jesus is at one of these first century weddings. They’ve had the vows, the happy couple has disappeared into the tent, now they’ve come back, and now it’s time to start several days of feasting. But no sooner had they got started, a real catastrophe happened. In a shame and honor based culture, which is typical of the east, including first century Israel, things like weddings have to come off right or it brings great shame upon the family. What happened here was, they ran out of wine. If you run out of wine, it is a catastrophe. Because when you have a feast that’s supposed to run for three days, if you run out of wine, people go home. Well, that’s that!! People begin to drift away, and what’s supposed to be a several day feast is over by the afternoon. It’s very embarrassing, the shame could linger within the family for generations – “That’s that family that tried to have a wedding! That didn’t work out, they ran out of wine and everybody left!! LOL”
So they ran out of wine and are the verge of a social catastrophe. Jesus’s mother is there with Jesus, her eldest son, and simply observes They have no wine. Notice that she’s not requesting for Jesus to do anything. This is not a request. Mary is not saying “Jesus fix this.” She’s simply making a whispered observation laden with pity. “Oh my goodness. They’ve ran out of wine, I feel so sorry for them. How embarrassing. How did they let this happen? They have no wine.” In our English translations Jesus’ response is rendered like this – Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come. What is actually said here in the Greek is apparently at least a little enigmatic, obscure, and difficult to understand. This comes across in our translations as a rebuff, but I don’t think that’s what happening at all. It doesn’t fit, Mary has not asked Jesus to do anything, she has just observed that they were, in fact, out of wine. NT Wright says we would benefit greatly from a simple punctuation change – Woman? What! Has this to do with me? Or how about this. Jesus response is really, if we could understand, more like this – “What’s that for us? I’ve got time. I can take care of that.”
Jesus says My hour has not yet come. Jesus knows that an hour will come when he can not work. The hour of darkness. The hour that he’s betrayed and turned over to the Romans. The hour that he’s crucified. But Jesus knows that’s a ways off. So Mary says oh no They have no wine, Jesus responds and says “What’s that for us? We can take care of that. I’ve got the tine. I’m not in a rush. I can handle this.”
Here’s an example so we can better understand. Imagine you’re in the grocery store, heading home after church to get your true worship on and watch some football, and at the front of the line is a young mother buying groceries, formula and diapers for her baby. Except she is coming up a couple of dollars short of being able to pay for what she has. And now she’s embarrassed, because there is a line of people in line behind her. She’s slowing the line down, and I mean, kickoff is in fifteen minutes! The back of her neck is white hot from the glowering stares behind her. This young mother is both embarrassed and a little desperate, because she needs those groceries. At which point your spouse whispers “She has no money.” So you grab a couple of bucks out of your wallet, discreetly head to the front of the line and give it to the cashier. “Here’s the rest of the money. I’ve got this covered.” Because, after all, what’s a couple of dollars? What’s that for us? We can take care of it.
That’s what’s happening here. That’s exactly what Jesus is doing. Mary says They have no wine. Jesus says No big deal. What’s that for us? He’s not saying “That’s not my problem.” What Jesus is saying here is “That’s no problem.” It’s all in how you hear the idiom, and there’s all the difference in the world.
How many times do we see others in certain situations and walk away without helping, telling ourselves “That’s not my problem. What’s that got to do with me?” But really, “Whats that for us?” It’s so easy for us to turn our backs and walk away. I do it everyday. But, again, “What’s that for us? We can handle that.” Can’t we?
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John 2:1-11 ESV
Going to be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, but before that I’m going to look at what comes right before that parable. In other words, I’m going to set up the context in which we find that third of the most famous parables of Jesus. We’ve already looked at the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the third of these most famous parable of Christ is, indeed, the rich man and Lazarus.
Jesus doesn’t just give his parables in a vacuum, and the rich man and Lazarus is no different. The parable is given in the context of a particular debate and it’s given to a particular people. As was almost the case with Jesus parables, his target was….the Pharisees.
So Luke 16:13 says “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Did you hear that? I hope so. Jesus is speaking pretty plainly on this point. You can not serve both God and money. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. [or ‘everyone is trying to attack it.’ I’ve read this may be a better translation here.]. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”
This is the setting for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I’m going to say again, Jesus’ entire ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God. He is announcing that kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and he is enacting the kingdom, showing us by action what the kingdom of God looks like. This is the ministry of Jesus, to announce and enact god’s new government, God’s new arrangement for human society.
Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest. When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard. In fact, we need Jesus help to do so, because as Jesus says, with God all things are possible.
He also says that the law and the prophets were doing their work of preparing a people who would love god and love neighbor, anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God. But then he says The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone [is trying to attack it] (again, this may be a better translation). The law and the prophets were anticipating the kingdom of god, but with the arrival of John the Baptist and now Jesus the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, it’s being announced, it’s on the scene, but everyone is not happy about it. Many are trying to attack it, because many do not like what Jesus is announcing and enacting about the kingdom of god.
So when Jesus says You cannot serve God and money, what happens? The Pharisees attack that – The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. The Pharisees were unabashedly lovers of money. They would say they loved God as well, but they would also say “we love money too, and there’s no problem, you can do both.” They had a theological foundation, a particular theology that endorsed that way of thinking. Their theology came mostly from the way they read and interpreted the book of book of Deuteronomy.
The Pharisees believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you in both war and commerce. You can read the book of Deuteronomy that way, and that’s what they believed. If you obeyed God, you would be blessed in war and commerce, you would be successful and prosperous (sound familiar?).
The Pharisees therefore believed that success and prosperity were in fact a sign of god’s blessing. On the other hand, poverty and failure were a sign of God’s disfavor.
Jesus disagreed. Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees theology that success and wealth equals blessing. Now, Jesus does not see wealth as inherently evil. Just one example, we’ve seen the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in that parable the father, who is a wealthy man, is in fact a good man. So Jesus does not see wealth and money as inherently evil. In fact wealth, all things being equal, is a good thing. But Jesus does see our economic self interest as the greatest single hindrance to our entrance and participation in the Kingdom of God.
This is why In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus begins his kingdom announcing sermon on the Plain with “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV. When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. That little eye of the needle for the rich man, is a wide open gate for the poor man. He’s got nothing to lose, it’s easy to get in.
The Pharisees also viewed sickness and suffering as punishment for personal sin. Human suffering would be seen as divine punishment. Don’t we still have some who work from thus theological system? Don’t we hear from those to this day who twist earthquakes and tsunamis and epidemics into divine punishment for some great sin “those” people have been guilty of?!
Jesus’ disciples were working from a very similar paradigm on this as the Pharisees. Again, Jesus disagrees. “And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 ESV. Who are we going to blame here? The man or his parents? Jesus says “neither”. It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. So, for us, when we see episodes of human suffering, we are not called to assign blame, but to relieve the suffering…
So, such is the context and background of the rich man and Lazarus…
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”
Luke 16:13-17 ESV
It’s amazing sometimes how we miss the pieces of the puzzle coming together. It’s all the more amazing to us when we have our eyes opened and can now see what we’ve always missed before. I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s book “The Day the Revolution Began; Reconsidering the meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion”, and it’s bringing a lot of different things into clarity. I will probably have read it a couple more times to understand that which I still do not, but I just got through a chapter in which the author ties together some of the stories from Jesus’s temptation in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 with some of the stories from His passion at the end of Jesus’s life.
We tend to see the temptation of Jesus out in the wilderness as an isolated event. In a strict sense it was, Jesus was only fasting in the wilderness once, but as for his temptations, the Satan manifested these in his battle with Jesus many ways at different points throughout Jesus’s life and ministry.
The evil of man came up against the goodness of God at the cross, and lucky for all of us, Jesus had already faced the temptations accompanying his passion during his wilderness temptation, and already knew how to handle it. For instance, after he was crucified, he was mocked and tempted by passers-by gawking at his suffering. “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”” Matthew 27:39-40 ESV. That phrase, If you are the Son of God, where did we (and Jesus) hear that before? We saw this much earlier in Matthew’s gospel, during that wilderness temptation. “And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Also…“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”” Matthew 4:3, 6 ESV. If you are the Son of God…prove it!!! We see here the Satan, the accuser, appearing just as prominently at the cross as he did in the wilderness, tempting, poking and prodding the Son of God to show himself. Yet Jesus, during his moment of greatest duress and tribulation, stayed true to the purpose of the Father and in doing so gives us, finally, the clearest revelation of who God is. “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Satan had offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. We see this in both Matthew and Luke’s account of the wilderness temptation. “And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”” Matthew 4:9 ESV. And from Luke “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” Luke 4:6 ESV. Jesus could have taken his power and authority through the means of man. He could have conformed to the systems of this world. It was right there for him to take. But instead he responded by trusting in God the Father – “And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”” Luke 4:8 ESV
Don’t miss what happens during Jesus’s passion, in the garden as Jesus is arrested. “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”” Luke 22:53 ESV. The Satan had offered Jesus power and dominion over the very forces which arrayed against him both during his passion and at the cross. But it would have been through the power of darkness. The soldiers in the garden arresting Jesus, the high priest Caiaphas, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Satan offered Jesus power and dominion over all these forces. Jesus never had to go to the cross. All of these men who played such a large role in his suffering and death would have been under his power, if only he had given in to the temptation of the devil in the wilderness. But, it would have been through the power of darkness.
Lucky for us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 ESV. It certainly appeared in the darkness that the light was being snuffed out by the darkness. Peter was having none of it – “And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:51-53 ESV. We, like Peter, will have none of it. We believe in and follow the powers of darkness. Instead of the cross, we grab our swords every time. But, as Jesus told Peter, we should Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
We’ve been taking, and perishing by, our swords ever since. Until we can all accept the sacrifice of the Son of God, which he made willingly for each one of us, we will continue to sacrifice our own sons and daughters on the bloody battlefield of the world. A battlefield which gets closer and closer to our own backyards every day.
It appeared the darkness was overcoming the light, but as John told us, the darkness has not overcome it. Jesus was raised on the third day. And notice what he tells his disciples the last time he sits with them after his resurrection. “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18 ESV. He had the satanic temptation to take his power through the force of man. But He was the light that could not be overcome by the darkness. He overcame those temptations all the way through the cross, was vindicated in resurrection, and has been given All authority in heaven and on earth. Why do we claim allegiance to Him and not follow the teachings and example he gave us?
“…If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.””
Matthew 27:40 ESV
“And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'””
Matthew 4:3, 6 ESV
“When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.””
Luke 22:53 ESV
“And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.””
Matthew 4:9 ESV
“To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.”
Luke 4:6 ESV
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Matthew 28:18 ESV
The parable of the Good Samaritan, a story so powerful the we still us the term “Good Samaritan” to describe someone who goes out of their way to help another, expecting nothing in return. 2000 years later, this story still inspires to us to become better people.
But, as with so many if Jesus teachings, there is another level, another dimension that is not apparent to us at first glance. We read this and see it only as a challenge to us to do good to others, regardless of our opinions and thoughts about that person. We are to do good for others even if we don’t like them. Even if they are our “enemies”. But this may be even more challenging than Jesus’ call to “love your enemies“?
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Of course, it’s a lawyer trying trap Jesus and see how he can tear him down (I know, lawyers are my neighbors too). But this lawyer defines pretty well for us our own conditions, even to this day. We know we are supposed to love our neighbor. But we are much more interested in defining who is our neighbor (or more to our point, who is not our neighbor). We are far more interested in defining our neighbor than in loving our neighbor.
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. So, to the point, the man going down from Jerusalem would have been a Jew. Jesus is speaking to Jews here, the lawyer asking the question was a Jew, this man going down from the city of God was meant, clearly, to be a Jew.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So we see a Jewish man left bloody, stripped, robbed and near death. And we see the priest, from the Jewish temple, can’t stop and help the man. Maybe he feared being made unclean and therefore unable to serve in the temple for a time. Or maybe not, since he was leaving Jerusalem and the temple, not on the way up to Jerusalem. indicating his temple service may have already been finished. Maybe he just figured no one was looking and he just didn’t feel like it. After all, he had just served in the temple, he is good, right? Either way, we have our command to love our neighbors, but we do also have our priorities…
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. Another prescribed to the service of the Lord. He loves God. His neighbor, not so much. So the two Jews in the story, both closely associated with the service of the Lord in the temple, can’t be bothered to help their fellow Jew, their brother, whom they see possibly dying in the street. It’s no skin off their backs, is it?
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. The Samaritan, the one who is formally excommunicated from the temple and all worship associated with it, the one hated by all 3 others in the story. Hated by the priest. Hated by the Levite. Hated by the beaten man. Hated by all Jews. Remember what John told us about Jews and Samaritans – “The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” John 4:9 ESV. Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. But the priest, he would have no dealings with bloodied, beaten brother. The Levite, he walked by as if his fellow Jew was just another dirty Samaritan. But this Samaritan, the one hated by all Jews, he had compassion. He didn’t walk by thinking “It’s not safe for me to stop. I’ll be beaten too.” He didn’t give himself the excuse “He’s already too far gone, I can’t do anything for him.” He didn’t shake his fist and say to himself “He’s a Jew who would have no dealings with me!” No, he had compassion on the man and wanted to help.
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. He doesn’t just stop to help, he takes personal responsibility for this man’s well being. He became personally invested in the healing of this beaten, broken man. You might even say he loved him.
And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Now he’s spending his own money on him!! He’s promising to the innkeeper he’s willing to go beyond this if need be, just to see this Jew, who would have had no dealings with him, healthy again. Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He is speaking to a group of Jews, responding particularly to a “smart” lawyer (smart enough to figure out all kinds of way to get out of loving his neighbor). His response is a story that does not just show us how we should love our neighbor. He’s not just showing this man what it means to love his neighbor. No, Jesus is cutting much deeper into the innermost being of this smart lawyer. He could have crafted a story showing a good Jew stopping to love a hated Samaritan, but he didn’t. He gave a story of the one the Jews hated most having compassion on a man most of them would have avoided contact with themselves.
So here’s how Jesus really turns their world upside down with this parable – What do you do when your enemy, the one you hate the most, loves you? How will you react when the one you hate, someone you would under no circumstances have dealings with, is the one to step up unmistakably in love to help you or save you when everyone else, including all those you expected to be there for you, crosses the street to get away?? When those you thought were your friends leave you for dead, but that one is the one who has compassion?
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.
What will you do? “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Matthew 12:7 ESV
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””
Luke 10:25-37 ESV
So, last week, I asked the question, “Does God bring the famine?” You may not agree with me, but my answer to this question, again, is an emphatic NO! In fact, as we see with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, wherever he is, nobody goes hungry, everyone gets what they need.
What, exactly, is famine? Famine is nature out of balance. The necessities are scarce, hard to come by, while luxuries are ironically and mockingly in abundance.
I’m going to contrast the picture of famine in revelation with the picture of Christ as he feeds the 5000. “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”” Revelation 6:5-6 ESV. This is the back horse of…famine! It’s rider has a pair of scales in his hand. We hear a voice crying out – “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A denarius is a days wage. If we remember Jesus’ story of the laborers in the vineyard, all the laborers, whether they worked one hour or 12 hours, received a denarius, a day’s wage (I know…that’s not FAIR!! I thought Jesus made everything FAIR???!!!). A quart of wheat would be considered starvation (famine) for a family, all for a days wage. What is necessary for minimal everyday living here is unavailable (or barely available) while the luxuries (oil and wine) are plentiful, abundant. This is what greed does. We exploit the earth, leaving it depleted and poor, in order to make ourselves rich. We glorify our greed as a “higher standard of living“. We use this sacred phrase to excuse our own everyday insanity. We work by the millions in inane jobs we don’t like, making machines and products which pollute the air we breathe, we jet around from one place to another in projectiles traveling at lethal speeds (killing and maiming millions btw – I’ve read that this number is higher than all the wars fought on the earth), so that then we can sit before our electronic gods that instill in us all forms of flesh fantasies in an attempt (almost always successfully) to convince us that we must have these oil and wine luxuries and therefore have no choice but to go back to the jobs we hate to make our “products” and keep the circle going round and round.
Eugene Peterson defines famine as “the condition in which we have most of what we don’t need and almost nothing of what we do need.” Paul Goodman says this. “What do we need? We don’t need constant stimulation, poisoned food, carcinogenic air, or useless work for which we are highly paid.” Very few of us believe there is a famine in the land, but there is. In certain places, we see the pictures that come from the imbalance of greed which conspires to make the famine obvious to all. But those bloated bellies and spindly limbs which are literal fact for some are a gruesome parody of the lives of most of us.
But the rider of the white horse also does his work. “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” Revelation 6:1-2 ESV. The same Lord who teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is at work, right now, restoring balance to the earth and the people living on it to sanity. He brings us by the tens of millions to his table of bread and wine each week to teach us to live by grace and not by greed. He is the conquering white horse rider who overcomes the red, black and green horse, but he does not change his methods. His white horse is a symbol, a product of our believing imagination. The ways Christ conquers are still the Palm Sunday donkey, the sacrificial lamb, and the mocked and crucified Messiah. His means have not changed. Christ has not given up on donkeys, lambs and crosses, he is NOT replacing them with horses, spears, swords OR bombs. No, this picture in Revelation is a validation that the the means Christ has chosen to accomplish his will and work out his salvation are in fact, against all appearances, victorious.
And what does he do when there is seemingly not enough food for 5 men, let alone 5000? He blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and gives them not only what they need, but above and beyond until their cups overflow and they are sending the excesses back!! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalms 23:5-6 ESV. Our cups are always overflowing, nobody is going hungry in the presence of Christ.
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” It’s getting late Lord, I say it’s every man for himself, send these people out of here so we can find something for ourselves to eat!! But no, we are to feed them. It’s not every man, woman, and child for himself. We say we trust him, but do we trust him? Do we believe that our “not enough” is really more than we need? Do we believe that what starts as five loaves and two fish can really feed 5000 men plus women and children, and somehow we will have more when we finish than when we started? And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”
Mark 6:30-44 ESV
“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!””
Revelation 6:5-6 ESV
I’ve had this ready for over a day now. Due to the vagaries of life and my “day” job, I have not been able to take the time to post this, which is too bad because I thing it’s an important subject. I’m going to start doing things a little different for now, and schedule my posts for 6:30 PM on a regular basis. Maybe this will be better than just my random post times. Also, I still have to figure out days of the week and get more regular in my postings. Not too oversimplify, but myself and my blogging are both a work in progress. After reading this post, many of you may not want to read my writing anymore regardless of the time or the day. So, here goes nothing…
Collective murder and the lies we tell ourselves about it. Lies we still need to be set free from…
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus is speaking here to Jews, probably Judeans, who had believed in Him. They had recently come to believe Jesus was Messiah, that he was indeed Israel’s true king. A “belief” of which Jesus seems more than a little skeptical. He says ok, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. It’s great that you believe in me, and that you want to follow me. But if you stick with my teaching, you’re eyes will be opened up to some things you need to be made free from. These disciples were looking for a Messiah for sure. They were looking for a Messiah to lead them in their war of independence from Rome. Was Jesus the one to pick up the sword and lead them in their war, or not?? These would-be new disciples don’t handle what Jesus says to them about truth and freedom very well. They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
I’m proud to be an Israelite, at least I know I’m free! Something like that, right? Jesus tells them they need to be set free, they declare that they are free!! (So just why were they looking for a Messiah, anyway?). By the time this scene is finished, this crowd would be looking to stone Jesus. So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. So much for being new believers in Christ!
The truth Jesus was telling these believers they needed to be set free from was no bumper sticker slogan. The truth Jesus brings in John chapter 8 incites this crowd of would be disciples first to insult their Messiah, then to try to kill him.
For these Judeans coming to Jesus, the freedom they sought was political. Their truth was the same as Pilate’s truth, the power to kill. “So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”” John 19:10 ESV. Their idea of freedom was that freedom came from power, especially power over their enemies. Freedom for them was a euphemism for lethal power – Pilate’s power to kill. When you have the power and the will to kill your enemies, you will be “free”. But for Jesus, freedom in the form of lethal power is not true freedom. Freedom is the liberation from sin, especially the sin of collective killing.
Sound like a stretch? Here’s Jesus’ response to their declaration the they are children of Abraham. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. This conversation has gone way off the tracks!! Remember, these are not the scribes or Pharisees that Jesus was continually at odds with. These are Jews who had begun to believe in Jesus. Also remember that they had probably either just witnessed or maybe participated in a public stoning of a woman in adultery which Jesus had stopped by putting the onus back on the individual, cutting through the demonic mob mentality that controls such scenes (Let he who is without sin…). If they were actually listening and hearing what Jesus was teaching them, they would have known killing was incompatible with the way Jesus was leading them. Jesus knows the foundation of the crowds “freedom” was violence and murder. Freedom was another word for the power to kill their enemies. The crowd says “we’re talking about freedom”. Jesus says, “no, you’re talking about killing.” Jesus was revealing a truth about themselves which this crowd is unprepared or unwilling to understand. The truth which will set them free is a truth they don’t want to know. By the end of the chapter, the crowd seeks to stone Jesus. Six months later they would cry out for his execution.
For Jesus, the truth he is showing this nationalistic crowd of Judean disciples is that freedom maintained by killing is another name for slavery. What they think makes them free actually enslaves them. They are slaves to the practice of us vs them collective killing for the sake of power and think this is freedom. For this crowd, freedom is another word for killing. For Jesus, freedom is another word for love. If these would be disciples are truly ever going to follow Jesus, to see the kingdom of God, they are truly going to have be born-again, to rethink everything they think they know. Is freedom the power to kill, or is freedom the choice to love?
Let’s continue with what the Bible tells us here. They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did. Jesus keeps bringing this conversation back around to killing. Does this make us uncomfortable? This is an unpleasant subject, maybe an unpleasant passage. Do we trust that Jesus knew what he was doing or talking about here? He was trying to set us free! Think about what Jesus is saying here. This crowd repeats their assertion here that they are Abrahams children, Jesus says if they were really Abrahams children they would not be trying to kill him. Jesus says directly This is not what Abraham did. Well, what did Abraham do?
We know the story of Abraham, the call of God, the covenant and the promise. We know the promise fulfilled in his old age through his gathering of a family past the age of 100. But Jesus is talking about killing here, what does Abraham have to do with killing? What did Abraham do specifically that Jesus says these disciples needed to do. Abraham put down the knife. Abraham did not sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt Moriah. He abandoned the sacred violence of human sacrifice (which was normal and expected during Abrahams time).
We read and understand the story of Abraham and Isaac in a very 21st century way. We can’t get our heads around the fact that the Bible tells us God asked Abraham to sacrifice his first born son. To us, this is grotesque, abhorrent. But Abraham’s contemporaries, especially his Canaanite neighbors (he was living as a foreigner in Canaanite land) would not have seen it this way. The sacrifice of children, especially first born sons, was what the Gods required. It was part of our quid pro quo arrangement with the Gods (we still have these arrangements, don’t we?). The firstborn was offered to God to ensure future fertility. A blood sacrifice to secure future blessing. His Canaanite contemporaries may have seen it as a tragic irony that Abraham was asked in such old age to sacrifice his long awaited son, but they wouldn’t have been scandalized. The gods can be cruel. They were not to be messed with.
What Abraham did on Mt Moriah was revolutionary. What he did at what we erroneously call the “sacrifice” of Isaac (erroneous because Isaac was not sacrificed) was to gain the revelation that God, Yahweh, does not want human sacrifice. He put down the knife. If Abraham is the father of monotheism, he also ended human sacrifice, at least for what would become the Hebrew people. When Abraham put down the knife and offered a ram instead of his own son, humankind took a giant leap in the right direction. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Abraham abandoned killing in the name of God. This is what Jesus is talking about. This is what Abraham did. This is why Jesus is telling these would-be Judean disciples that if they were truly his disciples they would do what Abraham did and not seek to kill in the name of God.
Jesus and these disciples are at a real impasse. The problem is that Jesus and these Judeans have such differing views of God. They are really talking about two different, competing beings. One is the Abba father of Jesus, the other is the satan. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father. The Abba Father of Jesus is a giver and preserver of life, the father of the crowd is a killer. Jesus is pulling out all the stops to shows them that God is not as they had imagined him. God is not a killer demanding blood sacrifices. God does not sanction the slaughter of enemies. The freedom that comes from God is not power to kill, but the choice to love. Freedom is another word for what Abraham did when he put that knife down and chose not to kill his son.
Now Jesus is really about to lay down the hard truth that sets us free. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Jesus understood that he was sent by his Father to liberate humanity from false ideas about God, including the lie that God wants, requires or sanctions killing of any kind. But even would-be disciples of Christ are mostly not willing to engage in a complete reevaluation of God (be born-again) if it undermines the basic foundation of their world. This frustrates our Messiah, desperately trying to get his message across – Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
We, still, really do not want to hear that God wants us to rethink what it means to be free. Jesus in this debate with the Judeans repeatedly juxtaposes love and killing, showing that only one leads to true freedom. We still can not and will not hear that true freedom will never be achieved by killing our enemies. Peace on earth will never be achieved by the next war to end all wars. Because war can never end war. War can only lead to the next war. What Jesus teaches here goes against everything we’ve been taught to cherish. What Jesus is teaching is that killing in the name of freedom is just another word for being a slave to systemic sin, the systemic sin introduced by Cain right from the founding of civilization (our world).
To which this crowd responds by insulting the messenger – We were not born of sexual immorality. In other words – we know the circumstances of your birth, at least we are not illegitimate children, like some around here! These people were just talking about following Jesus, now they are calling him ugly names. Doesn’t take long. But now Jesus speaks the whole truth to them and lets the chips fall where they may. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Jesus is pulling back the curtain on the foundations of the world. Jesus is telling these Judeans (and all who would listen throughout history) that in holding to their false violence-based freedom instead of true love-based freedom, they are of their father the devil. They were neither children of Abraham or God, but children of the devil. Jesus describes the devil as a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. Jesus is referring here to the story of Cain and Abel.
Satan was present in the Cain and Abel story. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”” Genesis 4:7 ESV. Sin, the devil, was crouching at Cain’s door. This is where he got the idea, the thought, that he couldn’t be free until he imposed his will upon his brother. Cain, the tiller of the ground, could not share the land with his brother Abel, the tender of flocks. Something had to give. Cain wanted to be set free. Free from having to love his brother, having to care for his brother, having to share land and territory with his brother. His father, the devil, was crouching at his door, and Cain opened it wide and invited him in. Doing the will if his father the devil, Cain saw his brother as other, as enemy, killed him, buried the body, lied you himself and God about it, and with his hands covered with his brothers blood crying from the ground and his head full of lies, Cain founded human civilization.
To this day, this is the pattern of civilization. When problems or competition with our neighbors comes about, we call them enemies, kill them, and lie to ourselves about it. We justify our killing in the name of freedom and hide the bodies behind monuments and myths, anthems and altars. “They are not us, they are them. In the name of our rights, our land, our nation, our security, our honor, our freedom, it had to be done. They had to be killed.” We do it all in the name of freedom.
But Jesus says that kind of freedom is from the father of lies. It is precisely this satanic freedom Jesus wants to set us free from. And – it wasn’t for a bumper sticker slogan these disciples end up ready to hurl stones at the son of God. The crowd wanted to kill Jesus for uncovering the lies they tell themselves, for uncovering their very own deal with the devil.
Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.
Jesus began this teaching by saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 ESV. Jesus is free from the darkness of Cain’s system of collective murder and the lies we tell ourselves about it. Jesus is the light of the world, shining his light on the dark system of violence that lies at the foundation of the world. (“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John 3:19 ESV). Unlike us, Jesus is not implicated in the human system of violence. He is untainted by the legacy of the city Cain built. It is only in the light of Christ that we can begin to recognize our complicity in violence and seek a better way.
Jesus is completely innocent of all complicity with systemic sin. This is why he can ask the question Which one of you convicts me of sin? Jesus cannot be charged in our systems of foundational murder and the lies that cover it up. Which in and of itself guaranteed that Jesus would himself become a victim of our system. Violence can not stand in the presence of one who owes it nothing, which is why at a stoning, every one must throw a stone. Don’t participate…you might become the next victim. By not throwing a stone, you become a prophet shining a light on the collective sin. The community as a whole must either repent or stone the prophet. (O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! Matthew 23:37 ESV).
In the end, Jesus himself was also killed. But his death shames our whole system of what has been called “redemptive violence”. We can finally see that if we use violence as a means for achieving “justice”, we are capable of killing anyone, even murdering God himself. The killing of Jesus brings the entire evil system into the light and exposes it for what it is. (“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” John 12:31 ESV). “Seen in the light of the resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus demands that we once and for all renounce violence as a means for achieving just ends.” – Pastor Brian Zahnd.
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” So much for becoming disciples and following Jesus! Now these Judeans are reduced to hurling racial slurs at Jesus, and have no hint of the irony as they accuse Jesus of having a demon. They’ve turned down the wrong path and have arrived on that dead end street of hatred and hostility. They are sprinting back into the darkness they know so well, the darkness Jesus is trying to save them from. Instead of embracing the truth that would set them free, these shoulda been disciples choose the chains of racism and witch hunts. They loved their darkness more than the light.
Jesus finishes up this friendly conversation by speaking of Abraham, in whom these Jews took much national pride. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” Jesus was early in his 30s at the time. I guess being the Messiah will put years on you.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
John 8:31-59 ESV