Sleight of Hand

With intent, he bends his heart toward betrayal. The slithering one gleans the vile of his pawn as fangs aim for heel. Almost, not entirely, it brings about an elixir to remedy the emerging pain embracing his crown. He tends from below; a kiss… yesss… an agonizing thrum blurs his sight… intensifies as soldiers grasp his prey.

Unknowing, his house is being plundered.

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High-Volume with a Dangerous Distortion

Zech99How dubious it must have been for those first Palm Sunday observers. Some recollected the stories of Alexander in a previous generation on this same road. Busephalus surrounded by shining shields and glistening swords proudly carrying his master king in to the old city. But now?

One from the road via Jericho quizzes the crowd, “Is this one we’ve followed mounting an ass?” “Yes, yes he is,” an answer returns. Zion has yearned for many seasons. She exists with no rightful king. Until now?

The prophet of old had spoken distinctly but even as celebratory shouts of “Hosanna” filled the street being lined with palm branches, a growing number set their face to halt the intrusion. “Make your followers be quiet,” they bid of the man on the donkey. Rocks lining the roadside shudder as if anticipating their opportunity to share in the festivity. They remain dormant as the crowd shouts even louder.

The man and his mount make their way further into the city where soon enough the crowds will gather on his account again. He gazes through compassionate tears. Their joy will turn to anger; their cries to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!

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The De-Judaized State of Our Secularized Imagination

At the coaxing from a friend (think firm twist of arm here), what with my growing interest in seeing the significance of leaving the Bible as a single story finding its conclusion in the Christ, I am making my way through N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.”

HGBKAs one would expect, the author spends his earlier pages attempting to convince the reader we have an issue with the way we read the gospel accounts. His point is to show that for most of us, the New Testament could have opened its content immediately following Genesis three, and nothing of our biblical understanding would be swayed one way or the other. His point, here paraphrased, “Each of the four gospel authors pen their accounts as the apex, climax, and conclusion to the entire Old Testament story.”

Picking only one to share here (this book addresses all four), Matthew opens his gospel account with what should get him thrown out of any book writers club today, a genealogy. What’s worse, he closes Jesus’s family tree with a strange revelation of there being three fourteen generational periods combing through Israel’s history, with no explanation why. For the original readers of his story, Matthew had no need to. Me, on the other hand, well, not so much.

According to the author (Wright), it is here (the very first verses of the gospel accounts) that we are left clueless without the old story. Even though the Jews have now spent centuries back in Israel after their exile to Babylon, they have never been able to return to the state of their existence that their fathers enjoyed under David and Solomon. In reality, after returning from Babylon, they have always been under the rule of other nations.

“The great promises of Isaiah and Ezekiel hadn’t yet come true.”

Ezra and Nehemiah cried out, “Here we are, slaves to this day — slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts (Neh. 9:36).” The “fourteen generation clause” is a jubilant proclamation, “Daniel’s Messiah is here!”

When Daniel presented his supplication (Dan. 9), leaning heavily on Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy, to the Lord, an answer comes to him, “Not seventy years… but seventy weeks of years, or seventy times seven years; 490 years.” Daniel was told that “490 years were decreed for his people and the holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.” To this, NT Wright observes,

“That sounds like a devastatingly depressing answer, and in a way it is. That’s a long time to wait. But the idea of “seventy times seven” has a particular ring to it, more obvious to an ancient Jew than to us today. Every seven days, they had a Sabbath. Every seven years, they had a sabbatical year. And every seven-times-seven years, they had — or at least they were supposed to have had, according to Leviticus — a jubilee. This was when slaves were freed, when land sold off by the family was restored to its original owner, when things got put back as they should be. The jubilee is a fascinating social innovation within the legislation of ancient Israel, a sign that relentless buying and selling of land, goods, and even people won’t be the last word.

But seventy times seven? That sounds like a jubilee of jubilees! So, through four hundred and ninety years — nearly half a millennium — indeed a long time, the point is this: when the time finally arrives, it will be the greatest ‘redemption’ of all. This will be the time of real, utter, and everlasting freedom. That is the hope that sustained the Israelites in the long years of the centuries before the time of Jesus.”

It is the author’s understanding that Matthew “makes this clear beyond cavil, to anyone thinking Jewishly,” that the moment had come with Jesus. “Instead of years, he does it with generations, the generations of Israel’s entire history from Abraham to the present. All the generations to that point were fourteen times three, that is, six sevens — with Jesus we get the seventh seven. He is the jubilee in person. He is the one who will rescue Israel from its long-continued nightmare.”

“He,” says the angel to Joseph, “is the one who will save his people from their sins (1:21).”

Wright here discusses the term “exile” and exactly what it encompassed for Israel, and how “save his people from their sins (their payment for their sin was their exile)” for them, was heard to mean — to be finally and permanently released from exile; to be truly free from the rule of others (if the Son makes you free; you will be free indeed).

So what is the big deal of returning to reading the Bible through the eyes and ears of those who originally received it? What is the point of telling the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of Israel?

The author of this book insists it is of foundational importance, for as he says, “Understand this point, and you will understand almost everything.”

“In Israel’s scriptures, the reason Israel’s story matters is that the creator of the world has chosen and called Israel to be the people through whom he will redeem the world.”

“What God does for Israel is what God is doing in relation to the whole world. That is what it meant to be Israel, to be the people who, for better and worse, carried the destiny of the world on their shoulders. Grasp that, and you have a pathway into the heart of the New Testament.”

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The Hidden Underlying Challenge: Theocracy

“When we examine the wider movements of thought and culture in the eighteenth century, we find something of enormous significance for understanding why the gospels were being read in the way they were. At the heart of ‘the Enlightenment’ was a resolute HGBKdetermination that ‘God’ — whoever ‘God’ might be — should no longer be allowed to interfere, either directly or through those who claimed to be his spokesmen, in the affairs of this world. Once ‘man had come of age,’ there was no room for theocracy. It was as simple as that. God was pushed upstairs, like the doddering old boss who used to run the company, but has now been superseded. He has, no doubt, a notional place of ‘honor,’ a cozy office where he can sit and imagine he’s still in charge. But nobody is fooled. The new generation is running the business now. They know it, and his supporters had better get used to it. Thus, for the European and American Enlightenment, God was superannuated to a position of totally ineffectual ‘honor.'” – NT Wright

“But the whole point of the gospels is to tell the story of how God became king, on earth as in heaven.”

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What Have They Done With Jesus?

WHTDWJThe men apparently thought that the women’s tale of a risen Jesus was nonsense, “an idle tale,” and “they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). This is not surprising: women in that culture were generally considered too emotional or too illiterate to be valid witnesses. For this reason, it is all the more striking that women were the key witnesses to the heart of the later Christian creed, for they were last at the cross, first at the tomb, first to hear the Easter message, first to see the risen Lord, and first to proclaim the Easter message.

We may assume that Joanna, like Mary Magdalene, is alluded to in Acts 1:14, where we learn that “certain women” prayed with the disciples, but it would appear that Joanna’s story ends in that scene in the upper room. Or does it? – – Ben Witherington III

In this very interesting work, the author seeks to disband the onrush of recent infatuation with non-canonical literature (as he will do), but it was this chapter focused on Joanna and the lady from Migdal that caused me to pause and offer a bit of it to you. Well, you know, with my vested interest in parakeets and all.

It is taking leaps beyond my usual allowance, but is none the less worthy of unloading before your gracious audience. Who knows, someone may offer something to lessen my seeing the author’s stretching a bit here.

Cutting to the chase, the author sees a very real possibility that the Joanna of Luke’s account of the gospel (8:3) is the Junia of Paul’s letter to the Romans (16:7).

Yes, he must venture across some difficult hurdles to do so, but actually makes some valid arguments for his belief. Making this brief so as to not labor you with details:

In regards to Junia, Paul wrote, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen who were in prison with me; they are notable among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” At the tomb of Jesus, Joanna, among the other women, was told to remember “what you were taught.”

First, according to the author, this suggests Joanna was a disciple of Jesus (remember what you were taught). She, just as the lady Magdalene and others, were nurtured by Jesus and followed him (there is additional evidence of this).

Second, from Paul’s words to the church in Rome, he considers Junia his kin, as in she is a Jew. Joanna and Junia are similar names but were found given most frequently to citizens of differing lands; Junia as a Roman name and Joanna as a Hebrew name.

Then, there is the acknowledgment that Junia was in Christ before Paul. Considering that Paul was rescued on the road to Damascus just a short time after the crucifixion of Jesus, this means that Junia may very well have been an eye-witness to the resurrection of Christ; hence, the argument many make for her being an actual legitimate apostle with a capital A.

Most importantly, this author shares, is the descriptive way Paul refers to Junia, “notable, prominent, outstanding among (this term, “among,” is defined in detail by the author) the apostles.” Both Origen and Chrysostom, the suggested earliest Greek commentators on this verse, agree with the author’s understanding here.

In sum, Paul is writing about a Jewish woman called Junia (but presumably named Joanna in Hebrew) who was an early, close, and prominent follower of Jesus, who witnessed Jesus’s resurrection, and who then boldly spread the gospel.

There are hurdles though for the making of them one, such as the husband of Joanna, Chuza, and assuming Andronicus was Junia’s husband’s name in Rome. The author has his way of rationalizing this but I’ll leave that for you to purchase and read for yourself (hey, I’m supposed to be convincing you to read these things I delve into, not rewrite the author’s books).

Once again, this is not the primary intent of the author, to defend the role of women in ministry. His, as stated, is to tone down some of the recent buzz such as Jesus and his relationship with one of the Mary’s (Scripture depicts them as teacher and student), and the really Gnostic influence of works like the gospel attributed to Thomas.

Still, whether they are two women or one, this really opens an entirely contrary avenue of discussion regarding the role of women in ministry. Which, with a little open-mindedness and a willingness to let others share, isn’t a bad thing at all.

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