29 November 2013

Didache—Chapter 13

13 Every Genuine prophet

13:1 Every genuine prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of support.

13:2 So also, every true teacher is, like a workman, entitled to his support.

13:3 Every first fruit, therefore, of the products of vintage and harvest, of cattle and of sheep, should be given as first fruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests.

13:4 But if you have no prophet, give it all to the poor.

13:5 If you bake bread, take the first loaf and give it according to the commandment.

13:6 If you open a new jar of wine or of oil, take the first fruit and give it to the prophets.

13:7 If you acquire money or cloth or any other possession, set aside a portion first, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.

This chapter can be a little tricky if it’s taken out of context so we need to address a couple of things. First up is the idea of a “prophet.” What’s a prophet? Are there prophets today?

In Judaism, a prophet was a spokesperson for G_d and could be either male or female. While the prophet did, at times, foretell about future events, that was just part of their calling. Most of the time they spoke in the place of G_d and offered teaching. Sometimes (and some would say a lot of the time) the message wasn’t very pleasant, especially for those people in power (see the book of Amos, for example).

Not only did the prophet speak and write for G_d, they also demonstrated what life with G_d was to be like. Their lives were examples for the whole community to follow.

In the early years of following The Way, we see these same type of people. Paul wrote about them in his first letter to the followers of The Way in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14.26ff; cf. Ephesians 3.5-6; 4.11-13).

And James gives his listener’s similar instructions as found in the Didache:

James 5.10-11: Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of patient resolve and steadfastness. Look at how we honor those who have practiced endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job. And you have seen what the Lord has accomplished, for the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

But there’s something different in those early years of The Way. The prophets of the New Testament seem to be of a different calibre from the prophets in the Tanakh (the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament). In fact, of the 67 references to “prophet(s)” found in the Common English Bible, over half of them point to the prophets of Jewish history and roughly 13 are found in the book of Revelation. The only followers of Jesus named as prophets are: Barnabas, Simeon (Niger), Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul), Judas, Silas, and Agabus.

Now, certainly, a case could be made for the Apostles to be listed in this category, too. However, when Paul wrote to the followers of the Way in Corinth and Ephesus, he listed apostles and prophets separately. And in both of those letters, most of his references are to the prophets of Jewish antiquity. On the other hand, the offices listed in those passages could all be held by a single person.

And to press the point of this difference between prophets of the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament a bit further, Peter wrote that the false teachers of his day were like the false prophets from Jewish history (2 Peter 2.1).

The point of all this leads to the second question, “Are there prophets today?” That’s a great question. And I have to answer that I’m not sure. I know that I’ve had people who’ve spoken prophetically in my life. And by that, I don’t mean they felt compelled to seek me out and give me a “word from G_d” (truth be told, almost every person that did that would be considered a “false prophet”). I’m talking about listening to a song and have it speak to the deepest levels of my heart—the hidden things that only I know about—and confirm what’s there. But I don’t know if I’d say they were prophets (with, of course, the exception of Trevor Hall). But what I do know is that, if we remove the idea of speaking about the future, and stick to teaching and counseling and pastoring, then, yes, there are plenty of prophets today.

The second thing we need to discuss is “first fruits.” Through the years, I was told that “first fruits” meant the “tithe.” That is, the first 10% of my finances. But that’s not accurate. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “There are no specifications as to the amounts or percentages of seasonal yield required for the offering of first fruits.” Like prophets, this finds its origin with the Jewish people. They were told to bring the first fruits of their crops and livestock to the Temple and give them away as an offering to Yahweh. What wasn’t “sacrificed,” i.e., used for a burnt offering, was for the priests.

The Didache states the same thing. The first of the communities sustenance was to be given to the visiting prophet. But notice the caveat, “If you have no prophet, give it all to the poor.” They weren’t just not to give their first fruits. It was always to be given.

So, with all of this information, what are we to take away from it? For starters, I think we could be safe to say that, in our case, the “prophet” could be those who teach us to live more like Christ; to follow The Way of Jesus more closely. Now, this could be a local pastor or priest. It could be an author. It could be a spiritual director. But it doesn’t have to be a “clergy” person, in the strict sense of the word. It’s whoever helps us to lead a better life of service toward others.

Secondly, we shouldn’t get hung up on how much we give. Like all of the other “rules” from the Didache, we should do what we can—“as it may seem good to you.” But the idea here is to give to those people who help you in your walk with Christ. If you don’t have someone like that, then give to the poor.




~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

27 November 2013

NT Eschatology—Background Part 04


In this last stop of our very brief Old Testament eschatological expedition of poetic imagery, we come to the book of Malachi. It’s here that a fascinating picture comes to us. The fourth chapter states:


Malachi 4: Look, the day is coming, burning like an oven. All the arrogant ones and all those doing evil will become straw. The coming day will burn them, says [Yahweh] of heavenly forces, leaving them neither root nor branch.


But the sun of righteousness will rise on those revering my name; healing will be in its wings so that you will go forth and jump about like calves in the stall.

You will crush the wicked; they will be like dust beneath the soles of your feet on the day that I am preparing, says [Yahweh] of heavenly forces.

Remember the Instruction from Moses, my servant, to whom I gave Instruction and rules for all Israel at Horeb.

Look, I am sending Elijah the prophet to you, before the great and terrifying day of [Yahweh] arrives. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to their parents. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.

The importance of this passage is so profound and yet it is mostly overlooked. This is the passage that bridges the Old Testament with the New Testament. As can be seen, this passage has all of the symbols of apocalyptic (poetic) language: judgment day, burning like a furnace, the arrogant and wicked consumed, etc. As we saw previously, this language is typical of the desolation of a nation. But which nation? It’s referring to Israel as can be seen in verse 4 (see also Malachi 1.1).

While we could chase a lot of rabbits in this passage, I want us to focus on the last paragraph. Yahweh promised that Elijah would come before the “great and terrifying day” arrives. Now, some people have supposed this passage refers to the “end of time.” But we’ve been given a clue that points to a more ancient fulfillment. Elijah.

With this image of Elijah coming before the “great and terrifying day of Yahweh,” let’s look at a couple of passages in the Gospels. Our first passage is found in Luke, the first chapter.

Luke 1.11-17: An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Did you notice that? the angel told Zechariah that his child John would “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.” This is a direct quote from Malachi 4. The angel is saying that John was “Elijah” who was promised in Malachi. To look a little further in this amazing symbol, this poetic image, let’s look at Matthew 17.

Matthew 17.10-13: The disciples asked, “Then why do the legal experts say that Elijah must first come?”

Jesus responded, “Elijah does come first and will restore all things. In fact, I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they didn’t know him. But they did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way the Human One is also going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples realized he was telling them about John the Baptist.

Not only did the angel say that John would be “Elijah,” but Jesus also recognized this. Now notice the disciples’ question again, “Why do the legal experts say Elijah must first come?” That is, Elijah’s supposed to come before something else. What is that? That something is also a someone. In Malachi, the statement is that Yahweh will return to the people of Israel before the “great and terrible day.” But before that happens, Elijah has to come and prepare them for Yahweh’s return.

The implication of Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question is, simply, John is “Elijah,” then Jesus must be the Messiah (at the very least) and in some mystical way, Yahweh. Jesus even used the Messianic phrase, “Human One” (or “Son of Man”), taken directly from Daniel 7, pointing, again, to the possibility that he is the long awaited Messiah and, therefore, John was “Elijah.” And the disciples got it.

Now do we see why Malachi is a bridge passage? It referred to things that would bridge the Old Testament story with the New Testament story. It spoke of something that would happen to Israel, within her lifetime, in the “natural” realm. When we open the New Testament, we see the fulfillment of that prediction in John the Baptist.

But what about the “great and terrifying day?”

This question will be in a future post as we start looking at some of the New Testament passages. Click here for the next post in this series.



~~~
In The Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

24 November 2013

Weekly Gospel Reflection—24 November 2013

Luke 23.33-43: When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Today is called “Christ the King Sunday.” It’s the last Sunday before Advent begins. But why is it called “Christ the King” when it’s the story of Jesus’ crucifixion?

That’s a good question.

I hadn’t even thought of that question until recently. And I’ve known the answer even less. Simply put, the answer is:

This is when Jesus was enthroned as the true King of all creation.

Like everything else Jesus did and said, the idea of kingship or ruling is put on its head. Jesus had already spoken to the disciples about what leadership is like in the Realm of G_d:

“You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”

In the crucifixion, Jesus is exemplifying this way of ruling. He’s the one giving his life to liberate the people (John 10.17-18). That is, he’s the True Israelite standing in the place for the nation (see John 11.49-50).

We’ve already witnessed the events leading up to his enthronement. He had already ridden into the city and hailed as their King (Matthew 21.1-11). He had already been given the royal robe and crown and proclaimed as “King of the Jews” (John 19.1-3). The royal cupbearer brought him his wine (verse 36; cf. John 19.28-29). And finally, the royal proclamation to the world that this is her king (verse 38; cf. John 19.19-22).

All of it’s there. We just have to see it. Granted, it’s not what we expect when reading about someone becoming a king, but there it is nonetheless.

Also note that it’s this moment when Jesus fully comes into his reign. One of the criminals asked to be remembered when Jesus comes into his reign. Jesus’ assures the criminal, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise,”—not tomorrow or someday eventually.

Today.

This brings up the muddled idea of “paradise.” In a lot of Western Christian culture, “paradise” is just another name for “heaven.” It’s not. According to Tom Wright, “‘Paradise’…[was] the place of rest and refreshment before the gift of new life in the resurrection.”* We see mention of this “place of rest and refreshment” in several places: Wisdom 3.1, Luke 16.19-31 (cf. Enoch 22), and Revelation 6.9.

The idea, then, is that “paradise” is a holding place until the time of the resurrection. Jesus’ promise to the criminal then is, even though the resurrection is still to come, that future—G_d’s future—can be found in the present. Right now. Today.

And the reason G_d’s future can be found today is because Christ is King!




~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

~~~

* Wright, Nicholas Thomas. (2004) Luke for Everyone. London, SPCK. Louisville, TN, WJK.

22 November 2013

Didache—Chapter 12

12 Welcome Anyone Coming in the Name of the Lord


12:1 Welcome anyone coming in the name of the Lord. Receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord, but then, test them and use your discretion.


12:2 If he who comes is a transient, assist him as far as you are able; but he should not remain with you more than two or three days, if need be.


12:3 If he wants to stay with you, and is a craftsman, let him work for his living.


12:4 But if he has no trade, use your judgment in providing for him; for a Christian should not live idle in your midst.


12:5 If he is dissatisfied with this sort of an arrangement, he is a Christ peddler. Watch that you keep away from such people.


Again, there’s some really good practical advice from this early community following The Way. Notice that the idea here is to help assist anyone who comes into the community. We’re to “receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord.” But not blindly. We’re also to “test them and use [our] discretion.” This ties right into the previous chapter.


Also note the same theme of “doing what you can” in verse 2, “Assist him as far as you’re able.” Again, we really need to remember this, especially when we’re helping other followers of Jesus. It’s been my experience that people are pushed beyond what they’re able by their pastors or priests or some other church leadership. There’s the building fund and the bake sale and the book sale and the church bizarre and the pastor’s bonus and the fundraiser for the new choir robes and then there’s the missionary that drops by with pictures and stories of starving children. And that’s just at church! There’s this unspoken pressure to give to each and everyone of these. I had one friend tell me recently how her clergy told her how much they were expecting her family to give to the building fund based on their annual giving!


Of course, work isn’t much better. There’s the United Way and the bake sale and the candle sales and the popcorn and candy sale for some parent’s child’s Christmas fundraiser for their class and we can’t forget Girl Scout Cookies! And, of course, all of those things can be brought to the attention of the church, too, in addition to all of the aforementioned things, plus loads more besides!


With all of that (on top of our bills and necessities and our own wants), I have yet to hear a pastor or priest or evangelist or “prophet” remind us to just “do what you’re able.” It’s always “give more.” We’re guilted into feeling like we love G_d less and, more disturbing, G_d loves us less if we don’t “give beyond your means. Sow ‘seeds of faith’.”


Rubbish.


The Teaching from the small community is very consistent — “do what you can.” Not at the expense of helping others, but while helping them.


Then they give some really good guidelines about how those we’re helping should act as well. We should only help them for a few days. If it’s more than that, and they’re able, they need to work for their share. Sure, some may still need help while they’re working, but the idea is that we’re all in this together. We all have something to add to the community.


If we haven’t noticed yet, there’s nothing within the Didache that comes close to resembling the individualistic idol of American culture. It’s not about me and me alone. The Teaching is all about community; about each one doing their part in helping the whole. O, how we need to hear more of this today! The Didache is quite clear in that, while this little document is geared toward new followers of Jesus, it’s about how those new individuals are to interact within a community; within the Realm of G_d.




~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,


Br. Jack+, LC

20 November 2013

NT Eschatology—Background Part 03

We’ve been taking a very brief look at the Old Testament’s use of a literary genre called Apocalyptics. This is a very poetic type of literature where cosmic language is often used to describe the destruction of a nation. In this post, we’re going to look at some of the “time statements” of prophecy, i.e., when those warnings should take place.

The timing of the event is as much a part of the event as the description of what’s going to happen. However, more times than not, the “time statements” are given in real time. That is, they give a concrete (or dare I state “literal”) timetable about when something would take place. However, as a way of dealing with these time statements, some people will try and use the saying, “With the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day” (2 Peter 3.8; cf. Psalm 90.4). But that’s not always possible. In fact, more often than not, the prophecies come to pass exactly when they were supposed to. Here are just a few examples.

Genesis 7:1-4: [Yahweh] said to Noah, “...In seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights. I will wipe off from the fertile land every living thing that I have made.”

Please note two things that the Yahweh said to Noah: 1) it would start to rain “seven days from now” and 2) it would continue to rain for “forty days and forty nights.” Now, to me, a very sensible question would be, “How would Noah understand these time statements—the ‘days and nights’?” I think he would have understood them exactly the way we would today. And he wouldn’t have been misled.

Genesis 7.10-12: After seven days, the floodwaters arrived on the earth...It rained on the earth forty days and forty nights.

Here, just a few short verses later, we have the fulfillment of that prophecy. This shows us that Yahweh meant exactly what was said to Noah. Seven days equaled seven days. Forty days and nights equaled forty days and nights.

Another example can be seen from the book of Exodus. Moses has been going back and forth between Yahweh and Pharaoh and Yahweh has been sending various plagues to Egypt so that Pharaoh would release the Israelites. Finally, Moses comes to Pharaoh and says:

Exodus 11.4-5: “This is what [Yahweh] says: At midnight I’ll go throughout Egypt. Every oldest child in the land of Egypt will die, from the oldest child of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the oldest child of the servant woman by the millstones, and all the first offspring of the animals.”

There are a couple of things here we should mention. The first is Pharaoh. The reason he’s important is because he’s not Hebrew. He’s a Gentile. If there was some sort of proverb about how Yahweh used time, it probably wouldn’t have been known to Pharaoh. Second, is the time statement itself—“at midnight.” Why would Yahweh, through Moses, give Pharaoh a very specific time if there was (or could possibly be) some sort of different meaning of that time?

In other words, if I told my daughter that she needed to have her room cleaned by four o’clock this afternoon or else she would be grounded, what type of motivation would it be if I really meant (or might really mean) some other time entirely? After a while of this type of double-standard, she’d completely lose all confidence in me. I would be seen as...well...a liar. It would seem that I don’t mean what I say. If I say that I want something done at a specific time, then that’s exactly what I mean. The same thing appears in this passage. Through Moses, Yahweh told Pharaoh that judgment would come “at midnight.” Yahweh didn’t mean four o’clock tomorrow or 7:27 a.m. in two weeks. No. Yahweh knew what Yahweh meant. Moses knew what Yahweh meant. And Pharaoh knew what Yahweh meant. Yahweh meant midnight. And that’s exactly what the fulfillment of this warning shows:

Exodus 12.29: At midnight [Yahweh] struck down all the first offspring in the land of Egypt, from the oldest child of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the oldest child of the prisoner in jail, and all the first offspring of the animals.

Our last examples are a couple of passages that deal with the Babylonian captivity:

Jeremiah 25.11 (NLT): This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.

Jeremiah 29.10 (NLT): This is what [Yahweh] says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.”

Here we see that a plain, normal, or human understanding of these two passages would lead us to believe that Israel would be exiled in Babylon for seventy years. And we wouldn’t be alone.

Daniel 9.1-3: In the first year of Darius’ rule—Darius, who was Ahasuerus’ son, a Median by birth and who ruled the Chaldean kingdom—I, Daniel, pondered the scrolls, specifically the number of years that it would take to complete Jerusalem’s desolation according to [Yahweh’s] word to the prophet Jeremiah. It was seventy years. I then turned my face to my Lord God, asking for an answer with prayer and pleading, and with fasting, mourning clothes, and ashes.

Here we see that the prophet Daniel understood Jeremiah’s “seventy years” to mean seventy years. With that understanding, Daniel started praying and fasting on behalf of Israel, supposedly because the time was almost over. However, the angel Gabriel came and told him that the true exile wouldn’t be over for another “seventy weeks” (v.24; that is, “seventy times seven years” or 490 years). This shows us something else that is crucial to understanding New Testament eschatology: if something other than the plain understanding of time is meant, Yahweh reveals that. People aren’t left to figure it out on their own. Over and over again, when Yahweh gives specific timetables, they mean exactly what they normally mean unless Yahweh states differently.

On last thing. We have looked at specific time statements and found that, unless otherwise stated, they should be understood exactly the way humans understand time. However, there are some statements in the Bible that don’t have specific time statements. Some prophecies have the elusive phrase, “in the last days.” This phrase could mean the final days of a nation, the final days of a certain era (or age), or, perhaps, the final days of time itself. This term is more general in nature and specific time statements aren’t given. The goal for such a general statement is two-fold: 1) certainty that things will change; that the current situation will not last forever but; 2) it’s also meant to keep the people prepared and looking for that coming change.

Next time will conclude our very brief Old Testament eschatology background. Click here for the next post in this series.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC