30 April 2014

NT Eschatology—Letters 11

As we continue on in our study of New Testament eschatology (the first post can be found here), we’ll now turn our attention to the letter to the Hebrews.

This letter was, for a long time, one of those “locked books” for me. It seemed that there was something deeper going on than just “Jesus is the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law.” But, for the life of me, I couldn’t get very deep.

And then I discovered eschatology and the floodgates opened.

Or, perhaps, I should say that I discovered a historic eschatology. That is, an eschatology that has been a part of the ancient church for a long, long time. I started to see that Jesus fulfilling the law was only the beginning. There was so much more to that statement — about what it meant for the ancient Hebrew people, the first followers of The Way of Jesus, generations of future followers, and creation itself. And about when it would all be fulfilled. All of that is packed into Priscilla’s letter to the Hebrews. And its impact is felt right in the opening…

In the past, G‑d spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son.

Please note that Priscilla places the earthly ministry of Jesus “in these final days.” Most naturally, the question is, “The ‘final days’ of what?” Obviously, it’s not the “final days” of creation. So, what could it mean? Priscilla tells us explicitly later on:

[Jesus] has now appeared once at the end of the ages to get rid of sin by sacrificing himself.

Priscilla is quite clear: Jesus “appeared” and God spoke through him during the “final days” of the then present “age.” As we have seen over and over again, the “final days” refer to the end of the Old Covenant age, the end of biblical Judaism. His death, which took place at the closing of that age, leaves little room for doubt. To suggest that we are still living in the “final days” of the world is to turn a blind eye to very plain passages.

But, as we’ve seen before, The Old Covenant system — sacrifices, Temple, festivals, etc. — didn’t end when Jesus was raised from the dead. According to this letter, it was still going on (eg., 5.1-4; 9.25; 10.11). One of the key passages is found in Hebrews 8.

After building a case that Jesus is G‑d’s unique child and the Messiah (chapters 1-2), that he’s qualified to be high priest (chapter 3), that he leads the people into G‑d’s rest (chapter 4), Priscilla starts to go deeper into the Old Covenant symbols showing their limitations (chapters 5-7). She then comes to chapter 8 showing that, like Paul (Galatians 3.15ff), the Old Covenant system was a temporary system pointing to something better.

But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. But showing its fault, G‑d says to them,

“Look, the days are coming, says [Yahweh], when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.

This is huge! Notice that the Old Covenant was “growing obsolete and aging” and “about to disappear” when this letter was written (in the mid 60’s CE). Once more we see that Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of the Temple still hadn’t happened yet. Therefore, like we’ve seen in other places, the expectation of “the end” that all were waiting for was the end of the Old Covenant age.

But they wouldn’t have to wait long.

But remember the earlier days, after you saw the light. You stood your ground while you were suffering from an enormous amount of pressure. Sometimes you were exposed to insults and abuse in public. Other times you became partners with those who were treated that way. You even showed sympathy toward people in prison and accepted the confiscation of your possessions with joy, since you knew that you had better and lasting possessions. So don’t throw away your confidence — it brings a great reward. You need to endure so that you can receive the promises after you do G‑d’s will.

In a little while longer,
the one who is coming will come and won’t delay;

As we can see, the followers of Jesus to whom this letter was written were suffering heavily. According to Jesus’ predictions and the book of Acts, we know their fellow Jews who were behind it. Here, Priscilla tells them not to lose courage, they would be rewarded soon.

The last verse is crucial. Jesus told stories about a delay to his return (eg., Matthew 25), but that he would return to the people he left. Here, Priscilla, quoting Habakuk 2.3, assures them that there won’t be any more delay. And there wasn’t. Shortly after this letter was written, in 66 CE, the war began.

Click here for the next post in this series.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

27 April 2014

Weekly Gospel Reflection — 27 April 2014

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my G‑d!”

Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, G‑d’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

The symbolism in this last chapter of John’s telling of the Jesus story is in overload. As we noted briefly last week, John is retelling the creation story around the person of Jesus. Like the creation story itself (Genesis 1.1), John starts his story with “In the beginning…” (John 1.1). While the Genesis account has humanity as its zenith, John has the creative energy G‑d used in Genesis — “the Word” — becoming human. He then moves on to seven “signs” more-or-less mirroring the seven “days” of creation (notice that Jesus “rests” in the tomb, just as Yahweh “rested” on the seventh “day”). But, John is telling the story of New Creation — the thing that Israel has been longing for. And, as we saw last week, on the “eighth day,” i.e., the “first day” of New Creation, Jesus was raised from the dead.

In the passage above, we’re told that it’s still the “first day of the week.” Which means it’s still the “first day” of Jesus’ resurrection, the “first day” of New Creation, the “eighth day/sign.” And then, just a few short verses later, John states that another eight days pass by. We’ll come back to this.

In the first part of this story, Jesus says the most harrowing words he could have ever spoke, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” I don’t know about you, but that chills me to the bone. The weight of that statement is unbearable. Jesus is saying that, just as he was the embodiment of Yahweh in the world, we’re to be the embodiment of Jesus. That is…

We are to be the Word of G‑d made flesh.

To paraphrase Paul, we are to be the “visible image of the invisible G‑d” (Colossians 1.15; NLT).

I am.

You are.

We are.

As it’s been said over and over again, we may be the only Jesus some people ever see.

The question then, is, what image of Jesus are we portraying? What image are we suppose to portray?

To me, John seems to be saying that, if we’re not sure what that’s supposed to look like, we need to go back and read his story again and again and again until we get it; until it sinks in and becomes a part of us.

Likewise, if there are parts of our lives that don’t mirror the life of Jesus, we need to change them.

Notice that in both parts of this story, Thomas plays a leading role. In the first part, he wasn’t part of the initial appearing of Jesus — he didn’t experience the resurrected Jesus on the “first day of the week.” When the others told him what they had experienced, he stated he would need to experience it for himself. Instead of this being an obstacle for Thomas to overcome, I think it’s really wise.

Too often, we’re expected to take the word of others — be it our pastor, or priest, or teacher, or even blog writers — and not question them. Not Thomas. Instead of blindly believing what the others told him, he wanted to experience the risen Christ for himself. And because of this, he’s been dubbed “Doubting Thomas” and ridiculed by a lot of people.

I don’t think that’s fair. Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted. According to Luke’s telling of the story, when Mary Magdalene and the other women told the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead, “Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women” (Luke 24.11). Peter and John raced to the tomb to see for themselves if this was true (John 20.3-10; cf. Luke 24.12).

Furthermore, we seem to forget that, when Jesus was intent on going to Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead, and the Jewish authorities were threatening to kill Jesus, Thomas was the one who said, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus” (John 11.16). So, I don’t think it’s a matter of his faith. Again, the way I read it, Thomas doesn’t want to base his faith on the experience of others. His faith must be built on his own experience with the resurrected Jesus.

Therefore, when Jesus appeared to the disciples “after eight days,” and Thomas was with them, I think Jesus’ comment, “No more disbelief. Believe!” was directed to all of them, and not just Thomas. Certainly, Jesus directed his statements to Thomas, even challenging Thomas’ previous statements, but Jesus’ commands seem much broader than just Thomas.

And note that Thomas didn’t touch Jesus. No where does the text say this. It says when Thomas saw Jesus, and was, indeed, reprimanded, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my G‑d!” None of the others did that.

This brings us back to the “eighth day.”

John says that “after eight days,” Jesus appeared again to the disciples. Do we suppose it’s a coincidence that it was another eight days? Hardly. Anyone reading John would catch that he’s always doing stuff like this. A classic example is Peter’s restoration — three denials, three affirmations.

As we’ve seen, “eight” represents New Creation. John isn’t just talking about G‑d fixing what’s broken in creation. He’s talking about G‑d creating something new in the midst of that brokenness. “Eight” represents that.

And Thomas just happens to be with the disciples eight days later. John’s point is that New Creation is ever increasing. Yes, it started with the Jesus’ resurrection, but it’s continuing to grow. It’s a slow process, certainly, but every time someone has their own experience with the risen Jesus, New Creation takes place. Whenever we offer water to a fellow sentient being, New Creation takes place. Whenever we visit those who have been marked as sub-human and outcasts by society, New Creation takes place.

On this second Sunday of Easter, may we recognize New Creation is right here. As St. Paul said, “The old has gone away, and look, new creation has arrived!”

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

23 April 2014

NT Eschatology—Letters 10

As we continue our look at the eschatology of the New Testament (which we started last year) and because of the recent “blood moon” and all of the questionable “end times” fear spins that have been produced because of it, I wanted to look at another passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapter 13, Paul wrote:

As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.

The first thing that stands out here is the second sentence, “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith.” Once more, Paul echoes a statement from Jesus. In Luke’s telling of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said (compare Matthew 24.29-34):

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

In Luke 21, Jesus was in the Temple watching people put money in the collection box (vv. 1-2). He overheard some people talking about how beautiful the building was (verse 5; Matthew, and some other translations, has that conversation among the disciples). He told them that the time was coming that the whole thing would be demolished — “not even one stone will be left” (verse 6). Those people, in turn, asked him when that would happen. He then begins to tell them of the different signs that would point to the Temple’s approaching doom. The key, then, like in Matthew, is to understand that Jesus was speaking to a particular group of people about things they would experience. He doesn’t tell them of things that another group, separated by thousands of years, would go through. No. He’s talking to them. In the passage above, he uses the personal pronoun “you” 7 times. They would have understood Jesus was speaking to them about what they should look out for; what their generation would experience.

Now, that’s very important. Jesus told his first century contemporaries about things they would witness; what they would experience. He told them, “When all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near” (verse 30). Jesus then goes on to claim that his generation “will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place” (verse 32).

Now, back to Romans.

Paul — still living within that generation, still waiting for the coming war between the Jews and Rome, still waiting for the destruction of the city and Temple, still waiting for the close of the then present age — can tell by “all [those] things” Jesus warned about that their “salvation [was] nearer than when [they] first had faith.” This isn’t a different salvation. It’s the same one Jesus said would come.

Furthermore, Paul wrote, “The night is almost over, and the day is near.” Note that Paul tied the coming of “the day” to the coming of their salvation in the previous sentence. This, too, is an echo of Jesus’ teaching. In the paragraphs just before and after our previous quote, Jesus said:

“And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city. For those will be days of God’s vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end…

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Again, Jesus was speaking to people standing around him when he made those statements. He used the term “you” 5 times, referring to those same people. Now notice the word “day(s).” It appears 4 times in the above paragraphs — paragraphs that, again, come right before and right after Jesus said that the signs would point out that their salvation was near.

In other words, when Jesus’ contemporaries saw Jerusalem surrounded by the Roman armies, they would know that “God’s vengeance” had come at last. What is this “vengeance” and what’s it for? It’s nothing short of the “Day of Yahweh” found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. It’s the time when God’s justice is administered. For example:

[Yahweh] of heavenly forces has planned a day:
against all that is prideful and haughty;
against all that is lofty, and it will be laid low;

Wail, for the day of [Yahweh] is near.
   Like destruction from the Almighty it will come.
Look, the day of [Yahweh] is coming with cruel rage and burning anger,
making the earth a ruin,
and wiping out its sinners.
Heaven’s stars and constellations won’t show their light.
The sun will be dark when it rises;
the moon will no longer shine.

Blow the horn in Zion;
give a shout on my holy mountain!
Let all the people of the land tremble,
for the day of [Yahweh] is coming.
It is near —
a day of darkness and no light,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread out upon the mountains,
a great and powerful army comes,
unlike any that has ever come before them,
or will come after them in centuries ahead.
The earth quakes before them;
the heavens shake.
The sun and the moon are darkened;
the stars have stopped shining,
because [Yahweh] utters his voice
at the head of his army.
How numerous are his troops!
Mighty are those who obey his word.
The day of [Yahweh] is great;
it stirs up great fear—who can endure it?
I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth — blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of [Yahweh] comes. But everyone who calls on the [Yahweh’s] name will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be security, as [Yahweh] has promised; and in Jerusalem, [Yahweh] will summon those who survive.

As to why was the “day of Yahweh” coming upon Jerusalem? Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:

“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. You say, ‘If we had lived in our ancestors’ days, we wouldn’t have joined them in killing the prophets.’ You testify against yourselves that you are children of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, complete what your ancestors did. You snakes! You children of snakes! How will you be able to escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, look, I’m sending you prophets, wise people, and legal experts. Some of them you will kill and crucify. And some you will beat in your synagogues and chase from city to city. Therefore, upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been poured out on the earth, from the blood of that righteous man Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. I assure you that all these things will come upon this generation.”

Again, back to Romans.

Paul was letting the followers of The Way of Jesus in Rome know that their generation would soon be coming out of “night.” That the Day of Yahweh’s justice would soon come and they would be saved. That is, they would be rescued from persecution. Again, Paul and that generation were still waiting for Jesus’ words to be fulfilled. In seeing the signs unfold around him, Paul easily discerned that the wait was almost over and their salvation was close at hand.

Click here for the next post in this series.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

21 April 2014

Easter Weekend—2014

This Easter weekend, Mahina and I drove to Kansas City to visit our daughter, Mariah. Her boyfriend, Michael, had arrived the day before. Friday night was Mariah’s senior solo show at the Kansas City Arts Institute.

It was fantastic!

Mariah was so stressed. It wasn’t necessary. There were about a hundred people or more that came to the tiny space — some flying in from great distances — just to see her quilts. She made some really good connections and may have sold a couple of pieces and has a commission or two in the works.

Mahina and I were sitting outside speaking with the chair of the fiber department. She was going on and on about what such an amazing artist Mariah is. She stated that Mariah’s peers respect her. Also, if Mariah can produce that type of work in just one year, she’d love to see what Mariah will do in the future.

While we were talking, the local paper came by. When the photo journalist saw the crowd, she exclaimed, “Holy cow!” and went back to get more equipment from the truck. She went in and took pictures and interviewed Mariah. The story’s supposed to be in the June edition.

Mahina and I called it a night around 9:30 (the show was over about 10) and Mariah and her friends took a long deserved break.

After we all slept in the next day, we met for lunch with some of Mariah’s friends that had traveled up to see her show. After lunch, we walked around all of the little shops in the area and ended up at River Market Antiques. That’s one of our favorite places in KC! It’s four stories of awesome stuff!. We got a butter dish (our old antique broke), a leather punch (my belts are too big), and a pipe. Well, I got a pipe. We spent about 3 hours there. It’s very easy to do.

Easter Sunday, Mariah and Michael went to a Catholic church that she attends from time to time and then we all went out for breakfast. Afterwards, we went back to Mariah’s place and had a small, intimate Easter Eucharist. Her roommate, Molly, joined us.

It was one of the best services I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of. We met on the back porch. The birds were chirping. The squirrels were playing. The flowers were singing praises.

Like usual, we read the Gospel and, instead of giving a homily, we open the floor up for discussion. The reading was John 20.1-18 (one of my favorites). We talked about how John’s Gospel deals with New Creation — of how he starts off his story about Jesus with “In the beginning…” and how Jews from the first century would have heard echoes of Genesis 1. We talked about how John used “signs” that mirrored the days of creation and how the eighth sign was the resurrection and how it happened on the “eighth day,” or the “first day of the week.” This helped us see why Mary thought the resurrected Jesus was the “gardener.”

Of course, we talked about the importance of Mary — of how she was the “apostle to the apostles.” And we saw something that I had never seen before.

In the New Creation, woman was created first.

And then men were “created.”

We saw that, when women were created first in the New Creation, the “subordinate” state and role of women was removed. They were fully restored to their rightful place as equals. Tears started to well up. It was such a moving revelation.

And the movement continued.

When we started the “Prayers of the People,” the tears were in full. I think all of us were crying. It was such a beautiful place for reflection and thankfulness and mindfulness.

We finished with the Eucharist, each one serving the other with the bread and wine, recognizing Christ in each of us.

All in all, it was one of the best Easter weekends that I can remember. I’m so thankful to my family and friends who made it all possible.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC