Sunday, March 27, 2011

Luke 24: Ladies First, and Final Thoughts on Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

Cannot help but notice that the same Apostles who witnessed the Ascension and worshipped Him and stayed "continually at the Temple, praising God" are the same bozos who thought the girls were nuts when they showed up on Sunday morning saying they had seen Jesus. Guys, we need to listen to our ladies. Sometimes they see things before we do.

This chapter marks the conclusion of the synoptic ("seen together") gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. As I look back at Jesus in these three accounts, here is what I see (using the present tense because he lives not only in the books but in fact):

1) Jesus knows himself. I don't know exactly how He knows, or when He learned it, but He has a rock-solid grasp on being the unique Son of God sent by his Father to bring the Kingdom. Perhaps more than anyone else in recorded history, this man knows who He is and lives accordingly. As a son of the Kingdom, the challenging implications to me are obvious.

2) Jesus walks the talk like none other. Amid all of his wonderful teachings, he teaches and leads by example. The man who spoke the most powerful, motivating truths ever spoken, as judged by their widespread positive effects in the next 20 centuries, is remembered less for these words than for his deeds, especially the crucifiction and the resurrection. By these two great acts hundreds of millions have lived in power and died in peace. And that is pertaining only to recorded history, to this life that I can eye has seen, no ear has yet heard how his deeds have impacted the totality of human experience.

3) Jesus lives for heaven and calls me to do the same. He is both visionary calling me out of this world into to a new world, and visitor bidding me come home with him to a far green country with a swift sunrise.

As Sherri Wolcott played so beautifully on the piano prelude this morning at Jericho Congregational - "Be Thou My Vision, O Lord of My Heart."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Luke 23: The Passion (Third Time Around)

Reliving the story of the Passion of Christ for the third time this year is like being Bill Murray in his movie "Groundhog Day." He wakes up every morning and it is the same lousy day all over again. He knows just what will happen, and he won't like it. It is difficult for me to relive the awful events of what was perhaps the most evil, unjust deed ever done on the face of the earth.

And yet they call it Good Friday. I once heard a preacher say it wasn't called "good" because it was enjoyable or, from his killers' point of view, a morally good deed. Of course it was the opposite of those. Maybe I dislike re-reading this story because I want to look at life through the lens of enjoyment and people treating each other well.

The preacher went on to say that it is called Good Friday because the work of the cross is beneficial. It is good for us, in the same way that radical surgery and unrelenting chemotherapy are good for us because they are the ONLY THING that can kill cancer. I know I am repeating myself from a previous synoptic gospel entry, but as Paul notes later on in the New Testament, some ideas are worth repeating.

Where do I see myself in this story?

The Centurion, praising God and saying "surely this was a righteous man?" (47)

A member of the crowd who witnessed everything, beat my breast, and walked away? (48)

A mocker urged on by a demon to yell "if you are the son of God save yourself?"

A woman and a follower, standing at a distance and watching? (49)

None of them really resonate. The guy that I relate to most is hanging on cross next to Jesus. He has been caught doing something awful. He is repentant. He feels unworthy hanging there next to this good and godly man, and with an eye on the next life he says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he hears those words of freedom and joy: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Jesus, what a friend to sinners, let me find my rest in thee.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Luke 22: What would a Christian public servant look like?

Luke records in 22:25-28:

"A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves."

The NIV Study Bible comments on this passage, "Jesus urges and exemplifies servant leadership - a trait that was as uncommon then as it is now." No fooling. The "Benefactors" of the first century would feel right at home with the self-seeking politicians who deliver pork to their eager constituents, often posing for the news cameras with a giant check in their hands as if THEY were the donors and not merely the well-compensated middlemen. These "public servants" build gigantic armies of constituents who, beholden to their control over the government purse strings, give generously of time and treasure. The Lord of the Manor amasses campaign war chests and voting block castles to securely hide behind if the peasants (politically unconnected folks like you and me) become unruly. Vermont in particular has at least one such Duke, and among his vassals are several barons, counts, and viscounts of lesser magnitude but equal ambition.

I might shrug but for two reasons:

1) the Pork as Means To Re-Election is one (but not the only) reason our country is racing over the cliff of Debt and barring some daring rescue will break to pieces on the Rocks of Humiliating, Compromising International Servitude. It happened to Israel and Rome, it will happen to us unless something changes.

2) The clever gaming of our electoral system by Benefactors betrays the ideals of our national covenant, which I believe can be boiled down to "government of, for and by the people (Constitution Preamble) promoting individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Declaration of Independence)." I believe America is the greatest experiment in ethical, "Golden Rule" based nation-building the world has ever seen.

But there's the catch, I guess......its people and especially its leaders must agree that on some level the Golden Rule applies. I don't mean "the one with the gold rules," I mean that leader and citizen alike must recognize that government doesn't exist for our enrichment at the expense of others, and that at times the opposite priority must hold. With apologies to John Lennon, "Imagine" if there was a candidate for American public office who took seriously the teaching and example of Jesus and really lived out, "I am among you as one who serves."

Instead of promising his votes to the well-heeled and well-organized, he might knock on regular folks'  doors and introduce himself and his mission and ask, "how can I serve you?" He would write down their answers. And if elected, he would try to serve them.

She would put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few Personages Essential To Re-Election. She would however put the needs of the few ahead of the many if the few's protections under the Bill of Rights were being threatened. The Constitution, not "I Must Be Re-Elected", would be her covenant.

He would fight for his district's piece of the pie ONLY after ensuring that the pie itself wasn't made of unsustainable debt and onerous taxes. Faced with the choice between protecting America's future or his own political future, he would be a man and protect his beloved Lady Liberty.

His staffers would be heavy on politics-free constituent service and very light on courting the media and re-election needs of the candidate. They too would understand that re-election is up to the voters, and disinterested service is their only calling.

And whatever else the voters thought of her, they would know that she took seriously her Christian calling to be "among them as one who serves."

Unrealistic and not the way of the world? I say again, no fooling. But it is the way of the Kingdom, and we are called to be salt and light. The first nine or 10 would-be servants might get thrown to the lions, but sooner or later their example might change the world, or at least save the country that is Freedom's Sentinel. And I close with more John Lennon: "You may say that I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Luke 21 - History of Jerusalem is Prophecy Fulfilled

Luke records in the latter half of the first century that Jesus prophesies in about 30 AD that “Jerusalem would be trampled by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles would be fulfilled.”

Hmmmm.....I wonder how that prophecy worked out? Well, to put it bluntly, for the next 19 centuries that is exactly what happened, until Israel was founed in 1948. According to Wikipedia, Jerusalem in its long history has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Most of that “trampling” has happened since the first century, and until the foundation of the State of Israel, all of it was done by Gentiles. For a detailed look at each and every major trampling up to the founding of the State of Israel, see below. It seems only a slight exaggeration to say that the only thing the conquerors of the Western World have in common is that at one point they all have conquered Jerusalem.

Kind of gives me a new respect for the rest of the prophecy of Luke 21 – including the parts about him returning on the clouds.

Below find the Wikipedia entry on the history of Jerusalem, picked up chronologically after the estimated date of Jesus’s prophecy. The graphics can be seen by clicking on the links, I think.

......In 66 CE the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire in what is now known as the Great Revolt. Roman legions under future emperor Titus reconquered and subsequently destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Second Temple was burnt and all that remained was the great external (retaining) walls supporting the Esplanade on which the Temple had stood, a portion of which has become known as the Western Wall. Titus' victory is commemorated by the Arch of Titus in Rome. Agrippa II died c. 94 CE, which brought the Herodian dynasty to an end almost thirty years after the destruction of the Second Temple.
First Jewish revolt shekel issued in 68. Obverse: "Shekel Israel, year 3". Reverse: "Jerusalem the Holy"
Sack of Jerusalem. Inside wall from the Arch of Titus, Rome. The Menorah from the Temple is seen being carried in the victory procession
Judaea Capta coin of Vespasian, struck in 71 to celebrate Rome's victory in the Jewish Revolt. Legend on reverse: IVDEA CAPTA, "Judaea conquered".
Jerusalem became the birthplace of Early Christianity in the 1st century CE. According to the New Testament, it is the location of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ (see also Jerusalem in Christianity). It was in Jerusalem that, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles of Christ received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and first began preaching the Gospel and proclaiming his resurrection. Jerusalem eventually became home to one of the five Patriarchates of the Christian Church. After the Great Schism, it remained a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
After the end of this revolt, Jews continued to live in Jerusalem in significant numbers, and were allowed to practice their religion, only if they paid the Jewish Tax.
Bar Kochba revolt silver Shekel. Obverse: the Jewish Temple facade with the rising star, surrounded by "Shimon". Reverse: A lulav, the text reads: "To the freedom of Jerusalem"
What is today known as the "Old City" was laid out by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century, when he began to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city. In 130, Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem remaining after the First Roman-Jewish War of 66–73. He rebuilt the city, renaming it Aelia Capitolina in 135 CE. Hadrian placed the city's main Roman Forum at the junction of the main Cardo and Decumanus, now the location of the (smaller) Muristan. Hadrian built a large temple to the goddess Venus, which later became the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.[25] He placed restrictions on some Jewish practices, which caused a revolt by the Judeans, led by Simon Bar Kokhba. Hadrian responded with overwhelming force, putting down the rebellion, killing as many as a half million Jews, and resettling the city as a Roman colonia. Jews were forbidden to enter the city but for a single day of the year, Tisha B'Av, (the Ninth of Av), the fast day on which Jews mourn the destruction of both Temples. For the next 150 years, the city remained a relatively unimportant pagan Roman town.

The Byzantine Emperor Constantine, however, rebuilt Jerusalem as a Christian center of worship, building the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335. Jerusalem had received special recognition in Canon VII of the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Constantine's mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to the city and claimed to have recovered the cross of Christ. Jews were still banned from the city, except during a brief period of Persian rule from 614 to 629 CE.
Map of Jerusalem as it appeared in the years 958–1052, according to Arab geographers such as al-Muqaddasi
The Hereford Mapa Mundi, depicting Jerusalem at the center of the world
Although the Qur'an does not mention the name "Jerusalem", the hadith assert that it was from Jerusalem that Muhammad ascended to heaven in the Night Journey, or Isra and Miraj. The city was one of the Arab Caliphate's first conquests in 638 CE; according to Arab historians of the time, the Rashidun Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab personally went to the city to receive its submission, cleaning out and praying at the Temple Mount in the process. Sixty years later the Dome of the Rock was built, a structure enshrining a stone from which Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven during the Isra. (The octagonal and gold-sheeted Dome is not the Al-Aqsa Mosque to the south, the latest version of which was built more than three centuries later). Umar ibn al-Khattab also allowed the Jews back into the city and freedom to live and worship after four hundred years.

Under the early centuries of Muslim rule, especially during the Umayyad (650–750) and Abbasid (750–969) dynasties, the city prospered; geographers Ibn Hawqal and al-Istakhri (10th century) describe it as "the most fertile province of Palestine",[citation needed] while its native son, the geographer al-Muqaddasi (born 946) devoted many pages to its praises in his most famous work, The Best Divisions in the Knowledge of the Climes. Under Muslim rule Jerusalem did not achieve the political or cultural status enjoyed by the capitals Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo etc. Interestingly, al-Muqaddasi derives his name from the Arabic name for Jerusalem, Bayt al-Muqaddas, which is linguistically equivalent to the Hebrew Beit Ha-Mikdash, the Holy House.

The early Arab period was also one of religious tolerance. However, in the early 11th century, the Egyptian Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of all churches. Jews were among the most vigorous defenders of Jerusalem against the Crusaders. When the city fell, the Crusaders placed all the Jews in Jerusalem inside the city's synagogue and then burned it down.[citation needed]

Jerusalem became the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey of Bouillon, was elected Lord of Jerusalem on July 22, 1099, but did not assume the royal crown and died a year later.[26] Barons offered the lordship of Jerusalem to Godfrey's brother Baldwin, Count of Edessa, who had himself crowned by the Patriarch Daimbert on Christmas Day 1100 in the basilica of Bethlehem.[26]

Christian settlers from the West set about rebuilding the principal shrines associated with the life of Christ. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was ambitiously rebuilt as a great Romanesque church, and Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount (the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque) were converted for Christian purposes. It is during this period of Frankish occupation that the Military Orders of the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar have their beginnings. Both grew out of the need to protect and care for the great influx of pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem in the 12th century.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted until 1291; however, Jerusalem itself was recaptured by Saladin in 1187, who permitted worship of all religions (see Siege of Jerusalem (1187)).
Medieval Tower of David (Migdal David) in Jerusalem today
According to Rabbi Elijah of Chelm, German Jews lived in Jerusalem during the 11th century. The story is told that a German-speaking Palestinian Jew saved the life of a young German man surnamed Dolberger. Thus when the knights of the First Crusade came to siege Jerusalem, one of Dolberger's family members rescued Jews in Palestine and carried them back to Worms to repay the favor.[27] Further evidence of German communities in the holy city comes in the form of halakic questions sent from Germany to Jerusalem during the second half of the 11th century.[28]

In 1173 Benjamin of Tudela visited Jerusalem. He described it as a small city full of Jacobites, Armenians, Greeks, and Georgians. Two hundred Jews dwelt in a corner of the city under the Tower of David.

In 1219 the walls of the city were razed by order of al-Mu'azzam, the Ayyubid sultan of Damascus. This rendered Jerusalem defenseless and dealt a heavy blow to the city's status. The Ayyubids destroyed the walls in expectation of ceding the city to the Crusaders as part of a peace treaty. In 1229, by treaty with Egypt's ruler al-Kamil, Jerusalem came into the hands of Frederick II of Germany. In 1239, after a ten-year truce expired, he began to rebuild the walls; these were again demolished by an-Nasir Da'ud, the emir of Kerak, in the same year.

In 1243 Jerusalem came again into the power of the Christians, and the walls were repaired. The Khwarezmian Tatars took the city in 1244 and were in turn driven out by the Egyptians in 1247. In 1260 the Tatars under Hulagu Khan engaged in raids into Palestine. It is unclear if the Mongols were ever in Jerusalem, as it was not seen as a settlement of strategic importance at the time. However, there are reports that some of the Jews that were in Jerusalem temporarily fled to neighboring villages.[citation needed]
View and Plan of Jerusalem. A woodcut in the "Liber Chronicarum Mundi", Nuremberg, 1493
In 1267 the Jewish Catalonian sage Nahmanides travelled to Jerusalem. In the Old City he established the Ramban Synagogue, the second oldest active synagogue in Jerusalem, after that of the Karaite Jews built about 300 years earlier.

In the middle of the 13th century, Jerusalem was captured by the Egyptian Mamluks.
[edit] Early Ottoman period
In 1517, Jerusalem was taken over by the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed a period of renewal and peace under Suleiman the Magnificent, including the construction of magnificent walls of what is now known as the Old City of Jerusalem (however, some of the wall foundations are remains of genuine antique walls). The rule of Suleiman and the subsequent Ottoman Sultans brought an age of "religious peace"; Jew, Christian and Muslim enjoyed the freedom of religion the Ottomans granted them and it was possible to find a synagogue, a church and a mosque in the same street. The city remained open to all religions, although the empire's faulty management after Suleiman meant economical stagnation.
In 1482, the visiting Dominican priest Felix Fabri described Jerusalem as "a dwelling place of diverse nations of the world, and is, as it were, a collection of all manner of abominations". As "abominations" he listed Saracens, Greeks, Syrians, Jacobites, Abyssinians, Nestorians, Armenians, Gregorians, Maronites, Turcomans, Bedouins, Assassins, a possibly Druze sect, Mamluks, and "the most accursed of all", Jews; Only the Latin Christians "long with all their hearts for Christian princes to come and subject all the country to the authority of the Church of Rome".[29]

In 1700, Judah he-Hasid led the largest organized group of Jewish immigrants to the Land of Israel in centuries. His disciples built the Hurba Synagogue, which served as the main synagogue in Jerusalem from the 16th century until 1948, when it was destroyed by the Arab Legion.[30]
Jews in Jerusalem 1895
An old picture of Jerusalem from the mount of olives
In the mid-19th century, with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the city was a backwater, with a population that did not exceed 8,000. Nevertheless, it was, even then, an extremely heterogeneous city because of its significance to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The population was divided into four major communities – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian – and the first three of these could be further divided into countless subgroups, based on precise religious affiliation or country of origin. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was meticulously partitioned between the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian churches. Tensions between the groups ran so deep that the keys to the shrine and its doors were safeguarded by a pair of 'neutral' Muslim families.

At that time, the communities were located mainly around their primary shrines. The Muslim community surrounded the Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount (northeast), the Christians lived mainly in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (northwest), the Jews lived mostly on the slope above the Western Wall (southeast), and the Armenians lived near the Zion Gate (southwest). In no way was this division exclusive, however, it did form the basis of the four quarters during the British Mandate period (1917–1948).
1883 map of Jerusalem
The Ottoman surrender of Jerusalem to the British, December 9, 1917
Several changes occurred in the mid-19th century, with long-lasting effects on the city: their implications can be felt today and lie at the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over Jerusalem. The first of these was a trickle of Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The first such immigrants were Orthodox Jews: some were elderly individuals, who came to die in Jerusalem and be buried on the Mount of Olives; others were students, who came with their families to await the coming of the Messiah, and adding new life to the local population. At the same time, European colonial powers also began seeking toeholds in the city, hoping to expand their influence pending the imminent collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This was also an age of Christian religious revival, and many churches sent missionaries to proselytize among the Muslim and especially the Jewish populations, believing that this would speed the Second Coming of Christ. Finally, the combination of European colonialism and religious zeal was expressed in a new scientific interest in the biblical lands in general and Jerusalem in particular. Archeological and other expeditions made some spectacular finds, which increased interest in Jerusalem even more.[citation needed]
By the 1860s, the city, with an area of only one square kilometer, was already overcrowded. Thus began the construction of the New City, the part of Jerusalem outside of the city walls. Seeking new areas to stake their claims, the Russian Orthodox Church began constructing a complex, now known as the Russian Compound, a few hundred meters from Jaffa Gate. The first attempt at residential settlement outside the walls of Jerusalem was undertaken by Jews, who built a small complex on the hill overlooking Zion Gate, across the Valley of Hinnom. This settlement, known as Mishkenot Sha'ananim, eventually flourished and set the precedent for other new communities to spring up to the west and north of the Old City. In time, as the communities grew and connected geographically, this became known as the New City.

In 1882, around 150 Jewish families arrived in Jerusalem from Yemen. Initially they were not accepted by the Jews of Jerusalem and lived in destitute conditions supported by the Christians of the Swedish-American colony, who called them Gadites.[31] In 1884, the Yemenites moved into Silwan.
Panorama of Jerusalem, c. 1900–1940
Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after taking part in 1917 British conquest of Jerusalem
The British were victorious over the Turks in the Middle East during World War I and with victory in Palestine, General Sir Edmund Allenby, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, entered Jerusalem on foot, out of respect for the Holy City, on December 11, 1917.[32]

By the time General Allenby took Jerusalem from the Ottomans in 1917, the new city was a patchwork of neighborhoods and communities, each with a distinct ethnic character. This continued under British rule, as the New City of Jerusalem grew outside the old city walls and the Old City of Jerusalem gradually emerged as little more than an impoverished older neighborhood. One of the British bequests to the city was a town planning order requiring new buildings in the city to be faced with sandstone and thus preserving some of the overall look of the city, even as it grew. During the 1930s, two important new institutions, the Hadassah Medical Center and Hebrew University were founded on Jerusalem's Mount Scopus.
Main residential areas of Jerusalem in 1947
British rule marked a period of growing unrest. Arab resentment at British rule and the influx of Jewish immigrants (by 1948 one in six Jews in Palestine lived in Jerusalem) boiled over in anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem in 1920, 1929, and the 1930s that caused significant damage and several deaths. The Jewish community organized self-defense forces in response to the Jerusalem pogrom of April 1920 and later disturbances; while other Jewish groups carried out bombings and attacks against the British, especially in response to suspected complicity with the Arabs and restrictions on immigration during World War II imposed by the White Paper of 1939. The level of violence continued to escalate throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In July 1946 members of the underground Zionist group Irgun blew up a part of the King David Hotel, where the British forces were temporarily located, an act which led to the death of many civilians.
Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, Israel, during 1944 British demolition of recent construction obscuring the historic city walls
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved a plan which partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Each state would be composed of three major sections, linked by extraterritorial crossroads, plus an Arab enclave at Jaffa. The Greater Jerusalem area would fall under international control.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Luke 20: A "Parable Against Them", and Us

Not every word Jesus spoke was a Happy Word. The 20th century tried its best to make Jesus happy, helpful and hip. A friend to all, offensive to none.

Well, "a bruised reed he would not break" and all that, but he knew how to confront, too. In Chapter 20 he tells the story of the Wicked Tenants who kill the rent collectors and then kill the owner's son. Not unlike Modern Man, they agreed that if they just killed the owner (via Darwin etc.) they would inherit the vineyard (the world). They don't look so smart when you put it that way, Jesus. Yet mankind declared himself free of God through communism, Nazism etc.. Millions of people suffered.

The people listening to the parable said, "oh you can't be talking about US Jesus." Luke says that "Jesus looked directly at them" and told them, in effect, those who reject the Kingdom for something "better" should know that "everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." You choose inferior materials, you get inferior products. Greed, murder and spiritual rebellion lay a poor foundation for a society, or a century.