Sundays in Mark (52) Enter Judas

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark. This week 14:10-11 and the sudden introduction of Judas’ act of betrayal.

In 10:1-2 the chief priests and teachers of the law were seeking to arrest and kill Jesus without causing a public uproar. Here Judas is seeking to betray Jesus and so two parties’ interests meet. ‘External’ opposition is joined by ‘internal’ betrayal. Judas would have opportunity to arrange a surprise arrest out of sight of the crowds.

Mark’s sparse text gives no real hint as to Judas’ motive. Money is promised as a reward but it is not clear if this was just a ‘bonus’ or the actual reason. Had Jesus’ upside kingdom message deeply disillusioned him?

Whatever the truth, Judas acts out of ruthhess personal self-interest in utter contrast to the immediately preceding beautiful act of selfless devotion by the unnamed woman.

One sacrifices Jesus to his own agenda, the other sacrifices the most precious thing she has for Jesus.

One resorts to lies and subterfuge, the other to risky and transparent vulnerability.

One chooses the route of power and violence, the ofter of service and love.


Judas’ Betrayal

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

One.Life (13) Love.Life

Chapter 13 of Scot McKnight’s book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow is called Love.Life

In this penultimate chapter, Scot turns to the place of love at the heart of Jesus’ call to follow him.

He has a nice summary of the 4 imagined ‘Gods’ in Americans’ minds:

1.       Authoritarian God (32%)

2.       Critical God (16%)

3.       Distant God (24%)

4.       Benevolent God (23%)

[What happened to the other 5%?!]

Scot argues that if under ¼ of people think of God in loving / benevolent ways then we need to re-hear what the Bible says about God.

And it was for precisely these reasons (a mistaken views of God) that prompted Jesus to tell a famous parable about God’s identity – the parable of the Lost Son.

Scot does a nice job of retelling the story of the two brothers for American college life. One a selfish waster who has dishonoured and despised his father, the other responsibly obedient.

At every point in the story, Jesus sabotages expectations of how the Father (God) will act.

The Father doesn’t follow the rules of 1st C Jewish culture. He isn’t supposed to give the son his inheritance, he isn’t supposed to stand waiting for his son to return, he isn’t supposed to run to him and embrace him, he isn’t supposed to celebrate and he sure isn’t supposed to restore him to ‘son’ status.

Jesus tells the story to turn his opponents’ ideas of God upside down. And the sting in the tail is that they are the ‘older son’ who resists the picture of the Father that Jesus has drawn.

God’s love and grace are offensive.

And a lesson of the parable is that each one of us has to ‘come clean’ before the Father just as the younger son does – an attitude of deep repentance, humility and utter delight at being accepted by the Father.

The paradox is that the more we are honest with ourselves and with God, the deeper and more heartfelt our repentance will be – and the deeper our experience of God’s love and grace and forgiveness.

This is what confession is and this is what the love of God is – he accepts us back.

If I remember right, John Stott says this somewhere:

“the depth of our discipleship depends on the depth of our repentance.”

As usual, he’s right.

So to Scot’s closing words:

“The kingdom of God is designed for those who will tell the truth about themselves, turn from their sins and turn back to God, by banking on God’s gracious forgiveness in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s gracious welcome and the open seat waiting at the table in God’s family.”

I wonder if evangelical Christians are the ones most likely to be like the older brother?

That we can easily hold a pretty good opinion of ourselves? We serve others, we are committed to community, we study the Bible both personally and academically, we give money, we engage in mission, we go to prayer meetings, we read Christian books, we preach grace  ….

But all too gradually the place of confession and repentance within personal and church life can get displaced. Not deliberately of course; more by omission than conscious rejection.  But it can be marginalised nevertheless – in the hymns we sing, in the absence of corporate and personal confession, in our growth orientated ‘success culture’ .

Comments, as ever, welcome.

if there’s an original thought out there, I sure could use it now

Tell Tale Signs

I had a birthday recently and was kindly given Tell Tale Signs by Bob Dylan. Series 8 of the Bootleg Series. Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006.

First time I’ve confessed this on the blog – but if I had to listen to one singer / songwriter for the rest of my life it would happily be the man from Minnesota. No competition.

The best song on the album? Red River Shore. A magnificent ballad, unreleased from Time out of Mind.

My internet sleuthing skills aren’t up to finding a version online to link to, so instead here’s an audio link to probably my favourite song by the bard, Brownsville Girl from the otherwise undistingushed Knocked Out Loaded album.

Includes a great line for blogging, teaching and writing…

“if there’s an original thought out there, I sure could use it now”

Not an obvious choice maybe, but if you don’t like it, you must be dead already.

For whom the Bell tolls

One benefit of the furore unleashed by the pre-publicity marketing of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, is that Steve Holmes has been spurred out of blogging limbo.

Over at Shored Fragments he has begun what is shaping up to be a detailed and likely unsurprassed series on Bell’s book.

What is so refreshing is:

the honesty and catholicity of his critique – of Bell’s detractors and of Bell himself;

how his wide knowledge of historical theology gives a much needed context to what has been mostly an a-historical and sometimes hysterical debate. I suspect ‘outside’ observers must think that Rob Bell has daringly thought up questions that no-one else in the history of Christianity has ever risked broaching before. Post 2 on how Bell is articulating, probably without knowing it, a long tradition within Reformed orthodoxy (that God will save most people, not just a few), is wonderful, especially since his most hostile opponents are self-appointed defenders of Reformed orthodoxy. It’s worth a quote ..

I suppose that Bell does not even know that the position he is defending is traditional Reformed theology – surely, he would have mentioned it if he did know this? It remains the case, however, that on this point, on the question of the relative proportion of the saved to the lost, it happens that Bell is on the side of historic orthodoxy and his many zealous detractors are not.

This is profoundly important, it seems to me. This is about who God is. A God who saves only a few is niggardly and ungracious …   The broad witness of Scripture is overwhelmingly to the generosity of God in salvation, or so Warfield, Hodge, and most others thought.

and his tone, which is fairminded and generous. Maybe not being an American is helpful here, he has no axe to grind or soul of American evangelicalism to fight over.

Worth checking out.

One.Life (12) Eternity.Life (b)

A quick postscript to the last post on Scot McKnight’s book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow.

What do you hope for? Life in heaven, free at last from this broken world?

What is the relationship between what we do in this life now and the life to come?

Scot is sketching things here and argues that Jesus’ future kingdom vision finds fulfilment in the new heavens and earth picture of Revelation 21.

The main link here is Jesus’ language in the Lord’s Prayer of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

the eternal state is a perfection of life on earth and not an escape from life on earth

This New Jerusalem is heaven life come to earth – justice, peace, love, wisdom.

The people of God, living with God, and living with one another in perfect shalom, and love and justice.

All made possible through the lamb, whose death brought forgiveness, redemption and liberation.

And so, in utter contrast to hell, what do you think of Scot’s definition of heaven? Does this vision inspire and shape life in the here and now?

heaven is a person’s awareness and overwhelming delight in being absolutely present in the utter presence of God.

Sundays in Mark (51) : a beautiful act

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark.

This week an astonishing act of love by an unnamed woman.

Mark sets the story in the context of mounting opposition with plans afoot to kill Jesus. The woman’s actions are to be read in light of Jesus’ impending death. Bethany is the last stop on the pilgrim route before Jerusalem.

Mark’s account is sparse in the extreme. Her motives remain unexplained. Her character is not described. Simon the Leper is assumed to be well known. Her identity is not revealed.

The nard was extremely precious, perhaps a treasured family possession.

Her actions reveal her profound love for Jesus. A love that is not sexual in nature but indicative of her ‘seeing’ something of Jesus’ unique messianic identity and responding accordingly.

Jesus interprets her actions at a deeper level, reading them through the lens of the cross and her annointing of his head as an act of preparation for burial. Implicit here is his knowledge that his will be a criminal’s death, to be denied annointing prior to burial.

Jesus has little time for convention, legalistic judgements and the niceties of etiquette. He looks to the heart and pronounces her actions ‘beautiful’.

Hear that word – beautiful.

Such was the beauty of her behaviour Jesus pronounces that it will never be forgotton and she will be honoured and remembered, as indeed she has been.

Notice that this is possibly the highest praise that anyone receives from Jesus in the gospels. Given to an anonymous woman.

What implications do you think Jesus’ radical affirmation of this woman has for the status and role of women in the church today?

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

1 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Hurtado and God (6): God reconfigured?

Wrapping up our discussion of Christology around God in New Testament Theology by Larry Hurtado

Here are some of Hurtado’s conclusions towards the end of the book – and these are worth reading carefully.

As we have seen, on the one hand, the NT texts are consistent in claiming that it is the God of the OT, the God of Jewish tradition, who sent Jesus, raised him from death, and exalted him to heavenly glory, and now demands that Jesus be reverenced. On the other hand, these same texts emphasise that in view of these things it is now no longer possible to speak adequately of “God” without confessing Jesus’ significance and, equally important, that an adequate obedience  and devotion to “God” now requires the inclusion of Jesus as recipient of reverence and devotion with “God”. So, the NT texts express a major reconfiguring of God-discourse, and a major reconfiguring of devotion to “God” as well.

These important developments took place within a remarkably brief time span, so brief that the NT texts already presuppose them. As noted, a number of times already, in subsequent centuries the beliefs and religious practices reflected in the NT generated further developments in Christian doctrine and devotional life. But, simply as the remarkable developments in the history of religions that they are, the NT expressions of beliefs about “God” deserve attention.

This is quite a way from J D G Dunn’s conclusions in his book Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? (also published in 2010). There Dunn, to my mind, draws ambiguous and somewhat contradictory conclusions – but I’ll come back to them another time.

Hurtado is very close to Richard Bauckham, even if he does not use the idea of Jesus being included in the ‘divine identity’. Hurtado prefers to stress how Jesus is included in what God does – in divine actions. And he is more explicitly trinitarian than Dunn in what he says here:

If, as the NT texts seem to insist, discourse about “God” now must include reference to Jesus, then this marks a significant alteration from the way that “God” was understood previously. In particular, Jesus’ resurrection constitutes the emphatic reaffirmation of Jesus (and precisely as the embodied human figure) as thereafter uniquely to be included in the understanding of divine purposes and even (per traditional trinitarian faith) in what is meant by “God”. To use trinitarian language, “God the Son” is eternal, without beginning or end. But in the incarnation, “the Son” became genuinely an embodied human, and in Jesus’ resurrection this incarnate move was irrevocably reaffirmed by “God”. In short, from Jesus’ resurrection onward, “God” in some profound way now includes a glorified human. That I believe, represents quite a significant alteration!

In other words, the very ‘make-up’ and experience of God himself is irrevocably changed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Comments, as ever, welcome.