CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

Page 2 of 24

August 9

Revisionist History

I made way yesterday for some comments from the legendary writer, Kurt Vonnegut, in respect to this dust-up between Jesus and Judas. Today, you’ll hear from the not so legendary, C.J.

John has added his editorial comments about his fellow disciple, Judas. He of course is writing through the informed prism of memory – an iridescent lens that offers a wide spectrum of texture and color to past events. However, the palette fails the gospel writer as it concerns Judas. Black is not a color.

Three character flaws are mentioned: Judas will betray Jesus; Judas didn’t give a fig about the poor; and, Judas was a thief. The question that comes to mind is this: How much of this was known in the moment? Certainly, the betrayal wasn’t yet known because it had not yet happened. The other two – antipathy toward the poor and pilfering the ministry money bag – are, at best, a maybe. It would seem that if it was common knowledge that Judas was a thief it could’ve easily been remedied by having a non-thieving disciple in charge of the bookkeeping.

Why is this important to consider? As I mentioned, John’s punditry comes long after the event. His views of Judas have hardened over time. He may have had his early suspicions about Judas, but I suspect they were not fully formed. Judas was just another disciple of the master who had about his person a few things that were annoying. Things that annoy pretty much describe every other creature on the planet. I find myself annoying now and again. Thus, while John may have been indulging in a bit of historical revisionism, sharing “after the fact” facts regarding Judas, it was not so with Jesus. Jesus knew the heart of Judas. He predicted his betrayal. He must have known he was a thief. He challenged his “so called” concern for the poor. And yet, up until the very moment of the kiss of betrayal, Judas remains as part of the inner circle. He is not fired. He will later fire himself.

It is curious. We see these little palace intrigues throughout the Scriptures – an unbeliever in the midst of believers. It seems almost axiomatic. A spawn of Judas will learn the culture, the language, and the norms of the church and carry on for some time. They are often not only drawn to power, they are often given a place of authority – their acting is that good. I’ve voted “yay” for a Judas a time or two in past church meetings. It was only clear that I had done so after that person warmed to the task of their new found influence and began to reek their own unique havoc. It was all so very obvious after the fact.

In the good Lord’s wisdom he said he would allow the weeds and seeds to grow together. The fact that I don’t like that arrangement is of little concern to heaven. It’s meant, I suppose, to keep us on our toes. It’s meant also to make us consider (as did the disciples at the Last Supper when Jesus mentioned a betrayer was in their midst ) that profound question: “Is it me?”

August 8

The Agnostic Christian

Now and then I come across a jewel in my studies that I can’t wait to share. I’ve been sitting on this one for quite some time in anticipation of this very scene. We’re set today to encounter Jesus’ response to Judas. Recall that Jesus has just been anointed with a year’s worth of nard, or spikenard – an expensive essential oil. I’ll back up a bit in the text so we can capture the entire exchange: But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” ~John 12:4-8

Now, for a clunky segue…let’s talk about the celebrated American writer, Kurt Vonnegut. In a career that spanned fifty years, Vonnegut became one of America’s most notable writers – producing plays, novels, short stories and autobiographical musings. His sixth novel, Slaughterhouse Five, (Or, the alternative title: The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death) catapulted him to fame and to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list in 1969. In 2010 the book was still receiving awards. The first sentence of that novel, which reads: “All this happened, more or less.” was ranked No. 38 on the American Book Review’s list of “100 Best First Lines from Novels.” How then does this most modern of modern writers fit into this particular section of the Gospel of John? Well, because he was once asked to preach a sermon on a Palm Sunday. He chose as his text this exchange between Jesus and Judas. I will give you a bit from that message:

“I am enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount. Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far. Perhaps we will get another idea that good by and by – and then we will have two good ideas. What might that second good idea be? I don’t know. How could I know? I will make a wild guess that it will come from music… (Anyway) I choose as my text the first eight verses of John 12, which deal not with Palm Sunday but with the night before – with Palm Sunday Eve, with what we might call “Spikenard Saturday.” I hope that will be close enough to Palm Sunday to leave you more or less satisfied…I would like to recapture what has been lost. Why? Because I, as a Christ-worshipping agnostic, have seen so much un-Christian impatience with the poor encouraged by the quotation “For the poor always ye have with you.”…This is too much for that envious hypocrite Judas, who says, trying to be more Catholic than the Pope: “Hey-this is very un-Christian. Instead of wasting that stuff on Your feet, we should have sold it and given the money to the poor people.” To which Jesus replies in Aramaic: “Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.” This is about what Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln would have said under similar circumstances. If Jesus did in fact say that, it is a divine black joke, well-suited to the occasion. It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor. It is a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him for his hypocrisy all the same. “Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.” Shall I re-garble it for you? “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.” My own translation does no violence to the words in the Bible. I have changed their order some, not merely to make them into the joke the situation calls for but to harmonize them, too, with the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount suggests a mercifulness that can never waver or fade. This has no doubt been a silly sermon. I am sure you do not mind. People don’t come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God.” ~Adapted from Palm Sunday, Kurt Vonnegut

August 7

Worship Critics
As the house in Bethany filled with the aroma of the essential oils, Jesus allowed this audacious act of worship to carry on unabated. It was so rich and heartfelt that it bordered on the uncomfortable. Pouring oil over Jesus’ head and feet and then soaking it up with her own hair, Mary is demonstrating a worship that few of us will ever know this side of heaven.

Not all were pleased or joining in with the worship service. We’ve mentioned before John’s sometimes snarky insights. He unleashes here with several editorial comments that paints a picture of a tortured, duplicitous disciple: But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ~John 12:4-6

As John makes clear, Judas’ motives were less than pristine. He had good uses for this pint o’ nard.  It would help with the ministry purse that he was helping himself to. He was masking his intentions with religious spiritual-babble – a not uncommon tactic among the half committed. He didn’t care a fig for the poor, but it sounded good.

I’ve met these tortured, insecure souls in every church I’ve pastored. They want to control things. Perhaps they’ve been frustrated in marriage or career. Who knows? They’re rather easy to spot. They tend not to open their mouths when we worship. It’s as if they are enduring the singing. Where it really gets intense is during the teaching time. Some have done the quiet courtesy of nodding off. Others have scrutinized every word in search of some bit of heresy or heterodoxy out of my mouth. On these points I didn’t disappoint. On a number of occasions they’ve bum-rushed the podium to give me an earful. It’s usually accompanied by an argumentum ad verecundiam – an appeal to an outside authority. Some guy they heard on the radio preached that passage way different they breathlessly report to me. I have been tempted to offer to play the radio preacher’s messages over the sound system. Writing sermons or daily devotionals is a lot of work. I’d enjoy the break. However, snark is not limited to a disciple from 2000 years ago. I’m not merely referring to my own comebacks to sermon critics. Tomorrow we’ll see Jesus do his own beat down of Judas.

 

August 6

Lounging, Lunch and Lavishing
It is important in our understanding of the Gospel of John that we understand where we are, at any given time, in terms of chronology. As we approach chapter 12, we are actually entering the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth. It is a long roll-out. About half of John’s gospel drills down on this brief period of time. It begins with his return to Bethany (The house of affliction) and a sort of post-reanimation courtesy call with Lazarus: Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. ~John 12:1

Once more with Lazarus. I am curious as to how that conversation might have gone down between him and Jesus. You’ve been brought back from paradise to grind it out once more in the house of affliction. You’ve already gone through the crisis and pain of dying. Do you suppose Lazarus might have been just a little curious as to why he was chosen for the lead role in this miracle?

We’ll never know. But what we do know is that the boys were lounging at the table chatting about something when the paragon of hostesses decides to throw a party: Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. ~John 12:2

The sisters had to be relieved. In that day and time and in that culture, Lazarus was most likely the breadwinner. Not only had the girls been overwrought at the loss of their brother, the practical matter of just how they were going to get by had to be at the forefront of their thoughts. The resurrection of Lazarus fixed that. Martha showed her love with food. That was her love language. Mary? Well, Mary demonstrated her gratefulness with an act that is still celebrated in high church traditions to this day: Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. ~John 12:3

Mary would have fit right in with modern, holistic types. She was using an essential oil called nard, or spikenard which comes from a flowering plant of the Valerian family. It mostly grows in the high mountains of the Himalayas above 10,000 feet. Besides its lovely fragrance, it was used to treat a number of ailments and to sooth those experiencing anxiety. We might assume Jesus had a bit of that going on. And, as we’ll soon see – Mary has just spent a significant amount of her family’s retirement with this lavish undertaking. She did it for a number of reasons. She was grateful to have her brother back. And, she was performing a sacrificial act of worship. But mostly, she was engaging in a bit of prophetic enactment. Nard was often used to anoint the body of one being prepared for burial. With this trinity of motivations, Mary gave back to Jesus the unconditional love he had given her. She would be with him both in and after death.

 

August 5

Fruitful
It is striking to consider the difference between Jesus and modern faith-healers. It is not difficult to imagine that if a latter day preacher managed to raise a man from the dead the thing would go viral on social media. With nearly everyone carrying a smart phone we would be treated to the dead man stumbling out of the grave from a number of angles. We would hear the oohs, the ahs and the shrieks. The comment section would be filled with giddy hallelujahs and a fair amount of dubious naysayers. Regardless, the preacher would be celebrated and most likely set for life. It would be time for the ministry to start shopping for a private jet.

The reward that Jesus received for bringing Lazarus back from the grave was demoralizing. As we mentioned yesterday, Sanhedrin, Inc., had written up an arrest warrant and surreptitiously ordered a hit. Jesus was not celebrated. He was convicted – in absentia. Thus, we find the Lamb of God on the lam: Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. ~John 11:54

Now, for a bit of background. Ephraim was named after the second son of Joseph. You might recall Joseph as the one who flashed his  “coat of many colors” to an unappreciative audience of siblings. Their Bedouin earth tones were no match for their spiffy brother. It irked them so much that they sold little brother into slavery.  Joseph then endured the balance of his days as a servant to the Egyptians. Joseph had a son whom he named, Ephraim. The etymology of the word is interesting. It means, “Being fruitful.” 

But there’s more. If you recall, Jesus had performed his miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead in the small village of Bethany. We noted that the meaning of that word was, “House of affliction.”  Nearly the same turn of phrase is used in the Torah as a description of Egypt during Joseph’s servitude. It is referred to as the “Land of affliction.”  So, in this land of affliction, Joseph’s second son reminds him that in spite of the circumstances, it is possible to be fruitful.

As we near the turn for Jesus’ final Passover celebration, Jesus is taking a respite from the crowds. He is pouring himself into a handful of people – his disciples. These lads will soon be leading the whole movement and their future success will prove that Jesus was being fruitful in the land of affliction.

August 4

Sanhedrin, Inc.
In 1776, a Scottish economist gave himself to exploring how nations go about either creating or diminishing wealth. The resulting tome, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, was then, and is still today a touchstone of sanity in respect to classical economics. The author, Adam Smith, was also a philosopher.

If I were King for a day, I’d require all my loyal subjects to read it and then submit an essay to my fleet of scribal minions. Those lads would be instructed not to grade on a curve. It would be pass or fail.

One of Smith’s most oft-quoted and salient points is this pithy line: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own (self) interest.”  In other words, what drives economic activity  – and much of human progress – is unapologetic self-interest. Out of feigned, polite, politically correct decorum, we might say otherwise. In fact, a committed  socialist might say otherwise – but the insight from Smith, upon reflection, holds true. A socialist may have little interest in making the bread, but he will march for the right to eat free bread. It is self-interest nonetheless. The capitalist is simply the more honest of the two.

Well, you never know what you’re going to get when you open up one of these devotions and today is no exception. We’ve settled into some nice conversations from the Gospel of John where we’ve of late spent some time in the wee village of Bethany. Lazarus has been raised from the dead. That was, no doubt, somewhat of a novelty. It’s not something one  sees everyday – or any day. Because of that, a few unsavory snoops in league with *Sanhedrin, Inc. have submitted their field reports. A visceral reaction takes place. In the midst of the ensuing emergency summit, we see Adam Smith economics on full display: “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” John 11:47,48 

The cause or the origin of the miracle was of no concern. They were only concerned with the consequences. Not the consequence to Lazarus. Not the consequence of possibly partnering with and learning how to exploit this worker of miracles. No. Their only concern was establishing some sort of high, religious tariff on the competition. They couldn’t produce a better product, so they ordered a hit: So from that day on they plotted to take his life. ~John 11:53

*Sanhedrin, Inc. Extra Credit for those of you who enjoy reading economic theory! The Sanhedrin had become the antagonists of Atlas Shrugged. They were playing to form in wanting to control the means of production,  establishing onerous regulations, picking winners and losers on the basis of graft and taking a fat cut while never themselves producing anything of value. Today, we call them politicians. Actually, Ayn Rand did as well. While I do not embrace her philosophy of objectivism, she was spot on in respect to the deadening effects of non-productive self-interest.

 

August 3

The Blind Squirrel
The religious establishment viewed the resurrection of Lazarus not as a miracle but as a menace. What do you do if your entire organizational structure is under siege? You call a meeting! But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. ~John 11:46,47

This was not a small committee. This was a gathering of political appointees and religious leaders made up of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were highly trained laymen. They were well respected amongst the people and numbered about 6,000 in total throughout Judea and Palestine. Their job was primarily teaching in the synagogues. A handful of that number were represented in the Sanhedrin. The real power brokers were the Sadducees.  They played footsie with Rome, rejected any notion of the supernatural, and were known as the wealthy, upper class. They were not liked by the people. It was from the Sadducees that the High Priest was chosen by Rome. This High Priest was different than the High Priest chosen by the casting of lots for the annual atonement offering in the temple. Confused? Overwhelmed? I’ve got more!

We find that the politically appointed High Priest is a man by the name of Caiaphas. He is a prototypical government minion. This next bit is from someone who took minutes at the Sanhedrin meeting: “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” ~John 11:47-50

Well done Caiaphas. As John helpfully points out:  He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. ~John 11:51-52 In the spirit of the blind squirrel that discovered a nut, Caiaphas – the denier of the supernatural –  has just inadvertently given a prophetic word.

 

August 2

I know a guy…

Do you recall those old episodes of Seinfeld where Kramer always seemed to have a special connection to “some guy?” Throughout its successful run, Kramer bragged about having a coat guy, a cigar guy, a bagel guy and other sundry associations. “You have a bagel guy?” Jerry once asked incredulously.

There are people who have a gift for being connected. It is not a bad thing. Sometimes, just accumulating enough years in one location gives us that, “I know a guy…” knowledge. But there are others who use it as a ladder to climb up over others, to indicate that they are keepers of some secret knowledge and to gain influence. You meet these people in both large cities and small bergs – even places like Bethany.

As Lazarus stumbled out of the tomb, the surrounding townsfolk had to be both thrilled and horrified. The zombie apocalypse is not a new thing. There were stories of such even in their day. If you recall, the disciples had thought Jesus one of that lot when he approached them strolling o’er the waves. As the undead Lazarus made his purchase to the light of day, a few brave souls stepped forward to helpfully unpack their old friend. It would be a pointless miracle to rise from the dead and then suffocate.

But there were some in the crowd who were coldly calculating. Rather than embrace the miracle, they began to pencil out in their minds how they might leverage this event to their advantage. They knew a guy: Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. John 11:45-47

The sycophancy is stunning. There is not the least bit of curiosity or courtesy to even ask Lazarus what it was like on the other side or even if there WAS another side. Eternity held for them neither treasure nor terror. Their passion was to traffic in information that might give them some sort of leg up in this life. They had been trained well by their religious apparatchiks.

August 1

Life

As heaven’s first ambassador of the new kingdom, Jesus despises death. Death, according to the Scriptures, is not natural. Death is not the opposite of life, it is the absence of life. And so it goes. Darkness is not the opposite of light, it is the absence of light. Those are not just biblical notions, science and philosophy say much the same thing. Thus, when John first introduced us to Jesus in chapter 1, he said this: In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. ~John 1:4 It is a remarkable statement – both light and life emanate from this person John is about to present.

Clinically speaking, Lazarus is as dead as one can get. When we die, the neural networks that makes everything work begin to decay instantly. Within an hour or so the destruction to the brain is so severe that a lifetime of stored information – memories, skills, talents, vanities and such – are all lost. But with Lazarus, we are not speaking of a man dead for an hour or two. John tells us that Lazarus has been in the tomb for about four days. Before Jesus could do what he was about to do, there had to be no doubt concerning the absence of life.

And now the moment: Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” ~John 11:40-44

There are so many perspectives over which to linger. However, let’s just touch today on the silent co-star himself, Lazarus. He is literally being sucked out of eternity and brought back to the claustrophobic confines of earth in a mummy suit. I’m inclined to believe that as they unwrapped his face, his first word wasn’t, “Thanks!” but, “WHY?” He had already crossed over. Yet, seeing Jesus and his dear sisters standing there arrested the thought. He knew he was back for only a brief season. What he saw of the other side would forever change his attachments to earth. And, as we’ll soon see, his very presence became a threat to the religious establishment. Too many people had witnessed the miracle. Lazarus would become just as much a marked man as Jesus. It seemed that the professional clerics had no room in their theology for the resurrected.

July 31

Miracle in the House of Affliction

“Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” ~John 11:39,40

The moment had come. All of the inexplicable delays, all of the seeming callousness of an apparent negligent friend would be answered. The glory of God is about to be revealed in the small town of Bethany. Two ancient church fathers, Jerome and Eusebius, give the etymology of Bethany as “The House of Affliction.” We know from other passages that it was the home of Simon the Leper. These morsels indicate it wasn’t on anyone’s bucket-list as a tourist destination. It is a village peopled with the afflicted. No one is more afflicted than Lazarus. Jesus is about to make that right. In so doing he’s proving his mastery over the greatest of our adversaries – death itself. But first Jesus takes a moment to roll the credits: So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” ~John 11: 41,42

This is not insignificant. For us believers some 2000 years removed from Bethany and awash in televised shows featuring flashy faith healers, Jesus’ humble admission is refreshing. If anyone could make the claim to being special, having secret powers and an inimitable anointing it would be Jesus. However, if you recall, after the healing of the blind man in John 5, Jesus said this: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” ~John 5:19

Was the Son special? Absolutely. He is to be worshipped. He is the Messiah and Savior. Yet, in the works that he performed he more than suggests that it is not him, as such, who’s doing all the fun stuff – it is the Father’s power at work in and through him. And later, he would more than suggest than any person, anywhere, who crosses over to be his disciple is availed the possibility of conducting that self-same power. It really is remarkable to imagine that we too can host the presence and power of the Creator of all things. As Jesus peers into the tomb, he sees past the tightly woven strips of cloth that bind his friend Lazarus. He ignores the stench of death. He sees life. He actually sees it because that is what he is seeing in heaven. “On earth as it is in heaven” is about to be demonstrated.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2017 CJ's Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑