Day 209: Matthew 24:9

Then you will be arrested and handed over to be punished and be put to death.  Everyone will hate you because of me.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Clue #4: There will be martyrdom.  I decided to look up martyrdom in good old Wikipedia for a little background on the word, mainly to see how many of the disciples were actually martyred for their faith.  A couple of things caught my eye.  First, I liked their definition:

Common features of stereotypical martyrdoms

  • A hero  – A person of some renown who is devoted to a cause believed to be admirable.
  • Opposition –  People who oppose that cause.
  • Foreseeable risk – The hero foresees action by opponents to harm him or her, because of his or her commitment to the cause.
  • Courage and Commitment – The hero continues, despite knowing the risk, out of commitment to the cause.
  • Death – The opponents kill the hero because of his or her commitment to the cause.
  • Audience response – The hero’s death is commemorated. People may label the hero explicitly as a martyr. Other people may in turn be inspired to pursue the same cause.

And then I saw this:

The concept of Jesus as a martyr has recently received greater attention. Analyses of the Gospel passion narratives have led many scholars to conclude that they are martyrdom accounts in terms of genre and style. Several scholars have also concluded that Paul the Apostle understood Jesus’ death as a martyrdom. In light of such conclusions, some have argued that the Christians of the first few centuries would have interpreted the crucifixion of Jesus as a martyrdom.

After I read this I got confused.  I had always thought of Jesus as a martyr but according to this article this is a new or somehow controversial idea.  So, I asked my husband whether he thought Jesus was a martyr.  He has a divinity degree from Yale University, and he said he had never thought of Jesus as a martyr.

Jesus, not a martyr?  What’s that all about?  How could anyone say that he wasn’t a martyr? It seemed to me that he is the epitome of a martyr!  And yet, the article says that this is a new idea.  Is this because of some Christendom theology that dictates that his death was “necessary” or “predestined” so that he can’t be classified as a martyr because he wasn’t truly operating out of his own free will?  Or some other crazy notion that demeans his heroics?  So what ensued was yet another crazy discussion with my husband because I had absolutely no idea whatsoever about what he was talking about.  At the end of it all, after about a half an hour, here is what I learned.

In the Old Testament, there is no word for “martyr.”  In the Jewish culture there was no difference between a prophet who was persecuted for his beliefs and a prophet who was not.  In the New Testament, the word for “martyr” in Greek meant someone who states what he believes to be true.  It meant to testify or state what they have seen or heard (as in a court of law) so the word was essentially was the same as our modern English word for “witness.”

Over time, as more and more people were “martyred” for “witnessing,” about Jesus, the meaning of the word began to change.  The word changed to mean people who were killed for professing their faith in Christ.   Then, over time, the meaning of the word further evolved to its modern meaning – anyone who is persecuted for stating their beliefs or standing up for their principles, regardless of whether it’s a religious or secular principle.

So, my learned husband was taught that Steven was the first martyr, and the Christian usage of the word applies only to those who are killed for professing their faith in Christ.  He never really thought about the concept of Jesus as a martyr as it relates to the common, modern, English usage of the word.  I learned that most formally educated pastors would say that Jesus was not (in the jargon of the church) a martyr, nor was anyone who else who lived before him.  Martyrs are those like the ones in this picture who refused to worship Roman gods and were thrown to the lions.

It turns out that our disagreement was not a difference in theology, it was simply a matter of semantics.  If I had heard a pastor, like my husband, preach that Jesus was not a martyr, I would had thought he was wrong or weird.  However, because we live together we were able to engage in conversation about it, the source of the misunderstanding was unearthed.

How often do we misinterpret something we hear from the pulpit because of misunderstand and miscommunication?  I guess that’s the problem with preaching.  I prefer to be able to discuss these things, rather than being “taught”.  I think Sunday mornings should be a lot more interactive.  Kind of like the early morning discussions I have with my husband.  Because we usually end up agreeing in the end.  It usually ends up that we both agree with Jesus, and we both believe in the power of love.  And he agreed with me that according to the modern usage of the word “martyr” Jesus would indeed apply.

Back to the scripture.  Surely many were martyred for following Jesus.  I wondered about the rate of the disciples he was talking to when he made this statement.  Back to Wikipedia:

Deaths of the Twelve Apostles

Christian tradition has generally passed down that all but one were martyred, with John surviving into old age. Only the death of James, son of Zebedee is described in the New Testament (Acts 12:1-2), and the details of the other deaths are the subject of pious legends of varying authenticity. In some cases there is near unanimity in the tradition, and in other cases, there are widely varying and inconsistent accounts.

Judas Iscariot, originally one of the twelve, died after Jesus’ trial. Matthew 27:5 says that he hanged himself, and Acts 1:18 says that he fell, burst open, and his “bowels gushed out.” Matthias was elected to take his place as one of the twelve.

So legend has it that most of the disciples were martyred, but it isn’t in the Bible.  Only one was martyred.   Jesus’ prediction was not just that people would be killed.  The scripture also says that they will be punished and hated and I’m sure that was true.  Peter’s persecution is well documented.

One way or another, there was martyrdom, which was not the kind of thing that they probably wanted to hear.  I know it isn’t something I would want to hear.  I’m sure they were totally freaked out when Jesus said this.  They probably wondered what they had gotten themselves into.  Maybe this was when Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, decided he was not on board with this agenda.  Maybe he didn’t want to be killed and punished and hated.  Maybe he decided enough was enough and it was time to shut it down.

But in the end you can’t run away from the truth and you can’t shut it down.  You have to stand up for what’s right regardless of the results.  But if you are nice about it you are less likely to be killed and punished and hated.  No point in being a martyr if it isn’t necessary.  There is, after all, an important distinction between being martyred for your cause and getting put down for being a jerk about it.  A lot of people never figure that out.  Don’t say no one ever told you.

What does this scripture say to you?

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Day 208: Matthew 24:6-8

You are going to hear the noise of battles close by and the news of battles far away; but do not be troubled. Such things must happen, but they do not mean that the end has come. Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be famines and earthquakes everywhere. All these things are like the first pains of childbirth.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

For some reason people in America are fixated on the “end of the world.”   Every time there is a war, famine, or earthquake I hear someone predicting that it’s a sign the end is at hand.  But here Jesus says, “Such things must happen, but they do not mean that the end has come.”  He says that these things are like the first pangs of childbirth, which can start well in advance of the actual birth of the baby.  He is not saying that these things are signs. He is saying that they are NOT signs.  They are like false labor.

So this is the third clue: Clue #3:  There will be wars, famines, and earthquakes.  This means nothing.  Jesus says these things are normal and should be ignored.

One thing that jumps out at me is the part about wars and famines.  These go together like peanut butter and jelly.   In ancient times famines were usually caused by weather conditions.  Nowadays weather may be a contributing factor, but to get a really bad famine going you have to have war or social upheaval.  Here are some examples:

  • 1998-2004    3.8 million die of starvation during Second Congo War
  • 1998            70,000 die in Sudan War and ensuing famine
  • 1991-1992    300,000 die in Somalia famine caused by drought and civil war
  • 1984-1985    400,000 die in Ethiopian famine caused by drought and civil war
  • 1975-1979    2 million Cambodians die of famine and murder during Vietnam War
  • 1967-1970    1 million civilians die of war and starvation during Biafra’s war with Nigeria
  • 1959-1961    As many as 45 million Chinese die of famine when private agriculture is abolished during the “Great Leap Forward” initiative.
  • 1947  Soviet Famine of 1947 during the Communist takeover results in over a million deaths
  • 1944-1945    2.4 million die of starvation in Java during World War II
  • 1941-1944    1 million die of famine and war during a 900 day blockade by German troops

These are just a few examples.  War results in the disruption of agriculture, transportation, and commerce.  And starvation ensues.   A country can’t produce food if everyone is fighting or running away from the fighting.  It can’t produce food if the farmers are dead.  The first year they eat the seed, and the next year there is nothing to plant.  The next year there is no food so they starve.

So anyway Jesus says that there will be wars and famines and earthquakes.  These are horrible events, but Jesus says not to panic.  These are not signs that the end has come.  He says that this is not what the end of the world will look like.

YarmoukIt may not be the end of the world, but it certainly must feel like it to the people who have to suffer from these things.  I just saw a report a couple of weeks ago that 18,000 people at the Yarmouk refugee camp are starving because fighting related to the Syrian civil war has interrupted food deliveries.  I haven’t seen anything about this on the news because it’s not news.  It’s too normal to be on the news.

This may be normal but it shouldn’t be.  I repeat, this should NOT be normal!!  Earthquakes aren’t preventable but war and famine are.  Maybe if we actually start to show some sign that we are capable of resolving our differences sensibly it will be a sign that the end is coming.  The end of barbarianism, that is.

Jesus’ disciples have asked him how they will know when Jesus is about to return after his death and usher in the new age.  So far he hasn’t given them any specifics.  Tomorrow he will make a more specific prediction, but it’s probably not what they want to hear.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 207: Matthew 24:4-5, 8

Watch out, and do not let anyone fool you. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will fool many people.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

The disciples are shocked. They have just heard Jesus say that the Temple is going to be destroyed. Now Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives when they come to him and ask, “Tell us when all this will be and what will happen to show that it is the time for your coming and the end of the age.”

Jesus initially shocked them with his prediction on Day 148 that “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.”  This is a confusing bit of information.  They had assumed that he was the Messiah.  The word “Messiah” is never actually used in the Old Testament.  The concept is based on a series of vague references by several of the prophets.  According to the jewfaq.org website the Messiah is “a man who will be chosen by God to put an end to all evil in the world, rebuild the Temple, bring the Jewish exiles back to Israel and usher in the world to come.”   The New Age (aka Messianic Age, Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven) will be “characterized by world peace, an absence of sin, and universal Judaism.”

Although the descriptions of the “Messiah” are somewhat inconsistent, the one thing the prophetic scriptures seem to agree on that this great leader would be a descendent of King David.  That is the definition that Jesus and the disciples would have been working with.  As I said, it was pretty vague.  A descendent of David who will bring about a better world.  That’s about it.

Jesus’ disciples were hoping that he was the Messiah, but Jesus was reluctant to claim the title.  While Jesus never actually says that he’s the Messiah, but he also never denies it. Also, he has informed them that he will be put to death (Days 143, 151, 156, etc.), and this little fly in the ointment doesn’t exactly align with their expectations.  But Jesus also threw this out there: For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his deeds. I assure you that there are some here who will not die until they have seen the Son of Man come as King.”  (See Day 150 for more on the “second coming”).  This was perhaps reassuring to the disciples, because it sounds pretty Messianic.  Kings, thrones, rewards.  So, they start thinking that maybe when he comes the second time it will be as the real Messiah and the New Age will begin.  At last that’s what they were hoping for.

So they come to Jesus and ask him for a timeline because they are freaked out and need some reassurance.  They want to know exactly when Jesus will come back the second time.  They want some insider knowledge to ease their nerves and give them some sense of control, especially now that they know that the Temple is going down.

Also, they are probably uneasy about whether or not they will be able to recognize Jesus the second time around. Jesus, the Pharisees, and many of the Jews of this time believed in both reincarnation and resurrection, but the logistics were unclear.  Would he return in the same body, or another body?  Would he be easily recognized as the same person?  If he was reincarnated would he have memories of his prior life as Jesus?  How would he identify himself to the disciples?  I’m sure they had many concerns about possibly being fooled.  Many people today continue to have the same concerns.

Jesus knows that in the wake of his demise, there will be many who will see an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and co-opt his ministry.  It is of utmost importance to Jesus that his disciples are not taken in by a false Messiah who might lead them in the wrong direction.  Someone motivated by ego, greed, or anger.  Someone like this rogue’s gallery of false Messiahs listed in Wikipedia who claim to be reincarnations of Christ (I thought they were interesting but feel free to skim over them):

  • Simon Magus (early 1st century), he was Samaritan, and a native of Gitta; he was considered a god in Simonianism; he “darkly hinted” that he himself was Christ, calling himself the Standing One.
  • Dositheos the Samaritan (mid 1st century), he was one of the supposed founders of Mandaeanism. After the time of Jesus he wished to persuade the Samaritans that he himself was the Messiah prophesied by Moses.
  • Tanchelm of Antwerp (c. 1110), who violently opposed the sacrament and the Eucharist.
  • Ann Lee (1736–1784), a central figure to the Shakers, who thought she “embodied all the perfections of God” in female form and considered herself to be Christ’s female counterpart in 1772.
  • Bernhard Müller (c. 1799–1834) claimed to be the Lion of Judah and a prophet in possession of the Philosopher’s stone.
  • Arnold Potter (1804–1872), Latter Day Saint schismatic leader; called himself “Potter Christ”
  • Hong Xiuquan (1814–1864), Hakka Chinese; claimed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ; started the Taiping Rebellion and founded the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. Committed suicide before the fall of Tianjing (Nanjing) in 1864.
  • Mirza Husayn ‘Ali Nuri, Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1864), born Shiite, adopting Bábism later in life, he claimed to be the promised one of all religions, and founded the Bahá’í Faith.
  • Jacobina Mentz Maurer (1841 or 1842-1874) was a German-Brazilian woman who lived and died in the state of Rio Grande do Sul who emerged as a messianic prophetess, a representation of God, and later declared the very reincarnation of Jesus Christ on earth by her German-speaking community called Die Muckers (or the false saints) by her enemies, Die Spotters (or the mockers). After a number of deadly confrontations with outsiders, Jacobina was shot to death together with many of her followers by the Brazilian Imperial Army.
  • William W. Davies (1833–1906), Latter Day Saint (Mormon) schismatic leader; claimed that his infant son Arthur (born 1868) was the reincarnated Jesus Christ.
  • Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India (1835–1908), claimed to be the awaited Mahdi as well as (Second Coming) and likeness of Jesus the promised Messiah at the end of time, being the only person in Islamic history who claimed to be both. He claimed to be Jesus in the metaphorical sense; in character. He founded the Ahmadiyya Movement in 1889 envisioning it to be the rejuvenation of Islam, and claimed to be commissioned by God for the reformation of mankind. He declared that Jesus survived crucifixion and died a natural death having migrated towards the east.
  • Cyrus Reed Teed (October 18, 1839 – December 22, 1908, erroneously Cyrus Tweed) was a U.S. eclectic physician and alchemist turned religious leader and messiah. In 1869, claiming divine inspiration, Dr. Teed took on the name Koresh and proposed a new set of scientific and religious ideas he called Koreshanity.
  • Father Divine (George Baker) (c. 1880 – September 10, 1965), an African American spiritual leader from about 1907 until his death who claimed to be God.
  • André Matsoua (1899–1942), Congolese founder of Amicale, proponents of which subsequently adopted him as Messiah in the late 1920s.
  • Ahn Sahng-hong (1918–1985), founder of the World Mission Society Church of God and worshiped by the members as the messiah.
  • Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012), founder and leader of the Unification Church established in Seoul, South Korea, who considered himself the Second Coming of Christ, but not Jesus himself. Although it is generally believed by Unification Church members (“Moonies”) that he was the Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ and was anointed to fulfill Jesus’ unfinished mission.
  • Iesu Matayoshi (born 1944), in 1997 he established the World Economic Community Party based on his conviction that he is God and the Christ.
  • Jung Myung Seok (born 1945), a South Korean who was a member of the Unification Church in the 1970s, before breaking off to found the dissenting group[24] now known as Providence Church in 1980. He also considers himself the Second Coming of Christ, but not Jesus himself in 1980. He believes he has come to finish the incomplete message and mission of Jesus Christ, asserting that he is the Messiah and has the responsibility to save all mankind.He claims that the Christian doctrine of resurrection is false but that people can be saved through him.
  • Claude Vorilhon now known as Raël “messenger of the Elohim” (born 1946), a French professional test driver and former automobile journalist became founder and leader of UFO religion the Raël Movement in 1972, which teaches that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials, which they call Elohim. He claimed he met an extraterrestrial humanoid in 1973 and became the Messiah. Then devoted himself to the task he said was given by his “biological father”, an extraterrestrial named Yahweh.
  • Inri Cristo (born 1948) of Indaial, Brazil, a claimant to be the second Jesus.
  • Apollo Quiboloy (born 1950), founder and leader of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ religious group, who claims that Jesus Christ is the “Almighty Father,” that Quiboloy is “His Appointed Son,” and that salvation is now completed. Proclaims himself as the “Appointed Son of the God” not direct to the point as the “Begotten Son of the God” in 1985.
  • David Icke (born 1952), of Great Britain, has described himself as “the son of God”, and a “channel for the Christ spirit”.
  • David Koresh (Vernon Wayne Howell) (1959–1993), leader of the Branch Davidians.
  • Maria Devi Christos (born 1960), founder of the Great White Brotherhood.
  • David Shayler (born 1965), former MI5 agent and whistleblower who declared himself the Messiah on 7 July 2007.
  • Alan John Miller (born 1964), founder of Divine Truth, a new religious movement based in Australia. Alan John Miller, also known as A.J., who claims to be Jesus of Nazareth through reincarnation. Miller was formerly an elder in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • José Luis de Jesús Miranda (born April 22, 1946 in Ponce, Puerto Rico), founder and leader of Creciendo en Gracia sect (Growing In Grace International Ministry, Inc.), based in Miami, Florida. He claims to be both Jesus Christ returned and the Antichrist, and exhibits a “666” tattoo on his forearm. He has referred to himself as Jesucristo Hombre, which translates to “Jesus Christ made Man”

GeorgeI might also add that there was a person in our church in Chicago who thought he was a reincarnation of Christ.  That’s him, in the picture above.  He didn’t have any followers, though, except perhaps his wife.  He was really annoying sometimes.  He was always saying things like “My time has not yet come.”  But we let him re-enact the crucifixion on every Good Friday, without real nails.  It made him happy.  Oh, and the Jews have a similar list of false Messiahs who have popped up and fizzled out over the centuries.

It seems that Jesus was right.  There certainly have been a lot of false Messiahs. Here is an example of how Jesus himself wanted to be evaluated.  Presumably the disciples would be looking for the same things in a reincarnated Jesus the second time around:

When John the Baptist heard in prison about the things that Christ was doing, he sent some of his disciples to him.  “Tell us,” they asked Jesus, “are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answered, “Go back and tell John what you are hearing and seeing:  the blind can see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor.  How happy are those who have no doubts about me!” (Matthew 11:2-5).

So, in summary, the disciples ask Jesus when he will return and he gives them a series of vague clues. Actually he has already given them the first clue on Day 205.

Clue #1 – Jesus will not come again until people are willing to accept him and what he has to say.  On Day 204 Jesus says,From now on, I tell you, you will never see me again until you say, ‘God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.”  He’s not going to come again just to be abused and rejected all over again.  He’s not coming back until humanity figures it out that killing the prophets won’t do any good.  Truth wins out in the end.

And in this scripture today Jesus gives them another clue:

Clue #2 – There will be a lot of self-proclaimed Messiahs running around.  He says to ignore them.  This is not a sign of anything except normal opportunism. Just because people say they are the Messiah doesn’t mean that it’s the truth.

The third clue is equally enigmatic.  But that’s tomorrow.

What does this scripture say to you?


 

Day 206: Matthew 24:2

Yes you may well look at all these [temple buildings]. I tell you this: not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.

[This is the second of two scriptures where Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple.]

In Jesus’ time the Temple was the paramount symbol of the Jewish faith, and today in this scripture Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple is coming down.  Yesterday on Day 205 Jesus explained that God is taking the Jews’ Temple away from them because of the way they continued to treat the prophets.  They had a habit of persecuting and killing them, and Jesus was the next in line.

The history of the Temple is very interesting.  In the Book of Exodus God told Moses to build a tabernacle (referred to as a “tent of the Lord’s presence” in the Good News version of the Bible that I am using for this blog).  Here is a recreation of that simple tent (ignore the electrical box in the front).  An enclosed area within the Tent housed the Arc of the Covenant where the presence of God resided.  It was simply built of cloth and poles and it was completely portable.

The Tent of the Lord’s presence served as a tangible sign that God was with them.

Then the cloud covered the Tent and the dazzling light of the Lord’s presence filled it.  Because of this, Moses could not go into the Tent.  The Israelites moved their camp to another place only when the cloud lifted from the Tent.  As long as the cloud stayed there, they did not move their camp.  During all their wanderings they could see the cloud of the Lord’s presence over the Tent during the day and a fire burning above it during the night. (Exodus 40:34-38).

It was the place where God talked to Moses and the rest of the people.  It was the place where heaven met earth.

Whenever the people of Israel set up camp, Moses would take the sacred Tent and put it up some distance outside the camp. It was called the Tent of the Lord’s presence, and anyone who wanted to consult the Lord would go out to it.  Whenever Moses went out there, the people would stand at the door of their tents and watch Moses until he entered it.  After Moses had gone in, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the door of the Tent, and the Lord would speak to Moses from the cloud.  As soon as the people saw the pillar of cloud at the door of the Tent, they would bow down.  The Lord would speak with Moses face-to-face, just as someone speaks with a friend. (Exodus 33:7-11).

The Tent was their navigation system.  God used the tent to show the people where he wanted them to go.

On the day the Tent of the Lord’s presence was set up, a cloud came and covered it. At night the cloud looked like fire.  Whenever the cloud lifted, the people of Israel broke camp, and they set up camp again in the place where the cloud came down.  The people broke camp at the command of the Lord, and at his command they set up camp. As long as the cloud stayed over the Tent, they stayed in the same camp.  Then the cloud stayed over the Tent for a long time, they obeyed the Lord and did not move on.  Sometimes the cloud remained over the Tent for only a few days; in any case, they remained in camp or moved, according to the command of the Lord.  Sometimes the cloud remained only from evening until morning, and they moved on as soon as the cloud lifted. Whenever the cloud lifted, they moved on.  Whether it was two days, a month, a year, or longer, as long as the cloud remained over the Tent, they did not move on; but when it lifted, they moved.  They set up camp and broke camp in obedience to the commands which the Lord gave through Moses. (Numbers 19:15-23).

A secondary purpose of the Tent was to serve as the sole designated place for performing sacrifices.

The Lord commanded Moses to give Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel the following regulations.  Any Israelites who kill a cow or a sheep or a goat as an offering to the Lord anywhere except at the entrance of the Tent of the Lord’s presence have broken the Law. They have shed blood and shall no longer be considered God’s people.  The meaning of this command is that the people of Israel shall now bring to the Lord the animals which they used to kill in the open country. They shall now bring them to the priest at the entrance of the Tent and kill them as fellowship offerings.  The priest shall throw the blood against the sides of the altar at the entrance of the Tent and burn the fat to produce an odor that is pleasing to the Lord.  The people of Israel must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord by killing their animals in the fields as sacrifices to the goat demons. The people of Israel must keep this regulation for all time to come. (Leviticus 17:1-7).

Later on King David observed that other tribes had elaborate temples for their pagan gods – Baal, Astarte, Dagon, Nisroch.  David got the idea that the simple Tent that God had asked for was not enough.  He thought God deserved something flashier.

King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord kept him safe from all his enemies.  Then the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Here I am living in a house built of cedar, but God’s Covenant Box is kept in a tent!” Nathan answered, “Do whatever you have in mind, because the Lord is with you.”  But that night the Lord said to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David that I say to him, ‘You are not the one to build a temple for me to live in.  From the time I rescued the people of Israel from Egypt until now, I have never lived in a temple; I have traveled around living in a tent.  In all my traveling with the people of Israel I never asked any of the leaders that I appointed why they had not built me a temple made of cedar. (2 Samuel 7:1-7).

In other words, God said that he didn’t want a Temple. He said there was nothing wrong with the Tent.  Despite the fact that God didn’t want it, David’s son built an elaborate Temple in 957 BC that was known as Solomon’s Temple.   And it had cedar on the inside but the outside was all stone.  Definitely not portable.  But then again the Temple had a different function from the Tent.  Unlike the Tent, it was used primarily for performing animal sacrifices, although it also had a couple of other purposes.

Instead of talking to God intimately in the Temple as they had done in the Tent, the idea was that people would pray “toward the Temple.”

If any of your people Israel, out of heartfelt sorrow, stretch out their hands in prayer toward this Temple, hear their prayer. Listen to them in your home in heaven, forgive them, and help them. You alone know the thoughts of the human heart. Deal with each person as he deserves (1 Kings 8:38-39).

The Temple was a place of learning. Instead of listening to God, like they did in the Tent, they listened to each other.  Although, as it says in Ecclesiastes, this was a step up from the stupid sacrifices.

Be careful about going to the Temple. It is better to go there to learn than to offer sacrifices like foolish people who don’t know right from wrong. (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

The Temple was built to impress strangers and also, presumably, to intimidate Israel’s enemies.

When a foreigner who lives in a distant land hears of your fame and of the great things you have done for your people and comes to worship you and to pray at this Temple, listen to his prayer. In heaven, where you live, hear him and do what he asks you to do, so that all the peoples of the world may know you and obey you, as your people Israel do. Then they will know that this Temple I have built is the place where you are to be worshiped. (I Kings 8:41-43).

Solomon’s intent was to build a grand palace-type thing that would entice and entrap God, rather like one might lure a bird into a cage.

Now I have built a majestic temple for you, a place for you to live in forever.” (I Kings 8:13).

God wasn’t altogether happy about any of this and he warned Solomon that his presence in the temple was highly conditional:

After King Solomon had finished building the Temple and the palace and everything else he wanted to build, the Lord appeared to him again, as he had in Gibeon… But if you or your descendants stop following me, disobey the laws and commands I have given you, and worship other gods, then I will remove my people Israel from the land that I have given them. I will also abandon this Temple which I have consecrated as the place where I am to be worshiped. People everywhere will ridicule Israel and treat her with contempt. This Temple will become a pile of ruins, and everyone who passes by will be shocked and amazed. ‘Why did the Lord do this to this land and this Temple?’ they will ask. People will answer, ‘It is because they abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their out of Egypt. They gave their allegiance to other gods and worshiped them. That is why the Lord has brought this disaster on them.’” (I Kings 9:1-2,6-9).

Around 600 BC (300 years later) the prophet Jeremiah warned that God was very unhappy about what was going on in the Temple.  It’s interesting to note the similarities to the things that Jesus said and did throughout his ministry, including Day 179 when he went to the Temple in Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the moneychangers.  Here’s what Jeremiah said:

The Lord sent me to the gate of the Temple where the people of Judah went in to worship. He told me to stand there and announce what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, had to say to them: “Change the way you are living and the things you are doing, and I will let you go on living here.  Stop believing those deceitful words, ‘We are safe! This is the Lord’s Temple, this is the Lord’s Temple, this is the Lord’s Temple!’

“Change the way you are living and stop doing the things you are doing. Be fair in your treatment of one another.  Stop taking advantage of aliens, orphans, and widows. Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop worshiping other gods, for that will destroy you.  If you change, I will let you go on living here in the land which I gave your ancestors as a permanent possession.

“Look, you put your trust in deceitful words.  You steal, murder, commit adultery, tell lies under oath, offer sacrifices to Baal, and worship gods that you had not known before.  You do these things I hate, and then you come and stand in my presence, in my own Temple, and say, ‘We are safe!’  Do you think that my Temple is a hiding place for robbers? I have seen what you are doing.  Go to Shiloh, the first place where I chose to be worshiped, and see what I did to it because of the sins of my people Israel.  You have committed all these sins, and even though I spoke to you over and over again, you refused to listen. You would not answer when I called you.” (Jeremiah 7:1-13).

Does this sound like Jesus or what?  Jeremiah’s prediction was right, and both the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.  Everything was reduced to rubble.

Construction of the Second Temple was started in 538 BC and completed in 515 BC.  It wasn’t nearly as grand as Solomon’s Temple, but it was upgraded several times between the time of its dedication and the time of Jesus.  About 20 BC it was rebuilt in grand style by Herod the Great.  The one who killed all of the little boys in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.  The father of the Herod that killed John the Baptist.  It was known, in fact, as Herod’s Temple.  This is interesting because Herod the Great was not a Jew by birth.  Even though he was the King of the Jews, his Jewish credentials were considered by many to be unacceptable. So the Temple in Jerusalem was named after someone who many did not consider to be a Jew.

This is a reconstruction of Herod’s Temple, the Temple Jesus was talking about in this scripture.  Very fancy.

On Day 205 Jesus says, And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty.”  In today’s scripture, Jesus says, “Yes you may well look at all these [temple buildings]. I tell you this: not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t call it “God’s Temple.”  He calls it “your Temple.”  Jerusalem’s Temple.  The people’s Temple – a monument to themselves and their pagan roots.  God never wanted a Temple and I don’t think he spent much time there.  It was a place where people busied themselves in the name of God instead of doing the things God wanted them to do to bring about the Kingdom of God.  They didn’t really want the Kingdom of God.  They were pretty happy with their flashy little Temple.

Of course Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the Temple turned out to be correct.  After Jesus’ death the Jewish zealots organized an armed rebellion against the Romans.  The Romans retaliated by destroying the Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  After another final violent revolt against the Romans in 135 AD, the city of Jerusalem was razed and all of the Jews were once again sent into exile.

The Jews were apparently in no hurry to get back to Jerusalem to rebuild because of the emerging Rabbinical movement.  They were establishing a new patterns of worship in small, local synagogues that didn’t include blood sacrifice.  So the site of the Temple in Jerusalem was abandoned and lay in ruins for 600 years until the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock on the site in 691.  This pretty well precluded the Jews from building on that same site.

Technically Jesus’ prophecy was not 100% correct.  He said that “not a stone will remain.”  Actually, way around on the back of the Dome of the Rock, The Western Wall of the Temple still stands.  It is called the Wailing Wall and Jews go there to pray and lament about the good old days when the Temple reigned supreme and all was right with the world.

I think the Temple had to go because it reinforced their violent tendencies.  It’s kind of like dogs.  If you want to train them to kill you should give them a taste of blood and raw meat.   Maybe all that time they spent in that Temple throwing blood around day and night stimulated their violent instincts.  Maybe the sounds of death and suffering emanating from the Temple every day as they carried on the business of animal sacrifice numbed them to the cries of the people in their midst who were suffering.  Maybe all that killing, day in, day out, desensitized the Jews and made it easier for them to accept the death of innocents a little too easily.  Maybe all that violence in the Temple made it easier for them to murder a totally blameless but nevertheless inconvenient person like Jesus without ever even considering that it might be offensive to God.

The Tent of the Lord’s presence in the days of Moses was a place where people met with God and sought his direction.  ’The Temple, Jerusalem itself, and all those sacrificial Laws had become an idolatry (See Day 123).  Throughout his ministry Jesus warned that rampant legalism had replaced the will of God in the hearts and minds of the Jews.  The Temple was a place of pride and death and violence, a symbol of the alienation of the people from their God.  It was not a place of love.  It was inherently bad for the Jews and all of humanity.  Because it wasn’t a place of forgiveness, peace, harmony, and love of God, the Temple was – contrary to appearances – weak and unsustainable.  And so it went away.

My husband doesn’t like vintage buildings very much.  If a building is impractical or in poor condition, he doesn’t care about its history.  “Tear it down!” he says.  Well, that’s what God said about the Temple.  “Tear it down!” and his word became reality.  And I say good riddance to bad rubbish.  Ba-bye.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 205: Matthew 23:37-39

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!

 And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty. From now on, I tell you, you will never see me again until you say, ‘God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’

[This is the first of two scriptures where Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple.]

Jesus has just finished his great commentary on the state of Jewish religion in his “Woe to the Pharisees” speech.  This parting shot is not aimed at the religious leaders.  This is his message to the great city of Jerusalem, its people, and its culture. He tried to get them to change their ways but he failed (at least for the short term) because that generation wouldn’t listen to him.  And so the city that he loves so much will turn on him.  It will be forever known as the place where he will meet his death.

I grew up in the middle of the cornfields an hour and a half away from Chicago by car, but worlds away when it came to the culture.  The people in the town where I went to school thought that every evil thing emanated from Chicago.  As a very little girl I was repeatedly told that it was dangerous, evil, and (even worse) dirty.

I remember the first time I finally got in there and made it to the lakefront.  It was a beautiful summer day and it was absolutely breathtaking to a little girl raised in the corn fields.  It wasn’t evil, and it wasn’t dirty, and I made it home safely.  I fell in love.  When I imagined myself growing up I always knew that one possible option was to make a life there, which is what eventually happened.  I moved in there to pursue my career as a research geographer because job opportunities for geographers in rural America are few and far in between.

It didn’t take me long to look at the city as my home.  I travelled frequently for business and it was always a joy when I could see that skyline emerging out of the clouds as the plane approached O’Hare.  When travelling by car or bus I always felt a surge of joy as the skyscrapers emerged in the distance and buildings began to rise on every side. Sometimes, when the conditions were right, the Chicago skyline looked like heaven itself.   This is a completely appropriate comparison because the Bible never describes heaven as a peaceful countryside.  Heaven is always described as a city.

I lived on the far north side and it was always a thrill to see the sun rise and set from my high rise lakefront apartment.  Going downtown was a special treat, especially at Christmas when the lights were on.  I loved going to the restaurants, the theater, the museums, the nightclubs, the concerts, the stores, and all the rest.  I loved the whole culture.  I met a lot of really rich people and some super smart people.  I found out that rich people generally weren’t very smart, and smart people were seldom rich.  I learned that both groups seemed to have a lot more problems than the ordinary middle-class people I grew up with.

Over time I learned more about Chicago’s dark side, but for me it never overcame the beauty and the excitement.  After living there for about 7 years I started going to church, married the pastor, and eventually got involved with Chicago’s African-American culture.  They opened up their hearts to me, along with a whole new world that included extravagant worship, improvisational music, fervent prayer, life-affirming faith, hopefulness in the midst of despair, gratitude for every good thing, unabashed spirituality, soul food, sacrificial giving, the healing power of laughter, and the art of the picnic. But it was so hard to see the kinds of things the people had to deal with.  Sometimes it just broke my heart.  Substandard housing, lack of food, crippling poverty, educational barriers, unemployment, random violence, unrelenting fear, sub-standard medical care, and of course racism in all its many insidious forms.  So many problems.   We worked very hard to change things for the better.  I think all of us were changed for the better as a result of the effort. I still love going to Chicago.   It still has a piece of my heart.  The place where I found myself, discovered so much more about the world, and realized many of my dreams.  Love is blind.

Dorothy Papachristos was a secretary at my place of employment. She and her husband owned a restaurant in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago where street crime was common.  She tried to get the police to step it up but nothing changed.  And the situation was made even worse because the gangs then retaliated against her for complaining to the police.  Her next step was to call in New York’s Guardian Angels, who organized their citizen patrols. (For more on the Guardian Angels see Day 87).   What happened next shocked me.  Not only did she continue to be the target of harassment by the gangs; she also became the target of death threats by the Chicago Police.  But Dorothy was a follower of Jesus and she believed her task was to work for peace so she never gave up.  She became a full-time social worker and founded “Communities Dare to Care.”  Here’s a little more about her from a local news article:

In Chicago, Dorothy Papachristos, a Loyola University social worker and founder of Communities Dare to Care, believes she’s discovered a relevant way to talk with at-risk youth. “It’s called mother love,” says Papachristos.  Her focus is “to get kids out of gangs, to reconnect them to families, communities and schools,” even taking rival gang members, two at a time, into her home, offering structure, love and respect, with just one caveat: They have to share a bedroom.

She estimates thousands of young people have passed through programs she oversees, including basketball camps, mentoring and tutoring staffed by Loyola students, counseling and anger management. But there simply aren’t enough programs or funding. “Society’s approach is incarceration, zero tolerance, not intervention and prevention,” she says.

She got involved after gangs torched her Rogers Park family-owned restaurant. “I had to see who they were,” says Papachristos. “I found them, and I said, ‘Oh my God, they’re just children.’

“You have to have somebody in your life spiritually that keeps you going. They had nobody, except the gangs who give them a sense of family. But they don’t realize what they’re getting into. The two major things kids in gangs want are structure and love, a place to belong. They aren’t stupid; some are very smart. No one’s ever taken time to develop them.”

She mourns those lost to prison; two were murdered a few months ago. “I tell them, when they’re on the street, gangbanging, selling drugs, there are consequences. I haunt them. I yell and scream and take away their drugs. I get involved in their lives. One told me he had a gun in his hand, aimed at a policeman across the street. ‘I could have killed him,’ he said, ‘but I didn’t because I knew you’d be disappointed in me.’

“Another young kid stopped drinking. He said, ‘Every time I pick up a bottle of beer, your face is at the bottom.’ They fall, I pick them up. No one else has done that for them. They always ask what they can do for me. I say go do it for somebody else.”

She, too, thinks rap has detrimental effects. And like Johnson, she believes mainline churches have to change: “Somebody once said that, if every church opened their doors one day a week and did something for kids, we’d have no more gangs.”

Dorothy loved Chicago.  After they burned down her restaurant she tried to move to the suburbs but God used the whole terrible experience to transform her heart.  Her anger and outrage were replaced with compassion and she returned to the city.  Her love for the city became personal when she really got to know those young gang members.  Instead of seeing herself as a victim, she began to see her enemies as the true victims.  Victims of the city that she loved so much and could not leave.  Chicago: so beautiful, so violent, and so corrupt.

I think all of these experiences have given me a little bit of an idea about how Jesus felt.  There was Jerusalem, the shining city on a hill.  Jerusalem, the site of one of the grandest temples the world had ever known.  Jerusalem, the city where God dwelled, the crowning glory of the Jews.

The Lord built his city on the sacred hill; more than any other place in Israel he loves the city of Jerusalem. (Psalm 87:1-2)

The Lord answered the angel with comforting words, and the angel told me to proclaim what the Lord Almighty had said: “I have a deep love and concern for Jerusalem, my holy city (Zechariah 1:13-14).

Arise, Jerusalem, and shine like the sun; the glory of the LORD is shining on you!  Other nations will be covered by darkness, but on you the light of the LORD will shine; the brightness of his presence will be with you. Nations will be drawn to your light, and kings to the dawning of your new day….No longer will the sun be your light by day or the moon be your light by night; I, the LORD, will be your eternal light; the light of my glory will shine on you. Your days of grief will come to an end. I, the LORD, will be your eternal light, more lasting than the sun and moon. Your people will all do what is right, and will possess the land forever. I planted them, I made them, to reveal my greatness to all.  Even your smallest and humblest family will become as great as a powerful nation. When the right time comes, I will make this happen quickly. I am the LORD!” (Isaiah 60:1-3, 19-22).

Jesus was so disappointed.  He saw Jerusalem through the eyes of Isaiah.  He saw it as it could be, just as people like Dorothy Papachristos and my husband and me always had a vision for what Chicago could be.  And it broke Jesus’ heart that Jerusalem failed to live up to its potential.  It was on the way down.  Again, Jesus says:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!  And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty. From now on, I tell you, you will never see me again until you say, ‘God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Jesus mourns for the city that God loves.  Like the child who has everything, Jerusalem is spoiled, indulgent, and arrogant.  So beloved, and yet so ungrateful.  Jesus wants to help the people and save the city but he can’t do it because they won’t let him.  In fact, they will kill him for trying to talk some sense into them, because the people of Jerusalem have a long-standing tradition of killing anyone who tries to advocate for social justice or non-violence.  So Jesus tells them that the Temple is doomed, and that he will not return until they are ready to receive him.  He will not return until they say, “God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord” instead of trying to kill him.  He will not return until they are willing to receive his message.  It’s no use.  There’s no point in it.  Like they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

Jesus has received a vision from God.  He will fall victim to the violence of the Jews because he is doing and saying things that threaten their way of life.  After his death the violent Jewish zealots will take over and launch an attack against the Romans, who will retaliate by destroying the Temple.  And a few years later, not having learned their lesson, they will attack the Romans again.  As a result the city itself will be destroyed.  Jesus, the Temple, Jerusalem – all victims of a culture of violence.  All destroyed as a result of the ridiculous belief that violence will lead to anything good.

Nothing has changed.  Just like we have a hard time accepting Jesus’ teaching that money is bad, we also resist his message that violence is bad.  Always.  We don’t want to do what he says to do and love our enemies and turn the other cheek.   Our culture today is still being seduced by the deception that violence is the way to achieve peace and prosperity.  So if you are waiting impatiently for Jesus to return, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.  He’s not coming back until we get the message and it continues to be a pretty hard sell.  We continue to defend to the death our right to kill others.

What does this scripture say to you?

 

Day 204: Matthew 23:33-36

You snakes and children of snakes! How do you expect to escape from being condemned to hell? And so I tell you that I will send you prophets and wise men and teachers; you will kill some of them, crucify others, and whip others in the synagogues and chase them from town to town.

As a result, the punishment for the murder of all innocent people will fall on you, from the murder of innocent Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. I tell you indeed: the punishment for all these murders will fall on the people of this day!

[Throughout Chapter 23 Jesus delivers a long and detailed critique of the religious institution and practices of Jesus’ day.  In this section I look at my own very subjective perceptions of today’s Christian practices and see how I think they measure up according to the words of Jesus.] 

Jesus is in full prophetic mode here, in the tradition of the great prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.  He’s delivering the word of God.  Through Jesus, God is demanding that humanity must stop killing his prophets.   God says that a person shouldn’t have to die for telling people to do the right thing. When someone stands up for what everyone knows is right, it shouldn’t be a crime.  Naturally there may be resistance to change.  There should be lively debate and reasoned analysis.  But the pattern of responding to every call for change with anger and imprisonment and murder must stop.  The prophets in our midst should be respected, not killed.   Even the fools in our midst should be respected, not killed.  Everyone should be respected, not killed.  Jesus should have been respected, not killed.

Jesus then refers to innocent people who have been killed throughout the history of the Jews.  Abel was the son of Adam and Eve.  He was killed by his brother Cain in a fit of jealous rage.  Zechariah son of Berechiah was a prophet who lived about 500 years before Jesus and was, according to this scripture, murdered by religious authorities.  It should be noted that before John the Baptist came there had not been an authentic prophet in several hundred years.  It was a dry time.  I guess God got tired of sending his chosen prophets to a certain death.  Why should he?  No one was listening. And so he remained silent.

Now it’s time to look at another one of those disturbing passages that I’ve never heard anyone preach on.  We all know that Jesus was the willing sacrifice who took away the sins of the world, right?  The obedient little lamb.  Be that as it may, that certainly isn’t what he was thinking of when he made today’s statement:

As a result, the punishment for the murder of all innocent people will fall on you, from the murder of innocent Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. I tell you indeed: the punishment for all these murders will fall on the people of this day!

Will all of the guilt for all of the murders for all time be erased by the killing of Jesus on the cross?  Not according to this.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that when they murder him, the punishment for the murder of all of the innocent people from the beginning of humanity will be heaped on them.  Not only the punishment for his own murder, but the punishment for the murders of all of the innocent people from the beginning of mankind.  Wow.  Wow.  Ummm…do you think maybe God is angry?  I think Jesus is angry, too.  I think he is outraged that it has to end with his crucifixion.  He is outraged not only with his own death but with the deaths of all of the innocent people who have suffered a similar fate before him.  And of course it’s important to note that he is talking about pre-meditated murder of blameless people.  Murder in the first degree, whether or not it is sanctioned by government.

I don’t think it’s personal.  I think that both he and God are frustrated that the world hasn’t made any progress.  As I have said before, I believe God’s laws are like the laws of physics.  They are statements about the reality of the world and human nature.  Jesus is saying that the Law against murder is one of those eternal laws.  When you kill an innocent person it always ends bad.  And still, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day ultimately decide that murdering him for speaking out against the establishment is a good idea.  They think they will be able to kill him, and everything will just get back to normal.  Everyone will forget in a few weeks and nothing will change.  And all will be right with the world.

But killing Jesus was not going to help.  Their whole religious establishment was already on the way down.  “Normal” wasn’t working anymore.  That’s why there were so many “outcasts” for Jesus to work with.  And according to Jesus you can never, ever achieve peace by killing people.  Nevertheless the illusion continues today, fueled by an entertainment industry that perpetuates the myth that killing is heroic and violence can make things right.   If only Dr. King were dead, we could all be happy.  If only my girlfriend’s new boyfriend were dead, then I would be happy.  If only that teacher who was mean to me was dead, then I would be happy.  If only I could kill that storeowner and steal all of his property, then I would be happy.  If only those people I hate at school were dead, then I would be happy.  If only my wife were dead…..I would feel powerful.  I would feel like I’m in control.  I would feel like God.  And then I would be happy.  But murder doesn’t make people happy.  When you kill another person, you kill a part of yourself because we are all connected.

On and on. Yes, Jesus says we are all connected, even through the centuries. Together we sink or swim.  We share the pain of all victims of violence throughout all time. And we all are hurt by the curse that murder imposes on our society.  It perpetuates a cycle of violence that dates back to the time of Cain and Abel.  It’s what they refer to in some religious circles as a “generational curse” as in Exodus 34:7 1: “I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin; but I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents.”  As we now know, people who are abused tend to abuse their children.  Children of drug addicts tend to become addicts.  Those who are abandoned at an early age are unable to form lasting relationships.  The sin of the father is heaped upon the child, who then passes it on to his own children.  That’s why Jesus refers to them as “Snakes and children of snakes.”  He calls on humanity to break the cycle of violence and abuse.  Like Dr. Phil says, nothing changes until someone is willing to step up and be the hero.  Someone has to decide to make sure the cycle stops with them so that it isn’t passed on to the next generation.

Jesus is saying that there is such a thing as collective guilt.  When we murder someone we suffer the same consequences as every murderer has suffered from the beginning of time – emotional devastation, mourning, guilt, rage, remorse, depression, isolation, retribution, and all the rest.  And every time another person murders the burden of that collective guilt increases as it is passed down to each successive generation.  It is an unspeakable horror that Jesus describes.  It is a terrible brokenness that those who murder heap on the legacy of the human race.  It affects us all.  But in the end, when he is on the cross, when he returns to life, it seems that all is forgiven.  He demonstrates God’s grace to humanity.  But while he forgives his murderers, he still doesn’t like it.  Because it’s evil and it needs to stop.

Well, this wraps up Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees and their religious practices, usually referred to as the “Woe to the Pharisees” section.  I kind of look at these warnings like those delivered by ghostly spirits in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  The ghosts who visited Scrooge and took him on a spiritual journey weren’t trying to condemn him.  They were trying to scare him into changing his ways.  I think Jesus took the time to yell at the Pharisees because he wanted so much for them to change their ways.  It was his parting gift to them.

And, it seems that they ultimately did take his advice to heart.  The Pharisees are judged by history to be forerunners of today’s Jewish rabbis, who have embraced the words of Jesus as insightful interpretations of the Torah.  Almost all of what Jesus taught has been incorporated into the modern Jewish Rabbinical movement.  The original “church split” between the Jews and Christians was not about what Jesus said or taught.  The big blowup was about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah (Day 145).  Christians said yes, Jews said no.  So they split and went their separate ways.  And, over the millennia, it seems that the reformed Jews are really more receptive to Jesus’ actual teachings than most Christian denominations.  Maybe it is because the Jews have a better understanding of what he was talking about. Because he was one of them.

So, in summary, here is a list of the things that Jesus warned the Pharisees about:

  • Legalism and callousness
  • Pretention
  • Privileges and titles
  • Negativity and judgmentalism
  • Conversion perversion
  • Materialism
  • Pettiness
  • Violence and capital punishment
  • Murder and persecution of the prophets

Just as the Pharisees eventually heeded Jesus’ warnings, we too should sit up and pay attention.  “How terrible for all of us” (or “Woe to us”) if we dishonor God with these kinds of religious practices and attitudes.  When churches engage in or tolerate these things that Jesus warns about, then they risk dying just like the fig tree that Jesus cursed on Day 181.  Our way of doing things in our churches will wither away and die, just like worship practices in that bloody Jewish Temple.  And the world won’t care, just like the world didn’t care if Ebenezer Scrooge died alone, because it was what he deserved.  But I believe that God is always willing to give us another chance.  Just as Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas future, “Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are they the shadows of things that MIGHT be?”  The answer for Scrooge, of course, was that a lonely, miserable demise was not inevitable.  The moral is that it is never too late to change, and the best time to change is today, right now.  We need to get these things out of our churches once and for all so that we more accurately represent the one whom we claim to follow!

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 203: Matthew 23:29-32

How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You make fine tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of those who lived good lives; and you claim that if you had lived during the time of your ancestors, you would not have done what they did and killed the prophets.

So you actually admit that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets! Go on, then, and finish up what your ancestors started!

[Throughout Chapter 23 Jesus delivers a long and detailed critique of the religious institution and practices of Jesus’ day.  In this section I look at my own very subjective perceptions of today’s Christian practices and see how I think they measure up according to the words of Jesus.] 

Yesterday Jesus declared that the Jewish religious establishment was full of “violence and selfishness”   along with “bones and decaying corpses.”  Today Jesus expands on this concept by referring to the murder and persecution of the prophets throughout the centuries.  He talks about how they build memorials to dead prophets that they persecuted during their lifetimes.  Then Jesus, knowing that they will murder him just like they killed the prophets, challenges them.  He says, “Go on, then, and finish up what your ancestors started!”  And they did exactly what he predicted they would do….

First, humanity killed him:

Then, they built really big monuments to him.  Just like Jesus said they were in the habit of doing.

The Pharisees apparently bragged that they would have listened to the prophets if they had lived back in the times of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the rest.  They bragged that unlike their ancestors they would have known that these prophets were speaking God’s truth.  Jesus says,and you claim that if you had lived during the time of your ancestors, you would not have done what they did and killed the prophets.”

But from Jesus’ point of view this was ludicrous because he was speaking God’s truth and they weren’t listening to anything he had to say and they were, in fact, plotting to kill him.  He points out that they are just the same as those who went before them. He mocks them with their own ancestral pride: So you actually admit that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets!”   He says, in effect, that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

So Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees that throughout the history of the Jews, there was a pattern.  Prophets were persecuted in their own time, and then revered when they were vindicated by history. And subsequent generations arrogantly denied that they would have done the same thing.  A cycle of persecution, vindication, monuments, and denial.  If you were a Jewish prophet you had a tough row to hoe.  The leadership didn’t take kindly to either criticism or change.

Just in case you are thinking that people in modern times have a lot more sense than those stupid, blind Pharisees, you need look no further than the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  If there was ever anyone in this world who tried to follow the teachings of Jesus, it had to be Dr. King.  And yet how was he treated by Americans when he was alive?  Collectively as a society we arrested him, threw rocks at him, hurled accusations at him, and accused him of destroying our country.  Lots of people said he made them sick.  I remember those times.  I was there.  My husband can also testify to this because he marched with Dr. King.  People hated him, and ultimately the hate that many harbored for him expressed itself in his assasination.

Then, we made up for it by creating lots of really great monuments:

Jesus calls on the Pharisees to address their culture of violence and stop killing God’s prophets.  When you kill God’s prophets you kill the voice of God in your time.  Jesus wants his people to give up on the idea that you can somehow silence God and those who speak the truth by killing them.  In the end, it’s always a mistake.  It is shameful and monuments won’t help.  It is wrong and denial won’t make it right.  Especially when it keeps happening over and over again.

And of course none of us would have allowed Jesus to be persecuted if we had been in charge.  We don’t vilify and try to censor those who say things we don’t want to hear. We don’t ever use violent rhetoric to intimidate those who threaten the status quo. Right.  No, not us us.  We are better than that.  We are smarter than that.

So today in America we have freedom of speech so people can’t be legally killed for expressing their opinions.  The government and the churches can no longer kill people for what they say.  The down side is that this freedom of speech can’t change people’s hearts.  It allows people to freely stir up other people’s passions to the extent that they feel like they are doing society a favor when they murder someone like Dr. King.  It’s a fine line between violent rhetoric and violent acts.  There is always someone who gets carried away and crosses the line.  So they blow up a Federal Building full of kids in Oklahoma City in the name of freedom.  Or kill a doctor who performs abortions to make a statement about the sanctity of life.  Or kill gay people in the name of righteousness. Or amassing weapons of mass destruction to make the world safe.  I’m

very surprised Obama is still alive, and I’ve heard many people express concern for the safety of the new Pope who is currently trying to shake things up in the Roman Catholic Church. I’m sure that 100 years down the road many statues will be erected to both of them. There will be many fine monuments to make up for the persecution they suffered in their attempts to stand up for the poor.  That pissed people off in Jesus’ time just like it does now.

Only love can make things right.  Only a culture of love can bring God’s kingdom to earth.   We have a long ways to go.  Words of Jesus, just as true today as back then.  Persecution, vindication, monuments, denial.  Hear or see something you don’t like? Kill first, ask questions later, and try to pretend that it will never happen again.  I wonder how much longer it’s going to take to get it straight?  In the words of Bob Dylan, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.  The answer is blowing in the wind.”

What does this scripture say to you?