LUKE 20-24: The drama and sense of foreboding intensify with Jesus in Jerusalem, as the religious authorities spar with him. One conflict that needs some of the bigger context explained is that around paying taxes to Caesar (20: 20-26). Instead of being a general statement about honoring both God and Caesar, as its often taken to mean, it is a deft skewering of Jesus’ interrogators by Jesus himself. The controversy arises within the temple district, where no one should have such a blasphemous thing as a coin with Caesar’s image, and the blasphemous inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Gods.” By flushing the offending coin out of his very own interrogators, (and showing he did not have one on himself), Jesus has turned the tables on them and exposed their hypocrisy. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s….” then means something more like, “If with Caesar you play, then to Caesar you must pay,” which Jesus does not.
Bible readers often scratch their heads over Jesus’ insistence that the Messiah is not the son of David, (20: 41-44). And yet Luke’s own genealogy makes that very case. What gives? Its even clearer in Mark’s account (Mk. 12: 35ff) that Jesus is not David’s son in the sense that he and his kingship will not be established in the same way that David’s kingship was, by the sword. Though Jesus is genealogically descended from David, his kingdom, his warfare and his ascension will be by very different means. As Mark’s account makes clear, it will be by means of the great commandment, i.e., indiscriminate love.
The Apocalypse of Luke 21: Not since Jeremiah or Ezekiel had anyone predicted such a shocking and potentially treasonous thing as the destruction of the Temple, “God’s footstool.” They suffered greatly for it. Jesus predicts the same in Luke 21. As I have stated elsewhere, the bulk of these predictions should be understood as pertaining to the coming war of A.D. 70, and to the end of this age and the return of Christ by extension. That we will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” refers back to the vision of Daniel (ch. 7), and most likely means the vindication of Jesus as God’s Messiah when the militaristic and nationalistic alternatives to him and his mission will have been proven wrong and punished by the destruction of Zion and the Temple. Afterward, we are in “the times of the Gentiles,”when the Gentiles dominate, or when the mission and the kingdom of God go forth to the Gentiles, or both. In both times, however, the disciple must watch, wait and stand firm, not being misled by false Messiahs and militaristic and nationalistic distractions, so that we might “stand before the Son of Man.”
The Lord’s Supper is such an important part of the three Synoptic Gospels that some, in the past, taught that the Gospels were composed with the Lord’s Supper as the centerpiece and purpose, with everything else to be interpreted by it. That’s excessive, and yet the way that Jesus reinterpreted the Passover Feast shows that he saw his mission, his death and his resurrection as a new Exodus, and himself as a new Moses.
The trial of Jesus is a study in justice twisted beyond recognition. Quite a few laws of Jewish jurisprudence were violated, such as a hasty night time trial, physical abuse, no advocate for the defense, witnesses chosen for a predetermined outcome, and insufficient time given between testimony and the verdict, among others. That may be one major reason why Jesus was silent and uncooperative during most of the trial, except whenever a direct and honest question was put to him: he was a conscientious objector to the kangaroo court process.
ON THE RESURRECTION APPEARANCES: That one group of disciples (Cleopas) did not recognize the risen Jesus when he walked with them to Emmaus could mean that, in addition to the twelve who lived and learned most closely with Jesus, there were many others who could also be called “disciples,” because they identified with Jesus and followed his teachings, even if second hand, with only occasional contact with him personally. Among these would also be Mary and Martha, who “sat at his feet,” the posture of a disciple. That would make Jesus the first Jewish rabbi to have female disciples.
I have often wished that the Bible lesson which Jesus gave on the road to Emmaus had been recorded. Now I believe that is has been, in effect, all throughout the rest of the New Testament, wherever and however the N.T. writers draw upon the Old Testament to interpret the events and teachings of their life and mission. This unrecorded sermon may be at the heart of what follows from Acts to Revelation.
JOHN 1-4: With this Gospel we leave the realm of the three Synoptic Gospels, so called because they see the life and teachings of Jesus similarly and report them in similar fashion and structure, and enter what an early church father called, “A Spiritual Gospel.” Which is not to say that John is less historical than the Synoptics. Bits and pieces of “Johanine” language are found in the Synoptics too (Mt. 11:25-30). But John’s Gospel seems to focus very clearly on revealing the nature and meaning of Jesus, while the Synoptic Gospels, which are more event- and chronology-driven, reveal such things more slowly. In the middle of John (ch. 10) comes the discourse on the Good Shepherd. It ends with Jesus’ call to Peter, to “feed my sheep.” Pair that with the disclosures of Jesus and about Jesus in the opening chapters, and I wonder if John might be the Gospel of the Good Shepherd to his good shepherds, i.e., pastors, evangelists, prophets and other leaders, whose ministry can only derive directly from the kind of relationship that “the beloved disciple” had with Jesus, one of accompaniment, intimacy and self-disclosure. Another word for all that is prayer. Tradition has long identified “the beloved disciple” with John, whom we often find with his brother James, and Peter alone with Jesus in the Synoptics. But I think that the intent of the author, even if he is that John, is to make us all aspire to be “the beloved disciple,” ever leaning on Jesus’ breast, especially any pastors.
Just when you start to think that John’s Gospel is allegorical or symbolic, written at a much later stage than the Synoptics, the author throws in details about Jerusalem and its precincts that could only have been known before AD 70, when the city and the temple were destroyed. Whether by the memory of the author or by an early date of composition, the Gospel almost reads like a tour guide of pre-war Judea. For that reason, among others, Bishop James Robinson, writing in the 1960’s, made a case for John being actually the earliest, rather than the latest, of the four canonical Gospels. Make of that what you will. Yet at times John seems to assume that we know about events recorded only in the Synoptics. In effect, John’s Gospel defies easy, straightforward analysis.
We used to be so sure about the meaning of the hymn of the Word, with which the Gospel begins (ch. 1). “The Word” is the organizing principle and reason of the universe in ancient Greek philosophy, right? Not so fast. This is not the Greek Gospel we used to make it out to be: its Jewish through and through. Its been called antisemitic because of the way it speaks of “the Jews” as adversaries, but that is only John’s language for the Judean religious leadership. The good guys are “Israelites,” like Nathaniel (ch. 1). Take away our Hellenistic-tinted glasses and I think “the Word” in chapter 1 is the wisdom celebrated in the Hebrew Bible (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.). The Wisdom that neither Job nor Solomon could grasp has shown up not as a philosophy but a relationship, not as a principle but a person: Jesus.
A mystery confronts us in chapter 2: How many times did Jesus cleanse the temple? John has him driving out the money-changers and animal merchants at the beginning of his ministry, not at the end, as in the Synoptic Gospels. Could he have gotten away with that twice? He didn’t. More likely, though, is that John is making us think of the contrast between a wedding, which Jesus blessed, and a certain kind of market, which he crashed. Both events are full of apocalyptic significance. The wedding and new wine speak of the messianic age and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb still to come. The cleansing of the temple, by contrast, speaks of Old Testament prophetic judgment against corruption, injustice and exploitation, beginning with God’s people, but coming to the nations as well. Right from the start, John wants us to think about where history is going, what God blesses (marriage, family, justice, sharing, etc.) and what God crashes and curses (exploitation), by putting them back to back, even if they didn’t necessarily happen that way.
PSALM 95 is a hymn of praise that contains a prophetic word from God, an invitation to return to the kind of faith that God looked for and cultivated during the wilderness sojourn in Sinai. Verses 8-11 serve as the opening call to morning worship, prayer and labor in the Benedictine communities.
PSALM 96 is a reprise of the hymn that David composed for the occasion of the return of the Ark of the Covenant and its installation in the Tabernacle, in Jerusalem. (I Chronicles 16: 23-33). At a time when the twelve tribes were so small, and the worship of YHWH God so localized compared to the grandiose and widespread reign of the gods of Egypt, Assyria and other extant empires, such confidence in the global judgment and the reign of Israel’s is all the more a stunning statement of faith.
PSALM 97 is another hymn full of Israel’s characteristic chutzpah, that is, nerve, faith and courage to assert what does not appear to the eye to be true at the moment. But Israel’s eye of faith saw the long haul, and could assert the victory of God, in judgment, over the world, and all other gods, or those who set themselves up as gods. The gods of the neighboring nations were manifested and vindicated by the military might of their worshipers. The God of Israel is manifested in the justice and virtue of his saints (2b). Instead of promising his people conquest, victory and dominion, God promises light for guidance, and joy (v. 11).