whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

Archive for the tag “Lent”

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Something that has really stuck with me about the account of the events of Good Friday was probably best summarized in a talk given by N.T. Wright. He begins talking about this question of authority that Jesus and Pilate had a conversation about (what amounted to his official trial). There’s quite a bit of background to this question that, in the talk I heard, Wright doesn’t really have time to get into. Essentially, Pilate is trying to ascertain whether Jesus is guilty of sedition, of trying overthrow the empire to establish his own Kingdom. It turns out, Jesus is 100% guilty of that charge, but not in the way that Pilate had suspected. The whole dialogue is spread of John 18 and 19.

Pilate asks if Jesus is a King. Jesus responds by asking why he would think such a thing. Heavily implied in Jesus’s response is that Pilate actually has no authority, but does as others ask him. Yet soon it comes about where we have a key line from Jesus “My Kingdom is not from this (ek tos) world.” This is not saying there is a kingdom and it exists somewhere, but not here. Instead, Jesus is boldly declaring that his kingdom does not arise out of this world. It comes from somewhere else. Because it comes from somewhere else, it will be achieved in a radically different way. Jesus is basically telling Pilate that the Kingdom is coming from God himself, and Jesus’s death will only accelerate its arrival. This is why Pilate tries to release him.

The crowd having none of it, Pilate tries to make him king, in a mocking sort of manner, and in the cruelest way possible. Pilate seeks to make him a king completely according to the ways of this world, through violence and insult. Yet it is to no avail. Instead the people remind Pilate of Jesus’s claim, he claimed to be “the Son of God.”

There is a heavy nuance we often miss today in our modern sensibility. Jesus’s claim to be the “Son of God” was not, exclusively, a claim to divinity. There are other, much more explicit passages about that (“I and the Father are one.” “Before Abraham was, I AM (ego eimi)”). Instead, it’s important to note that, by this time, the Roman emperor had taken on a very specific title: son of the gods. It is for this reason Pilate became terrified. This is a true and unmistakable revolution. It also leads Pilate back to touting his authority, rebellions must be squelched, after all.

It is here that Jesus reminds Pilate of what authority actually looks like. Pilate claims to have authority, but any authority he has “comes from above.” The dual meaning here is that it comes only from Caesar, who is in authority over Pilate, but also that it comes from God. That is if he has authority. As it turns out, Pilate does not act like one with authority. His wish, at that point, is to be done with Jesus and not to crucify him, yet he succumbs to the will of the people, those over whom he claims to have authority. Pilate wants to release Jesus, but that is in violation of his authority from Caesar. Still he wants to to release Jesus, but his authority is taken away by the crowds.

And it brings me back to this line from the lecture by N. T. Wright.

“Pilate and Jesus have this debate about authority and who has authority and where authority comes from. Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified, and Jesus wins.”

Pilate cannot let it go, and must admit Jesus is King, because he acted with authority. And there, on the cross, he is inaugurated. The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The sorrow of the Friday will turn to joy on the Sunday. But let us not skip over the sorrow too quickly.

The King is dead, long live the King.

Advertisements

The Cup

Today is Maundy Thursday. This is the day when the events of the “upper room” occurred. It is also the night of the Garden of Gethsemane and arrest of Jesus. Through this night the cup, used in passover, takes on a special significance. In this post, I’m going to attempt to briefly outline some of them.

Ancient Drinking Chalice

The Cup was a Marriage Proposal

In first century Jewish marriage proposals, wine took on a special significance. In the proposal, the tale end of it, after a marriage covenant was actually drawn up and agreed upon by the groom, father of the bride and the bride, it would be sealed with a toast between the groom and the bride. The groom would pour wine and offer it to his (hopefully soon-to-be) bride, with the promise that “This is a covenant in my blood” or something similar. To accept she would drink it. To reject the request (because hers was the final decision) she would simply return the cup.

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20, NIV)

The Cup is a Promise

The groom, after such a proposal was accepted, would promise not to drink wine again until he saw the bride again, on their wedding day. He would then go to make a bridal suite ready, which was a room attached to his Father’s house. He would stock it and prepare it to make everything perfect, returning to take his bride for their wedding day at a time she would not expect, to foster a sense of expectation and excitement everyday that today would be the day she would see her groom coming for her. In the meantime, the bride to be was encouraged to regularly drink small amounts of wine, each time reminding her that her groom would be coming for her. Today could be the day.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3, NIV)

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
(Matthew 25:1-13, NIV)

29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29, NIV)


do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19b)

The Cup is Also Tragic

Jesus directly prays that the cup he is to drink, the cup of death, will pass from him. This is an honest and human response. If there is ever any doubt that Jesus knows what it is like to be a human, here it is. It is only because he became incarnate as a frail, finite, person–the infinite in the finite–that we can have life in his name. Maundy Thursday reminds us to prepare ourselves for Good Friday. Without the death of the cross there is no resurrection of the dead. And in Christ’s dying, we ourselves die, so that by his rising, we may find life abundant.

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

The name “Maundy” comes from the Latin for commandment. We are commanded to love one another in the same way Christ loved us. Even when, or perhaps especially when, we don’t feel like it.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

James 5:19-20 (Lent Readings)

This is the last of my James series. I’ll update the Calendar link to hyperlink each section to the appropriate reading as I have time. Let me kn0w in the comments if you’ve appreciated the series or what you would change.

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Comment

In the book of Genesis, immediately after the sin of Adam is the incident of the first murder. In that account, the question is posed, one that presses us more than any question except the one concerning our relation with God and what to do with sin: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The response given here by James is: YES! Part of living in community, which is what the church fundamentally is, is watching out for others while they are in the fold, but even more so when they wander from it. We don’t give up on each other because the church is not a holy club, it’s a family. We are our brothers’ keepers, and they ours. We do not work alone. The priesthood of believers means that all Christians are (under the Great shepherd) simultaneously sheep and shepherd. And what we do now, how we act that out, has far reaching consequences.

Question

Have you ever failed in your duty to brothers and sisters who have wondered far? Have you asked for forgiveness? Have you tried to do anything about it since?

James 5:17-18 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Comment

As an example of what I spoke of yesterday, James points to the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. He prayed, and something happened. The implication is that his prayer, in some way, had an external and not merely internal impact. Now, in light of yesterday’s passage and the reality of our life, it should be noted that, being a righteous person was because he was following God’s will. It was God’s will to cause a drought and end it, for a very specific purpose. God was calling his children back and they needed to be woken up. Does this mean that if Elijah had prayed no such thing would have happened? I don’t know. I think either God would have worked in a different way, or found a different person, but my hunch is that to ask such a question is a mistake because this is the episode that marks the beginning of Elijah’s entrance into Scripture. We don’t know anything else about him before this. My hunch is that, if Elijah had not prayed, we would simply never have heard of him. That’s not to say that doing God’s will makes you famous, in fact it very often does quite the opposite, but it does mean that being in the will of God means our prayers have a real impact.

Question

Have you ever personally prayed, or known of someone who prayed, for something that seemed near impossible only to have it happen anyway? Who gets credit for it? The person praying or the One to whom we pray?

James 5:13-16 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Comment

The main thrust here is that no matter what our circumstances, happy or sad, troubled or free, we should be in communication with God because it “availeth much.” However, this passage does raise some issues. What about the times I prayed in faith and the sick weren’t healed? Do I simply have to wait until they are “raised up” on the last day? On the one hand it is tempting to say that our prayers merely change us, but not God (I think C.S. Lewis said something similar), but that doesn’t seem to be the case with this passage. Here, it seems that our prayers do accomplish something. That it is important to bring others into the prayer and fervently pray. So how do we reconcile the disconnect? I don’t know for certain, but I have an idea. I think of it like I think of my relationship with my (still very young) children, after all, Jesus taught us to think of God as our Father. Now, when my kids ask me for something, I will do everything in my power to get it for them (or do it for them), at least most of the time. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have other plans, I very well may have and they were good plans, but there are certain aspects of those plans that can be done other times, or the particular aspects of which may be open to change (you want Strawberry Jelly instead of Grape? no problem). Yet, other times it is not in my children’s best interest for me to fulfill their requests. If they want another cookie at dinner, sometimes I need to say no because the sugar makes it hard for them to sleep, and they’ve really had a large meal. Sometimes it’s even trickier. For example, my daughter likes to get herself stuck in places and ask for help. Sometimes, I leave her there for a bit because a) she really can get it out and its good for her problem solving skills, or b) she needs to face (at least briefly) the consequences of her actions, or c) sometimes I’m doing something else. Now, I’m not suggesting God is ever busy doing something else, but I am suggesting that, in some way, perhaps a way we can’t see or even begin to comprehend (my kids don’t understand the complexity of sugar and how it affects sleep and future health issues), but that doesn’t mean it’s not for their betterment. Remember, we have a full eternity with God coming up, that’s the ultimate benefit of prayer. Sometimes, it may be in our best interest, in a way we can’t begin to fathom yet, for God to say “no,” even for our fervent prayer. Yet in that prayer, the “no” is still for our betterment.

Question

Have you ever had God say “no”? What might that situation look like if you put it in terms of a young child to a parent who says “no”? Do you think that our relationship with God can still be improved through the “no” answers that God gives to our prayers? In what ways?

James 5:10-12 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Comment

Now, near the end of the letter, James reminds those to whom he writes that the end of days is near (in light of the resurrection we are always in the last days). And in light of the eminent presence of Christ we are encouraged to endure in the midst of persecution, just as the prophets who were each intimately acquainted with God in the Old Testament. And that even Job, who may not have enjoyed the same intimacy as even the prophets, could endure, so much more should we. The final verse, which at first glance looks out of place, is an attempt to make it more practical. Rather than a legalistic rule to follow (as some do, particularly those who have problems with pledges and oaths in court), this is a principle in the face of persecution. All too easily those being persecuted could have found ways to avoid their persecution by deceiving those who were against them, only they thought it was not sin if they did not technically lie. Rather, James is encouraging them to be courageous. They need not hide who they are (as this ploy would likely be discovered), or make odd oaths as certain Pharisees and Sadducees were (swearing by the gold of the alter rather than the alter, etc) whom Jesus criticized. Instead, the Christian should be marked by integrity in all things, particularly in the face of persecution.

Question

Do you experience persecution? How does it compare to that of the prophets, most of whom were killed? If they can endure theirs, does it help you to endure yours? Have you ever been tempted to hide your faith to avoid persecution? How did you feel about your actions if you gave into the temptation?

James 5:7-9 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

Comment

James here now makes another appeal. This time he is appealing on the basis of the nearness of God. Because God is near, we are already in the last days. Because we are in the last days, we should be patient. This is the hardest part, between when the work is done and the harvest time. Christ has done the work. It is only ours to wait for the harvest.

Question

Do you sometimes get impatient waiting on God? What can we learn from how a farmer has to wait for a good crop yield?

James 5:4-6 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Comment

Simply put, don’t use people. Other people are not a stepping stone for your personal gain. The Kingdom of God is about God first and about others next. It’s not about you, at least not you at the expense of others. And the cries of the ones whom our excess oppresses reaches God’s ears. The people of God, at least some of them, have moved from the slaves in Egypt to the Pharaohs who oppress. This applies to us now too. We cannot be ignorant of our responsibility in the things we buy (or refrain from buying) and should be generous in our charity. We do not live in isolation and should always be on the side of those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”

Question

Do you think about where the money you spend goes? Do you try to consider the needs of others before your personal comforts? Today is World Water Day. 1 in 5 children lack access to clean water. To find out more about water shortage, or what you can do to help, go to water.org or similar organizations

James 5:1-3

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Comment

In case you’re wondering, in all likelihood you are one of the rich people to whom this is addressed. I am too. At least when we think about the global church. However, all is not lost. The issue is not money per se (though that does make things more difficult), but rather the way in which we go about accruing wealth. There is a call not to focus on accruing things here (treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy as Jesus said), but to focus on treasures in heaven. We need to be single minded and focused on God and his kingdom, not on temporary wealth here.

Question

To whom do you compare yourself? There is always someone more wealthy, but there are lots more without near the wealth you have. What do you think James means when he says that the decay and rust of personal possessions will be a witness against us?

James 4:13-17 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Comment

A lot of times in the past, I’ve read verses 13-15 here without verses 16 or 17. However, I think it’s important to keep these together. Too easily this could fall into a legalism or “magic charm” we say before we make plans. That is to miss the point. James is simultaneously calling us to remember the meaninglessness of a life lived for this world only and the higher calling upon the Christian (a life not of this world, but of a coming Kingdom). Thus our actions should not be about ourselves, but about God and his Kingdom. It’s pretty hard to not take God’s Kingdom into account with our actions when we firs acknowledge that our very lives are continuing only by God’s will.

Question

On a daily basis do you think first about how your actions are part of God’s plan, or how they are part of your plan? Do you make plans that fail to take into account others, or do you try to honor God by loving Him and others?

Post Navigation