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Christ Jesus’ home at Capernaum

Welcome to another video blog from a recent trip to Israel.

“He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea…”.

So writes Matthew in 4:13, introducing the reader to this central location of Christ Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee. Capernaum is located on the northwest shore of the Galilean Sea, a beautiful site in calm weather and a treacherous one when rough seas churn.  Although only about 1500 people and 13 acres in size in the first century, Capernaum has found its way into the Christian’s vocabulary as a center for the healing ministry of Jesus Christ — from Peter’s mother in law, to the man with evil spirits, to the centurion’s servant.  Enjoy this brief journey to the heart of the Master’s Galilean ministry.

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Announcing “I Corinthians: Paul’s Challenge to Corruption”

If you’ve tried to figure out a Biblical response to the thorny issues of division, marital differences,  dietary issues and even spiritual arrogance, this letter–I Corinthians–is for you.  And besides finding answers, we get to see its author, the Apostle Paul, at his shepherding best.

A special goal of recent years has been to research and produce a talk on each of Paul’s seven authenticated letters (I Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, I and II Corinthians, Philemon, and Romans), noting their differences, themes, Christian messages and application to today.

Bible Roads is pleased to announce today’s debut of “I Corinthians:  Paul’s Challenge to Corruption”, the fifth in the series.

While each church community Paul addressed had its unique challenges, the Corinthians were a class unto themselves!  Known for one of the more salacious reputations in the Empire, Corinth was a sailor’s port, a wild mix of emperor worship,  pagan practices, and economic disparity.  To this raucous crowd, Paul would assert his authority, remind them they weren’t quite as spiritually advanced as they thought, and encourage them to solve their differences and come together in unity through love.

In fact, it is to this unruly bunch that Paul penned one of his most treasured passages, his brilliant treatise on love in I Corinthians 13.   This is the letter people have read for centuries when working through divisions of every kind and its relevancy to today–in a world pulled by political, cultural and ethnic differences– is startling and worth fresh study.

Please take advantage of an introductory special available until May 15th,  a 20% discount with this coupon cor20.   Click here and the prompts will guide you.  And now you can undertake a full study of I Corinthians with the accompanying Bible Study workbook, for individuals or groups.

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Happy Labor Day — Vineyard Workers!

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Parable of the Vineyard Workers, Rembrandt

Since Americans are celebrating “Labor Day” the first Monday of September– a federal holiday established in 1894 to highlight the economic achievements of American workers– it’s a perfect time to look at Jesus’ parable about the Laborers in the Vineyard.  It’s told in both Matt. 20:1-16 and Mark 10:17-31.

This is a head-scratcher if approached in a typical way of what’s a fair wage, given that several groups of workers are hired at different times on the same day.  But at the end of the day, the parable explains they’re paid the same wage, including those who arrived quite late and did only a small amount of work compared to those hired first.

I can only imagine what the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Union would have to say about this!

How easily we identify with those first workers who weren’t paid ‘equitably’.  “What’s up with that”, we ask?  Perhaps the parable confronts the whole notion of ‘earning’ God’s love vs. simply receiving it.  Like the sun that pours its light without bias on every mountain, flower and garden, so the Gospel’s message of God’s enduring, inclusive and ever-present love pours out for everyone — newcomer and latecomer combined.

Perhaps the parable is a lesson about resentment and how to eradicate it from our thought about others. Matt. 20.vs. 9-12 speaks to this.   Those early workers didn’t initially begrudge the wages later workers received.  They just thought they’d receive more.

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ (NRSV)

It’s not like the first group of workers were cheated.  They were paid according to their negotiated contract.  Isn’t that ‘just’?

But the late workers were paid by grace – by the lovely, unexpected showering of God’s generous love (seen through the actions of the landowner).

The early church of Matthew might have thought of the parable in light of Jews and Gentiles, the former being those who arrived ‘early’ and the latter, those who came to the Good News later.

Today the parable might make us ask:  “Am I truly happy for those who seem to have quick responses to prayer over their problems when I’ve been praying for resolution to mine for a very long time?  Or am I grateful for those who seem to make speedy spiritual progress when I’m in more of a plodding mode, even though I’ve been working at this a lot longer then they have!   What’s ‘fair’ about that?”

At the end, the landowner is now called “Lord” (20:8) in the KJV translation, and he pays those hired last, first.

So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.

Is it Jesus’ way of teaching us that there is no bargaining with the ‘Lord’, God?  That the ‘rules’ God plays by are love and grace for everyone, regardless.  That this Kingdom of heaven at hand has different protocols than human fairness, and that we need to start thinking out from those divine statues.

Once again Jesus teaches that following mere cultural values and practices aren’t enough when it comes to being Christ-like, following Christ Jesus’ example.

Happy Labor Day, all you vineyard workers!

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Biblical Leadership Hints for US Presidential Election

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David and Goliath, by Caravaggio

Is it possible that the Biblical story of Israel’s evolution– from nomads to slaves to free people who chose their own government—can shed needed light on today’s Presidential election?

All the way back to Abraham, God told this earliest of patriarchs that kings would be included in Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:6, NRSV).

The centripetal forces or ‘glue’ that held the twelve tribes together, weren’t just political or military leaders, such as Saul and later David–both anointed as kings. Rather it was the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic Law given in their wilderness crossing and turned to again and again for direction and guidance as they forged a nation out of tribes.

One can only wonder today how much ‘glue’, in the pluralistic societies that constitute historically Judeo-Christian countries like the United States, still exists of a shared moral law with the power to bind people to both it and each other.

Like today, ancient Israel also experienced centrifugal forces pulling them apart. There was the physical challenge of the land’s geography, not conducive to a strong political unit as ridges and gorges made it difficult for separated tribes to come together.

More dangerous were the reasserting forces of Baal and polytheism that presented a constant competition between the powers of Yahweh and Baal. Recall Elijah’s battle with Jezebel’s Baal prophets as he defended Yahweh (see I Kings 18). (Just use the surrogates of today’s many ‘idols’ – whether the pursuit of a perfect body image, wealth or non-stop entertainment — as a substitute for Baal and we see how apropos Israel’s challenges are to our own.)

Yet there was a countering centripetal force that held the tribes together: the invading Philistines. Enter the young shepherd, David, into Israel’s history.   The impact he would make for generations, defeating the enemy starting with Goliath, would be unmatched until Jesus of Nazareth’s arrival a millennium later.

Unfortunately, King Saul’s jealousy would rob the monarch of the gratitude he should have had for David, who would go on to unite the twelve tribes, bring needed peace to the new nation, and write some of the world’s most powerful songs or Psalms. Saul’s jealousy prompted the pursuit of David some sixteen times to kill him, as two vivid examples relate in I Sam 24 and 26 (the former when David doesn’t kill Saul in a cave and the latter sparing of Saul’s life at an encampment near Ziph.)

In addition to the magnanimity David shows someone trying to destroy him, today’s political candidates can discover specific leadership lessons from Deut. 17:14-20. These convey God’s intended qualifications for a future leader. For the purpose of space, I’ll site two and invite you to discover the others. See if you think many, or all, of the characteristics still apply.

  • “Be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses” (Deut. 17: 15). Embedded in this aspect is a democratic election process by the people, i.e. ‘select’, and the ability to discern an individual who is selected for the office and times by God.
  • “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll…(and) always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees” (Deut. 17:18-19).

Can someone please hand our candidates a pen so they can get writing?!

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How Artistic Genius Captures History’s Greatest Betrayal

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Rembrandt’s “Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver”, currently on exhibit at The J.P. Morgan Library & Museum.

If you admire others’ ability to draw, sketch, paint or sculpt, yet don’t seem to share those talents, welcome to my world of art appreciation instead.   After all, artistic brilliance needs those who can treasure and reflect on their masterpieces.

The Bible has long been the subject of some of the most monumental art through the centuries, affording art lovers plenty of opportunity for spiritual and aesthetic contemplation. Summer is a perfect time to focus on one tour de force just coming to light.

The J.P. Morgan Library in New York City has a current exhibit centered on a privately held Rembrandt often referred to as his first masterpiece, painted when just 23. Called Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, it is breathtaking how precisely the Dutch master captures the dismissive priest following Judas’ betrayal of Christ Jesus.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”  Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself (Matt. 27:3-5, NRSV).

In a single spurning gesture of the Priest’s left hand, Rembrandt captures the emotional drama felt by a man who realizes he has made the most damning misjudgment of his life: betrayal of the Messiah he loved.

A traveling diplomat, Constantijn Huygens, experienced the painting in 1629 of the young artist soon to become a master, and penned: “The gesture of that one despairing Judas…screaming, begging for forgiveness, but devoid of all hope. His gaze wild, his hair torn out by the roots, his garments rent, his arms contorted, his hands clenched until they bleed. A blind impulse has brought him to his knees, his whole body writhing in pitiful hideousness. All this I compare with all the beauty that has been produced throughout the ages. All honor to thee, Rembrandt!” (Letter by Huygens, excerpted in Morgan catalogue on exhibit.)

Students of Matthew’s Gospel, the only one in which Judas’ payment is mentioned, have long been familiar with the thirty pieces of silver the priests paid for being led to Jesus’ location during his prayerful preparation at Gethsemane. What may not be familiar is an Ex. 21:2 law describing property payment rights, the first time the ‘thirty shekels of silver’ is mentioned in the Bible.

32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

The only other mention of ‘thirty shekels of silver’ (prior to Judas) is in the book of Zechariah. The prophet is told by God to act as the shepherd for the sheep portrayed as the recalcitrant people of Israel. But those ‘sheep’ don’t want to repent and therefore the shepherd (Zechariah) tells the people he quits, and asks for whatever wage they feel is appropriate.

12 I then said to them, “If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” So they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver (Zech. 11:12).

The fact that Zechariah is given only ‘thirty shekels of silver’ is an insult, conjuring up the meager price of a male slave, described above in Exodus.

How does all this relate to Judas and the priests? Note that it was the Temple priests who negotiated the original payment:

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver (Matt 26:14,15).

Expert in Jewish law, the Temple priests well knew of this reimbursement price of a slave from Exodus. In arrogant dismissal, they priced Jesus’ life at the same paltry rate. That Zechariah was God-directed to act as shepherd to the lost sheep of Israel, and paid the same remuneration, evokes the shepherding mantle Jesus bore as well.

The bottom line? Neither priest nor traitor could begin to grasp the Savior’s mission to redeem humanity from every ill that would beset it. That payment? Priceless.

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