|The Last Week, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Narrated by John Pruden
|The First Christmas: What the Gospels really Teach About Jesus’ Birth
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Narrated by John Pruden
Week 2 of Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society was a lot of work for me, mostly because it was essay week. The assignment was to read and compare Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In these very similar passages, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, war, and many false prophets coming in his name. We were supposed to describe how these passages helped the early Christians make sense of the world around them, keeping in mind that the New Testament was written a half-century or more after Jesus’ death (i.e. around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70CE).
This was a difficult topic for me because I’m still struggling a lot with the difference between the spiritual Jesus that I was brought up to worship as God, and the historical Jesus who was most likely an apocalyptic preacher. (Though I have decided to keep these two versions of Jesus separate in my mind, for now.) I took the time to read The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison.
|The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 1
Chapter 8: The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison
Allison’s essay addresses the controversy of whether or not the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet – a phenomenon which was common at the time of Jesus. The reason this question is so controversial, despite the strong apocalyptic message of Jesus’ speeches, is because it would suggest 1) that Jesus was just one among many apocalyptic prophets and 2) that Jesus was wrong, since the end of the world proved not to be so nigh, after all.
Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, by Gary M. Burge
Genre: Ancient History / Bible Studies
Reason for reading: This year, I’m studying Jesus and the New Testament. This book was loaned to me by Elizabeth, a friend from work. It was given to her by a friend because the author was her professor.
Synopsis: In this short book, Burge guides the reader to interpret Jesus as a storyteller – a teacher who uses allegory and hyperbole to make important points within his own social context. The book is filled with beautiful pictures and several examples of Jesus’ use of hyperbole to teach an important point. Burge provides historical and cultural insight into what Jesus may have been talking about when telling his parables.
My thoughts: I was surprised at how fun this book was. Although it’s quite short, and half of it was pictures, it made me look at Jesus from a interesting new perspective. Of course, I already knew that Jesus used parables and hyperbole to make points, but it was really interesting to read Burge’s cultural analysis of those parables.
The story I found most enlightening was Burge’s interpretation of the fig tree incident. For those of you who don’t recall, the story is related in Mark 11:12-14, 11:20-25; and in Matthew 21:18-22. In my unromantic version, Jesus is hungry, and he sees a fig tree by the road. It’s not fig season, so the tree isn’t bearing any fruit. Jesus curses the poor tree and it withers. I’ve always disliked that story. Despite my cousin Steve’s insistence that fig trees don’t have feelings, and I shouldn’t take the story so literally, I always felt sorry for the tree. Why’d Jesus curse a tree just because it wasn’t bearing fruit in the off-season? (And, yes, Mark clearly states that it wasn’t the season for figs.)
Burge pointed out that the fig tree represented the Jewish state and religion. Throughout the New Testament Jesus repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who made a public spectacle of themselves fasting, praying, and giving alms; but who did not keep the spirit of religion in their hearts. They prayed for the approval of the people, not for the approval of God. Thus, they were not “bearing fruit.”
Of course, I realize that this insight about the fig tree and the Pharisees is not uniquely Burge’s – in fact I found some interesting articles on the subject after reading Burge’s book (here’s a good one). What’s important is that Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller introduced me to some interesting interpretations that I could look into in more detail later. In that way, this book was a valuable resource for me.
As I pointed out in my New Years Resolutions, this year I have decided to explore my relationship with Jesus. Who is Jesus, and what does he mean to me? This has always been a sticky question that I avoided. My first book in my quest is: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright. Borg is a liberal Jesus historian and Wright a conservative one. The book is a set of essays which outlines an ongoing discussion that these two friends have continued for years.
In the introduction, they list three target audiences: first, they hope that this book will be of interest to Christians and non-Christians alike.
“We both believe strongly that what we say about Jesus and the Christian life belongs, not in a private world, inaccessible and incomprehensible except ‘from faith to faith,’ but in the public world of historical and cross-cultural study, in the contemporary world as well as the church.”
- Gospels are history remembered as well as history metaphorized
- Jesus was a Jewish figure teaching and acting within Judaism
- Jesus’ legacy was developed by the community of early Christians
- Jesus’ legacy was developed by a variety of modern forms of Christianity, as well as other religions.
“When we emphasize his divinity at the expense of his humanity, we lose track of the utterly remarkable human being that he was.”
|Jonah and the “great fish” on the South doorway of Dom Saint Peter
Image source: Wikipedia
I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the story of Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to prophesy against their wickedness. But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He was afraid to prophesy in a foreign land full of wicked people who hated Hebrews. Plus, he didn’t want God to show mercy to his enemies. So he ran. But he couldn’t escape God, who in His Great Wisdom made a whale swallow Jonah until Jonah was able to see the error of his ways and continue more willingly on God’s path.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah recently. So I was surprised when a coworker jokingly compared ringing at the registers of our bookstore as her “Nineveh.” She added “but if God told me to go to Nineveh, I would go.” I half jokingly answered “then perhaps you haven’t found your Nineveh yet.” (She looked a bit taken aback. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.)
I think we all have a personal Nineveh (even those of us who are agnostic or atheist). Some of us have more Nineveh than others. Recently, I have found a Nineveh. It’s a personal issue, and I don’t think the details matter for this post…but the basic idea is this: I have a series of choices that I feel God has encouraged me to make. I don’t like those choices, because I’m very much afraid of getting hurt. After much prayer, I decided to go ahead and have faith and make the plunge. It backfired in my face, I got hurt, I hurt someone else, and it all seems to be spiraling downhill from here.
I am faced with two interpretations: I can assume that I foolishly mislead myself with wrong expectations; or I can have faith that God led me down this path, that He had a reason to do so, and that some good will come of it.
Neither interpretation is inherently wrong as a Christian. Lots of people mislead themselves into thinking they’re doing what God wants them to do when they’re really doing what they want to do. Easy mistake to make. And with this interpretation, I can safely backpedal out of the situation I’ve created and abandon the path that I’d foolishly chosen. (Yeah, it leaves a mess behind, but …. woops! my bad!) Unfortunately, losing faith in myself isn’t too healthy. If I choose this interpretation, then I need to believe that I don’t really know when God is calling me and when He’s not. Because I was pretty darn certain He was calling. And if that wasn’t God calling me, then I’m probably a little crazy and certainly can never have faith in my interpretation of God’s call again. So it seems like a good choice, as long as I’m ok with losing faith in myself and in God.
The second interpretation is more scary. It means I have to continue on the path I’d chosen, having faith that I was, indeed, hearing God’s call, and that if He got me into this mess, something good must come of it.
I haven’t yet chosen which of these interpretations to make, and am fluctuating a lot lately. But my instinct tells me that as a Christian I ought to believe that God was calling me, and that he’s still calling me to follow that path. The path to Nineveh. Where I really, really, really don’t want to go.
And while I wallow in self-doubt, as well as religious doubt, let’s not forget that Jesus asked God to take away the burden of His chosen path: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV, see also Luke 22:42). Let’s not forget one of Jesus’ last statements on the cross: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Mathew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. He was quoting Psalm 22.).
Jesus, that miraculous man who is loved by millions of people even 2000 years after his death, also had a path he didn’t want to follow. He also had his moments of doubt. Doubt is human. None of us should ever forget this fact when we are struggling with our own doubts. We need to always remember that we are human. That doubt is natural.
Always accept that you are human – that even Jesus doubted – and forgive yourself for your weaknesses. That is the best way to restore your faith.