It is popular in our day to be neutral. In a culture where tolerance is highly valued, nonpartisanship is attractive. In religious discussions we try to avoid stepping on toes, for in Western cultures religious views are generally considered private. We want to avoid offending others in a culture that is diverse. But neutrality is not always a good thing, and neither is polite disengagement. Some issues are important enough to require our considered choices. That is Jesus' premise in this passage.
If God exists, should we think of him as having a laissez-faire attitude, not interested in how we relate to him? Jesus argues that is not the case. Religion by its very nature is a public affair, since it deals with how people relate to reality and to others. Though religious coercion such as marred European history in the Crusades and the Thirty Years' War is wrong, so is our culture's tendency to relegate religious concerns to the fringe world of private reflection. The issues are too important to be kept peripheral. Ultimately we must ask each other, What centers our lives, what do we accept as truth, what defines our character? And so in this short passage Jesus calls us to consider what directs our lives.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Two options are suggested by those who have doubts. First, some attribute his capabilities to Beelzebub, the prince of demons. They clearly have Satan in mind and imply strongly that Jesus is demonically controlled. The name Beelzebub in its English form comes from the Latin; it appears to refer to the Philistine god Ekron (2 Kings 1:2-3, 6, 16). In all probability the name means "Lord of the flies" (on this discussion and other options, see Fitzmyer 1985:920-21). The name was a derisive characterization of Satan.
The second alternative is a wait-and-see approach. Some want more proof through some sign from heaven. It is unclear what this might have involved--a heavenly portent or just more miracles? In any case, not all are persuaded that demonic control is the answer.
These two possibilities well summarize reactions to Jesus today. Some reject him; others want to see more from him. But clearly, those who were exposed to Jesus realized that they could not ignore his actions or claims. His ministry demanded that people consider his identity.
Significantly, the opponents did not doubt Jesus' miraculous power. The opinion of skeptics today, that miracles do not happen or that whatever Jesus did was not miraculous, was not a line Jesus' opponents took in his day. This is very significant. Surely if this nonmiraculous option existed, it would have been taken. But the opponents and those they hoped to persuade were too close to Jesus to deny that something supernatural was happening. Unfortunately, historical distance can so blur reality that explanations not considered possible at the time of the event can seem possible later. We can reject Jesus, but to doubt his miracles is to question not only him but also, curiously enough, his opponents.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Reader, please feel free to comment and criticise!
Joseph of Arimathea was by no means alone in 1st-century Israel in “looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15.43; Luke 23.51).
Both John the Baptist and Jesus announced the imminent arrival of the kingdom and called people to prepare themselves (repent) for its arrival. In addition, both link the coming of the kingdom with the coming of Jesus himself. Thus John announces the coming of one “more powerful than I” who will bring the purifying fire of judgment, separating the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3.11-12). But while John points forward to the one who would follow, Jesus in his teaching and his miracles indicates that through him the kingdom is now breaking in. This is seen in his breathtaking announcement in the synagogue in Nazareth that the prophecy of Isaiah 61 was being fulfilled “today… in your hearing” (Luke 4.16-21).
Jesus’ answer to John not only indicates that the kingdom is arriving in Jesus, but also gives us important clues as to what the kingdom is that Jesus is bringing in. For it would seem that John’s doubt as to whether Jesus is the one springs from some wrong expectations as to what the kingdom is. As hinted at earlier, John’s expectation was that of imminent purifying judgment (Mt 3.1-12) – “the coming wrath” (v.7), but Jesus’ ministry is not that of judgment, but of deliverance and mercy, of preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, bringing release to the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4.18-19, quoting Isaiah 61)
 Schreiner, T. (2008) New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker), p.61
 Schreiner, p.49
I am not quite sure what direction my blogging will take since this significant change; I would like to do more blogging in Spanish (particularly on biblical & theological topics) and I would also like to be able to blog about interesting aspects of living out here (that might be better in a different blog), as well as continuing with more theological reflections on things I've been reading etc. So my blogging over the next few months may be rather haphazard until it settles down with some clearer aims and focus.