Posts Tagged ‘disciple community’

ACTS 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The author of the Acts of the Apostles (or Acts) is the same person who wrote the Gospel according to Luke, comprising a two-volume account of the Christian movement. Tradition attributes authorship to an attending physician who traveled briefly with the apostle Paul (which might explain the “we” references in Acts). Whoever he was, the author was Christianity’s first “court mythographer” – the one who composes the empire’s official history.

Because of his reported association with Paul, who was the Church’s key strategist for outreach and expansion, Luke’s story of Jesus and his movement were likely influenced by the apostle himself – even heavily influenced. Nevertheless it is important to keep in mind that Luke was written at least thirty years after Paul, which leaves a lot of time for sifting, spinning, and further development.

Luke is to be thanked for the dramatic plot design that introduces Jesus through the divine portal of a virgin’s womb, tracks him through the miracles and teachings of his ministry, relates with omniscience his anguished prayer in the Garden and his private audience with Pilate and Herod, bears witness to the quiet conversation between Jesus and the rebels hanging with him, observes the risen Jesus on Sunday and eavesdrops on two disciples on their way to Emmaus …

And finally this: Jesus rising vertically into the air and disappearing on a magic carpet of clouds. “What are you looking for?” ask two angels suddenly appearing. “He’ll be coming back, just as you watched him leave.”

There you have it – the Great Story we all know and love.

                                                                                                

We are fairly certain that Luke was written not long after Matthew. Both of them used the plot of Mark’s Gospel (up to the empty tomb) and laced it with teaching material likely taken from a hypothetical source named “Q” for Quelle (meaning “source”). For this reason, the three Gospels of Mark (70 CE), Matthew (80 CE) and Luke (90 CE) are called the Synoptic Gospels, since they share (or “see”) so much in common.

A close comparison of Luke to Matthew strongly suggests that our author had Matthew’s account in front of him as he wrote. Having a better grasp of Hebrew (or maybe he was just more educated), Luke corrects some mistranslations in Matthew that almost border on the ridiculous.

For instance, where Mark’s original introduces us to a blind beggar by the name of “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus,” Matthew, not realizing that “Bartimaeus” translates as “son of Timaeus” in Hebrew, turns Mark’s single beggar into two blind men. Luke later caught the error and restored the original in his retelling.

And again, when Jesus is preparing to enter Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, Mark tells us that he rode in on a colt to the cheers of his fans. As Matthew picks up the story, he finds an Old Testament passage (Zechariah 9:9) to use as prophecy of the event:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Matthew misreads (or inserts) an “and” before the reference to a colt, now making it necessary for Jesus to ride on two animals at once! Luke corrects the problem and reverts the story from a veritable circus act to a paradoxical victory parade on the back of a donkey.

But this might be the most fateful change that Luke made to Matthew’s text. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is standing on a mountain with his disciples. He confirms his supreme authority and then commissions his followers to spread the word and make more disciples. “And remember,” he says to them, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Close curtain. In other words, Matthew leaves us with the intriguing assurance that Jesus is still somehow present with the disciple community as it carries on in the world.

And what does Luke do? By making Jesus ascend into heaven – presumably so he can come back again – he leaves the disciple community spiritually bereft, as it were. Jesus is not “with you always,” but is rather absent from the scene until his return. Even if Luke fervently believed that the Second Coming was about to happen, this modification of the Christian myth would take Christianity still farther from the original gospel of Jesus – about as far away as one can get!

In transferring Jesus to heaven and later on, Luke thereby initiated the Age of the Church. Now, while Jesus is away and the priests are in charge, you’d better fall in line.

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MATTHEW 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In his zeal to make Jesus the fulfillment of every Jewish hope and expectation, Matthew choreographs his word and actions to match up with the biblical prophecies. Since he truly believed that Jesus was the one promised of old, his job of connecting the dots was not terribly difficult, though still very creative.

Isaiah prophesied of the “great light” that would drive off the fog of ignorance and gloom. This is precisely what Jesus did, so the only thing left was to composed the storyline that would make the equation. Whether or not Jesus actually walked the path, said the words, and did the things Matthew describes him as doing is really besides the point, which is that Jesus brought God’s light (that is, God’s truth) into the world.

The world in Matthew’s day was very much as it appeared to Isaiah way back when, with the same shroud of darkness hanging over the minds and hearts of his generation as over the prophet’s. Indeed, this very shroud hangs over us still, and there still is only one way by which the veil can be split and the light revealed. Isaiah discerned it, Jesus exemplified it, and now we must walk this narrow path for ourselves. The progressive steps along this path are awakening, devotion, compassion, fidelity, and sacrifice.

The light of salvation revealed through Jesus first came by way of a simple message: Repent – stop, wake up, turn around and get back on the path that leads home. Throughout his ministry Jesus would teach on the mystery of God’s kingdom, which is this moment coming near. Now is the time to enter it. Now has always been the time.

                                                                                                   

As Jesus begins his ministry he calls those who will become his disciples, his companions and followers. He calls them not that he might become their object of veneration and respect, but that in following with him in the Way they might come to the direct experience of God’s kingdom for themselves.

This wasn’t a classroom, but a training ground, and the course of learning was not about information, but experience. That is to say, Jesus was inviting these men to a live encounter, to a veritable exploration into God.

The first turn-around of repentance needed, then, was a shift (we might well call it a paradigm shift, for such it is) from thinking-about to experience-of. His knowledge of the kingdom was more than a knowledge by acquaintance than a knowledge by description. You can have love explained to you in a thousand ways, but until you have “fallen” into it and tasted it for yourself you can’t be said to really know what love is.

In the same way, God’s kingdom (and the fact that Jesus uses a metaphor here should tip us off that he is speaking of a mystery) cannot be defined but only tasted, felt, entered, and thereby known by acquainting yourself with its power.

So perhaps the fact that Jesus went to the lake shore and called fishermen to be his disciples rather than going to the academy to call students reveals his preference for followers who are used to wrapping their hands around an experience more than their intellects around an idea. But let’s be careful: a disciple of Jesus and his gospel is not expected to go on mental by-pass! There will be plenty of opportunity and need for critical reflection and logical thought. For now, though, the heart must lead the way.

ROMANS 15:4-13

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
    and sing praises to your name”;

10 and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

11 and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
    and let all the peoples praise him”;

12 and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
    the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There were two streams in messianic Judaism that flowed alongside one another throughout its history, and even down to our day. One stream focused these expectations around a more exclusionist vision of the future, where the messiah’s coming would eradicate Israel’s enemies and secure world dominance for God’s chosen people. In this case, the Gentiles were definitely outside the circle of divine favor and salvation.

The other stream held a greater and more positive interest in the non-Jews of the earth. Not their destruction but their conversion to Torah and fellowship with God was the desired outcome. This second stream, of the more evangelistic type of messianism, is actually the more dominant of the two – if by dominant we mean more generally representing the worldview of the Bible.

In the first century CE these two traditions came into conflict, with Christianity (especially under Paul’s influence) following the path of world evangelism and the inclusion of the Gentiles.

Paul (the author of this dispatch) may begun his Pharisaic career more committed to an exclusionist messianism, but his visionary encounter with the risen Jesus radically changed his perspective. From then on, he became the leading proponent for a truly evangelistic (as distinct from “evangelical”) Christianity – not waging war on unbelievers, spinning out elaborate apocalyptic fantasies of their demise, or simply writing them off. They, too, were loved by God.

                                                                       

One of the most powerful metaphors that the apostle Paul invented to help in the growing self-consciousness of the Christian movement was that of the church as “the body of Christ.” The birth of this body had been the event of the resurrection, when Jesus was delivered by God from the extinction of the grave and granted the status of a “life-giving spirit” for all who seek authentic existence.

This metaphor and its association of ideas added something further to the paradigm of evangelistic messianism: It expanded the notion of the messiah (Greek christos) to the point of incorporating the disciple community in its identity.

In addition, it extended the work of the messiah into becoming the missionary purpose of the church, the disciple community. For Paul, the full accomplishment of Jesus Christ on behalf of the world’s salvation was as yet still pending, as his redemptive suffering seeks its completion in the self-sacrifice of every believer.

This critical move of Paul’s, to internalize the messianic identity of Christ first into the disciple community of the church, and then further into the true self of the disciple him- or herself, opened the Christian imagination to the mystical dimension.

When we proclaim Advent as being about more than just commemorating a miraculous birth long ago, but also about celebrating the birth of Christ-within, we are following through on Paul’s original insight.