Mathew 6 – Fasting or Feasting?

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Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

Feasting and Fasting, we can consider them as the two ends of the spectrum, they are opposites.   George Herbert wrote a poem called Lent, and the opening line says:

‘Welcome dear feast of Lent’

Not welcome dear fast of lent. Welcome dear feast of lent.  What this line from George Herbert is getting at is that although lent might be a time for fasting for the body, it is also a time of feasting for the soul. What is the purpose of fasting? What is our motivation behind it?

In Judaism at the time of Jesus Mondays and Thursdays were days where you would fast.  These were also market days, and into the towns and especially into Jerusalem, crowded the people from the countryside; the result being that those who were fasting would on those days have a bigger audience to see and admire their piety.  there were many who took deliberate steps to ensure others could not miss the fact that they were fasting. they walked through the streets with hair deliberately unkempt and dishevelled, with clothes deliberately disarrayed. they even went to the length of whitening their faces to accentuate their paleness.  this was no act of humility; it was a deliberate act of spiritual pride.

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Jesus condemns these hypocrites and says they have already received all the reward they will get.  Indeed many Rabbis would have condemned them to. There is a great Rabbinic saying one of my favourites which says:  

‘A person will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every good thing which they might have enjoyed, and did not’.

We should not fast just for the sake of fasting, or as a display of our piety to others.

Jesus does not command us to fast neither does he tell say ‘if you fast’.  Jesus says ‘when you fast’. there is an expectation in His words that we will want to fast.  He tells us to go and wash our faces and anoint our heads with oil so that people don’t know we are fasting.  

It is all about priorities, and the central priority is God Himself.  He is our priority, but in our busy lives they can be lots of distractions, and we have other things that become priorities.  Fasting from some of these distractions can help us to put God back at the top of our list.

Fasting then is a private thing between us and God.  Fasting is a feast for the soul, a chance to control our appetite for the world, to stop and focus on God.  To move closer to the heart of God.

Matthew 9 & 10 – Authority over illness

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Christ Healing a bleeding woman, as depicted in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.

All the historical evidence points to the fact that Jesus was a remarkable healer.  He healed by spiritual power.  Not by medical intervention.  Soon after the death of Jesus, the first century biographies of Jesus, known as “Gospels”, are unanimous that Jesus was a spiritual healer:

“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35).

The Jewish scholar and historian, Josephus is very clear about this too.  Josephus ben Matthias is the best known ancient Jewish historian. He was born in 37 AD, only a few years after Jesus’ execution.  Josephus was not a Christian.  He was not a follower of Jesus.  But in his books, Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus wrote:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.” (Antiquities, Book 18: 3.3). 

Josephus goes on to add that:

“the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.”

Jesus also gave his followers the authority to do wonderful works too such as healing:

“Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 10:1).

So often the onset of an illness has the effect of making us feel helpless and passive. The illness has the authority over us.  Jesus gave his followers the authority over illness.  In the language of Jesus, the word translated as “authority”, is in Hebrew pronounced memshalah.  The so-called Old Testament of the Bible s written in Hebrew.  The Hebrew word, memshalah, is first used in the very first chapter of the Bible.  The subject is the creation of the sun and the moon: “God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night”. (Genesis 1:16).  “To rule over” is the Hebrew memshalah.  Jesus gave his followers the authority to rule over or have dominion over illness just like the Sun has dominion over the day and just like the moon that dominion over the night.

 

Rev Dr Peter Pimentel

Luke 1 & 2 – Everyone is included

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Gaudenzio FerrariStories of life and passion of Christ, fresco, 1513

In December and January, we have moved through advent, Christmas and epiphany.  At various points, you will probably have read each part of the whole of the first two chapters of Luke at various different services. What is interesting is that by the time you have read the first two chapters Luke’s gospel almost every reader will have found someone in the story with whom they can identify. 

First, we had an older couple Zechariah who was a priest and Elizabeth the parents of John the Baptist who are surprised to have a child in their old age.  We have seen a teenage Mary even more surprised to have a child so soon, and a young Joseph alongside her. In chapter 2 we have seen the poor hard working Shepherds being the first to hear about the coming Messiah and then rushing off to find Him, and we have seen the rich Magi travelling from afar to bring their gifts.  Also in chapter 2, we have Simeon an old man and Anna an old widow both are towards the end of their lives who spend their time worshipping God and praying faithfully for the people’s salvation.  At the end of chapter 2, we see a 12 year Jesus on the threshold of young adult life.

What Luke shows us in the first two chapters of his Gospel is that everyone is welcome whatever your age, stage of life or background, Everyone is invited to be apart of the story of Jesus and His Church, all have a part to play in God’s plan.  (NT Wright)

 

 

John 11 – Jesus wept

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James TissotJesus Wept

‘Jesus wept.’ (John 11:34)

Jesus wept But this does not quite capture what Jesus was feeling, in the original, the Greek word translated as wept might be better translated as ‘shuddered with anguish’. Jesus shuddered with anguish as he wept. Real physical emotion that shakes us when we lose someone close.

Jesus wept.  Tears are important.  Pope Francis said

“If you do not know how to weep, you are not a good Christian,”

When we applied to lead our current church, one of the questions at our interview was ‘when was the last time you cried?’  It was a good question to ask, an important question to ask.

How often do you cry, I think our relationship with tears is uncertain in our society and even in our churches.  Tears are more likely to be suppressed than expressed, hidden rather than gathered. And if do end up crying in front of others we feel we have to apologise.  But throughout Christian history tears have held a special place. There was even a practice in Victorian England, where people would collect their tears in little bottles as an expression of mourning for those who had died.    Gathered tears were a sign of their devotion and the pain of separation. Gathered tears were a way of remembering, of paying attention, and of being faithful. An expression of the simple longing to be close to one who was absent.  (Runcorn)

The idea comes from the book of Psalms, where in Psalm 56 the struggling psalmist says:

‘you have kept account my misery; put my tears in your bottle’.

The psalmist found comfort in the conviction that God too collects our tears and keeps a record of the stories of our pain.  

Jesus wept at the death of his friend.  God wept.   We weep and God gathers our tears and holds them, and holds us in His all loving embrace.

Acts 3 & Revelation 5 – Apokalastasis (Restoration)

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“Adoration of the Lamb,” by Jan van Eyck (1432), oil on wood, Ghent altarpiece, Cathedral of St. Bavo, Ghent.

In the Apocalypse, the last book in the Bible (Revelation), the Jewish-Christian prophet, known simply as John, receives visions and revelation from God via an angel.  In chapters 4 & 5 he describes his vision of the throne room of heaven itself.  In front of the throne of the Almighty are the highest orders of angels: the twenty-four elders, the mysterious four living creatures, and the seven archangels.  Surrounding the throne is a great crystal ocean and surrounding the crystal ocean is an infinity of angels.  In this throne room vision, John also hears an incredible song.

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13-14).

I think you would surely agree with me that it is impossible to imagine how awesome this experience would have been – to hear every sentient creature that has ever existed and that will ever exist (each according to its capacity and intelligence), including humans and angels, singing a song to God and to the Lamb.  The Lamb is a name used by the earliest Christian communities for Jesus describing his sacrifice by the Romans – “led like a lamb to the slaughter”.  This universal song gives us great hope.  Every song is just a practice for this most wonderful of all songs.

Theologians have a special word for this event – “apokatastasis”.  It means “restoration”.  It is a classical Greek word that occurs just once in the Bible in the Book of Acts.  The Book of Acts written in the first-century in Greek.  It’s a history of the beginning of Christianity.

“Turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration (= apokatastasis) that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.”(Acts 3:19-21).

Rev Dr Peter Pimentel

John 11 – the shortest verse?

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Bible trivia question – what’s the shortest verse in the Bible?  The shortest verse in the Bible is often quoted as John 11:35 ‘Jesus wept’ and this may well be true in some of our English translations but if we have a look at the Greek Jesus wept is 16 letters long:

Ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς – 16 letters – ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35)

Πάντοτε χαίρετε – 14 letters – ‘Rejoice always’ (1Thess 5:16)

καὶ ὁ δεύτερος – 12 letters – ‘and the second’ (Luke 20:30)

Let’s not go into the Hebrew as there are a couple even shorter in the original language because of the lack of vowels in Hebrew.

Jesus wept is not even the shortest verse in the popular NIV (New International) that is from Job 3:2 ‘He said’.  The reason ‘Jesus wept’ is said to be the shortest verse in the Bible because in the KJV (King James) translation it is the shortest!

If it does come up as a question on a quiz and you want to get the point say ‘Jesus wept’! If you want to put the right answer ask the quiz master to be more specific in their question!

Mark 6 & Luke 6 -Yeshua

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Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6)

Our English bibles have anglicized the names and so we tend to forget that Jesus was a first century Israeli rabbi and spiritual healer.  Even his name is anglicized!  Jesus was not called Jesus!  His name in Hebrew is Yeshua.  The mother of Yeshua is not Mary.  Her Hebrew name is Miryam.  The brothers of Yeshua aren’t James, Joses, Judas and Simon.  Their names are: Yaakov, Yosi, Yehudah and Shimon.  The passage quoted above shows that it was the custom of Yeshua to teach in the synagogues.

It must be significant that the Gospel of Mark (a first century biography of Yeshua) acknowledges that Jesus was limited by the level of faith in the crowd.  He could do no miracles in his home town because of their unbelief.  He was only able by the laying on of hands to heal just a few people.  But where there is faith in Yeshua then a connection is made and the power is able to flow from heaven to earth through Yeshua:

He came and stood on a level place with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (Luke 6:17-19).

Rev Dr Peter Pimentel