Mary and Martha: John 11 – 12

This is such a rich story and we begin with the opening verses:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

‘Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair’ – an important statement for later!

‘Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’ – why Martha named and not Mary?

The resuscitation of Lazarus takes place and we then come to the next chapter and a subsequent visit to Lazarus’ home. In John’s account it is Mary, the sister, who anoints Jesus with an extravagant show of love. (We might pull in from Luke’s account that Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet had chosen the ‘better part’.)

She anoints his feet and ‘washes’ them… anoints him for burial. Was her act a catalyst in Jesus’ understanding that his death was both necessary and approaching? Did he meditate on this and that enabled him to reply to the Greeks who wanted to see him (John 12:20-25) that they would one day… but only once a grain of wheat had fallen into the ground and that grain (a Jewish male Messiah) would be raised as a Greek Saviour (and substitute what is necessary for an resurrected but fully incarnated Saviour into all cultures and tribes)?

Did her washing of his feet provoke him to wash the feet of his own disciples? Is there a link between the two for all we have is a chapter division separating the two accounts? (Culturally, it was seriously undignified to wash feet, a woman could be forced to do so, even though it was below what one could expect a Hebrew slave to perform.)

Finger in the dust: John 8

I realise this passage is a disputed one as original to the Gospel of John, but it seems to have stood the test of time as being canonical, so I am more than happy to include it. (And in including it I indicate that the question of authenticity is not simply answered by the problematic test of was it ‘apostolic’.) Here is part of the text:

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her…

Something that is interesting as I read these verses is the movement of Jesus: ‘Jesus straightened up’… ‘once again he bent down’… ‘Jesus straightened up’. Of course a description of his posture, but is more intended to be understood than something physical?

There is a final straightening up when we come to a release for the woman, an exposure of ‘self-established’ righteousness, and an empowerment to live differently. In between there is a finger in the dust, a writing by the finger in the very substance of humanity. Humanity created from the dust of the earth was the point of connection for Jesus. ‘He touched me’ not simply to transform me… but to be transformed / to see clearly by touching me?

What a mess is dust. What did Jesus touch while writing? Male superiority, male excuse (the old question remains where was the man as it takes two to tango?), religion being on ‘my’ side, a woman ‘caught’ and made to stand before them all (shamed for guilt will never be enough for religion). Once he had touched and deeply touched humanity, and touched something at the heart of humanity, that exploitation of the male / female relationship he straightens up for the final time.

Does Jesus grow / develop in this encounter. I think so.

Samaria and a well: John 4

Next up in John’s Gospel is Samaria and the encounter there with a woman. It has to be read in contrast to John 3 and Nicodemus. Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel with ‘the Law, the prophets and the writings’; this woman with a religion that was somewhat syncretistic and had access only to the first five books of Moses; one at the darkest hour, the other at the brightest hour; one unable to see, the other ‘seeing’ at such a level that she enabled others to see that Jesus was the ‘Saviour of the world’.

Now for some speculation as the text does not automatically push us in this direction. The discussion takes place at Jacob’s well. Jacob who became Israel, the third generation patriarch from whom the nation derived its name. The patriarch that meant for Jews that Samaritans were not ‘in’, so much so that any Jew travelling north would take the long route around Samaria so as not to enter there. Was Jesus processing at this time what would have to take place for Samaritans to be included? He understood he was sent ‘only to the lost sheep of Israel’ (Matt. 15:24). Could it be that his understanding of inclusion and how the inclusion would take place was further developed in his interchange with the woman?

Salvation is from the Jews but that salvation had nothing to do with place – this mountain nor Jerusalem. The hour was coming, indeed Jesus in this context pronounces it has already come when inclusion will be based on Spirit and truth.

Perhaps coming to a well, Jacob’s well, and having a discourse about water and marriage (as per many former stories in the Old Testament) provoked Jesus to not only push for the issue of spiritual water and spiritual thirst but to consider covenant relationship with God, a covenant that would no longer exclude non-Jews, but might indeed exclude Jews who did not worship in Spirit and truth.

The encounter was certainly key for the woman (see for another post on this encounter)… it might also have been a provocation for Jesus. I think so.

It is interesting that the next passages have Jesus returning to Galilee (Galilee of the Gentiles, Jn. 4:43) and that he heals a ‘royal official’s’ son – was this royal official a Gentile? (The jury is out as to whether this is John’s recording of the healing of the Centurion’s servant.) He does it back in Cana, where the first miracle was done. Did Jesus return with an expanded view of inclusion, a view provoked by his discussion in Samaria?

Then immediately following this miracle comes the deliberate healing of the man by the ‘sheep gate’ on the Sabbath, that caused offence to the Jews. John’s flow from Nicodemus to Samaria on to Cana and then back to Jerusalem might just indicate that the encounter in Samaria was important for Jesus’ development.

Jesus’ mother: John 2

I plan to write a few random posts on Jesus’ interaction with women in the New Testament (yes I realised that I have excluded the Old Testament!). They will just involve a few observations, a little bit of ‘probably this is going on’. I am provoked to do this as I am convinced that the Gospel values the small, the small gift that is given. And the provocation was provoked by Gayle returning from walking the dog with a cup of coffee given to her by a woman who lives on the end of our street. A small gift – a cup of coffee; but the context makes it a much bigger gift than a 1000.00€ from someone who can afford it – though if you need our bank account number….

My observations carry a pre-supposition that Jesus was the Great Teacher because he was the Great Learner. He never sinned but became mature and his growth in maturity was before God and humanity, that maturity growing because he was always willing to step outside his previous boundary. That stepping outside being provoked at times through a new experience, and often those new experiences were encounters with women.

Starting off with John’s Gospel, my reading of the text brings us to John 2 and the wedding at Cana. The whole context is set ‘on the third day’ indicating that this is to be read as a ‘new covenant’ reality. That is further backed up by the water jars used for cleansing within Jewish rituals becoming the jars for drinking the ‘new’ wine from. The passage ends with:

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers and his disciples…

First on the list – his mother.

In the story it seems a pretty clear reading that Jesus and his mother had two different perspectives on the time-line. ‘My hour has not come’ was Jesus’ understanding. And Mary’s? It seems she understood it was ‘the hour’! The writer presents it as ‘on the third day’, indicates it was ‘his hour’.

Mary I am sure knew her son well, and knew that at this stage he needed a gentle nudge with regard to his view of timing. I have no idea if she had not been present what would have taken place. We will never know if he would have moved ahead to shift the time and bring forward ‘the hour’ or not. But it remains that it appears to me in this situation that she was the catalyst for the shift, and as a result, ‘the first of his signs’ and the revelation of ‘his glory’ took place on that day.

And then the ‘end’

But what ended?

Certainly not the end of the world… I consider the resurrection of the physical body is the ultimate evidence of God’s commitment to terra firma. [The only Scriptures that can be pulled out to suggest a great burning up are seriously apocalyptic, where ‘end of the world’ language is used to convey ‘end of world as you knew it’. 2 Peter 3 which does – in some translations! – talk about the destruction of the earth, also says that the world was already destroyed through the flood. So a big final burnup doesn’t get my vote… a new – and the word is not new as in not seen before, but new as in ‘re-newed’, regenerated – heavens and new earth, where in some way heaven is on earth, does get my vote.]

Matthew 24:14 says (NRSV):

And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

This verse has been used to urge a mission-mindedness that the end waits for all the ethnic groups to have heard (all nations: ta ethne)… however. Certainly a great motivation, but is this what Jesus meant? Backing up the prophetic responses of Jesus were provoked by the question the disciples asked when they heard Jesus inform them that a great destruction was coming to the city and the temple:

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3).

I used to think this was probably two questions (R.T. France was an advocate of this): when will these things happen (Temple destroyed), what will be the sign of your parousia (as per Daniel 7, the son of man coming in the clouds, and then what will be the end of the age – that final parousia.

If it was two questions, it still seems contextually that Jesus answered it as one question. He did not say this, but the answer is ‘AD70 guys… not long away’, or to quote Jesus:

Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place (Matt. 24:34).

Now to a short interlude…

Paul seems to have thought that in his lifetime Matt. 24:14 (‘to all the nations’) was already fulfilled (and of course Jesus said all these things in a generation). Here are four examples of this perspective:

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:16-18).

At the end of Romans 10 Paul jumps between addressing the Jewish and the Gentile situation; here he is addressing the Gentile situation. The message has (not will eventually) gone throughout the whole earth and to the extremity of the oikoumene. That final word was a very common way the civilised world of Rome was described. The oikoumene was the Roman world, and here he adds the ‘extremities’ of it, suggesting that this was indeed the whole earth.

There is a second text in Romans (16:25-26, though it is not in every manuscript I include it here, for it accords with Paul’s perspective, and even if it was added it represents an early perspective):

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles.

To ‘all the Gentiles’ (ta ethne: same word as in Matthew 24:14). Indeed rather than refer to ethic groups it was the most common way that those who were not Jews were described. The Gentile world was the ‘ta ethne’ world.

Then there are two in Colossians.

You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God (Col. 1:5-6).

The ‘whole world’, and in a book that is fairly ‘cosmic’ the use of the word kosmos is quite fitting here.

[P]rovided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23).

Which has been proclaimed to every creature (literally ‘all creation’); same as in the disputed passage of Mark 16:15 where we read on the lips of Jesus:

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

So Paul uses ‘the whole earth’, ‘the extremities of the oikoumene‘, ‘all the ethne‘, ‘the whole kosmos‘, ‘all creation’. That is a fairly strong perspective and I don’t think we can really push Jesus’ words in a different direction. We might wish to use them as a missiological imperative, but it does not seem to be what Jesus meant in that context.

[An aside: why the delay in the parousia… I think God wants to give us time to produce the blocks that will give us the best possible new creation.]

End of interlude!

Jesus’ single answer is that something huge would end in AD70. The end, not of the world, but of ‘the age’. We live the other side of that, and in the light of the teachings of Jesus the burden to bring the good news of the kingdom (and here we have to think of the ‘good news of the kingdom of Rome’ that was being proclaimed throughout the whole kosmos, when we try to work out what our good news is) to all ethnic groups is totally valid.

A few reflections on the ‘r’ word

I hope you enjoyed the dialogue with Michele. I always appreciate talking with her as she lives with an integrity that has meant she has not always been able to walk in a straight line pursuing a successful career path in things ecclesiastical, but has turned aside and then followed the path of the Spirit… after all Jesus said that was a hallmark of those who are ‘born again’… theologians have changed the words of Jesus to apply it to the Spirit being like the wind! Such an interpretation can still allow us to live carefully… not I think an option Jesus seemed to want to offer.

I grew up with talk of Duncan Campbell and the Lewis revival of the early 50s; I came to faith through connection to Pentecostals so the stories of Smith Wigglesworth, Stephen and George Jeffries, the healing revivalists of the 50s became great ‘food’, then the extensive works and stories of Charles Finney (and what a middle name – Grandison!!), plus some amazing encounters connected to John Wesley. I wrote a book some 20 years ago ‘Sowing seeds for Revival’ (later republished as Gaining Ground). Someone asked me a couple of days ago would I change anything in that book (and Impacting the City) and I replied with a ‘basically no… even if I might express some things a little differently’.

I might not use the ‘r’ word so regularly, but am still looking for the ‘t’ word – transformation. Indeed for me ekklesia is bound up with transformation of the world, and it was one of the reasons why we moved to Spain, seeking to track where first Century unanswered apostolic prayers were seeded in the land / in the land of Empire.

[An aside: we all have to make some sense of our own journey. I, being optimistic, do not see wrong turns, simply distinct points on the way. I appreciate there are some who look back and view where they have been negatively. I do not. Does not make me right, but makes it a whole lot easier to live freely!]

When I began to travel outside the UK into the USA I soon discovered that the ‘r’ word was being used in a different way to how I had understood it. There it seemed more to be an activity within the congregation – ‘we are having revival’, whereas my background had reserved it for thousands coming to faith and donkeys no longer responding to miners’ commands as they no longer used expletives to command them to move (Wales, 1904)! The difference made me reflect some, then I began to think about the setting for those ‘revivals’ this side of the pond – 1859, 1904, 1951 etc. They were into a community already somewhat religious. Many, many chapels were built in Wales post 1859, those chapels were fairly full when we come to 1904. Filled with sons and daughters of those converted in 1859. With so much of the climate, there and in Lewis, being of a Calvinist nature therefore only God can convert, they were waiting for a move of God (‘I now feel guilty’). That move came, and although I have no doubt we can call it a move, such classic sermons as ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’ also fitted a culture. The wider community was touched deeply, but that wider community was already strongly god-fearing (and we might wish to emphasise ‘fearing’!).

I have travelled numerous African countries and also in South America. The impact of the gospel has been incredible. Some cities in Brazil might be as high as 40% born again! But…

OK these are reflections.

Europe is post-Christian. Or maybe better put post-Christendom. I give a big ‘oh yes, now that is a description that will help us get out of bed each day with a spring in our step and a shout in our mouth’. Has God used Christendom? The answer is of course ‘yes’ but the question is irrelevant. God, after all, anointed a monarchy in Israel, a move that was birthed in ‘rejecting God’. God anoints what rejects the direction s/he is moving in!

Post-Christian, not having a voice that is listened to above others; pushed to the margins etc… That is where our faith was born, so surely it gives us hope. So many people have been praying for a revival of first Century Christianity, and then want to hold on to a context different to where it flourished. Seems to me like trying to grow grapes in the Arctic Circle. Plant all you want… but the context just is not the right one to produce wine!

I deeply suspect that north America, followed by South America and Africa will follow where the train is headed. Into the world of post-Christendom. At this stage seems we (in Europe) are well aware the train has left the track, while those in the other carriages can still happily swing from the proverbial chandeliers. I also like to swing in that way but perhaps for a slightly different reason.

I am not simply optimistic when I look ahead. I am up beat about now! I consider that we are right in an incredible outpouring; some put it this way that the last century saw three outpourings – Azusa Street and Pentecostalism; charismatic renewal, and ‘Toronto’ and the many parallel movements. Three outpourings, granting us a fullness.

I consider that Pentecost (Acts 2) gives a paradigm of three stages: for you; your children (generational); those afar off. We are at the afar off stage and how we respond depends on what stage we are at. Afar off means movement. Movement out. This is not a season of ‘bring them in’ but ‘abandon safety (safety is overrated anyway!) and make the journey to where the Spirit is moving’. If we don’t make the journey, and that journey will involve listening for there is a conversion to take place in ‘us’ that is greater than the conversion to take place in ‘the others’. If we don’t make the journey how can there be an embrace of Jesus?

I have come to believe that we really have to squeeze Scriptures to make it all about ‘in / out’ but if we let them speak to us we will hear very loudly ‘the earth is the Lord’s’, in other words ekklesia is not about getting people in but about a people being planted in the world so that there will indeed be transformation. (Moving from the first parable, the only one fully explained, with the seed being the word of God and falling on the soil of response… to the next parable where the seed is no longer the word of God, but the incarnated word, hence integrity being ever so important, with less mouth and more vulnerability and transparency, and the soil being the ‘world’. The first one fully explained so that we get it… and in getting it embrace the second and subsequent parables.)

Words do not primarily carry meaning at an intrinsic level – the old idea of etymology (the root word means) will not get us too far – but words are carriers of meaning, that meaning depending on what the communicator intended and the meaning the hearer injects into them. ‘The ‘r’ word, revival. I might or might not still use it, but my expectation is so far beyond what I had in mind when I began to travel with ‘sowing seeds for revival’ teams. The ‘t’, transformation word, is perhaps closer to where I am at.

But maybe it is the ‘r’ word I like. Responsibility. Taking responsibility for this world. Being sourced from heaven, being shaped by heaven’s values. I am happy to review almost anything, but the cross was the roadblock to destruction, so it opened the path to transformation. Maybe with the climate crisis we are running out of time. Maybe… but what is more certain is I am here in my generation, regardless of how many are yet to come. And finally to encourage me I meditate on the widow who put two small coins in the Temple treasury, that act prompting Jesus to speak to those who were so impressed with its magnificence to say – all will be changed! Being impressed or intimidated, I simply want as many as possible to throw a couple of coins in the right direction and then we might indeed see something in ‘this generation’.

More on the ‘r’ word

This is the second chat with Michele on ‘revival’. Enjoy!!

If I get time I will try and put a post up in the next few days reflecting on the ‘r’ word from these videos. If I get time? We have just moved back to Madrid… after almost a year and half not being here. Time pressure is not a time pressure. Love to walk the city and to pray so that for the next few weeks is the time focus.

A couple of posts

A couple of articles – one a podcast that might be of interest. Thomas Jay Oord is one of the key writers on Open Theology. Here is an article on God and foreknowlege:

If you decide to read the article scroll down to the comments also – one or two interesting bits in there, related to God and ‘timelessness’ (a concept the Greeks might embrace but not one Hewbrews could swallow).

Andrew Perriman always writes material that will necessitate a measure of re-reading of Scripture. Here is a video cast he has just released on:

How does the New Testament predict the future… So essential to grasp that we do not have a book that is helping us see we are in the ‘last days’ because of this, that and the other!! We are, have been in the last days, with some hope that there will be a ‘last day’ yet to come.

And why not throw in Peter Enns. He helpfully does a number of podcasts where he ‘ruins something’! This one on ‘Peter ruins Isaiah’ makes for a good listen:

A trip back in time

Sychar. A well. John 4. Sychar – the Samaritan village, the Greek name could well be a translation of Shechem (more later), and the village might well be the Shechem of the Old Testament (I think so); if not they were in very close proximity… So first trip back: Shechem.

Genesis 34. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob is violated; the sons of Jacob do not find a way through this other than to respond with anger and murder:

On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males.

I do find it intriguing how often we read ‘on the third day’ in Scripture! However, the key point here seems to me to be that the land is locked in a painful memory with the sin of abuse and the response of murder. The land holding the corporate memory. So much pain locked up (can only be released through forgiveness / cleansing), and I suggest manifesting very visibly in the woman at the well.

There was another well in Sychar, one much easier to access, but here we have the woman journeying outside the city, and not only but she is doing at in the midday sun. She is no insider with privileges.

But wells… So many biblical stories set the well as the place of romance. Gen. 21 the servant finds Rebekah at the well ‘outside the city’ and he knows that she is the one to be married to Isaac. And given that this is the well of Jacob, we also find that Jacob’s family history involves a well and romance:

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.
Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” They said, “We do.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” “Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” He said, “Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”
While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father. (Gen. 29:1-12).

Jesus comes to the well – what does he talk about? Husbands, marriage

Then the contrast with John 3. Nicodemus – male; comes at the darkest hour; a teacher in Israel with the Law, the Prophets and the Writings; and he needs to be born again!

John 4. Unnamed woman; at the brightest hour; a Samaritan with only the first five books of Moses; and not told to be born again! (There are other contrasts.)

Jews did not walk through Samaria when heading north, they avoided the area and the journey took them considerable extra time. Jesus deliberately goes that way. Then comes the highly controversial exchange of conversation. He deliberately went that way to bring a release to the woman, but also to the land.

When the disciples returned they were shocked to see him talk with ‘a woman’. They would have been shocked to see him talk with ‘a Samaritan’, but that is not picked up on by John: the real shock is that he is talking with a woman.

Something was going on, and at least the disciples picked that much up!

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” (John 4:27).

The second question (not asked) was of course aimed at Jesus (‘why are you speaking with her?’. The first question? I think perhaps also aimed at Jesus! The question is: Τί ζητεῖτε, a literal translation would be ‘what are you seeking?’ Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer suggests it is a translation of a Hebraism, meaning something along the lines of:
“What are you looking for in life?”

The same phrase occurs as the first words in Jesus’ mouth in John’s Gospel when two of John’s disciples come to him. He says to them: Τί ζητεῖτε. Same phrase. In that context those two disciples of John having heard that Jesus was the Lamb of God, they began to follow Jesus. Then Jesus turns to them and said, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38, as stated aready the same phrase as in John 4.) ‘What are you about, what is it that lies at the core of your being?’ Maybe that is putting it slightly too strongly, but it was certainly not a surface question but one to penetrate to the interior of someone.

Now if that question – ‘what are you seeking, what are you really about?’ – that first question forming in the minds of the disciples was aimed at the woman it is quite radical. But what if they are really so provoked they are aiming it (also) at Jesus. No one dared ask, ‘What are you about? What is at the core of your being?’ Their shock is not at the woman, but that he is talking with a woman. What is Jesus about? ‘What are you seeking, Lord?’ ‘What is at the core of your being?’ are questions that still remain.

I kind of think the question is aimed at Jesus. Jews in Samaria, Jesus deliberately going there, talking with a woman at a well, in a place where abuse and murder had locked the land up. This Jesus is not one that is easy to understand. Not then not now!

So maybe just to add this. We have no dealings with…. (fill in the blank). We will avoid journeying through that territory. And if we do Jesus will probably send us off to get some bread, i.e. so that we don’t mess things up for him; he will push to touch the land and all those enslaved by the land, and are marginal. It will leave us asking of Jesus – what on earth are you really about? What lies at the core of your being, Lord?