Week 24 – No Ordinary Man

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 5-7, 9, 14; Mark 4-6; Luke 10, 15; John 6

Significant Moments in The Story

The healing of the Gerasene demoniac – Mark 5

The death of John the Baptist – Mark 6

The feeding of the 5000 – Mark 6, Matthew 14, Luke 9, John 6

The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7

Jesus sends out 70 missionaries – Luke 10

The parable of the good Samaritan – Luke 10

The parable of the prodigal son – Luke 15

Key Themes

The miracles of Jesus

In this week’s readings, we encounter several different types of miracles that Jesus performs:  healings, exorcisms, and controlling forces of nature.  The miracles of Jesus have often been a source of contention for some because they defy laws of science of reason.  Thomas Jefferson even produced a copy of the Gospels in which he left out all the miracle stories in an effort to boil down the gospel to that which made sense to reason.  Others vehemently defend the veracity of the miracles, citing them as proof that Jesus is truly the Son of God.

In a sense, both sides of the argument are correct.  The miracles are proof that Jesus is the Son of God and they are challenging to our sense of how the world works.  Which is exactly the point that sometimes is missed about the miracles: Jesus’ miracles were intended to reveal the kingdom of God.  They challenge the way the world works because they are intended to reveal that God’s kingdom does not operate by the norms of this world, whether we are talking science, reason, or culture.  The miracles were not just Jesus showing off, which is why Jesus often told the sick that he healed to tell no one about what he had done.  He was not trying to prove he was better than anyone, he was trying to reveal that, in the kingdom of God, the powers of sickness and death have no control.  The exorcisms reveal that God does not allow the forces of evil to remain in His kingdom.  The control of nature reveals that God has the power to bring His kingdom into existence.

The parables of Jesus

We also this week encounter some of the parables of Jesus, including the two most well-known parables – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.  Parables were not told as events that actually took place; instead, they are made-up stories that Jesus used to convey truths.  We often think of parables like sermon illustrations, stories that are intended to make the speaker’s point clearer.  However, in Mark 4:11-12, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, telling his disciples that he teaches in parables to make it hard for “those outside” to understand.  Of course, the disciples themselves didn’t understand either, which is why they have come to Jesus in the first place!

Perhaps the best way to understand the use of the parables is that they were a teaching method that challenged Jesus’ audience to move from bystander to listener to follower to disciple.  The parables sometimes used difficult and challenging images to make a point.  For example, making a Samaritan a hero in a story told to a Jewish audience would have been shocking to the listeners.  Could the audience hear and accept the story even when their very assumptions about culture and society were being challenged?  Some probably walked away from the story angry that a Samaritan was the hero instead of the priest or Levite.  However, those that were able to really listen to Jesus understood that he was inviting them to a better understanding of how God understands community.

Living the kingdom of God

Ultimately, Jesus was announcing that the kingdom of God was breaking forth into existence in creation.  Rather than waiting for the kingdom to fully arrive, all of God’s people should begin to live life now as they will fully in the kingdom of God.  Thus, when we look at the moral and ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, they cannot be understood apart from the belief that God’s kingdom has come in the person of Jesus Christ and will ultimately be the reality of all creation.

Background Information

Hypocrites – Matthew 6:2-18

The Greek word translated as “hypocrites” was originally the term used to refer to an actor.  Eventually, it referred to a person who sought public praise or was deceitful.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do …” – Matthew 6:7

It is not entirely clear what type of practice Jesus is referring to.  Though Jewish prayers were often filled with titles of honor for God, the rabbis did tend to encourage brevity in prayer.  The concern here is not to spend time in prayer as if one has to somehow get God’s attention.

“This man is blaspheming.” – Matthew 9:3

Blasphemy is the profaning of God.  In this particular instance, the charge of blasphemy is being leveled against Jesus based on the understanding that only God has the authority to forgive sins.  However, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, challenge the idea that this was really blasphemy, saying that Jewish sources indicate no problem with someone speaking on God’s behalf.

The woman suffering from hemorrhages – Matthew 9:20

The likelihood is that the woman suffered from some kind of abnormal menstrual bleeding.  The law indicated that such a woman was considered unclean, as was anything that she touched, until she has purified herself by a specific set of rituals laid out in Leviticus 15.  Thus, the image of her reaching out to touch Jesus is a shocking social and religious image.

“But the Pharisees said, ‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.'” – Matthew 9:34

The Pharisees are claiming that Jesus is able to cast out demons because he has demonic authority.

Herod – Matthew 14:1

This is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great (the king at the time of Jesus’ birth).

“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?” – Mark 6:3

The gospels don’t contain much personal information about Jesus besides passing references such as this one.

The term translated as “carpenter” is a word used to refer to anyone who works in wood or other materials.

It is interesting that Jesus is referred to as “son of Mary” and not “son of Joseph”, which would be expected.  Perhaps the crowd was trying to be derogatory, insinuating that Joseph was not his father.

The presence of those referred to as Jesus’ brothers and sisters has been a challenge for those who believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Some argue that these are Joseph’s children by another woman.  The Greek words for brother and sister are general terms used to refer to relatives, not specifically siblings.  So it is possible that these men and women are members of the family, cousins perhaps, and not specifically brothers and sisters.  At the same time, there is no understanding present in the gospels that would argue against an understanding of these brothers and sisters being children of Joseph and Mary.

The parable of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

Jesus tells this parable as part of a larger conversation with an expert in the Scriptures who comes to “test” Jesus.  The word for “test” is the same word used to describe what Satan does to Jesus in the wilderness. It is also the same word that we also translate as “tempt” in the Lord’s Prayer.  The sense is that the lawyer is asking this question to challenge Jesus.

In response, Jesus challenges the lawyer’s understanding of the Scripture.  In a sense, Jesus turns the table on the lawyer.  The lawyer asks the question to challenge Jesus, yet Jesus is the one who ends up affirming the correctness of the lawyer.

Trying to get back into the position of authority, the lawyer asks the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  The concept of showing kindness and hospitality to the stranger was well-established within the Jewish law and culture. The parable then is not a story about being kind to strangers.  Instead, we must pay attention to the fact that Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero of the story.

In the parable, Jesus describes three people walking by the man who has been robbed.  The first two are a priest and a Levite.  According to Levine and Brettler, the Jewish people were, and are, divided into three social groups:  the priests (descendants of Aaron), the Levites (descendants of other children of Levi) and Israelites (descendants of other children of Jacob).  Thus, when Jesus begins the story with a priest and a Levite coming down the road, the natural expectation of a Jewish audience is that the third person would be an Israelite.  Instead, Jesus makes the third person a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews.  Though we often focus on the kindness of the Samaritan, the story itself brings an interesting challenge to the lawyer:  can you see your enemy as one who is deserving of welcoming and of hospitality?

Mary and Martha- Luke 10:38-42

Luke’s placing of the story of Mary and Martha after the account of Jesus’ conversation with the lawyer is perhaps more than a statement of order of events.  When Jesus asked the lawyer to tell him what the law said about inheriting eternal life, the lawyer quoted two laws:  love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  The parable of the Good Samaritan exemplifies the law of loving your neighbor as yourself.  Now, in the story of Mary and Martha, we see Mary praised for putting the hearing and learning the word of God above everything else.

Disciples leave Jesus – John 6:66

After John’s account of the feeding of the 5000, he gives an account of a lengthy exchange between Jesus and the crowds who had followed him.  The crowd asks Jesus for a sign that will allow them to believe in him as the one sent by God.  They cite when God gave manna to the children of Israel in the wilderness as the type of sign that would prove Jesus is who he says he is.  In response, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. … I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”  Many in the crowd react with confusion and anger, claiming that Jesus is just a man like them and cannot be a divine being.  Jesus goes on to say that he is the sign of God’s work, that in order to receive eternal life, they must accept him.

I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died.  But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

As we read these words, we hear overtones of communion and a foreshadowing of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper.  However, on a literal level, talk of eating flesh and drinking blood carried with it notes of cannibalism.  The Jewish law strictly forbade the ingestion of blood.  These words would cause many of the crowd to cease following after Jesus.

Additional Resources

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