27 November 2012

Isn't This Joseph's Son?

First century Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus...

They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:29)

Jesus would never return to his hometown again. After he left, the townspeople went on with their weekly singing of hymns, their readings of scripture, and their offerings of prayer. Sabbath after sabbath, they continued to gather and say the right words and sing the right songs and smile and worship together in that God-forsaken place, having rejected God’s favor, and oblivious to its absence.

How did it come to this? Just a few moments earlier, we see that...

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.

So how did they shift from amazement at the gracious words of Jesus, to driving him out to the foot of a cliff? And how did that shift begin?

With a seemingly innocuous question, recorded in verse 22:

Isn’t this Joseph’s son?

19 November 2012

Promethean Engineer or Divine Father?

A couple of weeks ago I watched Ridley Scott's Prometheus, and it stuck with me because its storyline carried a kind of myth that I’ve been seeing more and more lately, and that myth goes like this:

Maybe, at some far point in the distant past, we were planted on this earth by an alien race of biological engineers who went back to their planet after their work was done.

As I said, I’ve been hearing this theme more and more, not just from movie writers, but even some science writers. And I find this emerging cultural myth very interesting, because it shows the lengths to which the human mind will go to create a more comfortable creator: one who is conveniently distant and lacking any ultimate moral demands on the way that we live.

That is not the God whom Mary’s son would name Father, the God who in the words of Psalm 56, is close enough to keep track of all our sorrows, who collects our tears in his bottle, and records each one in his book...

06 November 2012

Before I Give Up My Life, I Want to Be Sure This Is True

Choice means rejection. For every path we choose in our lives, there is one or two or three or more other paths which we rejected in the same moment we accepted the path that we chose.

Choosing to date this person rather than that person, to go in this class rather than that class, to take this job rather than that job––choosing to walk down one path in life necessarily means walking away from other paths that you might have chosen. That's what it means to make decisions.

And because time is ever pushing forward, none of us, not even those who do nothing, can avoid making decisions about the paths our lives will take.

But every now and then, we come to a spot where we look back over the path we've taken, and wonder, "Did I make the right choice?" And we think about turning back, because continuing down the path we're on somehow feels too risky.

Say you're a bright young Greek, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, poised on the brink of a promising career. Your wealth, education, and family connections all foretell a glittering life ahead––evening parties at seaside villas, inside conversation with men of influence, and the attention of Rome's most eligible ladies––all of that––if you will but continue on the path you've been walking your whole young life.

But there's just one problem: your family doctor. Successful as he is, he's gone and joined this Jewish splinter-group called "The Way," and abandoned himself to sailing the known world in propagation of its message, a message you can't help but admit has unexpectedly taken root in your heart as well.

And that message is a man: Jesus, the son of the Most High, a light for revelation to Greeks, and for glory to the people of Israel, the kingdom of God come down in person. This is the message in which these followers of The Way have instructed you, and this is what now stands between you and the kind of future your parents had planned.

Why? For the simple reason that these Christianoi, these little Christs, as their opponents call them, have almost no standing in the greater Roman world. Even the Jews themselves––from whom the Christians claim their origin––have rejected the movement as an aberrant heresy to be pinned and mounted to a cross, like the Christ from whom the Christians draw their name.

Up until now, this movement has been something of a hobby for you, a fascination with the out-of-the-ordinary, as it were. But now that you recognize the consequences of being numbered among those of The Way, now that you see that becoming one of them may very well mean losing that golden future you had so anticipated, you wonder if maybe the time hasn't come to reconsider the solidity of the things in which these Christians have instructed you.

And into that moment of reconsideration, as though it were sent by the fates themselves, there arrives a gift from the good doctor, which your servant opens, and begins to read out loud in your hearing...