Category Archives: Hard Sayings of Jesus

Bible Journal Recap (1)

Here’s what I’ve been writing about, this spring and summer — this is a topical index for those of you who’d like to read something you missed from my earlier posts, or something related to whatever you are studying.  I’ll pause to create lists like this one every few months to remind you what’s here.

If you’re interested in guides for your own personal Bible study, you’ll find some suggestions on the “Short Takes” shelf.

****Bible Journal Posts on the Epistles:

Mutual Autobiography1 Cor., Gal., Phil., Thess. (5.18.2015)

Invitational ImperativesVarious Epistles (5.27.2015)

Pickup Theology1 Cor. (6.3.2015)

Fortune Cookies1 Cor. 10:31 (6.18.2015)

Riff on 1 Cor. 13 (6.8.2015)

Theo-logic1&2 Cor. (6.25.2015)

Christ Jesus our LordSurvey of Epistles (7.4.2015)

The Metaphysical SituationRom. 6 (7.13.2015)

 

****Bible Journal Posts on the Gospels:

Prophetic Puzzle PiecesSynoptic Gospels (3.30.2015)

Mapping the ParablesSynoptic Gospels (3.16.2015)

Samaritan StoriesMatt., Luke, John (3.23.2015)

“Follow, Fast!”Matt., Luke (2.23.2015)

Eyewitnesses to a TransfigurationMatt., Mark, Luke (2.17.2015)

On the Unforgivable SinMatt., Mark, Luke (2.15.2015)

Mark is LongerMark in comparison (4.29.2015)

“Shhh! Don’t Tell!”Mark (3.1.2015)

Prompted ParablesLuke (3.9.2015)

Death Meets Life at the Gates of NainLuke 7  (2.18.2015)

The Cost of SaltLuke 14 (5.12.2015)

Curious QuestionsJohn 4 (4.7.2015)

Naming NamesJohn 12 (4.22.2015)

 

****Bible Journal Posts on Acts:

Prison Diary: A Brief Play in Three ActsActs 16 (5.5.2015)

 

****Bible Journal Posts on Bible Study:

Genre Judgment Calls (4.13.2015)

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, Acts, Biblical Genres, Epistles, Gospel of John, Hard Sayings of Jesus, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Parables, Paul, Romans, Synoptic Gospels

The Cost of Salt

[Text:  Luke 14:25-35]

It was like a kind of boot camp, following Jesus up to Jerusalem in those last days.  What awaited them there would be salty with sweat and tears and blood, and it could not be avoided.  He took care to warn them, even to scare them off during that transitional phase between his pastoral parables in the Galilee and his knife-edged jeremiads there in the City that stoned the prophets.  Those who stayed with him would have to be worth their salt. Were they ready?

His catalog of prerequisites was sobering.  The list began with a kind of hatred, a renunciation of earthly ties, including people – including even your own life.  Were they willing to hold these dear earthly loves loosely now? There would be dragons in that salt sea ahead: sail into it, who dared.

Counting the cost at the start of an endeavor was only responsible practice, after all.  You could find plenty of examples of this in daily life.  Jesus’ analogy of the half-built tower illustrated with concrete realism the costly embarrassment of being unable to follow through on a commitment.  What if, in this case, the cost included bearing a cross – a real one, a Roman one, complete with splinters, not an allegorical one (maybe manifesting in the form of crabby old Aunt Gertrude)?  What if following Jesus into the crucible of Jerusalem meant torture and death?  Even an old salt like Peter might not be able to take it.  (He almost didn’t.)

The probability was high that such a confrontation couldn’t be avoided in the days ahead, and Jesus intended them to face this fact squarely before committing themselves.  In a second analogy he stacked the odds against the figure of a king who contemplated an upcoming battle, Jesus perhaps addressing here the unfounded military aspirations of some in his company:  “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?”  It might be the better part of valor to admit the venture would cost too much, and sue for peace instead, treating the advice of one’s hawkish generals with a grain of salt.

In fact, this particular venture might well cost the disciples everything.  If they were going to continue – not continue to believe in Jesus, but continue to physically follow him to his destination – they had to be willing to face their own death as an imminent possibility.  Not everyone was prepared to do this; like the king in Jesus’ analogy, some followers would have been wise to drop out of the fight at this moment.  I think Jesus would have appreciated the honesty of one who knew his limits more than the foolish enthusiasm of one who didn’t.

And here’s where his comment about “salt” enters the narrative, in Luke’s account, at least.  The other two Synoptic writers each has his own setting for these words, giving them a slightly different flavor; but Luke’s placement suggests an interesting connection with all of these warnings spoken on the road to Jerusalem.

Now, most of our English translations insert a subtitle before these verses in Luke 14, as if the editors considered Jesus’ statements about salt to be such a non-sequitur that these words needed to be physically separated on the page from what has gone before.  But Luke chose to write them here for the very good reason that they sum up everything Jesus meant to communicate about courage and commitment in the face of probable arrest and death in the next few days.

Again, it’s an analogy:  “salt” is what you want to have at this moment, as you round the curve in the road and gaze at Jerusalem’s skyline.  You want to have the nerve to face what’s coming during the next days, the intrigue and violence hidden amid the Passover throngs in the holy City.  But just as a half-completed tower becomes an object of ridicule to the community, and just as an ill-judged battle results in slaughter and captivity – and just as salt without flavor is good for nothing but the rubbish heap, so will an ill-prepared disciple with a narrow notion of Messiahship be more of a hindrance than a help when trouble comes.

Not every recruit makes it through boot camp.  Jesus meant to scare his followers into realism with his tough statements, giving them a chance to judge for themselves how “salty” they were likely to remain in the face of physical danger.  Those who left him at this point may not have lacked faith so much as nerve.  There would be second chances for them, and also for people like Peter who thought they had what it took to finish well but found out otherwise.  Jesus was not one to rub salt in his friends’ wounds, even the self-inflicted ones.

And anyway, next time around, the cost they counted would include a Resurrection on the positive side of the balance sheet – more than enough good news to finish a tower, win a battle, and stay salty.

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Filed under Hard Sayings of Jesus, Historical Context, Luke, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels

Prophetic Puzzle Pieces

[NT Texts:  Matthew 24; Luke 21; Mark 13…OT Texts: Isaiah 13 & 24; Haggai 2; Jeremiah 4; Ezekiel 32; Joel 2 & 3 ]

Some of what Jesus had to say seems more cryptic than clear, like a jumble of jigsaw puzzle pieces minus their box-lid.  And it sometimes happens that, in trying to make sense of the mystery, one group of Bible readers will declare right-side-up what others insist is upside-down.

One such puzzling set of passages occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels, right as Jesus begins his final week of life in Jerusalem.  Perhaps in an attempt to make conversation, some of his disciples remark on the grandeur of the Temple, “how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings” (Luke 21:5).  Their offhand comment becomes the opening for a chapter-long discourse in which Jesus warns and instructs his followers regarding the alarming future facing both Temple and people.  The question for those of us reading these prophetic words today is – WHEN was he talking about?  Sometime historically imminent to that particular moment, or a time that is yet to come?

One way of arranging the prophetic puzzle pieces – probably very familiar to most of us – leaves us with a picture of the Ultimate End, a time characterized by unusual violence against Christian believers under a darkened sun, a blood-red moon, and  a shower of stars.  The understanding here is that Jesus was letting his disciples in on signs that would occur two millennia or more beyond their own day; in fact, he was not really talking to them, he was talking past them to the believers who would read his words far, far in the future.  Fitting the pieces together like this binds us to the dicey task of identifying  which current events are indications of The End, and what instructions like “let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” mean for, say, Protestants in the Midwest.

Others object that this eschatological view involves a good number of forced puzzle pieces.  Why, for example, does Jesus keep insisting that “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:32)?  Does “this generation” mean something other than what’s conveyed by its plain sense?  And why would he give detailed, apparently comprehensible instructions to people standing right there in front of him, if he were really speaking beyond them to people who would have to perform some exegetical contortions before the picture made any sense to their situation?  Why not focus on events closer in history to that conversation, and see in the Romans’ razing of Jerusalem in 70 AD the fulfillment of Jesus’ frightening prophecies?

Neither view seems to do adequate justice to the pieces of the puzzle that we’re given – at least not at first blush.  After all, the Roman destruction of the Temple and City didn’t involve those apocalyptic signs in the heavens that Jesus described.  Even if the 70-AD explanation accommodates the strong “right-here-and-very-soon” emphasis of Jesus’ words, it has nothing to do with cosmic cataclysms, right?  Those puzzle pieces have to be forcibly made to fit, just as much as the “this generation” bits must be wrangled into the End-Times view.

But as a matter of fact, a big-picture canonical perspective suggests that those cosmic catastrophes may indeed have a proper place in a 70-AD puzzle.  Though we might be vaguely aware that such imagery is also used by the Old Testament prophets, we may not realize that, in context, nearly every prophetic mention of apocalyptic heavenly signs accompanies a description of a specific major political upheaval in the ancient world.  It would have been far less puzzling to Jesus’ disciples to hear words that called to mind passages from Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel than for them to get the sense that Jesus wasn’t actually telling them how to prepare to face something that would happen in their lifetime.  Perhaps some digging into the words of the Writing Prophets would help us to turn right-side-up some of the puzzle pieces we’ve long held upside-down.

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(For your convenience, I have listed below every reference that I could find to OT apocalyptic language – characterized by those heavenly signs and portents – and, where applicable, the earthly political turmoil that the prophet was attempting to depict with his universe-shaking imagery.  I’ll leave it to you to look up these passages and read them in context, as you consider how best to fit together Jesus’ prophetic puzzle pieces.)

Isaiah 13:10, 13

Cosmic Signs:  Stars, sun & moon darkened; trembling heavens and earth

Political Events:  Invasion of Israel by Babylon

 Isaiah 24:15b-20, 23

Cosmic Signs:  Foundations of the earth (land) tremble; earth (land) is violently split apart; moon confounded, sun ashamed.

Political Events:  Depending on the editors’ translation choice here, either the “whole earth” or the “whole land” (i.e., the land of Israel) is the subject of the prophecy.  (“Earth” is the usual choice in the main text, but the ESV includes a footnote indicating that “land” is a fair translation, too.)  If “land,” then this is a prophecy about the impending destruction of Israel for unfaithfulness.  I think this is a reasonable conclusion, given details in this chapter; see what you think.

 Joel 2:10

Cosmic Signs:  Earth quakes and trembles; sun, moon & stars darkened.

Political Events: Invaders from the North are poised to swoop down on Israel.

 Joel 2:30 (also Acts 2)

Cosmic Signs:  wonders in heaven & on earth; sun turned to darkness, moon to blood.

Political Events:  The restoration of Israel’s fortunes.

 Joel 3:15-16

Cosmic Signs:  Sun, moon, and stars darkened; heavens and earth quake

Political Events:  With the restoration of Israel, the nations that enslaved them will in turn be conquered and enslaved.

 Haggai 2:6-7 (also Hebrews 12)

Cosmic Signs:  Shaking of earth, sea, dry land

Political Events:  Restoration of Temple

 Ezekiel 32:7-8

Cosmic Signs:  Heavens covered; sun, moon and stars darkened

Political Events:  Invasion and defeat of Egypt by Babylon

 Jeremiah 4:23-24, 28

Cosmic Signs:  Earth w/o form and void; no light in  heavens; mountains quaking; heavens dark

Political Events:  God’s intention to punish Israel via Babylon

 

(I searched for heavens, earth, shaking, stars, sun, and moon.  I may have missed some, so let me know if you discover others.)

 

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Filed under Biblical Theology, Eschatology, Hard Sayings of Jesus, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Prophets, Synoptic Gospels