Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Simply Jesus

Chapter 10 – Battle and Temple

1.  As Wright notes at the outset of this chapter, the battle Jesus is facing and the enemy Jesus confronts leaves his contemporaries (and us) utterly confused in the midst of competing expectations of God and the Messiah.  Wright provides a brief, but succinct introduction of “the satan.”  Think back to your initial introduction to “the satan,” either as a child or as an adult.  Share the circumstances of that learning and the development of your own thinking into the personification of evil.

2.  Next, Wright provides a short list of biblical references to “the satan.”  Pointing to C.S. Lewis, Wright highlights the common response of “all or nothing” in approaching this subject.  He also cites scholar Walter Wink’s brilliant trilogy on “the powers” (strongly recommended by Pr. Mark) and M. Scott Peck’s book (also recommended) as serious efforts to engage in a contemporary examination and dialogue of evil’s reality and role.  Yet, our tendency remains that of labeling “people like us” as good (and righteous) and our opponents and enemies as bad (thus evil and fair game for “demonizing”).  Again, think back to examples of such thinking and behavior over the years and share your response. 

3.  Wright offers several biblical references to Jesus facing his accusers and defending his words and actions.  He lifts us the central theme of “cleansing the Temple” and his fulfillment of Zechariah 9, where Jesus rides a donkey as he enters Jerusalem.  While we stand at a great distance, historically, from these events, Wright notes that the people of faith who witnessed them would have understood their meaning and significance at once.  Wright goes on to warn us against the “peril of modernizing Jesus,” and thus missing out altogether.  What are the dangers of attempting to interpret Jesus and his ministry without engaging in the serious work of informed biblical study, reflection, and conversation?  Where do you see the pitfalls and perils around us?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Simply Jesus

     Chapter 9 - The Kingdom Present and Future

1.  Wright begins this chapter with the question, “How can the kingdom be both present and future?”  This was Jesus’ remarkable claim, after all. 
How do you answer or explain this question?  Can you draw any analogies where the promise of future events is breaking into and shaping our present circumstances?

2.  First, we have “Judah the Hammer,” whose name suspiciously resembles the head of some ancient mob.  His rule occurred 200 years before Jesus’ ministry took off.  His family, the Hasmoneans, had significant success, but it would not last.  In effect, they set the stage for the Pharisees to interpret and uphold their ancient traditions.

Looking back, how would you contrast Judah the Hammer with Jesus of Nazareth?

3.  Second, we have “Simon the Star,” leapfrogging Jesus by about a hundred years.  His story sounds much like that of Judah…with predictable bad guys and good guys, culminating with some temporary victories.  The chief bad guy was the Roman emperor Hadrian, who transformed Jerusalem into a pagan city.  To the rescue comes Simon bar-Kosiba.  He, too, exercised the familiar agenda of freeing God’s people and rebuilding the Temple.  He would be their true king and Messiah.  At this point, Wright introduces “retrospective and prospective eschatologies,” indicating both a climax of events combined with the dawn or fulfillment of something new.

In any event, Wright says, it came to nothing but even greater suffering.  When the Romans clamped down, he and his forces were chased down and executed in their caves.  Ultimately, he would be labeled as a false messiah, “son of the lie.”  This led subsequent Jews to refrain from any more uprisings…content to let others run the world.

In what ways did Simon’s leadership mimic that of Jesus?

4.  Next, we turn to Herod the (not so) Great.  Wright fills in the blanks concerning a man we know very little about despite familiarity with his name.  Coming from a completely different background and with a much different agenda, Herod still manages to travel down this familiar track.  Aside from the million or so reasons to despise him, he did survive long enough to accomplish a great deal.  As Wright notes, “he shows…what it might have meant for someone at the time to be “king of the Jews.”  Eventually, his health and his reign crumbled.

How did Herod set the stage for Jesus to take on this title?

5.  Finally, we learn of Simon Bar-Giora…yet, another failed king.  He ruled Jerusalem during the period (66-70 AD) leading up to the destruction of the Temple.  He, too, applied the familiar recipe of leadership and agenda.  The Romans made a mockery of his capture and eventual execution in Rome at the hands of Titus.  Simon’s death thus drew close comparisons with Jesus’ death on the cross.  Wright concludes that being “king of the Jews” meant assuming an historical resume. 
So then, what were Jesus’ aims for the future?  What battles would he fight and how would he cleanse the Temple?  How would his reign be different, and how would it ultimately succeed?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Simply Jesus

Chapter 8 -
Stories That Explain and a Message That Transforms

This chapter relies heavily on the use of biblical passages, which make up the bulk of our reading.  We will therefore simply lift up the central themes around which these passages offer validation and guidance.  Be prepared to stretch out your discussions around these few key points.

1.  Jesus told stories…lots of great stories with multiple applications.  They were “full of echoes”…resonating with the ancient scriptural promises.  Wright notes that “The message, then, remains very much about what ought to be happening here and now, on ‘earth,’ not just in ‘heaven.’” 

From your perspective, both as a child and now as an adult, what is the purpose and value of Jesus’ parables?

2.  “The parables, in fact, are told as kingdom explanations for Jesus’ kingdom actions.”  “It was the new world in which God was in charge at last, on earth as in heaven.”  As Wright adds, “Frequently, indeed, the main thrust of a parable must be left unsaid.” 

How is the parable of the prodigal son an example of this?  What purpose does the lack of resolution serve?

3.  Jesus’ parables are aimed in all directions.  The thrust of many were, “Don’t miss it!” (referring to the coming of the kingdom.)  He also contended with such completing influences as Herod Antipas, the Pharisees and the Sadducees…seeking to preserved their own kingdoms. 

What are the competing kingdoms of our time and how do Jesus’ parables expose their weaknesses?

4.  The goal of Jesus’ parables and teaching was also the transformation of hearts.  Ritual purity versus ritual uncleanness was a very sticky topic. 

What are the contemporary debates of “acceptability” facing Christians and non-Christians alike today?  In other words, how do Jesus’ parables continue to influence and shape our current moral/ethical discourse?

5.  Let’s look at Wright’s concluding questions:

“But what then must we say about Jesus’ vision of the kingdom itself?  Did he think it was already here, or was it still in the future?  Or was it in some sense both, and if so how?”