Friday, September 30, 2016

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes–Dramatic Actions

38d2ea28-d0b8-4953-b962-1b9a41648f0b_1.521799f19899b1e8b6f68e4eef180b97We now move on to the fourth section of the book: Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth E. Bailey. The main purpose of this book is to take a fresh look at the Gospels in the context of Middle Eastern culture. In this section, he looks at dramatic actions of Jesus with theological points that would have been understood by his original audience. These are highly organized and artistically developed pieces of writing. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. This is a book I would highly recommend that you add to your library.

Call of Peter, Luke 5.1-11 

Bailey now moves to some dramatic actions of Jesus. The first is the call of Peter in Luke 5. The point here is that Jesus meets Peter in an area where he is confident and strong, and then turns this part of his life upside-down. The miraculous catch of fish that Jesus provides for him is a financial windfall, yet Jesus lives his life as a poor rabbi. Peter's value system is challenged and he realizes that the Lord is calling him to a life of serving God and people rather than acquiring wealth.

We are not disembodied spirits. Nor are we souls temporarily imprisoned in a body that one day will be stripped away as we return to pure spirit. Death itself is conquered by the resurrection of the body, affirmed Paul (1 Cor 15:42–50), not through the transmigration of the soul. Furthermore, Paul called this new body a “spiritual body.” When Jesus spoke, therefore, of money/matter/mammon more frequently than prayer, he knew that the human person is a mysterious combination of body and spirit. He addressed that whole person rather than mentally decapitating his listeners with a head trip. 136

Jesus reaches out to Peter by asking for help, not by offering it. He deliberately places himself in a position where he genuinely needs the help of the one he seeks to win to discipleship. The help requested is authentic, not fabricated. Jesus needs Peter’s boat and rowing skills, and Peter’s worth is thereby affirmed on his own terms. Jesus’ ministry becomes a partnership with Peter. 145

In this story matter/mammon/money are woven together with the things of the spirit. Peter faces a man who wins the “fishing lottery” but doesn’t want it. Stunned, Peter realizes the inadequacy of his own values and priorities. The impact on him, by the gentle man who radically de-absolutizes mammon, is enormous. Taking his former skills with him, he moves forward into a new venture of faith. 146

Inauguration of Jesus' Ministry Luke 4.16-31

This passage is very dense and Bailey draws a lot of theological meaning out of it. He sees the passage as Jesus' rebuke of his hometown people, who have narrowed a great Messianic passage of universal blessing, into a nationalistic passage of blessing for "us" and vengeance on "them." Jesus announces that, in His person, the kingdom of God has come, but instead of destruction of their enemies, it would involve proclamation of freedom, justice and inclusion to them. To reject this is to place oneself in danger of being on the wrong side of judgment. This is violently resisted but Jesus is given a peaceful victory. The whole scene foreshadows Jesus' entire ministry, death and resurrection.

(The people of Nazareth) know that Isaiah 61 promises material benefits for the believing community. Jesus shifts the text from “Here is what you will receive” into “Here is what you are expected to give.” “I am the anointed one of God,” says Jesus, “and to follow me you must engage (with me) in proclamation, justice advocacy and compassion.” 162

In every culture the message of the gospel is in constant danger of being compromised by the value system that supports that culture and its goals. The stranger to that culture can instinctively identify those points of surrender and call the community back to a purer and more authentic faith. But such infusions of new life are usually resented and resisted. Luke 4.22-30, 166

In bold and uncompromising terms Jesus announces his ministry of proclamation, justice advocacy and compassion to be inaugurated by himself, as the anointed one of God. They can join him by imitating the remarkable faith of a Phoenician widow and a Syrian general. He knows his edited version of the text of Isaiah 61 will trigger deep anger, and it is a risk he is willing to take. Violence hovered in the air, as did a mysterious victory over it. Luke 4.16-31, 168

The Healing of the Blind Man and Zacchaeus Luke 18.35-19.10

The stories of the healing of the blind man and of Zacchaeus in Luke 18.35 to 19.10 are meant to be read together as a pair. One takes place as Jesus enters Jericho and the other as he is leaving. The stories show how Jesus offers grace and mercy to the both the oppressed and the oppressor, without ignoring the hurts that have been done while heading off the revenge of the oppressed. He does this by taking their hostility into Himself. He accepts both the blind man and Zacchaeus based on their expression of faith in Him and then allows his love to transform their lives. Salvation is the beginning of the process of transformation.

The grace of God, mediated through Jesus, is free but not cheap, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer has affirmed. Is this blind man ready to accept the new responsibilities and challenges that will come to him if he is healed? Jesus’ exam presses this stark question upon him. The beggar passes the exam. He is ready and responds to Jesus directly as “Lord” rather than using the more general title “Son of David.” Luke 18.35-43, 174

Jesus stands with the oppressed (the blind man) and at the same time extends costly grace to the oppressor (Zacchaeus). He neither endorses the oppression nor ostracizes the oppressor. Instead he loves him. Zacchaeus accepts being found and by so doing exemplifies the redefinition of repentance set forth by Jesus in the parable of the good shepherd. Luke 18.35-19.10, 180

Jesus accepts Zacchaeus and enters his house, granting to him a new status. This initiates a process of salvation, and Zacchaeus will spend the remainder of his life living out that process. Salvation is more than a moment of decision. Indeed, Zacchaeus makes the decision to accept Jesus’ bold offer to spend the night in his house. Zacchaeus pledges to return what he stole and more! But that is not all. The reader knows that Zacchaeus’s entire life will change. Salvation includes a radical transformation and reformation of life as it is lived out day by day in the present. Luke 19.1-10, 183

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