Your heavenly Father knows when even a sparrow falls.
Open Matthew 10:26-31.
We all have filters that shape what we hear. That’s true of how we understand our closest friends. It’s even more significant when we want to understand what Jesus said 2000 years ago in a very different setting.
For example, we in the western church tend to think of souls as immortal. After your body dies, your soul lives on, either in heaven or hell. It would make no sense to us to talk about bodies going to hell. Yet that’s precisely what Jesus did to: he said it’s better to lose an eye than to lose your whole body in hell (Matthew 5:29-30, 22). Something that doesn’t make sense is a hint that we’re not hearing it right, that we need to reframe the way we think. Continue reading “Where’s God’s justice in an unjust world? (Matthew 10:26-31)”
When his people are homeless, the Saviour is homeless too.
Open Matthew 8:19-20.
Matthew tells us that people had begun to recognize Jesus’ authority (7:29; 8:9). The king walked among his people, freeing them from their oppression (8:16). He bore their weakness, their dis-ease (8:17).
He was a homeless king (8:20). Ever heard of such a thing? He chose to be homeless as he moved among his people, identifying with them. In a sense, his people were homeless too. They had lost their homeland to foreign powers long ago. When Babylon invaded, so many died trying to defend Jerusalem they couldn’t bury them all, so their dead bodies became food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth (Jeremiah 7:33; 19:7). The birds and the beasts had homes, while God’s people did not. Continue reading “The homeless king (Matthew 8:20)”
How did Jesus imagine the world would be set right? You may be surprised.
Open Matthew 6:1-4.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the Galileans not to follow their communal rulers. He believed the people who ran the synagogues and towns were incapable of bringing the people back under God’s kingship as his nation — of restoring the kingdom of God. Continue reading “A generous kingdom (Matthew 6:1-4)”
If there will ever be justice in this world, how on earth will we get it? Jesus takes a radical approach.
Open Matthew 5:38-42.
Audiences love it with the hero gives the villain what he deserves. The villain has walked all over people in his quest for power. The hero fights for those who’ve been hurt, and brings the villain to justice. It’s the stuff of movies, novels, and comic books. It’s not the stuff of history.
Sometimes an Adolf Hitler is brought down. Other times a Joseph Stalin slaughters tens of millions and no one stops him. History often feels like the law of the jungle, where the most powerful beasts win.
That was Israel’s problem in the Bible’s story. God had established them as a nation under his reign, but the beasts invaded and crushed them. Jesus proclaimed the restoration of God’s reign, but how could the rulers be defeated? How would God give his people justice and restore his government? Continue reading “Retribution versus justice (Matthew 5:38-42)”
What do you do when it costs too much to make things right?
Open Matthew 5:23-26.
Three times a year, observant Jews were to take time off work and travel to Jerusalem for the big festivals. They didn’t go empty-handed: they always brought God a gift that expressed their submission to his kingship, a sacrificial animal that acknowledged their place at God’s table.
So you’ve gone all the way to Jerusalem, bought the approved animal, and you’re leading it to the temple grounds. You’re meditating on how good it is to have a place in God’s family, when it reminds you of that guy who’s not so glad you’re in the family. He thinks you’ve treated him unjustly, charged him an unfair price, taken advantage of him when he was in trouble. The memory messes up your feeling of belonging.
Jesus says you stop at this point. Return the sacrifice animal. Seek out your estranged brother and be reconciled. Only then can you truly celebrate your place in the family. You can’t have a place at God’s table if you can’t share the table with that guy. Continue reading “Reconciliation or retribution? What do you want? (Matthew 5:23-26)”
Jesus proclaimed the poor, the mourning, and the powerless to be winners. So who are the losers?
Open Matthew 5:3-6 and Luke 6:20-26.
When blessing comes to one group, another group misses out. Jewish wisdom-teaching always worked like this: announcing blessings for those who obeyed Torah also implied woes for those who disobeyed.
So when Jesus said, “Blessings on the poor …” did he also mean “and woe to the rich?” When he said, “Blessings on the grieving …” did he also mean “and woe to those who are content?” Continue reading “The other side of blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)”
How would the Beatitudes have sounded to Jesus’ original audience?
Open Matthew 5:3-6.
Imagine sitting on the northern slope of Galilee, listening in as the king instructs his followers. Different people hear his message in different ways. Continue reading “Blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)”
Dinah’s brothers defended her honour by killing the Shechemites. Were they justified in making a stand for righteousness?
Were Simeon and Levi justified in standing up for righteousness by killing the Canaanite prince who raped their sister, along with all his people? We’re examining how later Jews judged their actions. Continue reading “Were Simeon and Levi justified? (Genesis 34:30-31)”
Should God’s kingdom people enforce justice on the nations? Or should we just suck up the injustice? How do you respond to evil?
The unanswered question of Genesis 34 is how to respond to evil. Jacob’s family will be the agents of the kingdom of God in years to come, but how should they respond right now when a Canaanite prince rapes Dinah? Injustice remains a relevant question. Continue reading “How do we fight injustice? (Genesis 34:3-31)”
If God doesn’t prevent bad things happening, how do we cope?
Now that Israel is in the land with the sons who will form the tribes of Israel, how will they represent the heavenly king in the presence of people who do not submit to him? The nations do not submit to God’s laws. Driven by their own passions, they take whatever they want by force.
We’ve seen this picture ever since Nimrod the warrior of Genesis 10. It’s devastating:
Genesis 34:1–2 (ESV)
1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
Are you tempted to stop reading, to skip to something more pleasant? You really need this text if you think, “God’s running the world, so he’ll never let anything bad happen to me.” That belief will fail you. Neither can you blame Dinah, as if she must have been doing something wrong or it wouldn’t have happened to her. Verse 1 explicitly sets up the story by saying she was behaving well in her culture. Don’t blame the victim. Continue reading “When you get hurt (Genesis 34:1-2)”