Meeting the Challenge

Essay by Fred Plumer on 15 February 2018 5 Comments

As President of the PC.org Board, and until recently, acting Executive Director, I somehow found myself with the job that requires I read all of the comments and complaints from our readers. After I read them, I either respond to them or try and find someone else to do it from our organization. Most of the time I find this part of my job informative and rewarding. The number of readers who write to thank us, or make a positive comment runs about four to one.  I enjoy reading how someone felt an article we published changed their life or their perspective. I also like reading how someone who had been struggling with an evangelist friend, found strength to begin to unpack his/her view of religion or their faith journey.  I even enjoy reading an email from someone who disagrees with one of our writers or frankly something I wrote in a particular column, but is supportive of our efforts to provide wide a spectrum of positions.

However, recently I have heard from a couple of people who wondered why we cannot find anyone like Bishop Spong to write the column. A couple of them let me know they were going to cancel their subscription and one said they would continue taking the articles but put me on notice that we needed to make some changes.

For example, one writer took us to task because our author had used a common swear word, even though it was a word the President of the United States had used. That was the point of the article by the way. Another writer complained about the way our writer “trashed the great history” of the Methodist tradition, when in fact the author was a proud, Methodist pastor and had been for over 20 years. His remarks were really about how the Methodists leadership had forgotten their own long term traditions and values.

Now please do not think for one moment that we did not expect some blow back when we had to announce that Bishop Spong could no longer write his column. We were not naïve. First of all, Bishop Spong is a brilliant scholar. Not only does he have the depth of someone who studied and wrote his whole professional life, but he was and continues to be a voracious reader. Many other authors wanted Bishop Spong to write reviews of their new books which he often did, but he had to read them. He kept up with what was going on in the world.

Secondarily, unlike most scholars, he did not get into a rut. He did his research and if something new came along, or if he had second thoughts on something, he was willing to change. He also has a wonderful way of taking the most complex issues and explaining them in a way that most of us could understand. That is a talent that few people have.

Thirdly, Bishop Spong is a man in his eighties who has been writing this column for over twenty years. He had developed personal relationships with most of his regular readers, the vast majority of whom had been receiving his column for at least ten years, many of them longer than that. I wish I could show you some of the emails and notes we were asked to forward to him during his time of recovery. Many of the folks who wrote him during this time period were personal, warm and familiar. They were like someone writing their dear “Uncle John.”  Others were not quite so familiar but shared fond memories of a time they heard him speak and how much it had meant to them. And we have no idea how many of them wrote directly to his home. He had six thousand subscribers at one point and it was a loyal group of people, not to mention the over 25,000 Facebook fans.

And finally, Bishop Spong could write about someone he knew, or knew about in politics. He would gently, or not so gently, critique his/her actions based on his/her supposed religious claims. Some would call that political. However, Bishop Spong would wrap him/her in a long story and with interesting details and few, if any, accused him of getting political. It was another gift that he brought to the table.

Please know that I sincerely appreciate all of these traits in the Bishop, and frankly several more I have not mentioned. He is a dear friend and I appreciate his gifts. However, when we began to think about whom we might want as authors to take up the reigns, we knew it was not going to be easy.  I talked with Bishop Spong on several occasions and our organization created a list of potential candidates. You may be surprised to learn that over half of the people on our lists were suggestions or even recommendations by Bishop Spong.

Now here is the important point. Our goal was not to replace him. We knew that was impossible. Our goal, rather, was to find younger people when possible, who were already immersed in some type of a religious profession and were “doing” some of the things that Bishop Spong has been suggesting over the years. Our goal was to find people who were no longer struggling with the old time religion and were moving in a new direction.  In other words we were looking for practitioners of the way that Spong has been outlining, particularly in his last book, Unbelievable. (I am aware that most of you are still waiting to get your copy…soon I hope.)

For most of his career, Bishop Spong was first and foremost a “deconstructionist.” He unpacked the Bible, chapter by chapter, verse by verse to show us just what the writers or story tellers were thinking and the history behind the writings. Some of the time he surprised us and other times he said things that many of us were thinking but never knew just how to explain it. But he used his incredible knowledge of the Bible to show us how far off we had taken the Jesus story.

For example in 1990 he wrote a book, Living in Sin. In this book he took on the silliness of our approach to human sexuality based on a false understanding of our Bible. He covered everything from marriage to learning to love the LGBT community, especially in our churches.  Then in 1992 he wrote a book called Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. In this book he demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the Bible was our real problem. Spong challenges the science of many of the fundamentalists’ understanding of the Bible.  Then in 1994 he published a book, Born of a Woman. In this book he dealt with the folly of a virgin birth and the church’s poor treatment of women, as a result.  In 1996 he wrote Liberating the Gospels. This was a powerful book that helps us see the Bible through the eyes of a Jewish scholar. It frees us to read the Bible with a different perspective, the perspective for which it was intended. In 1999 he wrote, Why Christianity Must Change or Die.  I believe this is where he first used the term, “Believers in Exile.” And in this book he demonstrates the limits of the traditional Christian faith and the impact this has had on our failing churches. In 2011 he wrote, Re-claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World and 2013 he wrote book called The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. In this book he explains that there were at least two people who wrote the gospel during a tumultuous time for these early Jewish/Christians and they were forced to adjust their thinking.

This is certainly not a complete list of books Bishop Spong has written over his amazing career, but clearly demystifying the Bible was one of his major focuses. No one can do it better than him. Quite honestly, we have not yet found an author who can match Bishop Spong’s gifts, work ethic, his devotion who was willing to write an article every week, and whom also has a personal relationship with our readers. But we invite you to be open to the journey with us as his endorsed authors begin to create this relationship with you and share their visions and incredible unique gifts.

Now before you pick up your pen to write me an angry letter citing different places in one or even several of his books where Bishop Spong was making some suggestions on how we might rebuild Christianity, I know he did that. Someone might even point out his book, A New Christianity for a New World published in 2001. And yes he did begin to make some important recommendations in that book that could be considered reconstruction or rebuilding.

However, in his newest book, Unbelievable Spong calls for a whole new way of approaching the Christian faith. It is not totally a new thought for him, but in this book he is being very specific about how he sees a future of Christianity. In this book he spells out twelve theses, starting with the need to recreate our understanding of the word God. He then walks us through the balance of the eleven other theses and an epilogue. At the end of the book he simply asks, “Can Christian theology once again be enabled to interact with contemporary knowledge? Can Christian liturgies be made to reflect reality rather than nostalgia? Can Christianity affirm human oneness while still embracing its radical diversity? Can this faith create a new institutional form that fosters a truth-seeking, universal community?”

Bishop Spong calls for change. He challenges us to begin to rebuild a new Christianity and frankly, that is what we are trying to do here. These are the issues we have asked our authors to deal with. We do not need to do any more deconstruction. It has been done, and done well. There are still organizations that are devoted to this endeavor but we no longer see the need for that.  We are trying to build something that we can proudly call a New Christianity. This is what we are trying to birth even though we do not yet know what form it will eventually take, what it will look like, or how it will feel. We do know that most of us will not be around to see the end results. That is the challenge we have been given, however, and we accepted it.

Over the next several months, we will be asking our esteemed authors to share their perspective on the above questions. I look forward to hearing what they share. I hope you do as well. I am honored and excited to be on this transformative journey with you all. It will take all of us. It will take the wisdom from our elders and the innovation of our younger generations. It will take bravery, creativity and radical trust.

I recently came across a quote and I apologize for not knowing the source. I have Googled it and flipped through several books to no avail. But it went something like:

We are in a historical transition globally for a new form for the sacred.

This is something I shared with our Board two weeks ago, and this is something I am sharing with our authors.  And this is something today, I am sharing with you. Thank you for your continued support.

And please feel free to let me know how we are doing.

~ Fred C. Plumer

 

Question

Our diocese has a linked relationship with one of the dioceses in southern Sudan. Terrible conditions. Our bishop and his wife visited the area (Kajo Keji) for three weeks several months ago. Our diocese has responded generously to pleas for food and other assistance. As it often happens, once caring people become personally exposed to conditions of millions upon millions in the developing world and have an opportunity to compare and contrast, the result - certainly by most Christians I have known - is a strong motivation to respond. In Swaziland in January, I guided our rector through a nine-day tour of conditions and the AIDS situation in Swaziland - same response. My bias as a Christian has been for many years that many faith groups place a significant emphasis and focus on the importance of belief as compared with the importance of behavior.

I recall a number of passages in the New Testament that cite Christ's focus on loving God and our neighbors. From my personal perspective, love of a neighbor and all of its critical interpretations receives much less focus and emphasis in the Church than love of God. What usually occurs after a meaningful experience with poverty, loss of hope and inequity, there is a brief flash of sympathy, often action of some sort - some of which is indeed useful. But sooner or later there seems to be a return for our church leaders to fall back on what appears to me to be some fuzzy interpretations that occurred many centuries ago and would never stand active interpretation.

So, as I challenge church leaders, clergy and congregations, my question relates to how I can encourage them to review one of the essential mandates from Christ - his clear and emphatic emphasis on our responsibilities toward our fellow human beings.

Answer

Dear Dr. Wallace,

Great question. If I had the answer to it, I'd currently have a bestselling book. But, I don't.

It seems to me that we are talking about the difference between two kinds of belief. The first is a belief that is not backed by action. It is basically an opinion. The believer hasn't integrated the belief into who they are. They are merely holding onto it as an intellectual plaything (and I'm not saying that's an entirely bad thing). Given the opportunity to put that opinion into action is typically a positive experience. For most, however, it is only that – a positive experience that reinforces their belief/opinion. It doesn't cause the belief to become more integrated into who they understand themselves to be as a person.

That brings me to the second kind of belief. This is belief backed by action. As a matter of fact, it's a belief that's held so deeply, you almost literally have no choice but to act upon it. We'll call it, conviction. For some people, putting a belief/opinion into action can connect with them on a deeper level and move to a point of belief/conviction.

This seldom, if ever, happens if people only donate money or specific items. While those are very necessary things, they are charity. Charity is needed and it helps those giving feel like they are doing something good, but it doesn't tend to deeply impact the emotional and theological outlook of a person.

If, however, they are hand delivering those items to those in need, we begin to take baby steps toward making charity a thing of justice. Unlike being involved with charity, justice does have a tendency to connect more deeply with people. As you are making contact with those in need, hearing their stories, understanding their struggles, and then possibly taking a stand with them against the systems that oppress them, it becomes personal – you become convicted.

I guess what I'm saying is, not surprisingly, if you want to be convicted in your love of neighbor (maybe particularly your marginalized neighbor), a good place to start is in actually getting getting to know them. Just like Jesus did.

~ Rev. Mark Sandlin

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Bishop John Shelby Spong Revisited

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part IV

Spong

In this series of essays, I have tried to push our analysis of the Passover story that anchors the gospel accounts of Jesus, beyond that primitive literalism that so often captures religious systems, so that its real truth can be perceived. This attempt is focused on the goal of discerning what it was that constituted the original and powerful Jesus experience. Something caused those first disciples to come to the conclusion that somehow, in some way, through some means, God had been met in this Christ, and that in Jesus a doorway into God had been opened. In that process, I suggested that the coupling of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus with the Passover story of the killing of the paschal lamb resulted not from history or memory, but from an interpretive, liturgical process. That is, the passion narratives of the gospels were written not in a reporter's language but in the language of worship.

The first step was to demonstrate the fact that so many parts of the crucifixion story include symbols that suggest that it occurred in the fall of the year rather than in the early spring. Among those symbols were the leafy branches of the first Palm Sunday, the fig tree that Jesus was said to have cursed because it bore no figs months before its fruit might have been expected, and the Jewish fall festival of Sukkoth that seems to have provided significant content to the Christian narrative. Next I examined the substance and the form of that first passion narrative recorded in Mark, demonstrating that its content came not from eyewitnesses but from the ancient sources of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Its form suggested that it was written to observe a twenty-four hour vigil. It was neatly divided into eight three-hour segments that would carry the worshippers from 6:00 p.m. on what we now call Maundy Thursday to 6:00 p.m. on what we now call Good Friday. Since according to the earliest Christian sources there were no eyewitnesses to the crucifixion, its original purpose was surely not to relate what actually happened on that hill called Calvary. Jesus died alone. We must not forget that authentic note in Mark's gospel that tells us that when Jesus was arrested, all of his disciples, ALL OF THEM, forsook him and fled. When the death of Jesus began to be seen as similar to the death of the paschal lamb of Passover, it was natural that the crucifixion story and the Passover would be blended and the one superimposed on the other.

Paul made that connection quite overtly when he wrote in his epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:7), that Christ 'our new paschal lamb,' or 'our Passover' as the King James translators have it, 'has been sacrificed for us.' He then urged the Corinthians to 'celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.' The Book of Exodus suggests only unleavened bread was to be eaten at the time of the Passover (Exodus 12:1-14). Paul makes this reference with no explanation because it clearly had become an accepted part of the Christian understanding of the death of Jesus by the mid-fifties when this epistle was written. Our question thus becomes: What did it mean to the early Jewish Christians to see the death of Jesus as linked to the slaughter of the Paschal Lamb?

First, let me relate the biblical story of Passover from the book of Exodus, for I discover that Christians are typically ignorant of the sacred traditions of the Jews. The biblical setting for the first Passover is ancient Egypt. Moses armed, we are told, with the power of God has gone in answer to a call heard in the burning bush to negotiate the release of the slave people from Egypt. The Pharaoh was unmoved by Moses' plea and so God begins a divine reign of terror against the Egyptians that we have come to call 'The Plagues.' First, the Nile was turned to blood and the fish in it died. Next came the plague of frogs, then gnats, then flies, then the cattle became sick and the Egyptians broke out with boils. This was followed by the plagues of hailstones, locusts and darkness. Periodically during the plagues, the biblical story tells us that Pharaoh relented and promised to let the people go whereupon God removed that particular plague. But the narrative says both that 'Pharaoh's heart was hardened' (Exodus 9:34), and that 'God hardened' his heart (Exodus 10:20), thus allowing the plagues to continue their devastation.

Finally, in some desperation, the story reaches its climax in the 11th and 12th chapters of Exodus. There God informs Moses of the divine plan for the final and most devastating plague of all. God will send the angel of death throughout the land of Egypt to slay the first-born male in every household. However, a problem arose as to how the angel of death would know the difference between a Jewish home and an Egyptian home lest this angel kill Jews by mistake. Clearly God hated only Egyptians! To solve this problem, God tells Moses to instruct the people of Israel to protect themselves in this manner.

Each family is to choose a lamb from its flocks on the 10th day of the month called Nisan. If a family is too small to consume a whole lamb, it is to join its neighbors or to gather single people into extended family groups so that no one is excluded from the feast or put at risk from the avenging God. The lamb to be sacrificed shall be male, one year old and without blemish, says the text. On the 14th day of that month, this lamb is to be slaughtered and the blood from the lamb shall be sprinkled on the Jewish doorposts of those homes in which the paschal feast is to be eaten. This blood would be a sign to the angel of death that this was a Jewish home so that no one within it would be killed. Presumably the angel of death did not have supernatural power, or the ability to discern a Jewish home from an Egyptian home so the angel had to be guided by the sign of blood on the doorpost. Wherever a bloody doorpost appeared, the angel of death would "pass over" that house and thus slay only Egyptians. This is where the term 'Passover' emerges. It was a strange tribal story, in many ways an evil story that portrayed God as hating all those whom the chosen people hate. When this angel struck, death was experienced from the palace of the Pharaoh to the humblest Egyptian household, including even the first-born male animals in the Egyptian flocks. While all of Egypt was in mourning the Jews would ceremonially eat the roasted body of the lamb of God before beginning their escape to the freedom of the wilderness. That is the Passover story in all of its gory details.

Now try to imagine a synagogue celebrating Passover in those years following the crucifixion of Jesus at which some of the disciples of Jesus, "The Followers of the Way" they were called, were present as worshipers. As the drama of Passover was reenacted, these early disciples used the liturgical setting to help them understand the meaning of Jesus' death. His death, they had come to believe, had also hurled back the power of death. With his own blood Jesus had pushed the specter of death away from his people. I suspect this connection was first made in a primitive Christian sermon and it went something like this: "Our ancestors once lived in bondage in the land of Egypt. When they made good their escape it was because God had used the blood of the paschal lamb to break the power of death. Now in a similar fashion, we who lived in the bondage of sin have experienced a new deliverance. The blood of Jesus, our new paschal lamb, has been placed upon the cross that was symbolically the doorpost of the world. That blood has broken the power of death that is always the result of sin and is its ultimate punishment, according to the story about the Garden of Eden. So the blood of the new paschal lamb has freed those of us who through this Christ now come out of our bondage into the glorious liberty of the children of God. We will thus be spared the permanence and pain of mortality, for in this Jesus death itself has been swallowed up in victory." The cross thus came to be viewed the moment of deliverance for the followers of Jesus, just as the slaying of the paschal lamb had become the moment of Jewish deliverance. The Christian observance of its founding was celebrated in the liturgy of the Eucharist in every age, just like the Passover was celebrated every year as an observance of the founding of Judaism. Liturgy serves to remind us of who we are, where we have come from and what it is that we have come to believe is our ultimate destiny. In this manner, crucifixion was tied into Passover and by the time the gospels were written decades later, the liturgical interpretation of the cross had been historicized and the crucifixion of Jesus was said to have literally occurred at the time of the Passover. Then quite naturally the liturgy recalling the final hours in Jesus' life became for Christians an expanded version of what the liturgy of the Passover had been for Jews.

After the Christian Church became substantially Gentile by the turn of the century, this Jewish background was first ignored and then forgotten. That meant that the description of the founding moment in the Jesus story began to be understood as the account of eyewitnesses. So it was that the story of the cross became literalized as if it were an objective historical account of the founding moment of the Christian faith.

To deliteralize this experience is not to destroy it, as traditionalists believe, it is rather to open the experience so that it becomes timeless, and people in every age might enter it. Once the deliteralization process begins, however, it goes on and on. If the story of the cross is not remembered history, if the connection of the Passover with the crucifixion is not literal then is any part of the time frame of the passion story to be literalized? Was the symbol of the three days that was said to separate crucifixion from Resurrection a literal measure of 72 hours? Or is there some new and deeper meaning even there? To that question I will turn next week.

~ John Shelby Spong
Originally published February 23, 2005

 

Comments

 

5 thoughts on “Meeting the Challenge

  1. Dear Fred:
    I have been speculating; but I have found no mention in the NT as to which synagogue Jesus might have gone to learn from the OT. We know Paul said,”I am a Jew…,but brought up in the city at the feet od Gama’li-el,educated according to…”(Acts,22:03)Paul, however, had never met Jesus in person.We now know Matthew and Luke both had copied from Mark; so I go to Mark on the words and action of Jesus in the first six chapters.
    1. Jesus came from Nazareth to Galilee(Mark,1:9);
    2. Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God;…(Mark,1:14); (It didn’t say where he’d gone to learn the OT.)
    3. Jesus saw Simon and Andrew casting a net at the sea of Galilee…and said to them,”Follow me…” (Mark,1:16); (There is more in the Gospel of John.)
    4. A little further,Jesus saw the sons of Zebadee, …and they followed him(Mark,1:19);
    5. …into Caper’na-um;…on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught…they were astonished at his teaching,for he taught them as one who had authority,and not as the scribe.(Mark,1:21-22);
    6. Jesus left the synagogue and entered the home of Simon and Andrew because their mother-in-law was sick with fever.Jesus held her hand and lifted her up,and the fever left her.So she served them.(Mark,1:29-31)Jesus healed a large number of sick people at sundown in the city(Caper’na-um)(1:32-33)
    7. Jesus got up early before dawn and went to a lonly place to pray(Mark,1:35);(Kevin:It seems like a typical habit of the Eseens in the morning).
    8. When Simon and the others followed and found Jesus,they told him that everyone was searching for him.Jesus refused to get back; instead he told tham,”Let us go to the next town so that I may preach there also;for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee,preaching in their synagogues…(Mark,1:38-39);(So it seems that Jesus might not have been taught in Galilee? Where did Jesus come out of? Perhaps he came out from Qumran where all the OT scrolls have been found?)
    9. A leper came,beseeching Jesus,kneeling,and said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity,he stretched out his hand,and touched him.”I will; be clean.” And….the leprosy left him.(Mark, 1:40-42);Where did Jesus learn to heal?(The Essenes were known as “healers”by their name in Greek.)He went into the wilderness.
    10. Jesus returned to Caper’na-um; many people came and filled his house into an overflow crowd in order to hear him preach.Then four men removed and opened the roof of the house to let a paralyzed man down into the room to reach Jesus..) (Mark,2:1-4);(This reminds me of Bishop John Spong preaching all over Europe and came back to US. When Bishop Spong preached at my church in San Jose,it was an overflow crowd in 2001; but 15 years later when Jack preached in Michigan in 2016, he himself became paralyzed (Now Jack Spong has recovered well by his sheer determination to run everyday.)(I’d like to mention that I also got a stroke in May,2017.I was not paralyzed,however,but my ability to think and do math was compromized.I’ve continued to walk and swim,snd my condition has been much improved.)
    11. When Jesus saw their faith,he said to the paralytic,”My son, your sins are fotgiven.” (Mark,2:5);(We don’t know the background of that paralytic,judging from the four men removing the roof of the house and lifting him into the mist of a crowd, however,that man was probably well to do,and perhaps was even a noble man of the Roman empire, or could have been a mafia warlord who had done bad things before.But since these words had been spoken by Jesus during 28-30 AD,his sins had nothing to do with the “original sin” which came out of the concept of Jesus dying on the cross in order to save him as was derived from the NT,and later was enforced by the Roman Empire in 350 AD.)
    12. There were some scribes sitting in the crowd, and Jesus saw through the thinking in their hearts, “Why does him say it this way? It is Blasphemy!Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And he said to them,”Why do you question this in your heart? Which is easier to say to the paralytic,’Your sins are forgiven,’or to say,’Rise,take up your pallet and walk’?But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic–“I say to you,rise,take up your pallet and go home.”(Mark,2:6-11);[Note:The first recorded medical doctor in ancient China was Bianque from 400 to 303 BC.His teacher was secretive and was less well-known.But Bianque not only traveled throughout north central China and healed people with all kinds of sicknesses, (except leprosy which was perhaps less frequent in the cooler weather of China.)But Bianque had taught 10 or 12 disciples during his lifetime who wrote many prescribed medical treatment.Later another doctor by the name of Chun Yuyi (about 150 BC)did many new writings plus 24 medical cases and taught several students before he died.]
    13. Jesus went out again beside the sea; and he taught a large crowd of people around him.When he passed by Levi the tax collector,he asked Livi to follow him and he did. So Levi the son of Alpheus became another disciple of Jesus.(Mark, 2:13-14);
    (In a few words,I believe Jesus had taught everyone of his disciples to overcome their fear and anxiety and preached the love of God; perhaps as was summarixed by Paul Tillic in the “Courage to be” such that when they pteached a different type of God, a gentle, loving, kinf, and forgiving of sins as well as the God of grace and peace,the Phariees and the scribes thought Jesus was blasphemas and wanted to kill him.Along with Levi and Simon Peter and all the rest of his disciples, they all got killed within the Roman Empire.)
    14. Jesus sat and ate with the sinners and the tax collectors;the scribes and the Pharisees asked his disciples,”Wht does he eat and drink with the sinners and the tax collectors?”(Refer to Psalm,1) Jesus answered,”Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick;I came not to call the righteous,but sinners.” (Mark,2:15-17);
    15. In the grainfield on a sabbath,the disciples began to pluck ears of grain;and the Pharisees said to him,”Look,why are they doing what is not lawful on a sabbath?” And Jesus said to them,”Have you never read what David did,when he was hungry,he and those who were with him ate the bread of Presence in the house of God, which is not lawful for anyone but the priest to eat?” He said,”The sabbath was made for man,but not man made for the sabbath.” (Mark,2:23-27);
    16. The Pharisees were waiting and watching when Jesus encountered a man with a withered hand in the synagogue; they wanted to see if Jesus would heal that man on the sabbath.Jesus asked them,”Is it lawful on a sabbath to do good or to do harm,to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.And he looked around at them with anger,grieved at their hardness of heart.Jesua said to the man,”Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and the hand was restored.The Pharisees went out,and immediately held counsel with the Hero’di-ans against him,how to destroy him.(Mark,3:1-6);
    17. Jesus withdrew with his (many)disciples to the sea;he was followed by a great multitude of people from Galilee, Judea,Jerusalem,…and he healed many sick and with other diseases, etc.and he went on a boat.(Marl,3:7-12);
    18. Jesus went up the hills,and he appointed 12 close disciples with their names.(Mark,3:13-19);
    19. Jesus went home (3:19b)…..and his mother and his brothers came;standing outside(i.e.outside of his hime),they sent to him and called him.And a crowd was sitting about him; they said,”Your mother and your brothers are outside,asking for you.” Jesus replied,”Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking around those who sat about him,he said,”Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother,my sister, and my mother.”(Mark,3:31-35); (See Mark,6:1-6);
    20. Jesus told everyone the parables; he did not speak to them woithout a parable (Mark,4:1-33);but pravately to his own disciples,he explained everything(4:34); that evening Jesus asked them to cross over the Galilee in a boat;(I have skipped the story about the storm.)
    21. Jesus crossed over on a boat back to the home side; another great multitude of people followed him.(Mark,5:1)(I’ve skipped 5:2-20) And he was beside the sea; one of the rulers of the synagogue by the name of Ja’irus came,falling at his feet,and said,”My little daughter is at the point of death.Come and lay your hands on her,so that she may be made well, and live.” And he went with him.However,a great crowd was thronged about him,and their walk was interrupted by a woman who had been flowing her blood for 12 years,suffering much without getting better by other physicians,and had spent all that she had.That woman came from behind Jesus in the crowd,and just touched his garment,thinking,”If I touch even his garment,I shall be made well.” And immediately her hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of the disease.Jesus,perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd,and said,”Who touched my garments?”….But the woman,knowing what had been done to her,came in fear and trembling and fell down before him,and told him the whole truth.And Jesus said to her,”Daughter,your faith had made you well;go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
    While he was still speaking,someone from that ruler’s house came and said,”Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But ignoring what was said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue,”Do not fear,only believe.” And he only aloowed Peter,James, and John to enter the hoise with him.When they came to the house of that ruler of the synagogue,he saw a tumult,and people were weeping and wailing loudly.Jesus told them not to weep,”The child is not dead, but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.But he put them all outside, just took her parents and his three disciples into the room with him.Taking the child by her hand,he said to her,”Tal’itha cu’mi”;which means,”Little girl,I say to you,arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked; for she was twelve years old…. Jesus told them to give her something to eat.(Mark, 5:21-43); [These were two stories intermingled at the same time.Jesus saved that woman without even realizing how she had touched his garment from behind him in the crowd,simply due to her faith, until afterward.In the second story,those people had thought that the young girl was already dead, but Jesus showed them that the child was simply asleep, and he was able to wake her up as knew.He asked them to give her something to eat.] [Note: The second story was similar to one as was recorded in the story on Bianque in China with everyone at the King of Cai (350 BC?)had thought the prince of Cai was already dead; but Bianque used some medical tool and accupressure to bring back the prince alive.In the story of Jesus,however,he allowed only three disciples to follow him and the parents to go inside the room where the child was lying in her bed.They were not to disclose how it was done.]
    22. Jesus came back to his own country (We may assume that it was Nazareth)with his disciples,and went to teach in the synagogue.Many who heard him were astonished.They said,”Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter,the son of Mart and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon,and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him…..And Jesus marveled at their unbelief.(Mark,6:1-6).(See: Mark,3:31-35)
    Dear Kevin: [Note: We can tell that Jesus had not been taught the OT in Nazareth or antwhere near his own country.Since there has been no mention of him being taught any where else in Galilee or in Jerusalem, perhaps we may assume that he did go to the Qumran hills and indeed did stay there to read the OT bible from those scrolls.
    Furthermore,perhaps someone who had learned the medical skills in Qumran had also taught Jesus those skills in order to heal other people with diseases.]
    Eugene,from Suzhou, China

  2. Dear Fred: Concerning the real birth and childhood of Jesus, judging from the information we have by looking at Mark,3:31-35 and Mark,6:1-6,in addition to Jesus,there were four other sons and at least two daughters of Mary (I am assuming that “sisters” of the boys meant more than one daughter).This would mean that Mary had at least 5 boys and two girls or a total of 7 children.I have never thought anything of it, but now looking at a very busy mother of 7 kids,we can expect that the family of Mary was inteed very poor.And with Mary feeding her young ones, washing their clothes,and still trying to make ends meet? Perhaps Jesus,being the first born,might have had to help his younger brothers and sisters to be fed? Perhaps Mary kept a very clean house,which would have kept her busy as well. I can imaging that the boys wust have had to wear “hand-me-downs” as well.We don’t want to say anything bad about Mary, just the facts are enough.
    (By the way,my own mother,being married to my Dad,with both of them working as teachers/ professors,during WWII,took care of two boys and two girls until my youngest sister also came about 8.5 years after I, the No.2,was already in the 3rd grade in the elementary school.We were in a nealthy Christian family as I grew up, but learning and reading, including the Chinese Bible,had been utmost in the minds of my parents.We also wore “hand-me-downs” and sandals when we were younger.)
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  3. Eugene,
    You assume facts not in evidence. Speculation is fair and fun but it is not fact.
    Your post makes one wonder if Jesus was first born and we assume there was no father (Joseph), who was the father(s) of the other kids and it appears you assume he(they) didn’t stick around. Unless Mary was a serial ‘player’ in the society of that day, it might be safe to ‘assume’ (i.e. speculation) that she did at some point have a husband and he stuck around to have the other 6 kids. Or, perhaps not. And if not, but maybe even if such a man stood by his woman, Jesus as the first born might have felt obliged to stay ‘in town’ to help the family.
    Two other points, more fact than speculation. As a preface, poor is not always destitute. Gera Vermes talks about the realities of the Jesus world of Jesus that can help us see Jesus as a true lifelike character. So he reports that agriculture was flourishing in the Galilee, it produced large enough quantities of olive oil that it could export some and that agriculture was complemented by fishing.
    He also reports that Galileans loved independence and were free from immediate Roman rule and the direct influence of the Judaea authority. Also the upper Galilee was an ideal home for revolutionaries.
    Verses also notes that away from the (religious) centers, a popular form of Judaism existed “presided over’ by persons believed to be directly chosen by heaven: the ‘man of God.’ Then quoting J.B. Segal, he says, “it should be remarked that, like Elijah and Elisha, the ‘man of God’ par excellence, Jesus came from northern Palestine.
    I urge you again to read Vermes (again an expert on Qumran and the Scrolls who does not link Jesus with this community and) who does a historical study of the time and temperament of Galilee; the area, the time was ripe, as it had been for other before him, for the ‘man of God’ to come forth.
    You have said before, as we all know and as Spong reports, the NT is not history so simply because Mark doesn’t have Jesus being taught the Jewish scriptures in Galilee (or Jerusalem) – it does not mean we can tell that he didn’t learn the scriptures in Nazareth. And, again, Ehrman states if Jesus could read, the likely place is the synagogue.
    Again, speculation is fine but there is factual information out there which can fill in gaps – not definitively but at least it enables us to stand on more solid ground.

  4. Amen and amen! I was a church member, no longer willing to check his brain at the church door! I needed to do the deconstruction, but I came to the point of feeling, “Now I know what I don’t believe, but where does that leave me”. At least for me the answer was that I needed to experience God’s presence in my life. I realized that I had felt that when out in a beautiful natural setting, but how could I have that experience regularly and in the city? I came to understand that I also experienced God directly in the love of people who shared deeply, on a regular basis, in small groups (like 12-step programs, on retreats, and in small faith sharing groups).

    To my dismay finding such a group was anything but easy. It turns out that at least where I was looking, they were very rare indeed. Then I discovered Sunday Morning Conversations. I actually had a small role in organizing this initial group. We found a format that worked: doing a Check-In, then taking turns reading an essay or a selection from a book (something that facilitated movement beyond striving for moral perfection to please the judgmental God of our youth, to nurture a more mature relationship with a loving God we can emulate as an adult), followed by small group conversation.

    It is the conversation (incorporating everyone’s life experience), the deep sharing, and the regularity that makes all the difference. NOTE: this is a work in progress.

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