Luke 2:40-52, Jesus in the Temple at age 12 (8/17/2009)
You and your fellow readers asked for more stories from the Old Testament than from the New. That's probably because more Old Testament stories lend themselves to a picture that a child can color with crayons. Today we get the one and only story about Jesus as a child, and it certainly does make a picture. There's the boy, 12 years old, sitting with all the professors, and astounding them with his knowledge, his questions, and his understanding of their answers.
How did he know all that stuff? Presumably from his mom and dad, who also figure prominently in this story. (This is the last time we see Joseph alive, by the way.) Remember that Mary was able to quote scripture from memory (Luke 1:46-55), and Joseph got regular visits from angels (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:19). They certainly were the kind of people who give their children a sound scriptural education. It wasn't just Jesus who learned from them, either – both James and Jude, two of their other children, refer to scripture in their letters as naturally as they breathe.
John 2:1-12, Water Becomes Wine (7/30/2009)
Everybody knows that Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine. Why? There could be several reasons. Maybe he liked wine. Maybe he thought the other guests would be disappointed if the wine ran out. Maybe it was a wedding present. Mostly "why" doesn't get addressed in Sunday School, even though the answer is reasonably clear in the story.
Yesterday we read about a "so that" miracle. Jesus cured a paralytic "so that" the scribes would know Jesus had the authority to forgive sins. Changing the water into wine seems to be the same sort of thing. Notice that Mary has complete confidence that he will do something about the lack of wine; the miracle is not aimed at her. The maitre d' and the groom don't know where the wine came from; the miracle isn't aimed at them, either. The guests are already sloshed; the miracle isn't supposed to impress a lot of people.
Instead, this miracle is aimed at very select group: the disciples. Jesus turned water into wine so that
his glory would be manifested and his disciples would be enabled to believe in him.
Reader Question: I see that the servants also witnessed the water-into-wine miracle in John 2:1-12. Verse 9 makes special mention of this fact. But whether it was for the disciples or the servants, or both...Jesus performed the miracle SO THAT they would believe in him! Was there a certain reason you felt it was more for the disciples?7/31/2009
Mark 2:1-12, Four Men on the Roof (7/29/2009)
Answer: I saw that, too, and I started to write that Jesus performed the miracle so that the disciples and servants would be enabled to believe. Then I read it again. John only says that “his disciples believed in him.” Maybe the servants believed and didn’t tell John, or maybe John’s point is that the disciples didn’t really believe in him before that.
I feel like I dodged a bullet on this one. I just got through saying that preachers and teachers sometimes give you “an exceedingly loose version of what a particular passage says, in order to make some point about the bigger picture.” It would have been embarrassing if now I had to say, well, shucks, I just put the servants in because I thought they believed!
However, let me also say this. If the Bible doesn’t say, you are free to draw your own conclusions, based on your own careful reading of the scripture, the tradition of the Church (that must be where Peter’s house comes from), your own experience, and your own reason. Personally, I think the servants probably believed, and John just didn’t mention it.
The image of the paralytic's friends lowering him through the roof is touching and funny, and kids like it. But think about this! Jesus comes home from a trip, and soon the whole population shows up at his door. Then they start tearing up his roof. Now, you or I might be a little cranky, don't you agree? Jesus isn't. He thinks it's great that these five people have such faith.
The first thing Jesus says is "Your sins are forgiven." This should not be taken to mean that sin causes paralysis (although admittedly sin can get you into a physical situation where paralysis from drugs or trauma is more likely than it is in church). Instead it means that sinfulness is a more serious problem than paralysis.
The second thing Jesus says is really interesting: "In order that you may know..." We have no way of knowing whether Jesus would have cured this man with or without the grumbling of the scribes. What we do know is that he cured him as he did so that the scribes would know
that he had the authority and power (in Greek it's all one word) to forgive sins. Jesus cured a lot of people just because he felt sorry for them. We should always remember, however, that he performed many of his miracles so that we would know
that he has the power and authority to forgive sins. The roof is funny, and the miracle is impressive, but the knowledge of who can forgive sins is important
Matthew 14:21-33, Jesus Walks on Water (9/18/2009)
Yesterday morning when I started to go out to the compost pile, I saw a robin sitting on a chair on the patio, eating raisins off the grape vine. I didn't want to disturb him, so I didn't go out. After a while I checked to see if he had flown away. Now he was up on the back of the chair, grooming his feathers. A little later I checked again – I still needed to go out to the compost pile – and he was on the little table beside the chair, getting a drink from a puddle of rainwater. Still later I checked again,
and he was still out there, watching the world go by. The last time I saw him, he had hopped down from the table and was finding bugs in the leaves at the edge of the lawn. He must have spent at least 45 minutes on my patio, having a meal and getting ready for the day. I didn't open the door, because I knew he would be afraid of me.
The robin didn't know that I had left those grapes on the vine just for him. He didn't know that I interrupted my schedule in order to give him time to eat, drink, and get ready for the day. He didn't know I was watching.
What about the disciples? Why were they afraid of Jesus? Didn't they know he was coming out to save them from the storm? Didn't they know that he was watching over them? Do we?
Luke 17:11-19, The Cure of the 10 Lepers (9/7/2009)
Now, the ones who had eaten numbered about 5000 men, besides the women and children.
Immediately Jesus had the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he sent the crowd away, he went up on the mountain privately to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
The boat was a couple miles off shore, being tossed by the waves, because the wind was against them. In the fourth watch of the night [near dawn], he went to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were agitated, saying, "It's a ghost!" and they shouted in fear.
Immediately Jesus said to them, "Cheer up! It is I. Don't be afraid."
Peter answered, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
He said, "Come." Peter got down from the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but seeing the strong wind, he was afraid. Beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Jesus immediately put out his hand and grabbed him. He said to him, "Little-faith! Why did you doubt?"
When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. The ones in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the son of God!"
The Biblical writers took delight in pointing out occasions in which God was getting more glory from foreigners than from Jews. Who was one of the best Jewesses of all time? A Moabite woman named Ruth. Who prayed to God while Jonah slept during a terrible storm? The foreign sailors. Who was the only leper who came back to give thanks to Jesus for curing him? One of those awful Samaritans we've been hearing so much about lately.
Not only was leprosy a serious disease, it also made the ill person ritually unclean. "Ritually unclean" doesn't mean "dirty," it means "unfit for worship." Unclean persons could not participate in all of the daily activities of the community, much less in worship. Lepers, in particular, had to keep a certain distance away from healthy people and announce their condition at intervals, so that a clean person wouldn't come in contact with them and accidentally become unclean himself. This is why the men stopped at a distance from Jesus and called out to him.
Even if your skin disease went away, you weren't clean until the priest said so (Leviticus 13 and 14). I think it's interesting that Jesus didn't say he would cure them or that he had cured them, he just said, "Go show yourselves to the priest." Taking him at his word, they turned around and left. What faith! Nine of them kept going even when they discovered that they were healed. What ingratitude!
John 8:2-11, The Woman Caught in Adultery (8/7/2009)
Now, when Jesus was going to Jerusalem, he passed through Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a certain village, ten men who were lepers met him, and they stopped some distance away. They raised their voices and said, "Master Jesus, pity us!"
Seeing this, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests."
As they went, they were made clean. But one of them, seeing that he was cured, turned around with a shout, glorifying God, and fell on his face at Jesus' feet, thanking him. And he was a Samaritan !
Jesus said, "Ten were made clean, weren't they? Where are the other nine? Isn't there anyone to turn around to give glory to God except this foreigner?"
And he said to him, "Get up and go, your faith has made you well."
There are several interesting aspects to today's Bible story. First, this is almost certainly a fragment that has been stuck into the first part of John 8 because nobody knew where it really belonged. Some translations just put it there and don't worry about it. Some mark it with [[double brackets]]. Some have a footnote. Some remove it from Ch. 8 and stick it at the end of John. Everybody agrees that it is scripture, and almost everybody agrees that John wrote it, so I recommend not worrying about it.
Second, the law they were referring to is in Deuteronomy 22:23-24. "If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife." This is the only sexual law under which (a) a woman could be caught in the act, and (b) the punishment was stoning. So I think it's interesting that the scribes and Pharisees brought only the woman, don't you? Do you suppose the guy turned state's evidence and pled to a lesser charge? Or maybe that the whole thing was a setup to begin with?
Third, when my kids were little, we frequently had the following scene:
Child A: Waa-ah! Maa-maa! He hit me!
Me: Why did you hit him?
Child B: He threw a truck at me!!
Me: Why did you throw a truck at him?
Child A: He threw the teddy bear at me first!
Me: Why did you throw the teddy bear at him?
And so on, until...
Me: It sounds to me like there's enough blame to go around. Go back and play.
Jesus used a similar technique on the scribes and Pharisees. First, he gave them some time to calm down and think, and second, it is entirely possible that what he wrote in the dirt was an indictment. The word used is katagraphen
, which seems to mean "write against," although it is a rare word. The greater manuscripts say only that Jesus "wrote with his finger on the ground," but some lesser manuscripts say explicitly that he wrote "the sins of each one." Either way, while he was writing they had a chance to think about whether their own behavior could stand up under scrutiny. The older I get, the more keenly aware I am of my sins, so I'm not surprised that it was the oldest men who first decided that maybe they'd better not get into this discussion.
Finally, we like to stop this story with the dramatic words, "Neither do I condemn you." We know that "God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world." We know that "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." So we're good with "Neither do I condemn you."
Unfortunately, that's not where the story stops. It actually stops with, "Go, and don't sin any more." What? You mean that there's no condemnation for me, but I have to stop sinning anyway
More Bible Stories for Grownups
Copyright 2009, 2012, 2013, 2021 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB and Deanna Rains.
The Woodcut of Jesus in the Temple is from the Gartin Bible, now in the private collection of Regina L. Hunter.
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