Bible Study 4.2.12, 4.5.12, 4.8.12 For Worship 4.15.12
Luke 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,
14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.
16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.
18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.
21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened.
22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning
23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.
24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”
25 And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further,
29 but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.
32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”
33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them,
34 who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
“That very day,” suggests that the story is about Easter Sunday. In verse 22 the empty tomb is referenced, although the empty tomb is not essential to this appearance story. Many scholars believe that the tradition of the empty tomb was a later development in the early church, and the original resurrection, rather than an empty tomb, was the experience of a living presence of Christ among his followers after his crucifixion and death. The appearance on the Road to Emmaus even tends to contradict Luke’s resurrection story the evening of Easter Sunday, where the Risen Christ requests a piece of broiled fish to “prove” that he is not a spirit. The appearance on the Road to Emmaus seems to parallel the appearance story on the Sea of Galilee in chapter 21 of the Gospel of John.
In both stories the disciples do not initially recognize the Risen Jesus. In both stories, the “stranger” reminds them of the scriptures. In both stories recognition of the Risen Christ is linked to the breaking of bread.
The village of Emmaus is today identified with the Arab village of Abu Gosh about seven miles west of Jerusalem. According to Hebrew tradition the hill top overlooking Abu Gosh was the site of the house of Obededom the Gittite, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept for three months, after Uzzah had been struck dead for reaching out his hand to steady the ark, when the oxen stumbled. During the time the ark was at his house, Obededom was blest, so David brought the Ark into Jerusalem. Today in Abu Gosh a church whose foundations date to the crusader period marks a site reputed to have been the location, where according to tradition the two disciples recognized Jesus after the “stranger” bless and broke the bread.
The two disciples appear to have stayed in Jerusalem long enough on Easter morning to hear the news that woman had gone to the tomb, and it was empty, and even some of the men had confirmed their report (verses 22 and 23). Despite this news Cleopas and his companion decided to get out of Jerusalem. Given the fear that the authorities might try to round up all of the followers of Jesus, this might have seemed like a prudent course of action. Like the rest of the disciples, they did not suspect the meaning of the empty tomb. And this has led some scholars to claim that the empty tomb was a later tradition, and they believe the experience of the presence of Christ on the Road to Emmaus may be closer to the reality of the first Easter. These scholars also point out the absence of an empty tomb tradition in Paul, the very first writings we have in the New Testament. They point out that Paul considered his vision on the Road to Damascus to be as authoritative as the experiences of the Risen Christ of the other Apostles. For these scholars, even though the Road to Emmaus Story only appears in Luke, they believe it is a more authentic resurrection tradition.
The Road to Emmaus tradition shares much more in common with the Johannine appearances than the empty tomb traditions. In John, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, and at first she does not recognize him. Indeed she only recognizes that the gardener is actually Jesus, when he calls her name, in a similar way Cleopas and his companion recognize Jesus, when he blesses and breaks the bread. Verse 16 seems a curious reading: “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” We are free to speculate whether Jesus was for some reason unrecognizable, whether the Risen Christ had a cloak of invisibility that explains his sudden disappearance at the end of the story. Also in Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John at first the disciples on board the boat saw a stranger. Peter did not recognize “the Lord” until the miraculous catch of fish. And even then, when they came ashore and found the stranger cooking breakfast for them on an open fire, the Gospel offers this curious description: “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” The Gospel then goes on to claim that this was the third appearance Jesus had made to the disciples after his death.
Eating appears to have been a very important part of the ministry of Jesus. The central act of Christian worship is a meal. And even though there is no record of Cleopas and his companion attending the Last Supper they still somehow understood that the breaking of the bread had significance in relationship to Jesus. Perhaps the breaking of the bread and feeding people should have an important significance in the church today.
In honesty we must acknowledge that Luke and John were written down later than Mark and certainly the authentic letters of Paul. We cannot turn back the clock to “discover the facts of the case.” And even if we could, what would we find? Did the form of the appearances of the Risen Christ depend upon the perceptions of each individual? That might help to explain the curious phrase in Matthew Chapter 28: “16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
There may be many meanings that can be found in our scripture, but perhaps where we need to begin is that the empty tomb is not every important. The question for each one of us is whether or not Jesus is a living presence in our lives, whether or not we embody the way of Jesus. And what does that mean? Do we all have to be alike? Do we have to believe and behave exactly the same? Or because we are unique individuals will the Christ be embodied in our lives uniquely, and what will that look like for Christ to be alive and present in you and me?
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. How many people were on the Road to Emmaus in our story?
2. When a stranger draws near and walks with them, in what direction was he traveling?
3. Do the travelers recognize the stranger?
4. Who initiates the conversation that includes the stranger?
5. What do the travelers discuss with the stranger?
6. According to the travelers who all visited the tomb that morning?
7. How do the travelers describe their hopes concerning Jesus to the stranger?
8. What does the stranger then say about Jesus, while they are traveling on the road?
9. What was the destination of the travelers?
10. What was the destination of the stranger?
11. How do the travelers convince the stranger to stop and stay with them?
12. What did the stranger do that trigger the recognition of the travelers that he was Jesus?
13. What happened as soon as the travelers recognized Jesus?
14. Where do the travelers go and with whom do they meet?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Why do you think Cleopas and his companion left town despite the news that the tomb was empty that morning?
2. Cleopas and his companion were not one of the Twelve, what do you imagine might have been their relationship with Jesus?
3. Do you think they were present at the Last Supper?
4. What significance do you think the breaking of the bread had for them?
5. What significance do you think the breaking of the bread might have in the church today?
6. In a world of higher and higher food prices, when issues of “food security” are becoming important, are there any clues for the direction of the church’s ministries?
7. Using your imagination, if you could wind back the clock what do you think you would experience on that First Easter?
8. What do you think, “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” meant?
9. What do you think it means for Christ to be alive in you?
10. What do you think it could mean for Christ to be alive in your community of faith?
11. What are the “triggers” that prompt your recognition of the presence of Christ?
12. What does it mean to you “to be Christ for one another?”
A Failure of Courage
The stories about Peter were important in the life of the early church because many of these narratives portrayed a person who was enthusiastic for Jesus, but at critical moments his courage failed him. He had more enthusiasm than he had courage, and many, many ordinary believers could identify with his example.
The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus seems to be authentic, because Peter’s behavior is so consistent with his character in other stories in the gospel. Peter was the follower who climbed out of the boat during the storm and then sank because of his fear. He was the disciple who first identified Jesus as the Messiah, and then rebuked Jesus, when Jesus told him the Jerusalem authorities would likely kill him. Peter is the disciple who refused to let Jesus wash his feet at the Last Supper, and he also joined in the argument with the other disciples about who was the greatest of the followers of Jesus. There is even a tradition that when Nero instituted the persecution of the Christians in Rome, Peter tried to flee the City. As he was walking out of Rome to escape almost certain arrest and death, he experienced a vision of Jesus walking into the City, and the vision of Jesus asked him, “quo vadis,” or “where are you going?” According to tradition Peter turned around and walked back into the City to be crucified upside down.
The early Christians were placing themselves directly in opposition to Rome. The Christian affirmation, “Jesus is Lord,” was treason in a world where “Caesar was Lord.” Those early Christians were running an underground subversive faith community, and they were constantly in danger of being found out. The Jerusalem authorities and the Romans, when they arrested Christians offered them mercy if they would renounce Jesus and affirm their faith in the Temple or in the Emperor. The Romans even had a ceremony, where the Christian was supposed to burn a pinch of incense before a statue of the Emperor and swear allegiance to Caesar. Many early Christian leaders compared the temptation to renounce Jesus in the face of Roman oppression with the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus.
Personally, I identify with Peter. I don’t like confrontations. When push comes to shove I am a coward. Put me on the spot and my knees quake and my courage fails. Fear brings out the worst in me. Generally speaking I live to fight another day. But how often have I betrayed my vocation by taking the path of least resistance and saving my own skin? The early Christian community was trying to encourage those initial followers of Jesus to accept the consequences of remaining faithful to Christ. It ain’t easy.
Peter at least had the courage to follow Jesus to the home of the High Priest after his arrest, when all the rest of the disciples scattered. But what about his profession of love and loyalty he had voiced only a few hours before at the Last Supper?
Luke 22:33 “And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’”
Jesus understood that Peter would fail. Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned again and rediscovered your courage, strengthen your comrades.”
Like Peter Jesus can see right through us. God knows the limits of our courage. God knows we will fail. And when we fail, God calls us to pick ourselves back up and go on. God forgives us. There is a story I can identify with, because as a child I was afraid of the dark.
A little boy was afraid of the dark. One night his mother told him to go out to the back porch and bring her the broom. The little boy turned to his mother and said, “Mama, I don’t want to go out there. It’s dark.”
The mother smiled reassuringly at her son. “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark,” she explained. “Jesus is out there. He’ll look after you and protect you.”
The little boy looked at his mother real hard and asked, “Are you sure he’s out there?”
“Yes, I’m sure. He is everywhere, and he is always ready to help you when you need him,” she said.
The little boy thought about that for a minute and then went to the back door and cracked it a little. Peering out into the darkness, he called out, “Jesus? If you’re out there, would you please hand me the broom?”
There are times I am still tempted to peer out into the darkness, of the unknown, what can seem like a really scary future, and pray, “Jesus, if you are out there would you please help me!”
Let me ask you, is there something that scares you? Are there times when your courage fails you? Living in a time of recession, with high unemployment and shrinking pay checks, investments evaporating and businesses going broke, we might be suffering from economic anxiety. Younger people are trying to figure out how to prepare for an uncertain future, what vocation can they pursue? In an economy where jobs can disappear suddenly and without warning, unexpectedly outsourced, or made obsolete by technology, many of us feel insecure. Since we are a graying congregation, many of us are looking ahead to the potential of health problems. When the physician says, “when we get to a certain age,” or “I am sorry to have to tell you this,” our whole world can be turned upside down in a minute. Some of us may be dying even as we speak. All of us are facing the unknown.
God can see right through us and knows that alone our courage will not be enough. Alone we will become afraid and betray our commitments to follow the way of Jesus. Alone, like Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest, we will turn tail and run in the face of danger and hide.
And that is why God does not intend for us to be alone. God has given us the Body of Christ, where good spiritual friends can help to strengthen us. Our faith community can hold us by the hand and pray with us and for us when we are afraid. When we look out into the darkness of the unknown, we can pray, “Jesus, if you are out there would you please help me!” And here is the good news of the Gospel. Jesus is out there. Remember the message of the angels to the women on Easter morning at the empty tomb? “He is not here. He has risen, and he is going before you.” Christ is still alive in the community of faith of those who follow Jesus, those who seek to love God and love their neighbor, rejecting all forms of violence and caring for the poor, the least and the lost. But we have to run to catch up. Jesus isn’t somewhere back there in history, Jesus is now and in our future as we pray with and for each other, sharing with the poor, and working for peace and justice.
You know in Huntsville you can meet a lot of people who have jumped out of airplanes. This story was told by a young lieutenant who was about to make his first night jump. As they were flying toward the drop zone the jump master asked him, “Scared, lieutenant?”
“No,” the lieutenant replied. “Apprehensive.”
“What’s the difference?” inquired the jump master.
“Apprehensive means I’m scared, but with a college diploma.”
College diplomas don’t eliminate fear. Apprehensive or scared, God can see right through us. Fear is the enemy of faith. Out of fear we can betray our vocations and betray others. Fear causes us to turn inward and become less generous and selfish. Fear sucks all of the joy out of life. And following the way of Jesus should inspire faith and lead to true joy.
Let us live faithfully without fear, trusting God to see us through. For as Paul wrote long ago to Christians who were facing persecution and death. Romans 8: 37 No, in all these things we conquer our fears through Christ who loves us.
38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you’re out there, Jesus, help us!!
Bible Study 3.26.12, 3.29.12, 4.1.12 For Worship 4.8.12
Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre.
2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow.
4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.”
8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The gospel accounts of the empty tomb do not agree with one another. The only two details of the empty tomb story that all of the gospel agree upon is that the tomb was empty, and Mary Magdalene one of the first persons to visit the tomb that day. We should also note there is no mention of an empty tomb in any of Paul’s letters. Some scholars think that possibly the empty tomb is a later tradition developed to try to explain the early church’s experience of the Living Christ after his death and burial. Whatever the first disciples’ experience after the resurrection it probably wasn’t a resuscitated corpse. Easter is not about the zombie Jesus.
Matthew presents the most dramatic account of the angel who rolls the stone away, and actually names the figure who speaks with the women at the tomb as an angel. The other gospels speak of someone wearing white without calling it an angel, but we can understand that in First Century parlance a mysterious figure wearing bright white or dazzling raiment was intended to be an angelic presence.
We might also note that only in Matthew and John does the Risen Christ appear to the women near the tomb. In Matthew he appears to both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, and in John just to Mary Magdalene. An interesting difference between John and Matthew is that in John the resurrected Christ tells Mary Magdalene not to “cling” to him, while in Matthew the two Mary’s took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
The early church had a hard time working out just what those first disciples experienced on Easter morning. Even the disciples themselves may not have fully understood what they were experiencing in their encounters with the Risen Christ. Did he have a physical body, or a spiritual body. Was he a corporal entity or a vision. The different post-Resurrection stories are not at all consistent. The risen Jesus can pass through locked doors, but then asks for a piece of broiled fish to eat. The disciples on the road to Emmaus don’t recognize the stranger until he breaks the bread, and then he vanishes out of their sight. About all we can affirm with any certainty is that the Jesus they had known and loved was brutalized, killed and buried, and then they experienced him as a living presence among them. And that motivated them to continue the ministry he had begun among them.
Matthew has the most extensive account concerning the guards at the tomb. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, and part of the Jewish response to the resurrection narrative of the early church was to claim that the disciples had stolen the body. Matthew 28:11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.
12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers
13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’
14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
15 So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
The polemic between the Temple, the synagogue and the early church may have led to elaborations upon the initial Easter stories. The most important part of the Easter narrative is not even the empty tomb, but rather the message: ” he is going before you.” This message is even true for the church today. The cult of the empty tomb is a way of trying to limit Jesus. If we focus on the empty tomb, we can locate him in time and space, and then we can try to control him. But Jesus is not there, he has risen and he is going before us into the world. We cannot stop him, we cannot tame him, we cannot control him, we cannot place limits on the activities of the Holy Spirit. All we can do is run as fast as we can to catch up to where Jesus is going before us into the world.
The resurrection is a Parable for the church. For too long we have huddled behind the safety of the walls of the church. Maybe one reason for the decline of the church in America today is to motivate us to go looking for where Jesus has gone on before us into the world. Jesus doesn’t care very much whether our particular way of doing church survives. Jesus is too busy looking for the hurting, the least and the lost. He is going before us. Let’s run to catch up. Again let’s reference Albert Schweitzer’s summary of the call to discipleship: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. On what day did the two women go out to the tomb?
2. Who were the two women?
3. What time of day were they going to the tomb?
4. According to the text, what were they intending to do?
5. What extraordinary event occurred as they approached the tomb?
6. Was anyone guarding the tomb?
7. Who greeted the women at the tomb?
8. What was the message for the women?
9. After the women left the tomb who did they encounter?
10. What additional message were the women given, and to whom were they to deliver the message?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. If you had gone out to the tomb on that first Easter, what might you have been feeling?
2. If you met an angel, who told you Jesus’ tomb was empty, what would you feel?
3. Do you think someone stole the body?
4. If an angel said to you, “Do not be afraid,” what do you think would be the meaning of the message for you?
5. What do you think the message, “he is going before you,” means to you?
6. Do the women appear to have any difficulty in recognizing the Risen Jesus?
7. Why do you think the Risen Jesus said, “go to Galilee, and there they will see me?”
8. If Jesus said to you, “do not be afraid,” what would be the meaning of his message to you?
9. Have you ever sensed Christ as a living presence in our life?
Betrayal in the Garden
The Garden of Gethsemane is a powerful story. It appears in all four canonical gospels. Jesus has to make a choice – a difficult choice. He could have very easily climbed the Mt. of Olives in the darkness and disappeared into the Judean Wilderness. Should he save himself and betray his vocation or remain faithful to God’s calling and suffer a horrible fate? What gives me some hope for my own lack of courage is to see Jesus’ struggle in his hour of trial. His choice wasn’t a slam dunk. He struggled. The Letter to the Hebrews interprets the story this way: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. . .” (Hebrews 5:7-9)
In Jesus’ prayer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” we can see that the will of Jesus and the will of God were not one and the same. With struggle Jesus was able to embrace God’s will, but not without struggle. So maybe there is hope yet for me.
Even as Jesus was struggling with his decision to remain faithful, his closest associates were failing him. He chose Peter and James and John to keep watch with him, and they all fell asleep — maybe too much wine at the Last Supper. We can perhaps understand Jesus’ disappointment, if we have ever experienced a sleepless night and a loved one has been unable to stay awake to comfort us in our sleeplessness. Or perhaps we have experienced the annoyance of a loved one who has been unable to sleep and we could not stay awake with them. Poor Beth has learned over almost 40 years, once I fall asleep that’s it.
The other major failure of the evening was Judas’ betrayal. According to the gospels Judas attended the Supper and left early. Recently some scholars have speculated about the possibility that Jesus wanted Judas to betray him. If Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him, why not stop him? Surely the eleven disciples could have overpowered him. But that would have only worked, if they had killed him, uncharacteristic for Jesus, or tied him up and then escaped. Escape was possible without tying Judas up, that was the struggle in the Garden. So why did Jesus permit him to leave the Supper, unless he intended for Judas to betray him? All of this is in the realm of speculation, and we have only the memories of the disciples for the details of the evening. And we know how unreliable memory can be. So we just don’t know.
If Jesus did not put Judas up to betraying him, then we can speculate about motives for Judas. The early church seems to have settled upon greed as the intention that drove Judas. It is unclear what coins are spoken of, although later in Matthew, when Judas returns the coins, the Priests, unwilling to return blood money to the Temple Treasury, use the sum to buy a field for the burial of paupers. So the amount may have been of some value. Probably the thirty pieces of silver reference Zechariah 11:12-13 intended by Matthew to interpret the Jesus Story to be another fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture.
Another possible motive might have been disillusionment. Judas was described as a Zealot. Zealots were First Century Jewish revolutionaries, who were dedicated to trying to drive the Romans out of their homeland. Perhaps when Jesus failed to initiate a revolution following the Palm Sunday Demonstration, Judas became disillusioned and betrayed him. Another possibility might be that Judas believed that God would send an army of angels to rescue Jesus, if he were arrested. Or perhaps Judas believed that the general population would rise up against the Temple authorities and the Romans if they arrested Jesus. We don’t know. According to the story Judas led the Temple thugs to the Garden of Gethsemane and in order to make sure they arrested the right person in the darkness he betrayed Jesus ironically with a kiss. Such drama, it really is an unforgettable story.
Almost all humans who live in community will at one time or another experience betrayal. Betrayal hurts so much, because it comes to us at the hands of someone we have loved and trusted. The driving force behind Judas’ betrayal was probably much deeper and more complicated, than simple greed or ambition. If Judas committed suicide afterward, his betrayal must have haunted him, and ultimately confronted him as a betrayal of himself as well as a friend. Why do we do it? What can we do, when we find ourselves betrayed? What are times when we have betrayed ourselves? There is so much we can learn in the Garden with Jesus.
Often betrayal grows out of unresolved hurt and anger. A careless word is spoken. A relationship grows cold. A jealousy begins to grow, because we feel displaced. Someone we counted on doesn’t meet our need. And from there resentment grows. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks an important word of wisdom.
“Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:25-27)
People do things, things we don’t like, things that hurt us, so we all experience anger in community. Anger is O.K. But when anger remains unexpressed and unresolved, it becomes resentment, and resentment forms walls that block relationship. And when relationship is blocked community breaks down – the fabric of community frays at the edges until it falls apart. Unresolved hurt and anger lead to betrayal. Benedict Arnold was passed over for promotion, because other less able officers were advanced for political reasons. So in retaliation he betrayed his country – straight forward revenge.
Sometimes the hurt and anger that lead to the betrayal of relationships are obvious. Other times the experiences of hurt and anger that lead us to betray relationships lie buried in our past. Remember last month, when we talked about Internal Family Systems and our exiled parts or dysfunctional parts that result from memories of being told we were stupid or lazy or inadequate. Bullying we may have suffered, or abuse from parents, siblings, teachers, peers. All of those hurts and angers that lie buried below the surface may bubble up, when we least expect them, and trigger a betrayal. We may find ourselves unintentionally betraying a relationship, because our unconscious baggage propels us to inappropriately act out of our past hurts.
Lyle Schaller, an important church consultant warns pastors, when they come to new parishes that within the first four weeks approximately 20% of the congregation will decide they don’t like the new minister, because he or she looks or sounds like someone from out of their past. Or the new minister isn’t the old minister, or some beloved pastor from their past. It has nothing to do with the new minister and everything to do with the emotional baggage people bring with them to the new relationship.
Sometimes the hurts of the past cause us to betray ourselves and our own best interests. We have been treated to a whole array of ambitious people, many of them politicians, who have betrayed themselves through inappropriate sexual liaisons. And it is not just American politicians of all parties, but around the world ambitious people, leaders, are often driven to betray relationships out of unmet needs. They betray themselves through their behavior, because they have never embraced the neediness of their hearts, those little unredeemed corners of their souls.
Living in community is difficult. Our egos get in the way. Our feelings get hurt. We all want to feel special. We all want our needs acknowledged and met. But part of living in community is taking turns, sharing, not always having our own way, having to say we’re sorry, allowing other people an opportunity to take the lead, cleaning up our own messes, caring for difficult people, welcoming others who may be very different from ourselves, accommodating other people with different values and sensibilities. Living in community is difficult. And the church has been struggling with trying to help people live in community from the beginning. Look at the disciples at the Last Supper arguing over who was the greatest. Look at that very naughty church in Corinth, where wealth and privilege asserted itself. The rich came early to the community potluck supper and there was nothing left for the poor servants and slaves who had to wait until they got off work. Even to the church in Philippi, a pretty well behaved bunch as early churches went, Paul had to write, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others to be as important as yourselves. Let each one of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
We often think of monks and nuns as somehow more holy or better behaved than people like us, and they do live together. But after visiting the monastery in Cullman, I was assured sainthood is not any more common among monks and nuns, than it is among the likes of us. One monk shared, that the problem with living together in the community of a monastery is that every monk’s mother made potatoes differently. And it is in that difficulty of trying to live together in community that betrayal often occurs.
What we can learn from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is betrayal is not the final word. God knows we are sinful human beings. We have trouble living together in community. We fail one another. We fail ourselves. We all have those small unredeemed corners of our souls. God forgives and loves us. And through the love of Christ God will redeem us when we betray others, and when we betray ourselves.
Bible Study 3.19.12, 3.22.12, 3.25.12 For Worship 4.1.12
Mark 11:1 And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples,
2 and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it.
3 If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'”
4 And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; and they untied it.
5 And those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”
6 And they told them what Jesus had said; and they let them go.
7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it.
8 And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.
9 And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”
11 And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
The Romans and the Chief Priest were in charge in Jerusalem, and Jesus came to town to challenge them. Like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, Jesus knew he needed large numbers of supporters in a public demonstration or he would be marginalized maybe even eliminated his first day in town. So he planned a demonstration.
Reading the gospel accounts Palm Sunday sounds like a spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm for Jesus. Certainly there were many people who joined in the demonstration spontaneously, but careful thought and planning had been put into the event. Bethphage and Bethany were small villages on the eastern slope of the Mt. of Olives. Jesus had several supporters in these villages including Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. To evade arrest, from Sunday through Wednesday Jesus left Jerusalem and spent the night in at different undisclosed locations on the Mt. of Olives, so we know he had many supporters in these villages.
Jesus had arranged for a donkey to be available in an attempt to emulate Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit.
Note how the Zechariah passage not only mentions the donkey, but the word humble is used to describe the Messiah. The Messiah commands “peace to the nations.” And the curious phrases are used: “the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free. . .” No wonder the early church was attracted to the Zechariah passage to describe the Palm Sunday demonstration accompanying Jesus’ entry into the City.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan also claim that the demonstration accompanying Jesus into the eastern gate of the City was timed to match a militaristic parade at the Jaffa Gate on the western side of the City consisting of the Governor Pilate leading a squadron of Roman Calvary from Caesarea into Jerusalem to keep order during the Passover. This might suggest that not only had Jesus come to town to challenge the Temple authorities but also the Romans, and this would explain why later in the week Pilate did not hesitate to sign the order to crucify Jesus.
In case anyone doubts Jesus’ intention look at what the crowds were chanting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our Father David that is coming!” This was not good news to the Romans. If the crowds were ready to re-establish the kingdom of our Father David, the Romans would have to go. In addition the Temple would lose the favored position it enjoyed under the peculiar arrangements of the Roman Occupation. The Romans kept order, and the Temple collected their taxes, and they also participated in foreclosing on peasant who had been taxed into debt, and pushed them off of their land. The High priestly families, then collected the foreclosed upon peasant holdings and incorporated them into huge landed estates, hiring back a few of the peasants as impoverished day laborers. The economic oppression of the system was grinding the vast majority of the population into poverty, while a privileged few profited.
Some scholars might be so bold as to compare the situation in First Century Israel to the economic unrest that has fueled the Occupy Movement. We might even go back and look at Palm Sunday as the first demonstration in the Occupy Jerusalem movement. Like the Occupy Movement today, Jesus was leading a largely non-violent movement. When he overturned the tables of the money changers, no one was killed or seriously injured. John Dominic Crossan points to the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate as the best interpretation of Jesus’ intention as a pacifist agitator:
The foremost historical Jesus scholar alive today, John Dominic Crossan, gives a single powerful example of the nonviolence of Jesus. In what he calls a “magnificently parabolic scene” in John’s gospel, Pilate confronts Jesus about the kingdom of God. “My kingdom” (replies Jesus in the King James Version), is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my followers fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now is my kingdom not from hence” (18:36 KJV).
Crossan draws five foundational insights from this single event. First, that Jesus does indeed make a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of “this world.” This difference is still painfully obvious to anyone who is paying attention. Second, Jesus is “condemned to death by Pilate, who is Roman, in Roman Judea, in the eastern reaches of the roman Empire. But he never mentions Rome as such, and he never addressed Pilate by name. Third, had Jesus stopped after saying that ‘my kingdom is not of this world,’ as we so often do in quoting him, that ‘of’ would be utterly ambiguous.” Crossan goes on:
“’Not of this world’ could mean: never on earth, but always in heaven; or not now in present time, but off in the imminent or distant future; or not a matter of the exterior world, but of the interior life alone. Jesus spoils all of these misinterpretations by continuing with this: ‘if my kingdom were of this world, then would my followers fight, that I should not be delivered’ up to execution. Your soldiers hold me, Pilate, but my companions will not attack you even to save me from death. Your Roman Empire, Pilate, is based on the injustice of violence, but my divine kingdom is based on the justice of nonviolence.’
Fourth, Crossan argues that the crucial difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Rome is that one is nonviolent and the other is not. “This world” refers to the violent normalcy of civilization itself under Roman rule in the first century – to the way things got done and life is ordered. Fifth, Crossan argues that Pilate is the most important interpreter of Jesus in the entire New Testament. He knows the difference between Barabbas and Jesus. As Crossan points out, “Barabbas is a violent revolutionary who ‘was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection’ (Mark 15:7). Pilate arrested Barabbas along with those of his followers he could capture. But Jesus is a non-violent revolutionary, so Pilate has made no attempt to round up his companions. Both Barabbas and Jesus oppose Roman injustice in the Jewish homeland, but Pilate knows exactly and correctly how to calibrate their divergent oppositions. (pages 96-97 The Underground Church, by Robin Meyers)
Can non-violent revolutions actually succeed? The velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Fall of the Soviet Empire, the Fall of Hosni Mubarek, suggest it might be possible. On the other hand, Muamar Qadaffi, didn’t go quietly. The Syrian Regime is violently suppressing the rebellion in their nation. The Romans were afraid enough of Jesus to crucify him.
Should the followers of Jesus support the protests over economic injustice in our world today or should the church preach that people should shut-up, work hard, and trust in free enterprise? Should the followers of Jesus join the Occupy movement, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the Temple? If the church decides to join the side of the oppressed, there will probably be a price to pay. But what is the price of taking the side of wealth and power? What would Jesus do?
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. From what direction did Jesus and his followers approach Jerusalem?
2. Where were Bethphage and Bethany located?
3. When Jesus sent a couple of disciples ahead of the procession, what were they supposed to look for?
4. What were they supposed to tell the owner?
5. What did Jesus do with the animal?
6. Upon seeing Jesus approaching the City, what did the crowds do?
7. What were the crowds chanting?
8. According to Mark when Jesus enters the Temple on Sunday what did he do?
9. According to the other gospels what did Jesus do in the Temple on Palm Sunday?
10. What prophet did the early church use to describe the events of Palm Sunday?
11. What other images did that prophet invoke that might used to describe events during Holy Week?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Do you think Palm Sunday was planned or a purely spontaneous event?
2. What do you think Jesus was trying to accomplish on Palm Sunday?
3. Do you think the early church was accurate in referencing Zechariah 9 in relationship to the Palm Sunday event?
4. Do you think the chants of the crowds supported the overthrow of the Romans?
5. Do you think the Romans should have been afraid of the Jesus movement?
6. What do you think of John Dominic Crossan’s observations about Jesus and Pilate?
7. Do you think Jesus was purely non-violent?
8. Do you think non-violence works?
9. In a world experiencing unrest over economic issues, do you think the church has any good news to preach and to whom?
10. What do you think of the Occupy Movement?
11. Do you think the followers of Jesus can play a role in bringing greater peace and justice to the world?
Bible Study 3.12.12, 3.15.12, 3.18.12 For Worship 3.25.12
Mark 14:66-72; Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:25-27
Mark 14:66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the maids of the high priest came;
67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.”
68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway.
69 And the maid saw him, and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.”
70 But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.”
71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”
72 And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Matthew 26: 69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.”
70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.”
71 And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”
73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the cock crowed.
75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Luke 22: 54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance;
55 and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.
56 Then a maid, seeing him as he sat in the light and gazing at him, said, “This man also was with him.”
57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”
58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.”
59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.”
60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.
61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”
62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
John 18:25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, “Are not you also one of his disciples?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
26 One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?”
27 Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed.
The story of Peter’s denial occurs in all four canonical gospels. The essentials of the narrative are about the same, but the details vary. John has the shortest, almost truncated, version of the story. John’s version also differs from the others in that Peter is not the only follower of Jesus at the House of the High Priest. The one known as the Beloved Disciple is also there, but because he is “known” to the High Priest, he is allowed inside the house, where presumably he witnesses the trial of Jesus, although he says nothing. The denial of Peter can help us to understand the discussion among scholars whether or not later gospel writers had copies of the earlier written gospels in front of them, or they were writing from the memory of having heard other versions of the gospels read in worship. Most scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written first. Scholars vigorously debate whether or not a written Passion narrative existed before Mark’s Gospel. Certainly the early church had a highly developed oral narrative of the Last Days of Christ by the time Mark was written. To be sure there can be wide variations in oral narratives, and this may account for some of the differences between our accounts in the canonical gospels.
The earliest followers of Jesus were focused upon the living presence of Christ in their midst. As they shared the story with others who did not know Jesus, they had to fill in background and history. As they developed those shared memories of Jesus, the followers who were most familiar with the Hebrew scriptures began to make connections parallels between the details of the Jesus story and the Torah.
In all four gospels Peter’s denial is matched with a prediction made by Jesus at the Last Supper, that Peter would indeed deny Jesus before the cock crowed – prophecy and fulfillment.
Some scholars have described the Gospel of Mark as a Passion narrative with an extended introduction. This story about the failure of Peter was important to early Christians. They told the story and retold the story, and that is why it has been preserved, and we can presume that it was Peter who first told the story on himself, otherwise it is hard to imagine how this incident might have been preserved. One reason the story seems to be authentic is that it is so consistent with the character of Peter in other stories in the gospel. This is the disciple who refused to let Jesus wash his feet. He was the disciple who first identified Jesus as the Messiah. Peter was the follower who climbed out of the boat during the storm and then sank because of his fear. There is even a tradition that when Nero instituted the persecution of the Christians in Rome, Peter tried to flee the City. As he was walking out of the Rome to escape almost certain arrest and death, he experienced a vision of Jesus walking into the City, and Jesus asked him, “quo vadis,” or “where are you going?” According to tradition Peter turned around and walked back into the City and to his martyrdom.
The story of Peter was important to the early church because many of these narratives portrayed a person who was enthusiastic for Jesus, but at critical moments his courage would fail him. He had more enthusiasm than he had courage, and many, many ordinary believers could identify with his example.
The early Christians were placing themselves directly in opposition to Rome. The Christian affirmation, “Jesus is Lord,” was treason in a world where “Caesar is Lord.” Those early Christians were running an underground subversive faith community, and they were constantly in danger of being found out. The Jerusalem authorities and the Romans, when they arrested Christians offered them mercy if they would renounce Jesus and affirm their faith in the Temple or in the Emperor. The Romans even had a ceremony, where the Christian was supposed to burn a pinch of incense before a statue of the Emperor and swear allegiance to Rome. Many early Christian leaders compared the temptation to renounce Jesus in the face of Roman oppression with the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus.
Personally, I identify with Peter. I don’t like confrontations. Fear brings out the worst in me. Generally speaking I live to fight another day. But how often have I betrayed my vocation by taking the path of least resistance and saving my own skin? The early Christian community was trying to encourage those early followers of Jesus to accept the consequences of remaining faithful to Christ. It ain’t easy.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
- How many disciples were present in the courtyard of the High Priest?
- How many times is Peter identified as a follower of Jesus?
- How many times does he deny knowing Jesus?
- Does Peter attempt to give any explanation for why he is in the courtyard of the High Priest?
- Who all accuse Peter of being a follower of Jesus?
- How many times does the cock crow?
- Does Peter see Jesus after Jesus has been taken into the house of the High Priest?
- What does Peter do after being accused of being a follower of Jesus?
- Where did Peter go to hide?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
- Why do you think Peter followed Jesus to the House of the High Priest?
- Have you ever known someone who was arrested?
- How did their arrest change your relationship with them?
- Why do you think Peter denied knowing Jesus?
- Have you ever been put on the spot by an accusation?
- What is the most cowardly thing you think you’ve done?
- Do you think you have ever failed God?
- Have you ever failed a close friend?
- Were you forgiven?
- If there was something in your life you wish you could change, what would it be?