Ready for Paul?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ever tried speaking in parables?

We're working our way slowly through the New Testament, following Jesus from last week's talk (well attended by church authorities who carried their complaints with them) to a seaside crowd, desperate to hear the itinerant preacher. I like imagining how the crowd changes, and wondering where I would be if I were part of such a crowd. Where would you be? Knowing it all? Absorbing it all? Somewhere in between...?

(30) Short Stories and Big Significance

Jesus responded with harsh words and condemnation for those who tried to condemn him last week, so… is it okay to ask questions? Is it okay to complain? What’s the difference between legitimate questions (of which the disciples must surely have had many) and wrongful complaints (of which the Scribes and Pharisees had plenty)?

Now we come to Jesus teaching in parables. There are lots of theories about why so much teaching is done in parables:
1.       They were a traditional teaching tool.
2.       They allow truth to be conveyed without condemnation.
3.       They make the listeners think.
4.       They hide the truth from those who will condemn the speaker (e.g. from those earlier questionners?)
5.       They slide the truth into the listener’s brain under the guise of a simple story…

Why do you think Jesus used parables so much?

1.       Do you find reading them helpful?

2.       Do you find them helpful when trying to convey truth to children?  To adults?

3.       Do you know of any other type of “teaching stories”? How do they compare with parables?

The parable of the sower is probably very familiar, though the actions of a sower may be less familiar to us:
1.       Read Matthew 13:1-2 How do you imagine the scene? How is it different  from last week’s scene?

2.       Read Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:4-8. Can you relate to the story? Why, or why not?

3.       Read Matthew 13:10-15, Mark 4:10-12, Luke 8:9-10. What’s missing in the Mark and Luke versions?

4.       Read Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:25. Does this sound fair? Unfair? Like a punishment? Like a natural progression?

5.       Read Isaiah 6:9-10. Does God make them unable to understand as punishment or as protection (or both)?

6.       Does God not want to heal them? (Read Isaiah 6:11-13)

7.       Read Matthew 13:16-17. How does this make us feel?

Jesus goes on to explain the parable—an explanation that presumably makes it easier for us to understand other parables too.
1.       Read Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20, Luke 8:11-15. What differences do you spot in the different versions?

2.       Looking honestly at your life, when might each of these different types of ground have described you?
a.       Faith life falls at the wayside of real life?

b.      Problems squeeze the life out of faith?

c.       Temptation uproots a plan to be faithful?

d.      Fruitfully following Christ?

3.       Does the parable tell us we’re okay, condemn us for not being okay, or provide a way for us to draw closer to God?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Complaining against the complainers... but are we complainers too?

When Jesus speaks of "this generation" I always wonder if he's speaking to our generation too... or to all generations; after all, we're not that good at change. Today's study listens in while Jesus complains against the complainers. But we're still pretty good at complaining today...

(29) Signs of Dark and Light

Last time, we saw Jesus accused of working through Beelzebub. His response included the familiar and difficult to understand teaching about “the unpardonable sin,” or “sin against the Holy Spirit.” Do passages like Matthew 12:31-32 make you feel safe or worried?

The following parable might be an explanation of Jesus’ teaching or a complaint against the complainers. Read Matthew 12:33-37

1.       Are you surprised to find another (or a lengthier) passage promising condemnation?

2.       Are you surprised to find the “tree is known by its fruits” passage included a second time in Matthew (see 7:16)?

3.       Are you surprised to hear pious gentlemen referred to as a “brood of vipers”?
a.       A viper was believed to hatch in its mother’s stomach and eat its way out, killing her. How offensive might such an image have been?

b.      Why might Jesus have chosen such an offensive image? How vivid is it in context?

4.       In verse 36 what are empty/idle/careless  words? Are the words the sin, or just the result of sin?

5.       What might that mean for words poured out on social media, or spewed by people who are drunk or drugged today?

6.       When might our words, or the words of other Christians, condemn us? And what can we do about it?

Read Matthew 12:38-42, Luke 11:16
1.       Gideon asked for a sign (Read Judges 6:17, 36-40) and wasn’t condemned. What’s different here?

2.       We’re told to ask and it will be given to us (Read Matthew 7:7). Again, what’s different?

3.       Have you ever asked God for a sign? What happened?

4.       Read Mark 8:11-12 In what sense was “no sign” given?

5.       Read Luke 11:29-30 How was Jonah a sign to the people of Nineveh?

6.       Why does Matthew mention three nights? (Read Jonah 1:17)

7.       Who is the Queen of the South (Read 1 Kings 10:1)? What might she have in common with the men of Nineveh?

Read Matthew 12:43-45
1.       Is this just another condemnation of “this generation” or is it connected to the previous passage?

2.       Read Luke 11:24-26. If the parable applies to that particular generation, what do you know of Jewish history (up to Roman rule) that might parallel the unclean spirit which has left them?

3.       What might parallel the “swept clean” state of Judaism in Jesus’ time?

4.       What might parallel that state, say, in the time when Rome became Christian? In the time of the Reformation? In the present day?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Family, Friend and Foe on the Galilee Roads

Jesus' ministry in Galilee is just beginning to take off in our New Testament studies. But it's interesting how different a picture we get when we follow the story slowly week by week. Bearing in mind that the real story must have taken one to three years, maybe following slowly is a good thing. We're glad you're joining us!

(28) Friends, Enemies and Family

Luke gives an often-ignored picture of how Jesus travels the countryside. Read Luke 8:1-3.
1.       Is Jesus opposed to the rich, or to money? Are women poor? And is this the picture you expected?
2.       Is Jesus opposed to women in ministry?
3.       What sort of women are following him? Why might poor women not be numbered among them?
4.       Why might family members (Mary for example) not be numbered among them?
Proclaiming the kingdom of God… in Galilee… is a pretty big deal and provokes a prompt, not always positive, response.
1.       Read Matthew 12:22-23, Luke 11:14, Mark 3:20-21. How do people react to miracles—then and now? Have you ever been in gatherings where miraculous healings occurred? How did you feel?
2.       Read Mark 3:22, Matthew 12:24, Luke 11:15. How did the authorities react? And how do churches and denominations react today? How do we know what’s real and what’s fake in bigtent healing ministries?
3.       Read Luke 11:16-23, Matthew 12:25-30, Mark 3:23-27. The accounts are almost alike. Can you paraphrase Jesus’ “proof” that his power comes from God?
a.      Who else might cast out demons at that time?
b.      Who could “judge” what is and isn’t demonic?
c.       Can you paraphrase Jesus’ parable about “binding” the strong man?
d.      What if Jesus is the “strong man”? Who was trying to “bind” Jesus then, and how does that prove they were against him?
e.       How might this parable apply in today’s spiritual/secular world? What or who protects us from evil?
4.       The argument that “He who is not with me is against me” leads directly to that vexing question of the unforgivable sin. Read Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-30.  2,000 years on we’re still arguing over what Jesus meant, but what might his first followers have imagined this meant, in the context of what’s just been discussed? How might Mark 12:30 help us understand?
Questioning Jesus over dinner (as Simon did in last week’s lesson) and accusing Jesus of working with the devil are rather different things. What is happening to people’s attitudes to Jesus at this point? When might polarization of society be a good thing, and when might it be a bad thing?
As the authorities question Jesus more closely, can you imagine them beginning to look more closely into his background too? We’re never told why Jesus mother and brothers leave Nazareth to find him, but they’re about to arrive on the scene. What might you imagine is behind their trip?
Read Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21
1.       How do you imagine the scene?
2.       Read Luke 11:27-28 Someone clearly recognized Mary in the crowd. How did they expect Jesus to respond to her arrival?
3.       What matters more… the genetics of our human birth or the heritage of our spiritual rebirth? How can we show we are children of God in our everyday lives?
4.       Some Christian churches revere Mary. Others cite these passages and ignore her. What do John 2:4-7 and John 19:25-27 reveal about Jesus’ relationship with his human mother?