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Monday, January 14, 2019

Are you amazed or offended?

How easily do you go from amazed to offended? How much influence does "the crowd" hold over your opinions... your faith... your trust? And how do you balance trusting with testing?

This week's study invites us to stand in the crowd watching a miracle. Will we believe it, question it, reject or accept the possibility? Will we follow the healer?

(35)  Belief and Unbelief

How do we react to the “unlikely”?  If we see something that doesn’t seem possible, do we:
1.       Ask everyone else what they think happened?
2.       Go away to think and research privately?
3.       Tell yourself you were mistaken?
4.       Tell everyone else they must have been mistaken?

Read Matthew 9:27-31
1.       Why two ? The number has symbolic meaning, but does it have human implications too?

2.       What makes us more or less likely to say “Yes, I believe”?

3.       Would you find it easy or hard to keep quiet? Why?

Read Matthew 9:32-34
1.       Do you want to identify with the man, the crowd, or the Pharisees?

2.       Can you think of times when others might have identified you with
a.       the man, (did religious people think he was heading in a “wrong” direction)

b.      the crowd, (did religious leaders see them as too eager to accept a “new” thing)

c.       or the Pharisees (too cautious and critical for their own good, perhaps)?

Matthew places these two miracles straight after Jairus’ daughter and the woman in the crowd. He follows with Jesus sending the disciples out to teach and heal—an odd juxtaposition when Jesus has just warned others to keep quiet. But his account rejoins Mark’s after the “teaching digression,” so let’s start our next story with Mark: Read Mark 6:1-6
1.       Does it surprise you how quickly they move from “amazed” to “offended”?

2.       How easily are we swayed by “the crowd”?

3.       How do we keep a right balance between what we know, what we assume, and what we are learning from God

Read Matthew 13:53-58 The people are responding to Jesus’ “wisdom” as well as his “miracles.”
1.       What do we respond to most—what we see or what we hear?

2.       What do we respond to most carefully—what we see or what we hear?

3.       What do we emphasize in our faith—wisdom, miracles, relationship…?

Luke places this story earlier (and we’ve already read Luke 4:16-30 in an earlier study. The chronology we’re following takes Jesus and the disciples through many villages (Mark 6:6), and we’ll assume this is on his way south to Jerusalem, to another Festival. Next week’s study will look at events and teaching there, but first, let’s just set the scene…

Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem coincided with Passover (John 2:13), so next week’s stories could coincide with Pentecost, just a few weeks later (which wouldn’t leave much time for all the Galilean events we’ve just studied), or it could be a festival in the following year. Since Pentecost celebrates the giving of the law to Moses, and John 5:39 shows Jesus teaching about the law, this “second” visit to Jerusalem is usually imagined to take place at Pentecost after a year of Galilean ministry. For those who like dates, Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem (first cleansing of the Temple, meeting with Nicodemus, etc) might be in Spring AD 27, and this second one in early summer AD 28.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Where does faith fit in?

2019! A New Year and a continuing Bible study... continuing prayer perhaps, continued hope, continued healing... May God bless you in the coming year, and may you grow in faith.

(34) Continuing in Miracles

Matthew’s gospel, well organized in sections, collects a list of Jesus’ miracles—leprosy, centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, calming the storm (which we read last time), Gadarene demoniac(s) (also last time), paralyzed man… then the calling of Matthew, rules about fasting (wonder why they come in between)… then raising a dead girl and healing a sick woman, following by healing the blind and mute. Mark and Luke go straight from the Gadarene demoniac to the raising of a dead girl on the Jewish side of the Sea, so we’re following their timeline, reading another miracle that had to be viewed as more than just the magic of medicine (Luke’s domain) and wisdom (Matthew’s perhaps).
Read Matthew 9:18-19, Mark 5:21-24, Luke 8:40-42
1.       Some translations of Matthew say the ruler “worshipped” Jesus. Could Matthew have meant that?
2.       What’s the difference between “has died,” “at the point of death,” and “is dying”? Why might the distinction have been less important in the language of the time?
3.       How far do you suppose Jairus was asking them to travel? And who was following? Can you picture the scene?
4.       We know, as we read or remember this, that a woman is pushing her way through the crowd, eager to touch Jesus’ garment. How does this affect your picture of the scene?
a.       Do you think this might be how it often was for Jesus as he walked through towns?
b.      Might this have some bearing on why Jesus asked people not to talk about him?
Read Matthew 9:20-21, Mark 5:25-28, Luke 8:43-44
1.       Why doesn’t Matthew tell us as much about the woman’s situation? What is he emphasizing?
2.       The woman was probably viewed as constantly menstruating, therefore constantly unclean, socially isolated… not technically allowed to be out in a crowd. What sort of thing makes it difficult for people today to “come to Jesus” for healing—Christians and non-Christians.
3.       Touching his garment to be healed sounds strange to us—sounds, maybe, like relics of the saints? But people tried to touch Paul’s handkerchiefs later (Acts 19:12)—it wasn’t so uncommon then; a healer’s power could be imagined as spreading to things he touched. So… how do we respond when other Christians have traditions and ideas that seem strange to mid-century modern Western ears?
Read Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:29-34, Luke 8:45-48
1.       Why might the disciples have found a healing easier to believe than Jesus’ knowing someone touched him?
2.       What things do we find hardest to believe?
3.       All three versions agree that faith was important in her healing. Was any faith involved in the earlier healing of the demoniac? How does this fit into modern “faith-healing”?
Read Matthew 9:23-24, Mark 5:35-40, Luke 8:49-53
1.       All three versions agree that someone “ridiculed” Jesus. Was it the crowds, the mourners, the parents…? Who are most likely to ridicule faith today? Who ridicules your faith?
2.       Was the girl dead?
3.       What do we do when prayers (like those for the girl) don’t seem to be answered?
Read Matthew 9:25-26, Mark 5:41-43, Luke 8:54-56
1.       Why might Matthew not mention Jesus’ foreign words?
2.       Why might Jesus not want the miracle talked about? (And how would you hide the fact that a dead girl is alive?)
3.       What else besides faith is involved? And where does food fit in?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Magic, Miracles and Options in between

Our New Testament studies so far have centered on Jewish territory - Jerusalem, Galilee, and Samaria (perhaps less Jewish, but still under strong Jewish influence). This week we follow Jesus across the sea to a place where Judaism was just one option among many, and probably not the preferred option. A world not so different from our own perhaps?

(33) The Difference between Magic and Miracles

Jesus is a man of action as well as words. Now, having preached to Galileans in and around Capernaum, he sets of in a boat for “the other side.” It’s not just the other side of the lake—it’s the other side of the world; a place where the Jewish faith is not dominant; it’s just one of many options; a place where the “pearl of great price,” which Matthew described in one of last week’s parables, will make perfect mystical sense.

Read Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25
1.       One boat or several? In practice you would probably need more than one boat to carry Jesus’ followers.

2.       “Lord save us,” or “Teacher, don’t you care?” Which one most closely echoes your prayers? When and why?

3.       What sort of faith would we need to not cry out “Lord save us?”

4.       Why do the disciples seem more impressed with this than, say, with a healing miracle? What impresses us?

Read Matthew 8:28-29, Mark 5:1-7, Luke 8:26-29
1.       One demoniac or two? (Matthew also mentions two blind men—Matthew 20:29-30, Mark 10:46, Luke 18:35) What is the significance of the number two? (Read Matthew 18:16)
2.       Gergesene, Gerasene, or Gadarene? (Gergesene means someone who comes from a pilgrimage or fight. But Gerasa and Gadara were both cities to the south-east of the Sea of Galilee (Geresa is further from the coast)).
3.       What is the demoniac’s situation when he meets Jesus? (Compare with, say Mark 1:23-35)
a.       How does this compare with modern-day illnesses?
b.      Is it important to interpret this as demonic rather than mental or physical illness?
4.       Read Mark 5:8-10, Luke 8:29-31 Who spoke first—Jesus or the demoniac?
a.       Why might Matthew not tell us this?
b.      What do you think of the demons’ name?
5.       Read Matthew 8:30-32, Mark 5:11-13, Luke 8:32-33.
a.       Do you feel sorry for the pigs?
b.      Why might the demons want to enter the pigs? (And why are they arguing with Jesus in the first place?)
c.       What significance might the pigs have had, in human terms and in spiritual terms?
d.      The local people are probably not Jewish (since they keep pigs), but are probably well aware of Jewish culture. How might destroying the pigs make them view Jesus?
6.       Read Matthew 8:33-34, Mark 5:14-17, Luke 8:34-37
a.       Why might a healing frighten the people?
b.      Why might losing their pigs frighten the people?
c.       Are we more easily influenced by spiritual, physical, or social threats?
7.       Read Matthew 9:1, Mark 5:18-20, Luke 8:38-39
a.       Did Jesus go home or continue to travel in the Decapolis (and does it matter?)
b.      Why doesn’t Matthew mention the man wanting to follow Jesus?
c.       Who might we not want to imagine following Jesus?
In what sense would both these events be undeniably miraculous, rather than the product of magic (skill, wisdom, …)