Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

I have previously blogged about how difficult it’s been for those Christians arguing the case against same-sex marriage because of the difficulty of using evidence from the Bible or our religious tradition in a secular debate. You don’t seem to read or hear many ministers quoting Jesus’ words about family while trying to defend traditional marriage. I’ve heard some proponents of the Yes case saying Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Sure, but he spoke about family quite a bit. It’s just that what he said was kinda, well, awkward. When discussing marriage, Jesus quoted the Old Testament book of Genesis (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” – Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5), but this was in the context of him laying down the law about divorce and remarriage. On that topic Jesus definitely votes NO (except in the case of sexual immorality). Pretty much everything else he says about marriage or family isn’t terribly quotable in a debate about marriage, whether same-sex or traditional. Jesus himself didn’t marry or father children, a highly unusual (indeed suspect) choice at that time. In fact, when his disciples moaned about his harsh teaching on divorce, saying maybe it’d be easier never to marry in the first

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When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

It’s tempting sometimes to fall into the habit of thinking that God only hears the prayers of those who have achieved some level of holiness above the average. Have you ever found yourself asking your pastor or priest to pray for something as if their prayers are likely to ring louder in the ears of God than yours? We’re taught, Jesus won’t hear your prayers if your motives are selfish. And, Jesus won’t answer you if you don’t believe the right things about him. Really? Because in the Bible we find Jesus not just answering, but honoring, the request of a woman made out of selfish motives and based on an entirely false assumption about him. The nameless woman’s story appears in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, Luke 8:43–48) and it’s one of Jesus’ strangest and yet most touching miracles. In all three accounts, the healing of the bleeding woman is presented as an interruption to a larger story – Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jairus, a synagogue leader has approached Jesus, asking him to heal his dying child, and the two of them, together with the disciples, are making their way through a dense crowd of onlookers and supplicants toward Jairus’ house. En route, the nameless woman approaches Jesus in secret, blending in with

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Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

When you think about Jesus as a shepherd this is what comes to mind, right? Gentle Jesus with a docile lamb nestled in his arms or around his shoulders? The nurturing shepherd, protecting his sheep, loving them one and all? These pictures are everywhere, painted on canvas, etched in stained glass, assembled in mosaics. They are the most popular and enduring images of Jesus and justifiably so. But when Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd is this only what he had in mind? Images of Jesus with a single pathetic lamb owe more to a parable he told in Matthew 18 and Luke 15 about a shepherd leaving his ninety-nine safe sheep to rescue a single lost one. He told the story to explain to the Pharisees why he hung out with “sinners” (a thing the Pharisees clearly frowned on). But the passage in which he described himself as the good shepherd is John 10. In that passage he’s also tangling with the Pharisees. They have just subjected a poor beggar blind from birth, who had been miraculously healed by Jesus, to nothing short of spiritual abuse. They brutally haul him and his family through various theological panels demanding he explain who Jesus is and where his power comes from. The man is illiterate, uneducated, unsophisticated. In his ignorance

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“Call me Mara” – Chrissie Foster and the bitter taste of faith

“Call me Mara” – Chrissie Foster and the bitter taste of faith

Chrissie Foster was a happily married Catholic mother of three girls when her whole world began to collapse, falling in on itself like a gaping wound had opened up beneath her and was swallowing everything she knew and loved. Chrissie’s own personal hell began when two of her daughters, Emma and Katie, disclosed that they had been repeatedly raped by a priest while attending a Catholic primary school. When Chrissie and her husband Anthony raised this matter with the church they were rebuffed. The then Cardinal of Melbourne George Pell met with them and showed a “sociopathic lack of empathy.” While stonewalling the Fosters, the cardinal challenged them, “If you don’t like what we are doing, take us to court”. They did. But after a decade-long court battle, their daughter Emma could bear the pain no longer. She committed suicide at the age of 26. Shortly after, her sister Katie spiraled into alcohol abuse and was involved in an accident that left her severely disabled, requiring 24-hour care. Devastated, Chrissie and Anthony gave their lives to advocating on behalf of the victims of child sexual abuse within the church. They have been relentless in their pursuit of a church hierarchy that seemed resolved to avoiding responsibility for what many of their priests were doing to children for decades. Then last

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The ferocious motherly love of God

The ferocious motherly love of God

I spent my first Mother’s Day as a motherless child this year. My dear old mother passed away in November last year and I wasn’t sure if Mother’s Day celebrations would affect me or not. I braced myself for the onslaught of cheesy quotes about the wonders of mothering in my social media newsfeeds. I blanched when one ministry friend (who should have known better) posted on Facebook, “Don’t forget to text your mum for Mother’s Day,” to which came the sad reply from another friend, “Not able to. Texts don’t go to heaven”. Bless. Sure enough, my feed was full of pictures of flowers and syrupy quotes. But then I got a note from the minister of our church. In the mail. Delivered to the letterbox outside my house. Remember those? He wrote to acknowledge that this would be my first Mother’s Day without my Ma and to say he was thinking of me and that he hoped I would be comforted by “the ferocious motherly love of God” at this time. Wait, what? The ferocious motherly love of God? I’m in no doubt that the Bible uses mothering metaphors to describe God as well as fathering ones. God is described as a nursing mother (Isa 49:15; Num 11:12), a midwife (Ps 22:8-10), and as one who gives birth

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I don’t want to rain on Jesus’ parade, but…

I don’t want to rain on Jesus’ parade, but…

Entry into the City was painted by Californian artist John August Swanson in 1990. It’s one of those enormous pictures where the artist utilizes both vertical space and depth in order to fill the canvas with a host of people, many of them alluding to some hidden narrative. We can only imagine their stories. As Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem we see among the crowd women holding children, a man on crutches, a soldier with dogs, flag-bearers, palm-wavers and those who cover the street with cloaks. What brought each of them there, out onto the streets? John August Swanson’s use of color, movement and light captures the dynamism and the energy of Jesus’ arrival in the capital. He said of his picture, “I wanted to convey my feelings from being in marches for peace and justice. This scene has been repeated countless times in the lives of heroic and selfless leaders who have fought for love, peace, and social justice. It is relived in the lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, and Cesar Chavez.” I too have participated in my share of peace marches. They are full of energy and vitality. People are marching because they believe in something. There’s a tone of hope. The speakers rail against injustice or war or prejudice, and we feel bound

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On this miserable rough-hewn block

On this miserable rough-hewn block

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Mt 20:25)   It was abundantly clear from the US presidential campaign that Donald Trump is very close to his kids. Their affirmation of his nomination at the Republican convention was pretty impressive. And since his election they have joined him as part of a quasi-official inner circle. The President’s daughter Ivanka Trump was appointed as Assistant to the President in March, and her husband Jared Kushner is one of his Senior Advisors. And while Mr Trump’s sons Donald Jr and Eric don’t have official roles in the White House they do enjoy peculiar access to him, appearing occasionally in the front row of official presidential announcements. Hey, I’m not complaining about this. That’s just the way of the world. So what if Mr Trump appoints his kids to top positions? So did Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, and Kim Il-sung. So did plenty of leaders of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and, well, just about every empire in history. So when, on the eve of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, two of his disciples, James and John, and their mother Salome, approached him asking for special status in the kingdom he was about to establish, they were

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Resurrection NOW!

Resurrection NOW!

“I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant,” declares Yahweh. Isaiah 42:14   It is the stunning announcement that God, groaning like a woman in labor, will soon give birth to new life. It’s an unexpected metaphor for God because in the ancient world no one was more vulnerable than a birthing mother. The instances of death during childbirth were high. Women gave birth in a standing, kneeling or squatting position (probably a combination of these as the birth progressed). In many accounts they are described as squatting or kneeling on brightly painted birthing bricks over a specially dug hole, or they sat on a birthing stool or chair. In the Roman world there were special birthing chairs with a U-shaped hole in the seat and supports for the feet and back. It is believed that well-to-do Jewish women in the later biblical period would have used these too. Like a vulnerable woman in the final stages of labor, God’s silence during Israel’s defeat and captivity had been taken for powerlessness. But God’s seeming absence wasn’t weakness. It was gestation. Now, Yahweh will cry out as if in labor, birthing a new future for them. In fact, while a woman might be at greater risk during labor, her apparent helplessness shouldn’t be taken as

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Why you shouldn’t use Romans 13 to quell political dissent

Why you shouldn’t use Romans 13 to quell political dissent

I’ve been involved in my fair share of public demonstrations. I’ve protested against my government’s decisions on a number of issues. I’ve marched against war and in favor of Aboriginal reconciliation, climate change policy and nuclear disarmament. I’ve been arrested for refusing to vacate the Prime Minister’s office while praying for asylum seekers. I’m a citizen of a modern liberal democracy and I have no compunction about expressing my resistance to my elected government’s policies. And yet, at various points, I’ve had well-meaning Christian friends quote Romans 13 to me and tell me I should be acquiescent to those God puts in authority over me. You can read the whole chapter here, but this is how it begins, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Rom 13:1) Paul, the writer of Romans, then goes on to commend the church not to stir up trouble against their rulers. In fact, he’s quite adamant about it, compelling them, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” (Rom 13:3) In other

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Looking into the dark eyes of the wild Galilean

Looking into the dark eyes of the wild Galilean

A few years ago, for a BBC documentary, a forensic scientist took the skull of a first century Palestinian man and using plasticine, reconstructed his face the way they do on television crime shows like CSI. What emerged was a thick-necked, swarthy man of Middle Eastern appearance. He had a heavy brow and a round, broad nose. His eyes were the deepest brown (almost black) and his head was crowned with tight, oily, black curls. He looked not unlike an Al Qaeda operative or an ISIS fighter. The point of the exercise was to show what Jesus might have looked like if he resembled the average Galilean 2000 years ago. That plasticine face caused quite a stir at the time. Could Jesus really look so, well, Middle Eastern? We are so used to Christian religious art that depicts a feminised Jesus as blonde and blue-eyed, staring wistfully into space. These pure-as-the-driven-snow images are trying to capture his holiness and the depth of his spiritual power. In them, Jesus is crowned with halos and swathed in religious robes. But they forget that this holy one was born and lived as a typical Galilean near the modern-day border between Israel and Lebanon. Galileans were noted for being a rough and ready bunch. Surrounded and influenced by various gentile nations in Jesus’ day,

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