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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