The other night I was hanging out in a friend’s basement, listening to Lacey Sturm’s “State of Me” on Radio U. And when she repeatedly sang, “Just get behind me,” I thought of Jesus’ brutal reprimand to Peter in Matthew 16:23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.” Is Jesus calling Peter the actual Devil?
I like water. You know what, I’m going to lead with that: I like water. Those who don’t like water typically complain that it has no taste, and they’re right. Drinking water for the taste is like playing Tetris for the storyline. But I’m a runner, and after an hour-long run in the summer heat, there are few things I want more than a cold glass of water. Maybe a million dollars. I would probably forego the glass of water for a million dollars. But there are few things apart from that, because when I get back from a run, I am thirsty, and as great as a million dollars are, you can’t drink a million dollars. You can drink water. And today’s chapter of John is about the thing for which water is a metaphor.
The gospel of Mark is weird, but at least it’s synoptic. You probably already know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the three synoptic gospels, but you may not know that the word “synoptic” comes from the Greek words συν, syn, meaning “together,” and οπτικος, optikos, the adjective form for the word meaning “seeing” or “sight.” We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptics because they’re looking together at the same events from Christ’s life, looking at him in more or less the same way. John’s gospel, however, is so weird it isn’t even synoptic. In all probability, John was the last gospel to be written down, so it’s like John’s saying to us, “I’m going to complement the synoptics by giving you a whole different vantage point on Jesus Christ, and it’s going to blow your mind.” I may be editorializing a bit with that last phrase, but the fact remains: the gospel of John provides a distinct look at the life of Jesus Christ, and it is weird.
In yesterday’s chapter, Paul preached his Mars Hill sermon, which we in our blog post for all intents and purposes ignored. Through the sermon, he won the interest of the Athenians and a non-trivial amount of converts, as well as a measure of scorn from some for believing that the dead can be raised. In today’s chapter, having made all the progress he can in Athens, he leaves of his own volition, for once not chased out by angry mobs, and goes to Corinth. And in Corinth, he finds a populace surprisingly receptive to the gospel.
So this is the part where Paul almost dies.
As many of you know, that well-worn Bible from the photos with the occasional handwritten marginal notes is my dad’s. He’s had it for nearly as long as I can remember; the date in the front cover is 8/28/88. I was five then. I used to look at the maps in the back, with their bright colors tracing out the boundaries of geopolitical regions and the travels of Christ and Paul. Much of their information went right over my elementary-school head, but now I’m older and wiser, or at least better educated, and for today’s chapter, those maps might conceivably come in handy. Paul connects with Barnabas and gets his first major missionary voyage underway, and two major events occur at Paphos on the island of Cyprus and on the mainland at Pisidian Antioch.
In today’s chapter, Peter deals with the fallout from his acceptance of Cornelius as a fellow follower of Christ, and the obvious place to go with it is that racism and religious bigotry have no place in the church. But as true as that is, I don’t want to co-opt the passage or use it as a soapbox to make my own points. Furthermore, there are some peculiarities in Peter’s interactions with the other Jewish Christians here, so let’s trade our broad brush for the detail one as we dig in.
The end of the last chapter and the beginning of this one form a sort of interlude. The new Christian movement is sharing goods and property among its members. Some landowners are even selling their land to support their brethren, but a couple named Ananias and Sapphira, hoping to capitalize on the good favor that such deeds bring, keep back a portion of their profits and lie about how much they sold their land for. And then they die. I’m sure we could get plenty of mileage out of untangling that thorn bush, but frankly, I’d rather take a look at Peter’s second visit to Jewish Prison and the wisdom of Gamaliel the Pharisee. If you really want me to revisit Ananias and Sapphira, perhaps I will, if you ask nicely.
Acts 2 is the chapter where the early church blows up. Boatloads of Jews from all over have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, known in Greek as Pentecost. The Holy Spirit miraculously grants the disciples the ability to speak and comprehend various languages, in a kind of reverse Babel, and Peter preaches a gospel message to the crowds that results in thousands repenting and getting baptized. In the previous chapter, the disciples had been biding their time, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them. But here God starts making waves, and he won’t let up until it gets the disciples kicked out of Jerusalem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Welcome to our last day on this passage and portion of the Triad study. The study workbook recommends that on this day I go ahead and read Matthew 12:46-50 from my own perspective, as a disciple of Jesus. It occurs to me that I’ve done that every day this week, necessarily, even as I imagine what someone else’s perspective on the verses might be. By design, I am always in my own head. But some days I write with a point in mind, and other days I just read the passage, start writing, and find out what there is to say. Today? I suppose it’s a little of both.