Flood’s over, folks. Time to go home.
Maybe it’s just a function of growing up evangelical, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from reading Genesis as a battleground for fundamentalists and skeptics. Here we are, about to go into a giant flood and a giant boat intended to preserve eight human beings and every kind of animal, while an ostensibly omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity kills every other living thing because the world has gone south. If it strains your credulity, then it strains your credulity; I get it. It’s weird. And it’s a story about God’s direct involvement in the world; true or false, you can’t expect it not to be big. But there is a time and a place for apologetics, and to me at least it doesn’t seem that today’s entry is that time or place.
In John 13, we get into Jesus’ last Passover, and as you might expect, there’s a cloud hanging over it. Last things have a tendency to be sad. (And of course a song comes to mind; here I’m thinking of “The Last Unicorn.”) But in spite of the path before him, Jesus doesn’t focus on his own suffering, present or future. Instead, he begins the Passover by washing his disciples’ feet.
I could talk some more about Lazarus today, along with his sisters. They show up in this chapter. But I only have so much time and space to talk about the chapter, and it seems there are bigger things going on here. In any of the gospels, when you come to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, you know you’re entering the endgame.
The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was a dark day in history. I mean that literally: the bulk of that afternoon saw Golgotha and its environs shrouded in darkness. It’s not clear from simply reading the gospels whether it was simply overcast, whether a solar eclipse occurred, or whether this was a supernaturally-caused gloom. Nor is it clear whether we’re looking at a localized phenomenon, a global one, or somewhere in between. Scholars have turned to outside sources to figure out just what went down, but we’ll leave it to them to sort out the details. My point is that vision rolls were taking at least a -3 darkness penalty.
Oh, and it was dark in the metaphorical sense too. You know, insofar as the chief priests killed God.
You know Switchfoot’s song “The Loser?” Of course you do. You’re no Johnny-come-lately Switchfoot fan, familiar only with their work from The Beautiful Letdown on. You’re a person of taste who has been there since Legend of Chin and appreciates the whole spectrum of Switchfoot’s corpus.
So of course you remember the first lines of “The Loser”: “Only the losers win; they’ve got nothing to prove. They’ll leave the world with nothing to lose.” Throughout the song, frontman Jon Foreman never once mentions Jesus or God even implicitly, but savvy listeners such as yourself understand that he’s banking on his loser status precisely because he believes in a God who loves the losers. And you’ll realize that those opening lines, along with the rest of the song, reflect Jesus’ own well-known teaching: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”
Today Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem. What awaits him there? Enemies, certainly, but also friends. For the first time since chapter 15’s concern over Gentile circumcision, we’ll see James again, and we’ll also see other disciples not mentioned by name. Philip even makes an appearance as Paul’s trip to Jerusalem takes him through Caesarea.
Today’s chapter, like the one before it, contains Paul stories, but the very first story would be “Paul went through Macedonia and Greece, and when he headed back through Macedonia he went from Philippi to Troas, and he was joined by seven guys.” In Troas, we see another story where a young man falls out a third-story window, but the bulk of the chapter consists of Paul’s address at Miletus. In these latter stories, Luke appears to suggest some parallels between Paul and Jesus, so let’s dig into that, shall we?
Matthew 24 is basically Luke 21, and I’ve already talked about Luke 21, so I guess we’re done here.
Just as the transfiguration divided the gospel of Luke in half, so it divides Matthew. It’s a momentous, supernatural event that marks a shift in the narrative no matter which gospel you’re reading it in. And when you reach Matthew’s account of the transfiguration here in chapter 17, you know you’re not too far from the endgame in Jerusalem, in part because it suddenly starts hitting the disciples: hey, there’s going to be an endgame in Jerusalem.