from Old English, gōd spell "good news"
a writing that describes the life of Jesus

Sunday, July 11, 2010

mary gordon | the jeffersonian temptation

All Christians read like editors, holding in our hands a pencil that we do not fear to use whenever we see fit. Perhaps it is more true to say: all Christians are bowdlerizers. When we come to something we cannot or will not accept, we skip over it, hoping to find something we are happy to hold on to in the next chapter, the next verse, the next page, the next Evangelist.

Perhaps the most famous and audacious bowdlerizer of the New Testament is Thomas Jefferson. He simply took out all the parts of the New Testament he didn't like and put together his own. As a recreation from the pressures of the presidency, he took a pair of scissors to the editions of the New Testament in the four languages he knew - English, French, Latin, and Greek - reconstituting the Gospels so they would be a force for good. And not just generalized good: he was particular in his intentions. The original title of his compilation was "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, extracted from the account of his life and doctrines, as given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; being an Abridgement of the New Testament for use of the Indians, unembarrassed with matters of faith or fact beyond the level of their comprehensions."'

He had the enviable certainty of an Enlightenment thinker. He knew what were really the words of Jesus and which were not. How could he tell? Well, it was obvious. He could tell. After all, wasn't he the author of the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident"? With the same faith, he wrote to John Adams, "We must reduce our volume to the simple Evangelists and select, even from among them, the very words only of Jesus, pairing off the amphiboligisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions of his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his and which is as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dung hill."


One identifies with and envies the bowdlerizing Jefferson. I like thinking of Jefferson, his bewigged, pigtailed head (or did he take his wig off for what might have been sweaty labor - and do we see, rather, an unkempt redhead?), president of the ridiculously young United States, tall, lanky, fifty-plus years old, in shirtsleeves, intent on the pagees he is to ravage, taking a pair of scissors in his hands, the delicious shush shush of the scissors on the heavy rag paper, leaving behind him gaps in the text, letting the Enlightenment through, and the silver air of the newly dawning ninetheenth centruy, the air of post-revolutionary America and France. Looking forward to an age in which there would be no more bloodshed, only rationality and moral behavior. And he will see to it that Jesus, decoupled from magic and mystery, and "leaving out everything relative to his personal history and character, this Jesus, a walking tablet of the law, will be our guide."

But what does he do with the residuum? With the spoiled books, the incarnation of the unacceptable? Does he burn them? Bury them? Hide them away? They were costly and he was a lover of books, the creator of a great private library, which he sold to replace the Library of Congress, whose destruction by the British so enraged him that, according to his biographer, he suggested paying incendiaries in London to set British buildings afire in return.

It is tempting, then, to speculate: did he take pleasure in the blatant destructiveness of such an act, joy in it as a sadistic thrill, a bibliophile's black mass?

The pleasure of this kind of destruction and re-creation is connected to the pain and difficulty of a reading which attempts to be complete. It is this pain, or painfulness, that makes all of us secret sharers of Thomas Jefferson's enterprise. . . .

Which of us would be sure that, in Jefferson's words, we could "pick out the diamonds in the dung heap"? Isn't it one of the limits of Jefferson and his Enlightenment cohorts that they were so insistent on denying the importance of the dung? After all, without dung there would be no nourishment, no life. You can't eat diamonds.

I think one reason I prefer Jesus to Jefferson is that he understands there's no point in the separation. With Jesus, the mixed lot of humanness, the paradox of our nature, is, rather than being lamented, insisted upon, named and renamed.

So how do we as readers reject the Jeffersonian temptation? How do we read without a pair of scissors or a shovel or a match? How can we read the words that are there, all of them, and not even succumb to the temptation of a linguistic fudging or contortions that reduce the impact of actions prompted by an understanding, or misunderstanding, of these semiotic marks?

Mary Gordon, "Reading Jesus"
xvi-xviii and 91-94

Monday, May 3, 2010

chapter, verse & song

matthew 3:5 | prepare ye
matthew 3:7-11 | you vipers' brood!
matthew 3:13-15 | do you come to me?
save the people
matthew 5:17 | do not suppose i have come to abolish the law
matthew 5:18-20 | so long as heaven and earth remain
luke 18:1-8 | there once was a judge who cared nothing for god nor man
luke 18:9-14 | two men went off to the temple to pray
matthew 5:21-25 | do not commit murder
matthew 18:21-35| there once was a king who decided to settle accounts
day by day
matthew 5:29-30 | if your right eye offends you
matthew 5:38-42 | an eye for an eye
luke 10:25-37 | a man was on his way from jerusalem to jericho
matthew 5:43-48 | love your enemies
matthew 6:1-4 be careful not to make a show of your religion
luke 16:19-31 there once was a rich man who dressed in purple and the finest linen
learn your lessons well
matthew 6:22-23 | the lamp of the body
learn your lessons well
matthew 6:22 | slave of two masters
luke 12:13-21 | there once was a rich man whose land yielded heavy crops
o bless the lord my soul
matthew 6:2 | put away anxious thoughts about food and clothes
matthew 6:28-34 | consider the lilies of the field
matthew 5:3-12 | blessed
all for the best
matthew 7:3-5 | the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye
all for the best
matthew 7:1-2 | judge not
matthew 13:1-23 | a sower went out to sow some seed
all good gifts
matthew 6:19 | so don't store up your treasures on earth
all good gifts
matthew 7:6 | don't give to dogs what is holy
luke 15:11-32 | once upon a time there was a man who had two sons
matthew 7:9-12 | is there a man among you who will offer his son a stone?
matthew 5:14-16 | light of the world

learn your lessons well
turn back o man
matthew 21:23-27 | by whose authority?
matthew 21:28-32 | my son, go and work in the vineyard today
matthew 22:16-21 | taxes to the Roman emperor?
matthew 22:36-40 | the greatest commandment?
matthew 23:1-10 | the doctors of the law and the pharisees
matthew 23:13-36 | alas for you
matthew 23:37 | o jerusalem!
matthew 24:4-8 | take care that no one misleads you
matthew 24: 37-44 | in noah's day
matthew 24:45-51 | who is the trusty servant?
john 8:1-11 | the woman caught in adultery
by my side
matthew 26:14-16 | what will you give me to betray him to you?
matthew 25:31-46 | sheep and goats
we beseech thee
matthew 26:20-29 | one of you among us will betray me
on the willows
matthew 26:36-38, 40-41 | gethsemane
matthew 26:33-34 | everyone else may fall away
matthew 26:39 | father, if it be not possible for this cup to pass me by
matthew 4:1-11 | temptation
matthew 26:50-56 | arrest
long live god

...under construction...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

matthew 1:1-17 | son of david, son of bathsheba

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been Uriah's wife,
Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
and Josiah the father of Jeconiah [Jehoiachin] and his brothers
at the time of the exile to Babylon.

After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah [Jehoiachin] was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph,
the husband of Mary,
of whom was born Jesus,
who is called Christ.
["The Christ" (Greek) and "the Messiah" (Hebrew) both mean "the Anointed One."]

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

matthew | genealogy | women

It seems important to Matthew - a Jewish tax collector for the Romans, a numbers man as well as a traitor - to show that Jesus' family tree was nice and symmetrical, numerically speaking. Abraham + 14 + 14 + 14 = Messiah. I wonder if it was actually that tidy?

What seems important to me - and to the Roman census takers, who just before Jesus' birth would order every descendant of David to travel to Bethlehem, "the city of David," to be counted - is that Jesus (who just before his death the Romans would call "King Of The Jews," scrawled on a board above his head, nailed to the same post he was nailed to) was from a line of kings, including David, the other great king of the Jews.

What seems amazing is that Matthew - a traitor, as well as a numbers man, who left both behind to follow this new king of the Jews - makes a point of mentioning all those women. He's tracing the lineage of Jesus from his father, Joseph the carpenter, through all the fathers and grandfathers and not so great great-grandfathers right back to the father of the nation, Abraham himself. Father after father, begetting tribe after tribe, like stars in the sky, grains of sand in the desert. Only he doesn't stick just to the men, that symmetrical procession of fathers and sons stretching like the kings Banquo's prophecy off beyond the chronological horizon. No, Matthew - an outcast, a sinner, an enemy to his own people, unfit to be looked upon - can't help mentioning the other ones who might usually get left off the official register.

Tamar: Genesis 38. Tamar married Judah's eldest son, Er, who (according to the text) God killed because he was wicked. Judah asked his second son, Onan, to have sex with Tamar, to make an heir: he performed coitus interruptus so that there wouldn't be any offspring he couldn't claim as his own, so (according to the text) God killed him. Judah viewed Tamar as cursed, so he won't give her to his remaining son. After Judah's own wife died, he went to a prostitute: Tamar, disguised behind a veil. She asked for his staff and seal as security, then made her pregnant. Three months later, Judah learns that Tamar had prostituted herself and gotten pregnant, so he orders her burnt to death; Tamar produces the staff and seal, Judah is busted, calls her righteous. And their son, Perez, joins the royal lineage.

Rahab: Joshua 2. A Jericho prostitute who betrayed her people into the hands of the Israelite army, who destroyed her city and massacred her people but spared her life. She married Perez's great-great-great-grandson Salmon. Their son Boaz, who was a much more likeable guy than family tradition might indicate.

Ruth deserves him. She's in trouble. There's famine, she's a foreigner, her Jewish husband died, her father-in-law died, she's a no-status alien in Bethlehem who keeps her mother-in-law alive by gleaning in the barley fields. There's a bunch more complicated Jewish marriage stuff, but Boaz ends up marrying her, and another Gentile is grafted onto Jesus' family tree. And their son is the grandfather of David.

Who lusts after Bathsheba, and arranges to have Uriah her husband killed in battle so he can get away with seducing her and making her pregnant. Their first baby died. Another of David's boys, Absalom, led the country into civil war, claimed the kingship and had public sex with ten of his dad's concubines. Ultimately it was Bathsheba's son Solomon who slipped past David's eldest son to succeed him in the throne. Solomon, portrayed in Ecclesiastes as a man at the end of his days, sated with wives and concubines and wealth and power, weary of a life spent chasing after wind.

Then there's exile. Then there's a girl who gets pregnant, but not by her fiance. So he's going to break it off, only the law-obsessed ultra-orthodox neighbours might stone her to death. And he loves her, so he decides to do the right thing - with the help of an angel bearing good advice. So Joseph bears her off to Bethlehem for the aforementioned census, and she bears the aforementioned son... Details to follow.


Chester Brown

Robert Crumb

Sunday, April 18, 2010

matthew 1:18-25 | take mary as your wife

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." [Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means "the LORD saves."]

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" [Isaiah 7:14] —which means, "God with us."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

joseph | w.h. auden | for the time being

CHORUS. Joseph, you have heard
What Mary says occurred;
Yes, it may be so.
Is it likely? No.
Mary may be pure,
But, Joseph, are you sure?
How is one to tell?
Suppose, for instance... Well...

JOSEPH. Where are you, Father, where?
Caught in the jealous trap
Of an empty house I hear
As I sit alone in the dark
Everything, everything,
The drip of the bathroom tap,
The creak of the sofa spring,
The wind in the air-shaft, all
Making the same remark
Srupidly, stupidly,
Over and over again.
Father, what have I done?
Answer me, Father, how
Can I answer the tactless wall
Or the pompous furniture now?
Answer them....

GABRIEL. No, you must.

JOSEPH. How then am I to know,
Father, that you are just?
Give me one reason.


JOSEPH. All I ask is one
Important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.

GABRIEL. No, you must believe;
Be silent, and sit still.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

matthew 2:1-12 | five kings

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [traditionally wise men] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east [or, "when it rose"] and have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ [Messiah] was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 

"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 

for out of you will come a ruler 
who will be
the shepherd of my people Israel.' " [Micah 5:2]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east [or, "when it rose"] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

matthew 2:13-23 | egypt, ramah, nazareth

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." [Hosea 11:1]

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 

"A voice is heard in Ramah, 

weeping and great mourning, 

Rachel weeping for her children 

and refusing to be comforted, 

because they are no more."
[Jeremiah 31:15]

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene." [not found in the Old Testament]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

shem | david kossoff | book of witnesses

butcher's stall with flight into egypt | pieter aertsen

I'm not a religious man, you understand, and I didn't have much in the way of an education, but I'm not young and I've travelled a lot and listened a lot and you learn, you know, you learn. I was born in Samaria in the same year that Herod became King. Herod the Great he was called. Well, maybe he was great. He didn't do much for us in Samaria. All right, we are a mixed lot but we are not lepers. Our law is based on the same rules as the rest of Israel. The Law of Moses. One of those Laws is that the children shouldn't suffer for the sins of the fathers. That's a joke. All my life I've suffered for some nonsense generations ago about my people wanting to help in the rebuilding of the Great Temple and being refused because our religion wasn't holy enough. You'd have thought a few extra gods and idols would have made it more religious. And Samaritans are good builders. My family have been joiners and carpenters for a long time. I think that's what first drew me to Joseph.

I'm a journeyman; I work anywhere. My tools are my luggage. When I first met Joseph and his little family in Bethlehem it was the first time I'd ever been there and I've worked all over; Phoenicia, Syria, Parthia, Egypt. Not a big place, Bethlehem. One big inn, a decent synagogue, a meeting hall. Anyway, this inn had been damaged by some sort of religious demonstration. There'd been crowds of people who'd broken things off for souvenirs. A lot of the timber in the stables needed replacing. I heard about it and was taken on. I found a room on the edge of the town. And met Joseph, who lived next door. When he told me he was also a joiner, I told him about the inn and he smiled and said he'd like to help with the repairs. So I put in a word for him and we worked together.

Very quiet man he was. His wife was younger. Her name was Mary. They had a baby boy. Joseph and I worked together for some weeks before I told him I was a Samaritan. 'Oh,' he said, 'I've never been in Samaria. Will you eat with us this evening?'

One night I got in very late. It was pay night and I like a drink. The street was quiet and dark. As I got ready for bed, Joseph knocked on my door. 'Can you help us?' he said, 'We have to leave right away.' We went next door. Mary was packing and the baby was fast asleep in his crib. We have been told by God to go down to Egypt. Right away. Tonight. We know nothing of long journeys. Please help us.'

I went next door and packed my tools. We were out of the place in an hour. We joined a trade caravan of merchants and we kept to ourselves. If people got too inquisitive I used rough talk and said loudly I was a Samaritan. That got rid of them. Sins of the fathers can be very useful sometimes.

Now you might ask why did I go with them. Well, there was nothing heroic in it. I've moved around working in different places all my life. And Joseph had hardly been out of his town. Also we were both joiners, and carpenters can pick up work anywhere if you know the way. Another thing, as I told you, I'm a Samaritan, which at that time, thirty five years ago, just before Great Herod died, was the same as being a leper nearly. No one had a good word for you. You walked by yourself. Well, Joseph was an orthodox Jew and he accepted me like a brother and so did Mary. Even the baby liked me. I was one of the family. Of course I went with them. I looked after them.

We stayed with no one long, for Joseph and Mary were afraid. My gentle friend, who never raised his voice, was a wanted man. Mad King herod himself was after him. Well, not him so much as the baby. I don't know all the ins and outs of it even now, but somehow or other Joseph and Mary had got an early warning that Herod was going to kill all the baby boys under two in Bethlehem. They were not hysterical people, and when they went I went with with them, but I didn't really believe such a thing would happen. But it did. We heard about it. Mary wept for days, and Joseph was quieter even than usual.

We didn't go deep into Egypt. We stayed this side of the great delta of the Nile and found a little house in a village. There was enough work round about and the village people were used to travellers. Joseph never spoke much. Once, when I said I'd no idea how he knew about the order to kill the babies, he said, 'I didn't know. I was told in a dream by an angel of God to leave immediately. My little son was given to Mary by God. I did as I was told.' He was quite serious. I made a sort of joke, I remember. I said, 'Well, when the angel tells us to go back home, let me know I'm not too fond of Egypt.' Joseph laughed.

I forget now exactly how long we lived in the village but one morning I came down and Joseph had the little boy on his knee. Mary was my the stove, Joseph smiled. 'Good morning,' he said. 'we can go home.' 'Another angel?' I said. 'Same one.' said Joseph. 'Herod is dead. It is safe now.' Well, it wasn't so safe really. There'd been riots and disturbances and mass executions, so he would not go back to Bethlehem, but farther north to Galilee, where it was more peaceful. He knew Galilee, he came from Nazareth, and that is where we finished up.

I went with them and helped them find a place and get it fixed up, but then I moved on. Nazareth was a very religious, very orthodox place. Joseph fitted in well, me not at all. I was sorry to go. I saw them from time to time. Then I worked in Syria and Cyprus for a long time and lost touch. But I think of that time often.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

hidden messiah

Matthew was a Jew who ended up a quisling who ended up a Christian Jew. And like so many converts, the faith of his fathers lit on fire when he returned to it. To judge from the book that bears his name, he became fascinated by the way the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible began to be played out in his new Master's life.

So when Jesus, who grew up in Nazareth, relocated to Capernaum, a fishing town and travelers' way-station in the region of Galilee, Matthew heard echoes of Isaiah's prediction that salvation would come - even to the Gentiles! - out of Galilee. And right in that same passage, though Matthew doesn't include it here, the proclamation that it would be the Messiah himself who would come out of Galilee to bring this kingdom that would extend beyond the Jews - the passage that rings out in Handel's "Messiah":

King of Kings
and Lord of Lords
and the government shall be upon his shoulders..

And it's that passage that goes further than some Messianic prophecies, saying not only that "his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor," but also that the Messiah will actually be "the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." I'm not sure the Jews of Jesus' time, so desperate for political liberation, were ready to acknowledge that. Messiah would be a political revolutionary, who would throw off the yoke of the Roman oppressor ("thou has broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff across his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor"), a new Great King in the line of David - but even his disciples were slow to recognize this man before them, probably the Messiah, as God Himself.

Curious also that the people of Jesus' day could read this scripture about the coming Messiah and miss the fact that it wasn't about destroying the gentile oppressors, but rather it announced that they would see a great light, would be delivered from the shadow of death, perhaps that they would be counted in this "multiplied" nation, the new Israel, rejoicing. Indeed, the whole passage is embedded in a section where God brings judgment against His own people, and sends a Messiah who will bless the Gentiles. As spake the prophet Paul (Simon), "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..."

Intriguing to pick up the echoes of King David's most famous Psalm in the language of Isaiah's proclamation of liberation:
"On those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. . . .
For thou has broken the yoke of his burden,
and the staff across his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor. . . ."

Psalm 23
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Monday, February 15, 2010

matthew 3:1-17 | prepare ye

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' " [Isaiah 40:3]

John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

prepare ye / god save the people | godspell

Prepare ye the way of the Lord. . . .

You vipers' brood!
Who warned you to escape from the coming retribution?
Then prove your repentance by the fruit it bears;
and do not presume to say to yourselves,
"We have Abraham for our father."
I tell you that God can make children for Abraham
out of these stones here.
Already the axe is laid to the roots of the trees;
and every tree that fails to produce good fruit
is cut down and thrown on the fire.
I baptize you with water, fro repentance;
but He who comes after me is mightier than I.
I am not fit to take off his shoes.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.


You come to me?

I want to get washed up!

I'd rather be baptized by you.

No. We do well now to conform with all that God requires. . . .

you sons of snakes | cotton patch gospel | tom key

You sons of snakes! Tell me, who put the heat under you to run from the fury about to bust over your heads? You got to reshape your lives, because God's new order of the Spirit is confronting you.

You got to give me what? You got to give me what? You got to give me proof! Proof that you have had a changed life.

And don't you go feeding yourselves none of this "we good church folk" nonsense. I tell you right now: God could make good church folk out this pile of rocks right here. Hallelujah!

The chain saw is set at the trunk of the tree. And every tree that does not perform some worthwhile function, it's going to be cut down, it's going to be thrown into the fire, it's going be burnt up, hallelujah. Hallelujah! Can I hear a hallelujah?

I indeed dip you. I dip you in water. I dip you in a changed life. But he that's coming after me, he's so much more powerful than I am, I'm unworthy to shine his shoes, hallelujah! He's going to dip you ! He's going to dip you in fire! He's going to dip you in the Holy Spirit!

His combine's already running. He's going to give this field a thorough going over. He's going to store up the grain in the bin, and burn off the stubble. He's going to do it! Praise God. Amen.

hypocrites! | chester brown

you vipers' brood!

You vipers' brood!
Who warned you to escape from the coming retribution?
Then prove your repentance by the fruit it bears;
and do not presume to say to yourselves,
"We have Abraham for our father."
I tell you that God can make children for Abraham out of these stones here.
Already the axe is laid to the roots of the trees;
and every tree that fails to produce good fruit
is cut down and thrown on the fire.
I baptize you with water, fro repentance;
but He who comes after me is mightier than I.
I am not fit to take off his shoes.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Friday, February 5, 2010

prepare ye | chester brown

Canadian cartoonist

Saturday, January 30, 2010

matthew 4:1-11 | temptation

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " [Deut. 8:3]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' "
[Psalm 91:11,12]

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " [Deut. 6:16]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' " [Deut. 6:13]

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Friday, January 29, 2010

wilderness | the picture bible for all ages

deuteronomy by heart

Jan Luyken, from The Bowyer Bible

It strikes me that, while Jesus was in the desert, he had Deuteronomy on his mind. The devil quotes Psalms, but Jesus recalls Deuteronomy.

I suspect he had it by heart. I doubt whether he took a scroll with him into the wilderness. I've heard it said that Jewish children of Jesus' day memorized vast swaths of scripture.

I wouldn't have thought to pick Deuteronomy. Genesis, Exodus are great, but don't most people bail at that point? After those two don't things bog down? Endless pages of arcane rules, genealogy, record keeping.

Deuteronomy. A book of the Law. Not the way I'm inclined, having grown up Lutheran: we're Gospel all the way. But Jesus obviously found it helpful.

He quotes Deuteronomy Chapter 6 twice in his dialogue with the devil, so I look it up. And there it is, just before the part Jesus quotes: The Shamah. The holiest text of the Hebrew nation. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." Followed immediately with Jesus' Great Commandment: "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Which is followed in turn by the Crosby, Stills and Nash injunction: "Teach your children these things. You who are on the road." Which is probably why Jesus learned Deuteronomy 6 by heart: Mary and Joseph made him. "It says memorize: might as well start here."

More likely, nothing so casual. I wouldn't be surprised if a Jewish child learned the Shamah before anything else. The way a Christian kid learns John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son..." When I really dug in on Biblical studies myself, in my twenties, I took Greek so I could study the New Testament: our professor had us memorize John 3:16, and it's all the Greek that sticks with me three decades later: "Houtos gar eigapeison ho theos ton kosmon..."

When I'm starved and in the wilderness, that's probably what I'll hold on to.

If I'm forty days without food, what I'm probably thinking about even more than John 3:16 or Deuteronomy anything is food. In the desert, Jesus thinks about Moses, how God sent them manna every morning. So when the devil sees Jesus hungry, that's where he starts in on him. Only with his mind on Deuteronomy, Jesus has it fresh in mind: when it talks about the desert, when he talks about manna, that's just a set up for God going one step further: all of that was just "to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."

How frightening was the wilderness? How dangerous? Lions, cobras, serpents? So how much did Jesus lean on the Psalms, especially the reassuring ones? Like Psalm 91: fortress, refuge, shield, rampart, no fear, dwelling. No harm, no disaster. All that. So the devil brings it up. And Jesus shoots it down: stern Deuteronomy trumps the comforting psalm. (I wonder if Jesus pointed out to Satan that he stopped quoting just before the part in the psalm about treading on the serpent? A little close to home, remembering the Garden and all that.)

And then Satan grossly overplays his hand. The teleporting, the Google Earth views, and the straight up, mask off craving revealed: "Bow down and worship me." What was he thinking? With Deuteronomy 6 fresh in Jesus' mind? And Jesus, who so far just resisted, now insists. Commands. Names the guy, who before he maybe didn't entirely recognize? "Away from me, Satan."

Words Jesus will say again, more or less, about twelve chapters from now, when he'll get another glimpse of the tempter. "Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." [Matthew 16:21-23]

And the devil left, as he had to, just like the demons always left when Jesus told them.

Then, unbidden, the angels came, whose help Jesus refused to command. Bringing the bread Jesus refused to order. Sometimes even when we don't ask, it shall be given.

Bernardino Passeri, from the Bowyer Bible

deuteronomy 8:1-10 | not by bread alone


Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

psalm 91 | angels will lift you up

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."

Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge-
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

"Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."

deuteronomy 6:4-9,13-20 | shamah, testing, worship

(can be viewed in the Frick Gallery, New York)

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. . . .

Worship the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the LORD said.

In the future, when your son asks you, "What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?" tell him: "We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

matthew 4:12-17 | repent, for the kingdom is at hand

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
"Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned." [Isaiah 9:1,2]

From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

isaiah 9:1-7 | galilee of the gentiles

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people living in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased their joy:
they rejoice before thee as at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden,
and the staff across his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor,
as in the day of Midian.

Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,
upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Monday, January 25, 2010

matthew 4:18-22 | peter, andrew, james, john

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

matthew 4:23-25 | jesus heals

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis ["the Ten Cities"], Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010