Archive for September, 2017

‘Being Christian Today’

Posted: September 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

‘Being Christian Today’

Micah: 6: 6-8            Matthew 21: 23-32

Over the last few weeks we have been engaged in a liturgical season known as the Creation Season and most of the season has been focused on the creation of what we know as Christianity. We have look at the scriptures as a whole and we have conformed our understanding of them as a library or a collection of writings developed from an oral culture and that the topic of these writing has been a search for the historical Jesus. We have looked at the earliest known writings and asked of them questions about what Jesus might have said and done that set in motion what we now know as Christianity. In that brief journey, we have discovered that we do not know a lot about Jesus and what he said and did but we have also discovered again that what he said and did resonated so strongly with the people of his time that they shaped their lives on his sayings and actions. We have also discovered that in doing this they set in place amazing opportunities for people to take his story and make it their own, sometimes they read too much into the story and at other times not enough but what has been enduring is that they gleaned motivation, were encouraged to engage in life and were convinced that change was possible with confidence, conviction and dignity.

Our reading from Micah is interesting in that Micah was one of the minor Prophets of Ancient Judaism whose stories fluctuated between prophesies of doom and gloom and prophesies of restoration. Our reading is one of those where Micah questions the efficacy of making a sacrifice. He asks whether or not the offering of a new born calf or thousands of rams and lots of oil are enough when what he understands as important is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. There is something in there about what is important, tradition, doing it right, being a strong church organization as opposed to doing justice, loving kindness as a primary value and living life with humility.

Our reading from Matthew seems to be saying also that it is more important to get on with living the values as opposed to arguing which are right and wrong. We could say that its more important to live as though goodness and kindness and love are the way of living as opposed to defining who is good or bad and who is kind and loving. The new reformation is that ‘being a Christian’ is the outcome of a liberating, transforming community and not because one is identifiable as a member of an organization.

Last week we watch a short clip where Richard Rohr, a Catholic Franciscan invited us to see that this reformation is a reformation in understanding and it is already taking place. I think he was saying that this new understanding of spirituality is underway and what was needed was a new organizational and social construct of community and that this community was to be non-denominational, non-traditional and functional as opposed to structural. Perhaps a way of saying this better would be to say that new models of ministry anchored in and born out of a liberating, transformative faith community are what will bring about a reformed Jesus Way.

What he said was what we have been saying for some time but perhaps without wanting to prescribe the new as much. We have said that we need a new understanding of what might be termed the ‘Eternal Reality we call God’, a new meaning of community that is not simply the gathering of people but the gathering of ideas, the idea of what gathering means that includes the social media gatherings in the ether, and valuing the cohesion of ideas in new ways. This will include the reconstruction of language and symbols used in communication. Perhaps the idea of a language that differentiates between what is fake and what has been verified and how it has been verified?

All of the above sounds far too complex to get one’s head around so I have borrowed from an article by Les Switzer a journalist, academic clergyperson who has written books, articles and essays on expressions of faith community. He suggests 9 things that might be helpful in defining what it means to be Christian today. These nine things are not definitions but rather approaches to their use. Approaches or actions of humility, storytelling, meaning, forgiving and healing, speaking. discipling. empowering praying and simplifying. I will try to fill these out a little so that we can talk about them more.

Religious humility – No one person has all the answers and no one religious system can encompass the Eternal. In other words, humility is about living the questions, about living with uncertainty, knowing that the difference we find in our reality are not to be feared because all is of the divine, the each of us is a reflection of the divine. If our understanding is that to be human is to be the universe seeing itself, then as followers of the Jesus Way is to emulate the divinely human Jesus in the idioms of today’s culture. Or in other words, love oneself, love one’s enemies and emulate God who is love. Walk humbly with God.

Religious narrative – The important narratives in life are not the biggest ones nor the smallest ones, they are not the ones about faith or belief, they are about being the good shepherd, being the manifestation of loving, and this narrative or story is not about being literally true or untrue but rather about enhancing, unfolding and displaying the complexity of living. And at the core of the purpose of these narratives is being good for family, friendship, community and good for those who don’t seem to fit our preferences. In other words, the literal is a tool of narrative as opposed to the authority of it. The more important aspect of the narrative may be the metaphorical, poetic, and the imaginative.

Scripture – Scripture or the holy bible is the invitation to meaning and not about historical fact or literal truth. Our interpretation of scripture like our reading of church doctrine and tradition, our personal religious experiences and our rational understanding of these experiences are part of an ongoing, unfinished, incomplete conversation. Just as we have discovered with the bible that began with oral sayings and ended up in a canon all scripture is far from permanent, and infallible. It is a living and in our case a collection of experience.

Forgiveness and healing – First of all we need to forgive for our own sake. True forgiveness is a selfish act. Why? Because it sets us free from the bondage of our past and allows us to get on with our living. It is primarily for us, created by us and serves us in our living. Not as some sort of pretense that nothing is wrong, nor that it provides a new platform from which to begin again but rather because it only becomes real when we discover that we have already absolved our offender, we discover that there is no sufficient reason to hold the other accountable and in that discovery, we see that we have already begun the healing process by letting go of our hurt. We have changed and the transformation of the community has begun. People begin to wonder how, why and their amazement challenges it. This reminds us that one of the components of forgiveness is the intent within it. It its service of the self it engages with the community. Our actions in transforming ourselves transform our community.

Speaking or Language – A crucial part of the co-creative partnership with the divine is what comes out of our mouth. If we believe that human beings are made in the image of God and that God is more than an anthropomorphic creation then we are bound to explore the relationship with the divine and our language becomes a crucial part of creativity. In brief, the divine image resides in part in our ability to speak. How we choose to use this divine power or energy is of ultimate experience. What we say matters and spreading destructive gossip, lies and unsubstantiated rumour, or even false praise, is to belittle conversation as a creative act. The ninth commandment of the Jewish tradition reminds us that this is not new, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’.

Discipling – It is probably risky to use this traditional word because of the traditional baggage it comes with but there is a need to maintain a word or a concept of walking the Jesus Way or following Jesus that is more than just our human action Walking the Jesus Way is more than doing something. It is also being someone, a new being, an alternative expression of what it means to be human. Les Switzer talks about the essence of discipling as letting go of the familiar and walking away, be careful with what you are comfortable with, get outside your zone, read the book that is not where you are at, live in the present but always look for ways to serve others and to help make the world a better place.

Empowering – Here we have perhaps the most difficult response. Difficult because it is perhaps the manifestation of all of the above, the rubber meeting the road, the situation in life. It is also hard because it begins with assumptions. The assumptions that empowering is required because there are powerless who need empowering. There are suffering who need empowering to free themselves. Here is the need for humility to avoid the assumption of knowing it all, the need to listen to empathise, the need to draw together the information that informs the strategy needed, the need to ask who it is that benefits from the empowering, is it the suffering or is it oneself and where is the balance in that? Here is the need for the conversation to put into action all the above and to begin to raise liberating and empowering options. In simple terms, one has to avoid living with a can-do attitude and a can fix it culture because that in itself creates a negative for the powerless and a helpless victim. It re-stigmatises and re-victimizes the suffering. The empowering approach requires the valuing of compassion, not as giving money and time to causes, there is an imbalance in favour of oneself in the benefit of this sort of compassion. We end up with the power rather than the suffering one. We need to go to the root of the word compassion and to begin with the idea that compassion means to suffer with, to embrace the powerlessness of the victim. It is less about doing anything and more about being with and feeling with the one who is suffering.

Two more to go.

Praying – Prayer is a conversation with ourselves, a non-verbal act that is about being open to the God within in silence, in love, in the natural world, and in the sense that we should pray without ceasing. In this way prayer is a contemplative, meditative, engagement not with anything but in oneself, a state of awareness of self, and of one’s engagement with the world.

The last is simplifying – This is more about attitude to life than making it easier or dumbing down. A simple life is that which arises out of living intentionally as if the Kingdom of God, to use traditional words is already here and now. When Micah asks; what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? He is reminding the reader that all of the above can be summed up in that sentence. Justice, kindness and humility and we might say that they are the attributes of a liberating, transforming community that walks the Jesus Way. Amen.

Secular and Thematic

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Secular and Thematic

Mark 2: 22. Luke 5: 37-38, Mark 3: 27, Luke 6:29, Luke 11: 17b-18

This week we take a quick look at some sayings most likely to have been from the mouth of Jesus and in doing so we will look for the challenge made to ancient wisdom by Jesus the sage. We hold in our minds the notion that this radical wisdom is to be found in Ambiguity, Hyperbole, and Common Sense. We do this in order to seek the voice print that Robert W. Funk refers to as the residue of the individual sayings most likely to be attributed to Jesus. This is because we have so little actual historical material and are reliant on his voice that emanates from the compendium of parables, aphorisms, and dialogues that we do have. We know that a voiceprint is a graphic or photographic representation of a person’s voice, uniquely characteristic of that individual speaker therefor the fragmentary discourse of Jesus we have constitutes what remains of his voiceprint. If a literary description is used for this modern method of turning sound into graphics or photograph, the discourse fragments most likely coming from Jesus would be described as his idiom— his distinctive way of speaking. The principal question about the data, however, is does the residue of his discourse provide a foundation large enough to enable a reconstruction of his idiom, or as Funk thinks, a reconstruction of his vision?

We also note that for good reason Funk doesn’t mention the traditional form we call the proverb, among the residue of Jesus’ discourse. The reason is that a proverb is the product of community wisdom or lore and as such, proverbs attributed to Jesus would not have originated with Jesus. Another reason is that given the ancient practice of attributing sayings from whatever source to sages and wise men in antiquity, it is not unusual that proverbs would be falsely attributed to Jesus as well. There is however at least one unquestionable proverb among the sayings attributed to Jesus by the Jesus Seminar, which is Mark 2: 17. We also note that proverbs and aphorisms are very similar, making it difficult to sort them out, one from the other? Dominic Crossan argues that a similarity and continuum exist between such brief sayings as the adage, aphorism, apothegm, epigram, fragment, gnome, proverb, maxim, sentence, and the saying; and that these short forms constitute a literary genre that he designates as the “prose miniature.” After a survey of the literature on these forms, he concludes that all these described prose units are related and constitute the broad field of gnomic discourse; such units he calls simply the “saying.” They are brief prose units or sayings as opposed to narrative, story, or parable. Crossan then distinguishes between the proverb and the aphorism (or epigram) on the basis of the authority to which each makes an appeal. Proverbs constitute collective wisdom and appeal to ancestral authority, while aphorisms are based on personal insight and appeal to individual authority. The characteristics of aphorisms are the following: an aphorism is a short pithy statement, produced by an independent mind; it is assertive and appeals to no outside authority; it employs overstatement, exaggeration, hyperbole, paradox, and understatement. As a general rule, aphorisms are not readily understood. And as we said last week to present the remains of the discourse of Jesus as isolated sayings without social or literary context would need to recognize the pre-literary phase, or oral period, in the trajectory of the Jesus tradition. It also helps the historical analysis of the sayings themselves apart from the hermeneutical applications of the evangelists. The current literary settings in the gospels derive from the authorial creativity of the evangelists and encourage readers to ponder the saying as it was understood by the evangelists. One problematical issue that emerges from this analysis of the saying apart from its literary context is that the Jesus Seminar authorized as originating with Jesus multiple versions of what appear to be highly similar sayings without explaining how they are related. Some of the sayings are virtually identical, but others, while clearly similar, have a different tenor or say remarkably different things (for example, compare Matt 5: 3 = Luke 6: 20b; and Matt 5: 6 = Luke 6: 21).

So, we enter today’s discussion with what we might call the raw data for a profile of Jesus, his Probable Sayings. Our particular sayings come from the section where all the sayings printed in red and pink in the Five Gospels. In the collective judgment of the members of the seminar these sayings form the residue of sayings that most probably originated with Jesus. In short then what we do today is to look at some sayings on the understanding that these sayings along with the parables are the raw data for developing a profile of Jesus.

And the goal of what we do today is to begin to develop a profile of Jesus relying on what he said rather than on what others said about him. This means that we think that all the sayings constitute approximately half of the resource material to use as a historical basis for such a profile. The parables constitute the other half of the available resources. The parables, we note constitute another problem given the history of parables interpretation. On the one hand, the sayings are one part of a dialogue between Jesus and his Judean audience in real time. In other words, they directly express his ideas to his contemporaries about issues he found important. The parables, on the other hand, only obliquely express his ideas. He is not speaking in his own persona directly to auditors in his own time and space about real time issues. The parables are fictional stories with invented characters, dialogues, soliloquies, and situations; each constitutes a realistic episode reflecting life in first-century Palestine. The difference is the parables are not autobiographical; Jesus is not a character in the stories but their inventor, and the narrative voice that relates them to whomever would listen. In the parables Jesus does not speak directly, but rather his invented characters speak out of their own circumstances, which Jesus invented in his design of the character and the narrative. The stories are at best oblique sources for Jesus.

Classifying the Sayings

Charles Hedrick classifies a saying for us in his book and we will look at a few of these, the last of which is one that appears in more than one classification. We remember here from previous weeks that the sayings can also be classified into several literary types such as proverb, aphorism etc. and the sayings we will look at today appeal either to traditional wisdom or common sense

The first two are classified as wine and wine making sayings: and they are our Mark 2: 22. Luke 5: 37-38 readings.

No one pours new wine into old skins otherwise the wine will burst the skins and be lost along with the skins. But new wine (is) for fresh skins.

In Jesus Seminar ranking the Mark reading has a pink ranking and it has three parallels, each more elaborate than Mark’s version: Matt 9: 17 which is considered gray; Luke 5: 37– 38 and Gos. Thom. 47c which are both pink rated. The saying has all the earmarks of common wisdom in its appeal to what “no one does.” Given the importance of agriculture in Palestine, the content of this saying would have been common knowledge to every farmer, and would be part of that lore (L.o.r.e) that responsible parents would teach their children. Viticulture was a cottage industry in Palestine, and virtually every farmer was a vintner and wine maker. New wine could not be put into old skins because it had not finished fermenting; the carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation process would cause old skins to burst, and then both wine and skin would be lost. Luke has a final concluding statement to the saying (Luke 5: 39a), which the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar also regarded as originating with Jesus: “No one upon drinking old [wine] desires new”. The Gospel of Thomas is a slightly different version of Luke 5: 39b, the verse after our reading.

The next three readings from Mark 3: 27, Luke 6:29 and Luke 11: 17b-18 are as classified as having a Violence theme;

Mark 3: 27

No one can enter the dwelling of the strong (man) to plunder his things, unless he first binds the strong (man), and then he may plunder his dwelling.

There are three parallels to this pink saying in Mark, all of them are considered by the Jesus Seminar to originate with Jesus. Matt 12: 29 turns Mark’s first statement into a question and the second statement becomes the answer to the question. Luke 11: 21– 22 expands and elaborates on Mark’s brief statement about what it would take to plunder the dwelling of a powerful man. The Gospel of Thomas 35 is the closest version to that of Mark. The saying’s appeal (Mark 3: 27) to what “no one can do” is an appeal to common sense. A powerful man is able to protect his property. It would be absurd to attempt a plundering of his dwelling without first neutralizing the powerful man. That is why no one can do it, for only a more powerful man is able to do it, as Luke’s version of the saying has it.

Luke 6: 29

To the one striking you on the cheek offer also the other, and from the one taking your outer garment do not withhold even the undergarment.

This saying derives from Q; its Matthean version (Matt 6: 39b– 40) is more graphic, specific, and confusing: “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also; to the one wanting to haul you to court to take your undergarment, let him also [have] the outer garment.” In Matthew, it is a slap on the right cheek, so it is the left that must be turned in order to comply with the saying. The context of the taking of the garments is specified— a judicial context. It is odd, however, that the plaintiff wants the undergarment. One would think that the suit would begin with the outer garment. In Luke, the blow appears to be an assault, whereas in Matthew it is an insulting slap (using the back of the right hand). In both versions of the saying the injured party is counseled to give up the remaining item of clothing and is hence left nude, or virtually nude.

Luke 11: 17b-18

Every kingdom divided against itself is devastated; a house against a house falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his rule endure? [Because you are saying I drive out demons by Beelzeboul.]

This saying appears in all three synoptic gospels, but only Luke’s version was thought by the Jesus Seminar to originate with Jesus. The explanation at the end (“because you are saying that I drive out demons by Beelzeboul”) is to explain the last statement in the saying Luke 11: 17– 18 which is (“how will Satan’s rule endure”) Charles Hedrick suggests is Luke’s attempt to connect Luke 11: 18 and 11: 19 in a coherent way. The versions in Matthew and Mark have clarified Luke’s more primitive version of the saying.

So, in conclusion for today, what do we come to? Well I think we have affirmed that what we know is not a lot and that what we do know is an invitation to search for more understanding. We know that the sayings are a key learning opportunity that complement the parables as material for understanding. We have confirmed I think that our contemporary approach to the scriptures, our philosophical approach to truth, and our understanding of God is on the right track. I also think it confirms that our Mission statement of ‘Honouring the Mind, Living The questions and exploring the adventure of Humanity’ is sound and encouraging of a future with intellectual integrity.

And for your amusement I offer some contemporary sayings for your examination.

The one with experience informs the present,

One who lives in the past limits the future,

To champion the past is to shadow the present,

Knowledge is due those who would save the past from itself,

The future comes from harmony between past and present.


The Sayings of Jesus

Posted: September 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

The Sayings of Jesus

Exodus 34: 14, Matt 4: 10, Matt 10: 16; Mark 12: 17, Matt 5: 43– 44

As I indicated last week the approach of the Jesus Seminar and their colour scheme for evaluating the sayings of Jesus (red-pink-gray-black) is the approach that represents the most critical sorting of the Jesus tradition to date. The sayings we examine a little today are those in the gray area meaning they include some that many Jesus Seminar scholars include as most likely out of the mouth of Jesus. Web remember also my claim of last week that Jesus’ idiom is basically the language of the secular world. He is generally not straightforward, but oblique; he is not clear but appears deliberately ambiguous. He is provocative and permissive— in that he leaves it to his hearers to decide how they should incorporate what he says into their lives. Sometimes he speaks obliquely in hyperbole, at other times he is brutally direct. We note particularly that his direct speech gives hearers the most difficulty, since what he says seems to work against one’s own human self-interest— many of the sayings strike the reader as unclear, or impractical and unreasonable. It’s from these that we look at today.

Be as sly as snakes and simple as pigeons. (Matt 10: 16; Gos. Thom. 39b)

This perplexing saying throws together two contrasting personality traits. Its brief form and content, identifies it as an aphorism. Aphorisms are terse statements unclear on their surface forcing the auditor/ reader to ponder them. This aphorism, it turns out, presents the reader with a paradox. It is impossible to be both sly and simple at the same time. Why? Because, “Sly” connotes someone who is shrewd, calculating, cunning, or wily. Whereas, “Simple” connotes someone who is uncomplicated, guileless, or gullible. Trying to be both at once is like mixing oil and water— they simply don’t mix. The character traits are so different.

But it then gets even more complicated. In general, in the ancient world the saying would evoke a consideration of certain positive character traits valued in community: shrewdness and prudence versus candor and purity. Yet when associated with snakes and pigeons and played off against each other, community morals are caricatured, ridiculed, and turned on their ear: shrewdness becomes slyness, and purity appears as gullibility. Such teasing language offers no hint of a resolution between the two personality types— and who would want to be regarded as sly or gullible in any case. Neither of these, now transformed, character traits are something to be valued as a description of oneself.

What we can say about this saying is that such language is not the stock-in-trade of an apocalyptic prophet delivering an urgent message of repentance before the imminent end of the world, nor is it the kind of language used by a teacher of religious morals, expecting clearly defined behaviour in response to a message on ethical behaviour. So, the challenge we are left with is where exactly are we expected to orient our behaviour on the landscape of this perplexing saying? How do we choose between being shrewd and accommodating, between cautious and accepting? Or maybe it’s not an either or? Maybe its situational or maybe it’s about the need to do this analysis as a process of discernment?

Give Caesar what’s his, and what belongs to God give to him. (Mark 12: 17)

In Jesus’ day this saying, a quip, would be a politically sensitive statement, considering the state of affairs in Palestine, where Rome was in charge. On the one hand, it would certainly please the imperial regime, but, on the other, it would clearly infuriate first-century Judean Zealots who recognized no king but Yahweh over Israel. The saying appears to recognize that people have an obligation to support the authority of the ruling political authority simply by virtue of the fact that the regime has the political power— similar to what Paul said in Rom 13: 1– 7. Maybe it’s about trying to choose between political parties at an election, who is the most beneficial for society? But as a guiding principle for evaluating the relationship between social organizations and the state or with respect to the individual’s obligation to the state, it falls considerably short of clarity. Not unlike choosing a party where one hates the idea of one of their policies but likes the others. The saying says nothing about the morality of the Roman Empire (and neither does Paul in Romans). We notice also that the saying lacks any specifics. It does not specify exactly what it is that is due Caesar or exactly where one’s obligations to God begin. Individuals must decide for themselves where to draw the line between the state and God— that is, what they owe the state and what they owe God. Jesus does not suggest what should be done when the state encroaches on what one considers obligations due God, or what should be done when God’s prerogatives are asserted over what one considers the responsibility of the state. Life is never that simple and to prove that the saying expresses a beautiful sentiment, but there never has been such a thing as a perfect balance between religion and the state, as seems implied in the saying. The question is: precisely where does one draw the line between the demands of the state and what one considers the prerogatives of God? And Jesus leaves the answer to that practical question to the individual, and offers no guidance for resolving the tension.

Our third saying for today is; Love your enemies. (Luke 6: 27b; cf. Matt 5: 43– 44)

We of course are more familiar with “love your neighbour” (Matt 19: 19, 22: 39; Rom 13: 8; Jas 2: 8– 9), which in the Hebrew Bible means your fellow Israelite (Lev 19: 17– 18, 33– 34). It is possible that early Christians broadened the frame of reference of what is meant by “neighbour” to include fellow human beings (Rom 13: 8– 10). And while Jesus may have endorsed loving the neighbour in this expanded sense to include fellow human beings, what is most characteristic of him is “love your enemy.”

So far as we know the sentiments reflected in this saying do not occur elsewhere in the ancient world. But what does “love your enemy” mean in actual practice? Does it mean that you really should love an enemy, someone who has made it a goal in life to destroy you, with the same devotion that you love family and close friends? Such an attitude would be personally dangerous, and early Christians clearly had a problem with this explanation of the saying. Every time the saying “Love your enemy” appears in the literature it is always conditioned by other statements clarifying precisely what loving your enemy means. What the radical statement of Jesus means in actual practice, according to early Christians, involve behaviour that one can do for the enemy without actually “loving” them, and thereby exposing oneself to danger. For example, Luke 6: 27– 28 qualifies “Love your enemies” in the following ways to show what loving an enemy means in actual practice: “do favours for those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for your abusers” (see also Matt 5: 43– 48). All of these behaviours involve minimum risk. But what does one do when the welfare of family (and close friends) and enemies clash? How is it possible to love both with an equal degree of intensity and trust?

In the final analysis, the idea that one should love one’s enemies is irrational or even absurd — even if it is noble and idealistic. For in trying to love the one, an individual will inevitably break faith with the other. Or to state it baldly: loving your enemy can get your neighbour killed! So how exactly should we incorporate such a strange idea into the practical affairs of our daily lives? Again, that crucial judgment is left to the reader.

Last week I claimed that the one core assumption we could make is that the search for an understanding of wisdom lies at the centre of the sayings journey and we have to say that in terms of the wisdom reflected in these sayings of Jesus it is difficult to characterize in terms of content. It is far easier to describe what it is not.

So, it is not an esoteric wisdom. such as we find, for example, in Gnostic texts. His words do not describe the secrets of the ages, or how the world came into being. These sayings are also not about the nature of a heavenly realm. They do not describe the nature of a future life— or even suggest that there will be some kind of future existence; his words do not predict the future, announce the end of the physical world, or describe the character of God in analytical philosophical language. It is also not a practical wisdom, like traditional community wisdom, that is based on generations of experience providing practical instruction about how to get on in the world and be a successful member of society.

Rather the wisdom it denotes is decidedly impractical, unrealistic, and remarkably challenging in what it suggests. It cuts against the grain of human self-interest, and practical living in the human community with its established traditions and values. It is more like what we find in the wisdom of Socrates — a question thrown down challenging what we thought we knew, including the tried and true values we were taught. Maybe the nature of the wisdom we are looking for in these sayings is more about seeking a quality or state of being wise coupled with just judgment as to discernment, insight and possible action.

In general, these five sayings as a group challenge the traditional community wisdom found in the sages of ancient Israel, which seem concerned to help people make a successful life under God in the world. They raise questions as to the nature of the wisdom being espoused. The wisdom is not traditionally religious in the manner of most of Israel’s ancient sages. Jesus does not appeal to Torah as the embodiment of divine wisdom or to Lady Wisdom, the primordial origin of all wisdom. God is not invoked as authority for the statements. Also lacking are the trappings of the Judean religion contemporary with Jesus, such as temple, synagogue, sacrifice, Sabbath observance, etc. The one saying in which God is mentioned recognizes the authority of Caesar, along with God, as receiving an honour that is his rightful due. Putting anything on a level with God, however, violates the principle of the singularity of God in the Israelite tradition (Deut 6: 13 LXX; Matt 4: 10), for God is a jealous God (Deut 4: 24), and claims the exclusive loyalty of God’s people (Exod 34: 14).

These few sayings do not constitute a large enough sampling to enable an evaluation of the discourse of Jesus as a whole, but it does suggest that traditional religious piety may not have been an interest of Jesus. Next week we will take a quick look at the sayings most likely to have been from the mouth of Jesus and in doing so we will look for the wisdom found in Ambiguity, Hyperbole, and Common Sense


Hedrick, Charles W.. The Wisdom of Jesus: Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church (p. 90). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.