“Arms and the Man” v. “Put up thy Sword”: Tough Questions for Rick Joyner, Jim Bakker, and the Prophetic Movement

Swords into plowsharesNot many years before Christ was born, the Roman poet Virgil died. In the decade preceding his death, Virgil was writing the Aeneid, a poem that has been called the national epic of the Roman empire. In the second half of the epic, Virgil brings his skill as storyteller to the subject of anger, revenge, violence, and bloody warfare.

In a visionary book that explores the limits of violence and war, and skillfully shows the benefits of peaceful change, the late Jonathan Schell puts his finger into history at the time of Virgil and Christ to write about two coexisting yet conflicting traditions. One is worldly and violent, Schell writes. It is “a system, at its best, of standing up for principle with force, right with might; at its worst, of plunder, exploitation, and massacre.” This tradition, Schell notes, was exemplified by Virgil in the Aeneid, whose opening words set the stage: “Of arms, and the man I sing.”

Not long after Virgil was writing “Of arms, and the man I sing,” Jesus, Shell writes, was speaking words that would become much better known: “Put up thy sword, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” And “it was in the heat and fury of [a] bloody altercation, not from the quiet of a philosopher’s study,” that Jesus said this. Jesus, Schell continues, “sang of the man without arms, and since then “the two conflicting traditions – one sanctioning violence, the other forbidding it – have coexisted,” each retaining its power in spite of the other. But, he concludes, “Force can only lead to more force, not to peace. Only a turn to structures of cooperative power can offer hope” (The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People).

I was disturbingly reminded of the diametric tug of these two perennial traditions upon the human heart when I watched a recent television interview of Christian author and speaker Rick Joyner. For those unfamiliar with the name, Rick Joyner founded MorningStar Ministries in 1985 and became fairly well known within charismatic Christian circles for his books and for teaching about his many dreams and visions, which he claimed were prophetic. In 2004, MorningStar purchased part of the former Heritage USA complex, once owned by Jim Bakker and PTL, in North Carolina. Bakker and Joyner have been close friends for decades and it was Bakker’s interview of Joyner that I listened to.

The interview aired on September 11, 2020, on “The Jim Bakker Show” and ran for nearly an hour, slowly developing from much mutual back-patting to this question from Baker: “Where are we in the prophetic time line?” What follows is a long and disturbing conversation in which Joyner mentions a dream he had in 2018 about what he calls a “civil war” being fought in the streets of American cities.

As the interview progresses, Joyner sounds more closely allied with Virgil’s violent warrior Aeneas than with the gospel’s peaceable Jesus. Joyner asserts that America is now in that civil war and that followers of Jesus take up arms and fight in it. Although Joyner briefly mentions that he “hates to say this,” and that “some people don’t even want to comprehend” it, any fellow feeling meant dissipates before his contention that followers of Jesus get out their guns and join together in what he calls “good” militias to fight bloody battles in the streets of their cities against American citizens whom he identifies as “the bad people.”

One cannot listen to the second half of the interview and conclude anything other than that Joyner is talking about followers of Jesus getting their guns and participating in a violent civil war. That is the plain message, which Joyner loads with comments such as: “we’re already into it”; “we’re gonna have to fight for what we believe”; “it’s time to choose sides”; “we’ve gotta fight to win.”

wisdom traditionFollowers of Jesus are meant to join militias to fight and kill fellow American citizens? Followers of Jesus?

Joyner’s battle cry to Christians is not compelling. There are many reasons why, more than can reasonably be assembled here, including the dubious, if not flawed, enlistment of biblical texts to support the call to arms.

But one particular text must be discussed, Luke 22:35-38. It is a brief word from Jesus to his closest followers about forsaking the violence of swordplay and instead follow the gospel’s way of self-sacrificial love of others, including enemies. Strangely, Joyner flips this word about non-violent resistance around to mean the opposite of what Jesus meant. He lifts Jesus’ comment about a sword out of its context to justify today’s followers of Jesus heading out into the streets to fight a literal civil war in American cities. I want us to spend some time with that text here, as its meaning cannot be quickly understood. But when understood in both its immediate and larger contexts, Jesus’ words actually undermine the entire call to arms.

In the interest of full disclosure I should perhaps first say that I am offering this critical analysis of Joyner’s interpretation of the Luke text as someone who in principle is not opposed to what the New Testament identifies as the gift of prophecy, which, being part of “the way of love,” is meant to be spoken to people “for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort,” or, in short, for edifying the church (1 Corinthians 14:1-4).

I spent most the first fifteen years of my new life as a Christian in charismatic fellowships where, blessedly, mature expressions of the gifts of Spirit were operative, including that of prophecy. If someone stepped out of line, the leadership appropriately addressed the situation. I personally benefited from this learning curve. Although I was eventually called to serve (so-called) non-charismatic congregations, I greatly enjoy, and benefit from, being invited since then to teach or preach in charismatic fellowships, where I try to minister among them as best I can in the way of love, for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. (For the record, I am not a fan of the word “non-charismatic” applied to churches.)

If memory serves, I became acquainted with Joyner through two of his books in the mid-1980s, when I was still active full time within the charismatic tradition. (I don’t recall those books as objectionable in any fundamental sense within what I understood as charismatic theology.) In 1990, however, Joyner’s name and ministry dropped off my radar. Until recently.

Now let’s get down to business. Here is a typical translation of Luke 22:35-38:

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That is enough!” he replied.

During the interview with Bakker, Joyner places Jesus’ comment about the sword in the service of motivating today’s Christians to fight in a literal civil war in American cities. Joyner offers no explanation why he believes in this equivalency, which he makes when talking about followers of Jesus forming “good” militias and heading out into the streets to kill the bad guys. “We need to recognize the times, be prepared for them,” he explains, while confessing to viewers his worry that “God’s people” won’t become “part of the militia movements, the good militia” to fight the “bad people.” And then this: “Jesus himself said there’s gonna be a time when you need to sell your coat and buy a sword. That was a physical weapon of their day. And we’re in that time here. We need to realize that.”

Bakker makes not a peep of protest to what Joyner is saying. Nevertheless, prophecies and interpretations of dreams and visions presented to the body of Christ as authoritative have to be tested, examined to determine if they are credible, authentic, or morally acceptable. After careful consideration of the Luke text, I believe that Joyner’s contention fails the test.

Jesus’ meaning about the sword, when considered in both its immediate and larger contexts, cannot be interpreted as call to arms but instead undermines that call. Here’s why.

The immediate context is the Last Supper, where only Jesus’ twelve closest followers were assembled with him. The larger context is the three-year unconditional witness of Jesus’ life and ministry on the hillsides and in the towns of Galilee and Judea among countless amounts of people. During those exceptional years on the road with Jesus, the Twelve had witnessed Jesus countless times personally and intentionally modeling acts of self-sacrificial love of others, including of enemies. That is who Jesus is; his ministry is one with that. In all sorts of relational encounters – whether someone needed counsel, or healing, or was up a tree – Jesus graced the lives of others with all sorts of various and diverse good. Day in and day out, the Twelve not only saw the beneficial effects of Jesus’ agape on others, they even a hand at times in making it so.

But something else essential was also taking place. It wasn’t only through his acts of compassion that Jesus sought to instill his normative practice of self-sacrificial love of others into the lives of the Twelve. It was also through his teaching, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which, arguably, can be understood as the Constitution for his followers to live by. Their having been diligently taught for years by their Rabbi, whose acts cannot be separated from what he taught, you can be forgiven for assuming that the practice of self-sacrificial love of others would have by the time of the Last Supper become normative ministry for the Twelve. But the text in Luke reveals that a strong pull to take up arms against others swayed them.

The Gospels reveal that in the weeks leading up to the Last Supper, Jesus knew he would soon be enduring a violent religious and political opposition that would put him to death, crucified as the archetypal act of self-sacrificial love. He also knows he is not going to resist it with arms; he even refuses to command a legion of angels to fight for him (Matthew 26:53). With that understanding, try to enter the sights and sounds of the Last Supper.

All kinds of conversations and activities are going on among the thirteen men, who have gathered privately to remember the Passover, a ritual meal that takes several hours. Jesus knows his arrest and violent death is imminent and that this would be their final meal together. In what has been called his final discourse, he many words of comfort and instruction for the Twelve and a prayer with them (John 14-17). Yet at some point during those hours of communion in that room, Jesus detects a rising attitude of violence among the Twelve that needs to be addressed. So he brings up the subject of their purses, bags, sandals, and swords. He is, in effect, wanting them to know that although things are going to be different now, his message is not changing. It is still the gospel of peace. The good news. And they are to preach it and live it after he is gone.

wisdom wayWhy, then, was Jesus telling them to go buy a sword? The answer is, he wasn’t. The Luke text intends for us to understand that no one at the Last Supper slipped out of the room to buy a sword. They did not need to. Two of the Twelve had arrived carrying swords: Lord, we’ve got two swords right here, they tell Jesus, no need to go buy any. As if he hadn’t noticed. Of course Jesus saw their weapons. If you have dinner guests over and two of them are packing, you may not notice that, but you’re sure going to notice if they arrive armed with swords.

What’s with the sword comment, then? The answer will emerge from clues in a few other scenes during this period. One is found in John’s Gospel, which describes a scene during Jesus’ arrest that identifies the bluntly outspoken Simon Peter as one of the two with a sword (John 18:1-11). The personal identification seems more than coincidental. Not many days before the Last Supper, Jesus had revealed to the Twelve, in plain language, that he was going to get arrested, suffer, and die. Hearing that, (Simon) Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going the way of the Cross. For having that attitude, however, Peter got rebuked by Jesus in no uncertain terms. Then Jesus immediately added: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:21-25). Yet again, Jesus was seeking to instill in his followers a heart attitude of self-sacrificial love toward others, including enemies.

Did Peter take the hint? Apparently not. The arrest scene described in John’s Gospel implies that Peter arrived at the Last Supper armed with a sword. Maybe he regularly carried that weapon. Maybe he was carrying it the day he rebuked Jesus for wanting to go the way of the Cross. The Gospels are silent on these matters.

Another clue to Jesus’ meaning about the sword is found in Matthew’s Gospel in a scene described after the Passover meal. Jesus takes his inner circle to the Mount of Olives, where he again explains that he is soon to die. This time, Peter does not try to talk Jesus our of going to the Cross. In stead, he declares that he won’t desert Jesus; he will go to prison and die with him, and “all the other disciples said the same” thing (26:35).

How Jesus understood that agreement among his inner circle is an important clue. Under Roman law there would be no legal reason for Peter, or any of the Twelve, to be in jeopardy of prison or death unless they broke the law, which they would have done had they brandished weapons and fought against the Roman authorities who were coming to arrest Jesus. Yet the night of the Last Supper, the Twelve were being motivated by a spirit of violence. Locked and loaded and ready to fight the bad guys, the entire inner circle (now sans Judas) was intent on becoming a band of street fighting men for Jesus, a militia.

In other words, the weapons had not been carried in to the Last Supper or to the arrest symbolically. They had been given a literal meaning by the entire inner circle. They will take up arms to defend Jesus. Is it difficult to imagine how troubled Jesus must have been by that attitude? He does not want them to get arrested, tried, and executed for acts of violence. But they are intent on that. If they succeed, end of them, end of story. No Book of Acts. What must Jesus he have been thinking and feeling – with the entire group – after he had dedicated three years of his life to teaching and training them to have a heart to practice the peaceful way of the gospel?

This is their final meal together. He is going away. They are going to carry his message of self-sacrificing love of others forward, out into the world of violent hearts and minds. Or are they? Jesus sees a spirit of armed resistance animating the Twelve, in conflict with the message of the Cross. What the heck? They’ve brought swords and mean to use them. They’re going to try to prevent my arrest by fighting for me. What’s up with these guys? What’s going to happen to my message of love of others, love of enemies? Why do I even bother?

One of the most concentrated expressions of the great pain Jesus was suffering during this period is found when praying in the Garden of Gethesmane, as described in Mark 14:32–34:

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to he deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’”

Gethsemane, in the Aramaic language, means “oil press.” Jesus has gone there to pray about what lay just ahead for him; that imminent future is being clarified to him through the agony he endures in that garden. In Mark’s description, the three English words “deeply distressed,” “troubled,” and “overwhelmed” soften for us the unbelievable weight of Calvary that is being clarified to the Suffering Servant. A more accurate and piercing rendering of the Greek would be: “aghast,” “depressed,” and “grief-stricken.”

It is not a leap of faith to read the Luke text within the likely understanding that Jesus is deeply troubled when his inner circle wants to take up arms to defend him. His brief words to them, then, about a purse, bag, sandals, and a sword may be heard not as a call to lock and load but as a frustrated cry of grim humor perhaps, or something along the lines of a heavily ironical parable about non-violence. But they don’t get it. And they produce swords to prove it.

It is not difficult to see why the inner circle gave a literal meaning to the weapons. They had absorbed that meaning since childhood. By the time they reached adulthood it had become a given in their worldviews. All around them, for all their lives, they see Roman legionnaires carrying a gladius (short sword), a pilum (six-and-a-half-foot javelin), and sometimes a pugio (dagger). How often any of the Twelve saw these weapons used in violence, your guess is as good as mine. What does not need guessing is that the sight of these weapons on a regular basis was inescapable to anyone who lived in the Roman empire, and that since childhood everyone knew what the weapons were for. Jesus alludes to that widespread understanding in an arrest scene described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke: “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?”

What other meaning can there be to the swords carried by his followers? I offer that in the Luke text Jesus, through grim irony, gives the weapons another meaning. Consistent with his message of the gospel of peace he eschews the literal meaning and instead gives the swords a symbolic meaning: the violence in heart that objects to following his practice of self-sacrificing love of others. That agape toward others, including is enemies, is about to be emphatically demonstrated by Jesus in the sacrificial meaning of his death. Yet his intimates have decided to move in the opposite spirit. Deeply troubled, Jesus bursts out, “I’ve had enough of this! Let’s go!”

Although that is not how any translation I’m familiar with captures the meaning of the Luke text, at least two paraphrases get it. Personally I am not partial to paraphrases, at least not for serious study of biblical texts. But I do enjoy the occasional fresh insight that can be derived from their language, and even the occasional gem, such as about our Luke text.

The Passion:
Then he said to all of them, “When I sent you out empty-handed, did you lack anything?”

“Not a thing,” they answered. “God provided all we needed.”

Jesus said, “But now I say to you: Take what you need. If you have money, take it—and a knapsack and a sword. Danger is imminent. For the prophetic Scripture about me ‘He will be accused of being a criminal’ will now come to pass. All that was prophesied of me will be fulfilled.”

The disciples told him, “Lord, we already have two swords!”

“You still don’t understand,” Jesus responded.

The Message:
Then Jesus said, “When I sent you out and told you to travel light, to take only the bare necessities, did you get along all right?”

“Certainly,” they said, “we got along just fine.”

He said, “This is different. Get ready for trouble. Look to what you’ll need; there are difficult times ahead. Pawn your coat and get a sword. What was written in Scripture, ‘He was lumped in with the criminals,’ gets its final meaning in me. Everything written about me is now coming to a conclusion.”

They said, “Look, Master, two swords!”

But he said, “Enough of that; no more sword talk!”

Why no more sword talk! What don’t they understand? They having gotten it through their thick heads that the way of the gospel is absolutely not the way of violence. Yet even during the heat and fury of his arrest Jesus has a last go at changing their hearts. When a band of Roman soldiers and Jewish religious officials come to arrest Jesus, Peter draws his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. To that violent act Jesus immediately responds with a twofold action whose meaning could not be clearer: the sharp rebuke to Peter – “Put up your sword, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” – and the healing of the servant’s ear (Matthew 26:52; John 18:10-11; Luke 22:49-51). Jesus is literally acting out the symbolic meaning have gave to the swords at the Last Supper.

That was not the only time Jesus laid a stern rebuke on members of the Twelve for being motivated by a violent spirit. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, the brothers James and John (the Sons of Thunder) cited an incident from the ministry of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:12) to try to justify calling fire down from heaven to destroy an entire village. The error of James and John is as subtle as it is profound. They knew their Bible but they drew the wrong conclusion from the Elijah incident. Jesus “rebuked them and said, ‘You know not what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man [has] not come to destroy lives but to save them’” (Luke 9:51-56).

There is this also. In our Luke 22 text, Jesus quotes Isaiah 53:12: “And he was numbered with the transgressors,” which Jesus explains, “must be fulfilled in me.” Christians understand Jesus’ execution on a Roman cross as signaling the public disgrace and horror associated with criminals, the lawless, transgressors of the law. In the ironic humor of Jesus’ reference to the purse, bag, sandals, and sword, we may also be hearing him indicate that the Twelve, by their very attitude to the swords at the Last Supper, are numbered among the transgressors (see 5:3-12, 21-22, 38-48).

Gruenwald's Isenheim AltarpieceIsaiah chapter 53 also indicates that Jesus is the suffering not the military servant. Sure, followers of Jesus may and do face violent opposition. If that hour arrives it is the time for them to come boldly before the Throne of Grace for divine help in their time of need, to cry out for the grace of sacrificial love toward others, include toward enemies, real or imagined.

Things are going to be different, now, Jesus is in effect saying in the Luke text. Times are changing. But my message to you to love others is not changing, even when you are threatened with violent religious or political opposition. You have not been called to take up arms but to open arms of love toward others, including to enemies. I have come into the world not to add violence to violence but show you through the peaceable gospel the way to subtract violence from the world.

Jesus’ followers eventually got the message. Authentic love toward others became the unconditional witness of his followers who received the Holy Spirit after his death and resurrection. There is no place in the Book of Acts, or in any of the other Epistles, where Jesus’ followers carried swords (never mind used them to slice someone up).

From our close look at the Luke text in context, it is safe to assume that Jesus’ comment about buying a sword was not in the end taken by his closest followers, or their followers, or the early church, as part of their marching orders, even in the face of violent political or religious opposition. Even the apostle Paul’s appeal (as Roman citizen) to the state – to be taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar – eventually leads to his execution.

The early church faithfully communed with, practiced, the meaning and message of the Last Supper after Jesus was gone and the Holy Spirit – who testifies about Jesus (John 15:26) – took up residence in their hearts. Jesus’ self-sacrificing way, agape, became their normative witness to the world, even for the zealots among them.

We may not realize it, but every time we partake of Communion we are agreeing to intentionally incarnate that self-sacrificing love, including of enemies, in our daily lives. Whatever a church chooses to call it – the Last Supper, the Lord’s Table, the Eucharist, the Breaking of the Bread, Communion – at the heart of each person’s reception is an assent to commune every day with, to practice, the grace-giving life of self-sacrificing agape toward others. Will we not be judged as bearing false witness to Christ’s love if we if we take Communion one day and take up arms the next? What in the hell are we thinking, church of Christ?

There is another sword spoken of in the New Testament. It is not the sword of a violent, murderous world. It is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), which we are called to study and rightly divide (2 Timothy 2:15). And “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Here are admonitions to let the word of God search our hearts and open them in an utterly personal way to God’s refining fire, including to how we interpret meaning of Luke 22:35-38 in the heat and fury of our national moment.

Today, choosing between the two perennial traditions – the one violent, the other forbidding it – is being placed before us. As followers of Jesus, will we walk humbly in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit into the pages of our own Book of Acts? Or will we take up arms to participate in the kind of violence that killed our Lord?

Top photo: Sword sculpture photo by Andrea Brizzi. Lower photo: Grunewald’s-Isenheim Altarpiece. Star flower and two paths images courtesy of Creative Commons.

©2020 by Charles Strohmer

Christ’s Passion and God’s Grace for You

Christ on the CrossEaster weekend is a good time to take a sabbath from chocolate bunnies and colored eggs to remind ourselves of how harshly the weekend began for Jesus 2,000 years ago. The following reflection is from one of my first books, edited here. It appears in the book in a discussion about pride, humility, and the amazing grace of God.

The sin of pride may not be the most basic sin, but it is probably way ahead of whatever is running in second place. The great American preacher Jonathan Edwards, in his typically vivid imagery, put it this way: “[p]ride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ; it was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan’s whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out” (Advice to Young Converts). Powerful words.

Pride is the all-too-human condition that makes “self” the center of my life, so that all others, including God, become subservient to me. The sin of pride is not the pride you may take in winning a scholarship to Juilliard, or by making an impossible catch in deep center field, or by the good feelings that arise when your child comes home from school with an “A+.” It is the kind of pride that says, however subtly, and in many diverse ways, “My will be done” (Isaiah 14:13–14 depicts the gravest expression of this).

Pride is the enemy of humility. Humility is about turning one’s attention away from self to God and to others. When we consider the purposes of God and the welfare of others as greater than ourselves, that is humility. “Self-forgetfulness” is the way C. S. Lewis put it.

Strange and annoying thoughts break in on our personal peace and security when our regard for God’s will and others’ welfare replace our attention to ourselves. A humility, or lowliness of mind, heart, or circumstance, then develops in us. This may occur with the discovery that I am inferior to God and must do what God says. It may come with the acceptance that I am powerless to do anything about the kind of hardship or suffering that is suddenly upon me. It may occur with the recognition of a barrier between myself and Jesus that must be terminated – a chosen career, a proposed marriage, an immoral relationship. There is, then, a shifting of priorities in the move from self to humility.

It may seem unlikely at the time, but in the process that spoils our own desires, hopes, pleasures, ambitions, or longings we receive more of God’s amazing grace to enable us to do what God is requiring of us. “Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5).

As we approach the reality of deeper obedience, our imaginations clarify as never before. For what we are about to lose or suffer appears on the path in a last-ditch effort to try to turn aside a heart moving into tender obedience. It is a pivotal moment. Might we not turn the wrong way? We may not want to, but still . . . .

The “self-forgetfulness” of our Lord is our model for humility, as he is in all things. One of the most concentrated expressions of the clarification process comes into sharp relief when our Lord is praying in the Garden of Gethesmane, as it is described in Mark 14:32–34:

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Pete, James and John along with him, and he began to he deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. Stay here and keep watch.”

Just hours before his death by crucifixion, Jesus has walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, which in the Aramaic language means “oil press.” He has gone there to pray about what lay ahead for him, and that imminent future is being clarified to him through the agony he endures there.

Christ’s passion begins. The unbelievable cost of Calvary is being clarified to the Suffering Servant. In Mark’s description, three Greek words in the original New Testament reveal what was taking place in our Lord’s mind. A more accurate rendering of “deeply distressed,” “troubled,” and “overwhelmed” are the words “aghast,” “depressed,” and “grief-stricken.”

That Jesus did not like what he saw is also evident from the long time he took in prayer to ask the Father if “the cup” could pass from him. Drops of his bloody sweat stained the ground while he endured that racking oil press of lowliness. We know that he could have called on his Father to send legions of angels to fight for him (Matthew 26:53).

But Jesus chose to drink the cup, to place the importance of others as greater than himself. This comes ringing home in that climactic outburst before he walks from the garden, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Thus strengthened by God’s grace, the Suffering Servant declares, “Rise! Let us go” (Mark 14:42).

Jesus exemplifies both the height and depth of realistic self-understanding before God, who has promised grace to the humble. If God had enough grace for Jesus in his passion, God will have more than enough grace for you in your humility. As the infinite depths of Christ’s descent mount up to the fullness of grace in Him, the humble have a share in both.

©2018 by Charles Strohmer

Image: Christ being raised of the cross, by Reubens

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Christ the Editor

pen, poem, and inkI’ve been thinking again about a peculiar collection of poems that God is writing, and about how great poems get written.

Just as every note in a musical score is significant, every word in a poem tells, and tells significantly. And it does not line up that way by chance or sloth. Poetry, with its compact, exact language and precise punctuation, may be the most carefully crafted and painstakingly written, and edited, form of communication. Poets will fight tooth and nail with a publisher over placement of a comma. And long before that, poets, at least the best of them, may die a thousands deaths over just one poem. Without a will to erase, add, move, or revise lines, to puzzle perhaps for hours over the right word, image, or phrase – then decide to leave it as is – and then to run through the process again, and then again, you just don’t get ascending poetry.

Back in the days of the Greek epic poet Homer (eight centuries before Christ), pieces crafted from metal were called poiēma, a word derived from poiēo, which was a basic term for all kinds of craftsmanship. Within a few centuries, around the time of Plato, poiēma in Greek literature had developed into a word that often denoted what we today would call artistic work, including the work of someone who wrote a book or a play. Plato and others after him also used poiēma especially of poetical works. Quite easily, then, the early church pressed poiēo into service in New Testament Greek to indicate God’s works as creator and redeemer and Jesus’ works and deeds.

So along comes the literate St. Paul, apostle to the Greeks, or Gentiles (as he is called). Paul has a knack for raising the stakes of the common language of his day, as he does with poiēma. In the context of what it means for the believer to be saved by grace through faith in Christ, Paul says, “We are God’s poiēma,” which English translators typically render: “We are God’s workmanship,” or God’s “handiwork,” or God’s “masterpiece.” (I think the latter is the most accurate rendering in this context, Ephesians 2:10.)

The apostle has involved us in a little wordplay here. I don’t mean that we should get all sentimental and call for a new translation: “We are God’s poems.” But we do get our English word “poem” from poiēma. So we have good reason for meditating on the implications of what it means by God’s grace to be God’s poems. You can bet Paul was.

For God’s poiēma, the editorial process began when we submitted our stories to Jesus the Editor, for consideration to be published. Submission is the hard part. We have worked so terribly hard, and for such a long time, on our own stories. And we’re so proud of them. If anyone tries to touch them, look out! So we’re deathly afraid of editors. There may be too much we are going to have to part with, or they may not even like our stories. Never mind that, as any seasoned writer will tell you, working with a skilled editor makes for the emergence of an ascending story.

antique penAfter submission, the editor says, “I like what you’ve got in mind, but there’s stuff we’ve got to work on, correct a few lines, polish it up here and there, if you want to publish with us. Still interested?” Crumbs. More hard work! But what other choice is there if you you want to get published and read. Sure, you could submit elsewhere, but you’ve already done that and nobody else has come even close to the contract that this publisher has offered.

What to do? “Don’t worry,” the editor says. “I’ll save your story for you. I know what to do. I’ve been at this for a long time. I’ll get those flaws out of it. But you’ll need to leave it with me for a while. I’ll get to work on it and then send it back to you for some revisions. But you may need to delete some bits and add some new material, change a few things around here and there, which, by the way, may take you some time. But we will be working on this together. Don’t worry. And thanks for the submission.”

When your story arrives back in your hands you nearly faint dead away. You had no idea! Such extensive surgery. This is going to take time. Yet as you follow the Editor’s guidelines and margin notes, you start to gain a new intuition, which says, yes, this makes perfect sense now. This is the way it should be.

You make the changes and resubmit it. Further drafts of your story then pass back and forth, and you’re sometimes elated at the editor’s work, sometimes deflated. Man, this is taking longer than I thought. When will it be finished? When will it be published so that everyone can read it?

“Patience,” Christ the Editor responds. “You’re making good progress, but we’ve still got a few wrinkles to iron out. You have a tendency to get ahead of yourself or fall behind or forget about a change that’s been made. And your still inclined to insist on keeping material from the old story.

“I know it’s slow and painful at times. I get that. But keep in mind that I’ve already been sending parts of your story around for reviews and, as you know, they’re being well-received. So hang in there. You want that masterpiece I promised, don’t you?

“So when will you have that next draft ready for me?”

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Jonathan Blocker and Fantomette, respectively (permissions via Creative Commons)

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” Whenever I publish a new post, you will then receive a very short email notice. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell some friends! Thank you.

Today’s Sons of Thunder and the Call of Jesus

peaceful water sceneDuring a church luncheon recently, I landed in a long conversation with new friend who is on a self-imposed learning curve about Christian – Muslim relations. He is reading what Muslims themselves think about their religion, currently in the area of what Islam teaches about love and mercy.

Driving home that afternoon, I found myself giving this Christian high marks for reading original sources. He is avoiding a number of traps. (1) Of making up his mind about Islam based solely the news media’s continual barrage of reporting on terrorism. (2) Of drawing conclusions without having read anything other than non-Muslim sources. (3) Of taking his cues from the diabolic rantings of the militant extremists. I’m hear to warn you that if those are your only sources, that militant radicalism may subtly, over time, begin knocking even the most well-meaning Christians off their stride of following the Price of Peace.

I don’t mean that they will suddenly grab a gun and start shooting. It’s subtler than that. For instance, and briefly, in a milder form, the path of military solutions to the knotty problems of backing down the appeal and the spread of the jihadis militant ideology has displaced the tough slog of inter-religious dialogue and what Chris Seiple calls relational diplomacy.   And in extreme forms, even some long-churched believers can now be heard singing “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.

All of this plunged me, not for the first time, meditatively into what it means to be an ongoing follower of Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, and this day my thoughts turned to those of Jesus’ followers whom he knew as “sons of thunder” (James and John; Mark 3:17). I want to conclude this post with the text I reflected on, and leave you to do your own soul-searching.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for him to be received up, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare [things] for him. But [the Samaritans] did not receive him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But he turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”And they went to another village.  Luke 9:52-56 (NKJV)

The Son of God is not the son of Zeus, Ares, the god of war and of weapons of war. He is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Sar Shalom. Just as those two first century sons of thunder needed that rebuke from Jesus, and then had to think through and work out the implications of being ongoing disciples of Sar Shalom in their own lives, perhaps Christianity’s sons of thunder today need a reminder that it is not the militants that Jesus pronounced as blessed.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Christy Rush (permission via Creative Commons)

The Governance of “Sar Shalom”

lioin and lambIn February 2012, former Senator Rick Santorum made headlines in a controversial statement criticizing President Obama’s worldview. Santorum was running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Although his comment puzzled many news analysts, it was clear to many Christians that Santorum had implied that the president’s worldview was not sufficiently biblical to ensure wise political direction for the country. It’s far too easy, however, for us Christians to kick back and assume that we have a thoroughly biblical worldview about politics.

But let’s reflect on that assumption. Our country is poised for long, tedious, and potentially heated political campaigns to begin for the Republican and Democrat nominations for President of the United States. So this seemed like a good moment to press pause and reflect.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to ask ourselves how consistently do we see political life through the eyes of Jesus? How much of our political wisdom, to put it in words of Colossians 2:8, depends on the basic principles of this world rather than on a philosophy based on Christ?

More pointedly, through what filter do we interpret domestic and international issues and events, prescribe policies, engage with our political opponents – and elect presidents? Blue? Red? Liberal? Conservative? Libertarian? The mainstream media? Talk radio? The blogosphere? “Wisdom” is a good biblical word I often use as a replacement for “worldview,” and far too much of our wisdom, I believe, relies on American attitudes and allegiances rather than on Christ. Here’s why.

Jesus had a strange view of politics, at least according to American lights today. Think with me for a moment about the Palestine of his day and how he handled it. Ancient Palestine was not a land filled only with Jews. It was a land of great diversity. For one thing, Palestine was part of the Roman Empire, which was the superpower of the time, and, like all superpowers, you could not escape the presence of the Roman military, its legions, and soldiers.

Besides military personnel, Jesus’ audiences could at any time have included any cluster of ethnic, social, religious, political, and occupational vested interests and conflicting agendas that were daily in close contact with one another – Jews, of course, but also Romans, Greeks, religious leaders of various stripes, government officials, political zealots, a magistrate’s political spies, apostates, pagans, philosophers, fishermen, soldiers, tax collectors, lawyers – you name it. That land was not unlike the pluralism of our major cities today.

What can we learn from our Lord in the midst of all this human diversity, with its competing and conflicting interests and agendas? For one thing, we know what Jesus did not say in the Gospels. When people came to him seeking wisdom, Jesus did not regurgitate the vested interests, sectarian agendas, or partisan politics of the region’s economic and political powers, or those of the pundits in the media or on talk radio. He never told them, “Just get better at it; you’re being inconsistent.” Jesus did not say such things because he knew that their adherence to such views was what had landed them in the broken relationships and troubled situations they had come to Jesus to repair.

Neither did Jesus affirm the views that people might have been accustomed to hear from their religious leaders. Nor did Jesus – as many were doing – promote Greek philosophy or faithfulness to Roman ideology, any more than, today, he would align himself with American Exceptionalism or any other form of nationalism, be it Russian, Chinese, or Middle Eastern.

And when Jesus taught the crowds, he did not tell people that it would take becoming a Sadducee, or a Pharisee, of a Democrat, or a Republican, or even a Jew or a Christian, before they could have their broken relationships and troubled situations changed.

Instead, to his mixed audiences, whoever you were, Jesus taught such things as:

Don’t repay anyone violence for violence
Settle matters quickly with your adversary
Go the extra mile
Turn the other cheek
Stop throwing stones
Drop the hypocrisy
Repent of your to violence
Forgive, forgive, forgive
Love you enemies even

And I can image Jesus at times saying: If you hold a career in politics you are not precluded from this way of seeing and doing. No wonder Jesus’ teaching seemed strange!

white doveWhat’s going on? In short, Jesus was teaching people to apply God’s peaceable wisdom of shalom across the whole of life in their pluralist situations, with those who were different from them. Jesus called civic officials, religious leaders, and government authorities, not to mention ordinary folk, to commit themselves to shalom – to social, economic, and political well being. This meant not just shaking off dehumanizing habits of the heart as individuals but as communities, thereby creating opportunities and possibilities for living cooperatively and peaceably with one another amid the diversity of their land. This vision for life, as we have considered elsewhere, is a normative understanding of the biblical wisdom tradition.

Now the opposite of shalom is not war but brokenness, whether economic, social, or political. And as Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff once explained to me, “There is no shalom, even if bullets are not flying, if hearts, minds, and souls, or even dreams, are still broken. We, as God’s partners (according to Jewish theology), must help mend and repair the brokenness of the world.”

His use of the word “repair” was a deliberate reference to the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, which means “repairing the world.” The phrase appears in many contexts in rabbinic literature for influencing both Jewish communities and the world at large toward societies of love, peace, justice, kindness, generosity, and suchlike – seen by some as a kind of rehearsal in this life for the anticipated Messianic age of shalom (creational and human well-being, wholeness, or flourishing).

Making possible shalom between God and human beings, and therefore between human beings themselves, is what Jesus died for. He was offering the peoples of Palestine samples of shalom with God throughout his itinerant ministry on the hillsides of Galilee and in the towns of Judea. So here’s how you do it, said Jesus the wisdom teacher to his mixed audiences. Follow my lead and you will create samples of the anticipated future of shalom in the here and now. It’s doable, he said, if you see it through the filter of God’s peaceable wisdom and act accordingly.

Peace with God and with others, across the spectrum of life, is what the governance of Sar Shalom is all about. Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) is one of the stunning titles for the Messiah given in Isaiah 9:6:

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

“Prince of Peace” is Sar Shalom in the Hebrew Bible. And notice that the context is “government,” of which the next verse adds:

“Of the increase of his government and peace [shalom] there will be no end.”

A “sar” was a ruling or governing official, such as a prince or a king. The plural of sar is sarim, as used in the Hebrew Bible to refer a king’s high-level officials and advisers,
who are to rule wisely (Proverbs 8:16) and with righteousness (Isaiah 32:1). But here in Isaiah 9:6, the word is singular, “Sar,” a Prince (or King) who is given the title Sar Shalom.

A philosophy based on Christ giving direction to our politics, it seems to me, then, takes personally and very seriously Jesus’ call to shalom. Of course we are not only inconsistent at living this calling but at times fail miserably, so as part of our Christian discipleship we must steadily identify and exorcize from our wisdom (worldview) whatever voices, values, attitudes, and influences conflict with the peaceable way of wisdom that comes from above (James 3:17).

Shalom is God’s love offered to us for political life in this world amid its diversity. Does this seem strange to us today? I hope so.

Upon hearing it preached by Jesus and seeing it demonstrated, people “were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their teachers.” Dumbfounded, they asked, “Where did this man get this wisdom?” (Matthew 7:29; 13:54). Yes, where?

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Mike Quinn and hapal respectively (permissions via Creative Commons)

JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 5 of 7

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

At the start of his public ministry, Jesus chose twelve close followers, and most of them were so different that they would never have come together on their own in any sort of initiative. We do not know much about any of them from the Gospels, and some we don’t know anything about. But here are some things we do know.

There were four professional fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot, a guy who was sort of the “nobody” of the group, a man who held huge doubts about who Jesus really was, and the guy who betrayed Jesus. Some of these guys would have had some pretty serious issues, if not hostility or enmity, with some of the others.

If there is any one thing this motley crew had to get to grips with early on, together, it was that Jesus didn’t start discipling them – his inner circle – by bringing a bunch of friends together. This would have been deliberate on Jesus’ part and disruptive for the disciples. On the road with Jesus, they were now not only away from their old friendships, family, and established careers; they were also traveling physically with the other in their midst, and for the express purpose of learning from Jesus about fleshing out, modeling, the life of the kingdom of God.

wisdom tradtionHere is why we should grasp this. In these current posts we have so far chiefly been focusing on ways in which Jesus taught his peaceable wisdom among the diverse peoples of ancient Palestine and counseled them to apply it, whomever they were. Stories and incidents in the four Gospels show different responses. Some got the vision and applied it. Some said, That’s interesting; I’ll think about it. And to others it was either foolishness or a stumbling block. At the very least, almost everyone was  surprised by Jesus’ way, even if they did not take that wisdom to heart.

Personally, I think many were surprised, if not shocked, by Jesus’ teaching when they understood, and at times saw in action, the shapes of that peaceable wisdom applied, for instance, in family, social, political, or economic life after folk took Jesus at his word and changed how they lived or worked. Jesus called to repentance those whose obedience to attitudes, ideologies, or actions were, through various ways and means, tearing apart the fabric of life. In the four Gospels many, though not all, of the narratives focus on this.

Mind you, Jesus was not putting this on others and not on himself. I think one of the most stunning things that the people of his time saw and learned about Jesus was that he wasn’t a hypocrite. He personally modeled his wisdom, quite publicly, in his own daily actions, from the get-go. It was by bringing together the twelve – with their diverse, and sometimes conflicting, interests and visions; with their grievances, fears, and biases; with their partialities, rivalries, and prejudices – that Jesus first gets everyone’s serious attention about what he is on about. It is the strange witness and potential of shalom amid diversity amid ancient Palestine with all of its strife, conflict, violence, oppression, conspiracies, and everything else that tears at the fabric of life and that has analogies today to which we may find ourselves in obedience.

Jesus deliberately stuck himself with twelve others into an ongoing initiative in which the thirteen of them had to grapple for three years with contradictions, competing interests, misunderstandings, personal issues, perceived lack of parity, and much more. And I  haven’t even mentioned, and won’t here, what the twelve must have thought about their teacher at times.

This motley crew of twelve diverse disciples had to learn to get along with each other. No, I did not say that right. It was more than that. They had to understand which values, ideas, and principle informed the choices they made that militated against expressing their diversity among one another peaceably everyday. This wasn’t about uniformity. It was about learn where and how to shake off the bogus stuff and follow Jesus in their diversity but a diversity focused on fleshing out Jesus’ vision of life, which was meant to become their normative public witness amid the cosmopolitan diversity of ancient Palestine. It would change them personally. And it was what Jesus himself, their teacher, was modeling. “A student is not above his teacher,” Jesus said, “but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Of course the twelve failed terribly at times. But Jesus was afterward always showing them what course corrections they then needed to make, if the were going to continue to follow him, Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Sure, what  Jesus was modeling was controversial, and in the next post we will explore some of those narratives.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 4 of 7

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

widsom traditionIt is becoming clear that when we think about Jesus as teacher of wisdom, this is not about someone who went around quoting the book of Proverbs. Something else was taking place. Jesus was teaching from a way of reasoning about life, relationships, and decision making. It was a peaceable way of reasoning that was wisdom-based, and it had strong similarities to the ancient Hebrew sages’ peaceable way of reasoning. We have been exploring some vital and often overlooked aspects of this wisdom – this way of seeing life and living in it – since the first post in this series.

To quickly recall one of those aspects, the Hebrew sages had a way of reasoning in which shalom played a vital role in cooperative human activity and decision making across the spectrum of life. In ancient Israel this provided a morally responsible means for peoples of different faiths and cultures not only to meet and greet but to negotiate peaceable initiatives and agreements across all sorts of perhaps otherwise unnegotiable boundaries.

However, as an authoritative form or mode of knowledge and instruction, Christianity today, whatever the reasons, has in some ways clipped this way of reasoning from its Bible. That is, we are big on the Law (Torah) and the prophets as authoritative. But wisdom? We see a clue to the problem in the book of Jeremiah. Some conspirators (they are not identified) are plotting against the prophet, and while doing that they summarize three sources of authoritative knowledge for ancient Israel: the teaching of the law by the priest, the counsel from the wise, and the word from the prophet (Jeremiah 18:18).

I like Walter Brueggemann’s treatment of this triad (The Creative Word, chapter 1). “Torah,” “counsel,” and “word” are three shapes of “Israelite authoritative knowledge,” and “the priest,” “the wise,” and “the prophet” are the three agents of that knowledge and instruction. Each form of knowledge, he argues, “has a special substance and a distinct mode in the life of Israel. And a faithful community must attend to all three, not selecting one to the neglect of the others” (p. 8, his emphases).

In all four Gospels, Jesus can be seen as the archetypal agent of all three of these forms of authoritative knowledge and instruction. What I am hoping for in these posts on Jesus as a teacher of wisdom is to help us think about the form that we have neglected for far too long.

Jesus’ way of reasoning squares with that of the Hebrew sages and their wisdom tradition, with its emphases on shalom as vital to cooperative and peaceable human relations amid their diversity (see the earlier posts). But in Jesus, the sages’ peaceable way of wisdom gets taken up in the love of God and transformed into the gospel-shaped wisdom for loving not only one’s neighbors but also one’s adversaries.

In the previous post, we looked briefly at some ways in which Jesus taught this peaceable wisdom in ancient Palestine amid that roiling diversity with its conflicting ethnic, social, political, and religious interests. But Jesus did not just teach it. He also personally modeled it. This we will see in the next post.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 3 of 7

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

wisdom traditionIn Jesus, the sages’ peaceable way of wisdom gets taken up in the love of God and transformed into the gospel-shaped wisdom for loving not only one’s neighbors but also one’s adversaries. How is that possible? If it seems like a pretty bold claim, a large part of the reason why, I think, must be laid at our feet. The role of Jesus as a teacher of wisdom has been lost to us today. And we are the poorer for it.

This series of posts offers some thoughts about what it might take to start regaining that lost wisdom and get a line on what practicing it might look like today. We began this in the first two posts by getting a good feel for the region and the time in which Jesus lived and moved as a wisdom teacher. The diverse social, religious, and political atmosphere of ancient Palestine under the domineering power of the Roman empire, including its military presence, was felt by everyone everywhere. Including Jesus. Broken relations, sectarian agendas, and political injustices were as common to ancient Palestine’s disturbed polyculturalism as they are today.

Having set the stage, let’s look start to explore Jesus’s wisdom-based way teaching within those roiling waters. To his audiences, Jesus had a strange view about how people with conflicting interests could live more cooperatively and peaceably with one other. Jesus, regularly addressed as “Rabbi,” taught a wisdom-based way of resolving problems of differing interests, decision making in diversity, broken relationships, and community formation. For him, this way was natural. But to his audiences, even to his own followers, it sounded alien. Why was that?

Let’s start from the negative, by first identifying several things that we do not see Jesus saying or doing as a teacher of wisdom. When people came to him seeking counsel, Jesus did not regurgitate the vested interests, sectarian agendas, or partisan politics of the region’s economic and political powers, or those of the pundits in the media or on talk radio. Adherence to such views was often what had landed people in the broken relationships and sorry situations they had come to Jesus to repair. Neither did Jesus affirm the views that they were accustomed hear from their religious leaders. Nor did he, as so many were doing, promote Greek philosophy or faithfulness to Roman ideology – any more than today he would align himself with American Exceptionalism or any other form of nationalism.

And there is this. Jesus did not tell anyone that it would take becoming a Sadducee or a Pharisee, or a liberal or a conservative, or a Democrat or a Republican, or even a Jew or a Christian before they could start to have their relationships and situations repaired. This is quite a different approach, for instance, and to use Evangelical parlance, than getting people “saved” first, before any thought of saving their relationships and situations could move in more peaceable directions. You only need to consider the bloody internecine history of Christianity to see that “being Christian” is no guarantor preventing brother from rising up against brother.

Well, as they say, you can’t build a case on negatives. So what did Jesus to do? What did his wisdom consist of in the roiling cosmopolitanism of ancient Palestine? To his mixed audiences, and to whoever you would have been in those audiences, Jesus said some pretty outlandish things:

Don’t repay anyone violence for violence. Settle matters quickly with your adversary. Go the extra mile even with a soldier. Turn the other cheek. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Stop throwing stones. Drop the hypocrisy. Forget sectarian allegiances. Repent of your tendencies to othering and violence. Love your enemy, even. And if you hold a career in politics you are not excluded from practicing this wisdom.

This is only a small area of what a close engagement with the four Gospels reveals about Jesus the wisdom teacher. We will pick that up in the next post. But what does any of that have to do with the wisdom tradition and the wisdom of Jesus? Let me close this post with the following.

Those “sayings” from Jesus all comes from Matthew’s Gospel, which Ben Witherington calls a Gospel of wisdom (Jesus the Sage, chapter 8). Witherington concluded this after wondering “what it would have looked like to tell the story of Jesus in light of Jewish sapiential thinking about wisdom in general” and about Jesus himself “as the great parable of God’s wisdom, like and yet even greater than Solomon” (p. 335). Because Matthew was put together chiefly for Jewish audiences, and because it carries so much direct and indirect evidence of the Hebrew wisdom tradition, I think Witherington is on to something.

And to note just this also, “contrasts,” especially brief, striking ones, are integral to the Hebrew wisdom tradition. And at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is in Matthew’s Gospel, which is where most of the above “sayings” are found, Jesus not only makes a striking contrast but one that deftly summarizes the entire (wisdom) book of Proverbs: If you put these word of mine into practice, you are a wise; if you don’t put them into practice, you are foolish (Matthew 7:24-27).

Continued in the next post.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.