Dear Friends,

Okay, you’re right. I’ve never before written a letter to you my faithful readers here on my blog, but I wanted this post to be a bit more personal. So here goes.

We live during such a fast-paced and unusually dramatic and demanding period that the day we take to stop in grateful memory of the most significant event in history can by now seem like an event in the distant past. Old news. No longer on our minds. Even though it was only a few weeks ago. We’ve moved on. Today’s events are the thing.

But is the greatest event in history, what we call Easter, behind the times? Behind your times? I ask you.

Thanks to one of the more constructive benefits of the Internet, I listened online to two Sunday morning messages by Pastor Mike Osminiski in the quiet of my study on the afternoon each one was preached, Palm Sunday and Easter. Each teaching was an hour long and I found myself taking a lot of notes, but it was not time spent but time deeply blessed. I was so totally blessed receiving fresh and relevant insight and understanding about the last week of our Lord’s life and the resurrection that I’m linking both messages here on my blog for you.

Opening up Psalm 118 and Psalm 22 in the context of Mark 11, Pastor Mike took me into the story of Jesus as Jesus personally entered the story of God for the closing days of his life on earth, moving from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the Passover meal and then through the betrayal to Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection. Although this was theologically solid stuff, it wasn’t abstract theological teaching. It was rich immersion into Scripture corresponding to what Jesus faced then and there, during a week that at times even for him seemed unimaginable.

We are often told that Jesus fulfilled the Scripture. And that is true. Yet Jesus’ life was also embedded in the Scripture. The two Sunday messages brought out to me that Jesus had a very real personal understanding of having entered the narratives of Psalm 118 and Psalm 22. Jesus saw in them timely words from Father to Son (from hundreds of years earlier!) that gave him courage to face the way ahead, to keep going, so that his own mind, will, and emotions did not dominate his decisions that terrible week, when unthinkable grief and suffering were to be placed on his shoulders (that he might fulfill the Scripture). Also, and importantly, the two Psalms gave Jesus vision and hope of the joy he will experience after his resurrection from the dead.

And there was this too. Both messages gave me fresh insight that helped me understand more clearly as to why seeking the Lord to locate ourselves in scriptural narratives, particularly during dramatic and demanding days such as ours, is a vital part of following Jesus.

Mike did not use the word “Easter” to talk about this. He talked about Resurrection Day.

Resurrection life, not bunny rabbits, is what we ought to be gratefully remembering on the day everyone calls Easter. That indestructible life is God’s gift to us. It’s not passe. It’s for our life today. Hey, here’s a thought. Perhaps we should start a movement to replace the name “Easter” with “Resurrection Day”?

As we understand more about Jesus’ life that week, its unprecedented personal challenges, and where he took inspiration from, perhaps we may be able to see and be inspired to keep going by seeing at times where to enter the story for God in Scripture for our own lives, humbly and obediently, to receive more of that resurrection life of Jesus to get us through whatever kind of trial or suffering we face. Please don’t read that as offering a “there, there now” brother or sister, “all will be fine.” This is not that. Who knows what lays ahead for us during the ongoing, demanding, time-foreshortened moment that we still find ourselves in as followers Jesus. We live in seriously shifting times. Let us not take the world-historical event of Resurrection Day as a thing of the past.

I ask you, what other than the everlasting power of the life that defeated death will do for you today?

I don’t know how Pastor Mike’s teachings will personally bless you. But this I pray. If you’re longing for a fuller lifting of the veil in order to better see Jesus today, and to receive insight into the power and authority of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection as essential graces for your faith and life today, in whatever you face, or that faces you, no matter how demanding, I pray that you will find all of that and more in these two messages.

‘Nuff said. It’s over to you now. Here’s the two links. Oh, I should add that Mike opens the start of each Sunday service, but you may then want to scroll ahead to where he starts each message, as preceding each one is a 20+ minute word on Communion from someone else – not to say those are not worth your time! Also, you’ll see two different ways to listen. I suggest listening by clicking the little white arrow at the bottom of the church scene, rather than the one below it, which is audio only.

Pastor Mike starts the Palm Sunday message around the 20min, 30sec mark:

He starts the Resurrection Day message around the 38.00 min mark:

If you have any difficulty accessing a talk, let me know.

Yours truly, in His life,

©2022 by Charles Strohmer

Image courtesy of Creative Commons, Samantha Simmons

Invitation to Summer Reading

summer reading wisdomNOTE: While I’m blogging less frequently this summer in order to finish some writing projects that are screaming at me from the wings, I want to invite you to read, or perhaps revisit, some key past posts. I’ve picked several (see the list below) that seem to have become increasingly relevant over the past year. But of course you can simply pick topics from the Categories list in the sidebar.

And while I’m at it, I want to express a sincere “Thank you” to all of you who are following this blog, as well as to those of you who stop by here occasionally to check out a post. I have tried to make this an open and safe (and nonpartisan and commercial free!) space for sharing, commenting on, and spreading wisdom-based ideas and practices that are vital for our times but, sadly, ignored by the media. You are helping to “get the word out” – by raising awareness that our deepening reliance on wisdom enables us to work cooperatively and peaceably together in areas of private or public activity – where diversity is normative, where cooperation is essential, and where human flourishing is desired, but where adversarial relations or lesser tensions first have to be defused and resolved.

As Ringo once sang, “You know it don’t come easy.” But sharing about wisdom with you and hearing from you is its own reward. So maybe I could do a little friendly arm-twisting. Since this blog is still catching on, and experimental as well, consider taking a minute to turn friends and colleagues on to the blog via email and social media. And if you have suggestions for improving the blog it, I’m all ears. Thank you.

Here is my personal list of posts you may want to earmark for your summer reading or rereading, topics that seem to have become increasingly relevant to our times. The comment areas are open on all of the posts, so feel free to join in:

What You Now Need to Know about ISIS – This link will take you to a short post that will save you a lot of time. It’s a brief summary that lists places on this blog to jump to that may scratch your itches about why ISIS is like it is. These issues are ignored by the media, such as its historical and relational roots in 1960’s Egypt and its religious “submit or die” ideology.

Series on Iran – You will become well versed about historical and political causes of the deeply troubled relations between Iran and the U.S. And not just about the nuclear deal.

The Wisdom of the Desert  – This three-part series looks theologically, and a bit humorously, at the fascinating biblical story of Moses and Jethro in order to discover the vital role that wisdom played in the difficult formation of a just and peaceable society for the million-plus wanderers (Israelites, Egyptians, and others) of the Exodus generation. Discover the relevance of wisdom, justice, and peace for today’s pluralist societies.

Symphonic Justice – Some wonderfully creative thoughts from James Skillen about the the potential for more peaceable international relations.

Jesus As a Teacher of Wisdom in Ancient Palestine – The last shall be first. A series of seven posts. I have linked you to the third one in the series here.

Enjoy your summer.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by KimManleyOrt (permission via Creative Commons)


old typewriter and booksHaving identified when, where, and how the world went wrong (in ancient Jewish history; see the previous post), the Egyptian intellectual and widely-read Islamist activist Sayyid Qutb believed he had found the religious and historical starting point for what he considered history’s God-less trajectory. The life and times of Jesus in ancient Palestine was the next stop is his radical view of history.

Qutb believed that the ancient Jews had reduced God’s rule over all of life to the religious and moral aspects, and that Jesus, like Moses and the Jewish prophets, was a true messenger of God sent to restore Jewish life and practice back under God’s total rule. In Islam: The Religion of the Future (IRF), Qutb wrote that “Jesus (peace be upon him) … was sent by God as a prophet to the Jews, confirming and corroborating the Law of Moses.” But the Jews “reacted unfavourably to the message of Jesus” and in the end “resisted Jesus and his message” and “induced Pontius Pilate … to attempt the murder of Jesus by crucifixion.” (Of Christ’s death itself, Qutb was ambiguous because, as he said in IRF, “there is no definite injunction in our Qur’an or Traditions regarding” Jesus’ death. The Qur’an, not the Bible, was his ultimate authority.)

Judaism, per Qutb, had rejected Christ’s restoration message, but Christianity did not fair any better. Due to the persecution and scattering of Jesus’ disciples, Christianity, at least not in any systematic sense, never recovered the original unitary vision of the Mosiac Law concerning God’s rule over all aspects of human life.

And then came another historical disaster: the official conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity in the fourth century. Noting that many people of the era called it “the triumph of Christianity,” Qutb called its Christianity’s “greatest calamity” (IRF). In the books of his that I have read, Qutb ranges through the domestic life, social policies, and foreign relations of the Holy Roman Empire, lambasting much of it, including Church councils. Along the way, he interprets hundreds of passages in the Qur’an as supporting his conclusions. The Christianity of the Holy Roman Empire, like Judaism before it, became hopelessly lost to other gods. In IRF he writes:

“The Christian community …could not crush or eradicate idolatry. Christianity’s principles became muddled and transmuted as a result of a new synthetic religion displaying conspicuously  equal elements of both Christianity and paganism. In this respect, Islam differs from Christianity. It completely exterminated its rival (idolatry) and propagated its principles pure and without opacity.”

Yet at times Qutb shows sympathy for those faithful Christians who were horrified by Roman immorality, imperialist debaucheries, and pagan influences but who could do little about them. He had no patience, however, for the monasticism that arose to counter those tendencies or for the Roman Catholic church’s priestly monopoly on biblical interpretation.

To conclude his march through history through another series of critical moves (which I omit discussing here), Qutb arrives at twentieth century Marxism, which gets his severest attack. E.g.: Marxism “cannot survive without its abominable police machinery, its bloodbaths, its liquidation purges and its concentration camps.” “Marxist doctrine is nothing more than incomprehensible ‘scientific’ fallacy.” “Marxism is completely ignorant of the human soul” (IFR). What Qutb called “the hideous schizophrenia” – the segregation of religious life from practical life in the world – which “the whole modern world” suffered from – made its appearance in Marxism as the world’s worst social disease to date.

But there was fix. Constantly relying on his doctrine of the sovereignty of God over all of life and history, Qutb believed that the solution to the hideous schizophrenia – to what he at times called the sacred vs. secular dichotomy – was “the religion of God.” And he was absolutely clear that by this he meant “the Islamic way of life” (IRF). That was where Qutb stood. It is where ISIS and al Qaeda stand: us vs. everyone else.

We will pick up the story to consider “Why Islam?” in the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


Palestine Sun Bird Christians have a revelation of Israel. What is needed is a revelation of the plight of the Palestinians. In the previous post we considered why the political theology of Christian Zionism can be used to support a terribly disturbing political militancy against the Palestinian population in the Middle East, a population that includes Palestinian Christians. This alone should give American Christians pause. Do they want to endorse a theology of brother against brother? Further, Palestinian Christians of all denominations in Palestine stand united against the theology, which they consider a “false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation” (from: The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism).

God’s call to “love, justice, and reconciliation” is, of course, central to the entire biblical narrative. It is such a huge area human responsibility – the subject of countless books and seminary courses, for example – that we cannot possibly delve into it here, in a short blog post. But let’s look at it in its most concentrated form, in the ethic of Jesus in the Gospels, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. (You may want to see the posts on Jesus’ way of reasoning as a teacher of wisdom in ancient Palestine, for I am trying to think from within that way here.) And let’s make it practical.

When Jesus called peacemakers blessed, when he emphasized turning the other cheek, when he commanded love of enemies, when he required sheathed swords of those who would follow him –  Jesus was talking about self-sacrifice. That is, he was throwing down the gauntlet to us at the deepest depths of our being.

The one whom the New Testament calls the wisdom – not the theology – of God was challenging his listeners at the core of their being: What do you want to live by? he was in essence asking them. Do you want to feed off of the desires in you that can alienate, hate, make enemies, fuel violence? Or do you want to live by my gospel-shaped wisdom, by inner motivations of love and reconciliation? What interests you, an ontology of violence or an ontology of peace?

Jesus’ ethic challenges the heart because it is deeply personal and utterly practical. True, no one lives consistent with it, but those who accept Jesus at his word must make a start and keep going. Many of us today, however, have restricted the ethic of Jesus to his audiences in ancient Palestine. We keep it filed “back there,” in that historical period. After all, it might get rather uncomfortable for us if we try to live it today, as individuals and churches, toward the peoples of Palestine.

Let’s think just about Jesus’ peacemakers, or peaceworkers. Christian Zionism as a theology of war opposes this norm of the ethic of Jesus. Peacemaking is about reconciliation, and reconciliation may be the most fundamental characteristic of the gospel of Jesus. I imagine Jesus asking: What are you doing to help reconciliation move forward between the Palestinians and the Jews in the Middle East?

Let Us Beat Our Swords into PloughsharesPeople go to war against enemies. I do not see how anyone who supports Christian Zionism as a war theology is not counting the Palestinians as hated enemies. I imagine Jesus asking comfortable American supporters of Christian Zionism: What did the Palestinians ever do to you? Can you pick up a gun against them? No? Then why are you in league with a theology that is on that trajectory?

Even if they were personal enemies, turning the other cheek is part of an ethic that calls its followers to eschew a traditional principle of self-defense and then to go further and love enemies. We may want to rationalize it away – it’s an exaggeration, it’s impractical, it was for another time – yet there it is in the ethic of Jesus. I imagine Jesus asking Christian Zionists: What are you doing about loving the Palestinians?

Maybe you can’t go this far, yet, on the path of self-sacrificing love. But you can make a start by choosing to stop mentally supporting a theology of war. Loving actions will eventually follow that decision. In the meantime, a huge step has been taken.

Turning from Christian Zionism is not about hurting Israel or bringing a curse on you. It is about leveling the playing field, raising the Palestinian issue on a level with Israel. The ethic of Jesus calls for showing the same kind of impartiality to friends and enemies that God shows all to all peoples everywhere in his distribution of sun and rain. With this posture we give further witness to our lives as followers of Jesus. To love one’s enemies is to express in the worst of conditions the best of the love of the Father in heaven.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image of the Palestinian Sun Bird by David King (permission via Creative Commons)

A Meditation on Wisdom and Shalom

wisdom and shalomA Meditation on Wisdom and Shalom
“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom. All her paths are peace.”
Proverbs 3:13, 17

The peace spoken of here is the venerable Hebrew word “shalom,” the opposite of which is not violence and war but brokenness. It is the peace God offers our world, and it is quite different than the mere absence of war. Shalom is about the healing of personal, political, social, and economic brokenness. The Hebrew sages used the word deliberately in their proverbs, knowing its meaning, its promise, and its Source.

Jesus, the agent of God’s wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24), also knew its Source, and he called any and all to become agents of shalom. Day after day Jesus modeled the paths of shalom and taught the ornery crowds how to follow his lead. It’s quite amazing, really. They were being shown how to put it into practice in the here and now. They were to become agents of shalom amid the rough and tumble pluralism of Palestine – despite their religious and ideological differences.

Jesus never said, “Wait until heaven.” He never said that you first had to become a Sadducee or a Pharisee or a Roman citizen, or even a Jew or a Christian, before you could help heal the brokenness. You just needed God’s wisdom.

Prayer: May your wisdom, O Lord, increasingly flourish among us. And may you daily guide me in those paths.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Rob Stalnaker (permission via Creative Commons)


orchestra 3Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q Ideas, did a pretty outlandish thing for a Christian leader. He invited imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to a large Q Gathering in Portland, Oregon, in April 2011. Concerned about the heightened tensions between some Christians and Muslims in America that had not subsided since the previous summer, due to the ground-zero mosque controversy, Lyons knew that lack of understanding can be at the root of unnecessary relational problems. He simply wanted to interview the imam, a peaceable Sufi, and “get understanding” (Proverbs 4:5).

In a thoughtful article written in response to the ground-zero mosque controversy, Lyons had asked, “Can you imagine a future where Muslims and Christians would work alongside one another in our communities to fight for justice, care for the poor, and offer hope to those in need?” He cited the work of Eboo Patel, an Indian Muslim, American citizen, and founder of the respected Interfaith Youth Core, headquartered in Chicago, which works with Christians and Jews on community projects in many cities. Not long afterward, Lyons invited Eboo Patel to give the Q version of a TED talk.

To Christians who questioned his decision to hang with Muslims, Lyons in his article replied, “The longer I live the more I’m inspired by the life of Jesus and the way He was able to sit down and converse with people who were so unlike him.” Amen, brother. We need more such outlandish behavior.

An unspoken irony in these episodes is that if Muslims such as the Rauf and Patel can find justification in their religion to be peaceably engaged with Christians, can we Christians not find it in ours to be peaceably engaged with Muslims? After all, we are the ones who claim to follow the Prince of Peace (Sar Shalom).

In the series that just ended, we have looked at outlandish ways in which 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. It is a bold wisdom, one much easier to give the nod to than to personally practice, or at least practice without being misunderstood by co-religionists, as Lyons discovered even in the openly receptive audiences of Q. One reason for this, noted in a previous post, is because Jesus taught and modeled this wisdom in-person so long ago, in a culture so different than ours, that today, in twenty-first century America, the ways in which Jesus shocked their imaginations may not even startle us. If that is true, then much that is in the Gospel record may not even speak to us today.

wisdom traditionSo I have often wondered how Jesus as a teacher of wisdom would “stab us awake” [William Barclay] were he among us in the flesh in America today. What would he say, to us? How would he require us to conduct ourselves, today? Previously,  I hinted at one possible act with Stephen Sizer’s Parable of the Good Palestinian. You see, I think Jesus might, in his own wise way, want to call attention to how tightly, whether consciously or not, we hold to American attitudes and allegiances that conflict with his gospel-shaped peaceable wisdom. To put it in biblical language: How much of our social and political wisdom, for example, depends on the basic principles of this world rather than on the wisdom based on Christ?

Jesus liked to asked questions of his interlocutors, and I suspect that is a way Jesus would shock us today. Even to those of us who pride ourselves in being worldview sophisticates and Christians with a biblical worldview, Jesus, were he standing amid us today, might begin by asking something like: Through what grid, really, do you ultimately interpret domestic and international issues and events, or support policies, or engage with your political opponents or those of other faiths? Blue? Red? Liberal? Conservative? Democrat? Republican? Libertarian? Catholic? Orthodox? Protestant? The mainstream media? Talk radio? NPR? The blogosphere? American Exceptionalsim? Christian Zionism? Bashing others? I’m sure the questions would continue.

For those of us who stuck around to ask Jesus to help us work it through, we would find on offer a direction in life that deeply relied on his peaceable gospel-shaped wisdom. You want what’s best for your society? Then act on that, Jesus in effect said to his audiences in Palestine, and you will learn how to have community with people from different backgrounds. And perhaps someday you will even disciple nations this way. Is his message any fundamentally different today?

In our post-9/11 world, this certainly must mean exorcising from our praxis allegiances to the voices, values, and attitudes that conflict with that peaceable wisdom that comes from above (James 3:17). The red and the blue and so on. Does this seem strange to us today? I hope so. Upon hearing it and seeing it demonstrated in ancient Palestine, people “were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their teachers” (Matthew 7:29). Dumbfounded, they asked, “Where did this man get this wisdom?” (Matthew 13:54). Where, indeed? And how may we today become agents of that wisdom ourselves?

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


wisdom traditionThe ways in which Jesus personally modeled his peaceable wisdom were almost always controversial, beginning with his choice of his twelve closest followers, a motley crew for sure. And it went on from there, nonstop. Jesus kept reaching out to include persons whom others had excluded. Here are some vignettes.

A crowd in Jericho complained when Jesus included a rich tax official, Zacchaeus – who really was up a tree. A Pharisee named Simon threw a dinner party for Jesus and was shocked when Jesus not only permitted a “sinful” woman to remain in their midst but let her participate in a ceremony.

In the stories of the Samaritan and the Syrophoneican women, the twelve disciples (who were all Jews) learned to open up their hearts as Jesus crossed boundaries of ethnic, religious, social, and gender otherness to express God’s love to two women who were citizens of cultures that most Jews found repulsive. In Jesus, the Samaritan woman found “a Jew who did not impose on her the Jewish stereotype of a Samaritan [or of] a woman.” And the Syrophoneican woman, a Greek (a Gentile) who lived in the region of Tyre, historically a non-Jewish enclave, found in Jesus a Jew who practiced mercy over exclusivism. In both narratives, a Jewish rabbi is willing to dialogue with these excluded others in ways that initiate them into the community of compassion. (Quoting Judith Gundry in the “Introduction” to Glenn Stassen’s Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War, p. 28).

It may even be that the Syrophoneican woman’s clever appeal to Jesus, which seems to get him to change his mind, inspired him soon after he left that region to reach out with compassion to a huge gathering of probably chiefly Gentiles at the Sea of Galilee. There, Jesus clearly modeled for the twelve that Gentiles “are part of the community of compassion. God’s mercy had triumphed over ‘the prejudiced-based distance between nations and cultures.’” (Quoting Judith Gundry in Stassen, p. 29).

I am sure that those twelve Jewish men must have felt their faith was at great odds with itself many times seeing Jesus practice what he preached. Jesus was knocking their sectarian interests and exclusivist, social and religious ideologies to pieces.

And if you did not get it from the real-life travels of Jesus, you could get it from some of the parables. Parables are basic to the wisdom tradition and Jesus ingeniously supplied them. Some he told specifically in hopes of awakening his listeners to become agents on the gospel-shaped love of God that includes the excluded. In the parable of the dinner guests, for instance, social outcasts are brought in for fellowship with the rich. And in the often misunderstood parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus’ listeners are challenged to imagine themselves seeing a dying man who is in need of immediate mercy – and what would they do about it? Would they stop and provide for his well-being, reach out with shalom? Or would they leave him on the street corner to bleed to death because of their religious or other beliefs?

The parable, I believe, calls us to exercise impartial justice to one another even when we have religious and other basic differences. This a biblical principle of justice, through and through, from Leviticus 19:33-34 to 1 Timothy 5:21. “Wisdom is proved right by her actions,” Jesus said. The Samaritan man in the parable “proved” that wisdom by the impartial justice he exercised. He stopped what he was doing that day and reached out to save the dying man, whom two Jewish religious leaders in the parable would not help. And it cost him some coin to do it. All of this was to the dismay of another figure, the real-life Jewish religious leader, to whom Jesus directed the parable.

Decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, this may have been on the mind of James, a Jewish Christian leader and step-brother of Jesus, who seems to have adapted the principle to a different problem. Writing in an Epistle that shows clear correspondence to a wisdom agenda, James has found a Christian synagogue guilty of showing favoritism, or partiality, to the rich, and embarrassing the poor in their synagogue in the process. They are not being impartial in their dealings with others, and James challenges them to treat rich and poor the same, lest they be found guilty of discrimination, having “become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:1-4). Acts of favoritism, he notes, do not reflect well on “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”

street light crossFor us today, however, the parable is not poignant, not even outlandish. It doesn’t make us smart because we don’t live 2,000 years ago in ancient Palestine. We have not absorbed the social taboos and religious pressures that made Jesus’ parable so startling. I mean, something quite profound is going on, here, in the public imagination, when the religious figure to whom the parable was directed can’t even say “the Samaritan” in answer to Jesus’ question “Who was the injured man’s neighbor?”, but instead answers “the one.”

I think we need a parable of the good Samaritan for today. I wonder how Jesus would tell the parable today. It would certainly challenge our contemporary imaginations. I had an idea for one a few years ago, but I gave up trying to finish writing it when I read The Parable of the Good Palestinian, by Stephen Sizer, an English vicar.

Throughout the four Gospels, we see that in Jesus the peaceable way of the sages’ wisdom becomes the gospel-shaped way of loving outcast and adversary. Civic officials, religious leaders, government authorities, and ordinary people—his own followers, too—were being challenged with a wisdom-based praxis that emphasized not just shaking off dehumanizing habits of the heart as individuals. By following Jesus’ lead they would become agents of a wisdom that would rehumanize relationships amid their diversity.

The ultimate act of Jesus’ personal modeling of his peaceable wisdom was the crucifixion, when Jesus went so far as to die to be able to include even his enemies. More than any of his inclusive personal acts, however, this one became known in the early Church as “a stumbling block” to some, “foolishness” to others, and “the wisdom of God” to others still (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

See next post for the conclusion of this series.

©2014 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.


©2014 by Charles Strohmer

So far in this series of posts on the wisdom tradition we have been considering two core features of wisdom that are vital for building and sustaining more cooperative relations amid human diversity. These two core features are peaceableness (shalom, as flourishing) and human mutuality (wisdom is for all humankind). And we have been considering reliance on them chiefly in local community and regional contexts.

Soon the posts will be going international. We will be exploring biblical and related narratives in which the wisdom tradition played prominent roles in the international relations and foreign policy of the old-world Middle East. Afterward, we will experiment with ways in which the agency of wisdom may be relied on in international relations today, with a special focus on U.S. – Middle East relations and foreign policy decision making. But just before we go international, I thought it would be good to dedicate several posts to the disturbed, regional context of ancient Palestine in Jesus’ day, and how Jesus as a teacher of wisdom handled it.

Roman empireFocusing on Jesus as a teacher of wisdom can be a bit difficult at first, at least it was for me, because other views of Jesus were prominent in my mind. As a Christian in America, I was taught to see Jesus as a healer and miracle worker, and as someone who was angry with the pharisees, and as someone who told great stories, and as the leader of twelve disciples, and so on. And especially as the savior. “Reading” Jesus’ life through such frames, however, as true as all of those are, gave me a blind spot. I was unable to see Jesus as a wisdom teacher. Sure, I knew that Jesus was a teacher and that the New Testament called Jesus the wisdom of God. And I knew that Jesus told a lot of parables and that the parables were part of the wisdom tradition. But I had never linked “teacher” to “wisdom” or heard any Christian instruction which emphasized that.

It was not until I was well into the research for this new book that I started considering Jesus in his role as a teacher of wisdom. That led to some surprising discoveries in how Jesus handled his own version of our contemporary, pluralist regions, with their great ethnic, political, and religious diversity. These discovers have added immensely to how I see Jesus, and in ways that I would not want to live without.

These discoveries began after I decided to get a good picture of the cultural, social, political, and religious scene of ancient Palestine in Jesus’ day. Here are few vignettes.

It was the time of the Roman empire and the empire’s occupation of Palestine, which affected your aspirations across the spectrum of life. At the top of the empire was the emperor and his imperium, exercising absolute control, with the blessing and favor of the gods. Just as Israel’s political and social life was rooted in its belief in Yahweh, Rome’s was rooted in belief in the Roman pantheon of gods, with “Jupiter Great and Blessed” as its head.

Just below the emperor and his imperium were the aristocratic families and the Senate. These aristocratic families were what we today would call the elite. The fathers had absolute control over these families, and the fathers could be summoned by the emperor at any time for their counsel. Well-reputed fathers of aristocratic families could become elders in the famed Roman Senate, which was an advisory body on both domestic and foreign policy. But the Senate did not legislate or have executive power.

In short, you lived under the dictatorial powers of the emperor and his imperium who, when analyzing a situation or making policy, may or may not listen to his elite advisers in the Senate or to the counsel of the aristocratic fathers.

But there was more still: the complicated and powerful imperial system of the magistrates. It was through the complicated hierarchical structure of the Roman magesterium that the tremendous political and military power of the empire was exercised over its vast holdings. The magistrates were tasked with keeping society moving along like a well-oiled machine. It was a system of government that had authority and power to legislate, to put down rebellions, and even to wage regional wars. In his writings, Luke gives us poignant glimpses of the power, authority, and functions of this system of governance (Luke 23; Acts 16).

And then of course there were “the people.” The empire grew by increasingly conquering and absorbing under its rule all sorts of diverse societies, ethnic populations, religious people-groups, tribes, city-states, and so on. This eventually hugely pluralist enterprise came to be know as the populus Romanus, the people of Rome. But having been conquered, you did not automatically become a citizen of Rome. In fact, one of the more ingenious political and social features of the empire was to make it possible to become a Roman citizen. We know from historians and from Acts chapter 22 that if you were not born a citizen you could pay a large sum of money for the privilege. You then gained the rights of Roman citizenship. But in return for that you served the empire, especially if required to during times of war.

Last but by no means least was the Roman military. Rome was an empire of war, as are all empires. Before Rome conquered the many and diverse peoples that came to rule, those peoples often waged regional wars against one another. It was the increasingly vast military superpower of Rome that clamped down on local and regional aggression and thus held the widespread empire at least somewhat peaceably together. Roman emperors ensured that their military forces – typically arranged throughout the empire as “legions” and “century units” –  suppressed revolts and kept social order. This was done under the authority of local and regional magistrates. The narrative recounted in Acts chapter 19 is a clear example of this authority being exercised during a riot at Ephesus.

We will pick it up from here with the next post.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

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