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The post resurrection appearances of Jesus have a bit of oddness in them; oddness beyond someone returning from the dead. Disciples saw the risen Jesus and didn’t immediately recognize him. Then in an ordinary act of speaking a name (John 20:14-16) or breaking bread (Luke 24:13-32) they recognize him as their risen Lord. These people who knew him well for years didn’t know who he was. This is odd. But even odder is that when Jesus did something ordinary then their “eyes were opened” and they knew who he was. People who had walked and talked with him, who knew him well, didn’t at first realize who they were seeing. There was a sameness and a strangeness about Jesus.

At first I thought the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus because he had been glorified through his passion and resurrection and thus appeared “other worldly”. But this idea doesn’t pan out. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, Peter, James and John didn’t get confused about Jesus’ identity (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8). More to the point, when Mary fails to recognize Jesus, she thinks that he is the gardener, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus think that Jesus is a stranger in Jerusalem for the feast. These are very normal, very human roles. They noticed nothing “other worldly” or “supernatural” about Jesus before recognizing him. They didn’t mistake him for an angel. So why didn’t these friends of many years recognize the risen Lord?

Another interesting aspect of the post resurrection appearances is that Jesus impresses upon the disciples that he is still human. After spending much of his ministry trying to get them to understand that he was the Son of God (John 14:9), the resurrected Jesus now makes it clear that he is human, and not an angel or a spirit. Jesus tells Thomas to touch his hands and sides so that Thomas may be certain of Jesus’ physicality (John 20:27).

One of my favorite episodes in the gospels is another occasion when Jesus shows his humanness. Luke 24:36-42 tells us that Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples in a room with the doors shut. Not surprisingly, the disciples were startled. Jesus greets them and tells them not to be afraid, and shows his hands and feet to prove that he was not an angel or spirit. Then Jesus asked for something to eat. Picture the scene: the Son of God who suffered, died, and resurrected appears in a room with the doors shut. He greets them and shows the marks of his passion and death. The disciples probably expected Jesus to give some advice, to say something about the Father, or to recite another puzzling parable. They expected something profound. But what does Jesus say? “Do you have anything to eat?” What could be more human than to ask a friend for something to eat? It’s an everyday question, and Jesus asks it after demonstrating that he’s been resurrected from the dead! If this were a sitcom or a movie, rather than scripture, we would laugh at the sudden shift from the lofty to the mundane. But it’s scripture, and it’s Jesus impressing his followers that he is the same Jesus even though there is a strangeness about him. Since it’s scripture, we’re too polite to laugh, but perhaps we should at least chuckle because being humorous is also a very human trait. (John 21:4-13 tells another episode where the risen Lord ate with the disciples, but the story is more solemn as Jesus had an issue to settle with Peter. But it also demonstrates Jesus’ humanity.)

Why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus? What was strange about him? Why did he make such an effort to show that he was still human, still flesh and bone? I think the answer is that the resurrected, glorified Lord was more human than before. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection was the human which God intended us all to be. Humans were created in God’s image to bear the image of God in the world. But sin tarnished that image; sin covered it so that humans fail to bear God’s image. Jesus was perfected, having always said “yes” to God (2 Cor 1:19) and having never sinned. His earthly ministry complete, Jesus was resurrected and crowned with the glory not only of the Father, but also with the glory God intended for all humans. Jesus was the “new Adam” (Rom 5:12-17); an obedient, image-of-God-bearing human. He was human perfection even as he was the Son of God.

The sameness was that Jesus was still human; the strangeness was that he was a perfect human. I have never seen the resurrected Jesus as Paul did, and some others claim to have. My portrait of Jesus comes from the gospels. It’s comforting and warming to read of Jesus disclosing God as a loving, forgiving, caring creator and parent. It’s not easy to read of Jesus as the perfect praying, worshiping, giving, serving, forgiving, and caring human, and realizing that this is what God asks us to become. It is a high standard and it is difficult to obtain. But it is what we were created to be, and we will never be fully satisfied or happy until we attain it. As we strive for the goal, we shouldn’t be surprised if sometimes someone notices something “strange” about us. In fact, they should.

Bible students and commentators sometimes speak of “the hard sayings of Jesus”. These are teachings which Jesus gave and they are hard for two reasons: first, because they are difficult to do; and second, they are “hard and fast”, that is, there is no leeway in the saying. I think most of us would agree that Jesus’ teachings regarding the treatment of our enemies are hard sayings.

Jesus is very clear in stating how we should act toward those who wrong us. We are told to pray for them and forgive them (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:28, Luke 11:4), and we are told to forgive repeatedly (Matt 18:22, Luke 17:4). Taking these teachings seriously leads to a difficult life. If someone hurts me, my inclination is to hurt them back; hit me and I’ll hit you harder; I’ll teach you a lesson. But Jesus says, “No.” Jesus says don’t hit them back (Matt 5:39, Luke 6:29). Yes, you’ll teach them a lesson – the lesson of love and forgiveness, not of revenge.

It is far from easy to forgive, truly forgive, someone who has wronged me. It takes time and effort; the greater the offense the more time and effort it takes. We are called to this hard work, and Jesus does not allow any way to sidestep it. In fact, Jesus says that God’s forgiveness of my sins is linked to my forgiveness of sins against me. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14,15). That is very clear, and very frightening.

It sounds like a threat, or that God’s forgiveness is given after I have earned it by forgiving someone else. However, we know that all of God’s gifts are mercies and that we can never earn any of them. Bishop N.T. Wright gives us a way to understand the relationship between forgiving and being forgiven. Think of forgiveness as a door in your spirit. God’s forgiveness comes through this door and the forgiveness you give to others goes out the door. If you shut the door and don’t allow forgiveness to go out to others, then God’s forgiveness cannot come in. The door must be open, and being open, forgiveness flows both ways. Forgiving and being forgiven is not a quid pro quo but rather a sharing of the grace of God. Through grace God forgives me, and through grace I forgive others. The gifts of God are meant to be shared and this includes the gift of forgiveness.

Loving one’s enemies works in a similar fashion. God’s love is given to us, and that love is meant to be shared. We are to display God’s love just as God displayed it. God’s love was displayed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are called to display God’s love through service to others by following the example of Jesus. We are called to serve our enemies no less than our friends. In Lent, and especially during Holy Week, we are taught of Jesus’ service to his disciples and to us. This love, this life of Jesus, included loving and forgiving those who wronged him, both friends (such as Peter) and enemies (those who called for his crucifixion).

Forgiving and loving one’s enemies takes time. It may take years. It takes diligent prayer, hard work, and commitment. But it is the work to which we are called: to promote healing and love in a broken and offensive world. As we forgive and love, we find ourselves forgiven and loved, and we also find hope for our despairing world.

Prayer is a basic (and vital) aspect of the Christian life. The disciples asked Jesus for guidance in how to pray, and his response is known to us as the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11; Matt 6). It is a widely used prayer and it is included in all the services in the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer is not long (it can be recited at a reverent pace in less than a minute) but it is packed with meaning. Because there is so much included in the prayer, a worthwhile practice is to work through the prayer slowly with time spent considering the implications of the phrases.

The prayer begins, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name….” We acknowledge our relationship to God as our creator, parent, and sustainer. And we affirm the holiness of God by reverencing the Name. Then we ask that “… your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” We desire the fullness of God’s kingdom throughout creation and request that God’s will be done. This means that we must subjugate our will to God’s; God’s complete reign requires that we put aside our vision for the future and accept God’s. We pray that God will guide us by revealing God’s will and will support us in putting aside our selfish desires so that we can follow God’s will.

We are all completely dependent upon God, and the prayer offers a simple plea: “Give us today our daily bread.” We ask God to provide the things we need to maintain our lives. The text seems to focus on food but we need to understand ‘bread’ (aka “the staff of life”) in a very broad sense. We ask God for the things needed to sustain our lives and to help us grow. This includes physical things such as food and shelter, but also people, significant relationships, communities, and even government. And we ask these things not for ourselves alone, or only for those dear to us, but for all people – ‘us’ is everyone.

The next line in the prayer is a hard one as we ask God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” It is difficult to forgive someone who has deliberately hurt me but that is what I am called to do. God’s forgiveness of my sins is tied to my forgiveness of the sins of others: “forgive me in the same way and at the same time as I forgive others.” I think everyone who takes the prayer seriously will struggle with this line at one time or another. Forgiveness is hard. It is a deliberate act of grace and it does not come easily. Our human nature wants to hurt those who hurt us, but God’s nature is to forgive.

We ask for God’s spiritual protection, that God will “save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.” We admit our helplessness to stay faithful by ourselves. Without God’s assistance our daily lives would be full of error and sin so we ask God to deliver us from our weakness in times of struggle. We recognize that we are dependent upon God to protect us from situations which would try us beyond our capacities, and to protect us in times of struggle. 

The prayer ends with a simple declaration that everything good is of God and belongs to God. “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.” All we have asked for in the prayer is part of God’s kingdom, and God receives glory and praise for the gifts God has given us. This includes our “daily bread”, our ability to forgive others, the forgiveness of our sins, the strength to survive daily challenges, and protection against spiritual error. We recognize and acknowledge that all which is good belongs to God and exists because of God.

The Lord’s Prayer, like all our prayers, ends with “Amen,” which is a word of affirmation. It is sometimes translated as “let it be so!” We can think of ‘amen’ as shorthand for “yes, yes, definitely yes!” Sometimes people think of ‘amen’ as functioning like ‘good bye’ or ‘the end’ but actually it is a beginning. We end the prayer by re-affirming what we have prayed, and then we move from prayer to action. We have asked for things for the upbuilding of God’s kingdom and our ‘amen’ affirmation signifies our desire to participate in the building. We “talked the talk” and now we must “walk the walk.”

Much, much more could be written (and has been written) about the Lord’s Prayer. I hope that these few comments will assist you in reflecting on this great text. Thinking of the words will greatly increase the meaningfulness of the prayer and will assist our spiritual growth.

An earlier post on this blog provided information about N.T. Wright Online which offers courses by New Testament scholar Bishop N.T. Wright.  At that time a free course on Philemon was available. Bishop Wright now offers three additional free courses:

I found the course on the Lord’s Prayer to be especially helpful and insightful; it provided me things to ponder for several days.

askntwrightanything1Bishop has also expanded his cyber presence by offering a podcast. The fortnightly Ask N.T. Wright Anything podcast consists primarily of Bishop Wright answering questions sent by listeners.

The podcast is a joint partnership of Premier Christian Radio, SPCK Publishing, and N.T. Wright Online. After subscribing to the podcast, one ought to visit the Premier web site and sign up for the email list. The Premier site has additional content with short videos of Bishop Wright addressing various topics. Additionally Premier offers give-aways of N.T. Wright books and signing up for the email list enters one in drawings for the give-aways.

I think that everyone, or at least nearly everyone, who engages in serious Bible study is aware of N.T. Wright.
N-T-Wright The Rt. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Thomas Wright (known to friends and colleagues as Tom) is the former Bishop of Durham (England) and is currently Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews (Scotland). He has lectured and written extensively on the New Testament, and has produced an English translation of the New Testament for use in studying the scriptures.

I have read, enjoyed, and used several of Bishop Wright’s works, including Surprised by Hope and volumes in the New Testament For Everyone series. I would recommend these, and his other works, to anyone interested in learning more about the scriptures and Christian theology. In addition to receiving accolades for his writings, Bishop Wright has a reputation as an engaging speaker and inspiring teacher. Few of us will have the opportunity to hear him in person or to enroll in his courses. Until now.

NTWrightOnline-400pxBishop Wright, in collaboration with David Seemuth, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Wisconsin Center for Christian Study, has established N.T. Wright Online to offer online courses. The courses are delivered through Udemy, and one can enroll through N.T. Wright Online or through Udemy. The courses feature video lectures by Bishop Wright with supplemental written material to enhance learning and online quizzes for review. As usual with online courses, there is an area for discussion with other students.

The courses are not inexpensive but are reasonably priced given the stature and depth of knowledge of the instructor. Current courses include: Paul: A Biography; The Acts of the Apostles; Romans; Philipians; Galatians; The Storied World of the Bible; and Simply Jesus. If you want to “try before you buy”, you can enroll in a free short course on Philemon. This will allow you to explore the format, engage in discussion, and help you decide whether to enroll in another course.

My experience is that the courses deliver what they promise: they are engaging and informative. Bishop Wright not only increases your knowledge but also trains you how to engage with Scripture. He strikes a good medium between the purely academic and meditative approaches to Scripture. You learn facts about history, culture, and language, but more importantly you learn how to apply Scriptural principles to your life.

P1120871_Louvre_stèle_de_Mésha_AO5066_2For several years the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has engaged in projects to make digital photos of items available on the Internet. One project which garnered much attention is the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, launched in December 2012 in collaboration with Google. This site allows one to view and search high-resolution images of the complete Dead Sea Scrolls archive. Recently the IAA announced the Rockefeller Museum Online project which makes available online digital images of all artifacts in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. This is the first time time that the whole collection of a museum will be available in digital images online. The museum, originally named the Palestine Archaeological Museum, was established with funds donated by John D. Rockefeller in 1938. The name was changed after the 1967 war. The effort to place the collection online is funded by a grant from David Rockefeller, the son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

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