Petition in Prayer

‘While he was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples”‘ (Lk 11:1).

What prompted the disciples to ask, I wonder. Many of them were John’s disciples before they were Jesus’ disciples. Was there something different about Jesus practice of prayer that caused them to ask for teaching?

In any case, Jesus’ response was to give them what we call the Lord’s Prayer (Lk. 11:2-4). In Luke’s version, it’s told in a way that emphasises petition, asking for things – for the text immediately goes off into the parable of the friend at midnight, followed by the aphorism Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you (vv. 9-10).

I think other passages teach us that prayer isn’t simply filling in an order form and waiting for the delivery (as Luke shows in his own telling of the Gethsemane story, Lk. 22:39-44). But the aspect of asking and receiving is emphasised here (perhaps in deliberate dialogue with John the Baptist) and prayer cannot be fully understood (or practiced) without it.


Don’t Aim for Success

Quoted from an article by David Orr, called “What is Education For?”:

There is a myth that the purpose of education is that of giving you the means for upward mobility and success. Thomas Merton once identified this as the “mass production of people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade.”…

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.

The Lesson of Job

Job’s friends weren’t right. He hadn’t done the wrong things, the judgments weren’t lessons that he should accept and repentingly learn from. Not in the way that they meant, anyway.

Job’s wife was wasn’t right. God isn’t a masochistic overlord; he isn’t uncaring of us, not in the way that she meant, anyway. He did right to not take her advice and unrepentingly curse God and die.

Job does the only thing he can do. Observe, evaluate honestly, and protest vehemently. We admit we don’t ‘get it’ and bring that to God with whatever honest emotions come with that, as a child should be able to do with a parent. His only explanation may well be that we’re not old enough to understand the explanation, but even when he can’t or won’t give an explanation, if he gives his presence, that’s enough.

Perhaps in any relationship among such unequal parties, it’s not the answer that is given that matters nearly as much as that he answers.

The Jesus Scandals

We’ve all been to galleries where the paintings or fossils or whatever are presented badly. Most of the time, we don’t really know what it is we’re looking at and there are explanatory blurbs but they’re long and detailed and make us wonder if there’s a tearoom in the building. But have you ever been to a good one? Where you get real exposure to the real paintings and real fossils but also crisp commentary that leaves you understanding clearly yet also wanting to learn more?

David Instone-Brewer’s The Jesus Scandals book is such a gallery. The chapters fly by and you can’t stop turning pages. And all along the way you learn amazing things.

The second thing you think will be “where can I learn more about this?” but your first thought will be “wow.” And if you’re like me, you might even find yourself saying it aloud, even sitting alone in the café.

Good book; highly recommended.

Instone-Brewer, David, The Jesus Scandals, Oxford: Monarch Books, 2012. ISBN 978-0-85721-023-4

Musings re Excellence

It’s like a three-ring circus in my brain at the moment. I’ve been thinking about excellence and how it applies to the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, to higher education and to writing stuff like theology or comedy dialogue. And I think I want to say three things:

1) Getting the details right is important, but not because of the details. When enough details accumulate, you lose sight of details and see instead a rich environment. That’s when you win big time.

2) The second one is like it: The best reason for complexity is to get to simple. And often a simplicity that comes from a place of complexity is the most satisfying / funny / beautiful of all.

3) The point of standing on the shoulders of giants is to look out at the vista not just to look at the giants. For my money, too much scholarship is scholarship aimed at understanding scholarship, and too many ‘ultrabooks’ are about being what the other ultrabooks are.

I doubt these are “three rules for excellence” or anything so grand. They’re just things I’ve been thinking of.

The Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44)

If you’ve never studied the ministry and teaching of Jesus in today’s scholarly or evangelical climates, the message of the story in Mark 12:41-44 is very clear. But if you’ve been around those particular blocks a few times, it should strike you as a very peculiar story indeed.

We also know that Jesus hates the exploitation of the poor. And we are told that Jesus is in the process of judging the Jerusalem Temple. It’s evil and corrupt and exploits the people all the time. It’s time is almost over, it has failed. We are told that the moneychangers’ tables in chapter 11 were overturned not in order to cleanse but in order to enact a symbollic judgement upon the whole Temple system.

If this picture of Jesus is correct, how can he stand idly by while this poor woman is hood-winked into donating her final two pennies to the Temple treasury? How is it that his lesson from this event is that she did well? (vv. 43-44) How is it that the Lord was provoked to overturning the moneychangers’ tables, but not the collection boxes? How is it that merely watches as the Temple treasury rakes it in and gives nothing in return?

Robes and Clergy

A former student and fellow-writer recently wrote a blog entry called “pomp and priesthood” describing how upset she was at an Anglican procession… the extravagance of the robes and costumes seemed alien to the Jesus of the gospels. She thought it repulsive and self-indulgent and could feel herself “so distracted by the colour and the pomp that I do not see the person.”

Oddly, my take on robes is exactly the opposite. My friend wrote: “Robe us all up, or none of us,” well, my understanding of robes from my Lutheranism is that’s symbolically exactly what is going on. A pastor wears a robe to say: I am not here as George, I am here in my office as a spokesperson of the congregation before God and announcing the words of God to the congregation. I do this not because George is worthy, but because I was called to this office thus I don the robes that every pastor dons to erase the distinctions of me and my clothes and my tastes and my jewellery… I’m not here as me.

I was taught that the main part of the outfit is form-fitting black, representing human fallen nature, with just a hint of white peeking through in the collar to represent that originally, under all that, we were created in God’s image. But over it all is a much more loosely-fitting white garment that represents our new nature and salvation in Christ, which has nothing to do with my own shape or efforts, but rather to do with his free gift covering us all. (Over that, often, a scarf-like cloth in a colour that has to do with the season in the liturgical year.)

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, or maybe Anglicanism is different, but I always thought the very idea was that in my pastor’s robes, we all were robed and represented, and that the clergy wore robes to play down themselves as individuals rather than to celebrate themselves.

From the Inside Out (Deut. 6:6-9)

How did it ever go so wrong that Judaism became seen as a religion of external performance? At the giving of the Law we find these verses that show God is not simply interested in external obedience. His Law was a token of his relationship with his people, and that was to be in their hearts and woven into everything they did, every conversation that they had, everywhere they went.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” says Deuteronomy 10:16. “Create in me a clean heart,” says David in Psalm 51. Judaism has always been about the heart, not just external obedience. The obedience must flow from the inside out.

Jesus Before the Sanhedrin (Mk 14:53-65)

We had this year’s final M.A. seminar on Mark’s gospel yesterday. We considered an aspect of the story I don’t remember spending much time on before: the emotional reaction of the High Priest in verse 63, tearing his clothes and crying “blasphemy.” Is he suddenly outraged, or is it mere hyperbole and “theatre”? Continue reading

Max’s Festschrift


Published by Eerdmans in April 2012, a Festschrift of essays by colleagues, friends and former students in honour of Max Turner entitled: The Spirit and Christ in the New Testament and Christian Theology, edited by I. Howard Marshall, Volker Rabens and Cornelis Bennema.

From the back cover: This volume gathers writings about the Spirit and Christ by notable scholars including Richard Bauckham, D.A. Carson, James Dunn, and many others… the twenty essays included will be a welcome resource for scholars and ministers… [and it] is a fitting tribute to honoree Max Turner, whose outstanding scholarship has focused on pneumatology and Christology.

From the table of contents:

Continue reading