Spy Wednesday Cliché

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When I was a freshman in college, instead of doing my homework, I watched all of the Bond movies back to back, as they playing on TNT, or some equivalent cable network.  I love spy movies.  I love the action.  I love the intrigue.  Above all, I love the tropes that one expects to see fulfilled in any good spy movie.  Perhaps the best cliché in a spy movie is the stupidity that surrounds the spy.  Usually taking the form of the villain that takes extra time to spell out the intricacies of his evil plan, giving the spy an opportunity to escape the trap in which she in snared, the comic relief in most spy movies is just how dumb the people around the story can act.

On this Spy Wednesday, all twelve disciples have the chance to fulfill their destiny as spy story clichés.  In Matthew, Judas has his starring role at the table.  Jesus predicts that one of them will betray him, and Judas says, “Surely not I, Rabbi,” which is, of course, the title used by Jesus’ adversaries in Matthew’s Gospel.  Our appointed lesson for Spy Wednesday comes from John’s Gospel, and it is the other eleven who get to look foolish in John’s account.

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After Jesus tells them that one of the group will betray him, Peter and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, undertake a clandestine mission to figure out who it will be.  John, who had the seat next to Jesus at their table for 26, point blank asks Jesus, “Who is it going to be?”  Jesus, in perhaps the only example we have of him actually answering a question, says, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread.”  Then, when he hands Judas the piece of bread and says, “Do quickly what you are going to do,” nobody understands what is happening.

It is comedic gold, set amidst the intrigue that is Jesus’ final few days.  I love how, after three years of traveling with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing his miracles, and even sharing in his ministry, the disciples can still prove to be so very dense.  It means there is hope for us all in the Kingdom of God.  The life of discipleship is, as the title of a great book by Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren says so perfectly, a series of Adventures in Missing the Point. We all tend to not quite understand what God is up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We all fail to accurately interpret what the Spirit is calling us to do.  At any given moment, any one of us is the comedic foil in the ongoing saga of missio dei.  But God is full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness.  Jesus, despite the foolishness of the 11, went through with the difficult end game, knowing that the rain falls on the smart and the stupid alike.  The Spirit continues to gift us, knowing that we’ll likely misunderstand what those gifts are to be used for.  We are all, from time to time, a Spy Wednesday Cliché, but thanks be to God for the grace that overcomes our foolishness.

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Spy Wednesday

At Saint Paul’s, we remember this week by walking with Jesus day by day through the Gospel of Mark.  As such, I’ll be reflecting on those daily lessons here at Draughting Theology.  Today’s lesson is Mark 14:1-11.

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The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible tells us that after negotiating a deal to turn Jesus over to the authorities, Judas “began to look for an opportunity to betray him.”  As far as translations go, the choice of the word “look” works, but it isn’t ideal.  The better translation of the word zeteo is “to seek,” which gives the astute reader with Greek lemma searching capabilities the chance to see an interesting narrative arc in Mark’s Gospel.

The first occurrence of zeteo in Mark comes at 1:37.  Jesus is fresh off of a powerful evening of healing at Peter’s home, when he goes off by himself to pray.  The disciples are said to “hunt him down,” and when they find him, they tell Jesus that “everyone is seeking you.”  The final occurrence of zeteo in Mark comes at 16:6.  The women have found the tomb empty and two men say to them, “Don’t be distressed.  You seek Jesus, but he has been raised.  He is not here.”  In between are eight uses of the word, each with increasing pressure against Jesus.  From seeking signs from him, to seeking ways to kill him, Mark’s use of this word ramps up the anxiety level in the story again and again, until finally we find Judas “seeking for an opportune time to betray him.”

This leads me to wonder if Mark was using this word intentionally, or if I’m seeking patterns that aren’t there.  It also leads me to wonder about my own motivations for seeking Jesus.  Do I want to find him so that he can do something for me?   Do I seek after him for his approval?  Do I desire him only to obtain eternal life?  Or, am I seeking after him in order to find his will for me?  Do I want to find his deepest desires for my life?  Do I desire him simply to be in relationship?  Judas sought from Jesus something Jesus was not sent to offer, and so Judas sought a way to betray him.  Why do I seek Jesus?

Jesus’ Identity – Wednesday in Holy Week

The audio of this homily is available on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read on.

​            It is Wednesday and by now everybody in Jerusalem knows who Jesus is. The crowds have been growing as the Passover Feast approaches. By now there are as many as two-and-a-half million tourists jammed into the old city. The faithful from all over the known world have come to remember when God saved them from slavery in Egypt. Each year, the Passover Feast is a time ripe with national pride and not a little bit of trepidation. Every year the people wonder, will this be the year that God once again delivers us from the hands of our oppressors.  This year, everybody is wondering, will Jesus be the guy?

It has been weeks, maybe even months, since Peter first confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Lots of water has flowed under the bridge since James and John tried to cozy up to the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom, but the memory of that parade is still very fresh. The palms lay drying in the gutters. If you listen carefully, you can hear the shouts of Hosanna still echoing down the narrow streets. And that scene on Monday – Jesus with a whip, raging against an unjust temple system.  “Just who does he think he is?” the people wondered.  “Just who do you think you are?” the Temple Authorities asked.  But honestly, by now everybody knows that Jesus is…

The Messiah!

By now everybody knows that Jesus is the promised one.  By now everybody knows that Jesus is the anointed king of Israel. The Temple Authorities know it, which is why they want to get rid of him. The crowds sense it, that’s why the whole city is a-buzz with expectation. The unnamed woman in Bethany knows it and so does Judas Iscariot, but it means very different things to each of them.  For the woman at Bethany, Jesus is the long awaited king who has come to set God’s people free. That hope compels here to seek him out and to pour out extravagance upon him. The jar of nard she breaks open to anoint Jesus is worth upwards of thirty-thousand dollars. The disciples are right, it could have fed any number of the poor and outcast that came seeking them every moment of every day, but Jesus tells us the woman is right in what she has done. She has come to offer Jesus her all. She has come to lay down her expectations of what the Messiah should be and simply anoint Jesus as king of her life.  Judas, on the other hand, is unwilling to give up his expectations. He too knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but by allowing this woman to anoint him for burial, Jesus has declared that he is really is going to die.  For Judas, dying is not an option. Judas won’t let Jesus slow play the coming of his kingdom.  No, Judas is going to force Jesus’ hand. If Jesus gets arrested, he’ll have no choice but to show who he really is, to take up force and to overthrow the Temple Authorities and their puppeteers from Rome.  Jesus isn’t the king of Judas’ life because Judas wants things done on his terms.  Judas chooses his own selfish desires over the promised kingdom of God.

Of course, Judas is not alone. Every day each of us has a choice. Every day we are given the opportunity to live for ourselves or to live for God.  Every day we have the chance to anoint Jesus as king of our lives or to once again betray him to the cross.  The Church in Philippi was struggling with this choice as Paul appealed to them to choose the kingdom. When you are thinking about whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, and whatever is commendable there is no time to be thinking about your own selfish desires.  When your mind is fixed on the kingdom of God, there is no room for thoughts of self.  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  He came to restore the whole world to right relationship with God.  He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  He came that we might be committed to him as king of our lives.  The woman at Bethany is remembered because she chose wisely.  Judas is remembered because he did not.  Which will you choose?