All posts in Jesus

  • The Slaughter of the Innocents: The Dark Side of Christmas

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    The Slaughter of the Innocents: The Dark Side of Christmas
    Brian Zahnd

    As the Gospel of Matthew tells us, Jesus was born in the time of King Herod, and the history books tell us that most of civilization has been lived in the time of kings like Herod — that is, in the time of tyrant kings. I’m talking about the time of Herod, the time of Pharaoh, the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the time of Augustus, the time of Nero, all the way into modern times — the time of Hitler and Mussolini, the time of Franco and Salazar, the time of Pinochet and Putin. It’s tragically true that most people have lived their lives in the time of tyrant kings. But the gospel also announces the glad tidings that with the birth of Jesus heaven has invaded the time of tyrant kings!

    Matthew tells the story of the first gentiles to receive the revelation (epiphany) of Christ the King. This is the beloved Christmas story of the Wise Men. These Oriental magi (or magicians) were most likely Zoroastrian priests from Persia skilled in astronomy, astrology, and dream interpretation who evidently somehow discerned in the stars an astrological sign announcing the birth of a new King of the Jews. The Zoroastrian priests regarded this birth as so auspicious that they embarked upon a dangerous and difficult thousand-mile journey from Persia to Judea in order to perform obeisance before the child and present their famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because the magi were looking for a child king born in Judea, it made sense for them to inquire in the capital city of Jerusalem, but by doing so they unwittingly set in motion terrible events.
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  • Trying Hard Not To Be Ugly

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    Trying Hard Not To Be Ugly
    Brian Zahnd

    We live in an ugly time. That’s how I see it anyway. Racism is on the rise, xenophobia is in vogue, and mercy walks the plank. Children are imprisoned, journalists are dismembered, and rage is all the rage. It’s an ugly time. So I’m trying hard not to be ugly. But it’s not easy. To be ugly about all the ugliness is easy. Of course when I insert my own ugliness into the fray I don’t call it being ugly, I call it being right. I tell myself that my rage is like the whip-wielding, table-flipping Christ in the temple. But in my more contemplative moments I have to admit that most of the time my rage is more like Peter cutting off an ear than Jesus cleansing the temple. Just because Jesus did something doesn’t mean that I should try to do it. After all, Jesus walked on water too.

    So I want to resist the ugliness, not by being ugly about it, not by raging against it, not by hurling insults at those caught up in mimetic ugliness, but by being something other. What I’m saying is that I want to try to be beautiful. I’m not sure I’m called to imitate Christ in his rage, but I know I’m called to imitate Christ on the cross. It’s the cruciform that is the definitive form of Christian beauty. Crucifixion is ugly unless we imitate Christ and pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the beauty that saves the world.
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  • “No More of This!” (Why Jesus Armed and Disarmed Peter)

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    “No More of This!” (Why Jesus Armed and Disarmed Peter)
    Brian Zahnd

    It’s soon after midnight. We’re in an ancient olive grove with a full moon shining through the boughs. Jesus is in anguished prayer. Disciples are nearby…sleeping. We hear angry voices. A mob is approaching bearing torches. Now they’re upon us and the torchlight reveals the mob is bearing something else — weapons. A battle is about to begin. Luke tells us what happens next.

    “There came a crowd, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’ And when those who were around him saw what was coming, they said, ‘Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!’ Then one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ Then Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed him.” –Luke 22:47–51
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  • Hiroshima: The Anti-Transfiguration

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    Hiroshima: The Anti-Transfiguration
    Brian Zahnd

    “And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became whiter than light.” –Matthew 17:2

    73 years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Those who experienced it and lived to tell about it, all described it in similar fashion: It began with a flash brighter than the sun. It was August 6, 1945. It was also the Feast of the Transfiguration.

    The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the world’s first use of a weapon of mass destruction. In the seaport city of 250,000 people, 100,000 were either killed instantly or doomed to die within a few hours. Another 100,000 were injured. Of this city’s 150 doctors, 65 were killed and most of the surviving doctors were injured. Of the 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were either dead or too badly injured to work. Hiroshima had become the house of the dead and dying. It was Transfiguration Day.

    When Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor his face shone like the sun, and when he came down the mountain a little boy was healed — a boy who had been thrown into fire and water by a demon.

    When “Little Boy” (the name given the bomb) shone like the sun over Hiroshima, a demon was let loose and thousands of little boys and girls were burned in atomic fire and poisoned by radioactive rain. The bombing of Hiroshima is the anti-Transfiguration.

    The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Hiroshima was a turning point in human history.
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  • Christianity vs. Biblicism

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    Christianity vs. Biblicism
    Brian Zahnd

    (This is my foreword to Keith Giles’ excellent new book, Jesus Unbound.)

    As modern Christians we are children of a broken home. Five centuries ago the Western church went through a bitter divorce that divided European Christians and their heirs into estranged Catholic and Protestant families. The reality that the Renaissance church was in desperate need of reformation doesn’t change the fact that along with a reformation there also came an ugly split that divided the church’s children between a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. In the divorce settlement (to push the metaphor a bit further) Catholic Mom got a long history, a rich tradition, and a unified church, but all Protestant Dad got was the Bible. Without history, tradition, or a magisterium, the Bible had to be everything for Protestant Dad — and Protestants have made the most of it. For five hundred years Protestant scholars and theologians have led the way in biblical translation, scholarship, and interpretation, giving the Christian world such notables as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius, John Wesley, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, T.F. Torrance, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Fleming Rutledge, Richard Hays, N.T. Wright, to name a few.

    But with Sola Scriptura as a defiant battle cry there always lurked the temptation to place more weight on the Bible than it could bear, or worse yet, a temptation to deify the Bible and make an idol out of it. This has become increasingly true among the more fundamentalist clergy and congregations who are suspicious of higher education and unwilling to read their Bibles with the help of biblical scholars the caliber of Brueggemann, Hays, and Wright. So while pretending to “take the Bible as it is,” the fundamentalist reads the Bible through thick lenses of cultural, linguistic, political, and theological assumptions — interpretive lenses they are unaware of wearing.
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  • Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down

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    Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
    Brian Zahnd

    Yesterday I heard Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempt to defend the deliberately cruel practice of separating immigrant children from their parents and placing them in separate detention camps by citing the Bible. This outraged me. This is not a partisan political issue, but a human rights issue. The United Nations human rights office, the American Psychological Association, Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Franklin Graham all agree. But using the Bible to justify this repugnant policy…well, that sent me over the edge.

    Here’s what I had to say about it last night on Twitter.

    Today I sat at my writing desk for seven hours working on the “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” chapter for my next book, Postcards From Babylon, and I thought I would share with you the last paragraph I wrote before calling it a day…
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  • Mistaken As the Gardener

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    Mistaken As the Gardener
    Brian Zahnd

    “Mary Magdalene turned around and saw Jesus standing there,
    but she did not know it was Jesus…supposing him to be the gardener.”
    –John 20:14, 15

    “On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of a gardener God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but in the dawn.”
    –G.K. Chesterton

    The first person to encounter the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene. It happened in a garden. At first Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. A logical mistake. Or a prophetic mistake. Or a beautiful mistake. Or perhaps not a mistake at all.
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  • Don’t Rush Past Good Friday

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    Don’t Rush Past Good Friday
    Brian Zahnd

    Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    –Lamentations 1:12

    Easter is approaching, but between us and the pastel colors of Easter lies a ghastly and bloodstained Good Friday. Don’t rush past it. In your haste to get to the garden of the empty tomb, don’t whistle past the gruesomeness of Golgotha. The resurrection is made as cheap as the fake grass in an Easter basket if we don’t linger long and hard over the catastrophe of Calvary. The cross is the epicenter of Christianity. And it is the cross that is the peculiar scandal of Christianity. As the Apostle Paul said,

    “We preach Christ crucified, a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” –1 Corinthians 1:23

    There is nothing particularly unique about a religion that worships a resurrected god — the ancient world was awash with such religions. But Christianity is the only religion to have as its central focus the suffering and degradation of its God! Easter alone does not make Christianity unique. It’s with Good Friday and Easter together that we find the uniqueness of Christianity.
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  • Dominus Flevet (The Lord Wept)

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    Dominus Flevet – The Lord Wept
    Brian Zahnd

    “And when Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’” –Luke 19:41, 42

    Today is my birthday and I’m with Peri in the Old City of Jerusalem; we’re spending a few days here before leading a pilgrim tour of the Holy Land. This morning we began our day with prayer in the beautiful Church of All Nations located in the Garden of Gethsemane. We then walked to Bethany so we could retrace Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem.

    On what we now call Palm Sunday Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah and King of All Nations. Unlike Pilate who entered the city from the west riding a warhorse (there’s always some dude on a horse!), Jesus entered the city from the east riding a lowly donkey in a deliberate embrace of Zechariah’s prophecy about a humble king who would come to teach peace to the nations.
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