John 12:9-50; Mark 11-12; Matthew 21-23; & Luke 19:28-21:4
John 12:24 | Jesus uses the imagery of wheat to represent His coming death and resurrection. This calls to mind Frazer’s Golden Bough, to which I was introduced via Lewis. As he relates in Surprised by Joy, Lewis come to a belief in Christ through his fascination with mythology and paganism. The turning point, the surprise in the title, was when he realized that all the pagan myths which had so fascinated him were ultimately pointing to Jesus.
A central figure in Golden Bough, which is a work of historical, comparative religion, is the dying grain god, whose death and resurrection symbolized the agricultural cycle so central to the life of every man until very recently. Lewis sees that the pagan myths caught a glimpse of Jesus, that the death and rebirth of the corn god or wheat god were really crafted around the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This verse in John makes the connection even more explicit: the grain god dies and rises to symbolize the death and rebirth of the grain, which itself dies and returns to symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ. This is how God manifests Himself in nature and makes Himself known even to ancient peasants, ignorant of the historical story of a Nazarene called Jesus.
Mark 11:13 | Some friends and I were recently discussing this article from the Huffington Post in which Valerie Tarico explores the emotional side of God, specifically when He seems to overreact with anger in certain situations. One of the examples she uses is the story of the fig tree, saying that Jesus was hungry and responded with disproportionate anger when the fig tree didn’t give a fig (as it were).
She treats this as a negation of (or at least inconsistent with) Jesus’ divine nature. How can an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God be so petty?
What Tarico misses here is the symbolism inherent in the story. Jesus is dealing with the fig tree as a symbol for Israel, as employed by Jeremiah, Hosea, and Joel. Fig trees grow leaves at the same time as fruit; it’s thus an abnormality for a fig tree to have fully developed leaves without any fruit. The leaves of the tree, then, represent a hypocrisy whereby the tree is declaring itself fruitful when it is not. So Jesus reacts with anger not at the tree, but as a demonstration of His anger with Israel at putting on the trappings of righteousness and going through the motions without producing any fruit.
Mark 11:24 | At first glance, this verse seems like a restatement of the ‘ask and ye shall receive’ verses from earlier. But the added element of belief as an agent of wish fulfillment is new and interesting. It sounds like The Secret.
In what way is God’s will dependent upon my understanding? If I ask God to heal someone I care about but say, ‘It probably won’t happen,’ does that mean He is less inclined to heal that person than if I had said, ‘I just know He’s gonna do it; He’s just gotta!’ Questionable.
Matthew 22:14 | This verse is no help to me in putting my deterministic theology behind me. If many are called but few are chosen, what does it mean to be called or to be chosen? Where is the act of the will. Does ‘being chosen’ mean responding to the call favorably? Does this mean that the response is predestined?
Mark 12:29 | Jesus lays out the greatest commandment as ‘Love God; love others.’ As simple as it is, it’s actually pretty full of ideas and connections:
- There’s an implied connection in the quote from Deut 6:4-5 between God’s unity and our love for Him. The statement seems to be, ‘There is a God, a single divine presence, therefore love Him.’ No reasons are offered or qualifications beyond His divinity and His unity. It strikes me as ultimately rather pragmatic. If there is just one God, then I’d rather love Him than not. Even without the suggestion of an afterlife, all things being equal, I’d rather fill my consciousness with love for the divine rather than enmity; it’s just much more pleasant that way.
- That command to love God has been altered slightly by Jesus. The version in Deut says to love Him with our heart, soul, and strength. Jesus says to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Now, the ESV folks are pretty clear that we’re not to find a theological basis for separating our identity between heart and mind and soul. They’re not meant to be distinct compartments of being. But I think there is inherent in that change a greater recognition of the role that reason plays in our faith. Just like when He asked us to count the cost, Jesus is packaging the OT commands for obedience with an appeal to the rational argument that loving God just makes sense.
- Note also the implied connection between loving God and loving others. This isn’t that new or revolutionary, but it further supports that understanding from my post yesterday that our love for others is grounded upon (and is, to mix metaphors, an overflow of) the love that we have for God and that God has for us.
* Note that there are two links at the top of today’s post because I’m combining a few days’ worth, and Bible Gateway tops out at 250 verses per search.