Everything You Wanted to Know about Mustard Seeds

Everything you wanted to know about mustard seeds … and every spiritual lesson that you might draw from Jesus’ botanical analogy … is not how I would approach Matthew 13:31-32.

Here’s where I would go.

Jesus and his dirty dozen disciples and his ragtag band of followers are the mustard seed that will ultimately produce the at-hand kingdom Jesus proclaimed.

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A Covenant Model for Atonement

This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.

In First Things, Peter Leithart reviews Michael Gorman’s The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant. Gorman proposes a “covenant model” of the atonement (in contrast with substitutionary atonement, Christus Victor, moral influence, etc).

By as [sic] “covenant” model, he means a model that emphasizes that the “ultimate” goal of Jesus’ death is to realize the prophetic promise of the new covenant by gathering a transformed people, empowered by the Spirit to live in courageous, suffering faith, hospitable love, and peaceable hope. Christ’s death is the source of this community of the new covenant, and, as the community participates in Christ by the Spirit, His death on the cross also provides the cruciform shape of that community’s life and mission. The new covenant model, he argues, integrates what is often separated – ethics, spirituality, ecclesiology, pneumatology, mission – and is able to incorporate the best insights of the more common atonement models into a larger whole. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of atonement, the “how,” the covenant model focuses on the “what”; instead of stopping with penultimate ends of the atonement (forgiveness of sins, for instance) the covenant model highlights the ultimate aim, the formation of a people.

Leithart lauds the book as “compelling” and “helpful” but has a couple of criticisms.

If we claim that the death of a Jewish teacher 2000 years ago changed the world, we’d better be prepared with some answer to the inevitable “how” questions.

Finally, I think Gorman’s argument would have been clearer and firmer if he had paid more attention to the features of the “old” covenant that Jesus fulfills.

Read the whole article.

The Parable of the Sower

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:3-8

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8 (and its exposition in Matthew 13:18-23) serves three basic functions: proclamation, explanation and invitation.


The parable is part of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. In Jesus’ words and deeds, God was “sowing” the fruit-bearing seed that will result in the promised kingdom harvest. Insofar as Matthew’s gospel keeps those words and deeds alive in the Christian community, God’s sowing activity continues.

The parable, then, tells us something important about God. He didn’t sit back and wait for human beings to find him or figure him out. God took the initiative. Beginning with the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis, that’s the same story we see over and over. God takes the initiative to accomplish his purposes. In Jesus, God was bringing that story to a climax.

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A Bride for Isaac

Genesis 24 is filled with all sorts of curiosities for the modern reader. Among them are arranged weddings and endogamy (cousin marriage), nose rings and veils, oaths made on naked thighs and the use of comments about camels to determine God’s will.

The lectionary reading for Sunday understandably includes only 23 of the chapter’s 67 verses. The chapter makes liberal use of the ancient story telling technique of repeating blocks of material within the narrative, so the section rehearses the same information several times. In shortening the reading, however, the lectionary’s editor manages to obscure the author’s main point: God is continuing to provide for the fulfillment of his covenant promise.

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Lord of the Dance, Sort Of

I have changed my mind on how Matthew 11:16-19 was meant to be read.

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:16-19)

The piper inviting people to dance in the joyous feast of the kingdom is Jesus. The one wailing the dirge of God’s coming judgment is John the Baptist. The ill-tempered children who refuse to play either game are those who find excuses to reject and insult both prophets – and thus exclude themselves from the saving work of God.

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Come to Me and Take my Yoke

Photo source unknown.Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Before I dissect these beautiful words of Jesus, take a moment to simply read them, hear them addressed to you and let them sink into your soul.

*  *  *

Jesus made two invitations in these three verses: “come to me” and “take my yoke upon you.” Actually, the verbs are imperatives, but the tone is more inviting than demanding.

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Matthew Sounding Like John

Matthew and John tell Jesus’ story in very different ways, using very different language. In Matthew 11:27, however, Jesus sounds very much like he does in the fourth gospel.

All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Agree to Disagree

What would it look like for Christians to agree to disagree in a manner consistent with what John Wesley called “The Catholic Spirit“? Let me begin with a small experience with the Catholic Church.

The Corpus Christi Procession

My wife and I stopped downtown for lunch after chapel on Sunday. On the way out of the city after lunch we had to stop the car to allow the passing of a Catholic parade in honor of Christ’s transubstantial presence in the Holy Eucharist. The procession celebrated the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, or the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.



As the procession passed by us, I hopped out of the car and grabbed these photos with my cell phone. A cross-bearer leads the procession. Beneath the canopy, a monstrance contains the consecrated host, the “substance” of which Catholics believe has become the body of Christ. The bearer of the monstrance is wearing a humeral veil so that he doesn’t have to touch the monstrance with his bare hands. In front of the canopy are men swinging a thurible filled with burning incense. (The thurible bearers are known as thurifers. That’s not a word you use every day). The Most Reverend Gustavo García-Siller, Archbishop of San Antonio, is walking just behind the canopy. The block-long assembly that followed was singing hymns.

The procession was a very nice, visible witness to the Catholic faith by Christians whose faith I greatly admire. It was also an event that theologically and institutionally separates me from Rome.

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