Seated at the Right Hand of God

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am,and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61b-62

After Jesus was arrested he was brought before the high priest and the ruling council to stand trial. Many made false accusations against him, but notably no two witnesses agreed. The law required that two or three witnesses must provide the same testimony in order to convict a person, particularly in death-penalty cases. (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15)

Finally, the high priest asked Jesus directly. “Are you the messiah?” Any kind of affirmative answer would have resulted in Jesus’ conviction, not his acquittal. The high priest wasn’t looking for a reason to believe.

To the high priest’s amazement, Jesus didn’t just say, “Yes, I am the messiah.” He claimed much more than that. His response had the high priest tearing his clothes at what he could only hear as blasphemy. Who did Jesus think he was?

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One More Year of Manure

Jesus riffed more than once on Isaiah’s song of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7).

Let me sing for my beloved, my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless fruit. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield good grapes, why did it yield worthless fruit? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured. I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

The parable found in Luke 13:6-9 is one such occasion.

Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

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Exorcism By Prayer and Fasting

There is an interesting textual issue surrounding Mark 9:29 and Matthew 17:21. When Jesus came down from the mount of transfiguration he found that some of his disciples had unsuccessfully attempted to exorcise a demonic presence from a young boy. After Jesus cast the demon out and healed the boy, Matthew and Mark record that his disciples asked him why they had not been able to drive the demon away.

In the King James Version, Jesus provides this answer:

This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:21)

This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29)

More recent translations omit “and fasting” from Mark 9:29 and eliminate Matthew 17:21 completely. In Mark, then, “this kind” come out by prayer alone and in Matthew the disciple’s failure is solely a sign of too little faith.

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Jesus, Peter, Boat, Fish

Luke 5:1-11

Simon lived on the lake of Galilee in a town called Capernaum. He was a fisherman. It wasn’t a sport for him. It was his job, and it was hard work.

He and some friends had a couple of fishing boats and of course the boats had no motors. They probably had a simple sail and an oar with which to steer. Much of the time, the boat moved by people power. The boat wasn’t the Queen Mary, but it wasn’t dinghy either. I am exhausted after a few minutes on the rowing machine in the gym. Ancient fishermen must have been studs, but I’m sure they still came back to shore exhausted.

Now there were a couple of ways to fish from a boat.

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The Wedding at Cana

John 2:1-11

Jesus’ first sign in the Gospel of John takes place at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Although the wedding occurs at the beginning at John’s gospel, it takes place “on the third day,” immediately putting us in mind of post-resurrection realities.

The wedding feast, then, is not just a wedding. As we find in the writings of the prophets and throughout New Testament, marriage is a symbol of Israel’s covenant relationship with God and the wedding banquet is a metaphor for the joy of the age to come. For John, the eschatological wedding feast has already begun when Jesus appears on the scene.

So how does one participate in the eschatological banquet with Jesus? As I have written previously, the Gospel of John is the most sacramental of the four gospels. The waters of baptism and the wine of holy communion are both prefigured here. The servants plunge their vessels into the waters of purification and withdraw vessels filled with wine to gladden the heart. Something similar happens to baptized Christians, whose lives are filled with the joy only Christ can give.

Like the wedding feast, the fruit of the vine is a stock image in the prophetic canon. Good wine is both God’s gift to his people and what he looks for from his people. God blesses the land of promise with the fruit of the vine. But Israel is also God’s vineyard; God looks for good wine but too often finds bloodshed. Just as the wine the servants found in their vessels was meant to be shared with all the guests, so the wine of Jesus is not for me alone; it, too, is to be poured out for others. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaims that he is the true vine; only those who abide in him bear fruit that glorifies God. And in John 6, we learn that abiding in Jesus is nothing less than eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

The wine that Jesus gives is something new and unexpected in a thousand-year old religion. One typically sees movements filled with inspiration and enthusiasm at their beginnings evolve into staid and stable institutions as they age. Could God have saved the best wine for Israel’s second millennium? Jesus says, “Yes.”

At one level, this is a wonderful story of Jesus’ power and his compassion for a newly married couple about to be greatly embarrassed by a social faux-pas, perhaps engendered by poverty. It’s also the story of Mary’s faith, even when she didn’t fully understand what Jesus was up to. “Do what he says” is good advice for all of us. For John, however, it is also a sign of another banquet, another cleansing and another kind of wine.