hebrew jesus

It’s easy for us to forget that the message of Jesus and the entire Bible come from an intensely Hebrew context and worldview. Jesus was a Jew teaching Jews, and bringing the words of scripture back to their original Hebrew language and setting, understanding what the first Jewish hearers of those words would have understood, is the closest we can come to their original intent.

From Ab to Abba

Dave Brisbin | 6.18.17
On Fathers’ Day—Is our Father in heaven male? We call him Father after all…and “him.” Intellectually, most of us know God is spirit and neither male nor female, but emotionally, subconsciously, the feelings, the consequence of maleness surrounds our Western notion of God. To have been immersed in a male conception of God keeps him at a distance—the king, judge, executioner, administrator, creator/builder, lawgiver and standard bearer. We talk of the female attributes of our God: compassion, mercy, intimacy, love—but we really order our lives of faith and religion around the king, not the queen, Father, not Mother. Jesus had an ingenious way of dealing with this dilemma: while his people called God their Ab, Hebrew for father, he called his Father, Abba, the familiar, intimate name that Hebrew children use for their daddies to this day. 

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Without contesting the tradition of his people, Jesus brought into the relationship the sense of intimacy and compassion missing from a culturally male conception of God. There is a journey implied here, a journey Jesus took as preserved in the New Testament, a journey from Ab to Abba from father to mother, king to confidant, that we must all take if we really want to go where Jesus went.

Shrewd as Snakes

Dave Brisbin | 5.28.17
The theme of balance in kingdom life continues as we consider a very strange saying of Jesus: to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. In sending his followers out to teach and heal, what is he trying to tell them and by extension, us? To balance “shrewd,” as intelligent, thoughtful, discreet, practical, and cautious with “innocence,” characterized as simple, sincere, straightforward, without deceit is a difficult mix that seems to be in basic contradiction at first glance. But as with all of Jesus’ instructions, it’s not only possible, but necessary, of course. 

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And this balance must extend to the fundamental ways we look at life and faith, religion, and even scripture itself. When we apply Jesus’ balance to a view of the teachings of Paul and Jesus, what does it reveal? How does it change the way we look at the message being delivered? And how does it change how we apply those teachings to the everyday issues we face here and now? To balance a simple and straightforward approach to faith with the intelligence, practicality, and discretion of the snake can make all the difference, and give us permission to view the fundamentals of our faith in different ways.

When Dad Acts Like Mom

Dave Brisbin | 5.14.17
Mothers’ Day: I was recently asked that though we know God loves us, how can we know he likes us? Great question, one that goes to the heart of our human experience. On Mothers’ Day, and by way of answering, it’s always good to be reminded of the ancient Hebraic understanding of the roles of mother and father that is coded right into their language. To understand father/Ab, as “strong house,” the support and structure of the family, and mother/Em as “strong water,” the glue that holds the family together, is fundamental to their life in family, tribe, and nation. But it also reveals their view of God as well. 

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Though God is always referred to in the masculine, Hebrews never understood their God as male, but with key divine concepts such as wisdom and kingdom referred to as feminine, they saw God as a balance between the justice and mercy, accomplishment and relationship that father and mother represent. We can know, understand that God loves us through reading, study, and ritual practice, but we will never know God likes us, enjoys our company, feels personal devotion to us until we experience him as loving mother. Jesus portrayed his Father in just such a way in the parable of the prodigal son—and until we have experienced enough moments when dad acts like mom, we will never know we’re liked as well as loved.

Fear’s Rules

Dave Brisbin | 5.7.17
The cross of Jesus is such a big and central message in Christianity that we need to spend more time on it. So continuing the discussion from the previous week’s message, “Lamb of God,” and in answer to the perennial questions—why is the bible so violent, and why would God sacrifice his son?—we’re looking at deeper ways of understanding Calvary that neither compromise the sacrifice of Jesus nor the love of the Father. In typical midrash fashion (see the message “Deeper Reading” for more on midrash), the New Testament writers portray Jesus on the cross using three deeply embedded images from the Old Testament: the Passover Lamb, the Lifted Up One, and the Scapegoat. To fully understand how Jesus’ first followers understood his sacrifice on the cross, we need to know how these three images functioned in the spiritual lives of the people and how they applied to the spiritual truth of Jesus’ sacrifice. 

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As we dig deeper, we find that all three point us toward a deep gaze at ourselves, at our intrinsic nature as humans that necessitate a laying down of blame, resistance, justification, and anything else we use to deflect our own pain and personal responsibility. When we really understand what Jesus became when he became the “sin of the world,” we can begin to understand the nature of a sacrifice that will really set us free and save us to love as the Father loves.

Lamb of God

Dave Brisbin | 4.30.17
No matter what questions we ask of religion or church, scripture or theology, the subtext, the question we’re always really asking is the same: with all life’s pain, uncertainty, absurdity…do I matter? Am I safe? Whether we’re asking about heaven, hell, salvation, law, or any esoteric point of theology, what we’re really looking for is assurance, confidence in our own acceptability. That’s the human condition. And so it also is as we ask about the cross, about what it really means, and how Jesus as Lamb of God, an innocent blood sacrifice, impacts the nature of a God who Jesus tells us is absolutely all loving. Is there a way to understand the Lamb and the sacrifice in such a way that God’s loving nature is not compromised? 

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The answer lies in the context of the cross. Just as the letters of Paul are always answers to questions that are left unstated, we can’t understand how his answers are true until we know the context within which they are true. The context of the cross, the unstated question, is salvation—but our beliefs about salvation affect the way we see the cross’ answer. Understanding what the ancients who wrote our scripture believed about salvation, understanding what the “sin of the world” is that the Lamb takes away, and how we come to the cross ourselves to journey with Jesus will point us in a new direction where love and sacrifice connect without compromising either.

Deeper Reading

Dave Brisbin | 4.23.17
Just as Jesus’ closest friends were kept from recognizing him after the Resurrection because of their limiting expectations and beliefs, we are kept from seeing the deeper meaning of scripture for the same reason. But even to make such a statement that interprets a passage of scripture beyond the strictly literal meaning of the text demands some explanation. What is an acceptable method of scriptural interpretation that can take us to a deeper reading, a reading beyond the literal, moving us to a spiritual understanding and relevance for our daily lives that is still consistent with the author’s original intent? To answer that question, we need to know how the writers of scripture understood the interpretation of sacred texts in their own time. 

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The ancient Rabbis of Judaism used four increasingly deeper methods of pulling meaning from their sacred books. Here, we focus on just one, the one they called “midrash” and see how its use can take legitimately us to a deeper reading of each of the passages associated with the days of Holy Week, and especially how we can understand the events of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in deeper terms. If we can’t expand our notion of how to read scripture in a deeper way, the way the authors of scripture intended, how will we ever come to a deeper reading of a text that was written to be always living and active in our daily lives?

Among the Living

Dave Brisbin | 4.16.17
Easter Sunday: Why do all the Gospels preserve stories of Jesus’ closest friends not recognizing him after the Resurrection? Mary in the garden, travelers along the Emmaus road, Peter and the fisherman on the lake. The central question the angels ask the women who have come early Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body–why do you look for the living among the dead?—questions our deepest assumptions and beliefs if we will let it. The women expected Jesus to be exactly where they left him Friday afternoon, and we do the same in slavishly following our own expectations and belief systems. Jesus is ushering in something radically different, always in motion, just as spirit itself is always in motion, as life itself is defined by motion. 

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As soon as a belief of ours becomes set, static, no longer moving, it is no longer alive—and Jesus is not there any more than he is in a graveyard of motionless corpses. The message to us, if we are looking for the risen Lord, is not to look in static beliefs—where we expect him to be—but in the blur of motion that is daily life, in each seemingly insignificant detail among those living life. In allowing our beliefs and trust to move and expand in directions we would never expect, we not only find the risen Lord, but the new life that Resurrection promises us all.

Mangers and Inns

Dave Brisbin | 12.11.16
In the run up to Christmas, what does the infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew have to tell us that is relevant to our day to day lives and choices? Especially, what are the details in those narratives that, understood from a first century, Jewish point of view, can not only make the story real, but clue us in to the central principles the authors were trying to convey? When we know what the word that has been translated as “inn” really means—start erasing our modern western concepts—the story takes on new life. 

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The essential details of mangers and inns begin pointing us in the right direction: toward the personal character and circumstances of Jesus and his family, their status as “anawim” those so destitute that they have only God as their provider…dependent, vulnerable, yet fully grateful and present even to their poverty. Francis of Assisi, who 800 years ago returned himself and his followers to the state of anawim, was also the first to recreate a nativity scene, a full nativity play, in order to recreate the experience of mangers and inns in a truly life-transforming way.

Setting a Trap for God

Dave Brisbin | 9.25.16
How important is prayer? A kneejerk reaction says of course it’s important, essential to our spiritual lives. But a more important question may be what kind of prayer is essential to our spiritual lives? When you take all the different types of prayer that we commonly think of as prayer—recited prayer, freeform prayer, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, praise—what is common to all of them are words. Words form the basis of most if not all our prayers, and yet words can never capture the deepest parts of our spirituality or the relationship we have with a God who can’t be seen or expressed in any way. The Hebrew word for prayer, slotha, points back to the roots, sela, which is actually a hunting term for laying a snare or setting a trap. 

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Prayer to an ancient Jew meant to incline toward, lean in, focus, adjust, tune in, or literally to set a trap for God–to clear a space interiorly and exteriorly and prepare to receive and connect with God’s presence. We need more of this kind of wordless prayer, time regularly spent stepping aside from the words and images, the shields we carry around in our minds that limit God’s presence and scope in our lives. One form of this kind of prayer, centering prayer, comes from the earliest years of the Christian tradition, and practicing it regularly will take us a long way on our journeys of faith.

Intimate Trust

Dave Brisbin | 9.18.16
The Bible makes a big deal about knowing God. There are dozens of references to knowing that tell us this is an area to which we should pay attention. And we have been, but the solution of Western Christianity for the past 500 years to search scripture for any and every bit and piece of data to add to our collected theology has nothing to do with what the writers of scripture had in mind. To know in Hebrew is something borne of long, close association. It is an experiential knowing that could never come out of a book. Our word for such knowing is intimacy, and tellingly both words also serve as euphemisms for sexual relations: the closest and most intense knowing we experience as humans. 

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Jesus tells us that eternal life is the state of knowing God and himself, since he is one with Father. All these figures of speech—the best we can do in words to describe the infinite—now coalesce to form a picture of knowing as intimacy, the oneness that grows out of years of daily practice and simple showing up. It is not intense emotion that shows us our intimate moments, it is the quiet certitude of bare belonging, the trust of acceptance that comes with all that time together.

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