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Matthew Price

Matthew Price

Monday, 24 May 2010 12:17

Receiving the Holy Spirit

We are so used to Luke’s account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), that we miss the account of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in John’s Gospel, where it occurs, not fifty days after an Ascension (there is no Ascension in John), but on Easter Sunday night. It is a pity, too, that this unique account is rather lost in our liturgical reading of the First Sunday after Easter by making it part of 20:19–31, so that the whole focus becomes the story of Thomas. How many preachers speak about the Holy Spirit on this Sunday?

Monday, 24 May 2010 12:14

Recognising the Risen Jesus

We are all familiar with the Emmaeus story from Luke’s Gospel, in which the disciples recognised Jesus “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). For Luke’s community, the Eucharist was the special moment when Jesus would be recognised as being present among them.

For the second and third generation Christians in the 80s and 90s, both Luke and John dealt with the question how Christians could recognise the Risen Jesus as being with them. What is often not recognised is the several ways in which the author or authors of John’s Gospel addressed this question.

Monday, 24 May 2010 12:12

Does Jesus Care?

On the Feast of St Mark (26 April), we remember the faith of this great evangelist. Mark’s community had been suffering severe persecution for some time, and many had died. Mark 13:12–13 describes the betrayal and hatred experienced by his community, most likely the church of Rome, and we know from Tacitus that they were subject to persecution from the year 64 under Nero. It is most likely that Mark’s Gospel was written after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in August, 70, and probably after the victory march through Rome by Vespasian and Titus in June, 71. This means that the Roman church had suffered for perhaps seven years.

Monday, 24 May 2010 12:09

Being a Friend of God

Friendship was highly valued in the Greco-Roman world. It was the ideal relationship between equals. For Epicurus, friendship was the basic pleasure, and the friendship found in Epicurean groups was a key factor in their popularity.

But the human being could also be a friend of God: “The sage is a friend of god” (Pseudo-Diogenes, Epistle 10). More than that, in Jewish thought, God could be a friend of the human being. In Exod 33:11, “Yahweh would talk to Moses face to face, as a man talks to his friend.” But it was only Moses who had this special positiion. The closest the ordinary person came to this notion of friendship was through seeking Wisdom: personified Wisdom was a friend of all who seek God (Wis 6:12–16; 7:26ff; 9:1–2; Prov 8:22–31).

Monday, 24 May 2010 12:07

How Did Jesus Redeem Us?

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

The question — How did Jesus redeem us? — has been the subject of much theological discussion and many different explanations since the early days of Christianity. Even in the New Testament, many different expressions are used to explain how Jesus’ death brought us salvation. Here we look at the understanding found in Mark’s Gospel, the oldest of the Gospels.

Monday, 24 May 2010 12:05

Did Jesus’ Family Think Him Mad?

It has been said that Mark 3:21 may reflect a genuine memory of difficulties Jesus had with his family when, as a single Jewish man in his thirties, he left his family to go on the road to preach the Kingdom of God. Certainly, Mark 3:20–35 paint a very unflattering picture of Jesus’ family, particularly since it is the first mention of his mother in the Gospels. But is there something else going on in this passage?

In a previous article, it was mentioned that Mark 4:35–5:43 shows Jesus seemingly to have power over all things, as he successively controls the elements, demons, sickness, and even death. But when Jesus comes to his own home town in 6:1, we find him “unable to work any miracle there” (v.5) because “they would not accept him” (v.4). Jesus has power over all things except the will of the human being. There is a similar sadness in this account that we find in John 1:11: “He came to his own, and his own did not accept him.”

Paul is well-known for writing on the true use and understanding of the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians, and in stressing that there are different gifts of the Spirit distributed throughout the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12–30; Romans 12:4–8). But it is not usually recognised how often, throughout the letters that are attributed to him, Paul appeals to the experience of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer as proof of the reality of his gospel message.

In his first letter, 1 Thessalonians, he reminds the members of the first church he founded how the gospel came to them, not just in word, but “in power and in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:5). His appeal is to their experience of God’s Spirit. This is what they must remember. As a Jew, Paul knows the importance of Israel remembering what God had done for them, commemorated in the Passover haggadah each year. “Remember” is the call of Deuteronomy (cf. Deut 6:4–9).

The earliest biblical texts show an Israel whose god looked very similar to the gods of surrounding nations. Yahweh was seen to be a warrior: “Who is he, this king of glory? It is Yahweh, strong and valiant, Yahweh valiant in battle” (Ps 24:8), and he fights for Israel as every national god was expected to do.

He is also seen as a storm god: “So Samuel called upon Yahweh, and Yahweh sent thunder and rain that day” (1 Sam 12:18). In Jdgs 5:5, 21 — a very early text — Yahweh wins the battle by sending a storm. In Solomon’s prayer, he prays: “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you … ” (2 Kings 8:35).

Monday, 24 May 2010 11:43

Israel Discovers Unconditional Love

One of the problems we have in understanding the Old Testament is that its various books are not in chronological sequence. Rather, they reflect story sequence, that is, beginning with stories of creation, then the patriarchs, and then Israel in the land. This means that some of the most primitive understandings of God are found in texts that appear quite late in our reading, if we start at the beginning. As we saw in our previous Scripture Article, Yahweh was seen as just “the God of Israel” who would protect them in the same way that the gods of the neighbouring nations would protect their own people. He was a warrior god, who acted like a storm god at times.

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