Even though it is technically May, I wanted to catch you all up on what I have been reading during the last month and my quick thoughts on it. I chose to read Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey because I understood that usually when I read the Bible, I feel like I’m seriously missing something… the Bible should be more significant and brilliant than I was finding it.Yes, I am a Christian who is now confessing that for most of my life I have really struggled to read the Bible, I have struggled to find it interesting, I have even struggled to trust its validity after so many language translations and years of cultures that could have brought their own social editing. Yet, I have really enjoyed sermons where teachers explain the significance of Paul’s letters in the time and culture that they were written, or the way buildings were built when David looked out his window and saw the beautiful Bathsheba. Education has taught me that there is a term for this: Exegesis.
Anyways, I guess you could say that I chose this book because I was hungry to really understand the culture in which Jesus physically lived, and I must say, it was a journey that I highly recommend taking. If anything has been made clear to me it is the danger and bore of taking scripture at face value without actually studying it and seeking appropriate understanding. For me, when a deeper understanding was sought and found, scripture became alive. I trust that scripture was written to be alive, to be meaningful to all in every generation and culture, to transform lives by being lived out.
By reading this book and understanding Jesus’ life better, I feel that I can actually witness that he was God, just because of the sheer brilliance he exuded! Time and time, when people came to him with challenges, personal questions, or tragic and emotional cries for help and healing, he always responded in a way that was so far beyond what you would expect of any other human being, no matter how stunning they may be. After reading this book, I know that my God is brilliant in law and love.
Kenneth Bailey looks specifically at six aspects of Jesus’ life/ministry: Jesus’ birth, the beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, dramatic actions of Jesus, Jesus and women, and finally, parables of Jesus. In every section, I found the commentary centered around Middle Eastern culture to be very enlightening. If it is your desire to stand more in awe of Christ by getting to know him more through his teachings, then read this book!
“The Blind Man and Zacchaeus: Luke 18:35-19:11”
I found it particularly interesting how Bailey exposed how Jesus, while traveling through Jericho has these two notable encounters: that with a blind man while entering the city, and with Zacchaeus as Jesus was leaving the city really challenged the viewpoints of the following crowd. During these challenges, sometimes the crowd seemed to accept and learn from Jesus, as in Jesus’ healing of the blind man. But sometimes the challenges infuriated the crowd, just as it was probably with the scene involving Zacchaeus. In instances where the crowd is angered first at the presence of some horrible social outcast (like Zacchaeus), but then becomes even more angered at Jesus’ graceful response toward said social outcast, we can see the symbolic gesture of Jesus taking on the blame and condemnation from the social outcast. Cool.
“The Syro-Phoenician Woman: Matthew 15:21-28”
I loved the explanation of this story where a gentile woman is praised for her faithful persistence and where Jesus verbally shows his disciples how harmful and cruel their own judgements of women and gentiles are. He ministers to both at the exact same time, meeting the two very different needs of the desperate woman and the judgemental disciples.
“The Lady is not for Stoning: John 7:53-8:11”
During this chapter, I was caught up in the scene, where many undercurrents are pulling at Jesus in a different directions. In the middle of this impossible situation where Jesus is being challenged, he not only challenges them right back, proves that he knows the law better than any Pharisee, but also saves a woman from the lawful consequences of her sin.
“The Woman in the House of Simon the Pharisee: Luke 7:36-50”
I’m truly touched by the way this woman’s hospitality shows more than just the hospitality that the culture demanded of a guest, yet Jesus somehow didn’t get at Simon’s house. This woman’s generous actions showed great love, honor, and commitment to Jesus, and greatly offended everyone else.
“The Parable of the Serving Master: Luke 12:35-38”
Bailey says this near his conclusion of this chapter:
“In the middle of the wedding banquet the master remembers his servants and, filling a tray with the best of the lavished feast before him, he slips out. He moves quickly to his private quarters in order that his staff might participate with him in the wedding banquet – and then proceeds to serve them himself! Is there any culture anywhere in the world where such a dramatic act is not a shock?”