4/20/07

What to say about Virginia Tech

The shooting on the Virginia Tech campus has been filling the news media all week. I've been wanting to write something, but didn't know what to say except that I'm so sad. I'm also angry that someone can so maliciously (and apparently insanely) take away so many other lives.

Sometimes we get angry at God because of the evil and suffering He allows to go on in the world. I won't try to talk you out of that anger, but I hope in time you come to experience God's comfort and reassurance--many have found just that in their worst moments of grief.

I believe that Jesus came to inaugurate God's kingdom, a vision of life the way God wants it, where adults prevent middle school kids from bullying their peers, where no one is laughed at because of their accent, where affluence is not flaunted in the faces of others, where people suffering from mental illness are not shuffled off and forgotten. God's kingdom doesn't produce mass murderers.

I've also thought about how life in Baghdad is like Blacksburg nearly everyday, and what this must be like for the people who live there and want to raise their families and go to school and work. People are terrorized by roadside bombs and suicide bombers, all for the cause of gaining control. May God's kingdom come quickly.

If you have thoughts or questions, please comment.

4/4/07

Thinking about an apparent contradiction in the Bible

I want to retract something I said in my sermon Sunday, March 25. When does a preacher ever do that? Maybe we should do it more often. I suggested an approximate time of 11 a.m. when the crowd first gathered before Governor Pilate. I based this on John’s gospel which says that around the sixth hour of the day, which we understand to be noon, they were calling for Jesus to be crucified. But there’s a problem with that chronology. I wasn’t paying attention to Mark’s gospel which says that on the third hour of the day, or 9 a.m., Jesus was already on the cross.

As scholars like to say, this is a problematic passage, and it’s hard to harmonize the two gospels on this point. So what do we do? Here are four possibilities.

First, some suggest that John was using Roman time instead of Jewish time, and the Romans (at least in legal matters) began counting the hours at midnight like we do, so that would put the sixth hour at 6 a.m. when the crowd called for Jesus to be crucified. If that’s the case, there’s no difficulty in the timeline that he was crucified by 9 o’clock. It’s a plausible theory, but the problem is that John seems to follow a Jewish clock during the rest of his gospel. Why would he switch to Roman time now?

Second, I’ve heard it suggested that perhaps John is using the number, the “sixth” hour, symbolically rather than chronologically. For example, we describe something as an “eleventh hour” event, not because it happened at an hour before midnight, but because it came in just before a deadline. We cannot know with certainty what the sixth hour would symbolize, but it could represent humanity, created on the sixth day in Genesis 1. In that case, it could mean that calling for Jesus to be crucified is evil humanity’s hour (remember 666 in Revelation?). However interesting this theory might be, it is based on a great deal of speculation.

Third, it has been noted that the terms “third hour” or “sixth hour” were used without the exactness today’s western clock-watchers assume. Jesus could have been crucified between 9 a.m. and noon, but the time is described differently by the two writers. It would be a mistake to force our understanding of time on to the biblical text.

Finally, others say that the discrepancy of whether Jesus was crucified around 9 a.m. or a little after 12 noon is a small detail that plays no bearing on the fact that Jesus was crucified that day, so we shouldn’t worry about it.

Personally, I’m not sure what to think, and the only thing I can definitively say is that I don’t know. Someday in heaven, maybe God will explain it to me. But for now I’m not sure how to harmonize the two timelines or if I should even try.

But I don’t want you to think that this means the four gospels are constantly contradicting each other. Are there other problematic passages? Sure. But while the four gospels tell the same passion story with minor differences, they agree on the basics of what happened. For example, in each of the four gospels you will find the following events.

Jesus is taken by the Jewish leaders to Governor Pilate. The crowd demands Jesus’ death, which Pilate concedes to. Soldiers gamble for his clothes. He’s crucified between two others. The charge listed at the top of his cross is “King of the Jews.” He’s insulted while he suffers on the cross. Dark clouds hang over the land from noon to three. Some women among his followers are watching. After he dies, Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, wrapped and buried before sundown by Joseph of Arimathea.

May you be blessed as you ponder our Lord's passion this weekend. I hope you will find a place to worship on Resurrection Morning.