Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: The Rabbi (with a Blue Parakeet note appended)

The lesson begins at Gamla, a Jewish settlement founded after the return of the Jews from Babylon. The community is on the side of a hill, so steep that one family’s roof is another man’s floor. The opposite side of the hill was a steep cliff.

The residents of Gamla were Zealots, who urgently wanted to overthrow Rome. Jesus prophesied how the revolt would go —

(Luke 19:41-44)  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

In 66 AD the Jewish revolt began. 30,000 Roman soldiers surrounded Gamla. 10,000 Jews crowded into city for protection. When the Romans breached the wall, many of the Jews panicked, and more than 5,000 ran up the hill, only to fall to their deaths down the opposite side of the hill.

The Gamla synagogue

The archaeologists have found the oldest synagogue found so far in Gamla, dating back to the time of Jesus. The synagogue was more of a community center than a church. People came to study, to gather for meetings of different sorts, and to worship.

Jesus taught as a rabbi in synagogues throughout Galilee. 

(Luke 4:14-16)  Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.

The synagogue had a mikvah, a bath, by which those entering the synagogue received symbolic of cleansing (full immersion was generally required).

The synagogue had a closet for storing the Torah scroll. The person teaching that week would sit in a seat — the Moses seat — and read Torah, the words of Moses.

Any adult male could sit in the seat and read the Torah, followed by a portion of the prophets. The readings followed a prescribed order, to assure that the entire Torah was read over a period of time.

The reader often made comments on the scroll, and so the community got to hear nearly all adult males speak about God’s word over time, rather than hearing only from a professional pastor.

(Luke 4:17-21)  The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 and stated that this passage, the passage scheduled for that week, referred to him.

Tassels

Jesus, being a rabbi, wore tassels on a cloth. As Vander Laan explains,

As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus probably wore tassels on the corners of his garment. The Jewish practice of wearing these tassels developed from God’s command in Numbers 15: “You are to make tassels on the corners of your garments so you will remember all the commands of the LORD” (v. 38-39).

Later in Jewish history, the tassels were incorporated into the Jewish prayer shawl, called the tallit, which is worn by many Jews today. On each corner of the prayer shawl are long tassels, or tzitzit, knotted five times to remind Jews of the five books of Moses. The four spaces between these knots represent the letters of God’s name, YHWH. And the knots along the prayer shawl edges use exactly 613 knotted strings, representing the 613 laws of the Torah.

Ezekiel prophesied that the Messiah would come with healing in his “wings.” But the Hebrew word for “wings” could also be used to identify the tassels that Jewish men wore on the corners of their robe. Based on this prophecy, the Jews expected the Messiah to have healing in his tassels.

During his ministry, one woman demonstrated her faith in Jesus by seeking healing in his tassels. Matthew 9 tells us that a sick woman, whose disease had probably left her untouched for twelve years, thought to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed” (v. 21).

When she touched the Messiah’s tassels, the woman was healed. And Jesus commended her for her faith.

Faith lesson

Jesus’ method was to love people who were hurting, rather than to use impersonal methods, such as our media. He could have done many different things to get the word out about the good news, and the one method he chose was to do acts of compassion for many of the most unloved people.

For teachers 

What methods have churches normally used to make converts and spread the gospel?

[invite neighbors to church, send missionaries, distribute tracts, TV and newspaper ads, invite the community to events]

What methods did Jesus use?

[preached gospel, acts of compassion, sent out missionaries who were to preach gospel and do acts of compassion

(Mat 4:23)  Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

(Mat 9:35-36)  Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.]

Why do you suppose it is that, historically, the church hasn’t used acts of compassion as a means of evangelism?

[Reformation emphasis on doctrinal correctness, division of church into denominations largely over doctrinal disputes, all led to didactic gospel, that is, a gospel all about getting the doctrines right as a requirement to be saved. Thus, good news was largely about correct doctrine and correct practice: worship and church organization, going all the way back to Calvin.]

Other than Jesus’ example, where else in the scripture do we see passages that associate acts of compassion with evangelism?

[(Mat 5:13-16)  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

(Eph 2:10)  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(Eph 4:11-15)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

(1 Pet 2:12)  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

“Speaking the truth in love” in Eph 4:15 refers to evangelism. “Truth” in the New Testament is normally the truth about Jesus, the gospel. “Speak the truth” is preaching the gospel. It’s not publishing bulletins that argue over nuances of doctrine. 

(Col 1:5)  the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel

Paul’s point in Ephesians is that God sent Jesus to die for our salvation, so that we’d do good works that would build the church up in unity and bring others to the church.]

How does the world perceive the church?

[Hypocrites, judgmental]

How would this perception change if we lived lives of compassion, as Jesus did?

How would our relationships with other churches/denominations change if we all saw works of compassion as central to God’s mission to which we are called?

[When people get busy helping others, their priorities change. Rather than focusing on every nuance of doctrine, they become concerned with helping people. We become more willing to cooperate when we see the desperate need for cooperation. We are less willing to damn others when we work side by side with them and see the Spirit and God’s love alive within them.

Works of compassion make us people of compassion who see the world through more Jesus-like eyes — and everything changes.]

Additional note

A common theme here is: why did they miss it? Why did the Zealots miss the Messiah and rebel against Rome and God’s plan for Israel? Why do Christians miss God’s desire for us to be salt and light by serving those around us with works of compassion?

I think in both cases the answer is ultimately the same. Both groups find the wrong story in the Bible. The Zealots believed that God’s ultimate goal was an independent Jewish state. Christians often think God’s ultimate goal is to give us a means to escape hell through faith. Neither thought is foreign to scripture, but both thoughts miss the ultimate point. It’s all about the Story as explained in the posts on Hermeneutics and Blue Parakeets.

The ultimate goal is bring all nations into covenant community with God forever — returning to us Eden, where we enjoy oneness with each other and with God. And we can’t be people who enjoy oneness unless we are open to oneness — and that means loving other people just as we love ourselves — and that means doing works of compassion, not because it’s commanded but because that’s just kind of people we are. And we become that kind of people by walking in harmony with the Spirit — that is, in close communion with God living in us.

Leave a Reply

  1. Jay,

    “Zealot” may have been a term like Coca Cola. We say: “wanna’ have a Coke” even if it’s an RC or Pepsi. It seems the formal Zealot group was in the Temple at Jerusalem, but others may have used the name. Still in most instances when you read “Zealot” think Jerusalem.
    Nic

    Zealots:

    ? Origins: This party’s origins can be traced back to the clash between the Roman procurator Florus (AD 64-66) and the Jerusalem citizenry. Although some scholars have associated one of the apostles; Simon the Canaanite, also called the zealot; with this group, it is now thought unlikely. The Sicarri, so called because of the curved dagger they used, predated the Zealots and some scholars have associated this urban bandit-assassin group with the Zealots. The Sicarri may have been active during the time of Christ, but it is doubtful Simon was a part of this group. More likely, he was called this because he was a zealous man.

    ? History: During his term Florus had pilfered the temple treasury, allowed his army to loot the city and attempted to capture and control the temple. Pilate had done similar things during his term. The lower priests began to talk of war. They decided to stop the sacrifices, offered twice each day on behalf of Rome and the emperor. This had been the negotiated substitute for emperor worship and was therefore a sign of Jewish loyalty to Rome. The cessation of these offerings was the same as a declaration of war. It broke the peace treaty and Israel was regarded as outside the Roman Empire. The priests cleansed the temple and returned to showing absolute fidelity to the Torah. With this turn-around they knew God would shower them with blessings.

    However, the chief priests and the Pharisees resisted the changes and civil war broke out. A temple captain, Eleazar, who had led the revolt of the priests, joined forces with the Sicarri, a bandit group that had sprung up earlier in Jerusalem. Together they defeated the rival group, but a power struggle ensued which was won by Eleazar. The remaining Sicarri fled to Masada, leaving Eleazar in control of Jerusalem.

    In August AD 66 Cestius, governor of Syria, with Roman troops attacked Jerusalem, but suddenly abandoned the siege. In the process of retreat many Roman troops were lost. In fall AD 67 the Romans recaptured Galilee and marched through Judea to Jerusalem. The revolutionary forces fleeing before the Roman march took refuge in Jerusalem. These forces joined Eleazar’s and the resulting coalition Josephus calls “Zealots.” These Zealots not only fought against Rome, but they were also fighting a class war against the Jewish aristocracy, who had gained much wealth siding and working with the Romans when they were in control. The aristocracy fought back and cornered the Zealots in the temple. Somehow the Zealots got word out to the Idumeans, who responded. They freed the Zealots and slaughtered the High Priest Ananus.

    The Zealots had internal problems and broke into two groups. The Sicarri broke off and fled to Masada, where they later committed suicide rather than be captured by Rome.* By this time the Romans were knocking on Jerusalem’s gates. This threat galvanized all factions into a united front, but the Jews were no match for the Roman army. During the siege the Zealots were the least significant group totaling around 2,400. However they fought to the death against the overwhelming military strength of the Romans.

    ? Gamla and Masada have similar stories and are the pride of modern day Israel. [Some think too similar]

    SEE: Dictionary of NT Background; IVP; (pp 945-947) & Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson; Eerdmans; (pp 497-499)

  2. I guess thats why Our army in afganastan gets more afganies looking up to american solgiers that are building schools and getting electricity and water in the gap area and alot are turning to Christianity and stop growing poppy. I guess this was alot better tactic than russions dropping toys that exploded when the kids picked them up.

  3. "This is my command: Love one another the way I have loved you." John 15:12

    I've been looking — and so far, this is the only place I've found where Jesus uses "my command" to describe what he's about to say.

    But we often don't seem to notice.

  4. I have to say that this touches us just in the right spot. The gospel is so simple and so easy…we must remember to keep it that way…by serving others as we bring them into the love of Christ. Great article!

  5. Josephus's account of the fall of Gamla (Gamala) to the Romans may be read at this link: http://www.interhack.net/projects/library/wars-je

    I'm reading In the Shadow of the Temple, by Oskar Skarsuane. He says regarding the founding of the Zealot sect, "The Zealot movement was founded, according to Josephus, by Judas of Gamla and Zadok the Pharisee in response to the census carried out by Quirinius." (page 126).

    Interestingly, this makes the Zealot movement and Jesus have the same birth date.

    However, the author notes that "many scholars now think that Josephus has exaggerated in portraying the Zealot movement as a continuous movement of a more or less organized nature [from Judas to the rebellion]." (page 127).

    Gamla was one of the cities that rebelled against Rome and so was destroyed as described in the section of Josephus linked above.