Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City (from here)

Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (from here)

This is the fourth installment in a review of John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man? The previous three installments can be found by clicking on the links below.

Here we will consider chapters 7 and 8. Chapter 7 is about how Jesus taught us to love even our enemies. Chapter 8 concerns how Jesus established the limits of government power.

Jesus Taught Us To Forgive

Hatred is a normal human emotion.  When someone hurts us or opposes our designs, we grow angry. Fueled by anger, our hatred can easily consume us.

What does it mean to be consumed by hatred? Ortberg does not ask that question, but Chapter 7 certainly provides the beginnings of an answer. He speaks of curses still heard across millennia.  He describes our instinct for forming and taking sides.

Mostly, however, Ortberg describes what Jesus taught about forgiveness and how His new ideas slowly changed our attitude towards vengeance.

In Chapter 7, Ortberg highlights an example of forgiveness, how a grieving mother forgave the murderer of her son. Yet what sparked my imagination was Ortberg’s interpretation of the feeding of the multitudes in Mark 6:30-44 and Mark 8:1-10. Without an understanding Biblical history, there is no way to appreciate what comes later in Mark 8.

Mark 8:13-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod

13 And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. 14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. 15 Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

They said to Him, “Twelve.”

20 “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

And they said, “Seven.”

21 So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Can we put ourselves in the sandals of Jesus’ disciples? Jesus questioned more than his disciples’ lack of faith. What is the significance of the numbers twelve and seven? When Jesus fed the the 5000 mentioned in Mark 6, Jesus fed 5000 Jews on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. On the other hand, in Mark 6, Ortberg believes Jesus fed 4000 Gentiles on the other side of the Sea of Galilee in a region called Decapolis. The descendants of the Canaanites populated Decapolis. Thus, Ortberg argues that the number 12 represents the twelve tribes of Israel and the number 7 represents the seven nations of Canaan.

Where Jesus fed the four thousand is disputed, vehemently by some (see The Feeding of the 4,000 — Were They Gentiles?). Nevertheless, Mark 7:31 suggests Jesus was in the region of Decapolis and supports the belief that Jesus fed Gentile multitudes in Mark 8 (See What is the meaning of the 12 and 7 baskets left over from the feeding of 5000 and 4000? and The Feeding of the Four Thousand.

Given that Jesus’ ministry did include Gentiles as well as Jews, Ortberg’s assertion makes sense. Otherwise, the Jesus would have failed to give His twelve Jewish apostles an example we all need. His Word is for the other side too, not just our own.

Jesus Taught Us Our Best Belongs To God

What were the limits of state power in ancient Rome? Imagine living in a time and place where most people live as slaves and that everyone else except the guy in charge either has or needs a patron.

Patronage (clientela) was the distinctive relationship in ancient Roman society between the patronus (plural patroni, “patron”) and their cliens (plural clientes, “client”). The relationship was hierarchical, but obligations were mutual. The patronus was the protector, sponsor, and benefactor of the client; the technical term for this protection was patrocinium. Although typically the client was of inferior social class, a patron and client might even hold the same social rank, but the former would possess greater wealth, power, or prestige that enabled them to help or do favors for the client. From the emperor at the top to the local municipal person at the bottom, the bonds between these groups found formal expression in legal definition of patrons’ responsibilities to clients. (from here)

Who was at the top of the Roman hierarchy? Who was the top patron? That was the emperor, and he insisted upon being worshiped as a god.  If the emperor was a god, who could place limits on his power?

Doesn’t everyone know how Jesus responded to a trick question?

Matthew 22:15-22 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Pharisees: Is It Lawful to Pay Taxes to Caesar?

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.”

So they brought Him a denarius.

20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

One the strange things many believe these days is that Jesus was not a political figure. Ortberg explains that was not true. He begins with the story of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, reminding us that the people welcomed Jesus as the king of Israel, not exactly the sort of thing that would please Israel’s Roman rulers.

Throughout the world, including the Roman Empire, governments use the religious beliefs of the people to exercise state power.  Hence, Rome took control of the of the Jewish religious establishment and its temple. Ortberg explains that Rome gave the Jews three options:

  • Withdraw into the wilderness.
  • Revolt and die.
  • Assimilate, that is, accept the rule of the Romans.

Ortberg reminds us Jesus accepted none of these options. Instead, He loved his enemies and offered them forgiveness. Instead, He sent His followers out into the world to”make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). So it is that Jesus conquered Rome with the idea that God is love, and we each owe the God who loves us far more than we owe our earthly rulers.


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