Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus – Draft written June 2009 – Never Finished

satforbThis is a simple list of the things I learned from this book. (Some are quoted) Some things on the list are new to me and others are ideas that I was reminded of. I’d encourage everyone to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. I had a basic understanding of Jesus’ Jewishness, but this book taught me more. I’m sure it only scratches the surface of the depth of this topic, but it’s a great place to start.


When Jesus the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, it followed a very long day, with a large meal, and multiple glasses of wine. It’s no wonder they fell asleep. (p 7) I had never really noticed this.

“Women [in the first century] were encouraged to sit in on the advanced discussions at the synagogue if they were able. A few even acquired the high-level education required to contribute to rabbinic debates, and their words are still on record.” (p 12)

First century Jews were acquainted with this rabbinic saying: “Let your house be a meeting place for the rabbis, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily.” They were expected to open their homes to these teachers and their disciples. This is why Jesus and the disciples spent so much time with Mary and Martha. (p 14)

Rabbis often sat on pillows or chairs when they taught and disciples sat at their feet on the ground or mats around them. “When Mary is described as ‘sitting at Jesus’ feet,’ she is being described as a disciple.” (p 14)

Disciples followed rabbis so closely, they became covered in the dust swirling up from the sandals of his feet. (p 14)

As opposed to the crowns/coronations of other kings, Hebrew kings were with anointed with expensive perfumed oil. (p 16)

The oil Mary anointed Jesus with would have probably lingered for days. “Everywhere Jesus went during the final days of His life he had the fragrance of royalty. ” In the Garden, the soldiers would have smelled it and wondered who stood before them. Even when he was on trial, mocked, whipped, and stripped naked, there may have been a fragrance of royalty in the air. (p 18)

When Jesus’ rode into Jerusalem on a mule, the people would have remembered Solomon doing the same thousands of years earlier. 1 Kings 1:38-40 (p 17)

Davening, the rocking motion used by Jews during prayer, is intended as “a way of expressing that one’s whole self, body and soul, is caught up with God. The old rabbi explained that the movement of the body mimics the flickering flame of a candle, calling to mind the saying that “the candlestick of God is the soul of a man.” (p 22)

Jesus probably began learning to read and memorize Scripture at the age of 5-6 yrs old. (p 24)

On Sabbath, a member of the congregation would read from the Scriptures and expound on the day’s passages. (p 25)

Study of the Torah was done at every opportunity. “When people assembled for a joyous occasion such as a circumcision or a wedding, a group might withdraw to engage in the study of the Law.” (p 26) If we did the same, we might have people studying Scripture during halftime at the football game.

Rabbis believed that study was the highest form of worship. “They pointed out that when we pray, we speak to God, but that when we study the Scriptures, God speaks to us.” (p 26)

Rabbis encouraged debate and believed the mark of a good student was his ability to argue well. Sparing with one another forced students to refine their thinking. (p 28)

Here’s a rabbinic parable (similar to Jesus’ parable of the soils in Luke 8:4-11):

“There are four types among those who sit in the presence of the rabbis: the sponge (soaks up everything), the funnel (takes in at one end and lets out at the other), the strainer (lets out the wine and retains the dregs) and the sieve (removes the chaff and retains the fine flour).” The best disciple is the sieve, not the sponge as one might expect. (p 31)

In American culture, movie stars are revered. In Jewish culture, life’s supreme achievement was to become a great scholar of the Scriptures. (p 33)

“The disciple sought to study the text, not only of Scripture but of the rabbi’s life, for it was there that he would learn how to live out the Torah. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, he wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of the God’s law.” This is why he traveled with the rabbi and followed him so closely. Imagine handing an instruction manual to a five-year-old who wants to learn how to ride a bike. (p 33-34)

Jesus didn’t come only to save us from sin, but also to raise us up as disciples who would be like Him. (p 34)

Here’s another blog I wrote about one of the concepts in the book: Remez (p 37)

Stringing pearls is the practice of bringing together passages from different places in order to explore their great truths. Jesus did this in the Beatitudes – referencing Isaiah and the Psalms. His Jewish audience would have picked up on these references and been reminded of God’s faithfulness in rescuing His people. (p 43)

“The usual method of learning was through hands-on experience.” (p 53)

“Learning wasn’t so much about retaining data as it was about gaining essential wisdom for living.” (p 53)

“discipleship has always been about a process.” (p 56)

“While the Gospels record many instances of Jesus instantly healing people’s illnesses, we know of not evenone instance in which he simply waved his hand to immediately fix an ugly habit for one of his disciples. Instead, he simply kept teaching and correcting them, giving them time to grow.” (p 56)

Disciples were totally committed. They left their homes, jobs, and lives to follow a rabbi. It wasn’t like signing up for a Bible Study, or a class they could skip when they had a baseball game, etc. (p 57)

This goal of discipleship is not just self-discipline, but transformation into the likeness of Christ. Imagine if someone were to define parenting only as discipline. Of course children need discipline, but we would have great cause for worry if discipline was the only thing a parent focused on. (p 58)

Here are a few statements from Jesus’ time describing the relationship between rabbi and disciple:

“If a man’s father and his rabbi are both taken captive, a disciple should ransom his rabbi first.” (p 59)

“Your father brought you into this world, but your rabbi brings you into the life of the world to come!” (p 59)

“If a disciple is sent into exile, his rabbi should go with him.”(p 59)

Imagine Judas’ act of betrayal in light of the previous attitudes about this relationship. (p 59)

Another interesting saying:

“All acts a slave performs for his master, a disciple performs for his rabbi, except untying the sandal.” To untie someone’s sandal was considered demeaning, the task of a slave. Check out John 1:27 (p 60)

A rabbi was to model how to live by using examples from his own life. (p 61)

“An authoritarian style of leadership has little to do with Christ and everything to do with human ego.” (p 62)

“God’s goal isn’t simply to fill the world with people who believe the right things. It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ.” (p 64)

An early rabbinical statement: “When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the Divine Presence dwells among them.” (p 67) Similar to Jesus’ in Matthew 18:20

“We tend to believe that the only way to deeply encounter God is through solitary prayer and study. But Jesus implies that his presence will be felt most often in the presence of a small group of haverim.” (p 67)

“Jesus never sent out his students alone, but always in pairs. He knew their critical need for haverim.” (p 73)

“In most societies, people don’t experience loneliness as acutely as Americans do. In other cultures, people are rarely alone, physically or emotionally.” (p 73)

“A haver is a fellow disciple who earnestly desires to grapple with others over issues of faith – someone who wants to delve into God’s Word, to be challenged and refined. A haver is like a spiritual jogging partner.” (p 74)

“Jesus was probably wearing small tefillin when he criticized those who were wearing large tefillin in order to advertise their own super piety. (Mt 23:5)” (p 79)

“An observant Jew recites at least a hundred blessings a day.” (p 82)

Jewish Educational System

I wanted to post something about how the Jewish Educational System worked. Once I knew this stuff, my understanding of Scripture seemed to be much stronger. Anyway, here’s a basic description. (Very basic)

Bet Sefer – House of the Book

In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day kids were taught the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) in the local Synagogue (church) beginning at the age of 6. They had classes 5 days a week just like we do today. By the time they were about 10 years old, they had memorized all of the Torah – the first five books of the Bible. These classes were called “Bet Sefer.” Anyway, most Jewish kids were pretty well finished with school (“WooHoo! Graduation!”) after this and went home to learn the family trade – like fishing or carpentry or something like that.

Bet Talmud – House of Learning

Now, the kids who were really the best of the best among them were allowed to continue in school in something called “Bet Talmud.” Here, they studied all of the Hebrew Scriptures (Our Old Testament) and memorized all of them between the ages of 10-14. During this time, students also learned the Jewish art of questions an answers. Instead of answering with an answer, they were taught to answer with another question. In this way, students could demonstrate both their knowledge and their great regard for the Scriptures. They were taught to always be curious about the Scriptures. Look at how Jesus was described as a young boy in Luke 2:46-47 – “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Bet Midrash – House of Study

Very few of these students ever made it this far. For the few who did there was still another set of classes called “Bet Midrash.” If you were smart enough and knew your scriptures well enough to make it this far, you were given the opportunity to go to a rabbi (teacher) to seek further education. The rabbi would grill you and ask you all kinds of questions, because he was trying to find out if you were good enough to be his student. He wanted to know if you knew enough, but even more importantly, if you could be like him in all areas of your life. If he decided that he didn’t think you could do it, then he would tell you to go back to the family business. It was very rare, but if he thought highly enough of you, he would become your teacher and it would be your goal to become like him in every way. You would agree to take on his “beliefs” and his interpretations of the scriptures. This was called his “yoke” and he would say to you, “come follow me.” This was a huge privilege that was offered to very few people. The disciple’s (also called “talmudim”) job was to become like the rabbi in every way. If the rabbi was hurt and had a limp, you might see his healthy disciples walking behind him (in his footsteps or “in the dust” of the rabbi) with a limp.

My Thoughts

Now, listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I used to always wonder why the disciples were so quick to drop their nets, their jobs, and their lives to follow Jesus. However, this understanding changes things. The disciples were normal guys who were out working in their family trades. This means they didn’t make the cut. They had already dropped out of school and had resigned themselves to the fact that they would probably never be able to follow a rabbi or become a disciple. When Jesus came along and made His offer, they jumped at the opportunity. They didn’t want to miss it, so they dropped what they were doing and went. This would be the equivalent of Michael Jordan saying to a Jr High student “Hey, I see a lot of potential in you. Would you want to come and do some training with me?”

In the end, Jesus is our rabbi. We are to become like him in every way. 1 Peter 2:21 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Remez

“May the force be with you.” It’s a classic quote. With those 5 little words I have referred you to a concept found in the Star Wars films. Almost anyone in our culture would recognize the reference, without mentioning the film itself. Jesus often did the same thing.

hiddenA practice called a “remez” (meaning “hint”) was practiced by most rabbis (including Jesus) during Biblical times. The Jewish educational system required that every young boy memorize the Law. Many went on to memorize the entire Old Testament. Their culture was so steeped in the Scriptures, that they could quote a part of a verse knowing that others would recognize the end. According to FishingtheAbyss.com, there are “30 – 50 (potentially more) remezim of Jesus recorded in the gospels.”

Here’s an example: Ever wonder why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much? Although He did say some things to them that were not very flattering, sometimes it’s what He didn’t say that bothered them the most.

Check out Mathew 21:16

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
” ‘From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise’?”

Why would that make them so angry? It doesn’t sound so bad. But check out what the rest of that verse says. He was quoting Psalm 8:2

From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

The Pharisees knew the end of the verse He was quoting – and Jesus knew it too. He called them “enemies!” No wonder they got so mad.

Anyway, the “remez” is an interesting practice. We’ve got to know the whole of Scripture in order to understand the intricacies of the things Jesus said (and didn’t day).

Here are a few other places Jesus used the “remez.” Look ’em up. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Matthew 21:13 hints at Isaiah 56:7 (Jesus isn’t as mad about them selling stuff in the temple area as much as He is concerned that this was the only place the Gentiles could worship and they were not being allowed to do so.)

Matthew 27:46 hints at Psalm 22:1 (Check out Psalm 22:13-18 – Jesus was telling them He was the Messiah.)

Luke 11:20 hints at Exodus 8:18-19

Luke 19:10 hints at Ezekiel 34 (Revealing Himself as the Messiah)

Mark 15:34 would have been an obvious “remez” to the Jews present at the time. Hinting at Psalm 22-24 (Messianic Psalms)

OK – so that should be enough to get you started. The bottom line for me is this. If we could approach the Scriptures with the context of Jewish culture, we’d have a much greater understanding and these sorts of nuances wouldn’t fly over our heads. I may be strange (and some of you know it’s true) but I’d sure like to be able to talk about the Scriptures as easily and with as much nuance as I do about Star Wars.

Playing in the Dirt

satforb1Lately I’ve been reading a book called “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus.” So far, it’s a great book – all about the Jewishness of Jesus and the insights that come to the Scriptures when you understand Jewish culture. I’m loving it!!! (I’m hoping to write a blog later about the things I’m learning from it.)

Anyway, one of the insights that has jumped out at me is the relationship between a disciple and his rabbi. One of the sayings found in the Mishnah, Bava Metzia 2:11 is, “If a man’s father and his rabbi are both taken captive, a disciple should ransom his rabbi first.” – Now that’s amazing devotion! Disciples lived with their rabbis with the goal of becoming like them. They served them and attended to their personal needs with the goal of understanding not just the concepts that they taught, but the lifestyle with which they lived. A rabbi was once (recently) observed in Jerusalem walking in a bent-over position with a little shuffle. Behind him walked several other men (presumably disciples) in the same manner.

kasen-wants-to-be-like-daddy-smallEarlier this week I was in the backyard watching Kasen as he ran around playing – pulling the wagon, collecting leaves, stooping down to pick up sticks on the ground or whatever he happened to notice, etc. (It’s a beautiful thing to watch a little boy discovering the world around him.) Anyway, as he played, I kicked at the ground – there was a specific spot where there was no grass and the mud had dried. Anyway, I was off in another world, kicking the ground, thinking about life and God and who knows what when I realized that Kasen had joined me to kick the ground. He was watching everything I was doing. He wants so desperately to be like his daddy and I must admit – that really scares me.

Scripture is pretty clear that Miranda and I are responsible for training up our children up in faith and teaching them. (Deut 6:6-9) Whoa! That means that for Kasen and Kesleigh – I’m the rabbi. What?!?! That’s crazy. God would put that kind of responsibility on me? I’m no rabbi. I haven’t had the training. I don’t have the knowledge. Or do I? I mean, it’s true I don’t have that kind of wisdom – but I have something better. The true rabbi, Jesus lived out the perfect example for me and for all His children (that includes my kids). The Holy Spirit also dwells within me and with His guidance. . . well. . . I’m hoping those are the things Kasen and Kesleigh will imitate – I’m hoping I can be better at modeling the behaviors that the Holy Spirit guides ’cause it’s definitely true. Kasen and Kesleigh will imitate me – even if all I’m doing is playing around in the dirt.

Prayer: Lord, I confess that I have played in the dirt for way too long. I don’t want to waste any more time though. Help me to build Your kingdom. Cover my children and draw them to Yourself so they can also join their parents and one day build Your kingdom too.

Prideful Paul

I always thought it was a bit prideful of Paul to write things like – “follow my example” (1 Cor 11:1) and “join with others in following my example” (Php 3:17). Anyway, he says things like this throughout Scripture and it always bothered me a little, but last night in our small group it came up again and I think I finally understood it. One of the guys explained that in those days they didn’t have the Bible (well, not as we know it) – most people couldn’t read the letters that they did have either. Jesus had already resurrected too, so there really was no way for someone to know how to live out their faith except in watching someone else do it. Paul was trying to live his life in such a way that others could look at him and know how to live as a Christian.

Just as a father tries to live as an example to his children, Paul was doing the same. The idea of following someone’s example was not a foreign concept for the Jews either – the whole rabbinical system was based upon “becoming” like the rabbi. Jesus Himself taught his followers to do as they had seen Him do. (John 13:15). Anyway, all this is to say that Paul wasn’t just a big headed guy, he was simply trying to teach others how to live out their faith, and he used the same technique as their culture had been accustomed to.

Journey

06-08-28 How powerful is a journey? That’s what I’m thinkin’ about today. I mean, the disciples were regular guys until they journeyed with Jesus for 3 years. After that, they changed the world. Of course the power in that last sentence isn’t in the journey, but in Jesus.

But still I wonder why Jesus chose to use a journey to teach them? I wonder how things would have been if they had just stayed in one place instead of traveling all over? Would the disciples have gotten the experiences they needed to grow and learn the ways of their rabbi – Jesus?

What if every Christian High School graduate spent 3 years on a journey with a rabbi before going to college? Some people might say that’s what college is, but a rabbi isn’t just a knowledgable teacher. He is a wise spiritual leader. What would that look like? Who could be that rabbi in today’s culture? Are there any rabbis in the world today? What kind of man would I be if I were to follow the rabbi (Jesus) for three years on some kind of journey? Where would He take me? What would He want me to experience? What miracles would I witness? What kind of conversations would I be involved in and with whom?

My Prayer: Lord, I know that my whole life is a journey, but I want to live it following You. Show me how to do that. Give me courage to step out of the boat like Peter (out of my comfort zones) and into the next part of my journey with You. Teach me Lord! Be my rabbi, and I’ll try to be Your “talmidim” (disciple) That means I’ll try to be like You in every way.

Yoke

05-10-18Cool stuff! I just  learned. Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis” talks about it all.

In Jewish culture, there were lots of Rabbis (teachers) who each had their own interpretations of the scriptures. If a rabbi took on a student, that student was agreeing to live under the “yoke” of that rabbi – the “yoke” was the different ways that the rabbi interpreted the scriptures. He would allow some things and not allow others based on this “yoke.” For example – One rabbi might say you can walk a certain distance on the Sabbath, but if you went any further that would be “work” and it would violate the Sabbath. Another rabbi might permit you to walk further, but forbid other things. It’s all in the interpretation – or the “yoke.”

If a student didn’t quite understand what a rabbi meant the rabbi would say, “You’ve abolished the Torah.” but if the student understood it completely the rabbi’s response would be “You’ve fulfilled the Torah.”

When Jesus first preached that He was there to “fulfill the law, not to abolish it,” the Jewish listeners heard a whole different thing than we do. He was basically saying – I understand all this better than anyone. This is partly why Jesus had som many followers. Most rabbis were teaching the yoke of some other well-respected rabbi – but Jesus wasn’t. He was teaching a whole new yoke. It was rare that anyone would have the guts to say, “My interpretation is new and it’s better than anybody else who came before me.” One way the people could judge whether they were speaking the truth or not, was by who else supported this teaching.

For a student to become a rabbi himself – he had to be validated by two other rabbis who would lay hands on him and pray over him. This is why Jesus’ baptism was so important – the two “rabbis” who laid hands on Him were. The voice of one crying in the desrt (John the Baptist) and the voice from heaven. (God, the Father)

A new “yoke” interpretation would take on the sounds of “you’ve heard it said…but I tell you…” which in many ways was bashing the previous teachers. The process of allowing certain things and forbidding others was called “binding and loosing.” The “bind” it was to forbid it. To “loose” something was to allow it. So a rabbi would “bind” certain practices and “loose” others and eventually when he’d give his disciples authority to bind and loose, it was called “giving the keys to the kingdom.”

Listen with new ears now as Jesus says in Matthew, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

It is very significant to recognize that Jesus is giving his followers  authority to make new interpretations of the Scriptures.