Stepping Into the First Century
By Samantha Farinacci, OC Online Chaplain
One of the most exciting things about reading the New Testament in the Bible is that we get a glimpse into what first century people were thinking about Jesus. How were people just beginning to process what they had seen and what they had heard? These early recorded theological conversations have such a raw and pioneer feeling to them as these “people of the way” attempted to—for the very first time—answer the question:
Who was Jesus and why did he matter?
Some of the early hymn language we have gives us reason to believe that their most immediate sense was that through Christ, the whole world shifted. Early Christians were singing worship songs with lyrics like: “through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Col. 1:19-20) and “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:9-10).
They used words and phrases like “all” and “every” and “everything” and “everyone”.
And I think their early testimony about the transcendent importance about Christ has carried with us today. We too believe that Christ speaks into all people and all times. And so, the invitation we have then is to join in the work of trying to discern what Christ has for us in our time.
Which is, let’s be honest, pretty hard most of the time.
Perhaps a good starting point in our work toward this is to lean more into what Jesus was saying and doing in his own time and how others he interacted with might have understood what he was up to. Sometimes the deeper we go into that time, the more we might have to bring to the table in our discussions about what Jesus is teaching us about this time. To do this, I think one of the most fundamental aspects of first century Jesus that we need to come to appreciate more in our work together with these texts is possibly one of the most obvious, but here it is:
Jesus was, of course, Jewish.
Again, we know this but sometimes we forget to consider this key detail when we read the Bible and try to apply it to our lives. So often Jewish thought provides a necessary and rich backdrop for understanding the kinds of nudges and tugs we see Jesus making. Judaism was certainly his most immediate cultural and religious identity and so it is necessarily a good place for us to begin our wisdom seeking.
Recently, in pursuit of this, we at Oaks Christian Online have been learning together about shalom. Shalom, roughly translated, means peace. Within the biblical expression of Judaism, we see all kinds of nuances and subtleties that show us that shalom-peace includes things like completeness, nonviolence, restoration, perfection, and wholeness. (See chart below for some examples from scripture)
The more we seek out the meaning of shalom together, the more we’re able to understand some of the things Jesus is doing and saying in the gospels. We might even start to wonder if Jesus’ entire ministry and vision for the Kingdom of God/Heaven was about the in-breaking of perfect shalom for all. Consider how many of the parables are about lost things coming back into completeness and belonging, or how many healings offer not just physical transformation but a whole person restoration? How many of the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount inspire peace and harmony in relationships and in community?
Jesus draws on the concept of shalom in order to communicate that in his role as Messiah, God is restoring all of creation to peace. Shalom is about buildings, and the earth, and relationships, and nations, and ecosystems, and faith and identity—all in harmony, all in wholeness.
It’s about everything.
And Jesus makes everything: shalom.
Exploring Shalom with Students and Faculty
As a way of connecting with some of these ideas, students in Spiritual Life had the chance to learn about this Hebrew word and then ultimately create a 30-minute practice that captured the spirit of shalom to them. Here are a few student accounts:
- I focused on the [part of] shalom that included peace with the land…. For a day, I decided to just use things from my garden to eat. I “rested” from store-bought things …It was surprisingly so easy and made me realize we don’t really need all these extra things that cause all these problems in supply and demand.
- I focused on the area of shalom including interior, personal peace. I was at our cafe/school, and I went to an empty upstairs room and just looked out the window. I prayed and was able to look at the beautiful view. I took a rest from work and contact with people. I also disconnected with technology…It felt great, just being able to rest in God’s presence
- I chose to focus on shalom pertaining to peace with God…. I took 30 minutes to rest and pray about the different aspects of my life that were troubling me.
After working through shalom with students, I had the chance to explore shalom with our faculty as well. We met together and broke into small groups to discuss three aspects of shalom that might appear in our courses:
First, faculty shared with each other ways their subject matter academically highlights shalom. One faculty member talked about the bridge-building aspect of shalom that happens in her course. She said, “teaching a foreign language gives us the opportunity to eliminate judgment and redirect it to inquiry. [Instead of saying] “those people are weird for doing that” [I teach] “why do those groups of people do that?”.
Second, faculty considered where students encounter shalom in their courses not just academically, but also personally. One teacher shared the connection between shalom and concept mastery. He observed that when we as educators celebrate “when students get an idea, [they experience] an elevated sense of [interior] shalom” and that this can be a growing and healing experience.
Finally, teachers had the chance to consider where their courses might be instructing students about shalom by presenting its opposite. Sometimes when we highlight for students breaches of shalom (incompleteness, discord, disharmony, disintegration, or even violence) it helps them to grasp the importance of the reconciling work God is doing in the world. Regarding this, one teacher shared, “In English we can learn about relationships that are not exhibiting shalom and encourage kids to not pursue those kinds of relationships for their future”.
As a faith community, we celebrate that Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6) and that still has all kinds of implications for how we live today. But how much more meaning are we able to appreciate when we observe that what Isaiah was anticipating was a prince of shalom, this once and forever bearer of completeness, perfection and so: peace. As we seek Jesus’ heart in our time, let’s remember to consider his context. Because when we do, sometimes, we find that this ancient wisdom from thousands of years ago can suddenly be found everywhere—even from a student’s window or in a French teacher’s class.