In the passages cited from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is sending out his disciples on a mission to spread his message. Pay attention to the details of what he tells them. What specifically does he command them to do as the central elements in their mission to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of heaven? What did Jesus say about “taking up collections” or engaging in other income-generating activities as part of delivering his message?
Even in the Gospels it was predicted that Christians would run up against authorities. Read the Matthaean passage predicting persecution of Jesus’ disciples by authorities. Which authorities? How are Christians advised to prepare their defense? Can Christians count on solidarity from their families? There is a statement in this passage indicating Jesus’ belief that the world will soon end. What is it? What type of accusations were made by the enemies of Christ’s disciples.
The passage on dissension is one of the few passages in the New Testament where divinely mandated violence and intra-familial conflict is mentioned. What is it? The passage on ‘renouncing self’ also preaches a gospel of coldness toward one’s family. Who is one supposed to renounce to follow Jesus?
There is a chapter in Luke 20 in which the enemies of Jesus try to get him in trouble with the Roman occupation. How did they do it? What was his escape strategy? What does this say about Christianity’s relation to Roman authorities? What dichotomy is implicitly established? Read the passage from chapters 18 and 19 of the Gospel of John, in which Jewish religious authorities bring Jesus before the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate.
Jewish laws of ritual purity prevented them from doing something they ordinary would have done in this circumstance. What did they refrain from doing? Why was the prohibition particularly important at this time?
The passage reveals elements of the relationship between local authorities and colonial occupiers. Why did not the Jewish authorities deal with Jesus on their own? They said that by Jewish law Jesus should die. To what law were they referring? Before execution, Roman soldiers often tortured prisoners. To what kind of pre-execution torture was Jesus subjected?
Religion can motivate people to submit to authority, and it can motivate people to revolt against authority. The New Testament has many passages which exhort Christians, not to revolt against Roman authority, but to obey Roman authority. What does Jesus say to Pilate that reflects this orientation? In light of the preceding, it was Roman soldiers, not Jewish authorities, who executed Jesus. Yet there is a tendency in Christian writings to exonerate the Romans and blame “the Jews”. What reported words of Jesus support this shifting of blame? How do we know that Pilate liked that particular statement of Jesus’? Local authorities, even colonial authorities with superior military force ruling over an angry population, often fall under pressures from locals. They rarely have totally free rein. In the text of John, how did the Jewish authorities pressure Pilate into doing something that he did not want to do? A politically “loaded” sign was posted by the Romans on top of Jesus’ cross. What did the sign call Jesus? How did the Romans make sure that passers-by could understand it?