Week 1: Feeling the pain
People are feeling a lot of pain in these tight economic times, and they worry about their families and their lives. I always say, “Theology begins where the pain is.” We have to begin there with this Bible study and help people realize they are not alone in what they feel.
Week 2: Reading from the street
Location matters when you read the Bible. The “street” means not only the literal streets as people gather to draw attention to the plight of the struggling middle class and the poor, but also the place where you take a stand with compassion and recognize that we need to take seriously Jesus’ teaching that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Reading the Bible from that perspective helps us gain insight into the text. Many Americans have led the way in reading the Bible this way from the time of the Social Gospel, to the Civil Rights movement, to abused women and the Farm Worker movement.
Week 3: Temptation
Greed is real and the temptation to be greedy is real. What we know about temptation we know from how Jesus was tempted. The biggest temptation, the trump card of the Devil, that is the Tempter, is always power, the power to “lord” it over others. Early Christian theologians taught that the way you defeat the Devil is not to play; the Devil will then overreach and expose his true motives which can then be resisted.
Week 4: Economic Plan
Jesus paid attention to what people did with their money, and he threw the moneychangers out of the Temple, accusing them of making it a “Den of Thieves.” Jesus announced his ministry as the beginning of a “Year of the Lord’s Favor,” that is, the biblical Jubilee year. The Jubilee is a time when the Jewish people tried to forgive debt and make their society more just and equitable. This is the “economic plan” of Jesus.
Week 5: Work and Human Dignity
Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee to recruit fishermen to be his disciples because the fishing industry was being wrecked by the greedy Romans. These were the people who would “get” that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar were like day and night. The dignity of work is an important part of being in the image of God because it is a way we are, according to Pope John Paul II, “co-creators” with God. Respect for workers, including safe conditions, good wages, health care and a 40-hour week not only honors people but honors God who made them.
Week 6: Women and Power
Mary of Magdala, often called Mary Magdalene, was one of Jesus’ most famous followers. He healed her and she supported his movement out of her means. She was last at the cross and first at the tomb. She called Jesus her “teacher.” She went on to become a missionary according to extra-biblical sources. But the early medieval church wrecked her reputation, misidentifying her as a prostitute. Sexual shaming is a way women are kept out of leadership today, both in religion and society. Respect for women’s leadership was one of the hallmarks of Jesus ministry.
Week 7: Parables as Reversals
Jesus taught in Parables and that is very significant. Parables are a kind of “street theatre” where there is a sudden reversal of expectations. In this week, Bible study participants will be asked to write some parables and even act them out.
Week 8: Crucifixion and Apocalypse Now
Jesus was crucified by the Romans, with the collaboration of Jewish temple elites. This was a violent and cruel death, and typical of the Romans. The meaning of the crucifixion is not that “God sent Jesus to die,” but that God sent Jesus to teach and minister, and his message was so challenging to the political and religious authorities that they killed him. The revelation of the meaning of salvation is Jesus’ teaching is how we “follow him,” that is, how we do what he did and care for the poor, the outcast, women, and all those who were being crushed by the powerful of his time.