All posts by Jon Swanson

About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

Disciples are not (merely) amused.

Jesus taught a lot during the last week of his life, the part before the Crucifixion. Mark and Matthew and John and Luke all devote many column inches to this teaching.

And most of them report on the responses.

There seem to be two dominant themes: delight and destruction.

The crowds, the people, the masses, are delighted. The way Jesus carries himself in the arguments. The way Jesus takes on the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the teachers of the law. The way Jesus tells stories.

Everyone was delighted.

Except the leaders, of course. They wanted his influence destroyed. They were determined to trap him, to get rid of him, to kill him. They feared what the crowds would do, feared for their own power. They planned and plotted and had delight of their own when Judas arrived, ready to betray Jesus.

The point of his teaching, however, was neither delight nor destruction. He was seeking disciples, people who would obey what he taught.

In the middle of the week Jesus has a conversation that delights him. A man asks Jesus about what he really thinks. It’s not a trap, it’s an invitation to teach. And so Jesus does.

 “The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

doorThe best response to Holy Week is not emotional, though that is appropriate. Delight in the teaching, contriteness over betrayal, sadness in the dying – all these make sense. But the response that Jesus invited and affirmed was much deeper.

Do these things.

Space to pray.

Once upon a time, Jesus turned over tables. Or maybe twice. He walked into the courtyard of the temple, the place where the women and gentiles could go. There were people making change for travelers, people selling doves to those who would rather not bring them from home. And Jesus knocks over the tables. People scramble to pick up the coins rolling across the paving stones. Doves fly away.

IMG_0164Radical Jesus, taking on the status quo, sticking it to the hierarchy, taking on commercialism. It’s the perfect Jesus for our cynicism. It’s the perfect Jesus for iconoclasts. It’s the perfect Jesus for young people fed up with how other people do church. It’s the perfect Jesus for people who don’t want singers to sell CDs and books from tables in the hallway of the church.

Until he speaks.

“This place is for prayer,” he says. “All nations can pray here.”

It was a reference familiar to those who knew such things. He was quoting Isaiah, who was quoting God. It was a message assuring faithful outcasts they would find a place of worship, prepared by God.

On this day, Jesus is not endorsing violence or calling for insurrection or saying, “attack the hypocrites.” He is clearing space for prayer. After the turmoil was cleared away, people did.

Including a woman Jesus saw the next day. She put two coins in the collection box. The last two coins she had. But her offering, according to Jesus, was enough.

She didn’t need money changers. She couldn’t afford a dove. She didn’t need anything but space to pray.

By his actions in the temple those two days, and then on the cross at the end of the week, Jesus seems committed to more than social anarchy.

He’s creating space for conversation with God.


I’m considering a new series of videos. Here’s the pilot: The Bible for my Friends.


Not what you expected.

Bartimaeus awoke at dawn, eyes wide open.

IMG_0955From the doorway where he slept, deep in the side streets of Jerusalem, the little patch of pink-tinged clouds in dusty blue sky shocked his brain. He’d never seen dawn.

He shut his eyes. He didn’t know where he was.

He’d been seeing for less than a day. His ears made sense of things. His eyes still confused him. Faces were different than voices, so much color, so much variety. And he speed. His legs didn’t understand moving with confidence. He had held his hands out yesterday while walking with the crowd to Jerusalem, and realized that no one else did. Cheering for Jesus made sense, yesterday. Then the crowd melted into Jerusalem and Bartimaeus was lost.

He shivered. He didn’t have a cloak anymore. In the rush from Jericho, he lost his. Left it when he followed Jesus.

Bartimaeus thought back.

He heard people talking about Jesus. They seemed to be gathering to wait for him. He heard them curse him as they as they stumbled over his feet. A crowd is a dangerous place for a blind beggar sitting by the road.

He could tell Jesus was close. He yelled, as loud as he could, from the bottom of the crowd. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” He kept yelling. Jesus called him.

“What do you want from me,” Jesus asked.

“Rabbi,” Bartimeus said. “I want to see.”

He saw.

Jesus told him to go, but Bartimaeus followed him. To Jerusalem. To this first dawn.

When you get what you want from Jesus, you lose your bearings. When you get what you want from Jesus, a healed relationship, a sense of calling, vision, things aren’t familiar.

Then Bartimaeus heard Jesus’ voice. He opened his eyes again. And followed.


From Mark 10

Don’t try this alone.

I was driving to work, listening to Philip Yancey and Lee Warren conversing on Lee’s podcast. Phil’s working on a memoir. So I started thinking about my own memoir. I thought, “What have I accomplished in the last ten years?” And of course, I mean, what have I accomplished that matters.

The first thing that I wrote as I was driving was “small group.” We have a group of friends that we could call if our life collapsed. We have a group of people we can meet for supper, because we do it almost every Saturday night. We’ve watched family deaths, a wedding, a birth, hospitalizations. We’ve talked about the previous Sunday’s sermons for five years.

I smiled. If the only thing I’ve been part of in the last decade is making Saturday feel empty if we aren’t with our group, I’m pretty pleased.

I kept listening to the conversation. The last question Lee asked was, “What one piece of advice can you offer to someone to help tomorrow be better than today.”

Phil talked about a book which starts, “Life is difficult.” He talked about the fine print warnings in car ads, which read, “Profession driver, don’t try this at home.” He said, “Because it is difficult, life should have a label like that.” He said it should read, “Don’t try this alone.”

rob and meNow I laughed. The very thing I had just realized mattered so much was the thing Yancey identified as essential. He’s got credibility. He’s wrestled with questions about pain and God and suffering for thirty years of books.

I’m not a relational person. I’m introverted and more task-oriented than I let on. But I know that I need to be with people, that that it is in our love for each other that we obey Jesus.

I hope you find some together time this weekend. Because we can’t do this alone.


Here’s more about our sabbath group.

Bowling stories.

I put my bowling ball in the dumpster.

Goodwill doesn’t take bowling balls.

It’s monogrammed. It was custom drilled.

But the initials aren’t mine. The hand it was customized for wasn’t mine.

I’ve had this bowling ball for thirty years or so. I’ve used it twenty times in those years. It was always too heavy. It’s a 16-pound ball. The grip was always off a little. I often wanted to think about trying a different ball, but this one was mine.

I don’t know where I got it. It was someone else’s trash or garage sale. At most I spent fifty cents for it. And once I paid the price, I carried the weight.

A couple years ago I decided to get rid of it. That’s how I found out that Goodwill doesn’t take bowling balls. One day I thought, “I wonder what it would be like to roll a bowling ball down the long center hallway at our church.” So I took it to work. It’s fun. A couple other people tried it and laughed. Because no one ever rolls a bowling ball down the hallway at church.

Even though I wasn’t a good bowler, even though you can use bowling balls for free, even though it didn’t fit, I kept it. I made it part of the quirky part of my identity, or better, it was part of what made my identity quirky.

IMG_1293But I put the bowling ball in the dumpster. Because carrying the weight of the story, the oddness, the salvage, the space under my desk, finally proved too much. I need to let go of some of the objects, some of the stories. Because in my world, everything has a story.

You can’t write new stories if the old ones are always having to be told. And some old stories aren’t worth telling.

I’d rather tell stories, for example, of the rock from the floor of the church in the dump in Korah, or the mug of family photos, or the map of the world. I’d rather tell stories of preparing to run faster by letting go of the things that distract us.

I’d rather be the person that let go of the bowling ball for the sake of things that matter more.


More on throwing away and Hebrews 12: Applied minimalism.