It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for January 16.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God (Psalm 14:2)

Genesis 32:13-34:31
Jacob had left home because of fear of his brother's retribution. He's not over that fear yet. Returning home, Jacob sent his wives and children on ahead, sent them with everything he owned, but he stayed behind for the night, stayed alone.  But, not alone, after all. A man wrestled with him until daybreak.

Before he enters his homeland again, a man wrestles with him. This image evokes the memory of Jacob and Esau wrestling in the womb. Further, it evokes images of metaphorical wrestling matches--Jacob getting his brother to trade his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup and later tricking his father into giving him the blessing that would have gone to Esau as the elder son. He has also engaged in metaphorical wrestling matches with his father-in-law Laban.

James Kugel reminds us that the name, Jacob, sounds like the Hebrew word for "he struggles." He then points out that although his new name, Israel, can be translated as "God rules," it also could mean "God struggles."

Who is Jacob wrestling with this time? Who has he been wrestling with all along?

When Jacob wrestled Esau's blessing away from Isaac, he then went into exile for a couple of decades. Blessings can carry costs.

We're told in verse 24-25, that a man struggles with Jacob. Yet, in verse 30, Jacob says that he has seen God face to face? Who was he struggling with? Is it possible to wrestle with anyone without that struggle being with God?

How much has Jacob changed because of each of his wrestling matches? He walks away from this match, limping. Will he continue to limp?

When the brothers met, Esau seemed to want reconciliation, but Jacob decided not to return home. 

How much of this is about the man Israel and how much about the nation Israel? How much is about us?

When Dinah is raped by a powerful man who then decides he wants to marry her, Jacob does nothing. He waits for his sons to handle the consequences. They, through a trick, are able to kill all the males of the city. They take everything, flocks, herds, donkeys, children, and wives. I don't know how to comment on this part of Jacob's story. 

Matthew 11:7-30
"You've ignored all the cues. You don't respond to our joy or our sorrow." It's hard too imagine how someone could be less interested or less impressed than to be oblivious to happiness or mourning. 

 "What does it take to convince you?" Jesus is asking. "You criticized John for being too religious and Jesus for not being religious enough." Current church members could compile a similar list. Evangelism is and always has been difficult. 

Matthew does not intend for us to believe the accusations that John had a demon or that Jesus was a drunkard. Does he want us to believe the third accusation--that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners? (with thanks to Ronald J. Allen & Clark M. Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews.)

Matthew uses two metaphors to describe Jesus: Son of Man and Wisdom.

Son of Man: Jesus had responded to a potential follower by saying, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," (Matthew 8:20). Jesus will use this term again to describe the one who will come in glory and judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-46). According to the notes in the New Interpreters' Study Bible, Son of Man can refer to a human being (Ezekiel 2) or to a heavenly figure who rules (Daniel 7:13-14).

Wisdom: Hard to find, expensive to obtain, God knows where it is, Job 28:12-28. Wisdom calls out to us wherever we go. Wisdom was the first creation of God. Proverbs 8.

I've been reading Celia Deutsch's essay in A Feminist Companion to Matthew, edited by Amy-Jill Levine, in which she discusses Wisdom Christology. I'm interpreting that phrase to mean that Matthew's readers would recognize the attributes of Wisdom from their access to Job and Proverbs, as well as to Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon.

Deutsch points out parallels to the invitation, "Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my fruits. ..." Sirach 24:19-22 and to the image of the yoke, "Put your feet into her (Lady Wisdom) fetters, and your neck into our collar (Sirach 6:25).

She asserts that Matthew's description of Jesus as a teacher of apocalyptic mysteries and an authoritative interpreter of Torah indicate that his teachings are superior to that of his usual opponents in this Gospel, the ubiquitous scribes and Pharisees (pp. 98-100).

Although I studied Greek in seminary, I am not a scholar. But, I do own books--and, from time to time, read them. Here's what I learned today about the word "psuche" that is translated as "souls" in Matthew 11:29:

As a verb, "psuche" means breathe or blow. As a noun, it means breath, that is, the vital force that animates the body and shows itself in breathing. Another word that we translate as breath is "pneuma." Sometimes the two terms are used indiscriminately but sometimes not. In 1 Thessalonians, pneuma is the rational part of man (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).

When I read "rest for your souls," I automatically think of after-life. Was Matthew thinking this way? Or was he talking about an immediate comfort? Or both?

Psalm 14
Most of the psalms are prayers addressed to God. Psalm 14, however, is a commentary on the sad state of humankind. 
They are all fools.
They behave as if they don't believe that God exists.
None of them do what they should.
Shouldn't they be afraid?
And, this psalm reminds us that David is not the only one who acts as if he doesn't believe in the Lord. The psalmist cries out, "Don't they see? Aren't they afraid? Don't they realize whose side God is on?" and then reminds us that even if we neglect the poor, the Lord will not. Someday, things will be the way God wants them to be.

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website Timeless Psalms.

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