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.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflections on readings for January 25

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power (Psalm 21:12)

Genesis 50:1-Exodus 2:1-10 
When their ancestor Joseph had had an important government job in Egypt, he had relocated his family there. They had prospered there for a while, but things are different for their descendants. As many rich countries do, the Egyptians thought that these immigrants were getting too much of a share of the country's resources. In Egypt's case, their xenophobia went so far that the king ruled that all Hebrew boys be killed at birth.

Three things strike me as I read Exodus 2. One is that the midwives' names are given and the king's is not. Often in the Bible, a woman will be described not by her name but by her relationship to her father or husband or son. For example, Moses' sister and mother and Pharaoh's daughter) are not named here (If we have read ahead in Moses' story we may assume that this sister is Miriam). Why are we told the names of the midwives? They don't appear later that I can remember.

Another point that interests me today is comparing the story of Moses with that of Jesus. They have several factors in common: an imperial ruler that threatens the life of this infant among other infants, the rescue of this child who will later rescue his people.

I am also struck by the realization that infants are still at risk. Memphis a few years ago had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation. The Shelby County health department made saving babies its goal. In the last year, the rate has dropped by a third. Things are getting better, but we still have work to do.

Matthew 16:13-17:9
Try not to think of all those cartoons you have seen of St. Peter at heaven's gate, letting some in and excluding others. For one thing, Matthew does not restrict the term, heaven, to mean a place somewhere else, at a time only after death. Rather, the kingdom of heaven is a more pious way of saying kingdom of God; that is, a place here and now, where God is in charge.

Peter has the keys; that is, Peter understand and can convey what kingdom life is like, what kingdom residents are like. Jesus built this church and entrusted Peter with it. (with thanks once again to Boring & Craddock's The People's New Testament Commentary)

When Peter was told what what was going to happen to Jesus, he rebuked Jesus. As Allen and Williamson put it, he turned from being the rock to being a stumbling block. (Preaching the Gospel without Blaming the Jews)

When the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promised them to him in exchange for being worshiped, Jesus told him to go away.

When Peter pleaded with Jesus to skip the suffering, Jesus called him Satan and said, "Get behind me." Boring and Craddock suggest that Jesus was not telling him to go away. Rather, Jesus was telling Peter, "Get in line behind me. You're next. If any of you want to be my followers, take up your cross. What is going to happen to me, you can expect to happen to you."

I wondered, as I thought about this passage, what modern-day evangelists were saying to potential converts. Then I remembered who he was talking to--his disciples, insiders, not the crowds, the uninitiated.

Jesus knew as much about cost as a CPA. "What you decide to do today will affect what happens to you tomorrow and the day after that and for time to come. Take care of the matters that God cares about, and God will take care of what should matter to you." 

Stanley Hauerwas  points out that "six days later" points us to the creation story so that Jesus' transfiguration is the seventh day thus bringing God's work to completion. Peter, James, and his brother John are there on the mountaintop with Jesus. They witness his transfiguration. They see him changed, and they see Moses and Elijah. Peter, as usual, speaks first. He offers to build three dwellings. We aren't told explicitly what Peter had in mind, but we can speculate that he wanted to keep Jesus on the mountaintop--usually a significant place in the Scriptures--along with those two important figures, Moses who had led the people out of slavery and brought them the law from the Lord and Isaiah the prophet who told them the Lord's word as they emerged from exile. 

As Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud, a voice speaks to them, repeating the words spoken at his baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased" and adds some words not heard at that time, "listen to him!"

The immediate reaction of the disciples is fear. They fall to the ground.

They have seen light, heard the voice, and they are scared.

Jesus responds to their fear by coming to them and touching them. He tells them to get up and not to be afraid. Thomas Long, in his excellent commentary on Matthew, reminds us that Jesus has touched the leper (8:3), the hand of the fevered woman (8:15), and the eyes of the blind men (9:29) and healed them. Thus, as Jesus can heal blindness, fever, and leprosy, so can he heal fear.

When they look up, Moses and Isaiah are not visible. It's time to leave the mountain. On the way down, Jesus tells them not to tell anybody about the vision they have witnessed until after the resurrection. 

Fred Craddock, in Preaching through the Christian Year A, explains: If the disciples understood who Jesus was only after the resurrection there certainly was no reason to assume the crowds could. After all, if the baptism and prediction of passion seemed a contradiction of the terms "Messiah" and "Son of God," how much more would the cross? The people are not ready for the Transfiguration story because the disciples are not ready to tell it.

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Prayer for Today: Lord, help us the church to be the rock, to use the keys to your kingdom wisely, to be willing to leave the mountain so that we too can reach out to those who need your healing power in their lives. Make us ready to share your story with people who have not heard it and people who have heard it told badly. Amen.

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