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.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reflections on the readings for January 5

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing (Psalm 5:1).

Reflection on Genesis 11:1-13:4

The first ten chapters of Genesis tell of God's gifts to us humans and what we do with them and how God responds.

In the beginning, God gave us a garden, companionship, and food. God said not to do this one thing, but that's what we did. God sent them out of the garden but out there they were going to be able to obtain food and to have families. Moreover, God replaced their fig leaf loincloths with fur coats.

Next, as we learned to grow crops and tend sheep, jealousy and violence erupted. God responded by protecting the malefactor from the retribution that we might assert that he had deserved.

Families grew and spread out, but so did the wickedness--to the extent that the Lord regretted even having populated the earth anyway.

But, instead of wiping out the human race entirely, God chose the moral man to begin the project anew. This worked for a while. 

Noah's son's families expanded and spread out into many lands. They began to be prideful of their accomplishments. They erected a tower with its top in the sky to make a name for themselves. God scattered them over the earth.

I think I had usually focused on 11:4 in interpreting this passage as meaning that we humans tend to think that we can accomplish anything we want by ourselves--by ourselves meaning without the actions of the Lord.  Or, sometimes, I would read the passage as being primarily the rationale for why different nations had different languages.

I still hold both those but now after reading Allen & Williamson, can add another: It  was written by the Priestly sources as an indictment of the Babylonians. The tower then refers to the literal tower that Babylon had built. The survivors of exile were speaking against any other nation that would try to be more powerful than God. 

Then, in Chapter 12, God once again reached out, choosing Abraham to start things over, once more, "I will bless you, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Abraham's predecessors had done it wrong, but he was to do it right.

Abraham had some work to do, "Go to the place that I will show you."

We can remember and celebrate Abraham's call and his response. And we can metaphorize it, to go where the Lord is showing us, to accept the Lord's blessing, and to do what the Lord commands.

Psalm 5:1-12

Reflection on Matthew 5:1-26

"Blessed are" begins a list of sentences. "Blessed" may be translated as "joyful" or "deeply happy." Look at both words--blessed and are. Those who are poor in spirit, or who mourn, or who are meek--they are--not some day will be--they are blessed.

The reason for their joy does lie in the future--they will be comforted and inherit the earth, but still in the present tense is "theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

As I look back over these assertions of happiness made by Christ, I wonder at my own attitude. Do I see the possibility of blessedness for the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek? And, if I can do so, do I then wonder at what is being given up by those who are not poor in spirit or do not mourn or are not meek?

Sometimes I interpret this passage along the lines of "Since bad things do happen to good and bad people alike through their own doing and sometimes despite of their doing everything right, they can be comforted in knowing that God is with them and will support them through their difficulties. And, sometimes, I interpret it to mean that as long as I think that I am in total charge of my happiness and don't need God's help, then I am by that decision forsaking long-term happiness.

Thomas Long, in his commentary on Matthew, published by Westminster, says:
The church of Jesus Christ sees its life in two frames of reference. First, it sees what everyone else sees, too--the world of human history, a world of struggle in which the works and serves and lives out its mission. Based on the evidence from this world alone, there is little reason for hope or joy. War follows upon war, might makes right, and the innocent suffer every day.

But the church also possesses a second frame of reference. It sees what others do not see, that God is at work in this world even today and will surely bring all creation to a time of peace and rejoicing. This hoped-for time is the kingdom of heaven. For the world, the kingdom is a sure future; for the faithful, the kingdom is a present reality, giving strength and encouragement to its work.
As I look at the list of those who are blessed, I see some categories that we might strive for--hungering and thirsting for righteousness or peacemaker, for example--and some that would be thrust upon us. But, in all cases, we receive the blessing.

Jesus gives two metaphors to describe disciples--salt and light.

Why salt? What characteristics of salt are displayed in discipleship? Salt preserves, keeps, protects. And, salt improves the taste of something. Was Jesus saying that the church was to do these things?

"You are salt," he said. Then he went on to remind them that if salt didn't perform the functions it was intended for, then is was not of any use and would be thrown out.

Is the church--or substitute "your congregation"--preserving, keeping, and protecting, or, making things better (Note: go back and read verses 1-12 to aid in answering)?

"You are the light of the world," he said. Light can't serve its purpose as light if it is covered up. Again look at your congregation--can anybody tell what good you are doing? And (looking at verse 16), what do they learn from looking at the results? Do they see the good works you are doing and from them, learn more about God?

Jesus reminds them that Scripture had and has authority and we are to be held responsible for following it. Thomas Long in his commentary on Matthew suggests that at this point we read ahead to Matthew 12. As he puts it, Jesus is calling on them to look at the heart of the commandments rather than the surface.

If we ever think that Christianity is about "me and Jesus" or "having a personal relationship with Jesus" or something like that, we need to go back and read Matthew 5 again. Jesus emphasized that we were supposed to think about things like "me and my brother or sister" and "having a right relationship with them."

Another correction to our thought would be to quit saying things that imply that Old Testament laws are repealed or that the New Testament is so radically different from the Old that we can just forget the Old part. Jesus didn't forget it, and neither should we.

"You have heard it said," Jesus began, "you shall not murder." That law is still in effect. But, then he went on to include a lot of other behaviors that we might not have interpreted as falling under the heading of murder: being angry or calling somebody a fool. Just as the Ten Commandments were intended to help the escaping slaves to learn how to live together as God's people in the land promised to them, they still are applicable to us escaping the prison of our fears, hatreds, and resentments so we can move on to the kind of relationships that will make life better.

Besides increasing the definition of what we are not supposed to do, Jesus also provided an alternative: reconciliation.

Righteousness is not superficial. Righteousness is following the commands of the Lord--not just parading around acting like we are, but really, really following them. Not trying to look better than some other religious person, but to live out their intention.

Thomas Long, in his commentary on Matthew, expresses it this way:
...a righteousness that seeks to be ever expressive of the merciful, forgiving, reconciling will of God that likes at the center of the law.

Proverbs 1:24-38
Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, 25and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, 27when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. [Common English Bible]

Prayer for Today: Lord, we have heard your reminders of what you consider important. Help us now to heed your word. Help us to find our happiness in your love, your protection, your mercy. Stir us to be loving, protective, and merciful ourselves. Amen.

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