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.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 14

Be exalted, O God,
above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.
(Psalm 57:11)

Numbers 21:1-22:20
Here are some people who have been rescued from a life of exclusion and degradation. They were slaves building someone else's pyramid, and now they're on their way to the Promised Land.

And they are complaining all the way. Not enough water. Not enough food. And they really miss Egypt.

Let us modern-day people pause for a minute here and review our own complaints on any typical day. How strange is it to desire whatever has become Egypt to us? to accept rule by that Egypt? During Lent, let us look back on what life was like and what life could be like.

Back to the wilderness wanderers: They complain to Moses about God. God punishes them. They repent. Moses intercedes for them with God. God relents and provides relief.

As they continue their journey, the King of the Amorites refuses to allow them to pass through his land.
Journey to Moab. They go to war against him and are victorious. Everything is working according to God's plan.

Balak, the ruler of the small kingdom of Moab, is frightened of the approaching Israelites: there's a lot of them and they have just won three battles.

Balak sends messengers to Balaam for help: Come curse these people. The elders of Moab and Midian take what is called "fees for divination" to Balaan.

Which are they asking him to do--curse of divine? What does he promise to do?

In either case, note that Balaam, a non-Israelite, maintains that he must first confer with the Lord. God visits Balaam. Balaam repeats Balak's message. God tells him not to curse the Isrealites. Balaam does what God says to do. The officials report the refusal to Balak.

Balak sends more officials to Balaam, a more prestigious group, and a promise of reward. Balak wants him to come to Moab and to curse the Israelites. Balaam says, "Money doesn't decide it for me. I can do only what God wants." That night, God tells Balaam to to to Balak; so, he does.

Luke 1:26-56
The elderly woman Elizabeth, long barren, becomes pregnant. Her young unmarried cousin, Mary, is told that she is going to have a baby. An unexpected message to unlikely recipients.

Mary is perplexed, “How can such a thing happen?”

Scriptures have many earlier references to unexpected births after a long wait; remember Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and, perhaps, Samson's mother, other women long barren who were married to prominent men.

God can and does respond to Sarah's question, "Is anything impossible for God?"

Mary's story is different in a couple of ways. She is very young. She is not married to someone important.

God can and does choose unexpected recipients for good news.

Long before, the Lord had promised David that his descendants forever would have their own place and not be disturbed by their enemies (2 Samuel 7:1-16).

Gabriel comes to Mary who is living in the land that King David ruled but is now ruled by Caesar in Rome. "Mary, you're going to have a son who will live out that promise made to David."

Imagine how the early Christian communities explained this promise to Gentile converts. How do we explain it to today's communities that have not traditionally been part of our church?

Gabriel, the messenger sent by God, tells her that her child is to be the Son of God. He adds the news that her cousin Elizabeth is six-months pregnant. Her fear and her questioning turn into acceptance, “Here am I. Let it be with me as the Lord wishes.”

God chose Mary. Mary accepted God’s choice.

Why did God choose Mary to bear the Savior? Why didn’t God pick a woman from one of the more powerful prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the Empire to be the birthplace of the Savior? Why not Rome, say?

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me.”

She then describes what God has already done. Notice how Mary’s song emphasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Questions: Who should be reassured by this song? Who should start worrying?

In verses 54-55, Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors. God’s promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever.

Question: How do these words sound to us Christians when we realize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor, as well?

Psalm 57:1-11

Proverbs 11:9-11

Prayer for Today: Pray the prayer by Mary given to us by Luke that we now call the Magnificat.

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