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, May 2, 2014

Reflection on readings for May 2

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
All that is within me,
bless your holy name.
(adapted from Psalm 103:1)

Judges 15:1-16:31
Strong, brave, but also vengeful and cruel to animals.

His own people tried to keep him from attacking the Philistines who were at the time rulers over them. They tied him up planning to turn him over to the enemy. The Lord intervened, giving him the strength to break his bonds. Freed, he killed a thousand men. He then complained to the Lord that he was thirsty. God took care of that, too. Samson judged Israel for twenty years.

Samson fell in love with Delilah who tried over and over to tell him to tell her the secret of his strength so that the Philistines would be able to overcome him. He misled her a couple of times. She tried tying him up a couple of times, but his physical strength was too much for whatever she tried.

Finally he gave into her pleading and told her that the source of his strength was being raised as a Nazirite and that if his head were shaved, he would be as weak as anybody else. She informed the Philistines and got someone to cut Samson's hair while he was asleep.

The Philistines were able to overcome the weakened Samson and imprisoned him. But, they didn't think to keep cutting his hair.

John 2:1-25
A need exists. His mother thinks that he can take care of the problem. Although he tells her that it isn't his hour, she assumes that he is going to take charge.

Some commentators think that his initial response to her by addressing her as "woman" is negative; others assert that this address is not rude but more like saying "ma'am" or "madam."

In either case, Mary, the one who has known him all his life, just assumes that he is not only able to solve a problem but is going to.

Sideline: note the event is on the third day, an important day in the Bible.

Another sideline: significance of term "hour": In their commentary on John, Gail R. O'Day and Susan E. Hylen discuss the importance of the term "hour" in this gospel. Although sometimes it does mean hour, that is, what time it is, the noun, hour, is also used as a theological term to denote the eschatological time--last times.

He may have demurred initially, but with this first miracle, his hour has begun; and his disciples believed in him."

Points to consider:

John calls this miracle a sign. The sign, according to John, revealed his glory. According to O'Day and Hylen, the term glory is an Old Testament term for the manifestation of God's presence and power (e.g., Exodus 24:15-18; 34:29-35; 40:34-38).

The stewards knew there was some very good wine but they didn't know that it was there because of a miracle. The bridegroom knew less. Yet, the disciples knew that a miracle had occurred. And because of the miracle, they believed. Or, was it because they believed, that they recognized that the miracle had happened?

What about the stewards, the bridegroom, the guests? Were they ever able to see God's presence and power in their lives? How about me? How often do I recognize God's presence and power in my life?

Other signs in John include 2:12; 2:1; 6:26; 10:20.

Cleansing the Temple:
"The Passover of the Jews was near," John tells us, "and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." The first passover was celebrated when they were still in Egypt, as they gave thanks for the sparing of their own first sons and for the opportunity finally to escape slavery to the powerful Egypt (Exodus 12:1-20). They were instructed to continue to keep passover as a festival, holy convocation, a time of making offerings to the Lord (Numbers 28:16-25).

In Jesus' time, the Passover offerings were brought to the temple in Jerusalem. How jarring it must have been to have a holy day set aside to be grateful for liberation and to come to an occupied city to express their gratitude. Allen & Williamson, their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, write:
Anyone walking to Jerusalem from Bethany or Bethphage, crossing the Mount of Olives and looking at the temple from across the Kidron valley, would have seen the Fortress Antonia, home to the Roman Tenth Legion, standing next to the temple and Roman soldiers posted on the parapets of the fort and on top of the wall surrounding the temple complex. ...The people were in exile in the land of promise.
We still wrestle, or maybe we don't, with the need to recognize our gratitude to God and to give allegiance to the nation that governs our lives.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus accuses the sellers of turning the house of prayer into a den on robbers, combining references from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. In John's gospel, Jesus tells the ones selling the doves to stop making his Father's house a marketplace. This may be an allusion to Zachariah's prophecy of the final victory, a time when "there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day" (Zechariah 14:1-21).

We may be more comfortable with the ban on robbers than the ban on marketplace. Churches need to collect money for Sunday School material, youth trips, and meals. Some congregations interpret this rule that all commercial transactions must be kept out of the sanctuary but are allowed in hallways and vestibules.

When they saw him driving out the money changers and heard him castigating them, the disciples remembered the line from the Psalms, "Zeal for your house will consume me." Jesus was willing to challenge those who were using for their own benefit what was to be a place to worship.

Jesus said, "If you destroy this temple, in three days I will raise it up."

By the time that John's gospel was written, this temple had been destroyed by the Romans in retribution for a Jewish insurrection.

Christians began to understand Jesus' words as telling them that he, his living presence, would be the temple for them.

Psalm 103:1-22
The psalm begins "Bless the Lord, O my soul." The psalmist would not have been aware of our attempts to separate body and soul--the Hebrew word connotes the entire self. We might give ourselves the reminder, "Pay attention, devote your thinking and doing and feeling, recognize and be grateful to the giver of all that you have and will need."

The psalmist lists specific benefits given by the Lord: forgiveness, healing, redemption.

He needs to remember these gifts. And he needs to remember that the Lord will continue to satisfy his needs and to restore his strength.

But, it's not just about him. In verse 6, the psalmist reminds himself that the Lord is not focused on only this one individual: "The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed."

It is right for me to pray prayers of thanksgiving, and it is right for me to remember that the Lord cares for more than just me.

This psalm is a psalm of praise. It calls for praise and gives reasons why this praise is due.

But, who is the psalmist addressing?

The psalm begins "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me." When I pray this psalm, I am calling on myself to pray with my total being--not just part of me but all of me. And I repeat--I am telling me to do that.

John Goldingay in his Old Testament Theology, Volume 3, points out that this psalm assumes we can argue with ourselves and that we may need to stir ourselves up to that praise that is due the Lord.

These verses provide us with a reminder of what God does that makes us so thankful: forgives, heals, rescues, loves,  satisfies, vindicates.

God loves us. God loves us even when we don't deserve being loved. We tend to think of who we call the Old Testament God as harshly punishing wrongdoers, but as the commentary provided by The New Interpreters' Bible points out "The psalmist knows better."

God is merciful to us, granting us grace. God is slow to anger but doesn't hold on to that anger. We don't get what we deserve; that is, God doesn't repay us according to our sins.

God's love is too big to be measured by any terms that we humans can come up with. God's steadfast love is greater than the distance from heaven to earth.

And God can make us worthy of that love. "As far as the east is from the west, so far the Lord removes our transgressions from us."

Proverbs 14:17-19
One who is quick-tempered acts foolishly,
and the schemer is hated.
The simple are adorned with folly,
but the clever are crowned with knowledge.

Prayer for today: Pray Psalm 103.

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