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.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reflection on readings for May 5

O give thanks to the Lord,
call on the name of the Lord....
Lord, we seek you and your strength; 
we seek your presence continually.
(adapted from Psalm 105:1, 4)

Judges 21:1-25
Having banded together to battle against the Benjamites, defeated them soundly, and destroyed their towns, the other Israelites now became concerned that the tribe would be lost. They devise a bizarre and appalling plot to restore the tribe. After all, as the author of Judges keeps repeating, "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes."

Ruth 1:1-22
The famine in Judah had driven Elimelech and his family to Moab. To Moab? Moab, the enemy of the Israelites as they entered into the Promised Land. Moab's king, Balak, was the one who hired Balaam to curse them (although that didn't work out the way Balak wanted; see Numbers 22-24.) After settlement, Moab was still their enemy. Under King Eglon, Moab controlled the Israelites for eighteen years (see Judges 3 for how this ended.)

Elimelech took his family to Moab. The place that has been your enemy has become your refuge. His sons married wives from Moab. Enemies become rescuers. Enemies become relatives.

Elimelech and his two sons die. His wife realizes that she has to go back to Judah. Her Moab family are daughters, and it is sons who have the responsibility to care for widows. She advises her widowed daughters-in-law to return to their families where they will have a chance of getting remarried.

One takes her advice. The other, Ruth, does not.

Ruth, the Moabite, refuses to abandon her mother-in-law even if that means she will have to go to a country that has been her country's enemy, even if it means giving up her family.

Phyllis Trible points out that only Abraham had made this radical a move.

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament, stress the importance of covenant. Having made covenant with her husband, Ruth has now extended covenant to her mother-in-law and to what is her mother-in-law's. They ask:
What would it take for today's congregation to make a Ruth-like commitment to the Naomis of the world?
John 4:4-42
The antipathy between Jews and Samaritans extended back centuries in time. They were still distrustful of each other because of something that had happened, something that someone had done years and years ago. Yes, we can think of many modern day examples.

Jesus, a Jew, is traveling through Samaria. John reminds us that at one time Samaria was the home of Jesus' ancestors, a place near a plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

When a Samaritan woman approaches the well where he is sitting, Jesus asks her for a drink. She responds by commenting on how strange such a request is. Jesus answers her, "If you knew who was asking for this water, you would have been the one doing the asking, and you would have been asking for living water. And he would have given it to you."

She points out some apparent discrepancies in his assertion. "You don't have a bucket, and this well is deep. How are you going to get this living water?"

He cuts through her objections. "Everybody who drinks water from this well is going to get thirsty again. I'm talking about a different kind of water. Water that lasts. Spring water, gushing up to eternal life."

She wants this water.

Note from Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Gospels: The phrase "living water" is used to speak of God in Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; salvation in Ezekiel 47:9 and Zechariah 14:8, and wisdom in Proverbs 13:14 and 18:4.

Boring and Craddock in The People's New Testament Commentary, also point out the use of this phrase in Scriptures to refer to God and the salvation God gives. They point out whereas in John, the living water is Jesus himself, mediated by the Spirit (7:37-39).

The Samaritan woman raises the question of where is the right place to worship. For her, the answer had been the mountain that had been the worship site for her people through history. She had understood Jesus to claim that Jerusalem was the appropriate place.

Jesus said to her that neither of the above was the place (although he did assert that salvation is from the Jews). [Remember that at the time of their discussion, the Samaritan temple would have been long gone, and by the time John's Gospel was written, the temple in Jerusalem would have been destroyed.]

The place is not the determinant. God comes looking for true worshipers.

But the time is important. "The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Gather in spirit and truth."

The Messiah has come, is come, will come.

He then told the woman, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." She responded, "I know that Messiah is coming. when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

Even if those WWJD bracelets had been popular at the time, his disciples would not have supposed that talking to a woman would be the answer to that question. John's gospel tells us that they were astonished that he was speaking with a woman. I'm pausing here to wonder whose association with Jesus would be astonishing to us modern-day disciples. Who do we think Jesus would be likely to hang out with? Who not? Why not?

Back to the passage--She preached, but with some uncertainty. Yet, the people who heard her wanted to know more. They left what they were doing to make their way to the one she thought might be the Messiah but wasn't sure.

Meanwhile, the disciples, the ones closest to him, wanted him to eat something. Just as he used the word "water" to mean water and more than water, he uses the word "food": "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."

Another metaphor--harvest. "Look around, the fields are ripe for harvesting." At the conclusion of our worship service one Sunday, we went outside to the steps to receive the benediction. As we few stood there, we could see many cars going by on the street, a couple of cyclers riding by, and even some pedestrians. I wondered what they were thinking as they saw us there, and if they would want to come inside some time--and how we might figure out how to invite them to.

And whatever we do or whenever we do it, someone has already done the preparatory work.

She had been an unlikely choice for evangelist--a woman when women weren't supposed to do public things and a member of an ethic group that was considered not to be one that they would have anything to do with anyway. Yet, having met Jesus, she listened to him, and she believed him enough to go around telling other people what she had heard. And many of them believed in him because of her testimony. Because they believed, they invited Jesus to stay with them. And many more believed because of his word.

We don't have to do all the work ourselves. We don't have to do all the proving and convincing. We can trust that the word of Jesus is still convincing. Yet, we do need to do some work, some telling what we have heard, what we have experienced. Let us remember that we don't even have to be fully convinced in order to be convincing.

Psalm 105:1-15
Although Psalm 105 is a litany of praise for God's goodness of Israel, we all can appropriate its words to apply to our situations.

In our daily prayers as we thank God for what we already have and also ask for even more gifts, we may utilize the commands in this psalm as a checklist:
Give thanks to the Lord.
Tell people what God has done for you.
Seek the Lord.
Seek the Lord continually.
Remember what God has done for you.
Proverbs 14:25
A truthful witness saves lives,
but one who utters lies is a betrayer.

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

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