Through the Bible in a Year – June 17

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ch 25-26; Mat 1; Psalm 62-63

Our scheme sadly does not take us through all four gospels twice. So we need to pay close attention now to Matthew which we open today. In orthodox churches, there is Always a reading from one of the four gospels. Many of us belong to churches where we stand as the gospelis read – often from amongst the people – to remind us that we are hearing the words of of our Lord.

Jesus as we shall see over the next few days, places great emphasis on listening to his words and doing them. In a sense this is the heart of the Scriptures. These words do not come to us through human agency, except that of the Word made flesh. They are the very words of the Second person of the Trinity. These words are life to us.

And Matthew is at pains to point this out – we begin with one of two genealogies of Jesus – this one dates points us back to Abraham – the one who is the father of the faithful – and also includes the Royal line in the initial inscription. He is ‘Jesus, the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham’

Unlike Luke, Matthew focuses on Joseph in the story of Jesus’ birth – ‘Joseph the husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born’. All the way through the genealogy, Matthew draws in seemingly peripheral figures, or outsiders, and in a sense this is true also of Joseph. His role is portrayed as simply obedience – an overshadowing of Mary.

In Catholic tradition, Mary is sometimes understood in terms of the Ark of the Covenant – the God bearer. Perhaps we might understand Joseph as the cherubim that overshadow the ark?

Also of course we have the famous text from Isaiah. ‘Behold – a virgin shall conceive and bear a son’. Matthew, one who writes in Greek takes his text from the Septuagint, the Greek text, rather than the Hebrew, or at least the Hebrew as we have it. Actually the Greek is the oldest extant text – our earliest copies of the Hebrew text date from much much later. The Hebrew text has ‘a young woman shall conceive (Isaiah 7:14). It is possible but not proven, that in an effort to quieten the Christian apologists, the Hebrew text was changed, and that in the original it did say virgin.

Finally it is important to note that ‘God is with us’ – in the Isaiah text is freighted with threat as well as promise. When God comes to his people to be amongst them, it is as King, as Judge. Joseph knows the One who commands and goes about His business promptly. However much contemporary tellings of this story make of ‘what it must have been like for Joseph’ -the scriptures only reveal a faithful child of Abraham, who like father Abraham goes in response to his Word (cf Genesis 12:1-3)

Through the Bible in a year – January 19

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 39-40; John 15; Psalm 26-27

Through our reading in John today, we encounter a theme of great significance. Jesus’, the one who did not trust himself to men, for he knew what was in them – identifies himself with his church, the gathered disciples. The nature of that identification is of unimaginable depth – that which will cause Paul to exclaim, NOTHING will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The surety of this identification is found in the eternal security of Jesus’ identification with the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”

Out of this unalterable eternal Love that is God, springs Life in the True vine. The vine, of old the symbol of God’s life bearing fruit amongst his people, the Kingdom. As we read the story of God’s people in Genesis, of the travails of Jacob’s offspring, wondering how on Earth God will work salvation through such unlikely material, we must needs hear the words of Christ – “I am the true vine . . . I am the true vine” – a constant flow of life giving water. Jesus identifies with Israel and in speaking to the disciples, the church. And this identification is profound. I am the vine, you are the branches. I am Life! I am Your Life!

And that identification of Christ with the disciples draws them into all it means to be his – to be so caught up in Him that we are caught up in what he is doing, and all that that means. His life, his Joy, his suffering. Not only does Christ draw us into his self identification with the Father, now also the world turns its gaze upon the disciples and sees Christ “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you . . . Whoever hates me, hates my Father also”

The hatred of the world for God, for Christ and for his people is not a comfortable one for us to sit with. Either we have known it and the pain of it – or else we perhaps cannot conceive how it is possible. The Good News is not universally welcomed – we must be wary of carving ourselves another gospel, which fits the wisdom of the world, lest we find ourselves removed from the vine, as our lives produce not the fruit of the Kingdom of Christ, but the fruit of the Prince of this world.

Our Genesis story, reveals some of this in its working out.  ‘The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man’ Yet in the next minute all turns to dust and he finds himself in prison, and what is more having interpreted the dream of the cup bearer, forgotten. The cup bearer does well in the terms of the world – he forgets the one who has done well in the story of God’s life. ‘How is it’, Scripture often asks, ‘that we may do good and yet suffer so’. The answer given plainly by Jesus, the man who is crucified in revealing the perfect will of God, and in the story of Joseph, is that there Is evil in the world which infects the human heart and so seeks to destroy life. ‘They hated the light . . .’

This is the hatred of which Jesus speaks [Jn 7:7] – the evil still at large in the world, in small petty ways, such as the action of Potiphar’s wife, and in large ways, wherein the human king takes it upon himself to be Lord of Life and Death over his servants. An evil which is revealed fully as the Light comes into the world, the one who comes only that they might have Life. This final revelation is at the Cross – brightest of lights – the Son of man is glorified – ‘truly they hated me without cause’ Hate drawn out – hate exposed – that we might know the Light and Live in it.

Through the Bible in a Year – January 18

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 37-38; John 14; Psalm 25

Psalm 25 is perhaps one of the most beautiful Psalms of the devoted heart – the heart of a Saint. Which is what we are – yet we flee from the thought. How might we truly embrace that which Christ died and lives to make us?

Early in the Genesis story we were introduced to the grandeur and seriousness of human existence. Something which our age has little time for – we are too rushed to allow our Lives to flourish – always transplanted from place to place, thought to thought, Experience to experience. Inattentive to the one who Attends. No way that we can hear and see that which is Beyond us and little time for those who would suppose there might be more.

Here in New Zealand it is said “we don’t like tall poppies” – they get cut off, don’t begin to imagine that you might amount to saintliness, remember your place. “Here comes the dreamer . . .”

How readily we tear Joseph down. In an age marked by suspicion of the text all we can see is the tall poppy. so he is accused of arrogance and pride – yet all the text tells us is that he has dreams and tells his brothers. It is interesting what our interpretation of the text tells us about ourselves, if we would but attend.

And again there are so many layers to this story as we read it against the whole sweep of Scripture. For they come against him at Dothan. Dothan where the Assyrians will one day come against another dreamer, Elisha. Another one whose eye is open to Salvation and who like Joseph prefigures the ‘one who is to come after’. Joseph will be taken to Egypt – he ‘dies’ so that his brothers might live, and immediately we read of Judah and Tamar. We read of a land shorn of tall poppies, a land where all there is is shame. Shameful acts Exposed. There is no longer a dreamer. There are no longer Saints in the land – no longer a vision of anything better. Famine will come and the people perish.

Joseph attends – he is faithful. He is taught by the Spirit, and led into saving truth for the benefit of all his kin.

“In a little while, the world will not see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live”

Dare we risk dreaming?

“Redeem Israel O God, out of all its troubles”