Through the Bible in a year – January 16

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 33-34; John 12: Psalm 22

John’s gospel takes a different track in so many ways, not least in how the Evangelist not only portrays the disciples, but also in how he introduces them into the text. In John, the Risen Christ is pre-eminent. This gospel trains us to look, and to Behold the One who Is from of old. Thus the disciples are far less to the fore than in the synoptic gospels. The focus of John is not on what it means to be a disciple – nowhere does Jesus enjoin us, ‘whoever would be my disciple . . .’ So it is with a horribly jarring note than in the midst of the revelation of Beauty, as Mary takes a pint of pure nard to anoint Jesus feet, there is also revealed human ugliness in the person of Judas. It is as if the Revelation of Jesus separates sheep from goats in his very being. And Judas, we are told was a thief.

Of all the commandments, the one that comes last is oft forgotten, but it is far from the least. Indeed the command ‘Thou shalt not covet” in many ways summarises all the Law. The story of the deceiver Jacob is from the first one of ‘Grasping’ – as footnotes in our bibles remind us, deceiver is figuratively ‘one who grasps the heel’. Deceit is used as a means of control and this is worked though in Jacob stealing the Blessing of Isaac and this seed continues to bear bad fruit in increasing quantities. Enmity between Jacob and Esau spreads to the wider family. Laban deceives Jacob and takes seven years service from him – Jacob grasps Laban’s flocks – and all this grasping at an increasing cost. Yesterday we read how Jacob coveted the blessing of the angel of the LORD and how he paid the price of his physical health. Now the brokenness spreads beyond the bounds of family. We read on to the terrible story of Dinah and how she is ‘taken’ by force, and then desired and how this covetous lust drives the Shechemites to a form of madness – thinking they can take all of Israel’s flocks, they pay a price in their flesh ‘receiving in their own persons the due penalty’. But Israel, grasping ever tighter, deceives all the more, and as before with Laban, and as will be with Pharaoh, those who were made to pay an unjust price plunder their hosts [note by the way, the back story of a false hospitality].

Thus it is that the King of Israel will cap all covetousness having been given everything by God, when he murders to ‘get’ Bathsheba.

It is no pretty picture. If you wanted to write a religious book, you would not tell these stories. It is sobering and humbling to hear these stories as the people of God – these stories humble us. And leave us with no pretensions that we can save ourselves. The one thing we cannot Grasp, the fruit of the tree of Life – Salvation. Grasping from the first we come in the light of these stories to the apprehension that we have ourselves sold our birthright.

Our situation is in the terms we have written for ourselves, hopeless. Yet One comes among us as Light. Not as a moral guide, not as Example, but Life. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified – that all who look to him might be saved.

Our Psalm today is of course the Prayer of Jesus from the cross. He becomes the only One in history to be forsaken of God, that we who chose so foolishly at first might never be so forsaken. He does not grasp, He Offers His life to God, and in so doing he offers his Life to us who have no life of our own.