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”

Through the Bible in a year – January 17

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 35-36; John 13; Psalm 23-24

Yesterday we noted how John only draws the disciples into the narrative as he needs them. Always the focus is Christ and it perhaps comes as some surprise to us to realise that we have got so far through the gospel and only hear the words of Peter for a second time. “Lord where are you going”. Jesus’ reply to Peter speaks deeply of the significance of His work that he will accomplish in ‘doing the will of the one who sent me’. “Where I am going, you cannot now come”

John’s focus is not discipleship, for we cannot now go where Jesus goes – he is The Way. At this point in the narrative he has not yet gone. It is only the completed work of Christ, Crucified and Risen that makes possible the life of the disciple. He is the door. His Life must be as it were laid open. He does it all.

Peter is revealed as utterly helpless. He cannot even bring himself to allow Christ to serve him in washing his feet. He who as yet cannot be the passive recipient of service must learn that he can only receive Life. It is Gift. It cannot be grasped, the way to that tree was barred to the sons of Adam.  Most especially, here he cannot grasp what it is to be a disciple. He cannot live as a disciple. He cannot take up his cross, he cannot lay down his life. For as yet he has no life of his own to lay down. The life of the disciple of Jesus is the Life of the Risen Christ set free in the world at his resurrection. There is no other Life, there is not other Way, there is no other Truth. It is Gift. It cannot be grasped.

“You have laid a table before me . . .”

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.

Through the Bible in a Year – January 15

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 31-32; John 11:28-57; Psalm 20-21

In a sense what follows next in the story of Jacob foreshadows the Exodus. Jacob has entered the territory of Laban under one set of terms and found himself indentured. Yet as the Israelites plunder the Egyptians who first gave them hospitality and then enslaved them, so  Jacob plunders Laban and makes off, only to be pursued. The story parts company with the Exodus at this point, and in one other key respect – for in the story of the Exodus that is to come, God is more clearly to the forefront of the liberation. And in coming to the water, it is not the advancing Egyptians that strikes fear into ‘Israel’, but the angel of the LORD.

In the same way that the crossing of the Red Sea will irrevocably mark Israel as God’s chosen people, so Jacob is marked as he crosses the ford of the Jabbok at Penuel ‘ as the sun rose upon him . . . limping because of his hip’.

It is in this encounter with the Living God – which turns death to Life – one is encountered in the darkness of night – a voice breaking through into our consciousness like the sound of many waters – “Lazarus! Come out!”

How then can we ignore so great a Salvation – for we have seen the face of the Lord and Lived

Through the Bible in a Year – January 14

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 29-30; John 11:1-27; Psalm 19

Throughout the story of the Patriarchs there are rich elements which are as much comedic as anything – perhaps none less than the deceits between the deceiver Jacob and Laban, as they wrestle with one another (a foreshadowing of the life of Israel with the LORD). Not least in the wonderful set up of Jacob having laboured for seven years for Rachel, to wake up and find Leah in the marriage bed . . . Again there are common themes. Marriage within the broader family, the well, the two spouses echoing Hagar and Sarah, one barren the other blessed – yet as before the one who is barren finally gives birth to a ‘saviour’ in Joseph as Sarah had borne Isaac, the one who dies, yet he lives.

We would no doubt wish for a tidier picture – a neater engagement – a more moral story – but then of course it would truly bear little relevance to the story of our lives. However strange the story of the patriarchs is to us culturally, those who inhabit it are as recognisable to us as those who look us in the mirror. We can only wonder that the Holy One deigns to work out his purposes through frail human flesh. Wonder, and Worship. And certainly our reading from John blows all our senses of moral and right to the four winds

Wonder and Worship – perhaps the pre-eminent Christian posture – is all that we can do before the telling of the story of the death of Lazarus. We cannot hope that God will work in the messiness of our lives, if we hope at the same time he will dance to our tune. There is no neat and tidy healing for Lazarus. The Healer delays. His ways are not our ways. We would not come to save folk like ourselves. He does. We cannot but rush to try and help, he does not. What we do avails little. His Purpose overarches everything. His words leave us staggered. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

That which is humanly impossible – coming to save faithless deceivers – refusing to do the obvious ‘Right’ thing. All we can do is worship and follow. We cannot see the way – Faith alone is an adequate response. “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, The Son of God, the one coming into the world”

Through the Bible in a Year – January 13

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 27-28; John 10; Psalm 18:31-50

Once more the rich interplay between the texts reveal the unity of Scripture – that it is of a whole

Firstly though we are warned once more of the significance of the Word. We find the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau so strange because, to our peril we have lost sight of the Creative word. The idea that Blessings and curses are ‘more than mere words’, is beyond us. The idea that Isaac is Fast Bound by his giving of the blessing to Jacob, even though he has been deceived – even though Lying words have been used to bring forth the blessing, seems to us a nonsense. How infrequently do we now hear in our culture the praise ‘He is a man of his word’. We are often called to promise, but we no longer think a promise binds. Thus we have let go of the building blocks of Life. It is little surprise that we are lost without a Shepherd.

Jacob as he flees Esau is privileged to find ‘The house of God’ – the dwelling place where God is present to humankind once more. This ‘dream’ dimly evokes Eden, but also heralds the Tabernacle, the Temple and The Living Temple – a crescendo of Grace.

So comes the Good Shepherd. It was a difficult task to find adequate artwork for this. All the pictures are highly sentimentalised. It is to our romantic imagination, a ‘nice’ idea. But the Good Shepherd as revealed in John’s entire corpus,  is a figure of the profoundest Mystery. He is the Shepherd, who also is The Lamb of God, slain since the foundation of the world, who is also the Temple.

“For who is God except the LORD? Who is a Rock besides our God?”

Through the Bible in a Year – January 12

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 25-26; John 9; Psalm 18:1-30

As we have followed the story of the Patriarchs we have also been following in the footsteps of Christ. Here, in this pivotal chapter of John’s gospel,  the ministry of Jesus reveals many of the themes of the Life alluded to in and through the LORD’s relationship with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Primarily that of Faith and Sight. the Pharisees are offended by what they see with their eyes and hear, and that offence drives them to unbelief. Paradoxically it is the blind who see and those who trust to sight are blind.

Some of that seeing we get a sense of if we understand the ‘allegorical’ way of reading scripture – that its true meaning, like the Life revealed in Christ, lies hidden. Note how often Jesus disappears in the gospel of John, only to reveal himself as he chooses. The early church fathers understood this way of reading scripture well. It is no clumsy allegory, where ‘This is That!’ – rather it is a way of recognising the life of God hidden in the deep intertextuality of the Scriptures, of how Christ is made plain, as to those on the Emmaus road, in the Old Testament. We have no need to ‘read between the lines’ of a single text to fill in our own meanings. If we will but read between the lines given us, of the Old and the New, there are many hidden treasures

For more on this approach to Scripture, especially early in our exploring and in the Calendar year, you may wish to consider this blog article by Father Stephen Freeman on The Baptism of Christ.

There are many other things worth pondering in our readings today – but I shall just briefly consider two. Firstly that the theme of God continuing to work in the highly ambiguous details of his children is magnificently portrayed in the story of Jacob and Esau. How is it that even through ‘he who deceives’, God’s story continues?

Secondly we note how there is a repetitive element in the tale. As we shall see, the metaphor of the bride at the well is played out once more in the life of Jacob as it was in Isaac, and here Isaac’s relationship with Abimelech parallels that of Abram’s double deceit regarding his wife. The Patriarchs continually disown their wives out of fear . . . perhaps it is not surprising that when The Groom comes to the Well to offer the Water of Life, he finds one who has no husband . . .

Ambiguity and allegory at play. Playfulness which is a source of Creative Life [cf Proverbs 8:30 in some translations]