Daily Readings for Saturday, February 22
(Genesis 34:1-31) Gen. 35:1–20; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:11–18; John 11:1–16
The lectionary steps over chapter 34 which tells the story of the rape of Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, by Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, who was prince of the region. Hamor sees Dinah, is smitten with lust and seizes her and forces her into sexual relations. Thereafter, his lust turns to love and Shechem goes to his father and asks that he get Dinah to be Shechem’s wife. As commentators point out, later Jewish law, which is harsh on sexual abuse of married or engaged women, does not treat this so, but rather, proscribes that the man pay the marriage price and take the woman as his wife (Exodus 22:16). Hamor approaches Jacob, who has held his rage in check, and asks for Dinah on behalf of Shechem. Further, Hamor proposes blending the two families and their fortunes. As a prince of the land, he welcomes Jacob and his sons to settle in the land, become citizens, buy property, take Hivite women as wives, have children, and live together in peace. It is, frankly, quite an attractive offer, and Jacob considers it. For his part, Shechem begs Dinah’s outraged brothers to accept him, telling them that he loves Dinah, asking them to set the bridal price as high as they like, he will pay it—he truly is smitten. The brothers still outraged over the abuse of their sister, enter into a deceitful arrangement: only if all of the Hivite men are circumcised, will they give Dinah to Shechem. Hamor and Shechem agree, and persuade the rest of their men to comply; convincing the men of the economic advantage Jacob’s wealth will bring to them. Three days after the circumcisions, while the Hivite men are still disabled, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi, enter the city and slay not only Hamor and Shechem but all the men of the city, and rescue Dinah from Shechem’s house. Thereafter, the other brothers descend on the city, plunder it, and take captive all the women, children, servants, property and livestock to become their own. When Jacob learns of this he is severely distressed; for Simon and Levi have brought trouble on the family with the inhabitants of the land. If they rise up against Jacob, he will be destroyed. But the brothers respond, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Behind this story lie two issues: an explanation concerning the historic relationship between the inhabitants of Shechem, named after Hamor’s son, and the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, and the issue of how conflict over sexual abuse is to be treated within and between families. Jacob was open to negotiation with Hamor, whereas the boys were predisposed to violence, and destroyed the entire city. At this, God tells Jacob to go north to Bethel and settle there. He is to make an altar to the God who had first appeared to him when he was fleeing from his brother Esau. Jacob complies, gathering all that he has and has acquired, commanding that they put away the foreign gods that have been acquired among them, purify themselves, change their clothes and come with him to Bethel so that Jacob may make an altar to the God who heard his plea and has protected him to this day. The extended family gives up the idols of their foreign gods and gold rings associated with them, and Jacob buries them under the sacred oak at Shechem, where the Lord had appeared to Abraham on his initial journey from Haran (Genesis 12:6-7). As they journey north, “a terror from God fell upon all the cities around them,”—clearly, what had happened with the Hivities was more widely known—and none of the people of Canaanites pursued them. On arrival at Luz, Jacob builds an altar and calls the place El-beth-el (The God of Bethel), for this is where God had first revealed himself to Jacob. We are told that Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah dies, and is buried there under an oak tree, naming it “the oak of weeping.” God again appears to Jacob, and now changes his name from Jacob (the supplanter) to Israel—he who strives with God and prevails. This section is clearly from another literary tradition, for God identifies himself as El Shaddi—God Almighty—and the covenant promise first made to Abraham is now made to Jacob. The promise is now fully transferred from Abraham, through Isaac, to Jacob. God departs and Jacob sets up a pillar of stone, pours a drink offering over it, and names it Bethel (again, we are looking at various traditions of how Luz became known as Bethel). From Bethel, they journeyed on toward Ephrah, later named Bethlehem. Some distance from their destination, Rachel, who was again pregnant, falls into hard labor and gives birth to another son. As she lies dying, Rachel names the boy Benoni, meaning “son of my sorrow,” but Jacob renames him Benjamin—“Son of the South”—for among his brothers, only Benjamin is born in the land of Canaan. Jacob buries Rachel and sets up a pillar to memorialize her grave, and “it is there to this day,” as indeed, it is there in Bethlehem.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” With these words the psalmist—possibly the king—calls the people to a hymn of praise that remembers the ways God has blessed and intervened on his behalf. The Lord has responded in the psalmist’s distress and so he confesses, “The Lord is with me, I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Consequently, he can look at his enemies with satisfaction; the Lord is among those who support him. Therefore, it is better to take refuge in the Lord than in men, in the Lord than in princes. The king now reflects that though the nations surrounded him to destroy him, in the name of the Lord he cut them off. He was pushed violently to the point of falling, but the Lord intervened. At this we have a psalm within a psalm—the king’s own words of praise directed to the Lord. “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become the source of my salvation. There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous.” In victorious joy he continues, “I shall not die, but I shall live to tell of the works of the Lord. He punished me severely, but did not give me over to death.” Herein, the early church heard the words of Christ speaking to them in and through the psalm, which is why it is appointed both for Palm Sunday and Easter Day liturgies. Finally, the psalmist prepares to go to the temple to pay his vows: “Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and pay my vow. This is the gate of the Lord, only the righteous shall enter through it. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is marvelous in our eyes.” Again, phrase after phrase of this psalm has worked itself into the treasury of the Gospels and Christian prayer. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The people shout, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord (Hosanna!)” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” All of this is the language of the worshipper in the temple, confessing loyalty and trust in God: “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God and I will extol you.” The prayer concludes as it began: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
John continues to work with the commandment to love one another. We are not to be like Cain—who was from the evil one—who rose up and killed his brother Abel because Cain saw that Abel was righteous--in a right relationship with God. So too, they are not to be surprised that the world hates them because of their own relationship with God (righteousness). They have passed from death to life because they do love one another. Love is the litmus test. Whoever does not love abides in death. Any who hate a brother or sister are murders just as Cain was a murder, and they have no life in them. The true witness to love is that Jesus laid down his life for us. Therefore we ought to lay down our lives for one another. So far, the focus here has been on how anger in a church conflict can turn to hatred. The elder is warning the congregation that they must not let the conflict that divided them escalate into hatred of those who have left. But now John turns the corner on love and asks how God’s love can abide in someone who has the world’s goods and sees a sister or brother in need and does not help. It is not enough to love in word or speech. We must love in truth and action. Here—with love in action—is how we will know that we are from the truth and it will reassure us before God—even when our hearts condemn us. But more, God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. If our hearts do not condemn us, then we have boldness before God and receive from God whatever we rightfully ask. John would not say that obeying God’s commandments earns us these gifts, but rather, doing so puts us into a relationship with God in which we can receive God’s good pleasure. The commandment to love is expanded to believe in Jesus and take him at his word, just as he has commanded. Scholars point out that in the original, the word “in” is missing so that the sentence shifts from “believing in” to simply “believing Jesus”—taking him at his word. All who believe and obey his word abide in him, and he in them. Finally, we will know that he abides in us because of the Spirit that he has given to us.
Jesus has been talking about giving eternal life to those who believe in him. Today’s lesson begins the story of the raising from the dead his dear friend Lazarus, and unites his previous teachings and statements in the temple to what follows. The village of Bethany lies just east of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, live there. They are Jesus’ dear friends and we are told beforehand that it was Mary who later anointed Jesus with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair, not the woman who in Luke is the notorious sinner who bathes Jesus feet with tears (Luke 7:34-48). Lazarus has fallen ill and the sisters send a message to Jesus in the expectation that he will come and heal their brother. Instead, Jesus intentionally delays. He tells the disciples that this illness is not one that leads to death, but rather exists for God’s glory to be further revealed through him. And so, though Jesus loves all three, he remains behind for two days. Then he says, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples rightly object. After all, the people in Jerusalem are trying to stone Jesus, and they remind him of that. Jesus responds that there is work to do and only twelve hours of daylight in which to do it, and returns to the theme of him being the light of the world; those who walk in him do not stumble like those who are of the night. To further clarify, Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” Misunderstanding Jesus’ words, the disciples reply that if he is asleep he will be alright, and awaken again. Consequently, Jesus has to be more specific with them: “Lazarus is dead.” But, for the disciples’ sake, Jesus is glad that he was not present to heal Lazarus, for something significant is about to happen—a revelation that will strengthen their own belief. Thomas simply says, “Let us go with him that we may die with him.”
Daily Readings for Friday, February 21
Gen. 32:22–33:17; Psalm 32; 1 John 3:1–10; John 10:31–42
Later that evening, Jacob takes his two wives, their two maids and all of the eleven children and crosses the Jabbok River at the ford where it flows into the Jordan. Jacob sends them and everything that he owns to the other side. Returning to the camp alone, Jacob encounters “a man” who wrestles with him all through the night until day break. When the man realizes that he is not going to prevail over Jacob, he strikes him at the hip socket and puts it out of joint, but still cannot prevail. As the sun is rising, the man asks to be let go, but Jacob refuses unless the man bless him. The “man” asks Jacob’s name, and when told, tells Jacob that this shall no longer be his name. Henceforth he is to be known as Israel—the word means “God strives”—for Jacob has striven with God and with human beings and has prevailed. At that, Jacob asks the man his name, but the man refuses. Rather, he blesses Jacob, who is now Israel and departs. Jacob names the place Peniel—which means “the face of God”—saying, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” As the sun rises on him, Jacob passes by Peniel, limping because of his hip, no longer out of joint, but severely injured because of the encounter. The chapter ends using this to explain why it is the muscle on the inside of an animal’s thigh is not eaten by the Israelites. Traveling back across the river he gathers up his wives and children. Soon, Jacob looks up and sees Esau approaching with the four hundred men. Consequently Jacob divides the children among the four women, putting Bilhah and Zilpha and their children in front, followed by Leah and her childen and then Rachel with Joseph. Jacob goes ahead of them, bowing deeply to the ground seven times until he reaches Esau. When Esau sees Jacob, he runs to meet him, embraces him, and falls on his neck and kisses him. Then the two brothers weep in their embrace. When Esau looks up and sees the women and children following Jacob he asks who they are and Jacob says, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant” Then the two maids and their children draw near Esau and bow in obessience. Likewise, Leah and her children do the same, and finally Rachel and Joseph do as well. Then Esau asks Jacob what he has meant in sending the company of servants and livestock ahead of him. Jacob says he has done so “To find favor with my lord”—note the continuing deference with which Jacob approaches his older brother. Esau responds, “No, I have enough, my brother”—signaling his acceptance of Jacob as a brother rather than a servant or underling. Jacob is to keep what he has. Jacob pleads with Esau to accept his present, telling Esau that the privilege of seeing his face is like seeing the face of God, since Esau has received Jacob with such favor. God has been generous to Jacob and he has all he wants. And so he urges Esau to take the presents, which he does. Esau then suggests that they travel together, but Jacob, not wanting to press his luck with his brother, tells Esau that the children and the flocks are frail, and if overdriven for even one day, the flocks would die. Jacob does not want to burden Esau and his company with such slow travel. They are to go on ahead of them; they will meet in Seir. Esau offers to leave some of the people who have come with him, but Jacob demurs, asking “Why should my lord be so kind to me? So Esau and his people return to the home in Seir, to the south east of the Dead Sea, while Jacob and his family move to Succoth, thus creating a distance between the two brothers and all their possessions. In Succoth Jacob builds himself a house. No longer will he dwell in a tent, but settle in this place. In addition, he builds booths for his cattle, and names the place after those booths.
This is a wisdom psalm in which the psalmist gives thanks for the gift of forgiveness. “Happy are those whose sin is covered.” He acknowledges that while he kept silence about his sin, he wasted away for the Lord’s hand was upon him, and his strength was dried up as the heat of summer dries all things. But when he acknowledged his sin, when he no longer hid it but confessed it, the Lord forgave him his guilt. He then instructs all who are faithful to offer such prayers of confession, promising that in a time of distress and the rush of many waters, these will not reach or overwhelm them. Again, addressing the Lord, he confesses that God is his hiding place who preserves him from trouble and surrounds him with glad cries of deliverance. The psalm then turns to addressing others, instructing them in the way they should go: “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near.” It concludes with one final double affirmation: “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Therefore: be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
God’s love given to us is revealed in the fact that we are called God’s children; and indeed we are. Repeating words we heard from Jesus in John 17, the readers are reminded that the reason the world does not know them as God’s children is because the world did not know Jesus, God’s son. He goes on to remind them that if they are God’s children now, but what they shall ultimately be is yet to be revealed. This probably witnesses to one of the points of division in the community that caused the others to leave; if that group were Gnostics, then this may be about the notion of the resurrection of the body, which the Gnostics denied. What these, who are God's children, need to know is that when the risen Lord is revealed, they will be just like him. Those who hold onto this hope purify themselves as Jesus is pure. That leads to talk about sin in a way that suggests more than just behavior that is unacceptable to believers. John has mentioned sin in chapter 2, but this seems to be sin of a different order—rejecting Christ himself. For now the typology is either being a child of God or a child of the devil. Those who abide in Christ (notice same imagery Jesus uses in John 17), are children of God, while those who commit sin are children of the devil. In other words, one cannot abide in Christ and set forth to intentionally sin. That behavior is of the devil. The Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. Those who abide in the Son cannot sin because God’s seed (Jesus) abides in them. In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed. All who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.
When those gathered about Jesus hear him say, “The Father and I are one,” they take up stones once again to kill him for his blasphemy. Jesus, rather than run, confronts them further: for which of the works of Father that he has shown them will they stone him? They respond that it is not for the works but rather, though a human being, he makes himself out to be God. Jesus then appeals to scripture, quoting Psalm 82:6 and saying that if scripture makes the claim that they “are gods and sons of the most high,” how can they take up stones against one that God has sent into the world who claims to be God’s son? Returning to the theme of his work, he tells them to examine them. If he is not doing the works of his Father, then do not believe in him. But, if he is doing them, even though they don’t believe him, believe the works in order to understand that the Father is in him and he is in the Father. That enrages them further, and now they try to arrest him. But again, he slips through their hands. It is time to leave Jerusalem, and so he crosses the Jordan to the site where John had been baptizing. Many come out to him saying, John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man is true,” and many believe in Jesus.
Daily Readings for Thursday, February 20
Gen. 32:1–21; Psalm 80; 1 John 2:18–29; John 10:19–30
Jacob moves on from the hill country of Gilead, headed south toward his mother and brother. On the way, he is met by angels and names the place “God’s camp.” He sends messengers before him to his brother Esau, to tell him of what has transpired with Jacob in these twenty years and how he has become wealthy. When the messengers return they tell Jacob that they have seen Esau, and he is coming to meet Jacob, accompanied by four hundred men. Jacob is rightly fearful and distressed, and so, at the Jordan River, he divides his family, his servants and all of his animals into two companies thinking that if Esau comes and destroys one company, at least the other will be left to escape. Then Jacob prays, reminding the Lord that he had directed Jacob to return home, and that in doing so, the Lord would bless him. Jacob reminds the Lord that when he first crossed the Jordan in route to Haran, he did so with only his staff in hand. Now he has become two companies. Jacob prays to be delivered from Easu, for he fears Esau will kill all of them, the mothers with their children. He concludes by reminding the Lord of his promise to do good to Jacob and make his offspring as the sands of the sea. Jacob then selects choice animals among his herds: goats, camels, cows, bulls, and donkeys, both male and female, and assignes to each drove one of his servants, and dispatches them one after the other, with a space between droves. When each encounters Esau, who will ask who they are and who owns the animals, they are to tell him they are a present from his brother Jacob who is coming behind them. With this, Jacob hopes to appease Esau so that he may see him face to face, with the hope that Esau will accept him. As the droves leave, one by one, Jacob settles in to the camp for the night.
This psalm is a community lament at the time of national disaster brought on by an oppressing super-power. Some scholars think it can be traced to 722 BCE when Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom—note the specific reference to Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh, all northern tribes. It is directed to God as the “Shepherd of Israel,” the one who leads Joseph’s flock, enthroned in the heavens. “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” This classic call for God’s presence to rise up and destroy the enemy is repeated at the conclusion of each of the psalm’s three sections. The first, the initial plea for salvation, the second, a description of Israel’s troubles, and the third, a beautiful allegory of Israel as God’s vine—uprooted from Egypt, brought into a new land and firmly planted there, but now in jeopardy of full destruction. “How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?”—their worship. From this psalm comes the memorable phrases “bread of tears,” and “tears to drink in full measure.” Near the end, it prays for God’s presence and strength for the king, the one at God’s right hand who God has made strong for himself. Later, this phrase will take on Messianic tones. For the psalmist, it is a plea for God to rise up and restore his people.
As the epistle unfolds it becomes clear that the church from which it is written has experienced some of the same factions with a divisive group leaving them. Calling them “children” once again, the author announces that it is the last hour. Antichrists have come and gone, signaling the last hour. They went out from the author’s church as surely as they have gone out of the churches to whom he is writing. That, itself, reveals that they never belonged to them. They are now reminded that they have been anointed by the Holy One in their baptism, signed in holy oil as a sign of the Spirit’s presence in their lives. Each and every one of them has knowledge and knows the truth. (Here is the first signal that the controversy may have been over Gnosticism, a heresy that emerged in the church in the latter part of the first century.) He is writing to them, not because they do not know the truth, but because they do, and know that no lie can come from it. And who is the liar, the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist—those who deny the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father within them, while everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also—again, a hint that what is at issue is Gnosticism that denied Jesus was God incarnate. They are to remember what they heard from the beginning. If it abides in them, then they abide in the Father and the Son and are heirs of the promise of eternal life. He writes to remind them of this, lest they be deceived by the separatists who have left. The anointing that they have received from the One who abides in them is such that they need no one to teach them—simply to remind them to abide—for his anointing is true. Therefore abide in him so that when he is revealed, they all may have confidence and not be put to shame.
The division about Jesus and who he is continues among the Jews who are gathered in the temple, some claiming that he is demon possessed, while others disagree, saying his words are not the words of a demon. Furthermore, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” This closes the encounters in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles. The next section takes place several months later at the festival of the Dedication of the temple. Jesus is still in Jerusalem, and seems to have been there since the fall. As the scene opens, Jesus is walking in the portico of Solomon. The people gather around him and ask, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus responds that he has told them but they refuse to believe him. The works he does in his Father’s name testify to him, but still, they do not believe them or him. And why is this so? They do not believe in him because they do not belong to his sheep. His sheep hear his voice and follow him. He knows them and they know him, and they follow, and he gives them eternal life. Furthermore, no one will snatch them out of his hand. For what has been given to him has been given by the Father, and no one can snatch that out of the Father’s hand. He and his Father are one in their work.
Daily Readings for Wednesday, February 19
Gen. 31:25–50; Psalm 48; 1 John 2:12–17; John 10:1–18
The tensions between Jacob and Laban, over Jacob’s prosperity have come to a head, as in anger; Laban has pursued Jacob and his wives and children, Laban’s daughters and grandchildren. The two groups camp opposite one another in the hill country, and Laban confronts Jacob, asking why he has deceived Laban and fled in secret, taking away Laban’s daughters and their children as if by force. Laban then says that if Jacob had asked, Laban would have sent them away “with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre.” Given Jacob’s experience with his father-in-law, it seems highly unlikely, but, Laban is pressing his argument. And why did Jacob not let Laban kiss his daughters and their children goodbye? Reminding Jacob that it is in his power to do Jacob harm, Laban then tells him that the Lord appeared to him the night before, warning him not to speak either good or bad to Jacob. And even though Jacob longed greatly to return to his father’s house, why did Jacob steal Laban’s gods? Jacob tells Laban that he feared Laban would take back his daughters by force. Jacob knows nothing of Rachel’s stealing the household gods and tells Laban to search his camp in the presence and witness of their mutual kin. Whoever it is that is found with Laban’s gods shall die. Laban searches Jacob’s tent, then Leah’s, and the tents of Bilhah and Zilpah, but finds nothing. Then he enters Rachel’s tent and finds her seated on a camel saddle, where she has hidden the gods. Sitting there, she professes to be in the midst of her menstrual cycle and unable to rise. Laban searches her tent high and low—save the camel saddle upon which she is sitting—and finds nothing. Now it is Jacob’s turn to vent his anger at his father-in-law. How many times did Laban abuse Jacob, who worked fourteen years for Laban in exchange for his two daughters? And how did Laban’s flocks fare under Jacob’s husbandry, as he labored for Laban another six years in order to gain flocks of his own? And when a sheep or goat that belonged to Laban was killed by wild animals, Jacob always replaced it with one of his own. And, how many times did Laban reduce Jacob’s wages in an attempt to limit his prosperity? Had not the God of Abraham and Isaac been on Jacob’s side, surely Laban would have sent him away empty handed. But God saw Jacob’s affliction and so appeared to Laban. Laban, for his part, still insists upon his paternal rights: the daughters, children and flocks are his own, but what can he now do? And so he asks for a covenant between himself and Jacob and all their people. Jacob consents, and together they go through various rituals of covenant making: setting up a stone marker, then gathering other stones to build a pillar and naming it in both Hebrew and Aramaic—the languages of the two households—“the heap of witness.” They name the pillar “Mizpah,” which means “watch post,” for it will serve as the boundary marker between Jacob and Laban and their peoples. Then they take an oath at Mizpah: “May the Lord keep watch between them, while they are absent, one from another, in order to assure that they keep this covenant.” Laban warns Jacob not to take other wives or ill-treat his daughters, for the Lord is watching. And so the heap of stones becomes not only a boundary marker between the two families and their descendants, but a witness to the oath Jacob and Laban have taken. The two swear by the God of their fathers, and then Jacob offers a sacrifice, and calls together all the people to eat. They both tarry in the hill country that night, and early the next day, Laban rises up, kisses his grandchildren and daughters, blesses them, and departs, returning to his home in the east.
This classic psalm of praise celebrates the Lord’s greatness and presence on Mount Zion, the site of the temple, and another name for Jerusalem, the city of God and the psalmist’s joy. It is probably a pilgrims psalm: “as we have heard so have we seen,” and remembers God’s presence in the city setting the kings of the earth to panicked flight and smashing them as the east wind drives ships against the rocks of Tarshish. Standing within the temple the pilgrim is struck with a moment of transcendence—this is a “thin place” in life where heaven and earth overlap—and he ponders God’s steadfast love, proclaiming that God’s praise reaches the very ends of the earth. Walk about Zion; go all around it. Count its towers and consider its ramparts. Go through its citadels so that you can tell of its greatness to future generations. Most of all, remind them that God is our God forever and ever, and will forever be our guide.
Affirming his care, John again calls the members of the troubled congregations “little children.” He first reminds them that their sins are forgiven on account of Jesus’ name. Now, John addresses, in descending order, members of the community in their various stages of faith maturation, giving a word of affirmation to each according to their situation. Fathers have known “him who is from the beginning,” young people have “conquered the evil one,” children “know the Father,” young people are strong and the word of God abides in them because they have overcome the evil one. They are now warned against “loving the world,” or things of the world—the realm of evil. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world. For all that is “worldly”—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes, not from the Father, but from the world. Because that world and its desire are passing away, those who do the will of God live forever.
Jesus continues to teach in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles, now taking up the image of shepherd from Ezekiel 34, who in Israel’s life had been the king. The king was understood to have been chosen and commissioned by God to care for the people, who were God’s flock. God’s reign was the sheepfold and God himself the gatekeeper. But with the loss of a king in 587 BCE, increasingly God was looked to as the shepherd and keeper of the sheep (Psalm 23). Jesus announces himself as the “Good Shepherd,” as well as the gate to the sheepfold. The sheep know his voice and follow him. All who have come before him as messiahs have been thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. He is the gate: whoever enters by him will be saved, and come in and go out and find pasture. He is a shepherd who not only cares for his sheep, but actually lays his life down for them—unheard of! The hired hands (religious leaders of the day—the Pharisees and chief priests) do not own the sheep, so, when the wolf comes, they leave the sheep behind and run away. Jesus on the other hand, knows his own just as they know him, in precisely the same way that he and the Father know one another. He lays down his life, but does so in order to take it up again. His life is not taken from him—remember, in John, Jesus is in full control from beginning to end—but he lays it down in order to take it up again. All this, Jesus has received as a command from his Father.
Daily Readings for Tuesday, February 18
Gen. 31:1–24; Psalm 30; 1 John 2:1–11; John 9:18–41
There are two versions of how Jacob obtained his wealth while continuing to work for Laban, the Yahwist account in chapter 30, and the Elohist (using the name Elohim for God), in chapter 31. The Yahwist account is the more humorous, as Laban tries to trick the trickster, only to have himself outwitted by Jacob, who used various techniques of the animal husbandry of the day to assure that his flocks are larger and stronger than Laban’s flocks. The Elohist account is the one we read today, and it tells of the strife and conflict that begin to emerge in Laban’s household over Jacob and his success and accumulating wealth, which Laban and his sons see as at their expense. The brothers accuse Jacob of stealing their father’s wealth. Jacob realizes that Laban no longer regards him as he once did. In the midst of this the Lord appears to Jacob, telling him it is time to return to his homeland. Jacob calls Leah and Rachel to join him in the pasture, and tells them of his plan. In the course of that we learn that Laban has changed Jacob’s wages several times, in an attempt to keep him from prospering at Laban’s expense, but to no avail. Now it is time to leave. The wives both acknowledge that they no longer have a place or inheritance in Laban’s household. As they gather up their children and their servants’ children and prepare to leave, Jacob prepares to drive his flocks ahead of him. In the meantime, Laban has gone out to his flocks for shearing, and in his absence, Rachel comes into his tent and steals Laban’s household gods, probably small figurines representing various deities that Laban used for divination or protection of his household. Jacob deceives Laban, not telling him of his plans, and loading the children and wives on his camels, drives his flocks ahead of them as they cross the Euphrates River and head to the hill country of Gilead. Three days later, Laban learns that Jacob has departed with his daughters and grandchildren. Laban gathers up a company of people to pursue Jacob and bring them back. Seven days later, Laban and his men catch up with Jacob and his household in the hill country of Gilead. But God appears to Laban and tells him to leave Jacob alone—he is not to say a word to Jacob, good or bad.
This psalm offers praise to God for recovery from a grave illness. The Lord has “drawn him up.” The “foes” are not necessarily classic enemies, but simply those who, like Job’s friends, insisted that his illness was the result of his own sin. God has not let them rejoice over him. Rather, he cried to the Lord and the Lord responded, bringing him up from the land of the dead and the pit of death. Consequently, the psalm calls on all to give thanks to the Lord. He then recalls the error of his previous ways: in his prosperity he has thought himself unmovable. But the Lord looked away, hid his face, and suddenly he was faced with the error of his ways. Yet he cried out to the Lord: what profit is there in his death; can he praise God from the grave? God responded and turned his mourning into dancing, his lament into a song of praise. It concludes with the promise to not again be presumptuous, but to praise God for the goodness of life forever.
“Little children,” is a phrase 1 John will use seven times in this letter, revealing both his affection and his sense of pastoral responsibility for the congregations in their troubles. The theme of walking in the light and remaining in it is demanding in a world where sin is ever-present and takes us captive, unaware. John is writing, not only so that they will not intentionally sin, but so they may know that when they unintentionally do, they have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Notice that in John’s gospel, the Advocate is the Holy Spirit. Here, that word is applied to Jesus, though not as a title. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not ours alone, but for the whole world. That said, the way to know him is to obey his commandments. Those who say they know him but do not obey his commandments are liars. In such a one, no truth exists whatsoever. But for those who do obey, in them the love of God reaches perfection. It is by this that we may be sure that we are in him. If we say, “I abide in him,” then we must walk as he walked. This is not new, but the old commandment, the word from Christ that they have already heard, and heard from the beginning of becoming his followers. They are to love one another as he loves them (John 13;34; 15:12, 17). John will now elaborate, in light of what has been said about walking in the light, to the point that it is a new commandment. “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” The commandment here is directed to those within the community, not beyond it, and whoever hates another believer is in the dark, walks in the dark, and has been blinded by it.
The man born blind who Jesus has just healed is now being cross-examined by the Jewish officials. Unhappy with his answer that Jesus is a prophet, and still not convinced that the man had been blind since birth, they turn to his parents to question them. Notice how their question is highly skeptical: “who you say was born blind.” The parents answer carefully: “He is our son; he was born blind, but we don’t know who opened his eyes. He is of age, ask him.” Hear behind this the parents’ fear of being implicated and themselves judged for being involved with Jesus and, therefore, being put out of the synagogue. It is an echo of precisely what was happening to Jews embracing Jesus at the time this gospel was written. And so the officials go to the healed man a second time, and the dialogue becomes almost comical as they ask him to give glory to God and at the same time proclaim Jesus a sinner. The healed man takes the upper hand in the conversation saying, “I don’t know whether he is a sinner, but this I know: though I was blind, now I see!” Hear in this not only physical vision, but spiritual vision as well; sight the religious officials lack. They ask, “What did he do to you.” Now irritated with their obstinacy, the man sarcastically says, “I’ve already told you, but you will not listen. Why do you want to hear again; do you also want to become his disciples?” Notice the suggestion that in what has happened the man has already become Jesus’ follower; certainly the Jewish officials think so. And so they respond in anger, condemning him as Jesus’ disciple while they take refuge in being Moses’ disciples. God has, after all, spoken to Moses, but as for “this man, we do not know where he comes from.” Remember the former argument about from where the Messiah is to come? Now the healed man is filled with courage, and unlike his frightened parents, challenges the authorities with the absurdity of their position. “Here is an astonishing thing: you don’t know where he comes from but he opened my eyes.” He goes on to make the point that God does not listen to sinners, but does listen to all who worship him and obey his will. Further, never, since the world began, has it been heard that someone opened the eyes of someone born blind. If “this man were not from God he could do nothing.” Stung by his rebuke the leaders resort to the fact that he is a sinner, he was born in sin, for he was born blind. At that, they drive him out because of his confession of belief in Jesus. Again, hear “out of the synagogue.” The scene ends with Jesus seeking out the man he has healed and completely revealing himself to him as the “Son of Man.” When Jesus does, the man worships him, and notice that Jesus does not reject the worship, but accepts it. The incident ends with Jesus’ comment that he came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind. The Pharisees overhear and say, “Surely, we are not blind, are we?” Their question reveals not only their blindness, but the judgment against them because of it—their sin remains. Imagine the comfort this story brought to those Jews who had been put out of the synagogue because of their belief in Jesus.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.