Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 20: Job and Jesus Mocked

Job 30, 31 and Matthew 13:31-58

Job 30:

Job recounts begin mocked by people in his community for his recent trials. This is a classic case of “kick a man while he’s down.” Specifically, Job mentions people younger than him, upstarts on translation calls them.
Why is it so easy for us as humans to attack others who are vulnerable?
Job is in pain day and night and cannot imagine any relief other than death. No one around him seems to be able or willing to help alleviate his suffering. While he has friends who have sat with him for 7 days in silence, these friends have not been able to offer comfort or peace.

Job 31:

In this section, Job begins to recount the ways in which he is innocent. Once more the claim of innocence echoes into the community. Job says he is not lustful, is not deceitful, in fact never kept deceitful company. He has not committed adultery, and he has treated his slaves as human “for God created them and me.”
Job claims to have cared for the defenseless, taking care of widows and orphans from a very young age. And he tells his friends, God, and anyone else listening, that he did not put his trust in money or treasure. This seems to be evidenced earlier in Job when he still praises God after losing everything he had.
An interesting claim is that Job has not mocked as he has been mocked. He has treated others with respect and not gossiped or maligned their names.

Matthew 13:31-58

In these passages Jesus continues speaking in parables to the crowds, his disciples, and us. Many of the parables make it into the lectionary and are familiar to those whose churches use the lectionary to help plan worship. Jesus uses agricultural references and fishing references because they would be familiar to the people he was speaking to at the time. I am not an agricultural person. I have a black thumb and have only cared for large animals on weekends at my Aunts cattle ranch, more of a novelty than actual practice. I have found it helpful to reimagine some of these parables for modern day hearers.
The kingdom of God is like Kudzu. It begins as a small plant and quickly covers everything in sight.
The kingdom of God is like glitter. Once you open it, you will never ever get it all cleaned up.
Both of these examples are about something that spreads without effort, without containment. The kingdom of God gets into everything! It will continue no matter what might attempt to choke it out.
At the end of this reading Jesus goes back to his hometown. Here he is mocked by those who knew him well. Two things stand out to me in this section. One, Jesus is unable to do miracles there because of their unbelief. I wonder how often we keep God from acting because we don’t believe God really can change anything. Two, this passage mentions four brothers of Jesus by name and also says he had sisters. Church history claims that he had 2 sisters, Salome, Josephs daughter from a previous marriage, and Mary (yes, another one) the importance of this is that it changes the way I think of Jesus’ family of origin. He was not an only child, doted on and spoiled. He was one of at least 7 children. There was always a community around him. Jesus was raised in the struggles and joys of a large family. Perhaps that helps explain some of his conflict resolution style.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Day 19: On Treasure and Weeds

Job 28, 29 & Matthew 13:1-30

Job speaks of treasure that people have found throughout the earth. Meanwhile, Jesus talks about how to find real value.

Job 28:

Job begins speaking here of the vast treasures that man has found in the earth. Treasure of gold, copper, and precious jewels. These things were buried so that no bird or beast might find them, yet man has plumbed the depths of the earth to find these treasures.
Wisdom, however, seems to be impossible to find. Job wails that wisdom is elusive at best. Why can human kind not seem to locate wisdom? Job says perhaps the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and it will be shown in the turning from evil ways.

Job 29:

Job says that he has turned from evil. He claims to have lived a life of justice and piety, speaking out against Eliphaz claims that he harmed widows and orphans. Job says that he did indeed care for the less fortunate. He had a place of honor, and yet God still abandoned him.

Matthew 13:1-30

This section of Matthew begins a list of parables Jesus tells his disciples. Jesus often taught in parables, using these stories to help people grasp ideas about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not something we can describe or know in a concrete way. Jesus uses these stories to help us understand the incomprehensible.
This is also one of the few times that Jesus gives the meaning of a parable to the listener rather than letting us determine it on our own.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Job 25. 26. 27 & Matthew 12:24-50

Job curses his enemies in these chapters. He seeks for them to be punished as well. Jesus, points out that we cannot work against evil for the purposes of evil.

Job 25:

This passage has Biblad speaking to Job. He calls out to Job that no one is innocent. He appears to make a case for original sin. Biblad seems to be asking Job to look at his life in a much more philosophical sense, realizing that sin is inevitable.

Job 26:

Job responds saying that God is indeed greater than anything. How can any of us even try to understand God? God’s power is beyond comprehension.

Job 27:

Job curses his enemies. He asks God to treat them with even more harshness than he has been treated. Again this is a case of misery loving company. His own suffering would, Job thinks, be bearable if others were going through it as well.

Matthew 12:24-50:

Jesus is accused of using the power of the devil to cast out demons. He quickly debunks this idea by stating that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Holy Spirit is at work in the casting out of demons. Jesus wants those present to know that what he does is through God and God alone.
Jesus then goes into a description of trees and fruit. You will know a tree by the fruit it bears. A good tree will produce good fruit. An unhealthy tree will produce fruit that is not worth eating.
This passage reminds me of a meme I saw today about beliefs.

Jesus goes on to predict his death and resurrection using Jonah as a metaphor. He ends this section by saying that family is not only something you are born into. Family, especially the family of God, is something that is constructed through the bonds of love.

Day 17: Accused of Sinning

Job 22, 23, 24 & Matthew 12:1-23

In these chapters we hear once again Job’s friends accusing him of sinning. Likewise in Matthew Jesus is accused of sinning by eating and healing on the Sabbath.

Job 22:

Eliphaz speaks in this chapter telling Job that his sins are not caring for the poor, taking advantage of the weak, sending the widow away empty and crushing orphan’s resources. These characteristics would seem clearly to us to be sinful. Eliphaz tells Job that he should treasure God above all things and if he did that, God would hear and end Job’s suffering.

Job 23:

Job maintains his innocence. At this point it might be more of a matter of pride than actual conviction of sinless behavior. He at this point expresses a fear of the Lord. This fear seems to be from no longer trusting the Lord. Job seems to be saying that God is fickle and therefore not to be trusted.

Job 24:

Job asks why God doesn’t punish the really wicked. Job calls for a day of judgement to occur. He wants everyone who has sinned to be called to account, instead of watching others prosper while he suffers.
This passage makes me think of the phrase “misery loves company.” Job does not like the feeling of being singled out to suffer. He wants others, those that really deserve in his mind to be punished, to suffer as well.

Matthew 12:1-23

Jesus is accused of sinning because he allows his disciples to pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath day. His response is one that points out their hypocrisy. It is permissible to do that which is good, even and especially on the Sabbath. Jesus makes a point that you would save your livestock on the Sabbath, how much more important should another human being be?
It is so easy to judge another’s behavior, and ignore our own sinfulness. Jesus points out that things that bring life will be held in higher regard than things that take or prevent life.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day 16: Job Questions God and Jesus offers rest

Day 16

Job 20-21 & Matthew 11

The readings for today contain questions from Job and words of challenge and rest from Jesus. Job continues to debate with his so-called-friends about his lot in life. Jesus continues to prepare people for the reality of his ministry on earth.

Job 20

This chapter begins with Zophar once more challenging Job. He does not believe that Job is innocent. It doesn't make sense to him. The way Zophar sees the world is very similar to today's "prosperity Gospel", the idea that God will bless those who believe and punish those who do not. This line of thinking leads to the ultimate question, why do bad things happen to good people? Zophar cannot imagine that the events of Job's life were anything other than the judgement of God for some hidden sin. His words sound harsh to us, but he is trying to get his friend to confess and therefore find relief from his suffering.
We must remember that Job and his friends were not privy to the earlier conversations in the throne room. They do not know that the evil one is tormenting Job, not God. From their earthly perspective they do not see how these acts could be anything other than punishment.

Job 21

Job begins to take God to trial in this passage. He cannot fathom this reason behind his suffering and begs God to relent, even if that means turning God's eyes from Job. In our moments of suffering it is easy to put God on trial. "If God had been there, my baby would have lived." "If God was a loving God, I wouldn't have cancer." "If God cared at all, children would not be starving." These questions are harsh, hard to hear and hard to respond to with integrity.
I do not believe that God causes us to suffer. I do believe, however, that we are not always kept from the consequences of sin, be it ours or other peoples. With this view the questions above change focus. "God was there when my baby died. What comfort can I find in that truth?" "God loves me, how can I find God's love as I battle cancer?" "God care for us all, but God told us to love one another. Why are some throwing away food while others are starving? Why are the prosperous not helping those in need?"

Matthew 11

The previous chapter in Matthew tells about the sending out of the disciples. Chapter 11 deals with John's disciples questioning Jesus' identity and with Jesus explaining that his kingdom will be very different. John sends his followers to find out if Jesus is the one. John is in prison for preaching that the Messiah was coming. Jesus reassures John and his followers. He tells them to tell John what they have seen. They have been witnesses to the miracles Jesus has performed. They have heard his teachings with their own ears. They are now to take the spirit of wisdom with them as they interpret these actions.
Jesus ends this section by talking about rest. In a busy, constantly moving world these words are hopeful. But, I do not think they mean what we think they mean. Jesus offers rest, yes, but rest does not mean an absence of doing anything. Jesus doesn't say "follow me and you will live your lives sitting on a beach enjoying cocktails." Rest is the ability to be reassured. Rest is trusting that someone else is in control. Rest is the absence of struggle, struggle for power, struggle for your voice to be heard, struggle for your place in the sun. The kingdom we are called to is one in which we can rest from our constant seeking to be on the top. A place where we seek to serve one another in love, instead of subjecting one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Day 9 Job suffers and the annoying skinny gate

Job 1-2 and Matthew 7

Today we take a break from Genesis and enter the world of Job. His story is one of have it all lose it all and familiar to many. We also continue with Matthew, finishing up the Sermon on the Mount.

Job 1

This book has two settings, the throne room of heaven and the earthly realm. God is in his heavens and is visited by the heavenly beings, including the accuser, called Satan in some translations. It is important for us to read this not as a first hand account of what happened in heaven and earth, but as a narrative explanation of the age-old question "Why do bad things happen to good people."
This opening prologue talks about a righteous man who has been very successful. Job praises God, prays for his children, and leads an upright life. God is pleased. But the accuser says that Job would not be faithful without all of his blessings. God takes the bet and allows Job to lose all that he has been blessed to hold.
I struggle with the idea of God and Satan placing bets on the outcome of our spiritual lives when our earthly lives are put through trauma. This seems heartless and cruel for both parties. As a literary device I get it, but as a characteristic of God it seems contrary to the witness of a loving God in the whole of scripture.
How would you react to losing all that you held dear? I am amazed that Job stands upright and can claim a faith in God through this series of unfortunate events. I would hope to have such faith and conviction, but pray to never be tested in such a manner.

Job 2

We are returned to the throne room of God, which in my imagination is beginning to look more and more like a man-cave. God again points to Job as a faithful man. Satan says he is only faithful because he is still healthy. God agrees to let Job suffer physically, as long as he does not die. 
I am an able bodied woman who has very few medical issues. I cannot for a moment begin to understand what constant pain and sores might do to a persons whole being. Job's suffering is so great that when his friends come to visit they do not recognize him. Now that I is something I can understand.
I have walked with people through grief, loss, illness and pain. I have been to visit people who physically or spiritually no longer resemble who I once knew. There are times when I myself have felt torn apart by grief and loss that I do not recognize myself. And this is where the book of Job begins to speak to me personally. In the visiting of these friends, who stay silent and keep watch with Job for seven days and seven nights, I see the witness of the community of faith surrounding one another. Sometimes a ministry of presence is the best thing to offer.

Matthew 7

The Sermon on the Mount is concluded in this chapter of Matthew. The teachings found in this chapter are ones I remember plainly from Sunday School. Before worrying about your brother's blind spots, check your own.No pearls before swine. Ask, seek, knock. The golden rule. Jesus' skinny gate (a Sunday School teacher once mentioned that overweight people would not be able to enter heaven because of the skinny gate). Good fruit= Good tree. 
I think they might be reduced in my memory to bumper sticker style slogans rather than life-giving words. Reading these words with Job has helped jar my thinking.
  • Where have I let my own notions of what should be, and should not be, keep me from really seeing the world as my brother sees?
  • What keeps us both from seeing what Jesus sees?
  • What have a thrown before unworthy people, causes, things and then been surprised at its ruin?
  • Am I asking, seeking and knocking or just talking about it?
  • Am I doing unto others at all, let alone as I would want them to do unto me?  
  • When am I choosing the easy path because it is easy? Where do I dare to squeeze into the narrow path?
  • What kind of fruit tree am I really? Are my fruits shiny on the outside, but full of emptiness or self-serving?
  • Do I claim to follow Jesus, but never check his directions?
  • Is my life built on the Christ, or am I trusting in another's faith to hold me strong? (This particularly challenges me as it compares to the idea of Job's children sitting in a house feasting together when the wind blows it down. Did they rely on their father's faith rather than claiming a life of righteousness for themselves?)
What challenges are you facing with these passages? Where are you being stretched?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bible in One year: Day 8

Genesis 20, 21, 22 and Matthew 6:19-34

The readings for today are some of the most popular and most troubling readings in the scriptures. I pray that God grants us all the ears to hear and eyes to understand these passages today.

Genesis 20

Abraham, a newly minted child of the covenant, cannot help himself. In today's reading he goes back to his old ways of doing things. Once more he plays the "she's my sister" card in order to save his own skin. My heart hurts for Sarah once more in this account. Abraham hands her over to be used by Abimelec.
This time God intervenes more directly telling Abimelec in a dream that he is sleeping with a married woman and that God will punish him for this action. This is news to Abimelec who confronts Abraham and is given a "She is my sister, and wife" response that to me is a complete lack of owning up to the situation. The writer goes on to tell us that all of Abimelec's wives and slaves had become barren because of his relationship with Sarah. (An interesting if not strange tidbit)

Genesis 21

The much-anticipated birth of the child of the covenant is celebrate in this chapter of Genesis. Isaac, child of laughter comes into the world with much celebration. Abraham celebrates fatherhood at the tender age of 100. Abraham fulfills the sign of the covenant having Isaac circumcised at eight days old. This reading is the picture of family happiness we have been hoping Sarah and Abraham would receive. At least if we look at the close up view.
The wide-angle lens picks up a much different family portrait. The camera pans out and we see that Sarah is still jealous of Hagar and her son Ishmael. This jealousy has gone underground during the pregnancy and birth, but during the infancy and toddler-hood of her son, Sarah sees that Ishmael is no longer a small child, but growing into a young man. She once more, sends Hagar and Ismael out into the wilderness in order to secure her son's place in the family.
I cannot begin to imagine the day-to-day life of a woman such as Sarah or Hagar. My life is more than a world away. I want to say that I could never be as cruel or as self-serving as Sarah, but I know that is not the case. I've just never been put to that test. What I find really interesting about this reading is God's action.
God shows Hagar water when she is convinced Ishmael will die. God offers comfort and solace. In verse 20, we are told that "God was with the boy and he grew up." God did not abandon Hagar and Ishmael even thought Abraham and Sarah cast them out. Likewise, God does not abandon any of God's children who may feel rejection at the hands of fellow believers.

Genesis 22

This reading is perhaps one of the most difficult for me to understand. I am a mother. I have three precious beautiful children. I cannot imagine for an instant sacrificing them to God. Even if God told me to do so. I'm not sure what to do with this passage.
Some commentaries I have read state that God was testing Abraham's loyalty. Perhaps the boy had become so important to Abraham that he was no longer trusting in God's promises but was instead trusting in the life and legacy he knew his son would provide. Others say that Abraham knew God would not really make this claim and going along with it was Abraham's way of testing God. The evidence given for this is that Abraham tells his son that God himself will provide the lamb for the offering.
What do you think these passages have to tell us about God and our relationship with God?

Matthew 6:19-34

Catchy phrases from Jesus! Many of these passages are "Meme worthy", meaning they are the kinds of statements that are easily quoted and apply to many situations. Store up treasures in heaven. No one can serve two masters. Don't worry, be happy!  This part of the sermon on the mount is recognizable in much of my culture.
However, making these sayings of Jesus into pithy quotes takes away their weight and bite. There is real soul-searching to be done in order to live lives based on these principles. God is willing and able to help us lead lives that rely less on this world and much more on God's kingdom. What good news for us all!