Friday, March 3, 2017

Day 31: Power Plays

**** Trigger Warning: These passages in Genesis deal with difficult subjects including rape ****

Genesis 33, 34, 35 & Matthew 20: 17-34

Power is always a hot topic for conversation. This holds true in both the Old and New Testament. Jacob and his family face issues of power in the Promised Land. Jesus deals with the disciples being power hungry in Matthew.

Genesis 33:

After his night of wrestling, Jacob is ready to approach his brother Esau. He divides up his children and wives, taking care to place Rachel and her son Joseph at the rear of the group. This would give them the most protected place. Jacob then goes forward bowing to the ground to meet Esau.
Esau runs to Jacob and embraces him, kisses him, rejoices in his homecoming. This is not the greeting Jacob is expecting to receive. He seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Esau extends an invitation for Jacob and his whole family to join Esau’s family. Jacob again lies. He tells Esau that they will be there soon, but that they will travel slowly with children and animals in tow.
Instead, Jacob and his family settle near the land of Shechem in an area they called Succoth. Here Jacob’s problems only grow.

Genesis 34:

We hear once again about Dinah, Jacob’s only known daughter. However, she is never given a voice. We are only told what happened to her and how the men in her presence reacted. Too often this is still the case with women who are raped or abused. Their voices are silenced. Their power is limited. They are often left to deal with the trauma themselves, without a support network.
Dinah is raped by Shechem, the man the town gets its name from. He sees her, thinks she is beautiful and rapes her. Let me note here that these were all his actions, no matter if she was wearing a revealing headdress, or had coal outlining her eyes, or had on sparkly jewelry. He chose to rape her. Dinah bears zero responsibility in this act.
The man’s father tries to make things better by offering to buy Dinah as a wife for Shechem. The horror of this I cannot begin to express. The position they propose to put this poor girl in is tragic, and enraging. Jacob waits for his son’s before deciding what to do.
I wish Jacob had just told them no. I wish that Jacob had held his daughter up and offered her solace. I wish he had at least given her a chance to speak. Instead the brothers hatch a plan for revenge.
They agree to a marriage, but only if all the men in the city are circumcised. So, the men agree. Three days later, while they are still in pain from having the “procedure” Levi and Simeon attack the city, killing every male by the sword.
 Then the other brothers come and ransack the village, carrying off all they can and making them their prey. I think that’s a fancy word for rape and pillaged. Is this a case of eye for an eye gone wrong? Do they not understand that what they have done will not help their sister and in fact harmed many more innocent women and children?
Power is an awful thing to fight over, and many terrible deeds are done to gain the honor and power back.
Sadly, we will not hear from or about Dinah again.

Genesis 35:

Jacob takes his family to Bethel after his sons have massacred the men of Shechem. He tells his people to purify themselves and to set aside any idols or gods they got from Shechem. This is a way of making themselves clean again so that they may be in God’s presence once more.
During this trip, we learn that Deborah, Rachel’s nurse, dies. She must have been special to the family to be mentioned here and her place of burial noted.
Here again God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, perhaps a reclaiming or a reminding of the covenant they had discussed earlier. Jacob is now Israel.
Then Rachel has a difficult labor. She dies in childbirth using her last breath to name her son Ben-oni meaning son of my sorrow. Israel changes the boy’s name to Benjamin meaning son of the south. It really bothers me that he would change the boy’s name, especially given the circumstances of her death and his reported love for Rachel, but it was within his power to do so.
These power issues have affected Israel’s sons. How do we know that? Because Reuben sleeps with his father’s concubine. This would have been seen as an attack against his father’s place in the family. It was a grab for power.
When Isaac dies, at 180 years of age, we are told that both Jacob and Esau burry him. There seems to be at least some understanding between these two for them to come together in this instance.

Matthew 20:17-34

Jesus talks for the third time in Matthew about his upcoming death and resurrection. Yet somehow, when it does happen, none of the disciples believe it! Why are we so often surprised by God’s actions? Specifically, those that God has said would happen time and time again?
After this statement, Jesus is met by the mother of James and John. She is a pushy or gutsy woman. She asks Jesus to give her sons the positions of honor at his right and left hand once he comes into his kingdom. This is a push for power and prestige. It angers the other disciples, and I’m sure embarrassed the two young men!
Jesus tells the disciples that this who is greatest business is counterproductive. They are not to seek power but rather to seek to serve one another.
This is one of the most unique teachings of the Christian faith. Jesus tells us that service should be our main concern, not status. As if to demonstrate this fact, Jesus then heals two blind men he encounters on the road. He uses his power to serve them, not to make them serve him.

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