Monday, April 30, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 21 and Mark 15

2 Samuel 21 – A drought-induced famine hits for three years.  David learns from the Lord that it is because of the sin Saul incurred when he put the Gibeonites to death. 

David goes to the Gibeonites to ask what he can do to expiate Saul’s guilt.  They ask that seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to them to be “impale[d] before the Lord at Gibeon on the mountain of the Lord” (21:6). The king cannot give them Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, so he turns over two of the sons of Rizpah (daughter of Saul’s concubine Aiah) and five of the sons of Merab (Saul’s oldest daughter) and her husband Adriel. Rizpah keeps watch over the impaled bodies of her sons day and night, so they would not be carried off.  In response, David gathers the bones of Saul, Jonathan and all the seven sons and grandsons of Saul and buries them in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father.  After that, it rained.
Again war breaks out with the Philistines, “and David grew weary” (21:15). His men finally convince him to stay away.  He attracts gallant attempts of the enemy to kill him.  Men of great size, descendants of a race of giants (such as Goliath) are mentioned.

Mark 15 – In the morning, the chief priests and others consult and decide to turn Jesus over to Pilate.  He asks if Jesus is “King of the Jews,” and Jesus says, “You say so” -- an ambiguous response to say the least.  He does not talk further to Pilate. Then the crowd refuses Pilate’s offer to let him go.  The writer makes it clear that it is the chief priests who are behind the crowd’s refusal (15:11). 

Jesus is flogged and handed over for crucifixion.  The soldiers cloth him in purple, give him a crown of thorns and a reed, mocking him.  On the way to his death, the soldiers compel a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene (father of Alexander and Rufus) to carry the cross.  They come to Golgotha, offer him wine and myrrh but he refuses it.  They crucify him and cast lots for his clothes.  Above him is a sign that reads “king of the Jews.” Beside him are two bandits.  He is mocked and taunted even by the men crucified with him. There is no story of a good thief here.
From nine to noon, he languishes.  At noon darkness covers the land and lasts until three.  Then he cries out in a loud voice “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in Aramaic.  The women looking on “from a distance” (15:40) were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome—other women are there as will.  Joseph of Arimathea comes at dusk and body asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. He receives it and lays the body in a tomb hewn out of rock.  A stone is rolled against the door.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 19-20 and Mark 14:54-72

2 Samuel 19 – When word gets out how the king is taking the death of his son, the day of victory turns into a day of mourning, and Joab is furious – rightfully so.  His men are made to feel ashamed instead of proud of their sacrifices.  Joab confronts him: “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all our officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you.  You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord, if you do not do, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now” (19:5-7). In response, David does get up and take his place at the gate of the city to receive the returning troops.
Meanwhile, the people of Israel, who had joined Absalom in his rebellion discuss among them the need to receive David back.  They remember the good he did in the past, defeating their enemies, the Philistines. The men of Judah, however, too are now torn (I think). Put off by the behavior of their king, they hesitate to rally around David.  He sends word to their elders through Abiathar and Zadok that he expects their support.  He then also contacts Amasa (!) and asks his support, promising him command of his armies (19:13).  He must be really mad at Joab or distrustful of him. Amasa is very popular among the people of Judah, so they give their support to David again. The result of this “diplomacy” is a revival of support among the Judahites for David.
Shimei (the Benjaminite) of Bahurim greets David with a thousand people from that tribe, and begs him to forgive his bad behavior (cursing him—see 16:10) And Ziba also comes to serve him. Abishai wants to put him to death, but David dismisses him, saying, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should today become an adversary to me?” (19:22) There is a permanent breach here between David and the sons of Zeruiah, his half-sister—Joab and Abishai, the very men who led his armies to victory.  Either his love for Absalom or his displeasure with their forthrightness over behavior toward his troops has soured David on them seriously.
Mephibosheth too comes to curry favor with David.  David presses him about why he failed to support him and he has the nerve to blame his servant, Ziba. David falls for his excuse and again offers to divide lands he confiscated (chapter 16) when he heard that Mephibosheth was not supporting him.  Wisely Mephibosheth refuses to take back half the land from his maligned servant.  I guess he’s just thankful he was able to hoodwink David into forgiving him.
Barzillai, an old Gileadite who had provided food for David in Mahanaim, is asked to accompany David back to Jerusalem; but he prefers to go back to his own town.  He offers to send his son Chimham instead.  They go over to Gilgal.  There is a feud building here between the people of Israel and the people of Judah. It has been stoked by David himself because he sought Judah’s presence in his return—thinking he was owed it as a Judahite himself or thinking he needed their support.  But Israel is jealous because the Judahites outnumber the Israelites in David’s retinue, even though they (the Israelites) represent ten tribes as opposed to Judah’s two, and they were the first to request David’s return. “But the words of the people of Judah were fiercer than the words of the people of Israel” (19:43).

2 Samuel 20 Sheba, a Benjaminite, foments trouble by claiming now that the people of Israel “have no portion in David” (20:1). The Israelites fall behind Sheba, but the Judahites return to Jerusalem with David. The concubines Absalom had compromised, David now locks away “until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood” (20:3).

David asks Amasa to call the men of Judah together within three days.  He is late though. So David sends Abishai and Joab against Sheba.  Amasa, late, catches up with them at Gibeon.  What must be the ill-feelings among these commanders – Amasa, reconciled to David but previously leader of the rebellion of Absalom; Joab and Abishai, loyal commanders of David’s troops (except for the disobedient slaying of David’s beloved rebel-son? It is not really surprising what happens then. When Amasa approaches Joab, Joab takes him “by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.  But Amasa did not notice the sword in Joab’s hand; Joab struck him in the belly so that his entrails poured out on the ground, and he died” (20:9-10).

Then – amazingly –Joab takes off after Sheba. Why is this man loyal to David??? The bloody body of Amasa, lying on the road distracts the men, until one of Joab’s men removes it to a field and covers it. They all pursue Sheba to Beth-maacah.  A woman in that town approaches Joab and tries to save her town.  Joab tells her that if Sheba is turned over, he will withdraw from the city.  So she promises to throw Sheba’s head over the wall (20: 21). It happens, and Joab returns to Jerusalem in command of all the army of Israel. David’s government is reconstituted.

Mark 14:54-72 - Jesus is taken to the high priest and all the chief leaders are there.  Peter follows “at a distance” into the courtyard of the high priest.  Inside, “many” give false testimony against Jesus but they do not agree. 

Jesus is silent until the high priest asks him if he is the Messiah.  Jesus answers directly: “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’” (14:62).  This drives the high priest insane.  Who needs witnesses he says in the face of this blasphemy.  They abuse him and the guards beat him.  Outside Peter denies him three times, hears the cock crow and cries in self-disgust.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 18 and Mark 14:32-53

2 Samuel 18 – David organizes his men into three groups: one under Joab, one under Abishai (Joab’s brother) and one under Ittai the Gittite (Gath was a city in Philistia on the Mediterranean).  David wants to go out with them, but they prevail upon him to remain in the city to send help if they need it.  As they go out David says to them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.  And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom” (18:5). This is pretty amazing. I understand it as a parent. David is a man who has trouble NOT forgiving, NOT reconciling; but Absalom is the reason all these men are going out to fight and many of them will die. Yet the man who leads the rebellion they are trying to put down cannot be harmed??
The battle is fought in the Forest of Ephraim [east of the Jordan, near Mahanaim], and there is a great slaughter—20,000 fall.  The men of Israel are defeated by the servants of David (18:6). Absalom, riding his donkey, is caught up in a tree: “His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on” (18:9). Remember Absalom was a man renown for his abundant head of hair (see 14:25). Someone sees him and tells Joab.  Joab is angry that the man who came across Absalom did not kill him when he had the chance, but the man tells him he knows of the king’s wishes and was afraid to do it—believing that Joab would not have supported him against the king.  Joab says, “I will not waste time like this with you” (18:14). He runs three spears into Absalom’s heart and his armor-bearers follow suit. They recall their troops and bury Absalom in a great pit.

Priest Zadok’s son, Ahimaaz, wants to go tell David of their victory, but Joab sends a Cushite instead (worried about his reaction to the death of Absalom). Ahimaaz, however, refuses to be outdone and he outruns the Cushite.  David and his men see both running toward them.  Ahimaaz, wisely, only delivers news of the victory.  When David inquires about Absalom, he claims ignorance but does say there was some stir going on when he left. The Cushite does tell him, however. “The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you.  O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (18:33).

If you have never listened to the amazing Sacred Harp version of “David’s Lamentation” you should listen to it.

Mark 14:32-53 - Jesus goes to Gethsemane and asks his disciples to remain while he prays.  He takes Peter, James and John with him further and then asks them to stay while he goes further.  He “throws himself on the ground and prays that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (14: 35), “yet, not what I want, but what you want” (14:36). He returns to find his disciples sleeping—“the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (14:38). Twice more this happens.  Then Judas arrives with a crowd, this time a crowd unfriendly to him.  He kisses Jesus.  One of his disciples draws a sword and strikes the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  Jesus does not rebuke him in this account. But then all his friends desert him, including the one who runs off naked when one of the arresting men seizes his loincloth (14:51).

I am not sure of this, but I recently read that the Roman Catholic practice of “Eucharistic Adoration” originated as a way of remembering this moment in Jesus life. Those who do it sit in simple silence in the presence of the host for an hour or so. I am not sure that people today link the practice with this part of the Jesus story, but I think it would be more meaningful if they did. Jesus asks his dearest followers to “wait for him” while he prays, while he faces the “cup of suffering” he must face for us. This struck me as a very beautiful idea. Quakers similarly sit in silence in his presence in their Meetings for Worship, but I am pretty sure they rarely link that experience with this moment in the lives of Jesus and his faithful few. I think linking both these practices with the narrative is very meaningful and enriching. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 17 and Mark 14:1-31

2 Samuel 17 – Ahithophel (the wise advisor) advises Absalom to pursue David that night while he is weary and discouraged and take him down – kill him, but him alone. Don’t kill everyone. Bring the rest of David’s army back to him and let them live in peace. But then Absalom seeks the advice of Hushai, the spy of David’s who has infiltrated Absalom’s circle of friends. He tells Absalom that Ahithophel is giving him poor advice—that David would not be “weary and discouraged” or easy to catch. He is a very experienced and clever fighter. He is probably off in a cave somewhere waiting for the time of battle (17:9). He advises Absalom to muster all of Israel and then overwhelm David, killing him and everyone fighting with him. Absalom chooses to go with Hushai’s plan: “the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring ruin on Absalom” (17:14). Ahithophel, realizing he is doomed because David is sure to win this contest, goes home and hangs himself (17:23).

Hushai passes word of the plan along to Zadok and Abiathar, priests who have remained loyal to David. And they in turn get word of it to their sons, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, who are hidden by a man and his wife in a well.  David gets the news from them when he crosses the Jordan.
Amasa is Absalom’s general. The bloodlines of all these characters are extremely tricky to follow. Amasa is, I think, a first cousin of David’s commander Joab. He is the son of Abigail who is Joab’s aunt (sister of his mother). When David arrives at Mahanaim, a man named Shobi brings food for his troops.

Mark 14:1-31 – Two days before Passover and the chief priests and scribes are still looking for a quiet way to get rid of Jesus.  Fear of the crowds, fear of the people is a dominant theme in this book—crowds that are attached to Jesus, that hunger for him and for his healing touch. Jesus is in Bethany, at the house of Simon the leper.  A woman anoints his head with expensive ointment.  The “waste” of this costly product angers those who think the money it represents would be better spent on the poor (14:5). But Jesus says they ought not to trouble the woman, for “you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me” (14:7). He also connects her anointment of him with his coming death.
Just after this, Judas goes to the chief priests and offers to betray him. Was he outraged at Jesus’ apparent dismissal of the concern for the poor in Jesus’ words? The disciples want to go and prepare a Passover meal.  He sends them into the city to meet a man who will show them a large room.  That evening they gather and eat.  He tells them that one among them will betray him, the “one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me” (14:20).
It is at this meal that the “tradition” holds that the sacrament of holy communion or “eucharist” [thanksgiving] is instituted: Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (14:22-24). They then sing a hymn and go out to the Mt of Olives.  Here Jesus says to them, “you will all become deserters” (14:27). Peter swears he will never desert, but Jesus tells him he will do it not once but three times (14:30).  They all chime in.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 16 and Mark 13:24-36

2 Samuel 16 – Meanwhile, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, meets him with food for his men.  His master has stayed behind in Jerusalem believing that the overthrow will result in the restoration of his father’s patrimony to him.  David then turns all he has previously granted to Mephibosheth to the servant Ziba.

There is incredible drama in this story. Mephibosheth is the lame son of David’s dearest childhood friend, Jonathan – Saul’s son. Out of David’s love for his friend, now dead as a result of the conflict between David and Saul, he brought Mephibosheth under his protection and care. But now Mephibosheth is joining a rebellion. David responds here by taking the properties he bestowed on Mephibosheth and giving them to Ziba. But the story is not over yet. Forgiveness and love are very much attributes of this king – David.
At Bahurim, a man named Shimei of the family of Saul, comes out and curses David and throws stones at him.  He screams, “The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom.  See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood” (16:8). Abishai (Joab’s brother) wants to kill him, but David reprimands him: “If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’. . .Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him” (16:10-11).  They go to the Jordan.

Here too we see something very unique in David’s temperament – a willingness to hear unpleasant things, a willingness to let men “witness” before him. There was no First Amendment in this time, but David should be seen as laying the foundation for such freedom. Also, don’t forget, David is a king who has “on his staff” an honest prophet – Nathan – who is willing to challenge David’s actions and policies as King.
Back in Jerusalem, Hushai approaches Absalom and offers his loyalty. Absalom is suspicious, but accepts him. Then he asks Ahithophel for his advice about what he should do.  He tells him to go in to David’s concubines, that it will communicate to Israel that Absalom has taken his father’s place and has become odious to his father as a result.

Mark 13:24-36 - After all the suffering, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.  Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (13:24-27).

What shall we make of Jesus’ words, “I tell, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (13:30-31).  And then these really troubling words: “No one knows, however, when that day or hour will come—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; only the Father knows. Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come” (13:33).

The mix of allusions in chapter 13–allusions to sufferings we know the disciples will all face after Jesus’ death and resurrection and allusions to what seems to be the end of the world – makes it very confusing. Clearly the first apostles of Jesus went out with an expectation that His Second Coming and the Parousia would come in their life-times. And when that did not happen, the apprehension about the “end times” became an obsession among many in the wider Christian community even to this day. Harold Camping thought he had it all figured out in 2011. Maybe the key is that the end-time comes for each and every one of us – at our deaths; and we should live our lives on alert to the frailty and transience of everything in this life, preparing it for Christ every day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading 2 Samuel 15 and Mark 13:1-23

2 Samuel 15Absalom steals the hearts of the people of Israel (15:6) by being available to them to give judgment on cases that affect them.  After four years of this, he asks his father if he may go to Hebron to offer a sacrifice there he promised to make while he was in Geshur.  Hebron was a holy site to Jews in that time, the place where Abraham and Sarah were buried, the place where David had been anointed king. The plan Absalom really has is to have the people proclaim him king there. 

He sends messengers to all the tribes summoning them to Hebron—they are innocent of his intentions.  When David finally learns of the growing conspiracy, he gathers his people together and leaves the city of Jerusalem to escape his son.  He leaves his ten concubines behind to look after the house.  The Gittites, Cherethites and Pelethites—peoples who served David as protectors—stay with him as do Abiathar and Zadok.  The ark, which accompanies David as he leaves the city, is sent back with the two priests and their sons. David believes that if God favors his cause, “he will bring me back and let me see both it and the place where it stays” (15:25).
David ascends the Mount of Olives “weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went” (15:30). He learns that Ahitophel, a trusted advisor, is among the conspirators. He prays that Ahitophel’s (usual) wisdom will be turned to foolishness.  He sends another advisor, Hushai, over to Absalom to be a spy and help to him there.  His job will be to defeat the counsel of Ahitophel. He should report to the priests in Jerusalem—their sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan will report it back to David. He goes just as Absalom enters the city of Jerusalem with his men.

Mark 13:1-23 – Coming out of the Temple, a disciple points out the huge stones that make it up, but Jesus is not impressed.  Even a great building like the Temple is fragile in God’s hands. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (13:2). This prophecy would seem to relate to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70. This would fit with a Pauline vision of God’s displeasure with the Jewish rejection of Jesus, but I haven’t read much to indicate that others tie Jesus’ words to this event. 
They have a mysterious conversation about when this will happen and the larger implications of it happening—is it meant to mark the coming parousia? The end of the world? The beginning of the end? The beginning of a period of chaos that will culminate in the end of the world?  Jesus describes the unrest but does not clearly state what he is addressing.  As for the treatment his disciples will receive, this he outlines fairly graphically beginning in verse 9.  They will be brought before governors and kings; they will be handed over, tried, and beaten; brother will betray brother and they will be hated “because of my name” (13:9-13). But Jesus tells his disciples that they are not to worry.  He will send the Holy Spirit to give them words that will help them spread his message of salvation (13:11). Jesus’ language becomes even more puzzling and his description of coming turmoil even more disturbing.  There will be false messiahs and prophets who will lead people astray.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 13-14 and Mark 12

2 Samuel 13Another drama unfolds – I remember the first time I read some of these stories when I was teaching Middle Schoolers (7th graders) at Friends Academy. I could hardly believe I was reading the Bible! Some of the stories, I didn’t think 7th graders should read. Old-fashioned me.

Anyway, David’s son, Absalom (his son by wife Maacah—3:3), had a sister named Tamar. His half-brother Amnon (by wife Ahinoam—1 S 25:43) is enamored of her.  He gets his cousin Jonadab (his father’s brother Shimeah’s son), a crafty man, to help him corner her by pretending to be ill.  When his father asks how he can help, he can suggest getting Tamar to help him by preparing his food, etc. This happens, and when Tamar is thus brought near him, he forces himself on her despite her pleas.

But then “Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her” (13:15). She, on the other hand, seems to want to be with him, but he cannot stand to have her near. She behaves very strangely. Am I mistaken, or is Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet not made to act in a similarly strange way?

Her behavior raises the suspicion of Absalom. David finally is put on notice and he becomes very angry, “but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn” (13:21). But Absalom hates Amnon. Two years after this happens, Absalom arranges for Amnon (and his other brothers too) to come to a sheep-shearing event at Baal-hazor near Ephraim. There, he has his servants kill Amnon.  The others flee, but David mistakenly hears that all his sons have been killed by Absalom (13:30). It is the cousin Jonadab who tells David that only Amnon has been killed, and also that it was Absalom who did it and had planned to do it from the day Amnon raped his sister.
Absalom runs away, but the other sons return to David. Absalom goes to the king of Geshur [Golan Heights in Syria today] and stays for three years. “David mourned a long time for his son Amnon; but when he got over Amnon’s death, he was filled with longing for his son Absalom” (13:39).

2 Samuel 14 – Joab senses that David is fretting about Absalom, so he sends to Tekoa for a wise woman to come and help by pretending to be a mourner with a story—using a tactic similar to that used once by Nathan (getting to David through his imaginative identification with a person going through what he is going through). She comes and pretends to be a woman who had two sons, one of whom killed the other.  She says her family is insisting that she turn over the guilty son to be punished by the family with death, but she does not want to lose him too.  The king says he will help her by giving orders to the family to leave the son alone.  When he says this, she goes on to bring the point home to him—“in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again.  We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up.  But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence” (14:14).

This is the condition of every one of us “in the fall” – guilty of sin against our “brothers,” alienated from the “family of man.” God will not rest easy until we are brought back to him again.  Where David once was brought to repentance and restoration as a result of his own sin – with Bathsheba, now he must be brought to see that his own son, Absalom should be forgiven and restored to the family.  Unfortunately, Absalom will NOT respond with humility and repentance.           

The king sees that Joab’s hand is in this, and the woman admits it.  These stories are pretty complicated psychologically. Remember that Joab himself felt obligated to avenge the death of a brother by Abner. Now he is acting as an advocate for Absalom, who also acted upon a conviction that the wrong done to his (Absalom’s) sister was justly avenged.

David accedes to Joab’s request and has Absalom brought back, but he is not to be permitted back into the king’s presence.  Now, Absalom is a beautiful man.  He had three sons and a daughter whose name also was Tamar. After three years, Absalom tries to get Joab to effect a reconciliation with his father, but Joab does not respond to his summons.  Twice he calls on him, but he does not come.  So he sets fire to Joab’s fields.  He gets Joab’s attention and the reconciliation comes about: “he came to the king and prostrated himself with his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom” (14:33). 

But this drama is not over yet – Absalom has ambition and rebellion in his heart.

Mark 12 – Jesus tells a parable of a vineyard that is protected by a fence and watchtower.  Every year the vineyard owner’s servants—sent to collect his share of the produce from the tenant farmers who are working the vineyard—are beaten and sent away empty-handed.  The third is killed.  Finally he sends “his beloved son,” expecting them to respect him.  But they kill him too (12:8).  Jesus says the man will eventually come and destroy the tenants and “give the vineyard to others” (12:9). Again, only fear of the crowds keeps the leaders from pouncing on Jesus (12:12). They are the tenant farmers tending the vineyard of the Lord’s people.

This parable tugs a little against a left-wing predilection I have in favor of workers over owners, who do nothing but provide the business and then collect a share of what the workers have produced. I know the owners have a role; they buy the land and the seed and make an opportunity to labor and earn a living available to those who have no money to make such investments. If you’ve ever seen the movie Matewan about a seminal coal miners strike in the early 20th century, you may remember a similar problem one young Christian minister had with another of Jesus’ parables – the one about paying workers equally regardless of the time they’ve spent laboring. But, I think it is important to see that what Jesus is talking about with God’s sovereignty over His creation is substantially different from the “sovereignty” earthly rulers and authorities have over those who labor for them.

They try again to entrap him by asking him a question about payment of taxes, but Jesus refuses to be put in the role of rebel against the state.  The Sadducees try to trap him on the intricacies of resurrection faith.  Jesus tells them when we “rise from the dead, [people] neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (12:25). The scribes take their shot by asking him what the greatest commandment is, but he gives them an answer they respect.  Jesus acknowledges the wise response of the scribe by assuring him that he “[is] not far from the kingdom of God” (12:34).

Teaching in the Temple Jesus seems to say that the Messiah cannot be David’s son because David called the Messiah Lord. He also teaches them that it is wrong of the scribes to put on airs of holiness when they “take advantage of widows and rob them of their homes, and then make a show of saying long prayers” (12:38). And he points out the greater holiness of the poor who give all they have to those who make offerings of the surplus wealth they can comfortably dispose of (12:44). 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 12 and Mark 11

2 Samuel 12 The Lord sends his prophet, Nathan, to afflict David.  Don't you wish every "ruler" had an honest prophet to keep him on the straight and narrow! Nathan tells David a story—about two men in a city, a poor one and a rich one, one with many sheep and one with only one.  When a traveler comes to the rich man requiring hospitality, the rich man is loath to sacrifice even one sheep to feed the man; so he takes the poor man’s one lamb and uses it.  David becomes outraged at the injustice of the story and says, “the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (12:6).
Then Nathan tells David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (12:8-9)

He then imposes a penalty—“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife . . .I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. . .” (12:10-13). David realizes his terrible sin and confesses it to Nathan.  The Lord forgives him, but the child born to David and Bathsheba shall die (12:14).

There is, of course, a lot to be taken from this great story.  David is not above the law of the Lord even though he is king, even though he rich and has many wives.  When it comes to the moral law, all men are equal before God.  Also, even though God’s forgiveness comes readily to David, the punishment for sin remains.  The little baby will die, showing us also that the consequences of sin pour over onto the most innocent when we transgress.  Is it God’s will?  It is God’s will for there to be a moral order, and it is in the nature of this order for the evil we do to spill over onto those who are nearest and dearest to us. The woes Nathan speaks of here will come to pass in 16:20 - three of David’s sons are murdered, two by their own brothers. Absalom takes over his father’s harem. The real repentance of David is revealed not here in this story, however, but in the psalm he wrote, number 51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.  Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me
wisdom in my secret heart.  Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit with me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit (51:1-12).

David is inconsolable at the penalty exacted upon the innocent child.  He fasts and prays that God will spare him, but when he dies, David accepts it.  He and Bathsheba will have another son—Solomon.
Joab, meanwhile defeats the Ammonites at Rabbah and its king, Milcom.

Mark 11 – Approaching Jerusalem, at the Mt. of Olives, Jesus sends his disciples into town to get a donkey colt for him to ride into town on.  People lay their cloaks down on the ground before him and others leafy branches (palms?). He goes into the Temple and looks around.  Then they go to Bethany together. The next day they come back and Jesus sees a fig tree without fruit (it is not the season for the fruit), but Jesus curses it anyway (11:14).

In Jerusalem, at the Temple, he drives out money lenders (11:15) quoting something from scripture (Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 combined). At this point we hear that the chief priests and scribes are out to kill him, but they fear the crowd. They pass the withered fig tree, and Jesus tells them anything they pray for will come to them if they do not doubt (11:22).  And he tells them to forgive if they want God to forgive them (11:25).
When they come into Jerusalem again, the leaders ask him “by what authority” he does the things he does.  He confounds them—knowing their fear of going against the crowd—where they think John the Baptist’s authority came from. They are afraid to say his power came from God because they never had respect for John and saying he had been sent by God would show them disrespectful of God. And they are afraid of saying that his power did NOT come from God because they fear all the people who followed John. They fudge it and say they don’t know. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 11 and Mark 10:32-52

2 Samuel 11 – In the spring, David sends his army to besiege Rabbah (Ammonite city east of the Jordan). But he remains behind in Jerusalem.  He sees a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing on the roof of her house.  He sends someone “to inquire about the woman” (11:3), and it turns out she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who is off fighting with Joab. David sends for her and sleeps with her.  She gets pregnant and David has a problem on his hands.

David sends word to Joab to send Uriah home.  After asking Uriah how things at the front are going, he tells Uriah to go home and “wash [his] feet” (11:8) -- relax. He wants him to sleep with Bathsheba.  But Uriah is too virtuous to do anything so pleasurable when the army is suffering at the front (11:11). David has him over again, this time to get him tipsy, so he will go home and do his duty.  But Uriah still does not.  So David sends Uriah back with a note to Joab instructing him to place Uriah in a position of danger so he will be killed (11:15).
It happens as David plans. Joab sends word along with a reminder that what happened was done at the request of David. When Bathsheba learns that Uriah has been killed, she mourns for him.  But soon after, David sends for her and makes her one of his wives.  She bears him a son. We are told that the Lord is not pleased (11:27).

Mark 10:32-52 - Jesus has talked generally about the fact that he will be “handed over” to men who want to kill him, but now Jesus lets them know that it is in Jerusalem – where they are headed – that he will face this passion. Disciples James and John just seem to be thinking about which one of them will be most important when Jesus is on his “throne” in the kingdom they are sure he is going to end up in. I guess it’s possible they understood that Jesus’ passion – his humiliation and death – would result in a “glory” that was other-worldly; but they sound so full of a sense of their own importance, it seems more likely to me that they think whatever suffering lies ahead will end up in a worldly victory and that they will be recognized as Jesus’ leading friends. The other disciples see James and John as self-seeking and highly annoying.

He tells them they will indeed “drink the cup” he drinks but that they just don’t “get” what his “kingdom” is about. Jesus rebukes them all for looking forward to reigning over others. Jesus’ “kingdom” is not about “reigning” over others. It’s about serving others. “[W]hoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life [as] a ransom for many” (10:43-45).
In Jericho, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar meets them and shouts at Jesus (“Son of David”) to have mercy on him.  The disciples try to keep him away but he cries out even louder to Jesus.  The man calls Jesus “my teacher” and he begs Jesus to let him see, which of course Jesus does.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 10 and Mark 10:1-31

2 Samuel 10 – Nahash’s (the Ammonite and David’s loyal friend) son Hanun succeeds him and David plans to remain loyal to him. But the Ammonite princes doubt David’s intent when he sends his messengers to meet with Hanun. They think he has sent them as spies.  As a result, Hanun seizes them and humiliates them by shaving off half their beards and cutting their garments.  David is furious. Realizing they are in for a fight, the Ammonites muster and alliance of men from the Arameans (20,000), from King Maacah (1,000), Tob (12,000). They take up position in David’s front and rear.  He puts his best men against the Arameans; the rest he gives to the command of his brother Abishai to go against the Ammonites. They agree to support each other in case of need.  First, the Arameans flee, and when the Ammonites see them, they too take off.
The Ammonites regroup. Hadadezer summons help from Ammonites beyond the Euphrates.  David gathers all Israel together and crosses the Jordan to Helam—due east of the Sea of Galilee. David defeats them.

Mark 10:1-31 – In the region of Judea, he again teaches the crowds.  The Pharisees ask him about divorce “to test him.” He tells them that the mosaic permission to divorce was given because of the “hardness of heart” they suffered from.  In a marriage as God intended it, the two become one and cannot be divided by anyone.
Another passage on Jesus and his love for children.  He will not have his disciples keep them from him.  At another time, setting out on a journey, a young man approaches him and asks him how he can inherit eternal life. He tells him the usual things—the law; but when he tells Jesus he does all these things it says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me’” (10:21).  The young man is “shocked” and goes away “grieving,” because he had many possessions.
This leads to a discourse on the barrier wealth creates to inheriting eternal life.  But Jesus reassures his alarmed disciples and says that even though it is difficult, nothing is impossible for God. And Peter asks how their own sacrifices will affect their futures.  Jesus reassures him that leaving things for Jesus’ sake will not cause one to lose anything really.  The blessings will be so much more than the loss—plus there will be eternal life “in the age to come” (10:30).