Friday, May 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 21 and Luke 4:1-30

1 Kings 21 -    Naboth the Jezreelite has a vineyard next to Ahab’s palace.  Ahab wants it for a vegetable garden and tells Naboth he will pay for it; but Naboth does not want to sell it.  It is his family’s ancestral home.  Ahab becomes “resentful and sullen” again over this and will not eat (21:4). Jezebel can’t understand why he doesn’t just take the land. “Do you now govern Israel?” (21:7) So she decides she will handle the matter.  She plans to have Naboth falsely accused of some crime by the city’s elders and nobles—like cursing the king or something.  A Jerusalem Bible note says that the property of traitors reverted automatically to the king. They do it, and in the end Naboth is taken out and stoned – no legal process, simply accusation and death. Jezebel tells Ahab he may now go and take possession of the vineyard.
But “then the Lord said to Elijah, . . . ‘Go to King Ahab of Samaria [and] tell him that I, the Lord, say to him, ‘After murdering the man, are you taking over his property as well?’ Tell him that this is what I [the Lord] say: ‘In the very place that the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, they will lick up you blood!’” (21:19). He also foresees a terrible end for Jezebel: “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel” (21:23). Ahab tears his garments and fasts when he hears this, so the Lord relents somewhat, telling Elijah “Since he [Ahab] has done this, I will not bring disaster on him during his lifetime; it will be during his son’s lifetime that I will bring disaster on Ahab’s family” (21:29). Yet another difficult moral framework for modern readers to accept – that somehow God finds an equal justice in punishing the offspring of the real perpetrators.

Luke 4:1-30 - Having had it revealed to Jesus in his baptism that he is God’s “beloved Son” Jesus goes out into the wilderness and is tested.  Of interest in comparing this to Mark’s version, here it says, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove” – all very public.  In Mark it says, “as he was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (1:10).  The idea of it being a personal opening to Jesus is more likely in the Mark version.  Here there is an attempt to make it look like the vision was there for all to see. 

He goes out into the desert for 40 days, eating nothing.  The devil comes to him and tempts him three times: once suggesting he should command the stones to becomes loaves of bread since he is so hungry; once offering him the glory and authority bestowed on rulers over all the kingdoms of the world; and finally tempting him to put God to the test by hurling himself off the Temple to see if God will protect him as is promised in scripture.  Jesus refuses all of these.

The Spirit of God is with him but he eats nothing for forty days, fasting to attain clarity and self-discipline to discern what it means that he is God’s “beloved Son.”  Does it mean that he will be given miraculous powers to feed the masses and thus win favor by satisfying the material needs of man? Does it mean that he is to have power over all the earthly kingdoms of this world? Does it mean that whatever he wants and needs, he will be able to attain from God because of God’s special love for him.  He learns in turning his back on all these temptations that the true path of the Son of God is not any of these.  It is not clear that the reality of what it does import appeared to Jesus at this time, but there were clearly a number of possibilities that “tempted Jesus” when he considered how he might use his powers.  It is these that he turns his back on.  He meets temptation with obedience and lowliness.  The scriptures he cites show that even for Jesus the ancient Hebrew scriptures were a source of guidance and inspiration, but we must be careful here for the devil too quotes scripture to Jesus.  It is not the words found in scripture but the spirit of discernment applied to them that provides the wisdom.

After concluding his time in the desert, Jesus goes to his own town, Nazareth, and begins to preach in the synagogue. At first people admire him for his “gracious words” (4:22), but they soon turn on him when he compares them with some of the stubborn Jews of old and praises the outsiders in Israel’s past who were more open to God than the people (the Phoenician widow in Elijah’s story, Naaman the Syrian). Jesus adds to the Naaman story a detail that is not obvious from the scriptures – that the prophet Elisha was unable to cure anyone of leprosy in his own land.

I like it here that Jesus is using the book of Kings to teach the people – we need to remember that when we have the urge to throw out or denigrate the sometimes messy stories that come to us in Kings. What Kings teaches here is that often “the stranger,” “the foreigner,” is more open to the healing touch of the prophet than the people God called to him through Abraham and Moses.  Jesus uses this to reproach the people of Nazareth and they “get it” in no uncertain terms.  They are offended by his criticism of their complaisance or their unwillingness to believe in a “prophet” [Jesus] who is altogether too familiar to them to really “see.”  They are like the dutiful son in the prodigal son story.  They cannot see into their father’s depths because they are too used to seeing him with eyes of flesh.  The “living God” is different from the notion of God we create in learning about him as a child.  This is a lesson we too must learn.  We will never see God or hear His voice in us if we cling too tenaciously to the notions we learn of Him before we have experienced Him.  We somehow must be brought to see the great gulf that lies between Him and the familiar comfortable concepts we have of him – in a sense we must all come to him as foreigners, strangers, sinners, outsiders. 

They run him out of town. He goes to Capernaum

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