Monday, October 29, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 18 and John 14

Ezekiel 18 – The virtues of the “upright man” are described: “law-abiding and honest; he does not eat on the mountains or raise his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not seduce his neighbor’s wife or sleep with a woman during her periods. He oppresses no one, returns pledges, never steals, gives his own bread to the hungry, his clothes to the naked. He never charges usury on loans, takes no interest, abstains from evil, gives honest judgment between man and man, keeps my laws and sincerely respects my observances—such a man is truly upright” (18:5-9).

What is unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy is that people are seen as individually responsible for their behavior, not communally. The sins and short-comings of one’s relatives shall not contaminate you if you observe what is right. And even more significantly, the sins you commit at one point in your life will not necessarily doom you in God’s eyes. Repentance and change of course is possible.

“House of Israel, in future I mean to judge each of you by what he does—it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks. Repent, renounce all your sins, avoid all occasions of sin! Shake off all the sins you have committed against me, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. . . I take no pleasure in the death of anyone . . . Repent and live!” (30-32)
This is the most straight-forward proclamation of the change of approach that is characteristic of this time period in Israel’s life of faith. No longer will the entire “people” be held accountable for the sins of those who wander from God’s commandments. No longer are people slaves of their pasts. 

John 14 – He continues his discourse. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me” (14:1). He tells them he goes to prepare a place for them in his father’s house, a place with “many rooms.” The “way” to the place Jesus is going is “through [him]” -  I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (14:6).

Philip asks to be “shown” the Father. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (14:9) Even if they cannot believe that they (Jesus and God) are one, Jesus says they should be able to believe his works (14:11). The one who believes in him will do even greater works “because I am going to the Father” (14:12) and he will do anything for us asked in his name.

Love Jesus, John tells us and keep his commandments because if you do, Jesus says, “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither see nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you” (14:17). This Advocate - intercessor, counselor, protector and support -  “will teach [us] everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (14:26).

He leaves them his peace, a peace that the world cannot give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid. He is going away from them, but he will return (14:28). He tells them these things before they happen so that they may believe in him when they do. See Isaiah 30:20-22 on the inward teacher. Isaiah’s text says, “Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (14:20-21).

These texts of course were enormously important to early Friends (Quakers). They explored how we may come to know God “in us” through His “present operations and motions” in our souls rather than through doctrines and stories about other peoples' lives. Friends did have a deep knowledge of Scripture that informed their understanding of this “inward presence,” but they definitely denigrated the idea that creeds and sacraments could “open” this presence to us. I disagree a little. I think both are important – the historical knowledge of Christ we can get from reading Scripture and the drama of the sacraments. They bring us into the narrative in a powerful way when we approach them correctly.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 16:35 through 17 and John 13:21-38

Ezekiel 16:35-63 – For having given themselves to the terrible idolatries and human sacrifices that they performed (especially during the reign of Manasseh when – my note says – such practices were encouraged by foreign alliances), God will bring these “allies” together to bring Israel (Judah?) down. They will ravish “her” and leave her naked.

Compared with the nations around her, Israel has been by far the worst. Sodom and Samaria, Edom and the Philistines will gloat over Israel after God finishes punishing her.

In the end, however, after the retribution He brings, God will “remember the covenant that [He] made with [Israel] when [she was] a girl, and. . . will conclude a covenant with [her] that shall last for ever” (16:60-61).

Ezekiel 17 – Ezekiel presents an allegory to explain what he believes the Lord will do. The allegory is of a large eagle, who is said to stand for Nebuchadnezzar. He plucks off the top of the cedar tree that was Jerusalem and carries it off to Babylon. Then he carries the small seedling vine [those who remained] and sets it by the side of a stream, where it grows well.

It grows well until it begins to send roots out toward a competing power or eagle [Egypt] that is far “from the bed where it was planted for him to water them” (17:7). But this strong eagle will not let the vine thrive. He will eventually pull it up by its roots. The allegory is meant to convey disapproval of the alliance King Zedekiah (r.597-587 BC) had with Egypt (in 588 BC) to fight against the Babylonians. The prophet urges the king to abide by the oaths he has sworn to the first eagle. Because they have not obeyed the Lord God, the armies of the king will be defeated and the people scattered.

The chapter ends, however, with a repetition of the promise God made to replant his people “on the high mountain of Israel” (17:23) where it will become a “noble cedar” that will give shade to “every kind of bird” (17:24).

It must have seemed strange to some in Israel/Judah that the priest/prophet Ezekiel feels their future is tied up with remaining loyal to the empire that conquered them and carried them off to Babylon. Trying to re-establish their independence through alliances with other great powers like Egypt is not the path the Lord wants his people to take, but one can appreciate why they might have tried. The Lord wants his people to be patient and wait for Him to replant them in their promised land. 

John 13: 21-38 – At the end of yesterday’s reading Jesus predicted Judas’ defection: he “has lifted his heel against me” (13:18). The disciples react but do not understand what he means. Peter signals to the disciple sitting next to Jesus, “the disciple Jesus loved” (13:23) and urges him to ask Jesus who he means. Jesus tells him he will give a piece of bread to the one he is referring to. He gives it to Judas, and the moment he does this, “Satan entered him” (13:27) and Jesus tells him “What you ate going to do, do quickly” (13:27).

Judas goes out; it is night. 

Jesus speaks of the Son of Man having been glorified (13:31). He tells them he will be going where they cannot come. He gives them a “new commandment, that you love one another” (13:34). “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:35). Then he predicts the denial of Peter (13:38).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 16:1-34 and John 13:1-20

Ezekiel 16:1-34 – Ezekiel is once more told to confront Jerusalem and tell her life story and Yahweh’s involvement in it; it is an allegory: 

Child of both Amorite and Hittite, the city was born because Yahweh was “passing by” and came to her rescue at birth. He watched her grow and at the age of marriage Yahweh bound Himself to her by a Covenant. God gave his love everything – fame, beauty, riches – everything. Word of her riches and beauty spread and she became “infatuated with [her] own beauty” (16:15). She became a veritable prostitute and ultimately sacrificed her own children to these false gods.

“In your whoring, [you] have given your presents away to all your lovers; you have offered them gifts to attract them from everywhere. In your whoring you have done the exact opposite from other women; no one was running after you, so you went and paid them” (16:34).

John 13:1-20 – It is still before the Passover. Jesus is together with his disciples at dinner and he knows his "hour" is upon him. He wants to show his love for "those who were his in the world" (13:1).
During supper Jesus gets up, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself and starts to wash his disciples’ feet. Peter says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Incredulous, he adds, “You will never wash my feet” (13:8). Jesus tells him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (13:8). Responding with great emotion – as usual – Peter says it is not enough for Peter that Jesus washes only his feet. He wants him to wash every part of him. Jesus tells him only the feet are necessary for those who have washed and are clean as all of the disciples are except for Judas (13:11).
After this, he tells them that he has given them an example of how they should take his message out to others. He says, “no servant is greater than his master” (13:16).  “[I]f I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:14).
How are we serving one another? We must learn what Mother Teresa tried to teach the world, that Jesus is to be found in the person right next to us. But it is not only the "suffering" Christ we should see in our neighbor, but the teaching Christ, the serving Christ, the glorified Christ. 

Jesus promises them that “happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly” (13:17). But not everyone in the room will share this happiness. One among his disciples is a rebel – Judas. The literal translation of the quote he cites is “someone has lifted up his heel against me” (New Jerusalem 177). Why they do not put this translation in the text is beyond me; it is so obviously a reference back to the “protoevangelium” in Genesis 3:15, and I think that passage is critical to understanding John’s gospel. He says he is telling them at this point, so that when it comes to pass they will understand that he knew it would happen even before it did.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 14-15 and John 12:27-50

Ezekiel 14 – Ezekiel is visited by the Elders of the people, but he is called to testify against them because they have “enshrined idols in their own hearts” (14:3) and have not been faithful. Ezekiel is to tell them this in no uncertain terms, and Ezekiel “hopes to touch the heart of the House of Israel who have deserted me in favor of a pack of idols” (14:5).

Come back, he urges. But the retribution God plans will not touch the holy ones – those like Noah or Daniel or Job – who are steadfast. But these holy ones will not cast an umbrella of safety over others as the ten innocent ones did in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I find two things interesting in this chapter. One is that it holds that individuals may be rescued from the just wrath of God by their “works” – especially by the integrity in which their works are rooted. And two is the inward opening I felt to consider that one of the “idols” we in our day may be guilty of is the sense of certainty we have about our brand of religion. I am thinking a lot about this these days. The people of God’s creation certainly have deserted the unity of the faithful community in favor of a “pack of idols” (14:5) – separate understandings and sets of certainties they embrace rather than the simple “closeness” God expected “in the beginning.”

Ezekiel 15 – God’s word comes to Ezekiel in a short poem:

“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine [the chosen people] better
than wood from the branch of a forest tree [everyone else]?
. . .
There it is, thrown on the fire for fuel.
The fire burns off both ends [Samaria – then Jerusalem]
The middle is charred; is it fit for carving now?
. . .
As the wood of the vine among the forest trees,
Which I have thrown on the fire for fuel,
So have I treated the citizens of Jerusalem.
I have turned my face against them” (15:2-7).

This is a very short chapter that says pretty much the same thing that is said in 14 but by comparing Israel to the wood of a vine – equally unworkable before and after being charred by the fire – there is not much optimism here.

John 12:27-50 – Jesus’ “hour” – the time of his sacrificial death is drawing close. Jesus becomes very troubled. Should he ask his Father to save him? “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (12:27). People around him hear thunder and wonder if it is an angel speaking to him. Jesus tells them the voice has come for their sake, not his. “Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (12:32).

Passages like this about Jesus drawing all people to himself always draws my mind to a great poem I learned when I lived in Germany after finishing college back in 1968-1969. I actually learned it in German, so this translation is actually new to me. It is Goethe’s “Mahomet’s Gesang” (Mohammed’s Song). Goethe apparently was drawn to Islam, and may have converted to Islam at some point in his life, but the language draws my mind to Christ. He is the stream of life-giving water in whom we flow to the Father. He is the one whose outstretched arms await us so that he can draw us all to him:

See the water gushing from the rock,
Joyfully bright
Like a star
Above the clouds
Gentle spirits nurture his youth
Amidst crags and shrubs.

Fresh with youth
He dances from the clouds
Onto the marble stones below
Rejoicing, splashes back
Toward heaven.

Through paths at the summit,
He chases after the bright pebbles
And leads his brother streamlets forth
With him.

Below in the valley
Flowers bloom
Under his steps
And the meadow lives
From his breath.

But no shaded valley,
No flowers
That wrap around his knees
And flatter him with loving eyes
Can stop him:
Towards the plain he presses on
Winding like a snake.

Streams of water come together
And now he steps out
Onto the plain – sparkling silver.
And the plain sparkles with him
And the rivers of the plain
And the streams from the mountains
Shout to him and call, “Brother!

Brother, take your brothers with you,
With you to your ancient father,
The eternal ocean,
Who with outstretched arms
Waits for us,
Arms that open, ah, in vain
To grasp us who long for him.
For we alas are devoured in the empty wasteland
By greedy sands; the sun above
Sucks our blood; a hill
Dams us up in stagnant pools. Brother,
Take your brothers from the plains
Take your brothers from the mountains
With you to your father!”

“Come all of you!”
And now he rushes resplendent –
A whole people
Lift their prince on high!
And in rolling triumph
He gives lands their names,
Cities are born under his feet.

Unstoppable, he presses on
Leaving behind him tall spires gleaming
In the sun,
Marble cathedrals,
Created from his fullness.

Cedar ships Atlas bears on his shoulders;
Blowing in the wind above him
A thousand flags
Witnesses of his glory.

So, with joyful winds, he carries his brothers, 
His treasures--his children--
With him
To our expectant creator, with thundering
Joy in his heart.

The people wonder how he can think he is going to die. If he is the Messiah, they believe he will remain with them forever (12:34). But Jesus tells them that the “light will be with you only a little longer now. Walk while you have the light, or the dark will overtake you” (12:35).

After this Jesus hides from everyone. It says people could not believe in him because God blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts (quoting Isaiah). Still many do believe in him, even important people in positions of authority. “But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God” (12:43.)

“Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (12:44-45).

“The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge” (12:48).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 12-13 and John 12:1-26

Ezekiel 12 – Ezekiel is asked by the Lord to act out or “mime” what will soon be happening to the people of Israel – that they will be led out of the city into exile because of the terrible things they’ve been doing. He does do this. He packs his bags just as the king of Judah will soon have to pack up his bags and escape through a hole in the city’s wall. He does it as instructed during the day and makes sure that everyone can see him acting it out. But I don’t think he gets much response.

He also mimes the restlessness and anxiety the people of Jerusalem are doomed to experience because of the violence that awaits them.

He comments on a proverb that has currency in his time: “Days go by and visions fade” (12:22). He is to let the people know that the day is coming “when every vision will come true . . . What I say is said and will come true” (12:28).

Ezekiel 13 – Ezekiel must testify against those who say they are prophets but who “make up prophecies out of their own heads” (13:2). The passage mostly points to those prophets who “have misled my people by saying: Peace! When there is no peace” (13:10).  Their prophecies do not cause people to react forcefully – they cause people to plaster over things, not deal with restructuring what will really provide security to their city – FAITHFULNESS to their Lord.

The women of Jerusalem also “make up prophecies out of their own heads” (13:17). “Since you distress with lies the heart of the upright man whom I would never distress, and since you encourage the wicked man not to give up his wicked ways and find life again, very well, you will have no more empty visions, and you will not make any more predictions. I mean to rescue my people from you, and then you will learn that I am Yahweh” (13:22-23).

Like today, there were many men AND women who simply made up predictions about the future, made claims they said came from God but were just full of themselves. The question of how a person with a prophetic call from God can be discerned by the people of God was as much a problem in the 6th century BC as it is today. Maybe that’s why the churches have mostly not encouraged people to think God is still bestowing this gift. 

John 12:1-26 – Six days before Passover, Jesus is in Bethany. At the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, they serve him dinner. Martha serves and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, wiping his feet with her hair. This detail may cause confusion over the other similar story in Luke misplaced—she is not the woman who was a sinner from the Luke story. Judas becomes annoyed because of the extravagance—not, the text says, “because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief” (12:6). Jesus tells him to leave Mary alone: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (12:8). The crowds come to see him and Lazarus; the chief priests now plan to take Lazarus’ life as well.

I love this scene of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive nard. It shows the depth of devotion that existed among these friends - Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus.  I think Ray Brown thought there was a chance that Lazarus might have been the model for the “Beloved Disciple” rather than John himself?  I like the idea very much – or better yet one of the women. In fact these days I am finding all of these possibilities less appealing than the idea that all of those who opened their lives to Christ are his “beloved” disciples.

The next day, a great crowd in Jerusalem greets Jesus with palm branches and shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” (12:13) The disciples do not understand everything that is happening at this time; “but when Jesus [is] glorified, then they [will] remember that these things had been written of him and had been done to him”(12:16). The Pharisees worry about his growing popularity.

There are also Greeks among those worshipping at the festival. They approach Philip, saying they want to meet Jesus. Jesus says to them that his hour has not yet come, that the grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die before it bears fruit (12:24).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 10-11 and John 11

Ezekiel 10 – The prophet sees another very hard-to-follow vision: above the vault, over the cherubs’ heads, something that looks like a sapphire and above this a throne. The man in white (the vision of chapter 8) is told to take burning coal from between the cherubs and scatter it over Jerusalem.

The man goes into the courtyard of the Temple and a cloud fills the inner court. “The glory of Yahweh rose off the cherubs,” and the court is filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. There are four wheels to the side of the cherubs – glittering like chrysolite  (a greenish, clear gem).

The vision is complicated – it is of the angelic cherubim and wheels. “The cherubs spread their wings and rose from the ground to leave, and as I watched, the wheels rose with them. They paused at the entrance to the east gate of the Temple of Yahweh, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. This was the creature that I had seen supporting the God of Israel beside the river Chebar, and I was now certain that these were cherubs. Each had four faces and four wings and what seemed to be human hands under their wings . . . Each moved straight forward” (10:19-22).

Cherubs in Jewish thinking were angelic, spiritual beings that served the one God. Investigation of the origin of who and what they were in Jewish thought led to my reading about the entire angelic hierarchy. It was interesting and eye-opening. The Wikipedia article I started with directed me to a site that described the kabbalistic version; kabbalah is a school of Jewish thought that is very mystical. This is the hierarchy described:
·       Seraphim – the highest – are caretakers of God’s throne. They regulate the movement of the heavens and emanate a light so bright no one can look at it. Four seraphim surround God’s throne. They each have six wings – two cover the face, two the middle and two cover the feet.  Archangels Michael and Lucifer are among the Seraphim.
·       Cherubim – Next down the chain, beyond God’s throne, the cherubim guard light and stars. They have four faces – a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle. They guard Eden and the throne of God. Gabriel is one
·       Ophanim – Wheels/Thrones – beryl-colored wheel within wheel, the rims of which are covered with eyes. Also called Lords of Flame.
·       Thrones – symbols of God’s justice and authority
·       Dominions – keep the order of the cosmos
·       Principalities – guard nations/countries and are concerned with politics and war
·       Powers – bearers of conscience and keepers of history. They are also angels of birth and death and are concerned with ideology, philosophy, theology, etc. They are the only order created after the fall.
·       Archangels – chief angels (messengers) Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
·       Angels – the lowest order and the closest to man

It was interesting looking into this because New Testament references to “principalities and powers” were never something I associated with angels and archangels.

I have tried to look up the origin of the angelic hierarchy idea, but it is really not clear where it came from. Some say from Assyria or the Canaanites or just the Mesopotamian area generally. There may have been a common source for ideas about this set of angels and powers, but I can’t find anything simple to explain. Clearly, though, they are embedded in the story from the very beginning.

It is two cherubs who are given the task of guarding the gate to Eden. Satan is there is the story, but we are not given any narrative in the Bible itself to explain his presence.  Seems to me the important thing is they were seen as part of the heavenly court. God was not ALONE before the creation of animals and humans. And they seem to serve as guardians of both Paradise and the Sanctuary of the Temple. Perhaps they are evoked here in Ezekiel because they continue to guard God’s Holy Temple and city even when it seems to have been subjected to the desecration of the Neo-Babylonians.

Ezekiel 11 – Here the prophet repeats the promise of God to return those who have been exiled from the holy city. They will be gathered and returned where they will cleanse the city of its horrors.

I find it interesting what is said in verse 16: “I have sent them far away among the nations . . .and for a while I have been a sanctuary for them in the country to which they have gone” (11:17). This idea of God Himself being a sanctuary for his people will soon form the heart of the New Covenant. We do not need to be in the holy city or in the Temple there to be sheltered in God’s presence.

Meanwhile the cherubs and their wheels transport the “glory of the God of Israel” to the mountain east of the city, where it will hover until it is able to be returned.

John 11 - The raising of Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha. Mary is said to be the one “who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair” (11:2), but that story does not appear in John until chapter 12, and the Jerusalem Bible note here indicates that John has confused this Mary with the woman of Luke 7:37.

The sisters send an urgent message to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness, but he does not come for two days. “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (11:4). They return when he is dead. He actually finds upon his return that Lazarus has been dead four days.

Martha goes out to meet him, expressing faith that even now he can save Lazarus. Jesus assures her that he will rise again, and she thinks he is talking about the “last day” (11:24). Jesus responds that he is “the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25-26). She tells him she believes him and also believes that he is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (11:27).

Martha goes home and tells her sister that Jesus, “the teacher,” is back and wants to see her. She goes to him, followed by a number of Jews who were consoling her. When she sees Jesus, she too expresses the belief that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus only been there. The weeping of Mary and the Jews with her move Jesus (11:33). He asks where Lazarus is. He is weeping too. He is “greatly disturbed” when he comes to the tomb. He orders the stone taken away. Then he looks upward and says, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me” (11:42). Then he orders Lazarus to “come out!” (11:43) He comes out with the burial cloths on him.

Many believe, but some go to the Pharisees and tell on him.  They call a meeting.  They are worried that the Romans will come and “destroy both our holy place and our nation” (11:48). Caiaphas—high priest that year—tells them it is better to have one man die for the people than for the nation to be destroyed. He implies that Jesus will not only die for the nation but “to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (11:52). Is this meant to be some ironic recognition of the universal saving role Jesus will play, ironic only because the truth is on the lips of one of the men responsible for his lynching?

Jesus goes to the town of Ephraim near the wilderness and remains there.  The Passover is near, and many are going to Jerusalem.  They look for Jesus and wonder if he will come. The chief priests and Pharisees have let people know that they want to arrest him.

This is the ultimate story of Christ’s power over the flesh and our mortal existence.  It’s interesting that this amazing story only appears in one of the four gospels.  The less dramatic one about Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha seems to have been more widely told.  But the story reinforces the major theme of John’s approach to the gospel – that Jesus – from the beginning of creation on – is the source of life, both spiritual and material, and He is the One who has power to raise the dead to life.  The quotes I have included above speak volumes about what this fact can mean for our individual lives if it is apprehended as a spiritual reality available to all of us as friends and beloved of Jesus.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 6-9 and John 10:19-42

Ezekiel 6 – The Word of God comes to Ezekiel, and addresses him as “Son of Man.” He is told he should prophesy against the “mountains” of Israel. They are the “high places” where idols like “sun images” are worshipped and human sacrifices (I think) are practiced by an unfaithful people.

God will punish the people for this but some will be spared and they will be scattered. Then after this time and this devastation, the people will “remember” Yahweh and will understand that He is “Lord.”

Ezekiel 7 – People will be judged in the “end” by their “ways” – their practices. They will have to suffer the “retribution” of the Lord for their rebellion and will need to realize that “Yahweh is Lord” of all that is.

Their wealth shall be discarded as unimportant and “worthless.” They will see that these outward things are simply a source of vanity and pride. They are ultimately unimportant.

Ezekiel 8 – In 592 BC, Ezekiel again feels the “hand of the Lord Yahweh” on him. He sees what seems to be “a man,” but below his loins he is “fire” and upward of his loins he shines “like polished bronze” (8:2).

He takes Ezekiel (it seems) by the hair and lifts him into the air. In visions he takes him to Jerusalem, to the north gate, where an idol (Jealousy) has been erected. God says they are driving him out of His sanctuary.

Then God takes him to the entrance to the court and has him break through the wall where he sees all kinds of images on the walls. The elders of the House of Israel are offering incense. Women are “weeping for Tammuz (Adonis), and men are bowing to the Sun. The Lord is furious and ready to punish them all.

Ezekiel 9 – Getting ready to bring His wrath down on the city, he assembles “six men” – agents of his wrath: the man in the middle is “in white, with a scribe’s ink horn in his belt” (9:2). He is to go through the city and “mark a cross on the foreheads of all who deplore and disapprove of all the filth” in the city (9:4); they are to be saved.

Everyone else is to be killed – men, women, children (??). When they go, Ezekiel stays behind, falls down and questions the Lord. The unfaithful say that they think Yahweh cannot see or does not care what they are doing, but the prophet is told that his vengeance will show them otherwise.

John 10:19-42 - At the festival of the Dedication [Hanukkah], Jesus goes to the temple. The Jews gather around him and ask him how much longer Jesus is going to keep them in suspense about whether or not he is the Messiah (10:24). He tells them that “the works I do in my Father’s name are my witness; but you do not believe, because you are no sheep of mine” (10:26). And he again repeats that his sheep know his voice.

When Jesus says, “the Father and I are one” (10:30), the Jews get ready to stone him.  He argues again to them about how his “works” show who he is, but they are offended by his “words” – words that seem blasphemous to them.

Jesus makes a rabbinical argument in his defense. He says, “Is it not written in you Law: I said, you are gods? So the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the world of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected. Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’, because he says, ‘I am the Son of God’” (10:34-36).   His argument is that the magistrates of the Law are referred to as “gods” in the Scriptures because they applied the Law of God to everyday situations. So if they could be called “gods” [God’s agents] then certainly it is not blasphemous for one sent by God to be his Son in the world to make this claim. But the crowd is incensed when he says “that the Father is in me and I in him” (10:31-42). Still, he eludes them.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 4-5 and John 10:1-18

Ezekiel 4 – God tells Ezekiel how he is to embody or act out the prophecy God has given him: he lays a brick in front of him and scratches on it the name “Jerusalem.” Then he is to surround it with “siege works” - an iron pan that will fill the role of a wall between him, the besieger, and the city.

He is told to “lie down on your left side and take the sin of the House of Israel on yourself” (4:4). He must lie on his left side for 190 days, and then on his right side for 40 days. The Jerusalem Bible note says the “sides” of his body and the “days” have to do with the respective periods of exile Israel and Judah suffered.

He is then to make bread to live on during this time and bake it on a fire made from human dung. The prophet objects to this and says he has never defiled his soul with unclean eating. God relents and lets him use cow dung, a natural fuel for this region of the world. Inside Jerusalem, the people will “pine and waste away as a result of their sins” (4:17).

Ezekiel 5 – The prophet is told he must cut off his hair and beard, weigh the hair and set fire to a third of it in the middle of the city during the siege. Then another third and toss it from a sword all around the city and the last third he is to scatter – a sword will take this third down.

A little “remnant” of hair will yet remain. These are to be wrapped in the folds of his cloak. From this tiny remnant, he is to take a few and throw them on a fire. From these a fire shall again issue – it is a mystery what exactly this “fire” will be, but it could be the fire of the prophet’s message, coming as it is from the small remnant in exile. It does sound like his message.

And this is the message: “This is Jerusalem, which I have placed in the middle of the nations, surrounded with foreign countries. She is so perverse that she has rebelled more against my observances than the nations and more against my laws than the surrounding countries . . . Therefore, the Lord Yahweh says this: Since you are more rebellious than the nations around you, since you do not keep my laws or respect my observances . . . I have now set myself against you. I will inflict punishments upon you for all the nations to see” ” (5:6-8). One third of Jerusalem’s inhabitant “shall die of plague or starve to death . . . a third shall fall by the sword, outside you; a third I will scatter to every wind, while I unsheathe the sword behind them” (5:12). They will become an object of contempt and shame (5:14), an example to all the nations.

John 10:1-18 – Anyone who does not “enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit” (10:1). The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd . . .The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . .the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers” (10:3-5).

“I tell you most solemnly, I am the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands; but the sheep took no notice of them. I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture”(10:7-9).

Jesus is not only the gate; he is also the shepherd who can lead them through the gate. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11).

“I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (10:14-15). The Jerusalem Bible note here indicates that “knowing” here is not just mental; it is experiential knowing.

Interestingly, Jesus says also that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16). Mormons think this is a reference to God’s work among other peoples in other parts of the world.

The Jews remain divided about him.