Saturday, October 6, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Amos 4 and John 3:22-36

Amos 4 – Amos calls the rich owners of livestock “cows of Bashan.” They oppress the poor and the needy. They “will be dragged out with hooks” and driven out in the direction of Assyria [not named but alluded to].

The superficial religious rites they participate in will not save them. Yahweh has sent famine, drought, fire and locusts but they do not come back to Yahweh. He sends plague and war and plundering, but they do not return. “This therefore, Israel, is what I plan to do to you, and because I am going to do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God!” (4:12)

The glory of God is alluded to: “For he it was who formed the mountains, created the wind, reveals his mind to man, makes both dawn and dark, and walks on the top of the heights of the world”(4:13).

John 3:22-36 - After the talk with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples go into the Judean countryside where he spends time with them and baptizes (3:22). This is the only reference to Jesus himself baptizing that I am aware of, and John will clarify in the next chapter that it is really Jesus’ disciples who are baptizing, not Jesus himself.

John’s disciples get into a discussion about “purification” with “a Jew” (3:25), and tell John that Jesus is baptizing too and that everyone is going to him.  It is usually thought that the term “Jew” as used in John was a term that came out of the time in which John wrote—a time of expulsion from the Temple for Christians, a time of persecution and division.  But could it be that it really comes from an earlier time, from the time when the Baptist preached and baptized from the Essene branch of Judaism.  Maybe he was distinguishing his sect from the wider community of Jews.  That is what it seems to be here. 

John does not worry about Jesus’ activity.  He reemphasizes that he, John, has told them he is not the Messiah. “The bride is only for the bridegroom; and yet the bridegroom’s friend, who stands there and listens, is glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice” (3:29). This reference to Jesus as the bridegroom echoes the references in Old Testament writings to God’s chosen people God’s “bride”, especially the one from Jeremiah: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness” (2:1).

“He who comes from heaven bears witness to the things he has seen and heard, even if his testimony is not accepted; though all who do accept his testimony are attesting the truthfulness of God, since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words: God give him the Spirit without reserve”(3:31-34).

Jesus is the One who comes from heaven and speaks (by inference) “on a heavenly – spiritual – plane.”  For John the things Jesus says often cannot be understood in their ordinary sense, and I think this is definitely true.  I am not always sure the other gospel writers understood this, especially Luke who seems to me sometimes overly literal or “earthly” in his understanding.  For John, the earthly is fundamentally different from the spiritual, so when he says, “Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: the anger of God stays on him” (3:36), I don’t think he is speaking of life after death, but a more mysterious dimension of life now.  And the wrath is not literal either but that which a person dwells in when he does “not see life.”

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