Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 26-27 and John 20

Ezekiel 26 – Tyre was an island city off the coast of Phoenicia. It was a commercial hub in the region and built impressive buildings and connected a near-by island to it. They were subjected to a long, long siege by the Neo-Babylonians (13 years) but while the siege ruined the city’s commerce and power, it failed to bring the city down. Alexander the Great conquered it and built a causeway from the mainland out to it.

Here Ezekiel prophesies against the city for not being faithful to their alliance with Israel in fighting the Babylonians and taking pleasure in Jerusalem’s demise. Ezekiel tells them what he has told all the others, that God will ally Himself with Tyre’s enemies and bring her to see that He is Lord.

“Your wealth will be seized, your merchandise looted, your walls razed, your luxurious houses shattered, your stones, your timbers, your very dust, thrown into the sea. I will stop your music and songs; the sound of your harps will not be heard again” (26:12-13).

The idea of what might happen to people after death was interesting. “When I make you as desolate as any depopulated city, when I bring up the deep against you and the ocean covers you, I will cast you down with those who go down to the pit, down to the men of old; I will make you live in the regions underground, in the eternal solitudes, with those who go down to the pit, so that you can never come back and be restored to the land of the living” (26:19-20).

Ezekiel 27 – This chapter is a “lamentation” for Tyre, a sincere regret for the majesty lost in her destruction:

“Tyre, you used to say: I am a ship perfect in beauty. Your frontiers stretched far out to sea; those who built you made you perfect in beauty” (27:3). And the ship was the product of all the best goods from everywhere: planking from Hermon, cedar masts from Lebanon, oak oars from Bashan, inlaid ivory from the Kittim isles, embroidered linen from Egypt for the sail and flag, deck tents made with purple and scarlet fabrics from the Elishah Islands. And aboard the ship, men from Sidon and Arvad.

The city itself was as beautiful as the ship with people from every great kingdom. All of the people who have been drawn to you will go down with you “on the day of your shipwreck” (27:27). She will become an object of dread for all the surrounding peoples.

This is a beautiful dirge and an amazing description of the civilization of the city – the many goods traded there, the wealth and esteem the city attained through its trade.

John 20 – On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and sees that the stone has been rolled away. She runs to Peter and “the other disciple” with news that the Lord has been carried away. The two of them go to the tomb.

The writer notes with particularity that the beloved disciple arrives there first but that he does not enter the tomb. Peter does and is followed by that disciple. What is the significance here? It seems on the surface the kind of narrative one would get from the one who got there first—so as to make sure that his first-ness there would be forever noted. But then why would he not let us know for sure his identity?

They return to their homes, but Mary stays “weeping outside the tomb” (20:11). It is she who sees the angels in white sitting where the body had been. They address her and say, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:13) When she turns Jesus himself is standing here, “but she did not know that it was Jesus” (20:14). John typically has Jesus referring to his mother as “woman,” but here it is also used to address Mary Magdalene. He asks her why she is weeping. She still does not recognize him. It is completely mysterious to me the way all of Jesus’ closest friends do NOT recognize him even when they SEE him. She thinks he is the gardener. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (20:15).  It is only when Jesus says “Mary!” to her that she recognizes him. “Rabbouni” (20:16), she says. This term means “master” – it is much more formal than “rabbi. He tells her not to “hold on to [him]” because he has not yet ascended. He tells her to go to the brothers and tell them he is ascending to his Father, “my God and your God” (20:17). She does. Their reaction to her is not recorded.
That same day, in the evening, when the doors of the house where the disciples were staying were closed and locked “for fear of the Jews” (20:19), Jesus comes to them and says, “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (20:21-22).

Thomas is not with them at this time. When the others tell him what they have experienced, he can’t believe it—not unless “I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (20:25).

A week later, they are all together again, and this time Thomas is there. Jesus passes through the closed doors and appears to them, again saying “Peace be with you.” He addresses Thomas and tells him to probe his wounds as he said he needed to do. “Do not doubt but believe” (20:27). Thomas confesses him Lord and God. Jesus says, for us “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (20:29).

John ends the chapter telling us that Jesus does other signs in the presence of his disciples, things not written in this book. But the things written here are written so that we may believe and “have life in his name” (20:31).

So much in this chapter seems to be for us – those who were not there and who may have difficulty believing that such a miracle could happen – and also for those who might be challenging the authority of the disciples Jesus leaves to take the mystery of his life, death and resurrection to the future followers of Christ. He is risen yet not immediately recognizable; he is with his believers but will soon be gone again – ascended to his father; the truth of all of this is recognized as hard but we have the doubter Thomas who represents what we all experience, and he is reassured. Do not doubt. Believe. God understands the challenges we face, and we see here that he deals very personally with those who have trouble.

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