Category Archives: Bible Study

“Doubting” Thomas

So everyone seems to get down on poor Thomas (John 20:24-29). Yet he wasn’t there when the rest of them got to see Jesus come into the locked room. So he refused to take their word, thinking they were delusional. Totally rational call on Thomas’ part, I think.

I’m thinking of how Thomas might have felt, being the only one not feeling and knowing the amazing astonishing beautiful news that Jesus was not gone, he was back, he loves them still. To be the one not breathed on: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” Thomas had more than doubts, he had been left out.

I relate. I feel weary sometimes with feeling left out, with longing for more connection with people and with God. Sometimes the days are an endless slog of work and worry. Where is the breathe of God? Where is the joy?

For me, no doubt a good nights sleep will take care of things. Here’s a prayer for those out there feeling wonderless: remember Thomas. Jesus showed up again, just for him. Thomas opened his heart and let him in. May it be so with you and me too.

The beginning of John 9:1-41

So here’s the beginning verses:

As he walked along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Now on one level it is a very clear thing — in those days the reason someone might be born blind was because of a punishment for sin. Jesus is saying no, that’s not it. And that was considered (I am told) a radical thing to say and believe.

Yet would Jesus’ reason for the man being born blind might really be comforting? God made this man born blind so that eventually he will be healed by Jesus and thus show and serve God’s glory? Isn’t that really mean of God? Isn’t that God using bad for good; isn’t that unfair?

The man born blind makes no complaint. He’s glad to be healed, he’s frustrated at the confusion of his identity post-healing (as you would be), he’s frustrated by being asked over and over how “that man” healed him and who (and where) “that man” is. He ultimately believes “that man”, Jesus, to be the Son of Man (a declaration of being the Messiah) and worships him. You do not worship someone who is only human. The formerly blind man ends up seeing very clearly indeed.

So if he has no complaint about being used by God to reveal the glory of God, perhaps I should not either. It might be patronizing of me. Or it might be me stuck in this endless loop I seem to be in about wanting the world to be fair and nice and just and safe and good and when bad things happen, I don’t blame people*, I blame God.

Here’s what I imagine. Imagine the man’s mother, so young and hopeful and delighted to be okay after giving birth, and delighted to have her baby and delighted he is nursing and thriving. Except unlike other babies, his eyes don’t seem to learn to track. He doesn’t seem to recognize the light when it shines in his face. She holds him to the sun, putting her hand gently over his eyes and moving her hand away, and he laughs because he feels her hand, and the strength of her arm holding him, and the breeze blowing against his face. But his little eyes don’t get upset by the bright shine of the sun. It might take more months before she admits that he can’t see, that he will never see her face, he will never be the son they so longed for, that all he can be (in that place and time) is a beggar, an object of mercy and charity, or in bad circumstances, an object to ridicule and even steal from, take his money right out of his cloak spread on the ground. Imagine the tears she shed, no matter how many other children they had or have, because this child is facing a literally dark future. Imagine Jesus telling her — it was all set up just so I could prove that I am.

Would she be angry at Jesus/God?

Would she be glad to know why this happened to her son, and that it was set up as an honor?

All we end up knowing from the story, is she and her husband are afraid.

Would it help me in suffering, to know that it is for the glory of God? I hope so. I think it might. I pray that I never need to know. I think fear is a pretty honest and appropriate response to seeing the power and healing of God!

 

*Mostly. Sometimes, some things, sure. But not for being born blind, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of Jesus and the blind man

In reading aloud John 9:1-41, which I don’t know if I can learn by heart, I’m struck by the man who was formerly blind. I’m struck with how impatient he gets, how annoyed he is. The response to the miracle of his being able to see isn’t to rejoice — which should be the response, don’t you think? He was blind and now can see. It sort of echoes “the sheep/coin/son was lost and now is found”, doesn’t it? No, instead the response is endless repetitive questions from everyone, and scarily the Pharisees call people to give testimony. (Is this like some sort of trial? I shall have to learn.) The man who was formerly blind has to endure all this, but when he is ultimately tossed out of the community Jesus finds him. And he worships him.

And as a storyteller that is the first of my problems — all the “he/hims”!

Take a look at this snip:

“Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” “

The Pharisees are not saying that the formerly blind man is not from God, but that the man (Jesus) who performed the restorative actions is not from God. But then, on the other hand, how could he not be from God, others say? It is a miracle. But it is a mess of pronouns!

So how do I inflect my voice? Or use my hands? Or turn perhaps — how will listeners not get confused?

And so I start! FTGOG

Luke 2:25-38 and joy

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

So I think perhaps Simeon and Anna were joy-struck. Somehow (the Holy Spirit…) of all the babies they had seen brought to the temple for blessing, this baby, Jesus, stirred their hearts and made them think he was the one: a light, a blessing, a sign. Not just another life, not just another good life. Perhaps not a “good” life at all because being “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel” does not sound safe and secure and happy to me. There’s going to be conflict, so much so that Mary will suffer, because we suffer when our children suffer. This child was the one.

And they are delighted. They were struck with relief and thankful joy to have lived long enough to be in the presence of the babe who would go up and bring Israel’s light to the whole world. It is not a gift for them that is making them happy, it is a blessing for the world.

Just as Luke’s angel declares to the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people”. You can hear it as just one set of people or you can take that “all” seriously and I take it seriously indeed. This joy is a love for all — a radical love that has no boundaries, that has no limits, that wants everything made whole, that shares and grows and is full. An abundant love.

This harks back, so my footnotes say, to Isaiah 49:6:

[The Lord] says,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to restore the survivors of Israel;

I will give you as a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

It would be too easy to just save Israel. God wants the whole world to be saved. Saved from battles and strife and hunger and pain and suffering. Saved from economics that separate and hurt. Saved from a yardstick that only measures by “worldly riches”. Saved by giving.

I think it says a lot that Simeon and Anna were full of joy and thanksgiving at this news from the holy spirit, instead of bitter and anger that it didn’t come sooner. By their joy, the good news of redemption was already a treasure they had, yes? Just as we do: The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand, Jesus will grow up to say. Not yet, but here.

FTGOG

Luke 2:25-38 an old man and an old woman are joyful

Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

This is actually one of the stories that I think I am supposed to like — look they knew this child was the Messiah and they died happy — but to me it is one of the “spooky” stories that do not quite make sense. In fact, miracles of healing don’t trouble me — God can do miracles. All sorts of stuff that might seem spooky is fine by me. But this story has people not really making sense, it seems to me.

Simeon is looking forward to the consolation of Israel — what? The Holy Spirit rested on him and revealed things to him? This is so confusing. Since he was guided by the H.S. to be at the temple when Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus there for circumcision and presentation, on the eight day — really? It is about 6 miles, but they were on the road for so long to get to Bethlehem and Mary has just given birth. This is true dedication, right? Is Mary ever going to catch a break?  And where was Simeon before the H.S. told him to go to the temple? And…. how about something more like this.

“Simeon rose early that morning as he typically did, and said his prayers. This room was chilly in the morning air, but the day would be warmer. Shepherds would bring some spring lambs to the city, farmers might bring some vegetables and fruits. Slowly the sounds of his household pressed upon him — the women in the kitchen, eternally working to feed everyone. Simeon knew he had work to do that day. He raised his hands again and closed his eyes and said a final blessing and suddenly a shaft of dawn’s light broke into the room through a slit in the covered window. He opened his eyes and was amazed at the brilliance and dazzled. Suddenly he knew work could wait. Today he would go to the Temple first thing, be a part of the daily quorum of prayers. His heart lighter, he dressed quickly and ….”

See doesn’t that make more sense? {{laughing}} I know…that was a bit silly …the Bible doesn’t work that way. We are just told — as in a classic storytelling opening — “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, …” where he was when the Holy Spirit inspired him and what it means to be Guided by the Holy Spirit just are not explained.

Maybe that is part of the point? The Holy Spirit needs us to listen and see and do, not fret and question? And with the classic story start — Now there was — his chops to authority are authenticated, at least to the people that first heard this. We’d want to know where did he go to school, and if it wasn’t Princeton Theological Seminary, why not, and what did he study, and …..that’s why I think this is a “spooky” story because I don’t understand who Simeon is and what is motivating him. I think the people then and there and those later that heard the story, woudl absolutely know who he was.

What Simeon does is to hold the baby and praise God and to give a prophesy, a word from God — motivated by the love of God.

And that’s enough for now, for the glory of God.

 

 

Matthew 1:18-25

Let’s review: A man, Joseph, whose life is turned upside down. A vulnerable girl. The time cues in the story; the “now” of the story. The holy spirit. Family and relationships — particularly healed relationships.

This is a lot for just a few verses!

Perhaps what strikes me today, right now, is the “dream-ness” of this. We don’t know at first Joseph has fallen asleep — was he turning over his “Mary problem” as he was lying in bed, the way one does, an endless night of worry, the same thoughts churning in your mind, over and over? We don’t know. We are told:

“But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…”

And then later “when Joseph awoke from sleep”…

Now there is another biblical Joseph, who also dreamed, back in Genesis. I seem to keep connecting this nativity story to Genesis. Joseph’s dream made his brothers so angry, they sold him to folk who took him to Egypt. And then his dreams caused him him to rise in influence with Pharaoh. Joseph was a famous dreamer, this is the merest bare bones of the hint of the story (Genesis 37 and others). But what that Joseph did most of all was help Israel survive, because what man intended for evil, God turned to good (Genesis 45:4-5). The line of David does not spring from Joseph, but without Joseph there would have been no house of David.

Likewise, without this Joseph, Mary’s husband, son of David, there very likely would not have been survival for this child. This Joseph protected the son of God, gave him a name, gave him a trade and a family. Jesus will be the start of a new relationship between God and man, a re-genesis perhaps. So it seems appropriate for there to be another Joseph critical in ensuring the survival of this new start.

FTGOG

The “holy spirit” in Matthew 1:18-25

“Holy Spirit” is used first in verse 18 and then again in verse 20. And I want to contend that if you aren’t paying attention — by which I mean reading it out loud and trying to bring the words to life — then you are going to be puzzled.

I say this because I was puzzled. ha!

The Angel of the Lord appears to tell Joseph that everything’s okay because the baby has been conceived by the holy spirit. But verse 18 says that too — doesn’t he know this already? Didn’t Mary claim that? Isn’t everyone starting to talk about it?

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph but before they lived together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”

“…But … an angel of the Lord appeared to him …. and said, “…for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

To make sense, the first Holy Spirit must said with scorn. What a little lying liar this loose girl Mary is, to make such a claim when caught in “trouble”! Did ya hear about Mary?

The second “Holy Spirit” — especially being spoken by an Angel — needs to be said with the full height and depth and breath of amazement and wonder and glory and honor and love and hope that a real act of the Holy Spirit would create. An Angel spoke to Joseph. And Angel confirmed Mary’s claim that her child was from the Holy Spirit — that God is the father of her child. WHEW. This is big. This is astonishing.

So the tone difference, the voice, the body — all needs to come into play in two different ways. The first one is easy. The second one is harder. I’ve been experimenting with holding my hands straight up, tilting my head back — but that’s a little theatrical for me.

Often to invoke the Holy Spirit in a storytelling what I have been doing is blowing a breath (or a wind) out of my mouth, “spreading” it with one of my hand. What I want people to remember, however, is God’s creation of the world, way back there in Genesis: “…a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” A breath/a wind from God started everything off. And then later in Genesis, God breaths into Adam to start us up: “…and [God] breathed into his [Adam’s] nostrils the breathe of life.” I seem to visualize the Holy Spirit part of God as a wind, a breathe, perhaps a song. I love it when a text in one place echoes back to another and they seem to fit together somehow.

So I will try to say the second Holy Spirit as solemnly as possible as well as with delight and joy and then I will pause to breathe, and to let the holy be breathed in.

To close with a bit of a ramble: Breath, wind, holy spirit, miracles, creation — I remember holding my newborn all those years ago and feeling the most intense love, more intense than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t know I had that much love in me. And so how much more then, does God love?holyspirtlightwind

 

Wrapping up I Samuel: 9 – 10

So apparently my goal of doing a long passage of one book is not working out very well! It’s time to fall back and punt. I’m still interested in Saul. I still think he had bad luck, for lack of a better word. Perhaps he was a person put in a job that he simply had no qualifications other than being tall and handsome. Perhaps he made God mad, inexplicably, as when Cain’s offering of grain was not favored by God. Since it seems that Saul was called to the prophet Samuel and called three times to be King before finally taking up his duties, it would be hard to say that Saul was acting egotistically. I’d have to curl up and read it again. And being King seems to mean going to war — he had to muster the people, using pieces of oxen as a message as was done to the woman in Judges. They went to fight Nahash, king of the Ammonites who was gouging Israelites right eyes out. This is a terrible bloody awful story and the start of a long series of such. From a son and a boy out to find missing donkeys, in a story so beautifully crafted with magic and myth and foreshadowing and a sense of inevitability, to the bloody reality of being a King in a warrior society.

It makes me sad.

When I started my blog I was just obsessed by John the Baptist and wanted to understand all his bits of stories and everything about him. Then other bible stories took me on. Now it feels as if the Bible isn’t calling me to any particular place. I have a responsibility to prepare for a bible study more or less on Jacob that will be in January. And want to brush up on the various passages that had at one point learned by heart. And prayer — and thus Psalms — has been calling me.

I think until some passion of discovery comes over me, I have to trust that what ever bit of scripture I blog about, whether from the above list of ideas or from the lectionary or more of Luke or anything, will end up being meaningful and interesting.

For the Glory of God!

Luke 14:25-33

Luke 14:25-33 may be one of the lectionary readings that will be used in my church on Sept 4; and I’ll be the lay reader. So I’ve been studying it because it is really difficult. Why is Jesus saying you have to hate to be a disciple? And the lesson so often drawn, that he just wants us to make a cost-benefit analysis of following him, seems —  cliche-ish to me. Really? Jesus wants us to analyze following him? What happened to just giving water to the thirsty?

Certainly, you have to know your priorities and having wives and children and so on will limit with actions you can take in the world; analyzing that has to be proper, yes?

Here’s some thoughts:

*This is specific to those following him to Jerusalem, where he is going to die and it is going to be very dangerous.

*This seems specific to men “…wives and children”

*Following this passage this the “lost things” passages: the sheep, the coin, the son….There is a surprisingly neglected “cost-benefit” analysis type of thinking that could be represented in those passages too. It is foolish to leave your flock to look for just one sheep. It is foolish to spend all the effort to recover a lost coin. It is foolish to welcome back a son who is a wastrel, a rascal, only coming home because otherwise he dies. Yet those stories (among the many other things they reveal) sort of show that our God is a foolishly loving and hard-at-work God, who will search and keep every sheep, every coin, every lost child.

*The passages before this one are “banquet” passages/parables that I have not studied in depth, but seem to be concerned with community and inclusion.

*At various places in scripture Jesus/God is referred to or symbolized as a Builder and a King. Perhaps there is more to the examples than random-ness….

*Why is Jesus talking about “carrying a cross”? Even if He knew he was to die that way, the people listening didn’t, right? The footnote in my study bible refers back to Luke 9:23-27 which also talks about discipleship and that disciples will have to “take up their cross daily” and follow him. Perhaps this was a common metaphor for trouble. I’ve been taught that crucifixions were, while maybe not “common”, but were well-known, well-understood to a terrible thing, a terrible death. I still find this image really kind of shocking, kind of emotional. Did the original listeners? Did they think, “whoa a cross? I don’t want anything to do with a cross?” Or were they expecting a revolution, to overthrow the Romans, and thought “yes, I’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means the cross.” I just don’t know if I understand this.

So suddenly Jesus is excluding people, and urging them to be strategic… suddenly he is saying following him has a price, not just a healing, not just a dinner, not just joy.

Here’s what I think, or wonder: perhaps Jesus has turned and said this to the followers as a way of saying “don’t hurt me, don’t change my message” — I’m the Builder of a tower, I’ve laid a foundation. If you can’t finish the building with me, don’t mess up those who can, don’t bring ridicule on me. Perhaps Jesus is saying — I’m the King, I’m seriously undermanned in this fight against evil, but I’m fighting anyway. You can leave, with my peace and my blessing, if this evil would overwhelm you and thus weaken me.

So, maybe he is saying to these followers, at this time, to be a disciple now is to say goodbye to family, to home, to comfort, to ease — your “possessions” — and follow me to this last fight? And maybe there is also a message that staying home and being faithful in a smaller way, in a smaller fight, is okay too — just stay “salt-y”, be truly yourself in how you follow Him.

It is quite possible that I’m just resisting the message of having to give up all my possessions…. it could be that simple. This is a hard passage.

 

 

I Samuel 9 and 10: what those kids don’t tell us

So Saul meets the seer who turns out to be Samuel. And Samuel, it turns out, has been told by God that God is sending him a young man from the land of Benjamin to anoint and be the ruler and so on. When Sam sees Saul the Lord makes it clear, this is the guy. What happens next is Saul gets the best chair, the best food, the best sleeping spot (on the nice cool roof-top). On the way out of town the next day, sending the boy away, Sam anoints Saul and tells him about his future. Oh and the missing donkeys? They have been found. And Saul’s father has stopped worrying about them and is worrying now about his son. But I’m going to skip over chapter 10 for a moment — about Saul and his prophet frenzy and turning him “into a different person”. I am really struck by 10:14-16. Saul’s uncle says “where did you go”. And Saul goes back to the donkeys. He doesn’t tell his family about Samuel’s words or the anointing or anything.

That takes this ancient fable-like story and makes it real doesn’t it? We say to our children, “so where were you?” “Just hanging out.” “Where?” “You know,” shrug, “with Waz and then we got hungry.” “What happened?” “Nothing.”

Perhaps between being gone so long, searching for donkeys and finding a kingship, Saul had some internalizing to do. Perhaps he knew it would sound not just fantastical but egotistical: “Oh Samuel, the great prophet, says I’m to be king. Because God told him so.” Perhaps, when you get home after an adventure, things are both not quite the same as before and depressingly unchanged. You fall back into bickering with your brother, when you go home. You fall back into family roles and ways. I can just see Saul, glaring at the boy to make sure he doesn’t talk, avoiding his uncle’s eyes, and looking about for his father, who was after all worried. Maybe he’s scared because he has no idea what he is supposed to do next. Maybe he’s just tired and eager for some sleep.

Maybe this is the last comfortable moment that Saul will have for a long time.