Tag Archives: Bible study

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 a woman’s voice

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

I think often Jesus, in his ministry, used “masculine” and “feminine” imagery to get the same point really across. For example, the Kingdom of Heaven is like: yeast and will multiple the dough; or it is like a net which will catch a large amount of fish. If you don’t know something about yeast and dough, then maybe the fish will catch your imagination.

So — the widow, Anna, also praises the baby Jesus. If you do not trust the words of a proper righteous man, that’s ok. You can listen to Anna. It isn’t exactly equal time here, but I am told that in that time and place the word of a woman was not “trusted”, especially legally, the way a man’s word was; a widow could not own property; a widow on her own, as Anna was, would have a very hard time. She would be perhaps invisible to people, or perhaps she would be useful, perhaps she kept things clean? We do not know a lot. I am sure that if she was not truly nice and truly thoughtful and helpful, and truly worshiping God with a shining and inspiring sincerity, they would not have let her stay at the temple all those years of her widowhood. So she earned some right to be heard. She chooses to speak to “those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Meaning those who were seeking justice from oppression politically, perhaps from the Romans, perhaps in other ways that oppression can occur. If you are looking for redemption, then you have something that needs to be sorted out, reclaimed, redeemed, remade…..

“At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Perhaps Simeon spoke to those of power. Perhaps Anna spoke to those without.

Jesus, I hope, speaks to us all.

FTGOG

A look ahead

This is not a political blog. But we are living in political times. Perhaps every person of a certain age, through out the course of history, has felt that things have reached a tipping point to disaster and this is just my turn. Perhaps. Looking at environmental issues, human rights issues, mass incarceration, the continuing war, the horror of having a president who could rashly use nuclear weapons — and this is only really the tip of the iceberg — it seems like “now” is really heading to a disaster. I truly do believe in prayer. I truly do believe that anyone could change, redeem, reform. I truly am trying to stay hopeful without normalizing the situation, despite bursts of truly amazing anger and grief. So how do I act?

Among other actions, for me it means, most of all, you guessed it — study the bible. Not like some sort of spooky mystical answer machine. Not like even like what are the perfect, proper, rules. More as a storybook — a story of God and humankind’s continuing relationship. A story of love, in the midst of (or in spite of) at times terrible sin. So.

I’m all signed up for the 2017 Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, a wonderful group of people, with amazing preaching/keynote speakers, beautiful worship, wonderful workshops about how to tell a story or about other aspects of a specific story or performance. Check it out!

This year’s “theme stories” are

Genesis 18:1-15 (The Promise to Abraham and Sarah);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805823

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

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

Luke 2:41-52 (The Boy Jesus in the Temple).

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805927

At first glance my thoughts are “not those stories”. What will I learn from those stories? How will this help anything? And then I laugh, because of course there is going to be learning and grace. There’s no knowing. “Now” will inevitably color how we see the world and thus read scripture. And vice versa — diving into and dwelling with and breathing in scripture will inevitably color how we see the world.

I’m going to try to spend a little time with all three stories over the next few months. Thanks for joining me on this adventure in stories.

FTGOG

 

 

Matthew 1:18-25 and dreams

To touch on the notion of dreams again — I don’t know what dreams and visions meant historically to the people who would have first created/told/listened to this story. We can agree that a man named Joseph that dreams is a big flashing neon sign of “stop and listen”. Yes?

But dreams/vision/prophecy — we here and now don’t really think about that as being real, just “artsy” or perhaps “made up” or perhaps a “lie”. Because, here’s the thing, in real life, generally dreams don’t make sense. Or they make sense only in retrospect. If you find yourself dreaming and it is one of the dreams that matter, then listen. Don’t be afraid.

One of those dreams for me came the day before 9/11. Yep. I had gotten so angry and upset at a situation that I don’t even remember now. Yep. I just remember the feelings: wild, upset, unclear, hopeless, shame, anger….. powerful feelings. And I took a nap and I dreamed of my husband’s dead grandfather, sitting in his chair, smiling gently at me and pointing out his window to a field (that wasn’t there in real life, although the room and the window and the chair were). The field was a vast beautiful golden field of wheat, blowing in a breeze. It was astonishingly beautiful.

I had and have no idea what that dream means; it felt like the visual equivalent of “don’t be afraid”. And a bit like “you are just one little speck of a whole” and instead of feeling insignificant it felt great to be a part of a whole. And a touch of life is fragile.  It was all feelings.

Both Josephs had powerful dreams, more clear cut than anything I can imagine. And the dreaming meant something. And the dreams would mean something to the people listening. So I think we should be very careful to not dismiss this story as just a dream, just a thing that a man made-up to save face so he could marry the girl in trouble. I think that even though a good part of the story is framed as a dream does not make it untrue, but perhaps more deeply true.

 

 

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

Matthew 1:18-25

All right, I’m in a slump, in a sadness, can I say it — I am just a bit out of sorts with the Bible. I love it and love to study it and learn it by heart, but right at the moment it seems — flat? like soda without the bubbles? Or dull? like a movie I’ve watched too often? And with all those words and cut scenes and scholarly nuances that likely I’ll miss, it’s well … just too hard. Maybe there’s a bit of pressure to always find another layer to the onion? Or a bit of complacency as if “I’ve got this” and it’s all simple now. As if, right?

How can something be too hard and too simple? It’s not the bible, it’s me, right? I need to lean in and dig down deep and be faithful because inspiration comes from perspiration not from feeling good.

Right?

Though would it hurt anything if it felt, well, more fun?

As the days grow shorter and the trees start to turn colors and a tiny hint of fall at long last is in the air (has there ever been such a long summer?), clearly my energy is low. And with world/national events as they are trending, well…. Spirits and energy are low, or rather, my spirit anyway.

Yet there is also a hint of Christmas in the air — or at least the stores. And I love it! I love seeing the boxes of tinsel and glitter and trees and everything that we love and that gives us hope. In fact, I was looking at the pre-lit artificial trees for sale with color lights and fancy controls when a gentleman next to me sighed and said, can you believe this is out already? And I said with a big grin, oh I love it, how much fun is Christmas? And his whole face changed, he matched my grin, he found a spark of joy to put in his eyes too. It was a small tiny connection with a perfect stranger as we focused on the joy and not the work or the clean up or the despair of finding presents.

So perhaps this is the season to learn a new Christmas story. I have Luke’s down well. And it is hard to turn from Luke’s story. But let’s take a look at Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-25.

The first thing that strikes me is that this is actually a harsh story. This is not a happy story, to start anyway. A young pregnant unwed girl in that time and place was in actual danger. As sadly some are even in our time. How shall society both keep order and help the vulnerable? This is a story of a good man in a broken world who finds …..

a dream

a hope

an angel

a son

a commandment by God

a fulfilling of prophecy

a wife

More?

That’s a lot for a man struggling with a big problem to take in. God turned life around and upside down, for Matthew. [eta to say I meant for Joseph. but of course He turned Matthew’s life around as well eh?]  And for us.

 

FTGOG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Luke 15 again

Let me run past you all a thought I had about Luke 15, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost brothers.  I don’t know what I read or heard that triggered this idea; and if it is a memory instead of an idea, then I have lost where it came from. But this chapter frustrates me because of how familiar we are with these stories — and how getting the “easy” answer makes me wonder if there’s more to it all. The “answer” is: God loves us so much he would foolishly leave his 99 sheep and seek out the 1 that is missing. She would foolishly spend a day searching for 1 lost coin and then spend it celebrating. He would be like a father running from joy to greet a long-lost son and return him to life in the family; or like a father who pleads with a son who is angry and confused and try to bring him, too, into the joy of celebration.

This is a fine and loving and wonderful message, of course.

But what exactly are we to do? I don’t think we are suppose to get lost like a silly sheep or roll away into darkness like a coin or act like either brother. (Doesn’t Paul say somewhere to the effect, “No I’m not saying you can sin so that you might be saved. You’ll sin enough to be saved even doing your best.”) In these stories, what part are we to think about as in our hands?

And maybe that part that is ours is “seeing truthfully”. The shepherd didn’t try to ignore that a sheep was missing, or claim that it was just eaten by a wolf or make some excuse. The women didn’t deny the missing coin. The father saw his son coming and went out to plead with the angry older brother. In fact, the prodigal son came home because he “came to himself”. He sat down and thought about truth: I am starving. My father’s slaves are not. He “came to himself” when he stopped telling himself lies about how much fun he was having living large, how even though there was now famine and his pockets were empty, he was going to score big soon. He quit that. He sat down and thought about true things.

The older brother isn’t there yet as far as we know when the story ends. He is still angry that this brother who wanted the father dead, who left them, who wasted his share of the family wealth was being loved back into the family, anyway. “You never even gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends.” He is lying to himself that what is going on is a celebration with friends — the prodigal has no friends. He has a father. The father is celebrating a birth.

Celebrating, in fact, a resurrection. “He who was dead is alive! We must celebrate!”

Let us all “come to ourselves” and tell the truth and see the truth and be set free by it. However hard it is, let us be truthful.

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.