Tag Archives: Bible study

Parable of the Talents

There’s the long sequence in Matthew where Jesus is trying to give the disciples metaphors and information that they will need later, after Jesus has been killed. The parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, is pretty confusing. My pastor preached that one way to look at it, is the master that goes away is Jesus/God and he is good, despite the harsh words to the slave with 1 talent. Or another way is to say that the master that goes away is the world/a bad boss, and the slave with 1 talent is being brave and bold and speaking truth to power — and getting killed for it. Who is who here?

I wrote him my thoughts — I spent a month nearly day working this parable. I think there’s a third way. He was quite liked it. So here goes:

In living with this parable, I came to think that Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for when he would be gone; and one of the big things, one of the things that the disciples could not seem to be learning, was that Jesus wasn’t offering a political, worldly, warrior-type revolution. He was trying to teach a completely new thing, I think, and among other messages “God is not “you” writ large.” No one is evil in their own sight. Every villain in fiction (and real life I suspect) is doing it for a reason, however misguided it clearly is to audience. So we can take what are merely our motivations and turn that into God’s will.

So to “enter into the joy of the master” — to have God’s will truly on Earth as it is in Heaven — is what we should seek: community, fellowship, but even more so. Christ in us. And this is only possible by understanding that God has already given us this gift (represented by the gift of the talents), each in our own way (“according to their abilities”) (through Grace and the cross).

So the slave with 1 talent buried it in the ground — he did nothing because he was afraid of harsh judgment. Yet the master he sees is himself — himself writ large. The master is “harsh”, judgmental (says this slave); yet the slave is being harsh and judgmental himself. The master doesn’t grow his own profit. The slave buried a coin in the ground — a coin does not grow into a tree or a crop.  The slave, too, had nothing to reap or to gather. The slave was blinded to the possibility of “entering into the joy” of the master because he had created a self-fulfilling belief of what the world was like.

(Note the slave  “went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid…” and describes it nearly exactly that way to the master “I went and hid your talent in the ground”. The slave describes the master as both reaping what he did not sow and as gathering what he did not plant. These doubles must be an emphasis, I think, a pointer to look carefully. And both doubles are from the slave with 1 talent, who cannot break free of who he is long enough to see clearly the Master and the possibility of a new story entirely — a world with abundance and joy and communion.)

In fact, a God that is God (not “me”): the awe of that is amazing and terrifying and hope. Jesus lets us get a glimpse of that while giving us the hand of a human person to hold. And the Holy Spirit was there was first of all, giving us gifts to treasure before we even knew we needed them.

In fact, I think the weeping and gnashing of teeth is actually God’s broken heart that someone is “cast into the outer darkness” and there is no way seemingly to break into that darkness and free that person…..? This may be a bit too far (after all the story says “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness…but what point of view are we in at that point? It may still be the master talking but is it the view point of the slave who is listening?).

In terms of my life, it is lovely and a blessing to slowly slowly, maybe, be entering a phase of life where things don’t feel quite so delicately balanced, not yet enough to test the weight, but enough to hope for a future where “fear not” makes sense….and to wonder if perhaps at least some of ones fears have been merely a prison of one’s own making? Since my life has presently given me a glimmer of hope and blessings, am I indeed merely interpreting the parable of the 10 talents from “me-ness” and not from “God”?

Perhaps the parable works in many ways, and that is all good too?

whew! Your thoughts welcome!

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Back to Matthew 20:1-16

So back to Matthew 20:1-16 — time to look at what comes before and after. And time to confess that I am a little bored with this passage. What is up with that? I’m also “stuck”. I have it pretty much by heart, which is good because I tell it on the 24th. So I have time to keep polishing and to find some guinea pigs to let me practice. Yet, I’m feeling a little stuck, as if there is some vitality to this parable that I am not getting. May be that’s what the feeling of boredom is about as well. This parable isn’t zinging with me.

So what comes just before it, in 19:27-30 is Peter saying, “hey we’ve given up everything for you, what are we going to get?” And Jesus gets mysterious yet again. “Peter, you and the other 12 are going to get thrones! At the renewal of all things — the end? the beginning? — you will be a judge! And everyone who has left their home and their people to follow me, will receive hundredfold — and eternal life. But maybe not everyone, maybe some of the first will actually be last.”

This sort of seems very concrete, but also very — “do x and you get y” — which almost sounds like a bribe or a payment. I reject any notion that God is a vending machine in the sky or Santa Claus. So this passage makes me feel uncomfortable. I myself do not love Jesus in order to gain something after this life. In fact, loving Jesus and worshiping God and studying the bible enrich my life right now, can bring me feelings of joy and gratefulness. So far, even in the storms of life or when I’m angry at God for the suffering I see around me, so far anyway, I can feel deep down that certainty of being held in his hands. Of being beloved. I don’t need to be promised more in the after; certainly not a throne.

I mean actually — a throne!? Judging? I wonder if this is really a reward for Peter and the others! Maybe it is a warning. “Stick with me, and eventually you will have a lot of work to do.” Yikes!

What has prompted Peter to even ask about what’s in it for him? (And don’t you love the honesty and human-ness of Peter to be recorded saying this!) It is story of the Rich Young Man, and Jesus saying about camels and eyes of needles and the rich. Since back then, being rich was (as I am told), considered a sign that God favored you, the disciples were astonished. If the rich — those favored and blessed by God already — would not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, then who could?

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible,” said Jesus.

I hear an echo of Sarah here, a hint of laughter in the air. I like the idea of the disciples not asking these questions out of greed or whining or fear but maybe out of confusion, out of a need for hope maybe. I like the idea that this conversation is taking place with Jesus with laughter in the air — maybe laughter of like “thrones, ha, he’s going to put us on thrones” or maybe laughter like “I’m so embarrassed to be in this conversation” or maybe laughter like “what crazy thing can we get Jesus to say now.”

And besides laughter, perhaps we and the disciples are also hearing more than a hint of the power and glory and grace of God. Not our will or our doings, but God’s grace and mercy.

Well good news, I’m not bored with this anymore. I am feeling some zing! I love finding something unexpected in the Bible.

FTGOG

 

 

 

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!