Monday, August 10, 2020Psalm 28; Genesis 37:29-36; Romans 11:1-10
Psalm 28 has a clear structure: vss 1-2 address Yahweh and present a petition to be heard. Vss 3-5 are a prayer, for preservation of the petitioner and his separation from the wicked (vs 3), and for the judgement of the wicked (vss 4-5). There is a marked alteration in tone between vss 5 and 6. It becomes clear that the whole situation has changed and vss 6-7 are a thanksgiving that Yahweh has heard and saved the petitioner. Vss 8-9 are a confession about Yahweh (vs 8) and an intercession for his perpetual protection of Israel (vs 9).

In vs 1 the singer calls upon O Lord … my rock. Vs 2b has the singer lift up my hands / towards your most holy sanctuary (footnote: Hebrew your innermost sanctuary). There was a rock that lay under the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. This may, or may not, be the Foundation Stone at the centre of the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic mosque on the Temple Mount in modern Jerusalem. In 1 Cor 10.4 Christ is identified as ‘the spiritual rock’ that followed Israel through the Exodus. The metaphor of ‘the rock’ has deep spiritual resonance in all three Abrahamic religions, although it has also been presumptuously assumed by far more secular and (to my mind) less inspiring figures!

Vs 2b (I lift up my hands towards your innermost sanctuary) is, in its essence, the gesture of every beggar asking for aid. Before hands were ever clasped in prayer, they were extended in the universal human gesture for alms and for aid, palm upwards in entreaty, head bowed in submission with eyes searching the face of the one who is besought. We do not often think of the connection between begging and prayer, but it helps frame our actions and sheds light on our position to be reminded of this.

Vs 8, the confession, acknowledges that the Lord is the strength of his people but the second line includes a reference that we must be careful not to miss: he is the saving refuge of his anointed (vs 8b). This (his anointed) is a reference to the king. Some scholars have taken this as the focal point of the hymn and seen it as a royal Psalm, but the psalm is better read as the prayer of an ordinary person for deliverance, and then thanksgiving and praise when that deliverance arrives.

Genesis 37: 29-36 leaps from Saturday’s reading right across the essential trigger of the Joseph narrative: Genesis 37: 12-28. The reason for this is that this passage (vss 12-28) was part of the Sunday lectionary reading, which we have overlooked because we are following the Romans thread of readings!  This passage tells of how the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers led to them plotting in turn, first his death, then his incarceration in a pit and finally, his sale as a slave to a party of Ishmaelites (note again the reference to one of the ‘brothers’ – Ishmael – who is outside the ‘lineage of promise’!)

Our passage today commences with Reuben (who was planning to rescue Joseph from the pit all along) finding the pit empty and depairing to his brothers (vs 30). The brothers take the very sign of Joseph’s favouritism (the coat with sleeves or of many colours – see the note to vs 3), dip it in blood and deliver it to Jacob (vs 32).  

At this point the audience (all of us) who have been raised on forensic TV dramas and notorious ‘crime’ cases such as the Azariah Chamberlain mystery, are calling out from our armchairs ‘Check the forensics! Analyse the blood!’, but the grief-stricken Jacob falls for the ruse – his sons don’t even have to suggest it. 

It is, if anything, too effective. Jacob rends his garments and vows to join Joseph in the grave (vs 35). While this is happening, the purposes of God are working out in far-off Egypt where Joseph has been sold by the Midianites (as the narrator calls those named Ishmaelites by Jacob’s sons) to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard (vs 36).

Romans 11.1-10:  Behind Romans 9-11 as a whole lies the paradox that Israel, the original recipient of the promises of salvation, seems to miss out on obtaining them, while Gentiles, who previously appeared to have no part in them, now seem to have salvation firmly within their grasp (9.30-31). This has raised acutely the theological issue concerning the faithfulness and reliability of God (9.6a). On the human side it poses the question about the present status and ultimate fate of Israel with respect to salvation. While Paul has defended the faithfulness and reliability of God, his argument has appeared to leave Israel outside of God’s salvation. The big question that arises by the end of chapter 10 is “Has God rejected Israel?”

Chapter 11 addresses the question of the future of Israel. The first ten verses lay a foundation for answering this big question. Vss 1-2 pose the question and give the emphatic answer ‘No!’ Vss 3-6 give the first element of Paul’s argument that God has not rejected Israel: a ‘remnant’ of Israel (vs 5) has come into the church of Jesus. The argument for the remnant is grounded in the experience of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 who thought he was the only faithful one left in Israel and all the other prophets had been killed and all the altars of the Lord torn down: I alone am left (vs 3). The answer of the Lord to Elijah numbers those who are (surprisingly) faithful, and Paul identifies a similar faithful remnant who have joined the early Christian churches. But he emphasises that their faithfulness is a matter of grace, not works (vs 6).

But what of the majority of Israel, who have not responded to the gospel? Here Paul invokes the idea of a ‘hardening’ of Israel (vs 7). Found first in the Exodus narrative of God ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’, this has already been invoked by Paul in Romans 9.17-18 where God counter-intuitively acts in such a way so as to (in the end) demonstrate God’s power and mercy. The concept of ‘hardening’ is fairly widespread in the New Testament (see, for instance, Mark 3.5, 6.52, 8.17, John 12.40, Acts 28.26-27, Eph 4.18).

Vss 8-9 confirm this conclusion with texts from the Pentateuch (Deut 29.4) in vs 8 and from the ‘prophets’ (Psalm 69.22-23 – David is seen as a prophet) in vs 9.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020Psalm 28; Genesis 39:1-23; Romans 11:11-24
For the Psalm, see Monday.

In taking up Genesis 39:1-23 the lectionary has neatly ‘glided over’ the rather salacious story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. The Lectionary wants us to focus on Joseph, not unedifying tales like Chapter 38 (another of those Biblical passages I have never heard preached by anyone else). This is a pity, for Tamar and her sons – another pair of squabbling brothers – are mentioned in the third verse of the Christian Scriptures (Matthew 1.3). I leave pondering those passages to you, if you are so inclined (but I draw your attention to the notes for Psalm 133 on Thursday of this week and the comments there about brotherly relations.)

Today’s passage takes up the narrative of Potiphar and Joseph. The first six verses tell of how the Lord was with Joseph and everything he touched prospered. Potiphar trusted him with more and more authority, and he prospered in house and field (vs 5b). The source of all this blessing is clearly the Lord (vss 2a, 3a, 3b, 5b, 5c) and in the end, between Joseph and the Lord, the only thing Potiphar had to worry about was lifting the food to his mouth (vs 6a).

Then the plot thickens. The well-known scenario of Mrs Potiphar’s attentions, (vs 6b-7), and Joseph’s principled refusal (vs 8-9), unfolds through vss 10-12. The false accusation follows in vss 13-18. Note the racist overtones of her accusation (a Hebrew to insult us vs 14, the Hebrew servant vs 17) and compare them with other modern narratives of how the outsider, the foreigner, brings crime and is intending to ‘insult our women’. Again, note the role of clothing in Joseph’s story – first the robe of a father’s favourite, then that same robe dipped in blood, then his garment in the hand of an accusing woman.

The consequence is Joseph’s imprisonment in the place where the king’s prisoners were confined (vs 20). The story of the first part of the passage is repeated and Joseph prospers, even in prison, because the Lord was with him (vss 23b, 21a).

In both Genesis 38 and 39 there is a significant subtext of sexual politics, similar to the kinds of sexual politics that seem to be still with us today. The fear of the outsider features in one style of narratives about sexual violence – e.g. ‘Mexican rapists’. Potiphar’s wife was a ‘false accuser’, but many women have had their experience discounted and disbelieved. Women may identify more with Tamar in chapter 38 – a woman who stands against a powerful man who has denied her rights and used her. If Potiphar’s wife dishonestly wielded the garment, Tamar stood before Judah her accuser (who called for her to be burned alive) with the powerful evidence of his own signet, cord and staff in her hands. How many other women down the centuries have longed to hold similar convincing proof against a powerful and abusive man?

We should also not lose sight of Genesis 34 as a kind of deep back-story to Genesis 39. Joseph had lived through the rape of his half-sister Dinah, and the resulting genocidal violence in which the men of Shechem were slaughtered, and their wives, children and cattle taken, by the sons of Jacob (including Joseph?) Joseph in chapter 39 is presented as moral and honourable, loyal to his master Potiphar. He also knew first-hand the disruption and violence that irregular sexual relations could wreak upon individuals, families and whole communities.

Romans 11.11-24: Paul’s argument now takes a decisive turn. Just as the ‘hardening’ of Pharaoh was to serve the divine purpose of mercy (Romans 9.17-18), so the ‘hardening’ of Israel was for a reason-  to demonstrate the mercy of God.

Vss 11-12 set up the basic argument: it contrasts ‘stumbling’ (from which recovery is possible) and ‘falling’, which is far more serious and irreversible (vs 11). Vs 11b outlines the argument to come: stumbling has led to salvation for the Gentiles, which God has brought about in order to make Israel ‘jealous’. The theme of ‘jealousy’ was introduced in 10.19, quoting Deuteronomy 32.21. In chapter 11 Paul mentions it twice – as God’s purpose in saving the Gentiles (vs 11) and as Paul’s strategy in embarking on the mission to the Gentiles (vs 14).

Vss 12 and 15 express a sense of wonder at how great is God’s purpose in doing this, expressed as a contrast between what their ‘stumbling’ / ‘inclusion’ (vs 12) and their ‘rejection’ / ‘acceptance’ (vs 15) will mean for the world. The unusual phrase life from the dead (vs 15) is probably an eschatological reference – that the inclusion of Israel will lead to the general resurrection of those who have died that is the prelude to the final consummation.

Vs 16 introduces two metaphors for the future of Israel. The first is the offering of the ‘first fruits’ of the harvest (Numbers 15.17-21) suggesting that the ‘remnant’ of Israel who have already come into the church will act as a sanctifying foretaste of what is to come. The second is the metaphor of the ‘holy root’ (a reference to the patriarchs). That particular and pre-figuring holiness may yet be extended to the believing and unbelieving branches of Israel.

In vss 17-24 this root metaphor is developed in an allegory of the grafting of olive trees. In reading this allegory it is useful to remember the first question I posed in the introduction to Romans 9-11: Who is Israel? (Who belongs? Who sees the themselves as the chosen or elect?).  Paul points to the emergence of the Gentile church as a form of grafting in a wild olive shoot (the Gentiles) to the root of the olive tree (Israel) (vs 17). 

In vss 18-21 he delivers a solemn warning to Gentile believers not to boast over the branches (that is, Israel) or become proud, because just as God ‘broke off’ branches to make room for you, so God might again break you off to make room for them!

Vss 22-24 begin to explore the ‘grafting back in’ of Israel if they do not persist in unbelief (vs 23). It is to this possibility that Paul will turn in the climax of the chapter. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020Psalm 28; Genesis 40:1-23; Romans 11:25-36
For the Psalm, see Monday.

In Genesis 40 we find the theme of dreams and Joseph’s skill in interpreting them, entering into the story. There is no need to comment on a straightforward narrative other than to point out some connections in the text.

Joseph was confined to the prison in the care of the chief jailer (39:21,22,23). However, the cupbearer and the baker were placed in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined (vs 3). Then the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them (vs 4a). Who was the captain of the guard? According to Genesis 37.36 it was Potiphar!  Joseph was still in Potiphar’s house (albeit in the cells) and was still trusted with leadership and responsibility.

The text is delightfully (gruesomely?) playful in vs 20 where we are told that Pharaoh made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. This ‘lifting up the head’ was very different in the two cases but, despite the accuracy of the interpretation he had received, the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him (vs 21).

Romans 11.25-36: Here we come to the great climax of the book of Romans! To sense the importance and excitement that Paul attaches to this journey we have been following since Romans 1.16, we only have to read the hymn of praise with which Paul ends in vss 33-36.

With a solemn caution so that you may not claim to be wiser than you are (vs 25 – literally ‘I do not want you to be ignorant’ – the same phrase Paul used in 1.13), Paul introduces this mystery. ‘Mystery’ conveys the sense that the vision of Israel’s future Paul is about to project forms part of a privileged revelation concerning the events of the end. The mystery is that a hardening has come upon part of Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (vs 25). And so all Israel shall be saved (vs 26a).

In vss 26b-27 Paul offers Scripture’s testimony to this mystery, a composite text from Isaiah 59.20-21a and Isaiah 27.9b.

Vss 28-29 explore ‘the mystery’ in terms of ‘enmity’ (Israel are enemies of God for your sake) and ‘election’, for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

This seeming paradox is then explored in a rhetorically complex construction (vss 30-31). Just as you (Gentiles) were once disobedient to God but received mercy through their (Israel’s) disobedience, so they (Israel) who are now disobedient, by the mercy shown to you, will also receive mercy.

In vs 32 the general principle is stated: For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Now interpreting this argument poses various questions to us. We have already refocussed the question on Who is Israel (the chosen or elect)? and we can see how through this chapter Paul used the categories of the ‘grafted-in branch / broken-off branch’, and the ‘those disobedient / those receiving mercy’ in a way that applies each of these four terms to BOTH the Gentiles and Israel: the framing of the elect/included and the rejected/excluded is shifting back and forth.

But who is ‘all’ (vs 32)? Is this just a way of expressing ‘Jews and Gentiles together as categories without favouritism’? Or is Paul here making a statement about ‘all humankind’ – the destiny of every individual from every culture?  Bear in mind that the concept of ‘all’ appears throughout Romans and we should be consistent with our interpretation: if we opt for the first of the two interpretations just offered, we should also apply that interpretation of ‘all’ to Romans 3.23, with implications for our doctrine of sin and the utter sinfulness of ‘all’. If we think Paul teaches a doctrine of the universal sinfulness of all humans, should we not then also conclude that he teaches a doctrine of the universal salvation of all humans?

Furthermore, in teaching that all Israel will be saved (vs 26a) is Paul teaching a Christological process of salvation (that the Jews will embrace faith in Jesus) or is he envisaging a theological process of salvation (that God has a ‘special way’ – German Sonderwegen) by which Israel will again be grafted in? You might argue that, as Paul has already argued that it must be by grace, not by works (vss 5-6), that this is a Christological process, but we have already seen in discussing chapters 3-6 the issue of whether we should interpret Paul’s concept of ‘faith’ in terms of faith in Jesus Christ or the faith of Jesus Christ. The latter would be consistent with a theological perspective which was still deeply anchored in the teaching and example of Jesus and the grace of God. 

This has been a key point of theological discussion and debate, not least in the realm of interfaith dialogue. For those interested, Brendan Byrne gives a brief Bibliography in his notes on this passage – four books or scholarly articles supporting a theological reading of this issue, and five supporting a Christological reading.

If you hadn’t already realised that this is momentous teaching – with far-reaching implications for how we see people of other faiths, and how fragile our own salvation and inclusion might be (11.20-22), and how God’s mercy is not the province or possession of any single tribe of the descendants of Eve and Adam but embraces ‘all’ – Paul then breaks into a lyrical hymn of praise (vss 33-36). The structure is simple:

Vs 33: Praise for God’s i) riches ii) wisdom and iii) knowledge (vs 33a) and a statement of God’s ways being unsearchable and inscrutable (vs 33b)

Vs 34: Scriptural proof texts of God’s i) knowledge ii) wisdom and iii) riches (in the opposite order to vs 33)

Vs 36: a closing Doxology in which the three phrases bring together the sense of God’s acting in creation (from him), redemption (through him) and final salvation (to him). All things and the final ascription of glory to God indicate that “both the entire creation in a static sense and the dynamic sweep of events, are gathered into the one supreme purpose – the ‘glory of God’ (vs 36b)” (Byrne 1996: 360)

Thursday, August 13, 2020Psalm 133; Genesis 41:14-36; Revelation 15:1-4

Psalm 133: This little Psalm is found in a collection of Psalms (Pss 120-134) all headed A Song of Ascents (to use the NRSV translation). The group follows the very long meditation on the law found in Ps 119. Debate among scholars as to the meaning of this title has ranged across several possibilities. One possibility is that it simply means ‘Songs in a Sequence’ or ‘Songs in a Series’. A second possibilities is that it refers to a common element of the linguistic structure of these Psalms where the closing word (in Hebrew) of one section is the first word in the next section. Yet another explanation is that they refer to the homecoming of Israel after the Exile, that they are Wayfarer’s Songs. One very technical explanation is that the Levitical priests used to perform their ritual songs at various steps or stairs in the temple – these Psalms may have been for singing ‘on the steps’. A final interpretation involves the idea of pilgrimage, perhaps combined with the final stages of a pilgrimage where the worshipper would have approached the shrine and had to ‘ascend’ via paths and stairs to the holy place to which they have journeyed. Accordingly, the commentator Kraus simply heads each of these Psalms A Pilgrimage Song.

But what would have been the original ‘setting-in-life’ of this small Psalm of three verses?  One scholar says this was a ‘song of greeting’ addressed to brothers living together by a guest as he enters their house. Others have thought of the ‘kindred’ (literally ‘brothers’) of vs 1 as the family community, or the harmony experienced by fellow citizens, or of the unity of the cultic community. It is probably best to think of the family and the laws governing family life in the ancient near east.

This is made a little clearer if we accept the view of many scholars that vs 2b (on the beard of Aaron, / running down over the collar of his robes) is a gloss and should be removed. Taking this out gives a much simpler structure and restores the parallelism of vs 2 and the first half of vs 3. This gloss was probably added as the Psalm was adapted to a cultic, liturgical setting and sought to anchor the blessing ordained by the Lord in the presence and work of the Aaronic priesthood. Stripped of this reference, the psalm is very clearly a reference to the blessings that flow from extended families living together in harmony.

In Israel and similar communities of transhumant pastoralists, room had to be found in the family grazing lands for all flocks. The rights to grazing land were often willed to the descendants without dividing them. For those who have been following our Genesis readings we have seen of the family tensions over grazing rights and co-habitation that arose between Abraham and his nephew Lot, between Jacob and Laban his father-in-law, between Jacob and Esau, and between Joseph and his brothers. The degree to which ‘brothers’ must co-operate in sharing and preserving the interests of the clan extended even to Levirate marriage – marrying one another’s widows to preserve and continue the family (Deut 25.5ff cf. Genesis 38).

As Kraus expresses it: Ps 133 praises the (harmonious) living-together of brothers on a common hereditary estate (Kraus, Psalms 60-150; p, 486).  The resultant blessing from such peaceable co-existence is life forevermore (vs 3c).

The grim irony of this psalm cannot escape anyone who reflects on the modern land of Israel, where one tribe descended from Abraham claims the land in its entirety. The mountains of Zion (vs 3) are divided and fenced in, beset by walls and barriers, and Israelis and Palestinians do nothing like ‘live together in unity’. When we read the troubled history of ‘brothers’ and extended families depicted in Genesis, the public reading this Psalm can only mock the tragic failure of the contemporary state of Israel.

Genesis 41:14-36 again leaps over 13 verses, but these verses are largely repeated in the narrative set before us today. Disturbed by dreams, Pharaoh can find no peace, and then his chief cupbearer remembers Joseph and his facility with dreams (vss 1-14). The narrative is straightforward. Joseph claims no authority or skill in himself but only that he knows the Lord who will answer (vs 16). The double dream is then related (vss 17-24) and interpreted (vss 25-31). A crucial element of Joseph’s action is found in vs 32: The doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. The final part of Joseph’s speech (vss 33-36 Now therefore let Pharaoh …) is not attributed to God. It is all Joseph’s idea, further example of his wisdom and skill in management.

Revelation 15:1-4: This passage has popped up quite on its own, in our lectionary series. There are no other readings from Revelation until another isolated one on August 31st.  Why? What is the compiler of the lectionary trying to communicate?

Is it perhaps a counterpoint to the Apocalyptic visions of the worried Pharaoh in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures? I grappled with what the reason might be, without success, until I found two small hints in Revelation 15.1-4 that made sense of the puzzle. 

The first was the mention of the song of Moses in vs 3. This is a reference to the song Moses sang in Exodus 15 after the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea and the then Pharaoh and the Egyptian army had perished in the waves. The people singing in John’s vision are standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands (vs 2) – another evocation of the Exodus story.

The second hint comes in vs 1: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended. Here John is speaking the final consummation of all history, of the final suffering of God’s people, and God’s coming deliverance.  It is the beginning of the final chapter of the salvation of humankind!

And the Joseph story of Genesis 15 is the very beginning of that long narrative of deliverance and salvation!  Here the son of promise meets the Pharaoh of Egypt for the first time. The history of the interactions of Israel and Egypt, of God’s prophets and the Pharaohs, starts here, and continue for hundreds of years, until one chapter of the story is brought to a close by the miraculous events of the Red Sea – of which Moses sings in Exodus 15 a song which is echoed again and again in different ages until the people of God sing it in Revelation 15 at the great climax of human history. Here the compiler is pointing to the foreknowledge and saving action of God that connects the faith of an imprisoned Hebrew slave far back in the mists of antiquity with the song of a delivered people by a sodden shoreline 3,000 years ago, with the chorus of praise and triumph that shall ring out on the final horizon of future time.

What is very fitting as we sit and read in our stage four quarantine restrictions, is the subtext of plagues (sent by God) that formed the foundation of the Exodus event, and the seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended (vs 1). That’s good news – that there will be an end to plagues and pandemics, and it should encourage us, as it encouraged the Israelites in their own deliverance. (Note also the parallel in Genesis and Revelation of  seven cows / seven ears of wheat / seven plagues.)

If you go looking for similarities between Revelation 15:3-4 and Exodus 15 (or Deuteronomy 32, another version of the Song of Moses) you won’t find many. The alleged song of Moses is drawn more from the Psalms. It opens with a description of the magnitude of God’s work (cf. Ps 98.1, 111.2, 139.14) and the reliability of his ways (cf. Ps 145.17, Deut 32.4). Both God’s creative magnitude and his power over history find their overlapping expressions in the predicates ‘Almighty’ and ‘King of the Nations’. Two rhetorical questions follow, taken from Jeremiah 10.7 and Psalm 86.9, inviting concurrence with what the singers of the hymn have already recognised.

In vs 4b the image of the end time pilgrimage of the nations to Zion (cf Isaiah 2.2, Jeremiah 16.19) describes the submission of all peoples and powers which is the aim of God’s activity.

Friday, August 14, 2020Psalm 133; Genesis 41:37-57; Acts 14:19-28
For the Psalm, see Thursday.

Genesis 41.37-57 tells of the rise of Joseph in Egypt. As he had prospered and grown in authority in the house of Potiphar, and in the prison, so now in the whole of Egypt Joseph rises to be second only to Pharaoh (vss 37-44). All this happens because it is recognised that God is with Joseph (vs 38). This rise to power is completed at the age of thirty (vs 46) – assuming that it did happen as quickly as narrated in the earlier verses.

Vss 45 and 50-52 tell of Joseph’s family history. His sons Ephraim and Manasseh together become ‘one’ of the twelve tribes of Israel. Vss 47-49 tell of the predicted ‘fat years’ and vss 53-57 the ‘lean years’. 

Acts 14.19-28 The Acts account of the growth of the early church is an unfolding narrative that reads fairly directly. Here we have Paul at Lystra stoned nearly to death (vs 19) but surrounded by the disciples in protection and then rising and going into the city before moving on to Derbe. It is interesting that the ‘Jews’ who incited the crowd at Lystra came from Antioch and Iconium (vs 19) and it is to those cities that Paul returns (vs 21) and preaches in a way that encourages them in persecution (vs 22).

Vs 23 and vss 26-27 are an interesting window into early church governance. The apostles appoint elders for them (i.e. for the church) in each church as they travel on their missionary journey, but when they return to Antioch where they had been commended (commissioned?) to the grace of God for the work they had completed (vs 26) they convene the church and report back (vs 27). 

Antioch was clearly one of the early centres of Christianity – probably Antioch and Jerusalem were the most influential early centres. Acts 11.26b tells us it was in Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.

This report by Paul (vs 27) and the result that he stayed there with the disciples for some time (vs 28) is quite strategic. Chapter 15 tells the story of the high-level Council of Jerusalem, where a delegation from the Antiochian community met with the Jerusalem community to thrash out the ‘rules’ by which the various early Christian communities would live.

Saturday, August 15, 2020Psalm 133; Genesis 42:1-28; Matthew 14:34-36
For the Psalm, see Thursday.

Genesis 42.1-28:  Here begins the long story of Joseph’s reunion with his family. It is an extended story covering 5 chapters (42-46) in great detail. There are some interesting threads in the narrative.

Without recognising him, his brothers connect their current misfortune with their earlier treatment of Joseph (vs 21) and Reuben has an ‘I told you so’ moment in vs 22, all of which leads to Joseph being overcome with emotion which he hides (vs 24).

The motif of the ‘wanderer leaving with wealth and being pursued’ appears at various points in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. Rachel and Laban in Genesis 31, Gehazi and Naaman in 2 Kings 5) but nowhere is this basic narrative structure used with such complexity and repetition as these chapters of Genesis. Here the reading ends with the trembling recognition by the brothers that they are in peril because of the mysterious presence of the money they had spent to buy grain, included with the grain itself.

Matthew 14. 34-36 is a report of Jesus’ healing ministry in miraculous terms. It is drawn from Mark 6.53-56. Matthew abridges and simplifies Mark’s account, but Mt has followed Mk in depicting this event immediately following the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mk 6.30-44 // Mt 14.13-21 – Mt abridges Mk) and Jesus Walks on the Water (Mk 6.45-52 // Mt 14.22-33 – Mt expands Mk).

The editorial changes Matthew makes to this story are the removal of some detail like mooring the boat (Mk 6.53b) and the detail of the frantic activity of the locals and just how the sick were carried to Jesus (Mk 6.55-56).

This passage must be understood in context: in both Mathew and Mark the chapter has opened with the death of John the Baptist, followed by the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, followed by Jesus walking on the water and concluding with this report of Jesus healing power. In the wake of the death of John, the Forerunner, Jesus reveals his power to address human need (hunger), his mastery over nature (walking on water) and his healing power over illness (the healing ministry). This sets up his authority  which is challenged in the encounter and argument with the Pharisees and scribes that immediately follow in Mk 7 and Mt 15.

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