The Yaakov Cycle

I quite like scholar’s section introductions. Unlike issues, arguments and conclusions which I may or may not welcome, follow or share, good introductions are forward looking – full of hope. The writer seems freer, almost stating the obvious while pulling us onward.

I find Everett Fox’s following introduction to the Yaakov  Cycle most helpful as our lectionary reads highlights of  the Jacob Cycle through these last and coming few weeks. It is taken from his  excellent English translation and commentary “The Five Books Of Moses”

I especially like his last paragraph reminder of “the two levels of biblical reality.”

Last week our discussion ranged from “reads like a novel” to “dysfunctional family” to other literature e.g. “The Red Tent” and I would hope these and Fox’s thoughts below would lead us to read beyond our lectionary samplings and encounter the whole story.

YAAKOV (Jacob)

Genesis
25:19-36:43

BEFORE  COMMENTING ON THE YAAKOV CYCLE, IT IS APPROPRIATE TO CONSIDER WHY HIS father  Yitzhak (Isaac), the second of the Patriarchs, receives no true separate group  of stories on his own.

Yitzhak functions in Genesis as a classic  second generation-that is, as a transmitter and stabilizing force, rather than  as an active participant in the process of building the people. There hardly  exists a story about him in which he is anything but a son and heir, a husband,  or a father. His main task in life seems to be to take roots in the land of  Canaan, an admittedly important task in the larger context of God’s promises in  Genesis. What this means, unfortunately, is that he has almost no personality  of his own. By Chapter 27, a scant two chapters after his father dies, he  appears as (prematurely?) old, blind in both a literal and figurative sense, and as we will see, he fades out of the text entirely, only to die several
chapters, and many years, later.

The true dynamic figure of the second  generation here is Rivka (Rebeccah). It is she to whom God reveals his plan,  and she who puts into motion the mechanism for seeeing that it is properly  carried out. She is ultimately the one responsible for bridging the gap between the dream, as typified by Avraham (Abraham), and the hard-won reality, as  realized by Yaakov.

Avraham is a towering figure, almost  unapproachable as a model in his intiimacy with God and his ability to hurdle nearly every obstacle. Adding to this the fact that Yitzhak is practically a noncharacter, and that Yosef (Joseph), once his rise begins, also lacks dimension as a personality, it becomes increasingly clear that it is Yaakov who emerges as the most dynamic and most human personality in the book. The stories about him cover fully half of Genesis, and reveal a man who is both troubled and triumphant. Most interestingly, he, and not Avraham, gives his name to the people of Israel.

Distinctive themes of the cycle include physical struggle, deception, and confrontation. These are expressed through the key words of Yaakov’s name (“HeellHolder” and “Heel-Sneak,” then Yisrael (Israel), “God-Fighter”), “deceive” and similar words, and “face.” Also recurring are the terms “love,” ‘bless,” “firstborn-right,” and “wages/hire” (one word in Hebrew). The cycle is structured partly around etiologies (folk explanations of place-names and personal names) and also around Yaakov’s use of stones in several of the stories.

Continuing from the Avraham cycle are such earlier themes as wandering, sibbling rivalry, the barren wife, wives in conflict, the renaming of the protagonist, God perceived in dreams and visions; and particular geographical locations such as Bet-EI, Shekhem, and the Negev (Cassuto 1974).

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Yaakov stories are notable in the manner in which they portray the two levels of biblical reality: divine and human. Throughout the stories human beings act according to normal (though often strong) emotions, which God then uses to carry out his master plan. In this cycle one comes to feel the interpretive force of the biblical mind at work, understanding human events in the context of what God wills. It is a fascinating play between the ideas of fate and free will, destiny and choice – a paradox which nevertheless lies at the heart of the biblical conception of God and humankind.

Everett Fox,
The Five Books of Moses: A New English Translation with Commentary and Notes
(New York: Schocken Books, 1995).

http://www.clarku.edu/departments/foreign/facultybio.cfm?id=365

The kingdom of heaven is like

On Sunday, July 24, 2011 Brian got us all thinking about the parables of Jesus in his sermon. We were invited to consider Jesus’ words more deeply, including the fact that his images may not be as neutral as one would think (or as you have been led to believe). While we wait for the podcast and posting of his sermon, here is another preacher, a Lutheran, raising the same issues for us in her own words:

… Today we heard Jesus say that The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that when it has grown becomes the greatest of all shrubs. Um, the greatest of all shrubs?  What kind of off-brand kingdom is this?   It’s like saying someone is the smartest of all the idiots or the mightiest of all baby dolls. Yet he says Heaven’s kingdom is like Shrubs, and nets and yeast  – and the yeast part might be the worst when you realize that yeast is considered impure – we’re not talking little packets of Flieshman’s we find at King Soopers – we’re talking big lumps of mold which contaminate….and that in fact, Jews were required to  rid their entire house of yeast before celebrating some Holy Days.

We mistakenly may think that the kingdom of God should follow our value system and also be powerful or impressive and shiny. But that’s not what Jesus brings.  He brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one – populated by the unclean, and suffused with mercy rather than power. And it’s always found in the unexpected.… Read the whole sermon

Share your thoughts about Brian’s sermon  and Nadia’s sermon and the words of Jesus in Matthew 13. Keep the conversation going, leave a comment; two fine preachers have set us to thinking about the kingdom…

A Proper 13 Art for Readings July 31, 2011


 SOGLIANI, Giovanni Antonio
(b. 1492, Firenze, d. 1544, Firenze)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes
1536
Drawing, black chalk and white on prepared paper, 217 x 335 mm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page, and an interesting comment for why this design was rejected.
 Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.


Design rejected for the Convent of San Marco, Florence. Click to see the finished work accepted by the order.
 Click on their image to enlage/fit page etc.


Click here and scroll down to the 9th paragraph For Vasari’s account of the painting of the fresco for the Convent of San Marco, Florence.

Jacob dreamed

On Sunday, July 17th we read from the book of Genesis:

10    Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.

11    He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.

12    And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

13    And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;

14    and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.

15    Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16    Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”

17    And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18    So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

19    He called that place Bethel. —Genesis 28:10-19a

How is this (Genesis 28) our story?

Consider these questions about Jacob’s dream.

  • Do you believe this story?
  • Do you think that God has ever spoken to “mere mortals” in dreams?
  • Do you think that God, to this day, uses dreams as one way to communicate with us?
  • Do you know anyone who has dreamed and in that dream has heard God? If yes, do you believe what you have heard from this person? What clue(s) did the person use to know it was of God?
  • Have you ever “heard” God in a dream? How did you know it was God?
  • When was the last time God spoke to you in a dream?

These are a few of the questions that occur to me as I hear Jacob’s story. In the Sunday Morning Forum we shared our answers to some of these questions. We invite you to share your answers here as we continue to live in the light of this reading from Genesis. –djr

For further consideration and reflection

Consider that Jacob encountered God (v. 13), “a very personal Being.” within his dream, and was transformed. Dreams are mysterious in their power because of the One who meets us there at just the right time. —djr

Nearly midway into life I had come into a dark woods, into a blind alley. I found my way out of that stalemate through an understanding of dreams. I worked with a Jungian analyst, a Jew who had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. He believed that the Holy One still spoke to both sleeping and waking human beings in dreams in the silence of the day and in the night. With his help I discovered that my dreams were wiser than my well-tuned rational mind and that they gave me warnings when I was in danger. They also described in symbols the disastrous situations in which I found myself. These strange messengers of the night also offered suggestions on how to find my way out of my lostness. When I followed these symbolic suggestions, much of the darkness lifted, and my situation no longer seemed hopeless. Many of my psychological and physical symptoms of distress disappeared.

In addition to all this, I found a very personal Being at the heart of reality who cared for me; my theological dry bones were covered with sinew and flesh. And then, as I continued to listen to my dreams, I experienced the risen Christ in a way that I had not thought possible. And last of all, I realized that the Holy One continued to knock on the doorway of my inner being in my dreams even when I paid no attention to them, and he would also be waiting for me when I deliberately opened the door of my soul to the risen Christ. Prayer, contemplation, and meditation, then, became real and necessary aspects of my life as I journeyed toward fulfillment and wholeness.

Morton T. Kelsey, God, dreams, and revelation,
Kindle edition, Preface (search: stalemate)

About flesh and body

As we continue to read in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we find a passage filled with words that made sense to the first audience without a lot of explanation, but which need some interpretation in 2011. Here is an excerpt opening the English words “flesh” and “body” as used by Paul in Greek in this letter and in his theology. Walter F. Taylor, Jr. is the Ernest W. and Edith F. Ogram Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH.

Our text [Romans 8:1-11] uses several times the word flesh, making what seem to be almost nonsensical statements such as “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (verse 8).  If that is the reality, why even try to live in God-pleasing ways?  The key is what Paul means by flesh (sarks).  To understand his usage, we turn first to its apparent twin, body (soma).  For Paul the body is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  The issue is how the body is used.  When the body is used as God intended, the body is good.  But when the body is used inappropriately and opposed to God’s intention, it is for Paul a sinful body.  Paul’s shorthand expression for a body that is misused is the term flesh.  And so to live inappropriately is called living according to the flesh (kata sarka).  Read more about Paul’s theology. (Select “2nd Reading” tab)

What helps you to live fully for God? How has your living for God changed over the years? What kinds of “grown up” things do you do as you seek to know and do God’s will?

Leave a comment, reply to a comment, keep the Sunday conversation going. Thank you for participating in the Sunday Morning Forum.

The parable of the sower

And [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” Matthew 13:3-9 See also Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Is it about the sower? the seed? the soil? How do you hear it? Consider these questions about the parable and Jesus’ interpretation of his parable.

  • Tell me more about the sower. Who is the sower? Is it only Jesus? Is it we who follow Jesus? Is it only the baptized? Can anyone sow “the word of the kingdom”? (v. 19)
  • Do you recognize these areas (path, rocky ground, thorn infested ground, good soil) in the world around you? In the people around you?
  • Do you recognize these areas in yourself? Is it possible that in ourselves, in our “field,” we will find these areas? Will we find a path, rocky ground, thorn infested patches, good soil? All 4, just 1, a combination?
  • Are we to understand that we are to sow the seed (word of the kingdom) as wildly and extravagantly as “the sower”?
  • Is it possible for soil to change? How? With what help? Over how long a time? How would you apply this knowledge to you? To the people around you?
  • Do you know anything about composting? Can the thorns be composted? Will this compost enrich the already “good soil”? Will clearing the thorns help that soil recover in order to receive seed (as good soil) the next time around? Will there be a “next time around”?

These are a few of the questions that occur to me as I hear the parable. I encourage to leave a comment. Let’s continue the conversation begun in the Forum on Sunday.

Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me

Jesus said “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:40

This verse is important because it explains the nature of the apostolic office on the legal principle governing a Jewish emissary: “A man’s agent is like himself.” It deepens the religious basis of the apostolate by deriving it ultimately from God himself in a cascading succession mediated by Jesus, who is himself the apostle of the Father.  New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC)

In the Outline of the Faith in our Book of Common Prayer we tell the world and each other what we believe about ministry and ministers (and you will find the basis of these expressions in the scriptures we use, like the verses in the Gospel this Sunday):

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church

The Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 855

In the light of our Gospel reading today and what we say about ourselves:

  • • The mission of the church is presented in terms of relationship, not dogma; as a church we are to restore “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
  • • This mission is pursued as a community, not as independent contractors;
  • • However, since the Church is composed of various individuals, “all its members” are responsible for ministry so that the Church can carry out its mission (of building and restoring relationships);
  • • Lay persons (by far the majority of members in the Church) are ministers (in fact, lay persons are the first-named ministers);
  • • “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ….” Here, a further commentary on Matthew 10:40 may be quite instructive

Expanding on the notion that we are “to represent Christ,” (whether a lay person or ordained) each of us is not just an ambassador, but “like [Jesus] himself.”

“Whoever welcomes you,” Jesus said, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt. 10:40). The disciple, wherever she or he might be, actually “embodies” Jesus as a Kingdom-bearer.

Jesus was big on the concept of “agentry.” That is, he believed strongly that the disciple who went out in his name was not just a “representative,” but, in fact, an extension of his own being and authority. In other words, when the world encountered a disciple of Jesus, they were encountering Jesus himself.

To borrow from the well-known passage—and to amend it slightly—we, the agents of Christ, are “the way, the truth, and the life” to the world. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health … until death do us part. Jesus is judged through us, by how the faith flowers or fades in us.
“Postscript” in Synthesis, June 29, 2008

This raises some intriguing questions for us. Assuming that the statement about embodying Jesus wherever we might be is a true statement (and biblically sound), and accepting that we are ministers restoring all people to unity with God and each other:

  • What gifts of Christ do you “embody” as you minister? (Remember: lay persons “bear witness to [Christ] wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them,”)
  • Do you “feel” like “an extension of [Christ’s] own being and authority”?
  • How are you working to be a better “extension” of Christ’s being and authority?
  • When “the world” encounters you what do they learn about Jesus (since you “embody” and have been given the authority of Jesus as you go into the world)?

It is humbling to understand that we have been invited by God “maker of all that is, seen and unseen” to know Jesus Christ. It is exciting to understand that we have accepted this invitation. It is humbling to understand that Jesus, the Son of God, has chosen us and sent us out. It is a challenge to our creativity and discipline to live up to and into this ministry. It is necessary to come together often to confess that we have not lived up to our end of the covenant, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness and be fed to go back into the world to be the disciple that Christ knows us to be.

Believe that God has indeed “gifted” you for this ministry.

Believe that God has “graced” you in ways known and yet to be discovered so that you may “embody” him (God’s love, the Good News) in the 21st century places you live and work and play in.

Believe that you make a difference as God’s beloved child.