15 January 2010

Jan 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

Not too much to comment on today. Jacob decides to flee Laban with his wives, children, and possessions. Rachel steals her father's household idols. Laban chases them, but does not harm them because of a warning he received in a dream. Laban searches for his idols. He cannot find them because Rachel claims she cannot get off of her saddle because of her period. Jacob goes on for two paragraphs about how terribly Laban treated him. Laban and Jacob make a covenant to stay out of each others' way.

We then have an odd comment without context,
As Jacob started on his way again, angels of God came to meet him. When Jacob saw them, he exclaimed, "This is God's camp!" So he named the place Mahanaim.
That's it. Angels of God came to meet Jacob and... what? We are left hanging. Were the angels just hanging out?

Jacob has to pass through the region where Esau lives. Remembering that he cheated Esau out of his birthright and blessing, hesends ahead messengers to try to smooth things over. The author gives us a cliffhanger, and we end today's reading seeing after learning that Esau approaches with 400 men.

New Testament

Today we see the less peaceful side of Jesus' teachings. I do not know if I would go so far as to call them violent, but they are certainly antagonistic.

But first, Jesus' views on pluralism. Some Christians believe that there are valid ways of worshiping God other than through Jesus, but that worshiping Jesus is the best and deepest way to connect with God. In this view, some non-Christians may go to heaven. This can come in degrees ranging from "those people are really worshiping Jesus, but just don't know it" to "Jesus is not the only way to get to heaven." I would interpret today's reading from Matthew as being in conflict with the more open pluralistic positions and, perhaps even the weaker ones.
Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
Certainly, anyone who denies Christ is out of the picture. There is an implication that one must explicitly and publicly acknowledge Jesus to get into heaven. As with most Biblical passages, there is some wiggle room. This statement leaves room for an implied "but those who neither acknowledge nor deny me here on earth, I will neither acknowledge or deny before my Father in heaven".

Now onto the antagonistic passages:
Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.
I have heard the last segment interpreted as meaning that love that is not mediated through God/Christ is inferior. Thus, it is okay to imply that Jesus should be loved more than family because if you love Jesus more than your family, you love your family more than you would if you didn't love Jesus (follow that?).

Within the context of the passage that interpretation becomes less relevant, if not completely unbelievable. Jesus must be followed and loved above all else or strife will ensue. In context, the last segment seems more like a threat than a loving statement.  To be fully fair, when I have seen this statement used in defense of the interpretation above, it has been of the form "here is this interpretation and here are verses X, Y, and Z which support it" rather than "given this passage and its context, here is how one can interpret it."

Actually, come to think about it, in today's reading, Jesus' tone is generally threatening.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm continues the patterns of psalms where the author feels abandoned but expresses faith that God will rescue them.
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die
This psalm and the others like it provide comfort to believers because they show faith in the face of doubt, or so I guess. However, I see them more as evidence of the shaky ground that faith stands on. The struggle with doubt is really the main subject of psalms like these. The appeals to God's love and mercy feels tacked on, like the half-hearted fulfillment of a required statement.