24 January 2010

Jan 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

The patriarchs do not like normal, straight forward blessings. In today's reading, Jacob blesses Joseph's sons Manasseh and Ephraim, adopting them as his own children. When he goes to bless the children, he intentionally puts his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger son, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, the older son. Joseph tries to correct his father, but Jacob insists on giving Manasseh the greater blessing.

After completing that blessing, Jacob calls all his sons together and gives them a final blessing and makes prophecies about their future. Jacob outlines the destiny of the tribe of Israel descended from each son, showing how the traits of the tribes derive from the traits of the sons who found them. Knowing that the author of Genesis composed the book long after the time these events occurred, it seems more likely that the traits of the brothers are being filled in from the personalities of the tribes.

Jacob finishes blessing his sons, makes it clear that he wants to be buried in the cave where Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebekah lie. Then he dies.

New Testament

Today, Jesus heals more people and then feeds 4000 more men (plus women and children). This time he used seven loaves and a few fish. He may have shared fish as well as bread, the text is ambiguous. The two stories share many similarities. In both cases, Jesus has been healing people, he discusses the issue of food with the disciples, they possess a small amount of food, Jesus blesses the food, and the food is shared among thousands of people (with leftovers). The redundancy itself does not show that this is the same legend told twice. Jesus may very well have needed to feed crowds multiple times.

The redundancy shows little. However, the disciples reaction the second time surprises me. Despite the fact that Jesus had already fed 5000 with five loaves and two fish, the disciples ask,
Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?
Do they not remember what happened before? Did they think it was some sort of trick and Jesus did not actually perform a miracle? Or maybe, just maybe, one story grew into two slightly different legends, and the author of Matthew decided to include both.

Jesus gets annoyed at the Pharisees and Sadducees for wanting a miraculous sign to prove his authority. On the one hand, you have to have sympathy for Jesus' annoyance; he has been performing miracles left and right (well, if the accounts of his own followers are to be believed). On the other hand, Jesus claims authority from God. You bet that I would demand some pretty good evidence before believing that of anyone. Of course, some would say that is why I am destined for hell.

Psalms and Proverbs

The psalms fascinate me. They contain so many verses that are familiar in a context that is completely unfamiliar.
In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.

May he send you help from his santuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.

May he remember all your gifts
and look favorably on your burnt offerings
I believe I have seen the first before two lines quoted reasonably often, probably on greeting cards or something. But we never hear the rest about Jerusalem and burnt offerings. There is nothing wrong with those verses, but like much of the Bible, they just are no longer relevant outside of their historical context.

Some decent advice in todays Proverbs reading.
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
Avoid all perverse talk;
stay away from corrupt speech.

Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feed;
stay on the safe path.
Don't get sidetracked;
keep your feed from following evil.
I do believe that what we hear and say influences us and what we say reflects our true beliefs. A single event may not mean much (there have even been jokes making fun of women that I have laughed at). However, when we hear or say "perverse" things regularly, I believe they do influence on what we believe in our hearts.

I also agree that most of us could benefit from more focus in our lives. Not to keep us from evil, I do not agree with the Biblical view that evil lurks around every corner. But we need focus to keep from getting distracted from our goals.

That said, you can also take such focus too far. If you never take a glance to the side, if you never take a risk or try another path, you may lose out on life changing opportunities.