12 January 2010

Jan 12

Reference links:
Old Testament

I do not want to keep harping on repetition which implies duplicated oral traditions, but I keep getting such blatant examples. In Genesis 21
  • Abimelech came with his commander Phicol to visit Abraham.
  • Abimelech declares that the Lord is with Abraham.
  • Abraham and Abimelech swear an oath to get along with each other.
  • Abraham brings up a disagreement their servants had been having about a well.
  • Abraham gives Abimelech some animals.
  • The well where the oath is sworn is named Beersheba.
In Genesis 26
  • Abimelech came with his advisor Ahuzzath and his army commander Phicol to visit Isaac.
  • Abimelech declares that the Lord is with Isaac.
  • Isaac prepares a feast
  • Isaac and Abimelech swear an oath to not interfere with each other.
  • Isaac's servants come and tell him a well has been dug. The well is called Shiba in honor of the oath and the town around the well, Beersheba.
Within the bounds of an imprecise oral tradition, these are essentially the same story: Abimelech signed a treaty with a patriarch, and it helps resolve issues about water rights.

Today, we see Jacob's development into a trickster continue, with maternal assistance, no less. Rebekah prefers Jacob. Isaac prefers Esau (who is also the oldest). Isaac decides to give Esau his blessing as oldest son. Rebekah and Jacob plot to deceive Isaac, who is now old and blind. They make Jacob smell and feel like Esau. This fools Isaac who incorrectly blesses Jacob. Blessings cannot be taken back, so Esau loses out.

I find it fascinating that blessings could not be taken back, even if the one giving the blessing was deceived. It makes the process of blessing sound more like primitive magic than an appeal to a God who would, presumably, know the intentions in the heart of the one giving the blessing.

New Testament

Authority figures hate Jesus. In front of teachers of religious law, Jesus tells a paralyzed man his sins are forgiven before healing him. Jesus eats with "tax collectors and other disreputable sinners". Jesus' followers do not fast like other folks do. I guess that Jesus' willingness to go against the authority figures around him is supposed to indicate his authenticity. He is against The Man.

The bit about fasting confuses me. A follower of John the Baptist asks Jesus why his followers do not fast. Jesus gives three replies:
  • "Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from the, and then they will fast."
  • "Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before."
  • "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved."
The first one makes sense if you accept that Jesus is acting in the role as God incarnate. The second and third perplex me. The third, I can see as being related to how Jesus is supposed to bring a new law (new wine) and therefore does not need to follow the forms of the old law (old wineskins). The cloth one, I have no clue; maybe like the wine one?

Psalms and Proverbs
Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless.
Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed,
so mere people can no longer terrify them.
Today's Psalms present a good example of why Christianity can be so seductive to the downtrodden. For the suffering, it must be a relief to be able to believe that someday, perhaps in another world, wrongs will be righted and you will be cared for. But is a false hope better than a more hard won hope built on reality? Is a false hope better than no hope at all? I would give a resounding "no" to the first question, but the second one is harder.

In today's Proverbs reading we read
Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the best part of everything you produce
This passage presents an opportunity for reflection. In the past, one's wealth consisted of what one produced. Since what one produced varied in quality, it made sense to say that the best should be used to honor the Lord (i.e., give to the current reigning religious establishment). Now, however, even those of us who produce things do not measure wealth in terms of the things produced. Instead, we use the abstraction of money. What then, is the modern analogue of honoring the Lord with the "best part" of your wealth and productive capability?