28 March 2010

Mar 28

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today in short: "God tells the Israelites that they suck, but everyone else sucks more."
it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he [God] is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfille the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not -- you are a stubborn people.
Moses recaps the golden calf incident to illustrate the stubbornness of the Israelites. He makes it clear that the Israelites forced him to endure enourmous hardships and trouble.

After telling the Israelites how much trouble they are, Moses beseaches them to change their ways.
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.
Obeying a yet unspecified set of commands and decrees seems a lot to sweep under the word "only". However, maybe this is meant to be read as two parts. First, God requires the Israelites to love him and serve him and live lives that please him. Separately, God gives the Israelites the decrees for their own good. Only the first set are general requirements from God. The second set are contextually generated requirements.

One of the interesting things about Deuteronomy ?:12-22 is that it is the first bit of Old Testament we have read in awhile that really fits what seems to be the contemporary Christian view of God. God is described thusly,
He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.
That said, I am hard pressed to see how a God who has a chosen people shows no partiality.

New Testament

The parable of the farmer scattering seed! You knew we had to get here again sometime. We saw this parable in both Matthew and Mark. Jesus tells the same story, but his explanation differs in a small but, for me, vital way.

To review: a farmer throws seed on the ground. Birds eat some, some sprout and whither, thorns choke and crowd others, and some grow and thrive. Jesus reveals the meaning of this parable: The seeds taken by birds represent people who are kept from God's word by the devil. The seeds that whither up represent those who believe for awhile and then fall out of belief. The plants that were choked to death represent the people whose reception of God's word is pushed out by the world, but here is where the difference comes in. In Mark we read (Matthew is nearly identical):
The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.
But in Luke we read
The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.
Saying "no fruit is produced" has pretty much the same meaning as "never grow into maturity", but for some reason, the second phrasing made me think about the passage differently. Unlike the first two types seed which die off, this type of seed does grow, but it never reaches the point of maturity. However, it does stay alive, so is, in some respects, successful. Applied to a person, it seems to me like this group of seeds describes people who complacently think that they are living the life called for by their faith, but they are not actually doing so. To not comment on modern issues, probably most Christians in the US today are represented by this third category of seed.

Today's reading also talks about how you do not light lamps just to cover them up and so, similarly all that is secret will eventually be brought to life. It also contains the vingette about Jesus' true mother and brothers: When Jesus' mothers and brothers come to him, he declares that those who hear and accept God's word are his real mother and brothers. I still cannot read that story without thinking that it is concealing some deep family tensions.

Psalms and Proverbs

When I predicted yesterday what today's reading from the Psalms would be like, I predicted that today's completion of yesterday's psalm would describe how God eventually did save the psalmist from the hardships he suffered. I was wrong in detail, right in general gist. Instead, what today's reading contains is the psalmists declaration of how he will praise God once God does rescue the psalmist.

The first proverb today is almost tautological if you start from the position that God is good
The Lord approves of those who are good,
but he condemns those who plan wickedness.