Archives for posts with tag: Gospel

In my most recent post on Genesis 27 (a couple weeks ago) I discussed how Jacob, the “founding father” of Israel, is presented negatively in the Bible. In posts prior to that, I mentioned how his father, Isaac, is presented in Genesis as the ideal because Isaac was the one born of God’s promise and not out of human desire. The story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah (Genesis 28-30), further illustrates this point. It also shows how God’s “chosen people” often behave as bad, or even worse, than those outside their community. I will highlight a couple of important points from the Jacob and Rachel/Leah story and then speak of the significance.

(1) Unlike Isaac, who remained in the promised land his entire life, Jacob leaves that land to find a wife. And again, in contradistinction to Isaac, who did not labor for his wife, Jacob ultimately ends up laboring 14 years for his desired bride, Rachel. The significance of this passage cannot be overstated. The idea of laboring for one’s own desires (like Jacob) versus resting in God’s promises (like Isaac) is a biblical theme throughout the Bible, including the New Testament. For example, in the famous story of the Samaritan woman (John 4), this distinction is central. The woman of Samaria came from the city of Sychar. The root of Sychar in Hebrew implies one earns a living by work as a servant/slave. The fact there is little to no evidence such a city ever actually existed by this name indicates John is using the word as a play on laboring as a slave. John then contrasts Sychar with the Greek word kopio, which is the term Paul uses to speak of laboring for the Gospel. The difference between “Sychar” and “kopio“, of course, is that the laboring for one’s desires brings about discord whereas the laboring for the peaceful message of the Gospel brings salvation and healing to broken people. In other words, the laboring for the Gospel leads to rest. I went on this sidetrack to help show how the Gospel of Jesus is rooted in the Old Testament. Even in the story of Isaac/Jacob we see the distinction between laboring for our desires and resting in God’s promise.

(2) In English we have the saying, “What goes around comes around.” Jacob learns this lesson the hard way. Remember from the previous chapters Jacob dealing deceitfully with his father and brother to steal his brother’s blessing. Now, Jacob is tricked by his father-in-law Laban, who substitutes Leah for Rachel as Jacob’s bride after Jacob labored for Laban seven years. In order to obtain Rachel also, Jacob agrees to work yet another 7 years for Laban. “What goes around comes around!”

(3) Although technically the Mosaic Law had not yet been given, the astute biblical reader will no doubt realize Jacob is violating God’s law when he marries Rachel and Leah, who are sisters. In Leviticus 18:18, God commands: “[You shall not] take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.” Yet, this is exactly what Jacob did–he took Rachel as a rival to her sister. Beginning at the end of Genesis 29 through Genesis 30, we hear the pathetic story of this rivalry, with Rachel and Leah competing for Jacob’s love and attention, and bearing children in competition with one another. Once again, this story illustrates a serious problem with Jacob.

As I mentioned in the previous post, these stories of Jacob, the founding father after whom Israel is named, are intended to teach us humility. Being the chosen people of God does not mean we are better than others. Furthermore, if we hear the story of Jacob and his wives as intended, we are taught the importance of laboring not for our own desires, but instead putting our trust in God’s promises, which alone brings rest, reconciliation, and peace.

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As some of you are aware, I spoke this past weekend at the annual Minnesota Bible Lecture Series (MNBLS) in Minneapolis(http://www.mnbls.org).  The topic this year was the Gospel of Mark.  Gwen and I had a wonderful visit and were able to see some old friends from our seminary days, and made some new friends as well.  I thank Fr Marc Boulos and his parents, Paul and Rose, for their hospitality during our stay.

During the course of my talks, one of the listeners had a question related to miracles.  This topic again came up in today’s Bible study at St Mary.  They were both good questions, and since they were raised I have thought quite a bit about the topic of miracles. 

It seems that when most people think about Jesus or the Bible, or even religion in general, they think about miracles.  And certainly there are miracle stories throughout the Bible.  Even down to our own day we hear about various miracles throughout the world.  I must admit, nonetheless, that speaking about miracles makes me a little uncomfortable.  What makes me uncomfortable is not the miracles themselves, or the idea of miracles, but the fact that so many people misunderstand or overemphasize miracles.  I made a couple of points related to this topic at the MNBLS and during Bible study.  Since the people who asked the questions seemed to benefit from what I said, I will share my thoughts with you as well.

First, miracles are miracles because they are extraordinary.  Miracles are miracles because they defy the natural order.  They operate in a way that makes no logical sense.  In other words, they are not everyday occurrences in our lives.  If everyone–or even most people–who have a terminal disease are healed, it would not be miraculous when someone is cured of an otherwise incurable disease.  It would simply be the natural order of the universe.  If every time a car spun out of control on the interstate it was put back on its course before hitting another car or causing an accident, then it would cease to be miraculous when that does happen to people.  But these exceptions are not the norm, and thus they may fall into the ‘miracle’ category when they do happen.

My point in bringing this discussion up is certainly not to discourage people from hoping in a miracle.  Nor would I tell people not to believe in miracles.  Again, I have heard (and perhaps even seen) miracles happen.  My wife has seen them happen as well in her work as a nurse.  As a pastor, what concerns me about people’s hopes in a miracle is that the hope is often misplaced.  The hope is often in a miracle because we idolize this life.  The hope is because we are scared to die.  The hope is that we will not have to face our Maker–or at least that we could delay it a little while longer in order to have some more fun on earth.

This misplaced hope for a miracle is related to the second point I made.  Even in the Bible when a miracle happens (except in the case of the Resurrection of Christ), the person on whom the miracle was performed still dies later.  St Lazaraus, who was raised after being dead for four days, is no longer with us–he died again.  Tabitha/Dorcas, who was raised by Peter, once again died.  The blind, the deaf/dumb, the people with the unclean spirits, they are all dead and gone.

Again, this post is not meant to depress people, but is an effort to encourage us to focus on one of the main aspects of the Bible: our judgment after death.  Even when God allows a miracle to happen, the people on whom the miracle was performed die eventually.  Sooner or later we all are faced with the grave.  And if we believe the Bible, we all will be faced with the Day of Judgment, at which time all things hidden will be manifest; every deed will be revealed. 

To sum up my (hopefully coherent) rambling: whether we are the beneficiary of a miracle or not, we all will face the dread judgment seat.  One of the main purposes of Scripture is to prepare us for that day.  It gives us the answer key to the final test, before the final test is given.  If God allows us to benefit from a miracle, we thank Him; but we always need to remember the end is eventually coming.  We thank God for giving us more time to repent and we make every effort to correct our behavior before we are called to give an account before Him—because we know miracle or not, that is the final destiny for all of us.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading in the Orthodox Church was John 4:5-42, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  The story is, of course, packed with meaning, but I would like to point out one interesting aspect that is frequently overlooked.

John 4 says Jesus came to a city of Samaria called Sychar.  To my knowledge, there is no historical evidence such a village existed.  This led some Church Fathers and scholars to conclude there is some sort of scribal error involved with Sychar.  However, I am inclined to think it is no error at all. 

The root of Sychar in Hebrew means to earn your living by working as a servant/slave.  It is this same word used in Genesis to describe the 14 years of Jacob’s labor to acquire Rachel.  In addition to this Sychar, several times throughout John 4 the Greek word “kopio” is used.  In verse 6 it is translated as “wearied” and in verse 38 several times as “labor.”  The word “kopio” is also used by St Paul in his epistles to speak of laboring for the Gospel.

One more thing to keep in mind is the play on the five husbands in the story.  The number five in Scripture is often a reference to the Torah, the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy–the Mosaic Law).  Since the Samaritans only accepted the five books of Moses (and not the rest of the Old Testament), Jesus’ discussion here about the five husbands is likely referring to the woman being under bondage to the five books of Moses.  Remember, a woman during these times was legally subject to her husband, under his authority.

Based on this info, you can see how there is a play going on between Sychar and kopio.  The Sychar, the laboring to keep every aspect of the Mosaic Law, leads to bondage.  Drinking of that water leaves one thirsty, always needing to do more and more, work harder and harder.  On the other hand, the kopio, the laboring for the Gospel of grace, leads to freedom.  Those who drink of the Gospel’s waters will never be thirsty again.  They will reap that for which they had not labored (vs. 38) and, following this path of grace, will continue to kopio/labor for those who will come after them and reap of their work.

As Christians, this should be our worldview: freely you received, freely give (Matthew 10:8).  We have freely received God’s grace, so we must in turn labor to make this grace known to others–not only in our preaching, but through our works of love and mercy.

As a Yankees fan, the season (and perhaps career) ending injury of Mariano Rivera has been tough news today.  For those who are not aware, Mariano Rivera is one of the all-time great baseball players and a New York Yankee.  He is one of the best pitchers in the history of the game.  Indications were Mariano would retire after this season.  He has always been considered a class act as a human being and player, never being connected with any sort of controversy or immorality.  He has been as consistent over the past twenty years as any player in any sport, and last was on the disabled list for an injury 9 years ago.

Mariano is respected by his teammates and opponents alike.  He is known as a generous, Christian family man.  Given his history, everyone familiar with him hoped he would finish with yet another strong season, a fitting tribute to a good human being and superb athlete.  No one would have dreamed his career might end in the outfield of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during batting practice while he was shagging fly balls and twisted his knee (tearing his ACL).

One of my initial thoughts about this situation was the sadness he surely feels.  I also thought about the injustice of the situation.  An apparently good, honest, upright man who worked hard and was respected by everyone goes out in such a tragic way.  Granted, Mariano has millions of dollars to help comfort him–don’t get me wrong–but for me the deeper issue from a Christian perspective is the lack of justice in this situation. 

I think most people consider justice to be a good and noble thing.  However, true justice simply does not exist in this world.  Furthermore, I would argue, it has little place in Christianity.

St Isaac the Syrian once said (I’m paraphrasing) God is not just.  For where is the justice in the only sinless one dying for the sins of others?   Now, this is not to say God is unjust, but rather that God exceeds justice (emphasizing a higher virtue of mercy and compassion).  The reality is, through God’s grace, we have the possibility of not “getting what we deserve.”  We have the possibility of repentance and forgiveness and restoration.  Moreover, those in this world who suffer injustices are promised to be recompensed in the afterlife.  This is the gist of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  It is also reflected in the Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel: “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich has He sent empty away” (Luke 1:53).

As Christians, we should spend much less time and energy thinking about “justice.”  There is no justice in this world.  Instead, in this world, we should focus on showing love, mercy, and compassion.  These are the highest gifts, the greatest virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).  “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13, see also Matthew 12:7).

The main purpose of this blog, as I have mentioned before, is not to provide a full commentary on books of the Bible, but to highlight certain aspects of the Bible often overlooked by the average reader (and sometimes the average commentator).  Today’s post is quite short for this reason, but I did want to point out an interesting aspect to yesterday’s reading in the Orthodox Church.  We read Mark 15:43 – 16:8.  Much could be said about this passage, but I will limit myself to an important distinction made between 15:43 and 15:45.  This distinction is entirely lost in every English translation I have found.

In Mark 15:43, Joseph of Arimathea asks for the body (Gr. soma) of Jesus.  In Mark 15:45, English translations unfortunately translate like the NKJV: “[Pilate] granted the body to Joseph.”  This translation misses an important distinction.  The word translated as “body” in vs. 45 is actually the Greek word ptoma.  As you can see, this is an entirely different word than the soma in verse 43.  The Greek word ptoma means body/carcass.  So the translation as body is not entirely wrong, but it misses an important distinction made by Mark’s Gospel.  Someone hearing the Gospel in Greek would hear it similarly to how we would hear the following in English: Joseph asked for the body of Jesus…he was granted the carcass.

I personally believe the biblical writers chose every word carefully, and thus I think it was no accident Mark used two separate words in vss. 43 and 45.  The body (soma) of Christ is used in the New Testament as a reference to the Church.  In Mark 15:43, Joseph asks for the soma, but according to 15:45 he is granted not the soma/body, but the ptoma/carcass.  In other words, Christ’s body, the Church, is not granted to Joseph.  The body of Christ/the Church is directly under God and is not permitted for anyone to hold or control as their own, except God Himself.  To put it simply, we belong to the Church, the Church does not belong to us.