bible blog 410

This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:


Madonna plants a tree in Malawi

Jeremiah 8:18-9:6

18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me,

my heart is sick.

19 Hark, the cry of my poor people

from far and wide in the land:

‘Is the Lord not in Zion?

Is her King not in her?’

20 ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,

and we are not saved.’

21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,

I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?

Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of my poor people

not been restored?

The poor people of Malawi have had to learn that there is no balm in the ministrations of a pop star.

The bitter poetry of Jeremiah mourning for his suffering people, especially for the “poor of the land”, has struck a chord in the minds of suffering people since. Has the Lord abandoned them? Although they have waited for deliverance as farmers wait for harvest, it has not come. The prophet thinks of the traditional area from which medicinal oil has been traded. Has the supply dried up? Perhaps there is no physician to use it? These questions address God who has been the physician of the people. The prophet knows that when disaster comes on a nation the innocent suffer with the guilty. He has denounced the guilty, but he feels the anguish of all.

The “balm in Gilead” had already received a Christian interpretation through the ages, but it was picked up by African –American Camp- fire congregations and used as a chorus to John Newton’s hymn “How lost was my condition/ till Jesus made me whole/ there is but one physician/ can heal the sin-sick soul/” It was later published and claimed as original by one Washington Glass (Hymns 1856), but he is no more than its collector. The chorus runs, “There is a balm in Gilead/ to make the wounded whole ./ There is a balm in Gilead/ to heal the sin-sick soul.” This has all the vividness and mystery of popular devotion. Why Gilead? It’s in the Bible, with a question mark beside it. Is there no balm in Gilead? Those black Americans, out of knowledge of their own sins and the great suffering of their people offer an affirmative against the odds, “There is a balm!” It delivers them from sin and will deliver them from unjust suffering. It’s interesting how the songs of former slave-trader Newton speak to the condition of the enslaved.

John 8:12-20

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ 13Then the Pharisees said to him, ‘You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.’ 14Jesus answered, ‘Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge by human standards; I judge no one. 16Yet even if I do judge, my judgement is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.’ 19Then they said to him, ‘Where is your Father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’ 20He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

The father’s witness to Jesus is the resurrection, which lies beyond the death of Jesus. In his life there is but a single witness, that is, Jesus (his words and actions). The father’s witness in the resurrection is the confirmation that Jesus is God’s Son and Word. As such, he is the light of the world. John associated light with truth-the truth which is literally an “un-concealment” (Greek: Aletheia). Darkness conceals the truth about evil and goodness. Jesus life-death-and resurrection makes everything appear as it truly is, so that all deception is exposed and all hidden goodness revealed. “The Light of life” is the savage and saving power of eternal life, the life of God. 

“Jesus the Light of the World” deserves a better popular image than the sad version of Holman Hunt, who has Jesus with his lantern standing at the door and knocking. It has undeniable pathos but lacks rigour. I find this rigour best displayed in the face and hand of Jesus in Caravaggio’s “Calling of Matthew”. The light reveals the truth about the tax-collector while summoning him to something greater.

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