This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
WOMAN IN CHARGE OF PETROBRAS OIL IN BRAZIL
God’s Covenant with Abram
15After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’2But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’*3And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’4But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’5He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord * reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7 Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’8But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’9He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.’
The narrator tells us that God makes promises to Abram which seem preposterous: Abram is a aged childless nomad, yet is to be the father of a great people who will possess an extensive homeland. It seems unlikely, yet Abram trusts the God who makes the promise, a trust that even God reckons to his credit. In the immediate future Abram is re-assured by a manifestation of God’s presence which comes betweeen the broken pieces of sacrifice. Doubtless the form of the mainfestation has its own ancient meaning, but it has always reminded me of those lives, like Abraham’s, which seem to be torn asunder by sacrifice in the midst of which God’s presence is recognisable. What must it have been like for Florence Li Tim-Oi the first woman to be ordained an Anglican priest in 1944 to be told after the war that she could no longer exercise her ministry? Nevertheless she continued within the church and was able towards the end of her life to exercise her prieshood again in Canada. The Church remembers and honours her today. The pioneers of faith, whose trust in God goes beyond conventional prudence, are like the great explorers of the earth in opening up new territory for others.
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
5After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew* Beth-zatha,* which has five porticoes.3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed.*5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’7The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’8Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath.10So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’11But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.” ’12They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in* the crowd that was there.14Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.16Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.17But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’18For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
John gives us a picture of a man in thrall to pious superstition: he is dis-abled and dependent on a predicted miracle. Jesus asks the crucial question, “Do you want to be well?” (or are you addicted to waiting on a miracle?). Then the man is faced, not with an answer to his petitions, but with a sharp command, “Take up your mat and walk!” God is not obeying him, he is obeying God. Something of Jesus’ impatience with the ministrations of popular religion comes through in this story. God’s word is new life while most people have been taught to pray for some addition to their old life. The same ruthlessness is seen in Jesus’ brusque reply to those who think God cares more about Sabbath obsaervance than a man’s health, “My Father is always working, and I’m working too.” It is of course completely untrue that in this saying Jesus puts himself on a level with the Father; rather he announces his complete obedience to the Father. New life is the whole person ready to serve God and the neighbour not a broken person clutching their need.