bible blog 717

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


Exodus 17:1-7

Water from the Rock

17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.2The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.7He called the place Massah* and Meribah,* because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

This is another incident in the story of how the people “tested” God by their incapacity to live in freedom, always looking to have their lives sorted by somebody else. Doubtless certain kinds of semi-porous rocks in the desert hold water which can be released by striking, but the people had to learn the arts of freedom from God through Moses. The storyteller may see the stubborn rock as a symbol of the people who need repeated blows to let the water of life flow from amongst them. But subsequent commentators, including St. Paul, have seen the rock as a symbol of God’s readiness to give life from his own life (“The rock was Christ”). For myself, I have always seen the story as an image of how new life may be concealed in the least auspicious of circumstances; and how refreshment may come from, not in spite of, hardship. Amongst other spirituals, I once wrote this:

“I was hungry I was thirsty and I had no strength to walk

I was hungry I was thirsty and I had no strength to walk

And  I prayed the Lord to give me

Water from the rock.

Water from the rock, water from the rock

And I prayed the Lord to give me

Water from the rock.”

John 16:16-33

Sorrow Will Turn into Joy

16 ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’17Then some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying to us, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and “Because I am going to the Father”?’18They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’19Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, ‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”?20Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.21When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.22So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.23On that day you will ask nothing of me.* Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.*24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

Much of John’s gospel is given to showing how Jesus enters the most barren dimension of human life, its darkness and evil, on his cross, so that new life may flow into the world. The water he gives bubbles up into eternal life. Jesus explains that he must go away. He will be absent and worldly people will rejoice that he is gone, while his disciples will be in pain. But the joy of the world will be barren while the pain of disciples, like the pains of childbirth, will be fruitful. Jesus the resurrected one will be born, indeed the imagery may imply that he will be born in his disciples. Because they will share the life of the risen Jesus, they will be able to ask the Father for what they need, in his name. Using the same image St. Paul states that creation itself groans as if in the pains of childbirth….as it waits to be set free from the shackles of decay to share the glorious liberty of the children of God..(Romans 8). Although the gospel soberly recognises the weight of sin and evil, it also insists that the new God-given life of human beings is filled with delight. The promised joy will be complete. Those who know these joys should be quiet witnesses to their reality.

Today the church remembers St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, scholar and theologian 1033-1109, who wrote a famous book on the atonement called “Cur Deus Homo?” “Why the God-Man?” in which he sets out the view that only Jesus could pay the price of sin and that those who ask why God cannot simply forgive without the life and death of Jesus, “nondum considerasti quantum pondus sit peccatum” (-have not considered how great a weight is sin). Although I don’t share Anselm’s view of the work of God in Christ, I do share his sense that evil is as weighty as a stone over a grave and must be overcome as well as forgiven.

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