bible blog 935Isaiah 65:1-9

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

China softens censorship of the press after protests China

Isaiah 65:1-9

The Righteousness of God’s Judgement

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,    to be found by those who did not seek me.I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’,    to a nation that did not call on my name.2 I held out my hands all day long    to a rebellious people,who walk in a way that is not good,    following their own devices;3 a people who provoke me    to my face continually,sacrificing in gardens    and offering incense on bricks;4 who sit inside tombs,    and spend the night in secret places;who eat swine’s flesh,    with broth of abominable things in their vessels;5 who say, ‘Keep to yourself,    do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.’These are a smoke in my nostrils,    a fire that burns all day long.6 See, it is written before me:    I will not keep silent, but I will repay;I will indeed repay into their laps7   their* iniquities and their* ancestors’ iniquities together,

says the Lord;
because they offered incense on the mountains    and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps    full payment for their actions.

This voice of God as a hurt and rejected lover, spitting out his anger, is one of the great achievements of the Hebrew prophets. They were able to imagine the love of God for the people so intimately and sympathetically, and to express it in such vivid words that the reader doesn’t doubt that God feels this way!

Can the eternal God really feel spurned love? Can he lower himself to speak to his unfaithful people in bitter words?

Well, of course God doesn’t speak audibly, so we have to invent words for him. But this invention proceeds from the wonderful Jewish theology of God’s indignity. The God who is faithful to his (unwise?) creation of humanity involves himself in repeated humiliations. He has to formulate a plan B for creation because of human disobedience; he has to wipe out almost all living things before his anger cools and he regrets what he’s done. He hs to punish his people by letting them go into exile, then he has to bring them back. This God reminds us of the father in Jesus’s parable who foolishly welcomes back the younger son after he has disgraced the family and himself.

St. Paul in a great phrase, calls this the foolishness of God, who loves his humans so much that he gives up his son Jesus to the disgrace of crucifixion in order to demonstrate his love.

No merely academic theologian would have dared to invent a God such as the one we find in the bible.

 

New-Age religion fair, Dundee

New-Age religion fair, Dundee

This God mumbles “Here I am” like a disregarded slave, and stretches his hands to them like humans when they pray but manages to give a portrait of his secularised people that rings true: they’ve given up on God but have given themselves to superstitious practices such as hanging about in tombs and making sacrifices in gardens. The smart and affluent Israelis were as credulous as postmodern Scots!

Obviously there are risks in such a bold depiction of God but perhaps they are a lesser danger than the giant quantities of dull verbiage written and spoken by religious teachers who only present second-hand experience and never dare to get close enough to God to imagine what he feels. Could it be that the challenge which presents itself to the writer of a bible blog is to give readers some of his own experience of God, if he has any?

John 6:1-14

Feeding the Five Thousand

6After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.* 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.7Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages* would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,9‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’10Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they* sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’

abundance

abundance

John uses a tradition common to all the gospels to give a picture of Jesus as the bread of life in whose presence scarce resources are wonderfully multiplied. It is an image of what John elsewhere calls “abundant life”. Although Christian believers in John’s community may have been very poor, their life together was not meagre. Their faith and love made it rich.

There  are a number of  symbolic elements in the story. It has echoes of the manna with which God fed the people in the desert, and of the green pastures of psalm 23 where the shepherd feeds his flock. It looks forward to the Christian eucharist, while the 12 baskets of leftovers would’ve been enough to feed the 12 tribes of a new Israel.

Although the gospel writer is writing at a distance from the events of Jesus’ life, s/he represents the profound experience of a community that was close to its Christ.

Who and what feeds human beings, including me? This story answers, “Jesus Christ.”

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