REBUILDING AFTER DELUGE -10 YEARS ON IN INDONESIA
GENESIS 7: 24 (Schocken Bible trans.)
The waters swelled upon the earth for a hundred and fifty days
But God paid mind to Noah and the living things, all the animals that were with him in the Ark
and God brought a rushing wind across the earth, so that the waters abated.
The well-springs of the ocean and the sluices of the heavens were dammed up
and the torrent from the heavens was held back.
The waters returned from the earth, continually advancing and retreating
and the waters diminished at the end of a hundred and fifty days.
The Ark came to rest in the seventh new moon, on the seventeenth day after the new moon, upon the mountains of Ararat.
Now the waters continued to advance and retreat until the tenth new moon. On the tenth, on the first day of the new moon the tops of the mountains could be seen.
At the end of forty days it was: Noah opened the window of the Ark that he had made, and sent out a raven. It went off, going and returning until the waters were dried up from the earth.
Then he sent a dove to see whether the waters had subsided from the face of the soil. But the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned within the Ark, for there was water over the face of all the earth.
He sent forth his hand and took her and brought her into the ark.
Then he waited yet another seven days
and sent the dove yet again from the Ark.
The dove came back to him at eventime
and here- a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak!
So Noah knew
that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days.,
but she returned to him again no more.
And so it was in his six hundred and first year, in the beginning-month, on the first day of the new moon
the waters left firm ground upon the earth.
Noah removed the covering of the Ark and saw:
here, the face of the soil was firm.
Now in the second new moon, on the twenty seventh day after the new moon, the earth was completely dry.
The narrator insists on the stages of the Deluge, and gives plenty of detail, as if he were saying to the reader, yes, I know it’s a folk-tale but this was a real flood, not a magic one that could be wished away; it all took time. The noting of time is also important for establishing the realism of the narrative as well as the sense that natural process is under control once more. After the “swelling exceedingly” of the Deluge a quieter rhythm is established which can also be seen as the diminishing and vanishing of God’s anger. The living creatures in the Ark as represented by the raven and the dove now play a part in the safety of all, as they mark the retreat of the waters.
The author is telling the reader that although there are borrowings from mythology in his story, the anger of God and its consequences are terrifyingly real. He is experimenting with his character “God” but he is sure that anger against evil is an essential component.
10 And when he was alone, those about him with the twelve asked him about the parables.
11 And he said to them, To you is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to them who are without, all things are done in parables,
12 that beholding they may behold and not see, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest it may be, they should be converted and they should be forgiven.
13 And he says to them, Do you not understand this parable? and how will you be acquainted with all the parables?
14 The sower sows the word:
15 and there are some by the wayside where the word is sown, and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
16 And there are others in like manner who are sown upon the rocky places, who when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy,
17 and they have no root in themselves, but are for a time: then, tribulation arising, or persecution on account of the word, immediately they are offended.
18 And others are sown among the thorns: these are they who have heard the word,
19 and the cares of life, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things, entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
20 And these have been sown on the good ground, who hear the word and receive it, and bear fruit; one thirty, and one sixty, and one a hundred [fold].
21 And he said to them, Does the lamp come that it should be put under the bushel or under the couch? [Is it] not that it should be set upon the lamp-stand?
22 For there is nothing hidden which shall not be made manifest; nor does any secret thing take place, but that it should come to light.
23 If any one have ears to hear, let him hear.
I indicated in yesterday’s blog (1625) that the original parable stood clear of this explanation. It’s original meaning is the careless confidence with which God seeks human cooperation with his re-creation of the world. Here however Mark ascribes to Jesus a more sober reflection in the parable. This interpretation focuses on the different soils where the seed is scattered and makes them into character sketches of those who hear the gospel message of Jesus. Doubtless Jesus himself, and later his apostles as they tried to build up the communities of disciples saw how God’s strategy of asking human help was not without its failures. Perhaps at times it seemed that it was wholly a failure. The character sketches are given doubtless to warn new disciples of what could happen to their initial enthusiasm. Yet, just as the farmer has confidence in the soil, God has confidence in his human partners: there will be a harvest.
There are here also two reflections on Jesus’ use of parable. One is ironic, using ironic words from Isaiah which say that God’s message is proclaimed so that people can reject it and God’s offer of forgiveness. The implication is that Jesus was telling parables confuse people and turn them away from God’s forgiveness. There’s a sense in which the gospel of forgiveness can be made too easy. People are not required to do anything at all, God will forgive, it’s his business. The parables express the gospel in such a way that understanding them involves seeing your life as part of the fulfilment of the parable, in this case, seeing yourself as one of the seeds God scatters. Those who refuse this engagement, although they may pretend to understand, are in fact blind to its meaning.
The other reflection is in Jesus words about the lamp. They identify Jesus’ parables as like a lampstand on which a lamp is placed so that it can give good light to all. This suggests that the popular, teasing story form is an ideal instrument for making God’s truth available to all.
Both of these seem good to me. A good story that captures my interest may open me to the Gospel more effectively than an earnest diatribe or a seductive offer of salvation.