This blog at present gives a daily meditation on te book of Genesis and the Gospel of mark. The series began on 1st January 2015 and can be accessed from my archives. The headline keeps me in touch with the world.
“CLOSE TO EVIL” HOLOCAUST AUTHOR WANTED RECONCILIATION WITH BELSEN GUARD
Now when Avram was ninety and nine years old
YHWH was seen by Avram and said to him:
I am God Shaddai.
Walk in my presence and be wholehearted!
I set my covenant between me and you,
I will make you exceedingly, exceedingly many.
Avram fell on his face.
God spoke to him, saying:
As for me,
Look, my covenant is with you,
so that you will become the father of a throng of nations.
No longer will your name be called Avram,
rather your name shall be Avraham
for I will make you, Av Hamon Goyim, Father of a Throng of Nations!
I will cause you to bear fruit exceedingly, exceedingly,
I will make kings go out from you,
yes, kings will go out from you!
I establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you, throughout their generations as a covenant for the ages, to be God to you and your seed after you.
I will give to you and your seed after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, as a holding for the ages,
and I will be God to tem.
God said to Avram:
As for you,
you are to keep my covenant, you and your seed after you, throughout their generations.
This is my covenant which you are to keep, between me and you and your seed after you:
every male among you shall be circumcised.
You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin
so that it may serve as a sign of the covenant between me and you.
At eight days old, every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations,
whether house-born or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your seed.
Circumcised, yes circumcised shall be your house-born and your money-bought
so that my covenant may be in your flesh as a covenant for ages.
But a foreskinned male
who does not have the flesh of his foreskin circumcised,
that person shall be cut off from his kinspeople –
he has violated my covenant!
The solemn language of a covenant is cumulative, each repetition adding just another element to the agreement. Some features should be noted:
1. The covenant is initiated by YHWH God, who proposes all the content.
2. The content is “I will do X for you; and you will do Y for me.”
3. YHWH promises that Avraham will have descendants, who will prosper as a people and occupy the land of Canaan, and that He YHWH will continue to be their God.
4. YHWH requires in return that Avraham and his descendants will honour Him as their God, by the practice of circumcision. As YHWH’s promise is for successive generations so the sign of the covenant is upon the “organ of generation,” the male penis. This sign indicates that the power of sexual fruitfulness belongs to God and not to the males of the clan. This intimate sign tells each male that the future of the clan is not solely in human “hands”: No organ of the body belongs more to a man than this, and yet it also belongs to God; no organ is less controllable than this, and yet this is where God’s rule is exercised.
5. The blessing of God is extended to slaves through the requirement that they also should be circumcised.
(I am not a Jew and cannot fully imagine what this sign means to a circumcised man or to his partner, but it seems to be a mainly a source of pride even for non-practicing Jews today. The habit of current culture in the UK is to view such a practice with suspicion. It is clearly not a violation like FGM, which used to be called female circumcision. Nevertheless, some campaigners for the rights of children have pointed out that it is a medical operation with permanent effects which does not have the patient’s approval. Of course any operation carried out on a baby does not have the patient’s approval but is done for the health of the child. Doubtless Jewish parents have always believed that circumcision was for the spiritual health of their child, as well as that of the whole Jewish community.
St Paul was clear that it belonged to a specifically Jewish faith, and should not be used amongst gentile followers of Jesus Messiah.)
The command to Avram to walk in God’s presence with a whole heart and to change his name is more a prologue than part of the Covenant, but it shows God’s respect for his chosen partner because it recognises Avraham’s ability to do what is commanded. This aspect of divine commands should be noted, especially in a time when people of faith are less appreciative of commandments than they once were. Isn’t there something degrading about simple obedience? Human commands may sometimes be degrading but divine commands are always for human good (aren’t they?) and always credit human beings with the capacity to carry them out.
If you ask, “But aren’t divine commands invented by human beings in the first place?”, I’ll say, “Good question,” and promise (honest!) to answer it in a future blog.
32 And they bring to him a deaf man who could not speak right, and they plead that he might lay his hand on him.
33 And having taken him away from the crowd apart, he put his fingers to his ears; and having spit, he touched his tongue;
34 and looking up to heaven he groaned, and says to him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.
35 And immediately his ears were opened, and the band of his tongue was loosed and he spoke right.
36 And he instructed them that they should speak to no one of it. But so much the more he instructed them, so much the more abundantly they proclaimed it;
37 and they were astonished above measure, saying, He does all things well; he makes both the deaf to hear, and the speechless to speak.
As in the healing of Jairus’ daughter, here also Mark gives his readers the Aramaic word that Jesus spoke. Scholars have suggested that for Mark these foreign words had almost a magic status, particularly as they were used in healing. I tend to think that if Mark knew enough to get the words right,he probably understood some Aramaic and realised the both words fitted his characterisation of Jesus – in the case the young girl, the phrase expressed his tenderness and resurrection power, and here his capacity to open people to the goodness of God. In this case also Mark depicts Jesus as using traditional healer’s techniques, such as spitting, touching and groaning. If these encourage us to see Jesus as a typical healer of his time and place, rather than as blue-eyed, fair-haired, social worker, then so much the better.
In the case of this deaf and speechless man, Mark may want his readers to identify with him, in respect of their own spiritual deafness and inability to speak God’s word. If so the command, “Be opened” is especially appropriate and forceful. At times when I have struggled to know the right words to say, as either preacher or pastor, I’ve realised that the problem is that I haven’t listened and that I need to open myself more fully to the text or the person. This can also apply to personal relationships. Again, politicians are always talking about listening to the people, but most of them don’t, as can be seen from their cautious soundbites which say what their advisors have told them to say. This means that politicians who have genuinely listened, are able for good or ill, to speak with greater clarity and conviction, and to gain perhaps disproportionate credibility.
The command of Jesus to “be opened” is a challenge to all closed spirits in all spheres of life.
The people who speak of Jesus as able to cure the deaf and the speechless are Mark’s way of showing that Jesus fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah (chapter 35), that the “ears of the deaf shall be unstopped… and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.” People who knew the prophecy ( by memory) would also be encouraged to associate the ministry of Jesus with the whole text. As this is not a habit of modern readers I give the prophecy below, so that its words can add their beauty to the picture Mark gives of Jesus.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.