bible blog 1666

This blog follows the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem. This series began on 1st January 2015 and can be accessed from my archives. The headline is meant as a reminder of the world.

MISSOURI EXECUTES 74 YEAR OLD BRAIN-DAMAGED MAN  

Cecil CLayton- a death in accord with human dignity?

Cecil CLayton- a death in accord with human dignity?

GENESIS 27

Now when Yitzhak was old and his eyes had become too dim for seeing,

he called Esav his elder son and said to him:

My son!

He said to him:

Here I am.

He said:

Now look, I have grown old and do not now the day of my death.

So now, pray pick up your weapons – your hanging quiver and your bow,

go out into the field and hunt me down some hunted-game

and make me a delicacy, such as I love;

bring it to me, and I wil eat it,

that  may give you blessing before I die.

Now Rivka was listening as Yitzhak spoke to Esav his son,

and so when Esav went off into the fields to unt down hunted-game to bring to him,

Rivka said to Yaakov her son, saying:

Look, I was listening as your father spoke to Esav your brother, saying:

Bring me some hunted-game and make me a delicacy, I will eat it and give you blessing before YHWH, before my death.

So now, my son, listen to my voice, to what I command you.

Pray go to the flock and take me two fine goat-kids from there.

I will make them into a delicacy for your father, such as he loves,

you bring it to your father and he will eat,

so that he may give you blessing before his death.

Yaakov said to Rivka his mother:
Look, my brother Esav is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man;

Perhaps my father will feel me- then I will be like a trickster in his eyes,

and I will bring a curse and not a blessing on myself!

Hs mother said to him:
Let the curse be on me, my son!

Only: listen to my voice, and go, take them for me.

He went and brought them to his mother and his mother made such a delicacy as his father loved.

Rivka themn took the  garments of Esav, his elder son, the choicest ones that were with her in the house,

and clothed Yaakov, her younger son,

and with the skins of the goat kids she clothed his hands and the smooth parts of his neck.

Then she placed the delicacy and the bread that she had made in the hand of Yaakov her son.

He cam to his father and said: Father!

He said:

Here I am. Which one are you, my son?
Yaakov said to his father:

I am Esav, your firstborn.

I have done as you spoke to me:

Pray arise, sit and eat from my hunted-game,

that you may give me your own blessing.

Yitzhak said to his son:

How did you find it so hastily my son?

He said:

YHWH your God made it happen for me.

Yitzhak said to Yaakov:

Pray come closer that I may feel you my son,

whether you are really my son Esav or not.

Yaakov moved closer to Yitzhak his father.

He felt him and said:

The voice s Yaakov’s voice, but the hands are Esau’s hands –

he did not recognise him, for his hands were like the hands of Esav his brother, hairy.

Now he was about to bless him, when he said:

Are you he, my son Esav?

He said:

I am.

So he said: Bring it close to me and I will eat from the hunted-game of my son

in order that I may give you my own blessing.

He put it close to him and he ate,

he brought to him wine and he drank.

Then Yitzhak his father said to him:

Pray come close and kiss me, my son.

He came close and kissed him.

And he smelled the smell of his garments

and blessed him and said:

See, the smell of my son

is like the smell of a field

that YHWH has blessed.

So may God give you

from the dew of the heavens

from the fat of the earth

much grain and new wine!

May peoples serve you

may tribes bow down to you,

be master to your brothers,

may your mother’s sons bow down to you!

Those who damn you, be damned!

Those who bless you, be blessed!

isaac-blesses-jacob2Ah, what a masterpiece of storytelling this is! Even if you know it well and have studied it countless times, it still draws you into the appalling events it records. All the little touches, the pathetic hesitations and reluctance of Yitzhak as well as his evident tenderness, emphasise what an abuse Rivka has planned and Yaakov is carrying out. The audience should quite simply hope that Yaakov is discovered and gets what he deserves. Yet we don’t quite do so. Why is this? 

The storyteller is subtle. When he tells of Yitzhak’s desire to bless Esav, we can see the slightly self-indulgent nature of the old man and his desire to set the stage for his paternal blessing, but given that the story is prefaced by a note about how Esav’s choice of Hittite wives is unwelcome to his parents, we may wonder if in fact Yitzhak is reluctant to bless Esav and wants to publicise his intention so that…. well, so that someone may do something about it. 

Then again in chapter 25, the storyteller has already given a character sketch of the two brothers, which may lead his audience to think that an oaf like Esav deserves to have a tricky brother like Yaakov. In the present story it’s not Yaakov, however, who takes the initiative, but Rivka, of whom we know little except the boldness with which she left her family to marry Yitzhak and the preference she has  for her younger son. Does her plan show that she despises her aged husband, or that she loves him enough to help him do what he cannot admit he wants to do?

In this deception Yaakov remains timorous, but when the full intimacy of the blessing process in unveiled, we are meant to be appalled that he can go through with his deception. Something profound and genuine bubbles up in the father as he offers the blessing, not truly knowing which of his sons is receiving it. We understand why such a blessing can neither be recalled nor repeated. (There is another similarly terrible deception when after seven years, Jacob sleeps unknowingly with Leah rather than Rachel.) The blessing which comes from the man’s guts comes also from YHWH the man’s God.

Nevertheless, there can be few listeners who are not prepared to suspend their judgment on Yaakov until they see where his deception will lead him.

We may ask, “How can this be theology?” The answer, which I have given before in this series, is that here are people learning to be, as Israel named herself, God’s Child. And if we are shocked that God would involve himself in such shady dealings, well, that’s just what the storyteller wants.

MARK 12

13 And they send to Jesus certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, that they might catch him in speaking.

14 And they come and say to him, Teacher, we know that you are true, and do not fear any one; for you do not pay  regard to not men’s station, but teach the way of God with truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?

15 Should we give, or should we not give? But he knowing their hypocrisy said to them, Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius that I may see it.

16 And they brought it. And he says to them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said to him, Caesar’s.

17 And Jesus answering said to them, Pay what is Caesar’s to Caesar, and what is God’s to God. And they wondered at him.

Jesus is shown to be as cunning as any trickster in dealing with trick questions.Clearly the issue of taxes levied by the foreign conqueror on a captive population would be a sensitive issue in any time or place. The idea that some mighty power can ask you to pay for the privilege of being ruled by it, will seem grossly insulting to any patriot. Certainly the Jihadist Jews refused to do so but there would be many other less militant citizens who saw tax-avoidance as a religious duty. Jesus seems to have treated Roman officials as he found them, and to have opposed the armed struggle against Rome.

Denarius

Denarius

His innocent request to be shown a denarius is deadly, for genuine nationalists wouldn’t have carried Roman money with its blasphemous image of Caesar. When his questioners give him their denarius they are already exposed as people who had made an accommodation with Rome. Jesus’ question is also subtle, “Whose is this image?” They have to admit that it is Caesar’s but the question about the image cannot fail to remind his hearers of the image of God which is upon every human being. Jesus says that the coin bearing the image of Caesar may be given to Caesar, but the human being bearing the image of God should be given to God. The ultimate political question is not about what we pay,but about what we are. A good political system should respect the dignity of each citizen as made in God;’s image and facilitate a way of life which is in accord with that dignity. 

It should be quite clear that Jesus was not proposing a neat division between secular matters – which can be ruled by Caesar/ The state – and religious matters – which must be ruled by God or his church. He was indicating a radical  basis for both faith and politics, a fact of which the framers of the American Declaration were well aware: ” We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That puts it in a typically 18th century way, but it rests, as does Jesus’ saying, on the first chapter of the book of Genesis. Giving to God what is God’s includes upholding the image of God in ourselves and our fellow citizens. 

Many of the early Christian believers, remembering they were made in the image of God, refused to burn incense before the image of Caesar, and paid the penalty.Those of us who live in democratic states where politics has become unfairly discredited, should not be shy in contributing to national debate the special insights of Jesus.

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