This blog follows the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem, using very literal translations. The series began on 1st January 2015 and can be accessed from my archives. The headlines are chosen as reminders of the world in which we live.
Jacob lifted up his feet and went to the land of the Easterners.
He looked round about him, and there: a well in a field and there were three herds of sheep crouching near it,
for from that well they used to give the herds to drink.
Now the stone on the wellmouth was large,
so when all the herds were gathered there
they used to roll the stone from the mouth of the well, give the sheep to drink, and put the stone back on the mouth of the well in its place.
Yaakov said to them:
Brothers, where are you from?
We are from Harran.
He said to them:
Do you know Lavan, son of Nahor?
We know him.
He said to them:
Is all well with him?
It is well, and here comes Rahel his daughter with the sheep!
Indeed it is still broad daylight,
it is not time to gather in the livestock
so give the sheep to drink and go back, tend them.
But they said:
We cannot until al the herds have been gathered,
only then do they roll the stone from the mouth of the well and then we give the sheep to drink.
While he was still speaking with them
Rahel came with the sheep tha were he father’s
for she was a shepherdess.
Now it was when Yaakov saw Rahel, the daughter of Lavan
and the sheep of Lavan his mother’s brother,
that Yaakov came close,
he rolled the stone from the mouth of the well
and gave dfink to the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother.
Then Yaakov kissed Rahel and lifted up his voice and wept.
And Yaakov told Rahel
that he was her father’s kinsman
and that he was Rivka’s son.
She ran and told her father.
Now it was, as soon as Lavan heard the tidings concernng Yaakov, his sister’s son,
that he ran to meet him, embraced him and kissed him and brought him into his house.
And recounted all these events to Lavan.
Lavan said to him:
Without doubt you are my bone, my flesh!
And he stayed with him the days of a renewing-of-the-moon.
The well, ancient symbol of the gift of life, as well as trysting place of young women and men, is made the meeting place of Yaakov and Rahel, his true love. The laconic question and answer which precedes their meeting sets the scene in the authentic bedouin customs of how a stranger should approach and how he should be received. Yaakov’s long journey which has not been described is obliquely made real in this edgy dialogue: he is in a new place.
Of course, Rahel is just arriving, the shepherdess who is called “Ewe” and of course Jacob shows his courtesy and strength by removing the stone from the well-mouth. The audience are left in no doubt that this young woman will become important in Yaakov’s story, as the well-stone matches the pillow stone which he has set up at Bet-El. It marks another new chapter in the hero’s life. It reminds the audience of YHWH, who has promised to look after him.
As the householder and landowner Lavan is in a position of power, especially as Yaakov, albeit a relative, comes, as Lavan will guess, as a fugitive.
As in a number of the stories of the fathers and mothers of Israel, there is is a “pastoral” dimension to the storytelling, which uses the presumed habits of former days in the land, to present an image of an older, simpler, more gracious life. Even the tricks and treachery of the ancients are accomplished with a certain style. Homer uses the manners of the “times-of-the-heroes” for a similar purpose.
35 And Jesus answering said as he was teaching in the temple, How do the scribes say that the Christ is son of David?
36 for David himself said in the Holy Spirit, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand until I put your enemies as a footstool for your feet.
37 David himself calls him Lord, so how is he his son? And the mass of the people heard him gladly.
This tiny episode is important as regards the title of Messiah (Greek Christos) as given to Jesus. It’s obvious from the gospels that Jesus himself was ambiguous about this title as it meant a national leader who would establish God’s justice, perhaps by force. The first Christians had no such reserve, believing that Jesus had, even in his rejection and suffering, redefined the meaning of the title. Mark reports this teaching of Jesus which challenges the idea that the Messiah must be of the royal house of David. If David in one of his psalms,(which he quotes) calls him Lord, how can he be his son? Mark’s Jesus rejects the royalist / nationalist role of the Messiah.
That’s interesting because, for example Luke’s Gospel makes Jesus, rather awkwardly through Joseph, a lineal descendant of David, doubtless so that he can be called “Son of David” a title which is also used in Mark’s gospel. Very soon in the history of the church the title in its Greek form Christ became little more than Jesus’ second name. Mark wants to keep the title in its place. His Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah but shows immediately his mistaken view that this will lead to victory and has to be firmly put right by Jesus. Mark highlights the title “Son of God” as a more important interpretation of Jesus life and death. Still “Messiah” keeps Jesus’ Jewishness and his connection with God’s justice before the minds of believers, although its nationalistic, Davidic sense is rejected by this passage.
We can compare Mark’s use of the title with that of St Paul who wrote more than twenty yeas before him. Paul uses the title Messiah frequently and is concerned to identify Jesus as the true, promised messiah of his people. But with equal frequency he calls him the crucified messiah: for Paul it is precisely the combination of the two facts about Jesus; that he was the messiah AND that he was rejected and killed on a cross, that defines his his meaning. He is the one “cursed and made into sin”, that is, united with human sin, so that human sinners who trust in him may be united with the goodness of God. I think Mark has a similar view of Jesus, but he associates it with the title “Son of God” more than Messiah.
As the first Christian writers struggled to express the meaning of Jesus for humanity, they found that the store of interpretative ideas taken from Jewish tradition was helpful and misleading in almost equal measure. Rather than this material defining Jesus, he defined it, giving new meanings to ancient concepts. Today also when believers try to define Jesus with concepts which portray him as they want him to be, he slips through their language and their hands, as the One who will not be pinned down. That’s what his crucifiers thought they’d done: defined him by the stone placed over his tomb. Now as then, the stone is always rolled away and the Living One is free to be himself.