This blog has been following the book of Genesis and he Gospel of Mark in tandem since 01/01/15. The whole series can be accessed from my archive. The headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
Devora, Rivka’s nurse, died.
she was buried below Bet-El, beneath the oak,
they called its name: Allon Bakhut/ Oak of Weeping.
God was seen by Yaakov again, when he came back from the country of Aram,
and he gave him blessing:
God said to him: Yaakov is your name,
Yaakov shall your name be called no more,
for your name shall be Yisrael!
And he called his name Yisrael!
God further said to him:
I am God Shaddai.
Bear fruit and be many!
Nation, yes a host of nations will come from you,
kings shall go out from your loins.
The land that I gave to Avraham and to Yitzhak,
to you give it,
and to your seed after you I give the land.
God went u from beside him, at the place where he had spoken with him,
And Yaakov set up a standing pillar at the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone,
he poured out a poured- out offering upon it and cast oil upon it.
And Yaakov called the name of the place where God had spoken with him:
Bet-El / House of God.
They departed from Bet-El
But when there was still a stretch of land to come to Efrat
Rahel began to give birth,
and she had a very hard birthing.
It was when her birthing was at its hardest
that the midwife said:
Do not be afraid
for this one too is a son for you!
It was as her life was slipping away
-for she was dying-
that she called him his name: Ben-Oni / Son of my Woe.
But his father called him Binyamin / Son of the Right Hand.
So Rahel died;
she was buried along the way to Efrat- that is now Bet-lehem.
And Yaakov set up a standing pillar over her burial place
that is Rahel’s burial pillar of today.
Now Yisrael departed and spread his tent beyond Migdal-Eder / Herd-Tower,
And it as when Yisrael was dwelling in that land: Re’uven wen and lay with Bilha, his father’s concubine.
And Yisrael heard.
First in this passage the storyteller gives a kind of summary or reprise of Yaakov’s status with God. It includes his first meeting with God when he set up a stone pillar and called the place Bet-El. That now is said to “happen again”. The episode at Peniel is also reprised but without the wrestling. Only the blessing is given in an amplified form. The purpose of this is to tell the audience that Yaakov/ Israel is now the bearer of God’s blessing. He has struggled to gain it, but now as he carries it into the future, the older generation is dying: firstly Rivka’s old nurse, then Rahel, the great love of Yaakov, then Yitzhak his aged father. The times are changing; the next phase of the adventure of YHWH with his humans, which belongs to Yisrael’s sons, is about to begin. Even Yisrael himself, bearer of the blessing is being shoved aside, as the unsavoury liaison of Re’uven with Bilha proves.
All along the storyteller has kept the physical reality of his characters before the audience. Their long journeys, their tents, clothes and saddle-bags; their animals, sheep goats and camels; their couplings, conceptions, labours and births; their deaths and burials. This is no myth about Gods, but a sober eloquent tale of human beings trying to live fruitfully in their world, while also reckoning with the disturbing companionship of One who is “seen” only in the eyes of trusting people,but who offers a blessing which includes land, and something more dimly understood, a future in which they will contribute to the happiness of other peoples. To belong to this people in however lowly a capacity is to be treasured in its memory: Devora, who is not even named as Rivka’s nurse when she leaves Harran, is named and remembered at her death. Due to the companionship of God, a narrative has begun; there are not just events, there are episodes in a story, which is unfinished; but meantime nobody who has played a part is forgotten.
Is this story history? No, it is not; although there are doubtless many historical facts embedded in it. It is an invention, probably by several hands, stitching together the strands of the creative memory of those who inhabit the land of Canaan and call themselves, children of Yisrael.
66 And Peter being below in the palace-court, there comes one of the maids of the high priest,
67 and seeing Peter warming himself, having looked at him, says, And you were with the Nazarene, Jesus.
68 But he denied, saying, I do not know or understand what you are saying. And he went out into the vestibule; and a cock crew.
69 And the maid, seeing him, again began to say to those that stood by, This is one of them.
70 And he again denied. And again, after a little, those that stood by said to Peter, Truly you are one of them, for you are also a Galilean.
72 And the second time a cock crew. And Peter remembered the word that Jesus said to him, Before the cock crows twice, you shall deny me thrice; and when he thought about it, he wept.
All four Gospels carry the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus, and are to different extents dependent on Mark, who was the first to write it as part of a full Gospel , although a written narrative of Jesus’ suffering may have been one of his sources. The folk-tale motif of the three denials is very strong, so that in John’s gospel which only gives us one denial, the risen Jesus still asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”. Whatever its relationship to historical fact, the threefold denial tells us that this is more than just being caught off-balance as anyone might; it is cowardice, and therefore represents the behaviour of all the (male) disciples who ran away in Jesus’ time of need.
The issue of affirming or denying Jesus has almost certainly faced the early Christian communities by the time Mark was writing. In some places there had been persecution by orthodox Jews, in others, by the local or imperial authorities. There may even have been arguments about how those who had denied Jesus were to be treated by those who had been faithful. Mark’s Gospel suggests that all disciples are unfaithful and that all can be forgiven. In Mark chapter 16 the young man says to the women at the tomb, “Tell his disciples, and Peter, that I am going ahead of them”; forgiveness awaits the unfaithful who are prepared to meet the risen Lord.
All of us who have denied Jesus by word or silence, action or inaction, may take the story of Peter as both accusation and forgiveness.