Monday, April 08, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 92: Judges 13-15; Psalm 77; John 11

Riddles and Provocations...
Learning to read is a vital skill in life, be it books, people or trends. It opens the mind to the world around us, and to the people in it. Reading with intent reveals patterns. In books, reading with intent reveals patterns in the plot, the writer's stylistic choices to create a theme or to enhance the atmosphere of a story. In people, reading with intent reveals motivations and patterns of response to events...reading well can benefit a leader. Reading poorly creates problems, on every level.

Reading today's passages from Judges and from John, I am aware of how God (particularly in today's scriptures) uses the patterns of human character to open us all up to God's intent to commit to living more fully into God's purposed intent for us in life. In Judges, God's will is to call Israel back into fidelity to Covenant, and in that God chooses to use Samson and his interactions with the Philistines as a provocation/example to teach Israel-and the world-the value of that adherence to God's purpose.

Samson is born to a childless couple, and when God's messenger gives them that news they are also told that he is to be consecrated from the womb as a nazirite. He is to be a lever in God's hand, to move Israel to fidelity and to drive a wedge between the Philistines and their hold on the land. Everything Samson does or says seems to be accomplished by God's Spirit rushing upon him. The riddles he spouts are not just simple wedding entertainments, but a device to reveal patterns of deceit and contempt for justice in his foes. He provokes Philistia into conflict, and then uses that conflict to lead Israel into deeper relationship with God.

Too often, we see Samson as a sort of biblical superhero...but the reality of his character falls a little short of that noble state. He is a rough, tough, rude, brutal, merciless man who when imbued with God's charism proves an effective scourge...just ask the lion, or the three hundred foxes...or his Philistine in-laws. Still God's purpose is worked out through him, and reveals a pattern in the Book of Judges wherein the people stray and God uses one, or a few, to draw the whole back into alignment with Torah.

Jesus is only slightly less provocative in today's reading from John. Only slightly less in that he does not wind up slaughtering a horde of Pharisees with the jawbone of a donkey. Instead, he raises Lazarus from the dead. This should be a sign of blessing, and I am sure that for Mary, Martha and Lazarus it truly is a blessing. But for others, particularly those in leadership in Jerusalem who are working to prevent this country preacher from upsetting the delicate balance between Roman occupation and the continued existence of the Jewish Temple it is provocative to say the least. If this Jesus can raise the dead, then what else might he accomplish? Could he lead us all in throwing the Romans out of the country? If Samson could kill a lion with his bare hands and defeat a host of Philistines with just an old jawbone club, then could a man who raises the dead to any less? That might seem to be the case...but Rome is not Philistia.

The Pharisees and the temple leaders have to make a choice...what should have been celebrated as a sign of God's good will for Lazarus, his family and the people of Israel is instead being seen as something that will probably provoke rebellion and worse-reprisal from Rome. As I read John this time around, I am impressed by the way the evangelist reveals just how human we really are in the too-typical human patterns of response to Jesus and his signs and teachings. What should be hailed as a triumph of God's love over the injustices of the world is instead too often seen by the people as a threat to the status quo. When faced with suppression, Caiaphas himself said that it would be better for one person to die so that the people could remain being relative to Rome being kept quiescent. What a challenge for Jesus in John as he strives to ring in the kingdom of God while grappling with human fears and doubts.

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