Week 4: Triumph, Slavery, Freedom, Faith

Readings for the week: Psalms 14-16, Genesis 46-50, Exodus 1-10, Matthew 12-14, Psalm 17Listen to these passages

  1. Opening Prayer:

 Lord, thank you for this day. For the ways in which you have worked in my life and the lives of those around me. There’s a lot of bad news out there, and it can seem too much. But you’re in charge of all that happens. Be with me this week as I face challenges at work, with family, with friends, with… you know.  Remind me of your promise so that I don’t give up faith in any moment. May I be someone who trusts you and in trusting you helps others see your presence and experience your hope.  I pray for those I encounter this week that they may find peace. I pray for myself, that I might be filled with your hope and life.  Guide me in my study of your Scriptures, lead me as I learn who you want me to be and how you want me to live. Thank you that this challenge isn’t a lonely one but that you have given us your Spirit and called us together as as community.  Amen.

  1. Psalm 14-16
  2.  a. Reading through Genesis 46-50-45:

You know the scenes near the end of the movie, after the plot has been resolved, the villain vanquished, and the characters are gathered together to sort out loose ends? These chapters in Genesis are a lot like that. Joseph takes off his mask, the relational tension is addressed and resolved. The work of God becomes revealed to all.  Jacob gets to see his son, the one he thought he lost.

And for the rest? There’s grace. There’s hope.  Even more, there’s future. While the end of Genesis sure seems like the credits are going to start rolling once we finish chapter 50, with a dramatic orchestra piece playing in the background, this isn’t the end of the whole story. It’s the end of the beginning.

Lots of ground has been covered. Essential issues and characters have been introduced. Do you remember all the names?

I won’t say there will be a test later, but there’s going to be lots of points over this year of reading where we run into these names again. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob are key as part of God’s work in this family, this people. Joseph’s name shows up at times, but we really get to hear more about his brothers and sons, as these become the names of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Did you catch Melchizedek in your reading (not this week, he showed up earlier)? He makes a guest appearance, and then later on in the New Testament we find this is a pretty crucial scene.

Genesis is the setup to the rest, to the specific story that will be told throughout the Bible, the story of this family, this people, how God works and how God continues to work.

In a lot of ways, the rest of the Bible repeats the same basic lessons. Indeed, I think we see God’s work on different scales.  So the story of Joseph is one that shows up again and again. The story of calling, the story of hope and faith and going when it seems impossible. We’re given a glimpse of God’s work on a grand scale and God’s work on a personal scale.  It’s the story of God’s promise and faithfulness. It’s the story of humanity,  one we’re still living in.

b. Reading through Exodus 1-10

While a lot of stories in Scripture will be new to you as we read through this year (if you’ve not read through the Bible before or it has been a while), the story of Moses is one of the most familiar of them all.

In some ways, the familiarity brings its own challenges. We tend to skim or assume or bring a lot of our interpretations.  Maybe even imagine the events using memories of movies we’ve seen or flannelgraphs we’ve experienced.  As we begin Exodus this week, remember what we read in Genesis, how God worked and what God was promising. Notice how many years went by in the process of God’s intervention.

Notice Moses, how he tried to assert a right solution to injustice, but wasn’t able, until God’s timing and method arrived.  As we begin a new book of the Bible, there’s an interesting connection to how we started the first book. Creation got us started, and creation still really is an issue. It’s not an issue of when or what as much as it is an issue of who. Who is in charge? Who is in control? Who should we worship?

Who should we trust? Why?

This was a major challenge for early societies as they wrestled with endless uncertainty about life, so they had gods for everything under the sun, and even gods in and above the sun.

What we see in Exodus is a story of redemption but also a story of confrontation. Is God the God of all things, or just some things?  How does this play out in the narrative? How does this answer play out in your life?

We don’t have gods in the same way, but we sure do have aspects of our life that are under the control of other powers.

In Exodus, God makes himself known to the people, not as a fine feeling within their inner hearts, but as a force, as a power, as one who is fully who he is.

What response do the people have? What is the response of Moses? Notice his conversation with God by the burning bush. Moses tries to resist! He doesn’t think he’s worthy.  That’s not the point, of course. It’s a question of whether God is able and worthy.

This book begins the long Exodus narrative, from a people in slavery to a people in control of their own land.  It’s an archetype story too, by that I mean we can see the framework of the Exodus narrative throughout the rest of the Bible, into the New Testament and even as a way of understanding God’s work in our lives today.

The Bible spends a lot of time on it, and so that’s a sign it’s especially important, important as a way to encourage us and important for understanding the ways God tends to work in this world.

  1. Reading through Matthew 12-14

Jesus was certainly a passionate speaker.  He also did miracles. In his words and actions, he taught. He highlighted the importance of paying attention to God.  In the chapters this week, he escalates his teaching.  He’s more confrontational on the one hand  and on the other hand he uses parables that hide his message.

What is his core message?  In the confrontation about the Sabbath, he gives a pretty big clue. He’s not about throwing out the law, he’s showing a deeper meaning of it.  It’s prioritizing actual good news. It’s saying that we shouldn’t emphasize the means over the end.  We can do that, getting so caught up in the process that we forget what the goal is, then actually work against the goal.

I think this is how the parables can really help. They give us images more than bullet-points, giving us a sense of the kind of attitude we should have.

The key with this kind of teaching is that they’re not obvious. If a person is really interested in following Jesus, they’ll think about these more, pray about them. The parables, then, are an invitation to those who really want to be disciples.  Pick one of the parables this week, did one stand out? Sit with it a while, stare at it, pray about it. What comes to mind?

In chapter 14, we have one of those lows and highs chapters. John, who was utterly faithful to his calling, has a rather discouraging end.  Injustice abounds.

But who is actually in charge? What’s the whole story?  Did John the Baptist fail or did he actually succeed?

We see in Jesus something similar to what we saw in Exodus, a control of the elements, an enacting not of a simple spiritual message, but one highlights who is actually in charge.  What does this say about John’s experience?

Another issue that came to my mind this week isn’t about these particular chapters.  If you’re like me, when you read, you have an image of what the characters look like.  Sometimes we make them up on our own. Sometimes we had influences shaping our assumptions, and like it or not these stick in one’s memory.

For instance, when I grew up I had a Picture Bible, a bible in comic book form. I read it over and over again.  So much that when I read a lot of the Bible stories now, both OT and NT, those images come to mind. I really liked that Bible, and it gave me a wonderful sense of the whole narrative of Scripture, so much so that I still recommend it to people, whether young or old. But, the pictures? They’re not all that historically accurate. They are more mid-20th century “Children’s story” style.  There’s a newer version that has an updated artistry, but it too has much the same weaknesses.

What’s the problem?  We’re not really given a sense of the actual culture or context. It makes Jesus and the rest look a lot more like northern Europeans.  Why does this matter? Well, there’s a certain sense that we can assume Jesus as being part of our tribe, speaking English, familiar to us. And in doing that we lose a sense of the power of the New Testament.  Jesus was part of a distinct story in history, and was born in a specific time and place, one that is entirely foreign to my time, place, or story. By God’s grace, I’m invited into this story, but I’m not an insider to it.  Which is humbling. As it should be.  It puts me in a posture of learning and listening and openness to others Jesus has invited.

So what did Jesus look like? We don’t know for sure. We know that he was average looking, not someone who would stand out (except for his teaching and actions).  And with that in mind, it might be helpful to show what an average man of Galilee looked like in the 1st century.  About a decade ago, some folks got together and sought to do just that. They gathered skulls of Jewish men who were born and died around the time of Jesus, then did facial reconstruction. You know, you’ve seen it on detective shows, where they use the skull to then build features using known factors of how facial structure works.

The result isn’t a picture of Jesus (they didn’t find his skull after all!). The result is a picture of someone who looked like what Jesus looked like, enough so that they could blend into a crowd together. Here’s the picture they came up with:

Is this similar to or different from the one in your head when you’ve been reading the Gospels? What difference do you think it makes?

5. Psalm 17

6. Respond

Share your thoughts in the comment section. This is a very important part of the reading goal, as writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness. Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety.