Archive for the ‘Genesis IV: 37-50’ Category

Taking Difficult Passages of Scripture Seriously   1 comment

tamar-and-judah

Above:  Tamar and Judah, by Aert de Gelder

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 38:1-30 or Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

Psalm 10

Matthew 22:23-33 or Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:39-40

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

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I recall that, in 1996, my father began his tenure as pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley, in Appling County, Georgia.  Shortly after this I began to attend to services at St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church in town, for I had been an Episcopalian for a few years.  Nevertheless, I was never a stranger at Asbury Church during my father’s tenure there.

One of the adult Sunday School classes at Asbury was discussing the Book of Genesis at the pace of a chapter a week.  On one Sunday morning in the summer of 1996 the leader of the group, having covered Chapter 37 the previous week, skipped over Chapter 38 to Chapter 39, with little explanation.  The story of Judah, Tamar, levirate marriage (the background of the question in the readings from the Gospels), and temple prostitution was a really hot potato, so to speak.  The narrative in Genesis 38 does not criticize a young, childless widow for having sexual relations with her father-in-law at a pagan temple and becoming pregnant with twins.  In her situation she did what she needed to do to secure her future.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 commands the practice of levirate marriage, for the benefit of a childless widow in a patriarchal society without a government-defined social safety net.  In the case of Genesis 38 the practice, applied to a particular set of circumstances, makes many modern readers of the Bible squirm in their theological seats.  This is no excuse for ignoring the chapter, of course.  Whenever a portion of scripture makes one uncomfortable, one should study it more closely and, in the highest meaning of the word, critically.

The Sadducees in the parallel readings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not ignore levirate marriage, but they did employ it in a question meant to entrap Jesus.  They did not affirm the resurrection of the dead.  That is why, according to a song for children,

they were sad, you see.

For the Sadducees the emphasis on this life helped to justify the accumulation of wealth in a society in which economic injustice was ubiquitous.  They, like others, failed to ensnare Jesus verbally.  He was that capable.

Koheleth, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted that economic injustice and other forms of social injustice ought not to surprise anyone.  After all, he mentioned, perpetrators of injustice protect each other.  Nevertheless, as the author of Psalm 10 understood, those who exploited the poor (in violation of the Law of Moses) could not escape divine justice.

Just as the painful letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthian congregation led to the changing of hearts there, the study of difficult passages of scripture can lead people to learn more about the Bible, ask vital questions, think more critically about scripture, and grow spiritually.  It can also change hearts and minds for the better.  May we who call ourselves followers of God neither ignore nor use such passages flippantly, but take them seriously instead.  Then may we act accordingly.  We might even learn that we are committing or condoning social injustice, perhaps that of the economic variety.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP THE EVANGELIST, DEACON

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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Troublemakers   1 comment

Judah and Tamar--School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Above:   Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (Thursday)

Genesis 38:1-26 (Friday)

Psalm 17 (Both Days)

Acts 22:22-23:11 (Thursday)

Acts 24:10-23 (Friday)

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Let my vindication come forth from your presence,

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

–Psalm 17:2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Genesis 38 serves several functions.  One is to mark the passage of time between Genesis 37 and 39.  Another is to make people squirm.  What should one make of a story in which Tamar, the heroine, the wronged woman denied what was due her according to levirate marriage (described in Deuteronomy 25), had to resort to posing as a pagan temple prostitute to seduce her father-in-law to get the child(ren) she deserved, according to social customs meant to protect childless widows?  Due to problems with her first husband’s brothers the duty fell to Judah, her father-in-law.

I remember that, in 1996, at Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley in Appling County, Georgia, an adult Sunday School class read the Book of Genesis at the rate of a chapter per week.  One Sunday that summer the time came to ponder Chapter 38.  The leader of the class skipped to Genesis 39, for he found the contents to be too hot a potato, so to speak.

The story of Judah and Tamar continues to make many readers of the Hebrew Bible uncomfortable.  Tamar remains a troublemaker of sorts, long after her death.  Perhaps modern readers who struggle with the tale should think less about our comfort levels and more about the lengths to which certain people need to go to secure basic needs.

St. Paul the Apostle got into legal trouble (again) in Acts 21.  The trumped-up charge boiled down to him being a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace.  As Tertullus, the attorney for chief priest Ananias and Temple elders argued before Felix, the governor:

We found this man to be a pest, a fomenter of discord among the Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  He made an attempt to profane the temple and we arrested him.

–Acts 24:5-6, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Were not those who plotted and attempted to kill St. Paul the real troublemakers?  He planned or committed no violence toward those with whom he disagreed.  The Apostle knew how to employ strong language, but he avoided resorting to violence after his conversion.

How we deal with alleged troublemakers reveals much about our character.  What, then, does this standard reveal about your character, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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In Honor of Epaphroditus   1 comment

Paul the Apostle

Above:  St. Paul, by Lucas van Leyden

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings by your continual help,

that all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you,

may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy,

bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 39:1-23

Psalm 1

Philippians 2:25-30

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Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the seat of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful.

–Psalm 1:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Psalm 1 is overly optimistic, for it says of the righteous in verse 3 that

everything they do shall prosper.

St. Paul the Apostle spent much time in prison and died as a martyr.  Joseph son of Jacob was in prison for a crime he did not commit.  As other portions of scripture (including certain psalms) indicate, sometimes the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper.

I think of a story Archbishop Desmond Tutu told.  During the Holocaust a Nazi guard was taunting a Jew who had to clean especially disgusting toilets.

Where is your God now?

the guard taunted the Jew, who replied,

Right here, beside me in the muck.

God was beside Joseph in the Egyptian prison and St. Paul in the prison (wherever it was) when Epaphroditus, sent by the church at Philippi, was there to tend to the Apostle’s needs.  Epaphroditus almost died performing that duty.  God was present with St. Paul directly and indirectly.

I have learned via experience that grace seems more evident during times of crisis than during good times.  Perhaps grace is in greater supply during the dark times; perhaps not.  That is a matter for God to know and for me to ponder.  What I know for sure is that grace seems more evident in difficult times, much as a light is more obvious in a dark room than in a well-lit one.  Like Joseph and St. Paul, I have experienced grace directly and indirectly (via people) during dark times.  I have also rejoiced and felt worthy simultaneously.

Has God called you, O reader, to be Epaphroditus to someone experiencing great hardship, for the sake of righteousness or another reason?  Or has someone been Epahproditus to you?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 18, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MALTBIE DAVENPORT BABCOCK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN I, BISHOP OF ROME

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/devotion-for-thursday-after-proper-18-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther II: Heroes and Villains   1 comment

Mordecai and Haman

Above:  Mordecai and Haman

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:19-3:6

Psalm 138

Acts 1:15-20

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I praise your name for your faithful love and your constancy;

your promises surpass even your fame.

–Psalm 138:2b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The plot thickens in Esther 2 and 3.  Mordecai thwarts an assassination plot against King Ahasuerus.  The two eunuchs who plotted to kill the monarch die after Mordecai alerts Ahasuerus via Queen Esther.  The loyal courtier receives no reward immediately; he must wait until Chapter 6 for Ahasuerus to think about doing that.  Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, who receives a promotion for no apparent reason and who seeks to destroy not just Mordecai but all Jews in the Persian Empire.

The reason for Mordecai’s refusal to bow down is unclear in the Hebrew text.  However, in Chapter C, as The New American Bible labels it, Mordecai explains in a prayer that he bows only to God.  This is consistent with a later rabbinical interpretation.  The germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) mention that argument yet prefers a different explanation, that Mordecai refused to honor an enemy of the Jews.  Those notes also argue that, in the Hebrew Bible, bowing to a human superior is permissible, as in Genesis 23:7; Genesis 43:28; Exodus 18:7; and 1 Kings 1:23.  Another interpretation from Jewish tradition is that, if Haman were wearing an idol on his chest, Mordecai would have bowed refused to bow to the object.

In the Acts of the Apostles the eleven surviving Apostles completed their number (twelve) by choosing one of the outer circle of 70 (or 72, depending on the translation) to replace the recently deceased Judas Iscariot.  They select St. Matthias, of whom we know little.  According to tradition he was a faithful evangelist who brought much glory to God and many people to salvation before becoming a martyr.

The main characters in the readings for today are Mordecai, Haman, and St. Matthias.  Haman seeks to glorify himself and harm others, Mordecai to glorify God and do his duty, and St. Matthias to glorify God, regardless of the cost to himself.  Two of the three died violently, one as a villain and the other as a martyr.

May we pursue righteousness, as demonstrated in the characters of Mordecai and St. Matthias and manifested by love of God and our fellow human beings, regardless of the cost to ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Good and Bad Fruit   1 comment

Joseph Explaining the Dream to Pharoah, Jean Adrien Guignet

Above:  Joseph Explains Pharaoh’s Dreams, by Adrien Guignet

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O Lord God, your mercy delights us, and the world longs for your loving care.

Hear the cries of everyone in need, and turn our hearts to love our neighbors

with the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 41:14-36 (Thursday)

Genesis 41:37-49 (Friday)

Psalm 25:1-10 (Both Days)

James 2:14-26 (Thursday)

Acts 7:9-16 (Friday)

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Adoration I offer, Yahweh,

to you, my God.

But in my trust in you do not put me to shame,

let not my enemies gloat over me.

–Psalm 25:1-2, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Joseph son of Jacob overcame adversity, including servitude (including incarceration for an offense of which he was innocent) to become the second most powerful man in Egypt.  His policy of storing grain was in Genesis 41 was wise, but the means of feeding the population during years of famine was unfortunate.  In Genesis 47 He sold the grain back to Egyptians in exchange for money.  When they had no more funds, he accepted livestock as payment.  When they were out of livestock, he accepted their land as payment, making them serfs.

According to the author of the Letter of James, faith without works is useless and dead.  In other words, one can know a tree by its fruit.  The fruit of Joseph included servitude for the masses.  May our fruit be more positive than negative.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

THE FEAST OF JOHN SWERTNER, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMNAL EDITOR; AND HIS COLLABORATOR, JOHN MUELLER, GERMAN-ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN EDITOR, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-10-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Free to Serve God, Part I   1 comment

Finding of the Silver Cup

Above:  Finding of the Silver Cup

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O Lord Jesus, make us instruments of your peace,

that where there is hatred, we may sow love,

where there is injury, pardon,

where there is despair, hope.

Grant, O divine master, that we may seek

to console, to understand, and to love in your name,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 25

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 43:16-34 (Thursday)

Genesis 44:1-17 (Friday)

Genesis 44:18-34 (Saturday)

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 (All Days)

Romans 8:1-11 (Thursday)

1 John 2:12-17 (Friday)

Luke 12:57-59 (Saturday)

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If anyone had a legitimate reason to harbor resentment, Joseph son of Jacob did.  Siblings had, out of jealousy of him and annoyance with him (he was an insufferable brat for a while), faked his death and sold him into slavery.  Joseph had also spent years in prison for a crime he had not committed.  Decades later, when he had a position in the Egyptian government, Joseph had an opportunity to take revenge.  As one reads in Genesis 45, he chose to do otherwise.

One theme in the pericope from Romans 8 is liberation by God from the power of sin (yet not the struggle with sin) to serve and obey God, to pursue spiritual purposes.  The reading from 1 John, with its warning against loving the world, fits well with that passage.  That caution is not a call for serial Christian contrariness.  No, St. Augustine of Hippo understood the passage well.  He asked,

Why should I not love what God has made?

The great theologian answered his own question this way:

God does not forbid one to love these things but to love them to the point of finding one’s beatitude in them.

–Quoted in Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (1982), pages 324-325

The quest for selfish gain, a theme extant in more than one of the readings for these days, is a journey toward harm of others and of oneself.  That which we do to others, we do also to ourselves.  There might be a delayed delivery of “what comes around, goes around,” but the proverbial cows will come home.  It is better to seek the common god and to forgo vengeance, to retire grudges and to build up one’s society, community, and congregation.  One can do that while loving the world, but not to the point of, in the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, finding one’s benediction in it.  No, we should find one’s benediction in God alone.  As we read in Psalm 27:7-9 (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979):

Be still before the LORD

and wait patiently for him.

Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,

the one who succeeds in evil schemes.

Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;

do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.

Here ends the lesson.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR CAMPBELL AINGER, ENGLISH EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT AEDESIUS, PRIEST AND MISSIONARY; AND SAINT FRUDENTIUS, FIRST BISHOP OF AXUM AND ABUNA OF THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH GRIGG, ENGLISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Serfdom and Liberation   1 comment

Triumph of Joseph in Egypt

Above:  The Triumph of Joseph in Egypt, by Antonio del Castillo y Saavedra

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

With your abundant grace and might,

free us from the sin that binds us,

that we may receive you in joy and serve you always,

for you live and reign with the Father and

the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 30:1-24

Psalm 113

Romans 8:18-30

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Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,

but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?

He takes up the weak out of the dust

and lifts up the poor from the ashes.

He sets them with the princes,

with the princes of his people.

He makes the woman of a childless house

to be a joyful mother of children.

–Psalm 113:5-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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This is the second consecutive post partially based on an account of God granting the wife of a Hebrew patriarch a pregnancy.  This time Jacob and Rachel have Joseph, a central figure (for better and worse) of the latter part of the Book of Genesis.  Joseph, whose story illustrates that God can use human perfidious plans for positive purposes, did reduce the Egyptian population to serfdom as the price of feeding them (Genesis 47:13-27).  That was negative.

In contrast liberation via God to “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21, The New Revised Standard Version, 1989) occupies the mind of St. Paul the Apostle in the pericope from the New Testament.  There is hope amid suffering, we read, and

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

–Romans 8:28-30, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That is freedom to become what one can be via divine grace and human obedience.  No, that is not serfdom; it is liberation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2015 COMMON ERA

 THE FEAST OF JOHN ATHELSTAN LAURIE RILEY, ANGLICAN ECUMENIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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