Archive for February, 2010

The biblical eye surveys the landscape both retrospectively and prospectively. It discover evidence of YHWH’s intense care for his own in history and in hope.

Even in apocalyptic literature—that tone of voice that continues to speak even as civilization’s lights go out and chaos roams the streets—YHWH is not seen to have failed his own. Indeed the weak and the marginal emerge in such lines as history-makers of a kind. Their Lord shapes events and circumstances to preserve them, to protect them, and—in the literature’s darkest hues—to make sure things do not go so bad for them as they might have done:

Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

Jesus speaks here of a time when affliction will be no stranger to his followers. Quite bluntly, he promises them that they will endure a tribulation so great that the world’s bloodstained chronicles can offer no precedent for it.

Yet this dark and future chapter does not rumble on mechanically. Its determinism, its underpinnings of inevitability, are delimited precisely at the point where they might have led to the extinction of the faithful.

Mercy, sometimes, comes down to this: evil, in its heyday, remains an underlord, its pretensions to supremacy snatched from its arrogant hands.


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The biblical book of Exodus tosses off some odd and enigmatic scenes in the life of Moses, Israel’s liberator and law-giver. Curiously, his erstwhile Midianite wife Zipporah plays a role in more than one of them.

The narrator allows us to stumble upon details that we feel we should have known but do not. For example, the fact that Moses had ‘sent away’ not only Zipporah but the two sons whom she had borne to him. (more…)

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As they fled their Egyptian taskmasters under the half-truth of worshipping YHWH in the trackless Sinai, the Hebrew slaves displayed a capacity for extraordinary myopia. ‘Were there no graves in Egypt?’, they taunted Moses. ‘Is that why you brought us out here to die?’

Yet bearing along the palpable promise of Joseph’s bones—caught between negotiated servitude and audacious freedom—the complaining ‘sons of Israel’ deserve a bit of empathy. Slavery, a known quantity, is at the least survivable. Freedom is potentially lethal. (more…)

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Contrary to an attractively sentimental reading, John’s account of the miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee is not about Jesus’ common touch, Mary’s maternal affection, or the Master’s interest in the details of our lives (the embarrassment of an under-stocked wine cellar on wedding day, for example).

The event is, for the writer of the Fourth Gospel, neither a personality profile in narrative format nor what we might call a simple ‘miracle’ nor even a ‘problem’ now shifted to the ‘problem solved’ column. It is a sign. Indeed, it is for the writer nothing less than the first of Jesus’ signs. (more…)

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