Monthly Archives: February 2014

A baaad soap opera


Picture this: Jacob and his two wives Leah and Rachel are going to flee from his mean old father-in-law Laban. Because he’s mean, they’re going to steal all his stuff, too. Cue the swelling dramatic music as they meet in the field to make the crucial decision. The camera pans onto the worried faces of the wives.

Then Jacob keeps talking:

You know that I have served your father with all my strength; yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore speckled; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father, and given them to me. During the mating of the flock I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats that leaped upon the flock were striped, speckled, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the goats that leap on the flock are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. (Genesis 31:6-12)

Seriously? In the middle of a soap opera story, in the heightened drama of a theft and escape, Jacob starts droning on about sheep genetics? Boring!

And then, as we finish the lesson from Genesis — “thou shalt steal thy father-in-law’s stuff, and flee with thy two wives, and oh by the way, don’t forget to take the household gods, too” — we sing a song of praise, Canticle 13.

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
(BCP 90)

Wait, what?

In one breath we go from polygamous, plotting, sheep-stealing (but capably breeding) escapees … to glorifying God, seated between the cherubim.

Anyone who tells you the Bible is clear and easy to understand is pulling the wool over your eyes.

Get it? Wool? Oh, I kid. Get it? Kid?

On the face of it, this is one of those crazy stories, told and retold time and again, that makes your eyes glaze over every time you hear it.

“Oh God, uncle Jacob is telling the story about the sheep again!”

The lesson, and I promise there is one, is that it’s in the distance between our petty, thieving, sheep-stealing ways and God’s glory that we start to get the point of the larger story of Scripture. The Daily Office serves us well when it provides such sharp contrast between two pieces of Scripture.

The God of all creation, from the splendor of his temple, looks down on us and loves us. Even though we are manipulative tricksters, he loves us. Even though we defraud each other, and marry in weird configurations, and dream about sheep genetics, and run away from our lying, cheating families, God loves us.

In fact, he loves us so much that he works out his plan of salvation using us and our efforts.

If it weren’t right there in Scripture, plain as can be, we’d say that was a baaad soap opera.


With sober judgment


For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom. 12:3)

The Psalms are the heart of the Office because they have for centuries expressed the “needs, hopes, and concerns” of God’s people. They are very human songs, and more often than not I am caught short by the emotion of the psalmist.

Today, for example, the psalmist’s simple love for the law rings false in my ears, perhaps because my own path has been too twisted lately. The version running through my head as I pray sounds more like this:

Oh, how I love your law!
Even though all day long it’s out of my mind.

Your commandment has made me no wiser than my enemies,
Because it is too little with me.

I have less understanding than any of my teachers,
Though your decrees have been my study.
(Psalm 119:97-99, para.)

Some days the Office is inspiring, giving us a glimpse of the ideal we long for. Other days it reminds us how far we still have to go.

But it always points us to Christ and to the Church, reminding us that we are not alone on our twisted path, that we are not truly separated from the love of God.

The “sober judgment” that Paul urges us to have places our real failings in the proper context of God’s even more real love for us shown in Christ Jesus.

By the oaks of Mamre

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Today’s readings provide an object lesson in the power of the Daily Office to trigger associations in the Christian imagination.

We begin with the Old Testament reading from Genesis in which Abraham is buying some property from the Hittites in order to bury his wife Sarah in a cave in a particular field facing Mamre.

So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, in the presence of all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 23:17-19)

The canticle which follows, the Song of Moses, is one of the songs we sing at the Easter Vigil, when we recount Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and his victory over death.

So we have this association between the Genesis story and the resurrected Christ. Sarah is laid to rest in a cave; the cave where Christ was buried is empty when the disciples arrive there on Sunday morning. Every cave reminds us Christians of the cave which could not contain Jesus.

But the association goes deeper.

Just as Sarah’s tomb faced the oaks of Mamre, where she and Abraham laughed with the three travelers who were really God (Genesis 18), so we rejoice in the garden outside of Christ’s empty tomb and worship him as our risen Lord.

The chain of associations triggered by today’s readings — and by every day’s readings — helps us see Jesus throughout Scripture, from creation through the appearance to Abraham and Sarah, to his incarnation and passion.

We come to see and name him as one of the persons of the Trinity, as “Christ, the king of glory, the eternal Son of the Father” (BCP 96).