The Bible in a Year – 21 December

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21 December. John Chapters 9-10

It is clear from these chapters that Jesus was not worried about causing divisions. In fact he seems to have regarded it as inevitable that his ministry would cause division, attracting some people and making enemies of others.  Many (though not all) of the ordinary people believed in him, because they looked at his “works” (healing, teaching, feeding, showing love and compassion).  Many (though not all) of the religious and political leaders became his enemies because they looked at how his actions fitted into their “laws” – or rather, did not fit.  This is clear from the story of the blind man.  What mattered to him and his friends was that he had been healed, and not surprisingly, worshiped the man who had healed him.  What mattered to the Pharisees was that it had happened on a Sabbath. They would not have been surprised, for Jesus had healed on the Sabbath many times – they just could not get the point that healing should not be counted as “work”.

Laws, whether of religion or state (and in some societies, it amounts to the same thing), are a necessary construct for society to function.  We all need to know what is expected of us.  But no system of laws stays unchanged for ever – both religious and secular law changes in small ways all the time, and occasionally needs major reform.  Like an earthquake zone, frequent small movements cause less damage than rare large ones.  Jesus, when he was in Jerusalem, found himself in a fossilised religious environment that had not changed substantially for centuries – in fact, the layers of interpretation added to the original “laws of Moses” (intended originally for a desert people) had made them almost impossible to change.  Jesus was the earthquake that was about to hit the Jewish religion in a devastating way, and the warning tremors had been happening for some time.  Little wonder that on Good Friday, an earthquake was one of the signs that something very important was happening.

We see the same in the way people come to believe in Jesus today.  He turns no-one away, not even people whose lives are already generally well-adjusted and people-centred.  Such people may find faith in Jesus but their lives do not need to change very much.  On the other hand there are those whose lives are totally broken, whether by disease, stress, guilt,  addiction, or being victims of violence and persecution – or the cause of them.  Such people, if they find Jesus and his accepting love and transforming forgiveness, are (in a very positive way) the ones caught up in an earthquake, as the tension that has built up in their lives is suddenly released.  The metaphor of an earthquake may not be the best one – do tell me if you can think of a better one – but the point is, that whether your need is for another slight change in your life or a desperately overdue major one, Jesus will do it, if you let him.  If you only have eyes to see.

The Bible in a Year – 5 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

5 October. 2 Chronicles chapters 33-34

The tug-of-war between the monotheists and the polytheists or pagans is not over, although the triumphalism of yesterday’s account of Hezekiah’s reign may have made us think it was.  Under his son Manasseh (not to be confused with the tribe of the same name) his reforms are reversed and paganism becomes the official religion again – at least for a time. An unexpected twist in the plot happens when the Assyrians attack again and take him captive.  Without any detail, we are told that he humbles himself and is restored to country and throne, and in thankfulness restores the true religion of Israel. It all sounds too simplistic, and we are not told at what point in his 55-year reign this happens.  But once again the reforms are not to last.  His son Amon rebels again, but without repentance, and only reigns for two years.

The reforms of Josiah that we begin to hear about in chapter 34 are more lasting. In view of my comments yesterday about the different ways that people are brought to faith, we see an interesting growth into religious maturity here.  Josiah was a boy-king, eight years old (and presumably under guardianship) when he inherits the throne on the death of his 24-year-old father (who was a rather young parent, do the maths yourself!) Presumably, like any child, he would have accepted unquestioningly the family’s religious beliefs and practices – in this case paganism.  But at the age of 16 he “began to seek the God of his ancestor David” (34:3) – that is about the same age that I began to ask myself questions of religious belief.  At the age of 20 – the age of radical students everywhere – he becomes an enthusiast for the faith, and like his grandfather Hezekiah tears down the pagan shrines and poles.   But six years later, he enters a new phase of understanding, founded not on the emotionalism of religious ritual, but on the sober words of the written Law of Moses that are discovered in the Temple.

This journey from blind acceptance of other people’s faith, to independent enquiry as an adolescent, to the unquestioning fervour of the young adult, to a more mature outlook with respect for tradition and evidence, is typical of many people’s spiritual journey, including my own. We can encourage people at any age to embark on this journey, but trying to force it too soon or too quickly may result in rejection, or a short-lived passion that soon fades, or an emotional commitment that fails to stand the tests of life.  In Jesus’ words, the seed that falls on hard, or dry, or thorny ground will not flourish, but that which falls on good soil will produce much fruit.  Josiah was obviously planted in the right place.