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Daily Bible Reflections for the Week of March 15, 2020

A new reading/reflection will be added to the top of this page each day.

Saturday, March 21, 2020
1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Something that keeps coming up during this time of increased distance and isolation is whether or not one is an introvert and extrovert. Extroverts, the jokes on social media say, are struggling with this time of social pause. They NEED to talk to people. Introverts, on the other hand, are blissfully sitting at home, nose in a book.

Have you done any work on exploring your personality type? Did it confirm something you intuitively knew about yourself, or help you to understand yourself better? The Myers Briggs test is a popular tool. Another personality framework is the Enneagram. Though, as I’ve dug a bit deeper into these things, I’ve noticed that a further question is this: when we’re under STRESS what shifts do we see in our natural personality type? It seems that it is quite common for us, in those situations of fear, anger, etc., to take on some of the attributes of other MB or Enneagram types. Or at least to react in a particular way.

Where am I going with this? I’m looking at what Paul has written, in bringing up the exodus story: in the desert there was grace (the rock from which water flowed), but also temptation (the golden calf) — opportunities to get tripped up.

Think about how in recent days we’ve heard stories of rampant panic and hoarding, but also stories of incredible thoughtfulness and generosity. Temptations and graces.

In whatever situation we find ourselves in we will discover that we can act in good or bad ways. We can treat people as subjects or as objects. We can act from a position of faith (drinking water flowing from the rock) or of fear (begging Aaron for an idol to worship). That’s why it’s helpful to have some awareness about how our minds work — in normal, but also in stressful times. When we recognize ourselves coming off the rails we can stop, take a breath, and lift up this difficult moment to God.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Friday, March 20, 2020
Psalm 91 and 92

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honour them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath Day.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The dullard cannot know,
the stupid cannot understand this:
though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction for ever,
but you, O Lord, are on high for ever.
For your enemies, O Lord,
for your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.

But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

The “shelter of the Most High” and the “cedar in Lebanon” we see here are likely references to the Temple (cedar wood from Lebanon having been used in its construction).

These psalms beg the question: how is it that God protects those who are faithful? How have we perceived God’s care and protection in the past? Where are we looking for a reassurance of God’s presence now? What do we do with those times when God has felt distant, or when the bad things we feared came to pass? (And what got us through that difficult time?)

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus was quoted this, when he was tempted by the Devil. Jesus would go on to experience great betrayal and pain, and the seeming absence of God, as he hung on the cross.

There is something there for us to consider: God’s presence is not known just when things are going smoothly for us. In fact, when we suffer, we know that Jesus suffered too. Our suffering can bring us to a closer union with God. And Jesus’ suffering brought God closer to us.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Thursday, March 19, 2020
Mark 6:30-44

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

Coming right after yesterday’s satire of life among the elites is this story about how miracles are more likely to happen in the context of a simple picnic. The evangelist emphasizes that they’re out in the middle of nowhere; this probably is meant to lead us to connect the scene to the exodus story (and thus, the bread with manna, and Jesus with Moses).

A little later on it will be pointed out that the disciples didn’t understand the significance of the two miraculous feedings that are narrated in Mark’s Gospel. Thus, it seems that the point of the episode isn’t just about miraculous multiplication, but about who Jesus is, and what his ministry means for the world. He is an alternative Lord to the likes of Herod. Where there was revelling and dancing in the previous party scene, here we have orderly organizing of the crowd, and sharing.

And for us, we’ll find eucharistic overtones here. Jesus TAKES the loaves, BLESSES and then BREAKS them, and GIVES them out. Our liturgy follows this pattern. In the offertory we take the bread, wine, and financial donations, bless them in the prayer, break the bread, and then distribute communion. This meal that we’re so used to is the key to our life as followers of the world’s true Lord. We are in a situation of fasting from this meal during our time of social distancing. But we can nevertheless live lives of thankfulness and generosity, reflecting our eucharistic values.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Mark 6:13-29

They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Maybe it’s my interest in scary movies, but this episode is one of the parts of Mark’s Gospel to which I’m most drawn. (I find it especially interesting how the daughter reinforces and enlivens the wording of the request her mom made; she really plays it up.) Leslie and I are currently working our way through the TV series Game of Thrones for a second time before finally watching the last season, and this brutal dinner party would fit right in with that often grisly show.

But it’s not just the visceral content that catches my attention. I think it’s an important part of the writer’s message. In what Ched Myers in his book Binding the Strong Man calls a “political parody,” the author is highlighting the contrast between the followers of John, Jesus, and the readers of the Gospel book on one hand, with the ‘respected guests’ at Herod’s dinner party, on the other. The writer is mocking these dignitaries along with the way they make important (literally life and death) decisions. And at the end of the day it’s not actually the king, nobles, officers, or “leading Galileans” that have the power: it’s the go-go dancer that does. “This is how the world operates,” the writer is implying.

So often in history the Bible has been used to endorse an uncritical obedience to those that wield power. But alongside the isolated verses that speak of “obeying the emperor” are images and stories like today’s reading, or the evil beast of the Book of Revelation. These call us to think critically about those that hold office.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Psalm 78:1-39

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.

He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.

The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot what he had done,
and the miracles that he had shown them.
In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out
and torrents overflowed,
can he also give bread,
or provide meat for his people?’

Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage;
a fire was kindled against Jacob,
his anger mounted against Israel,
because they had no faith in God,
and did not trust his saving power.
Yet he commanded the skies above,
and opened the doors of heaven;
he rained down on them manna to eat,
and gave them the grain of heaven.
Mortals ate of the bread of angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained flesh upon them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall within their camp,
all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
the anger of God rose against them
and he killed the strongest of them,
and laid low the flower of Israel.

In spite of all this they still sinned;
they did not believe in his wonders.
So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
When he killed them, they sought for him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
Their heart was not steadfast towards him;
they were not true to his covenant.
Yet he, being compassionate,
forgave their iniquity,
and did not destroy them;
often he restrained his anger,
and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and does not come again.

This psalm is not only poetic, but it served as a history lesson for the people. It’s a reminder of the power of our stories. Stories like this can form — shape a community. They convey not only our group’s experiences, but also our values, goals, assumptions, and blind spots (i.e. what is being left out?). This psalm brings to mind the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, where the first half of the service is comprised of the recitation of Bible stories that recount God’s saving actions in history (and humanity’s need of salvation).

The psalm’s reference to the manna that was provided in the desert will no doubt connect to what we’re experiencing right now. Maybe we can all sit with the story of the people being fed in the desert for a while today. You might recall from the story that manna — the mysterious and miraculous bread provided by God — couldn’t be stockpiled. Instead, God provided enough for the day (and twice as much when they came to the Sabbath). Hmmmm… trust and moderation seem important values right now…

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Monday, March 16, 2020
1 Corinthians 7:25-31

Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

This might seem an odd reading to begin some pandemic/Lenten reflections from the daily lectionary, but it’s one of the readings that pops up in today’s schedule… The first half of the First Letter to Corinth is quite urgent, dealing with issues like factions in the congregation, whom to trust, and the handling of some sexual scandals. Now we’ve come to a section where Paul appears to be going through a list of questions that have been sent to him. And isn’t it interesting how he prefaces our little section today with, basically, “hey, these are just my best insights; don’t take it as absolute gospel truth.” (This creates an interesting situation for us, having inherited this letter as holy scripture!)

Paul was convinced that ‘the end’ was near; Jesus was going to come back and turn everything upside down. So, as followers of Jesus, the church needed some direction on how their faith impacted their lives, but… at the same time, so much was out of their hands, that Paul’s instructions are just intermediate ethics that will fall away when Jesus returns. So, “let even those who have wives be as though they had none…” Interestingly, this contradicts his guidance from earlier in the chapter. The point, then, seems to be that he’s laying the groundwork for a way of life that is detached from ‘the ordinary world,’ to allow for a fuller orientation toward the Kingdom that will soon be made manifest.

In our own day there are many folks that feel, as Paul did, that time is short for us. (And these days we will note that we have non-religious apocalyptic thinkers coming from a purely environmental perspective.) At the same time, many in mainline traditions tend to read apocalyptic scriptures in a more figurative sense. Regardless of our position on these things, this reading reminds us that our loyalty to Jesus should be a critical part of our decision-making process as we live in difficult and complex times. Paul, with this advice that is grounded in his faith — though not presented as absolute instructions from God — brings to mind what I mentioned about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a recent sermon: there will be times when we feel compelled to act in a certain way; perhaps in a way that contradicts some values that we hold dear. Nevertheless, we feel compelled to act in a certain way for the common good. At such times we recognize the ambiguity of the situation, and ultimately throw ourselves into the arms of God, depending on God’s mercy.

Today’s reading’s references to an “impending crisis” will resonate with us in the midst of the anxiety around the COVID-19 pandemic. “The present form of this world is passing away” will bring to mind how, while our situation is still more stable than that of many other countries (in general, not just during this pandemic), we’re ‘not in Kansas anymore…’ Not only are we nervous about this virus, but about travellers, markets, big and small businesses, and students. Into this tense situation we can bring our faith, and model Christ’s compassion. We can recognize that our particular questions and answers — not to mention our world’s intertwined ‘systems’ — are secondary to the lordship of Jesus in this troubled world.

[Matthew Kieswetter]