The other night I was hanging out in a friend’s basement, listening to Lacey Sturm’s “State of Me” on Radio U. And when she repeatedly sang, “Just get behind me,” I thought of Jesus’ brutal reprimand to Peter in Matthew 16:23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.” Is Jesus calling Peter the actual Devil?
Oh, great. We’re not two verses into this chapter, and God–the same God whom we had established was speaking out loud about what not to do as his people and how to build altars–now starts talking about the proper keeping of slaves. Comedian Bo Burnham’s song from 2010 “Rant” immediately sprang to mind. Most of it is unfit to quote on this blog, as it’s Bo Burnham. But there’s a section where a hypothetical priest interprets the Old Testament passages about slavery as allegorical, referring to “slaves within our hearts,” and then Bo observes: “And then as God goes on to explain / The logistics of buying and selling slaves…” And worse, this isn’t the last time in the Torah that we’ll read a passage detailing the rights and obligations of the slave and slave-owner. To quote another song by Bo Burnham, I don’t think that I can’t handle this right now.
Happy Magic Bread Day! This is the chapter with the manna, and so many things about it seem foreign to me in so many different ways. I have no clue what it’s like to travel in the desert or to travel long distances on foot. I don’t know a whole lot about what’s normal for storing food without refrigeration or sealed packaging. And I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it said that someone “grumbled against” someone else outside of the Bible. But there’s one thing here that I’ve got half a clue on, and that’s people being people.
For better or worse, the text of the Bible doesn’t generally come with content warnings, so I feel like I should begin with one. The story in today’s chapter deals with sexual violence, and the victim is in all likelihood a minor. I often make flippant or lighthearted remarks here on Chocolate Book, but I’ve had to scrap more than one incomplete intro here because the tone wasn’t appropriate to the subject matter. The story of Dinah, Shechem, and Simeon and Levi’s revenge is intended for mature audiences, in that if you or I aren’t going to treat it with the gravity it merits, we have no business discussing it at all.
Okay, we are in chapter 33; we can give away the ending now. Esau does not kill Jacob! In fact, quite the opposite.
I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with the gospel of John. Of all the four gospels, it was the one that most saturated my childhood. I have these random memories: reading it with my mom at a TCBY as part of homeschool lessons, memorizing John 3:16 and thinking about God’s love for the world while swinging on a pull-up bar on the playground. In high school, I became increasingly aware of the scholarly skepticism surrounding it, its alleged late authorship and its authenticity. The sun moved, everyone’s favorite gospel suddenly became shrouded in shadow, and for years afterward reading through it became weird for me.
Let’s just pull off the band-aid right away: today we’re opening the Theodicy Can with all its Theodicy Worms. Apparently someone put a band-aid on the Theodicy Can. I’m not sure what they thought it would do, if they thought the can was injured or maybe the band-aid would help it stay shut, but we’re tearing off the band-aid and opening up the can. All mixed metaphors aside, today’s chapter of John features Jesus healing a man blind from birth, and right off the bat his disciples ask why the man was born blind.
What is bread? The question has hounded philosophers and–wait, what? I’ve used that introduction already? What am I supposed to do for an intro? We’re going to be talking about Jesus’ use of bread as a spiritual metaphor again, and I need to create an engaging first paragraph to draw in readers! Oh, what’s that? Contrive a dialogue with an imaginary, unseen interlocutor who brings up the fact that I’ve already used the “What is bread?” introduction and posits an alternative? Seems a bit gimmicky. Do you have any better ideas? No? Neither do I. Okay, we’ll go with it. And with that out of the way, let’s talk about bread.
The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was a dark day in history. I mean that literally: the bulk of that afternoon saw Golgotha and its environs shrouded in darkness. It’s not clear from simply reading the gospels whether it was simply overcast, whether a solar eclipse occurred, or whether this was a supernaturally-caused gloom. Nor is it clear whether we’re looking at a localized phenomenon, a global one, or somewhere in between. Scholars have turned to outside sources to figure out just what went down, but we’ll leave it to them to sort out the details. My point is that vision rolls were taking at least a -3 darkness penalty.
Oh, and it was dark in the metaphorical sense too. You know, insofar as the chief priests killed God.
Today’s chapter is Mark’s Endgame Debates Chapter. Each synoptic gospel features the Jewish religious leaders’ ongoing contention with Jesus during his last days in Jerusalem, and Mark packs it all into pretty much a single chapter. But among all the theological judo, we see one guy who isn’t looking for a fight. And we’ll get to him in a moment, but first I want to note a couple irrelevant trivialities from the Parable of the Vine-growers.