Today, as Joseph continues to use his position of authority to mess with his brothers, I want to take a look at two questions: where has God been in Joseph’s life, and how do people talk about him?
Here it is: the Second Big Grift. We already saw the First Big Grift back in Genesis 25:27-34, in which Jacob takes advantage of his brother Esau’s hunger to trade a bowl of stew for the right of primogeniture. The Second Big Grift also involves food: as Isaac’s eyesight fails in his old age, Rebecca convinces Jacob to pose as Esau and deliver a savory meal to his father in order to secure the firstborn’s blessing as well. Living up to his name, Jacob once again plays the heel by grabbing the heel. And here’s the big question for today: is God getting behind all this chicanery?
Behold: where we find the actual tale of the Tower of Babel! This is another favorite for the Sunday school classes. After all, it provides children with a narrative explanation of why some people speak using all kinds of strange words they don’t understand, and it also contains a cautionary tale against pride. But as I read it today, I found myself wondering what exactly motivates God to thwart the intentions of these would-be tower-builders. “Pride” may be a simple answer, reasonably accurate and easy to comprehend, but the reality may prove to be more nuanced than a single word.
Maybe it’s just a function of growing up evangelical, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from reading Genesis as a battleground for fundamentalists and skeptics. Here we are, about to go into a giant flood and a giant boat intended to preserve eight human beings and every kind of animal, while an ostensibly omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity kills every other living thing because the world has gone south. If it strains your credulity, then it strains your credulity; I get it. It’s weird. And it’s a story about God’s direct involvement in the world; true or false, you can’t expect it not to be big. But there is a time and a place for apologetics, and to me at least it doesn’t seem that today’s entry is that time or place.
I just realized: John 21 is the post-credits scene.
When I sat down the first time to write this post, I felt like I had nothing new to say about today’s chapter. Peter and John’s foot race to the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Messiah, Thomas’ insistence on empiricism: for nearly two thousand years, wiser individuals than I have been saying things about these scenes, and what could I add to them? As I’ve been reading and re-reading the chapter here, I don’t even have any fresh insights that I’m noticing for the first time. But how is it that I’ve never before discussed Thomas on Chocolate Book? I, a professed Christian skeptic? And of all the topics I could retread today, none seem more worth recapitulating observations on which you may well have heard before than our friend Doubting Thomas.
If you’ve read even one gospel, the events of John 18 will seem pretty familiar to you. There are passages in John which read like him whispering, “Come hear this thing about Jesus that you never knew!” But between Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s three denials, the inquisition at the Jewish temple, and Jesus’ questioning before Pilate, this chapter feels like John’s just hitting all the events that everyone knows happened. What is this: four chapters of John-exclusive content at the Last Supper, and then suddenly a synopsis of the synoptics? Not quite. The events may be the same, but John includes a few new details about them. Let’s take a look at one such detail.
I’ve never celebrated Sukkot. Have you? Honest question. Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve ever celebrated it. And if you don’t know what it is, you’ve almost certainly never celebrated it, because it’s not the sort of holiday you’d observe by accident. It’s the Jewish Feast of Booths, and according to the instructions in Leviticus 23:33-43, it lasts eight days, and it requires you to build and live in a temporary shelter, the titular “sukkah.” It also requires you to take leafy branches and rejoice before the Lord. I doubt you’ve ever said to yourself, “Whoops! I just built a booth with at least three walls and a thatched roof and lived in it for seven days, holding a sacred assembly for the Lord on the eighth, and all week long I accidentally rejoiced with leafy branches and presented food offerings to the Lord,” but…where was I going with this? I honestly don’t know. Let’s find out.
The gospel of Mark is weird, but at least it’s synoptic. You probably already know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the three synoptic gospels, but you may not know that the word “synoptic” comes from the Greek words συν, syn, meaning “together,” and οπτικος, optikos, the adjective form for the word meaning “seeing” or “sight.” We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptics because they’re looking together at the same events from Christ’s life, looking at him in more or less the same way. John’s gospel, however, is so weird it isn’t even synoptic. In all probability, John was the last gospel to be written down, so it’s like John’s saying to us, “I’m going to complement the synoptics by giving you a whole different vantage point on Jesus Christ, and it’s going to blow your mind.” I may be editorializing a bit with that last phrase, but the fact remains: the gospel of John provides a distinct look at the life of Jesus Christ, and it is weird.
As I’ve noted before, Mark happens fast. He keeps introducing things that I have to backtrack to discuss, because I didn’t have time and space to talk about them when they first showed up. For instance: throughout the last two chapters, he’s been hinting at his coming death, and yesterday, he identified Jerusalem as his final destination. His opponents have set a trap, and he intends to walk right into it, throwing the fight with the Pharisees in order to win a larger war. Well, today we’re in Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the end.