Sunday, 27 March 2011

Exodus and Law Fulfilled in Jesus

In the opening section of the Old Testament there is one more story to tell.

The first five books of the Bible make up the Law, the Torah.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis contain a sequence of larger than life stories that tell of the beginnings of things but speak to the world of today in every generation.

From Genesis 12-50 there is a sequence of true to life stories that help us to understand who we are and how we relate to each other. They tell of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekkah, of Jacob and Rachel, and of Joseph. The last great story of Genesis tells the story of the sons of Jacob and Rahcel, the 12 brothers who become the clan

There is then one more story to tell. It is the story of Moses. Born in troubled times and rescued from Pharaoh’s purge of Hebrew male children, he is brought up in the Egyptian court until he intervenes when a Hebrew slave is beaten to death by an Egyptian guard. Moses fless to the land of Midian where he is welcomed as a refugee and an alien. He settles there and marries and has a son. It is while on the mountain top that he has an experience of God in the burning bush and is given the task by God of leading all God’s people from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land.

Moses is wary of speaking to the people unless he knows the name of God. God responds in that most mysterious of ways and identifies himself as I am who I am, or I will be who I will be, or I am what I am.

With the help of a spokesman, Moses then appeals to Pharaoh. A sequence of 10 disasters wreaks havoc with the region of the Nile where the Hebrew slaves are being abused … until at the very last they mark the lintels of their doors with lamb’s blood and the angel of death passes over.

Pharaoh is persuaded at last and lets God’s people go.

They escape through the Red Sea, and expect to go straight to the promised land.

It is not to be, however, and the people find they face a prolonged period in the hardships of the wilderness. They complain to Moses. And God provides each with their daily needs … and no more.

Still the people are not happy.

They reach Mount Sinai and there Moses encounters the presence of God on the mountain top and receives the Ten Commandments.

From then on the wandering continues and from time to time the people rebel. Set into the framework of the story of Moses and the liberation story of Exodus are law codes that shape individual behaviour and society at large. There are also law codes to do with ritual, worship and holiness.

For the Jewish people Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are the core of their Holy Scriptures. The bulk of the five books are built around Moses and so the Law, the Torah, is associated with Moses.

Each Synagogue would have its scrolls of the Law, the Torah, they would be read each week at the Synagogue.

Jesus was part of the synagoguge in his home town of Nazareth and from the very youngest age read the Torah, and reflected on it. By the age of 30 so steeped was he in the Torah and the Prophets and Writings that he was highly regarded as a Rabbi, able to teach from the Torah in a gathering of the Synagogue.

From the outset of his ministry something very curious happens.

By the time you get to Mark chapter 3 verse 6 still at the beginning of the Gospel you are left in no doubt at all that something very strange is going on. As Jesus speaks and teaches he is highly regarded: but those who are drawn to him recognise that it is ‘a new teaching – with authority!’ (Mark 1:27). He is prepared to touch the one suffering from leprosy, he is prepared to heal on the Sabbath, he is prepared to forgive the sins of the paralysed man. And he was flagrant about it. By the time he heals a man with a withered hand in the synagogue and on the Sabbath Jesus has succeeded in doing the impossible, he has brought together Pharisees and Herodians. The two sets of people could not have been further apart. The Herodians were content to collaborate with the Roman power. The Pharisees on the other hand went in the face of Roman domination and wanted to maintain the identity of the Jewish people by reasserting the purity of the Law.

What Jesus was doing was too much.

And yet it was something of a paradox. For while Jesus was prepared to break the law and engaged in what people recognised as a new teaching with authority, he yet had respect for the Law.

Matthew’s gospel hasn’t covered so much ground before Jesus preaches the first of what is to be come in Matthew a sequence of five great sermons. It is right at the outset in the Sermon on the Mount that he says quite categorically …

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

What do we make of this curious set of circumstances?

The key to our understanding of this is a key to our understanding as Christians of the Torah and the Books of the Law. It is, it seems to me, vitally important for us to grasp it.

Jesus has come not to abolish but ‘to fulfil’ the Law.

Until heaven and earth pas away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, not one jot or tittle will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

The key to our reading of the Law lies in those two phrases – what does it mean for Jesus to say he has come to ‘fulfil the law’ what does it mean to when he talks about all being accomplished.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke the central point of the Gospel, the turning point, the hinge on which the Gospel story comes in a narrative that is full of mystery, awe and wonder.

Like the sermon on the Mount it happens on a mountain.

It’s 8 days after the moment when Peter has made his confession of faith saying to Jesus You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.

Jesus takes Peter, John and Jams and went up the mountain to pray. And while he was praying

And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.
That’s all Matthew and Mark report. But it is tremendously significant. Moses stands for the Law. Elijah is the archetypal Prophet. We will return to this moment and to him when we come to look at the Prophets, the second section of the Hebrew Scriptures we think of as the Old Testament.

It is as if these two figures of the Law and the Prophets who are seen on the Mountain, in the glory that is the shekinah cloud of God’s presence, endorse Jesus.

Jesus has maintained that he has come to fulfil the law and the prophets. This appearance of Moses and Elijah so central to each of the first three Gospels is making an enormous statement. Each of those Gospel writers is convinced. Jesus has fulfilled the law and the prophets – and he has received the endorsement of Moses and Elijah to that end.

Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to eaves drop on the conversation.

Luke enables us to do just that. Luke tells us what they were talking about.

In practically all the English translations you miss the point of his description of the conversation.

They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Four things are significant in that sentence.

First the word ‘they’. It has to be Moses and it has to be Elijah. They are the embodiment if you like of Law and Prophets. The major part of the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures.

They appeared ‘in glory’. That word ‘glory’ is a major key word. It is the tangible cloud of glory, the shekinah cloud that signifies in so many accounts of mountain-top experiences in the Torah the very presence of God.

They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure.

That’s where our English translations let us down. Luke uses a very specific Greek word. When I read it out you will immediately recognise it. The word translated ‘departure’ is simply the word Exodus.

The second book of the Torah is called Exodus because that is what it is about – the Exodus of the People of Israel from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. The settlement in the promised land reaches its climax in the establishment of Jerusalem as the city of God.

They appeared in glory and were speaking to him of his Exodus which he was about to ‘accomplish’

The word translated ‘accomplish’ there is the word ‘fulfil’

Jesus was about to accomplish his ‘exodus’ in the very place where the climax of the Exodus story is reached, albeit quite a bit later, in Jerusalem.

As far as Luke was concerned, and for that matter the other Gospel writers too, Jesus had fulfilled, brought to its fulfilment, accomplished, the Law. By the time his death and resurrection were completed a new Exodus had been accomplished.

Something new was here.

Matthew points out echoes of the story of Moses in all sorts of ways, in the birth of Jesus, the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt. He then structures his Gospel around five sermons of Jesus as if it is a new Torah.

Mark it is who puts the endorsement of Moses and Elijah, Law and Prophets, right at the centre of the Gospel.

Luke sees in Christ the accomplishment of a new Exodus.

And as for John – he sees in Jesus the one who lays claim to the very identify of God disclosed to Jesus when he uses that very phrase of himself, I am …

All four Gospels see in the death and resurrection of Jesus the fulfilment of the Passover. And that is sealed in the institution of communion to take the place of the Passover.

The excitement of all this is that we can treasure the account of Moses and the Exodus and the whole framework of law. But we cannot do that by simply lifting those laws from the Old Tesatment and abiding by them.

Because Jesus has fulfilled that Law, because of that endorsement by Moses, we must take into account the perspective Jesus gives on the law in his teaching.

And that is what we are going to do as we take a look at those law codes that shape individual behaviour and society at large, at the law codes that have to do with ritual, worship and holiness.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Turning Evil to Good - The Story of Jacob's Sons and Jesus

It must be sent for a purpose.

Some find great comfort in that thought as they grapple with awful circumstances they find themselves in, or as they struggle with yet another natural disaster.

I don’t find that way of looking at things so helpful. Indeed, I find it positively unhelpful.

Some things happen that seem to me to cut across all that is good and all that is of God. I cannot bring myself to believe that they were ‘sent for a purpose’.

I’m not sure I find that phrase in the Bible. Neither do I find that thought in the bible.

In the Bible I sense there is a reality of evil that cuts across the goodness of God. And that evil is not wiled by God for some greater purpose. Neither is it sent by God to achieve some greater purpose.

I find myself drawn to two different ways of looking at things.

No matter what may befall, God will always be with us. At times he may feel far away, but the reality is however God-forsaken circumstances may appear God is still there.

I am drawn to those last verses of Habakkuk.

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food;though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. 19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.*

This is a faith to hold on to in the face of the awfulness of circumstances that are so filled with wrong as to be outside of the purposes of God. But God in the reality of that world is there with us.

This is so in the sheer awfulness of personal circumstances. It is so in the face of the sheer awfulness of all that has happened in Japan. I share this evening what I shared this morning. Shusaku Endo has become one of my favourite novelists. It came as a surprise to me to find that one of the leading 20th Century novelists in Japan should be a Christian. Not only that but through his novels he sought to express his Christianity in a way that would speak to Japan and its culture.

I have not often re-read novels I have read in the past. But this week I found myself drawn to pick up his novel ‘Volcano’. What caught my eye was a paragraph written by Richard A Schuchert, the translator in the introduction.

For Endo … the quintessence of Christianity lies in God’s loving compassion for his wretched children, His willingness to share with us in our suffering …Endo is attracted to Jesus the suffering companion of all men and women, more than to Jesus the wonder-worker; he is obsessed with Jesus the human reject eventually crucified, rather than with Jesus the glorious pantocrator.

In Jesus God comes alongside us, remains with us, and enables us not to stare awful circumstances in the face and echo the words of St Paul …

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 337No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is interesting that Shusaku Endo chooses to communicate the power of his message in helping people to hold to faith in the face of awful circumstances through the medium of the novel. It is in the telling of a story that the most profound truths can be explored.

We in the West need to be reminded of that.

Kenneth E Bailey spent a life-time teaching the Bible in the Middle East. In a recent book entitled Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, he reflects on the contrast between the way we think in the West.

“In the Western tradition serious theology has almost always been constructed from ideas held together by logic. In such a world the more intelligent the theologian, the more abstract he or she usually becomes, and the more difficult it is for the average person to understand what is being said…

He goes on to observe that Jesus tells stories. We misunderstand what Jesus is doing in telling those stories if we imagine him siply to be a ‘village rustic creating folktales for fishermen and farmers.” Kenneth Bailey suggests that when we examine the stories Jesus told with care we discover that ‘his parables are serious theology.’ Indeed it is through his story telling that he emerges as an astute theologian.

Stories are of the very essence of the Old Testament. From Genesis 36 through to Genesis 50 is a story that is brilliantly told.

It is the story of Jacob and his sons as Genesis 36:2 reminds us. Think of it that way and it is the story of enmity that develops between the twelve brothers and Joseph, an enmity that is destructive and murderous in intent. It is telling that this is the story of Abraham’s descendants.

In this evening’s service we read the opening of that story from Genesis 36 and the ending of that story in Genesis 50. We then went on to read part of the story of Jesus in John 8 where he speaks of his disciples as those who hear his word, and find the truth, the truth that will set them free. There then follows a lengthy debate about what it takes to be descendants of Abraham.

John’s Gospel has sometimes been accused of having the seeds of anti-semitism. That is to misunderstand what is going on in that Gospel. It does not pit ‘Jew’ against ‘Christian’. Instead it describes the tragedy when Jew is at enmity with Jew.

And this is precisely the story that is told of Abraham’s descendants in this lengthy and prolonged ‘story of Jacob’s sons’. The story of Jesus echoes that story as the descendants of Abraham are at enmity with each other.

Part of the wonder of the story of Jacob and his sons is that at the end of Chapter 50 the twelve express the fear that Joseph will wreak his revenge now that their father has died. But in reality Joseph forgives and they are reconciled.

The wonder of the Gospel story is that it reaches its climax in the forgiveness Jesus holds out to those responsible for his death in the words ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’.

The story of Jacob and his sons reaches a climax with a very powerful message that is a message of forgiveness which finds its echo in the story of Jesus.

More than that the story of Jacob and his sons comes to a climax with an insight that provides us with a very real alternative to the view that God sends something ‘for a purpose’

Just as the story has a start so too it has a finish. It is a beautifully crafted story. So beautifully crafted that you can think of as the story of Joseph and his brothers.

That story is so well told you could almost turn it into a musical, a best selling musical that would run for years and years.

The fist time I saw Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was at its very first outing into the West End. It was the second half of a double bill. The first half of the evening was a one act play by Galton and Simpson, the creators of Steptoe and Son. It was called Jacob and Sons. And it was as you can imagine a bit near the mark.

The second half was a hit. And it was quickly expanded … and it’s been in production and on tour ever since!!!

The great thing about Joseph the musical is that it keeps so closely to the biblical story. And the story is so well told. And the awful thing about the Musical is that it misses the point.

As it comes to a great climax, the brothers and Joseph are reconciled and reunited with their Dad. And then Jospeh bursts once more into song. I have heard it so many times, I could sing it to you … but I won’t.

I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain to see for certain what I thought I knew,
And in the east the dawn was breaking, the world was waking.

So far, so good. That’s a wonderful image. And in a way it captures the climax to the biblical story.

The Joseph story marks the end of the book of Genesis and the tales of the great founding figures of the people Israel. We have moved beyond the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, Jacob and Sarah and we have reached the story of Joseph and the twelve brothers. It is not without significance that Jacob has been given the name ‘Israel’ and the twelve brothers become the ‘founding figures of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the east the dawn was breaking of the story that was to become the story of the People of God. The dawn was breaking, the world was waking.

But then comes that phrase that makes me want to leap out of my seat and shout out no. The problem is the tune is so catchy I find myself carried along with singing … any dream will do.

No, ANY dream will NOT do!!!!

That misses the point all together.

What’s interesting is that the biblical story comes to a climax with a scene that has a wonderful statement in it. That serves as the key to the whole story. The summing up of the whole point of the story.

It is very thought provoking.

In each of the commentaries I looked at in readiness for this evening, Genesis 50 verse 20 was identified as the key to the whole story of Joseph and his brothers. I love the way the Good News Bible puts it …

Joseph has been reunited with his brothers. They are fearful of what he will do to them. But Joseph forgives and then says these words …

You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good.

I like the way the Revised English Bible puts it …

You meant to do me harm, but God meant to bring good out of it.

That captures something very special for me.

The debate Jesus has over what it takes to be descendants of Abraham leads into the story of the healing of the man born blind in John 9. That man born blind lives in a dark world – but into that man’s life Jesus brings healing and so the harm is turned to good, God brings good out of the awfulness of the circumstances that man finds himself in.

No matter what the harm, no matter the plotting, no matter the evil humanity can devise God will bring good out of it, God will turn it into good.

The whole story of Jesus in his passion that once again we will tell as Easter approaches, not least in a Palm Sunday evening service the choir are putting together that will enable us to celebrate once again the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version, the whole story of Jesus and his passion is the story of people who are out to bring harm and to do evil. And at the climax Jesus utters the words, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. It is as if God in Christ brings good out of the evil that has been done, he turns it all to good.

God sent it for a purpose? No, I cannot take that.

God in Christ is alongside us in the suffering of this world and he will not desert us. There is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

This is the vision of Habakkuk and of Romans 8. It is the vision shared by Shusaku Endo of the Jesus who is our suffering companion. And it is the vision to hold on to.

God in Christ is alongside us in the suffering of this world. No matter how great that suffering, God will bring something good out of it. He will turn it to good.

This is the vision the story Joseph and his brothers has to share with us.

This, too, is the vision for us to hold on to!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Jacob invites us to come face to face with God

One clear Sunday night at Hy-Tec I remember joining the youngsters on top of Cleeve Hill. There above the town was the most magnificent comet that I have ever seen. It was remarkable to think that the last time this particular comet had been visible was 3 and a half thousand years ago in the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Looking up into the night sky in a spot far from any light pollution it is not difficult to sense you are gazing into the heavens. The ancients saw many things there – the seven sisters, the hunter, the bear are all mentioned in the pages of the Bible.

It’s not hard to sense that wonderful vision Jacob had of a ladder reaching up into heaven and down to earth and angels ascending and descending on the ladder. When he awoke there was nothing else for it but to place a standing stone there and to name the place Bethel – the house of God. It was as if in that moment in that vision God touched earth and the space between earth and heaven was filled.

It’s an image and a vision that figures large in John’s gospel on the lips of Jesus. The opening of John’s Gospel has echoes of the opening of Genesis. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God … and the word became flesh … and we have beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten son of the father.

In the second part of John 1 various people identify who this Jesus is and they use images drawn from the Scripitures of old – behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the messiah, and a long list of images culminates in words of Jesus himself as he echoes the vision of Jacob’s Ladder at Bethel.

Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

It is a wonderful image. How do you visualise that image? I see Jesus as the ladder. He is the colossus who is the connection between God and us – inn the picture language of this wonderful image he is one with God and yet he has his feet firmly on the ground – he is with God and yet also with us. And the angels ascend and descend on him.

Jesus at times speaks of God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – the God of the living one. He values the stories that tell of these great figures of the past – and draws on imagery that is prompted by those stories. We found ourselves beside Jacob’s well this morning in the company of the Woman of Samaria – she makes the connection and senses that there is something in Jesus that is greater even than Jacob – and Jesus does not disagree.

Genesis 12 to 36 tells the stories of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekkah and of Jacob and Rachel. They are well told in the book of Genesis. They seem to roll forward with three cycles of story.

They are the very stuff of ancient story telling – but the stories have a truth to them that speaks to every generation. These are real people who struggle with relationships, with family, they struggle with God.

What is fascinating is that none of them is without blemish – all the figures involved have things really wrong with them. I have heard people reject the stories as abhorrent so appalling are some of the character traits of these people. I react differently. I feel something of the wonder of the Gospel that God can work with and use people who are far from perfect who have all sorts of blemishes in their character.

When Isaac and Rebekkah have twins that are much sought after all is not well even in the birth – when it seemed to Rebekkah as if the two were struggling within her womb. Esau is the older and Jacob the younger. The way they emerge it is as if they had been fighting. And more fighting was to come. When the boys grew up Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekkah loved Jacob.

Favouritisms do not make for families at ease.

And it is not long before jealousies wreak havoc with the relationship these two have. Jacob gets Esau to promise him the birthright due to the elder brother, and then by subterfuge and the involvement of his mother Jacob cheats Esau out of the blessing that Jacob has for his older son. The story of the soft-skinned Jacob getting the virtually blind Isaac to feel the rough skin of an animal and conclude it is Esau is one of those great stories told still to children.

The upshot of it all is bitter enmity between Esau and Jacob and the need for Jacob to flee.

The seeds of ongoing conflict that can escalate into conflict between nations are all there.

And then it is that he has a remarkable vision.

And he dreamed that there was a ladder* set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him* and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed* in you and in your offspring. 15

This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

Something changes for Jacob – one senses he becomes a changed man. The blessing is through Jacob and for the good of all the families of the earth. There is a hint here that God love reaches out to encompass all.

Then there comes that wonderfully sinister, yet beautiful story of Jacob and Laban’s daughter Rachel. How he has to marry Leah first and then he marries Rachel and the struggles there are between Jacob and Laban and how agreement between them is reached.

I love the way the stories explore the dark side of family and of family relationships. There is a realism in these stories that disturbs, unsettles and yet is as the world is.

Then by chapter 32 Jacob fears that he and his extended family is going to be challenged by a hateful Esau with his family too. Jacob decides he must make overtures of friendliness towards Esau.

But before he can do that he has a struggle on his hands. And a the end of Genesis 32 we find Jacob wrestling with an unknown figure. It’s a wonderful story – by morning Jacob realises that he has been wrestling with God.

He calls the place Penuel which means ‘The face of God’ because I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved.

That image of wrestling with God is something that rings true for me. It is tough sometimes believing in God. It is a struggle. It is a fight. It feels as you are wrestling with God. It’s not far from the experience Jesus has in the Garden of Gethsemane where he longs for the cup to be taken from him.

We shouldn’t be fearful of the struggle we have with God. Jacob emerges from the struggle strengthened.

And in chapter 33 he looks up and sees Esau coming and four hundred men with him. Jacob is immediately fearful, divides up his children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids who have also given birth to his children. The way he arranges the children shows his favouritisms – first the maids with their children, then Leah with her children, and then Rachel with Joseph safe in the rear.

Jacob walks out ahead of them all.

Then comes one of those most wonderful moments in all the Bible.

But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5

There then follows a lovely conversation as Jacob introduces his family and insists on giving gifts to Esau, at first Esau refuses to accept any gifts –they are not necessary. And then Jacob says something absolutely wonderful …

10Jacob said, ‘No, please; if I find favour with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God

And in the end Esau accepts Jacob’s gifts.

The brutality of the world then creeps into the story with the account of the rape of Leah’s daughter Dinah.

Out of the darkness comes a return to Bethel, and more prayers. As the story nears its climax God says to Jacob, Your name is Jacob, no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.

And then the twelve sons of Jacob are named … and of course they become the twelve tribes of Israel …

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. 26The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

Jesus invites us to think of the stories of Jacob … but he then invites us to join him in going beyond them. We look to Jesus and twelve named disciples and realise that we belong to a new Israel – the blessing to Jacob was to reach out and benefit all the families of the earth. It is not without significance that it is at Jacob’s well that Jesus is recognised as Saviour of the world. A world dimension opens out.

At Jacob’s well Jesus confronts the divisions between the Samaritan world and the Jewish world and the enmity between them by bringing them together in a spirit of oneness and reconciliation.

In telling the story of the Prodigal Son and the Elder brother there are all sorts of echoes of the story of Jacob and Esau. As that story comes to its climax and we are not sure whether the elder brother will join in the celebrations at the return of the younger brother maybe we should bring to mind the wonderful moment of reconciliation there is between Jacob and Esau.

It is in the moment of reconciliation, of sharing, of loving another, that we as it were see the face of God.

Isn’t that the very thought Jesus takes up in that wonderful story he tells …

I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing.
I was sick and you took care of me.
I was in prison and you visited me.

When was it that we saw you
Hungry and gave you food, or
Thirsty and gave you something to drink?
A stranger and welcomed you, or
Naked and gave you clothing
Sick or
In prison and visited you.

Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

If only,
For one moment,
We could see.

Not hazard a guess,
Not take a leap of faith …

But see
The face of God
In all its glory

If only …

Yet we can hear the voice of God
Echoing down through the centuries.

Love the Lord your God
With all your heart, with all your soul,
With all your mind, with all your strength.

Love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Love your enemies.

We can act on what we hear:
Give food to those who are hungry,
Something to drink to those who are thirsty
We can welcome the stranger,
Clothe the naked,
Visit those who are in prison.

Open our ears that we may hear,
Open our hearts that we may act on what we hear
Open our eyes that we may discover that
To love another person is to see the face of God.