Friday, July 10, 2009

Like Sheep Among Wolves

Genesis 46:1-7; 28-30

Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. There God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and called, "Jacob! Jacob!" "Here I am," he answered.

"I am the LORD, the God of your father," he said. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes."

Then Jacob left Beersheba, and the sons of Israel took their father, their wives and their children in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. They also took with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. Thus Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt. His sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring, he took with him to Egypt.

Israel sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, so that he could meet him in Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph hitched the horses to his chariot and rode to meet his father Israel in Goshen. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time. Israel said to Joseph, "Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive."


The expression of Joseph’s affection for his father Israel stands in stark contrast to the way many family members (and in particular fathers and sons) express affection for each other. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “the way they keep their distance from each other.”

The most fundamental expression in human terms of God’s law is “Love one another, as I (Jesus) have loved you.” But in our society it is considered unmanly for one man to demonstrate affection for another. For instance, a father wrote to Ann Landers about his late son: “The greatest regret of my life is that I kept my son at arm's length. It was considered unmanly for one man to demonstrate affection for another. I treated my son the same way my father had treated me, and now I realize what a terrible mistake that was.”

To which of my family members do I find it easiest, and to who, most difficult, to express affection? If we find it difficult to express affection and concern – love – for our family members, how can we fulfill the command of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”?

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Matthew 10:16-23

Jesus said to his apostles: Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.


There are lots of animals mentioned in this gospel reading: sheep, wolves, snakes and doves. Where did serpents get their reputation for shrewdness? In Genesis, we read,” Now the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (3:1). The serpent beguiled me, and I ate,” said Eve (3:13). Since those days of yore, we have not seen signs that animals possess the ability to plan a strategy; they simply reacted in the moment, like every other animal.

We associate intelligence with the ability to plan. We are impressed by planning, even when the objective is silly. Many things in life require planning, but it can become a compulsive habit. If I feel I have to plan everything, it means that I don’t trust myself to react correctly in some future situation. But what makes me think I can do it better now, before the situation has even arisen? How should I know what to say to some people when I haven't even seen them yet? Compulsive planning ensures that I will always live in the past – which is surely very ironical. Intelligence isn't old hat; it’s always new. We have to trust the intelligence that is in us; to distrust it is to undermine it.

“When the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say.” Not before. The things that are very alive – love, intelligence, faith – don’t keep till tomorrow; they are for now. You cannot prepare for the suddenness of a wolf’s attack except by being alert. The word "alertness" is probably much closer to the essence of intelligence – and of faith too – than "planning".

“Be alert! Stay awake! For goodness’ sake!”

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