We continue in our Fall series reading through the foundational stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, working to finish with a palate perspective of them as we move into Advent and the way in which we as followers of Jesus read the Hebrew Scriptures as pointing towards Jesus.
This book of the Exodus tells the story of the life and leadership of Moses who transformed by an encounter with God, leads the Israelites from their generations-old enslavement in Egypt to freedom. Paradoxically, once liberated physically the people struggle to become free from a different bondage, an enslavement to fear of the unknown, the security of the familiar and the all-too-quick movement to idolatrous rejection of the God who delivered them from their chains of slavery. The story is the primary articulation of Jewish identity, but is also the story of the human condition from which God longs to deliver us, and the exodus from sin in which Jesus of Nazareth leads us forward through his life and death.
Today’s selection tells of how quickly the Israelites lose faith and hope in Yahweh when Moses is absent and his brother, Aaron, steps in as “interim pastor.” It’s a story of idolatry and mistrust, present at the heart of the human condition. A story told again and again in the Bible, from the garden of Eden in Genesis 2 up and through the life of Jesus.
The gospel of Matthew is likely written to the church located in what we now call Syria & Lebanon, one that was heavily influenced by Jewish culture and belief. The teaching in today’s reading, commonly called the Beatitudes, is at the center of Matthew’s retelling of the gospel. It’s the constitution or summary of all that Jesus taught. Matthew presents it as both a new teaching and faithful re-interpretation of the Jewish Torah or law, less a new way of approaching God than a fulfilling or perfecting of the Torah.
Questions for Examen & Contemplation:
- As we see in these texts Yahweh desires to be known. Our human condition often leads us to look elsewhere in our desire to see god. Sometimes to our own selves and power, sometimes to other people, powers or things. To what do you look for your sense of identity, purpose and passion most often?
- We affirm that God is both unknowable and knowable, infinitely far from us and impossibly close, both transcendent and immanent. How and where have you experienced that paradox of God’s nature?
- As followers of Jesus, we affirm with those who have walked and lived before us in faith, that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible god [Colossians 1:15]. What does that mean for you today in your daily life? How are you led astray, looking for God in idols of your own making or created by our societal systems? Talk with god about your own deception, disloyalty or disobedience. Tell God of the freedom you long to know, the ways in which you which to see.
Image credit: Leon Sitarchuk, Study for "Moses and the Golden Calf"