As you read this week, consider the ancient theme of “naming.” The stories of our Scriptures remind us that these ancient people did the best they could making sense of the who and the how and why of God. Often this making-sense is described in the stories as “namings.”
Hagar, the courageous slave of Sarah, the tenacious mother of Ishmael, the cast out one who was found and spared by divine intervention, is said even to name God! “The One who Sees” (Genesis 16).
Jacob names the place of his dream with a ladder of angels and a promise of blessing as Bethel: “the house of God” (Genesis 28).
Jacob’s wives name their children in light of their relationships with Jacob and God and life (Genesis 29-30).
Jacob names the place of his wrestling “Peniel” – “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (Genesis 32).
We moderns still do the best we can: asking questions, probing mysteries, naming the experiences of our lives in ways that attempt to make sense. In this way, we are not really so different from our ancestors.
As you read Genesis 27-36, see how Jacob demonstrates the pattern of God’s surprising grace. Jacob’s name means “supplanter,” “deceiver.” Here is Jacob being Jacob – on his way to make amends with his brother Esau (Is Jacob once again manipulating? Plotting and planning the best way to win Esau’s approval by his elaborate orchestrations of gifts? Is Jacob really sorry for what he did or just sorry he got in trouble?) Anyway, here is Jacob being Jacob and yet still – he is one whom God calls to receive the Promise and continue the lineage of Abraham. God’s call is always surprising.
After the long night of wrestling with God, Jacob is re-named; he is given the new name – Israel: “may God prevail.” It reminds me of the prayer our Lord taught us to pray: “THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
As you read the Psalms (46 and 47), notice the ways Israel’s Hebrew poetry sometimes names God as “the God of Abraham” and sometimes as “the God of Jacob.”
Also notice the hint of universality in Ps 47: “the princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham…” Remember our Hebrew Bible is primarily the story of the Hebrew people. All others were referred to as “the nations,” “the peoples,” “the Gentiles.” But God’s original call to Abraham was that “all the families of the earth would be blessed” in him… (Genesis 12:3).
You can see in the letter to the Romans how Paul picks up this theme as he argues for the full inclusion of Gentiles into what had been originally a completely Jewish Messianic community.
As you read Mark 1-7, notice the miracles Jesus performs: walking on water, feeding the multitude, calming the sea, all sorts of healings and even raising the dead. Mark’s way of telling the story of the truly human truly divine Christ is to pack the first half of his gospel with mighty deeds normally only attributed to God. When we read the second half of Mark’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ teachings and we see his passion but we do not see anymore miracles. You may want to re-read Charlotte’s Musings on Mark’s Jesus.
As you read Romans 14-16, see how he quotes from the Old Testament to make his case for the Gentiles’ full inclusion in the church.
Christ became a servant of the circumcised (Jews) on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the Patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written….
Then he quotes from several Psalms, from Deuteronomy and from Isaiah. His argument is that the inclusion of the Gentiles was a key part of the original promise and he makes his case from the full range of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings (Wisdom).
Remember most of us reading this are “Gentiles.” Paul’s passion for an undivided church – in large part – opened the way for OUR full inclusion.
And remember Luke is actually the one who tells us a story about Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus; Paul’s own description of his vision is not as detailed. (We will read Paul’s own story of his conversion in Galatians next week.)
It’s the Book of Acts that tells how Saul, the persecutor of the gospel was given a new name: Paul, the proclaimer of the gospel. For the rest of Paul’s life, God continued to shape and sharpen his faithfulness for the challenges that would come.