The Bible Challenge 2015 – Day 83

Joshua 16-18, Psalm 70, John 4
If Jesus colors outside the lines, why don’t Christians to the same?

Joshua 16-18
Psalm 70
John 4
Key Verses

Joshua 16 – 18

In Joshua 17:16, we read, “The tribe of Joseph said, ‘The hill country is not enough for us; yet all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” As we will see in Judges 1:19, the use of iron chariots by the inhabitants of Canaan is given as a reason for Israel’s failure to conquer completely all of Canaan.

Iron technology was developed by the Hittites and the Sea Peoples in the twelfth century B.C., but it did not become widespread in Syro-Palestinian cultures until the tenth century B.C. Much as new advanced weapons are being developed today, incremental introduction of weapons was occurring back then. Mention of “chariots of iron” in Joshua 17:16 probably alluded to some iron fittings on the baskets of the chariot carriage and iron-shod wheels. It may also have included iron projectile points and studs added to the wheels, which would have given the chariots added ability to mow down infantry in battle.

Because the tribes of Manasseh, which descended from Joseph’s firstborn son, as well as the tribes of Joseph and Ephraim were so numerous, Joshua allotted to each tribe more than one share of the Promised Land. “…you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.” (Josh. 17:18)

We read, “Then the whole congregation of the Israelites assembled at Shiloh, and sent up the tent of meeting there.” (Josh. 18:1) Shiloh was an ancient cultic center in a fertile valley between the Ephraimite hills between Bethel and Shechem. It was occupied throughout the Iron Age and had several notable architectural features at various times, including a gate complex and possibly a temple complex. Archeological evidence suggests that Shiloh served as a cultic center prior to the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Joshua upbraided the Israelites saying, “How long will you be slack about going in and taking possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you?” (Josh. 18:3) He ordered that three men be selected from each tribe and sent to enter the land and bring back written descriptions of their inheritances from God. Hence, the ancient Israelite version of the Lewis and Clark expedition set out.

This form of ancient mapmaking dates back to at least the third millennium B.C. Clay tablets have been found with maps etched onto their surfaces. These include maps of the Mesopotamian city of Nippur (from about 1500 B.C.) and a Babylonian map “of the world.” In Egypt a mining map was discovered that dates to the time of Ramesses II in the thirteenth century B.C.

Joshua notes, “You shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me; and I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.” (Josh. 18:6) Casting lots involved using the Urim and Thummim, which were like dice stored in the breastpiece and used by the high priest (see Ex. 28:30 and Lev. 8:8 and Deut. 33:8) No actual description of the Urim and Thummim is found in Scripture, but descriptions from later periods tell us that they were markers that would be cast or rolled like lots or dice to determine God’s will in any given situation. (see Num. 27:21; I Sam. 14:37-41 and 28:6) Unlike many divinatory practices, there is no negative character associated with using the Urim and Thummim such as there exists for many other ancient divinatory practices.

The tribes mentioned in Joshua are listed in the natural order of priority. Lots were cast to determine which tribe got to choose first as they divided up the Promised Land. Each tribe sent representatives to participate in the process of dividing up the parcels. In the ancient Near East, division of a father’s estate involved the eldest son choosing his parcel of land and the remaining portions being allotted to other sons by the casting of lots. Girls normally did not inherit from their fathers.

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Psalm 70

This is a psalm crying out for deliverance from our enemies. Preoccupation with enemies is one of the most common concerns of the Psalmist. It is a chief reason why the Psalms have been so important to people during times of war, sieges, plagues, occupation and destruction. “O Lord, make haste to help me!”(Ps. 70:1) is the Psalmist’s frequent cry. The psalmist adds,

You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay! (Ps. 70:5b)

Every seminarian learns the difference between chronos and kairos. Chronos signifies clock time or sequential time whereas kairos signifies God’s time or the right or opportune moment where everything occurs or great change takes place. The Greek writer Isocrates writes about educated people “who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgment which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient course of action.” A wise business leader, financial analyst, physician, university or school head, politician, leader or government or head of a church or other institution must possess the ability to understand the difference between chronos, clock time, and kairos, the opportune time.

In the New Testament kairos means “the appointed time in the purpose of God” and “the time when God acts. (see Mark 1:15) The word kairos is used 81 times in the New Testament and signifies the right moment or season for God to intervene and bring about change. Chronos speaks about a specific time, be it an hour or day or month (see Acts 13:18; 27:9)

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, before the Divine Liturgy begins, the deacon exclaims to the priest, “Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio” or “It is time (kairos) for the Lord to act,” signifying that the Divine Liturgy is the intersection of time and eternity. Theologian Paul Tillich spoke frequently about kairoi or crises in history which create a demand and an opportunity for an existential decision by humans and God. The coming of Christ is a prime example. Karl Barth drew upon Hegel and Heidegger in using the terms Geschichte and Historie. Historie or “history” is the unfolding of human activity over time. Geschichte is God’s Spirit unfolding salvation through the course of human history. An example of Geschichte would be Israel’s Exodus or more recently the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa.

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John 4

John 4:2 tells us that it was Jesus’s disciples, not Jesus who did most of the baptizing. Jesus equipped those around him to share leadership and ministry. He sent them out to preach, teach and heal the sick and deranged. In John 4 Jesus travels through Samaria, where no good Jew would normally set foot.

During my early years at St. Thomas Church, I got to know a remarkable Roman Catholic priest, writer and poet named Fr. John McNamee. John was a friend of a friend, and we met and toured the Badlands of Philadelphia. It is a section of Philadelphia that few people I know ever visit. It is a dangerous area, which is home to drug gangs and people who are extremely poor. Fr. McNamee had been a rising star in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when he somehow upset Cardinal Krol, who served as archbishop from 1961 to 1988.

Krol was the first Polish American to become an archbishop and at the age of 50 was the youngest Catholic archbishop in the country at the time. He played a key role in the election of Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland as Pope John Paul II and served as one of his closest advisors. Krol ruled, however, with an iron fist. When Fr. McNamee upset him, the cardinal moved him to St. Malachy’s Church on the edge of the Badlands. It was as close as the cardinal could send him to Siberia while keeping him in Philadelphia. Fortunately, Fr. McNamee blossomed. He fell in love with the parish and his ministry, wrote a book called Diary of a City Priest and transformed the parish and neighborhood.

Jesus did likewise entering the Jewish Badlands of his time or the region of the Samaritans. Not only did he trek across the region where Jews were not welcomed, he sat down at a well and spoke to a woman, which was also against the rules of Jewish protocol. “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Samaritans were an offshoot of the Jews, but were viewed as bastard brothers. Samaritans read the Torah or Pentateuch, but nothing else. They worshipped on Mount Gerizim while the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem. Their worlds were far removed.

Jesus answered the woman, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’” (John 4:10) Since ancient times water has always been the most precious commodity in Israel. If you look at land occupation and struggles over land in Israel today, you will often find that it has much to do with access to water.

In ordinary language “living water” signified “running water.” Living water was the water that flowed from a stream as opposed to the stagnant water of a cistern or pool. Living or running waters was always preferred over stagnant water. It was purer and healthier to drink. The well by which Jesus and the Samaritan woman sat was not a springing well, but a well from which the water percolated from the subsoil. The woman was perplexed and wondered, “You are offering me pure, running stream water. Where are you going to get it?”

Jesus, however, was talking on a spiritual level, about that the Spirit which flows within us and provides a source of purpose, meaning, value and inspiration, which is the lifeblood of our existence. God’s Spirit transforms us from within. Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water (meaning the well water) will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

When the woman asked for the living water, Jesus instructed her to go and call her husband. She replied that she had no husband. Jesus noted that she had answered correctly, because she had had five husbands and the man that she currently lived with was not her husband. It is as though he could look into her life and see everything that there was to know.

In 2000, I was called to be the dean of one of our largest cathedrals in the Episcopal Church. The timing could not have been worse. My wife was made partner at her law first that very same week. She had left a partnership at a law firm in Richmond, Virginia in 1995 to allow me to become the rector of St. Thomas. That meant that she had to start over as “of counsel” and work hard to become a partner at her new law firm. It was like having to earn tenure all over at a university.

As a result, I had to turn down one of the most promising opportunities in the Church at age 40, a time when a young man often thinks that his career is everything or at least more important than it is. It was extremely painful. Two career marriages have their challenges. Soon after, our church hosted Sister Joan Chittester, a Benedictine nun who is one of the most remarkable spiritual writers and speakers of our time. Like Jesus and Fr. McNamee, Sister Joan colors outside the lines and challenges Catholics and Christians to think for themselves and follow Jesus as authentically and prayerfully as possible.

I picked her up at her hotel and drove her to our church, where a large crowd was eagerly awaiting to hear her speak. Before we got out of the car, I told her about the recent decision that I had to make by turning down an amazing opportunity. She instantly understood my pain and letdown. She told me that I had to do something positive to make up for it and transform my hurt into something promising and productive. As she spoke, it was as if she could see right through me and knew my entire history, spirit and personality. I shall never forget being with a person, who seemed to know everything that there was to know about me.

Likewise, the woman at the well returned to her village and said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!,” adding, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:28b-29) The villagers left the city and went to meet Jesus personally. They invited him to stay with them, and Jesus spent two days in their Samaritan community, where no good Jew would spend an hour. Many came to believe in Jesus through the woman’s testimony and even more because they met Jesus in person.

Jesus had testified how “a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country,” but here far from Galilee and Judea, where Jesus grew up and was born, he found a willingness to accept his message and deepest identity. The Samaritan villagers said, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)

Jesus returned to Cana, where he had performed his first miracle and transformed water into wine at a wedding. He then performed his second sign, healing the son of a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. Once again, Jesus colored outside the lines. This man whose son was ill was a Gentile and an official among the despised Roman occupiers of the land. This would be akin to an Orthodox rabbi from Jerusalem performing a miracle and healing a child in the Gaza Strip whose father was a leader of Hamas. This is the kind of thing that rarely happens. The world today needs more religious leaders and believers who are willing to color outside the lines and recognize the sanctity of every human being. God doesn’t color within the lines. Why should we?

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Key Verses

Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water (meaning the well water) will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:28b-29)

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Have you learned to look for and accept kairos moments in your life and in the lives of those around you, or do you live solely by chronos or clock time? What are you waiting most desperately for God to do in your life? Waiting is difficult work, but God works in kairos moments, not clock time. If Jesus could look right through you, what would he see? Are you interested in drinking the living water that gushes up to eternal life? If so, you must devote yourself to drawing water from a different well.

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Holy and Gracious God, you move, act, heal and transform in your own opportune time. Help us to be patient and see that you act in your own time and way, and until then we must wait in patience for your intervention in our lives and in the lives of those we love. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

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© The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania