Signpost for Lent 5, 2013: Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

I can’t find the quite right word that I want to describe what Paul and I are trying to do in these articles. What is past is gone, and we want to help our readers to experience NOW the love of God, and to help them to pass that love on to others by whatever form of ministry they are called to.

Well, that is exactly what the “second Isaiah” was doing in our first reading. In seven lines of beautifully compact Hebrew poetry (vv. 16 & 17), he tells the story of the escape of the nation from Egypt. In the next line he says NO! That’s the past, what’s happening now is what’s important. And in metaphorical language he describes what opportunities God is giving to the nation. They had a new understanding of God, not the fierce boss who treated all the gentiles as rubbish, but the loving father they had recognized when they sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept.

Skip about 550 years, and a carpenter from Nazareth, turned wandering preacher and healer, needed to be brought up sharply by a gentile mother, to recognize that his mission was not to be limited to Jews (Mark7:24-30 and consequences). After his execution and miraculous contact with some of his friends after his death, the message had converted many more gentiles. A Jewish group of Christians insisted that converts ought to be circumcised and become proper Jews. You can read the kerfuffle they caused in Acts 15. That seemed to close the matter, but later on Peter would only eat with Jewish Christians and got told off by Paul. (Can’t find the reference, I’m in a hurry, sorry).

The anointing with nard (an extremely expensive Indian concoction) is one of the rare stories that all four Gospellers agree (almost) about. It seems that Jesus and the twelve (reluctant) apostles were not the only people that knew he was deliberately putting himself in danger. The significance of his behaviour is the basis of many hymns, and the subject of many trillions of meditations.

When Saint Paul is concerned with a particular subject of which he fears his hearers (and readers) are getting the wrong end of the stick, oh boy, how he lets rip! He challenges any one to have a better list of the “right” items that make him a genuine active member of the Jewish nation and a Pharisee at that. And then he says “It’s all skabela”. I find that word is translated as dung in the Authorised Version, the New English Version calls it garbage, filth in the Jerusalem Version, and refuse in my Greek-English translation. The tone of the rest of the argument suggests to me that if Paul was writing in modern English he’d call it “all rubbish”.

It’s great fun reading Paul when he’s letting off steam. Read the rest of the chapter and try it.



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