Reading the Bible on Sat 12 December

Today’s readings are: Psalm 145.1–21; Isaiah 35.1–10; Matthew 16.1–12.

Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand may hint (through its symbolism) at an extension, through Jesus, of the covenant love of God to Gentiles as well as to Jews. Perhaps it was this universalizing tendency of Jesus’ ministry that first brought trouble from Scribes and Pharisees with whom Jesus would otherwise have had much in common. At any rate, in Mat 16.1, they ask him for a sign and Jesus refuses not only their request but the very attitude that demands signs. There was surely sign enough in the ministry that Jesus had already performed. Jesus would offer no new sign but only the sign of Jonah (see also Mat. 12.39–40). Jesus is referring here to his three day journey onto death (like Jonah’s near-death experience in the belly of the giant fish) and his resurrection. Still, the mention of Jonah (perhaps the most universalistic book of the Old Testament) connects us again with the words we read yesterday that are repeated in today’s Psalm and appear also in the Book of Jonah:

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Listen to a music version of it (combined with Psalm 103) here.

Psalm 145 is important in Judaism where it is recited daily (three times) as the Ashrei.  Practicing Jews know what most Christians don’t, that Psalm 145 is an acrostic. Each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (The verse that begins with ‘n’ (nun) was absent until a complete Hebrew version of the psalm was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The ‘new’ verse makes its way into the NRSV as verse 13b, ‘The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds’.)

Mention of Hebrew and of Judaism reminds me that Hanukkah is now being celebrated. You can learn about Hanukkah here. To all our Jewish friends: Happy Hanukkah!

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