Suddenly I feel a cold, dry breeze brush across my face. I shiver and look around in shock.
How did I get here? What happened?
Towering above me a line of ancient white arches stretch from one end of a noisy courtyard to the other. Below the pillars, walking on rough, uneven paving stones, unshaven men, shy rugged women, and children bouncing against the cold, bump and bustle about some business I can’t quite fathom.
Where am I?
A small wiry man next to me asks another, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
The other turns and an ironic smile flashes from under his beard. “I did tell you, but you do not believe,” he says. “The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”
Just as suddenly I am back on my couch, Bible on my lap open to the daily reading for May 19. I am once again alone, warm and comfortable. But I am wondering.
What if I had been there? Would I better believe in Jesus if I could have actually seen him?
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
1 Samuel 24:1-25:44
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
1 Samuel 24-25:44: What other sacred book, or history of a nation or king, stoops so low as to record a story about a king chosen by God being embarrassed and nearly killed while in a cave for a bowel movement? The Hebrew we translate “to relieve himself” is literally “to cover his feet,” a euphemism which describes how, when Saul squatted down, his robe covered his feet. For me the raw and gritty nature of this narrative, and in the entire Bible, speaks to its veracity. If this sacred book can be that honest about who we are as people, then I believe we can trust it to be honest about who God is too.
Mark Twain, in his autobiographical book, Roughing It, writes that he doubted the veracity of The Book of Mormon for the exact opposite reason. He found it too flowery, embroidered, and trying too hard to sound ancient. It lacked the smack of reality.
Psalm 116:1-19: The psalmist prays that God would hear his cry for mercy in the midst of trouble and sorrow. His cry is not for help received in a far away heaven, but in the “land of the living.” Some have argued the use of this phrase shows ancient Hebrews had no concept of heaven or hell. If so, why have a phrase that differentiates between the “land of the living”? Rather this phrase shows the Hebrews did have some concept of the afterlife and yet saw life here and there as crucial to God. Hebrews did not hold the view that this life is evil (though they understood life as sometimes very hard), and heaven as the only good life. They saw the two places as connected.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
John’s Gospel narrative is beautifully written, evocative. I can almost see, feel, actually hear Jesus’ strong, clear voice. But not quite.
Obviously John was there. If only I too could have been!
I would not doubt, falter, fall into dishonest, fearful thoughts and actions so often, if only I had been able to touch him.
But that’s just one more white lie among the myriad of others I daily tell myself. And it’s almost as if I’m blaming God for my inability to follow Jesus the way I desire.
God, You had me born in the wrong time.
Yet scores of people touched him, saw what he could do in the Father’s name, and failed to believe.
Belief, however, is possible. John ends this account with, “And in that place many believed in Jesus.” What made the difference?
Belief doesn’t have to be big. I think my desire to possess more than I have been given (such as being born in Jesus’ time) defeats belief. Jesus called us not to have mountains of faith but said a small amount could move mountains. I forget that grace-filled truth.
Also, belief is a gift we must receive. God bestows belief on us, but I often leave the gift unopened. I’m similar to the father of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning who disowned his daughter for marrying fellow poet Robert Browning. After her marriage, she wrote many letters to her parents that they never opened.
John tells of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and rather than open them in wonder, they walk away.
Others who opened the gift believed and Jesus calls them his sheep.
Notice belief is an action not just an acceptance of ideas. Today we are often taught that believing in Jesus has only to do with an assent to intellectual truths. Though I intellectually assent to the idea that Jesus actually lived, died, rose again, and in so doing forgives my sins, full belief is more than that. It is acting on what I have assented to.
In my younger and crazier days, standing atop a cliff, I intellectually assented to the idea that a rappelling rope could hold me. But that was not enough. Belief did not become real until I stepped off the rock.
So, I am brought to this reality. Jesus is here with us in a different way than with his disciples. But here he is. Do you see him? I can act on that truth. In the end then believing is sometimes seeing.
- What theme or idea that connects these four readings?
- Do you struggle with belief?
- When has your belief been most strong?
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