Covenant between Jacob and Laban – Held on Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reflections on Last Week [10/06/13] – the first 30 minutes of our conversation.

Last week we incidentally mentioned two Councils in the Roman Catholic Tradition: The Council of Nicea in 325 CE and the Council of Trent from 1545 to 1563 CE.  This afforded me an opportunity to link these two councils with events of our own day.

The preaching of Arian at the time of Nicea raised a question which can roughly be expressed as, how are we to express faithfully the one God who is both Father and Son. There is one God, how can the Fathers and the Son both be one God.  The word that was used to express this relationship was a Greek one, homoousious, translated, the same essence, the same being.  The Greek word was then translated into Latin, transubstantialis. In 2011 the Roman Catholic Church issued changes to the liturgy.  One of those changes was from the previous vernacular translation of the Greek “homoousious “ as “One in Being” to the present one translation as, “Consubstantial,” which is actually a transliteration of the Latin translation of the Council of Nicea’s Greek word, homoousious.  All these words or phrases are an effort to explain how what St. Athanasius expressed in a sentence is true; namely, “All that is said of the Father is also to be said of the Son, except that the Son is Son, and not Father.”

As you might notice the Council of Trent lasted for quite some time [18 years] and occurred in a totally different historical context than that of Nicea, separated as they are by more than 1200 years.  In reaction to the Second Vatican Council, some Roman Catholics have wanted to continue to celebrate what is now termed, the Tridentine Mass; the Mass as it was celebrated prior to Vatican II.  However, the Council of Trent did not mandate that the Mass be celebrated in Latin.  What it did state is that it is permissible for the Mass to be celebrated in Latin.  As a consequence of the Reformation, Latin became an identifying difference between Roman Catholics and the Reformers; so it became the norm until the Vatican II from 1962 – 1965.  Again history has something to say on our perspective.  The actual and the desired relationship between the Reformer churches and the Roman Catholic Church today are vastly different than they were in the 16th c.  A lot has happened over the past 400 years.

It is important for the Church, not every member, but the Church as a whole, to know its history and to view events of today in light of that correctly understood history.  Only then can we discern the direction we are taking and be capable of deciding whether that direction is to be embraced or resisted.  Only when we decide correctly [embrace or resist] do we promote the Kingdom of God on earth.

Background to today’s our readings.

Keep in mind as we approach today’s readings first the remote context of God’s promise to Abraham of both progeny and land and near context of Jacob being told by God to return to Canaan.  The fulfillment of the promise of progeny has taken another turn with the birth of the eleven children; the promise of the land must take its turn.  God is at work even though the characters in our stories are not always aware.

We are reminded as we listen to / read the passages to wonder

  • Who are the characters in the story
  • What role do these characters play
  • What is the plot of the story, the author’s intent

Reading: Gen. 31:38 – 42: Jacob and Laban in Gilead and then 31:43 – 55: The covenant.  http://usccb.org/bible/genesis/31

It was obvious that both characters, Jacob and Laban, are assumed by the larger context of this passage.

Mark immediately wondered out loud about v. 42 “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side,”  Did that meant in this argument, or the story as a whole.  Tim pointed out that rest of the verse, “you would now have sent me away empty-handed. But God saw my plight and the fruits of my toil, and last night he reproached you” certainly implies the story as whole.

I wanted to point out that what mattered in Tim’s response is the fact that he referred back to the text to help us arrive at the best interpretation.  His response was, as it were, evidence based, meant to convince others.  But it did prompt me to ask a question that was to occupy us for the next forty minutes or so.

In fact I asked a couple of questions.  Is God on your side?  Do you have to be on God’s side for God to be on your side?  Kai was quick to respond.  Yes and No.  You asked two questions and to the first the answer is yes.  God will remain faithful to his promise; then he added a sentence that would continue the conversation.  No God’s promise is independent of what we do?

I responded, does it matter what we do?

Jodie, well yes and no.

Ken offered the example of football teams praying to God.  Is God only on the side of the winner?  Kai offered a similar but more serious example, both Generals in the Civil War prayed to God, but only one in fact won.

To get at this back and forth, I suggested that we focus on the concrete fact that we 12 are in this room.  [This question could be extended to anyone who is reading this post.]  Does it matter, make a difference?  I recalled what Tim, among others, had to say last week.  Because he has been in this group, he now has many more questions, and a different frame of reference, when he listens to / reads the Scripture.  That is obviously a difference and in this case has caused Tim to do things that he otherwise might not have done.

Kai reminded us that Jesus said when two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.  That is true not matter what we do afterwards.  Furthermore, Jesus said that his Kingdom is not of this world. All the prayers about things, don’t really mean anything, we can’t take them with us.

Tim reflecting on his own life was quite aware of being thankful for unanswered prayers.  Sometimes going through tough times helps you to become the person you were meant to be.  God is a loving parent, who is on your side; who sees the big picture.  How we react to what happens matters.  In conclusion he asked another interesting question, is God controlling me or am I controlling myself.

I wanted at this point to come back to “on your side.”  I suggested that there are two ways we might think of God being on our side; as a privilege or as a calling, a responsibility.  Growing up I used to have the image of the church as a boat, and life as the sea.  My job was to get on and stay on the boat.  The boat would surely transport me over the sea of life with all of its turmoil and danger.  If I did what I was supposed to the boat would drop me off in heaven.  It was a pretty one side image that was in need of some serious transformation which occurred, not without some pain and confusion,  as I grew older.

But if God loves everyone, and God does, then what can the question, God is on my side mean, especially in a multi-religious world, a world of Jews, of Christians, of Muslims, of Hindus, of Buddhists, of atheists … For God intended us to be members of that multi-religious world.  And we are the answer even though the answer is yet to be clearly formed.  We are being called, invited, summoned …

How would you talk about it?  This and more was part of our conversation.  If these kind of questions, dialogue, conversation interest you, join us in person or online.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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2 Responses to Covenant between Jacob and Laban – Held on Sunday, October 13, 2013

  1. Mark says:

    I find it interesting that as a consequence of the Reformation that Latin became an identifying difference between Roman Catholics and the Reformers. I have been told that some people left The Church after Vatican Council II because the mass was changed from Latin to English. Is this true?

  2. Dick says:

    Mark, The return to the vernacular that Vatican II set in motion did cause some, small and more traditionalist, to argue for the right to celebrate the mass in its pre-Vatican form. To my knowledge, that had been granted but not fostered.

    Many more persons are leaving the church on the other side of the aisle, as it were. Women, intellectuals, contemporary Western educated.

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