Sunday, 18 August 2013

Hebrew context

The pace of this Blog now changes.  I haven’t posted for two weeks, and in two weeks time we go away for thirteen weeks Extended Study Leave (nee Sabbatical) at the Tantur Institute on the edge of Jerusalem. 

Some of my time at the moment is spent arranging things with those who will be living in the house and those who will be looking after the parish, rather than posting here .

I suspect that I’ll then want to use the Blog as a way of saving pictures and ideas for myself, but the Institute warns participants in its courses about missing the sabbatical experience by spending a disproportionate amount of time updating others on social media, so what I post will be unsystematic, and possibly episodic.

With the background reading we’ve been asked to do, I’ve already begun to reinhabit the Hebrew culture of much of the Gospels. 

Last Sunday, I explored new ideas for me as I found part of the Gospel (Luke 12.37-38) identified  by Kenneth E Bailey as Hebrew poetry, with the first and last lines in parallel, then the second and penultimate ones, then the third and antepenultimate ones, pointing to the ‘conclusion’ at the centre.  

Blessed are the slaves
  when the Lord coming he finds them watching:
    amen I tell you he will gird himself 
     and he will make them recline                                                  
    and coming he will serve them;
  whichever watch coming he finds it so  
blessed are they.

We feel we can almost touch the Galilean preacher who habitually identifies the blessed, says ‘amen’, speaks of the God’s Kingdom as a wedding banquet, and turns the idea of servanthood upside down, all features which colour lots of other parts of the Gospel.

Today, I explore old ideas with one of the two set Old Testament readings (the beginning of Isaiah 5) where these fourteen lines

Let me sing for my beloved
    my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and people of Judah,
judge between me
    and my vineyard.

are clearly  in the minds of the first speaker and hearers of these Gospel lines (placed by Matthew soon  tells us Jesus’ cursed and unproductive fig tree)

There was a landowner
who planted a vineyard,
put a fence around it,
dug a wine press in it,
and built a watch-tower.
Then he leased it to tenants
 and went to another country.
When the harvest time had come,
he sent his slaves to the tenants
to collect his produce.
But the tenants seized his slaves…
Now when the owner of the vineyard comes,
what will he do to those tenants?’.

Meanwhile, bees and butterflies swarm round plants in our garden in a way at which this picture only hints.

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