Psalm 139:13–16; 2 Kings 4:1–37; John 21:15–25

Originally published 12/05/2016. Revised and updated 12/05/2018.

Psalm 139:13–16: After celebrating God as creator of the natural world, whose creative works are visible everywhere, our psalmist turns his focus to God as creator of each human life in some of the most magnificent and emotionally moving verses in the Bible:
For You created my innermost parts,
wove me in my mother’s womb
. (13)

God is there at our conception and through gestation to birth. For the psalmist, we are his creation and therefore human from the very first moment. A wonderful verb, “woven,” communicates the both the complexity of our physical bodies. We are not just some mindless biological phenomenon that occured because of random processes, but a God-created human being loved by God from the very beginning.

Nor are we simply copies of another person. Each of us is a unique creation. Moreover, as God’s creature, each of us possesses a built-in longing to know God:
I acclaim You, for awesomely am I set apart,
wondrous are Your acts,
and my being deeply knows it.” (14)

Our psalmist goes on again to reemphasize this connection between God and us from the very beginning in the darkness of our mother’s womb:
My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was made in a secret place,
knitted in the utmost depths.
” (15)

The implications regarding abortion and therefore the destruction of God’s good creation are amply clear here.

These two verses reveal a profound truth. I believe that even those people who deny God’s existence are nevertheless haunted at some point in their lives—perhaps eventually on their deathbed—by an inarticulate sense deep within them that there must be something out there we call God. And it requires ongoing effort to keep those thoughts—the famous God-shaped hole in our heart—behind that curtain of denial.

Nor are our lives themselves a series of random events. As God has woven our bodies, he knows our entire being and existence form the start:
My unformed shape Your eyes did see.
and in Your book all was written down.
 (16a)

Which, as it turns out, is exactly true scientifically. Our physical being is defined in the DNA that is “written” in every cell of our body.

God is intimately part of our quotidian lives, and the events that happen to us and the choices we make are also not random:
The days were fashioned,
not one of them did lack.
 (16b)

This reality is something worth remembering as we arise each morning. God has created each of us as unique individuals and therefore we should behave and make choices that are worthy of our relationship with the God who loves us.

2 Kings 4:1–37:  Elisha’s prophetic works have an appealing domestic side. A widow, whose husband served Elisha (and therefore, we presume, served God) tells the prophet, “a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” (1). Elisha asks what possessions she has, and the widow replies, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” (2). He tells he to borrow jars from her neighbors and instructs her to pour the oil into these borrowed jars. Which she does until all the jars are full. Sensing she’s on to a good thing here, she tells her son to go borrow more jars.  But there are no more and the oil stops flowing. This story is has a clear message: God will provide for our needs, but not necessarily for our wants. As Paul said somewhere, “His grace is sufficient.”

Elisha is a regular visitor to the Shumanite woman, who is quite wealthy. The woman has even prevailed on her husband to build a small addition on the roof of their house so Elisha can stay there when he passes through: “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God.” (9)

To return the favor, Elsiha has his servant, Gehazi, ask the woman what he can do for her. She tells him that her husband is old and she has no children. Elisha tells her, “At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.” (16) but she doesn’t believe him. Of course unsurprisingly, she eventually has a son.

But some years later the son dies while working in the field. She lays the corpse on the bed and calls asks her husband for a servant and a donkey so she can go to Elisha, which she does. We see Elisha’s deep caring for her when he tells his servant to run up to here and ask, “Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?” (26) Although she says she’s fine, Elisha can tell she’s in deep distress although he cannot discern why. The woman tells him her son has died. He instructs his servant to go on ahead with his staff, instructing Gehazi to lay it on the child. But the woman begs Elisha to come to her house and he eventually relents.

Elisha arrives at the house with the mother and goes into the room where the child lay and closes the door. He prays and puts “his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands” (34) and the child comes back to life. The authors add the fascinating detail that the child sneezed seven times and opens his eyes. He tells the woman to “Take your son” which she does.

The mother, who originally laughed at Elisha’s prophecy, comes to realize that he is a man of God. She is willing to travel far to find Elisha and beg him to return. The moral of this story for me is that faith is persistent. It never gives up.

John 21:15–25: In the closing scene of the epilog of this gospel that is all about belief, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. In a remarkable symmetry to Peter’s three denials, Jesus asks the same question three times. Each time Peter replies that he loves Jesus and each time, Jesus instructs him to “tend my sheep.” By the third time, “Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (17)  For me, this is John’s version of Peter’s commission to found the church, similar to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus then predicts Peter’s death, which was doubtless known to John as he wrote this gospel

Up to this point, the disciple, “whom Jesus loved” has stood in the background of the events of Jesus’ life and words. Peter, being Peter, looks at John and rather impetuously asks Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” (21) Jesus basically says that’s none of Peter’s business, remarking, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” (22) If that statement is not considered carefully, the interpretation is that John would remain alive until Jesus’ second coming and “the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die.” (23), which John is quick to quash: “Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (23)

The gospel concludes on an autobiographical note with a testimonial statement written as if he were in the witness stand with his right hand raised: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” (24)

So, was it John the disciple who wrote actually this gospel? Why does he feel compelled to add this testimony at the end? It almost seems defensive. None of the other gospels include this note. Scholars believe this gospel was written around AD90, which would make the disciple some 110-120 years old. So to me, it seems highly unlikely he was the author. In the end of course, it doesn’t really matter. This all-important gospel lays out the essential theology of Christianity. For me it comes down to three things:

  1. Jesus is the Word sent by God.
  2. We must make a decision to believe or not to believe. There is no middle ground.
  3. In the final scene, it is all about Jesus and our love for him. Are we like Peter and embrace that love or are we indifferent to God’s unquenchable love?

 

 

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