Scripture Reading: Genesis 49 (NRSV)
Jacob dies in the way many people would like to go. He is surrounded by his family and is able to speak to each of them before passing. He is long-lived and successful. He retains his mental faculties to the end. He dies peacefully in his bed. I wouldn’t mind this as an ending to my life!
Death may allow us to contemplate
who we are in this world and what impact
we will leave.
But there are also parts of this story that I would omit for my final breath. Jacob has a different word for each of his sons. These blessings are like a prophesy and some (Judah and Joseph) are better than others (Reuben and Issachar). In fact, Simeon and Levi are actually cursed by their father. Many scholars believe that this text came to its final form from redactors or editors within the southern kingdom of Judah. This would make one wonder if these final words from Jacob were touched up in light of history rather than projected into the future. Certainly, it is interesting that Judah shines pretty brightly! I do find it fascinating that Levi comes across so poorly since he represented the priestly line. Priests and the Temple in Jerusalem would likely have been active during this final draft.
The Gospels don’t contain any report about Jesus having any friendly relations among the priests. Even though modern ears may think more quickly of the enemies of Jesus as the Pharisees, Jesus actually did have some friends among them such as Nicodemus. We hear of what Jesus thought of the priests in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was the priest that is more concerned about his ritual purity than he is about helping someone in their hour of need.
Jesus causes a commotion outside the Temple when he drives out the moneychangers.
The Gospels report that it was the chief priests that conspired to kill him. They had the resources to have him arrested. The Pharisees had no authority to do this.
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy.
On this Holy Saturday as we remember his burial, it is helpful for us to recognize that the establishment can easily become the persecutor. As an ordained pastor, this is a sobering passage to read. May God forgive us when our sense of righteousness leads us to injure another in order to “protect” God’s sense of honor.
Prayer by Frank Colquhoun, priest, Church of England, 20th Century