7 Pentecost, July 23
On a long journey from Beer-sheba to Haran, from the southern end of the Hill Country of Judea to Northern Mesopotamia, the patriarch Jacob stops and rests for the night “in a certain place.” He covers himself with a cloak of black sky and lays his head on a stone. Exhaustion sets in and he dreams. “He dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28:12). God is near and renews a promise with the solemn power of his name. “The land on which you lie l will give to you and to your offspring” (Gen. 28:13). The Lord speaks in the person of the Son: “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen. 28:15). “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:18). Jacob dreams of Jesus in the dark of night.
Waking up, Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:16). Perhaps Jacob contemplates in this way. “If I ascend to the heavens [on the staircase of God], you are there; if I descend to the chambers of hell in a sleep of death, you are there; if I take flight to the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand holds me” (Ps. 139:8-19, adapted). Everywhere is “there,” all creation “the house of God” and “the gate of heaven.” “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 KJV).
Is there a consolation greater than this or a judgment more disturbing? “You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (Ps. 139:3). God is there at Bethel, and God sees. For God is the Almighty “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” (1979 BCP, p. 323).
Imagine another dream, a parable from the lips of Jesus: a field, a sower of good seed, an enemy spreading weeds, the good grain and weeds entangled together, and the question: what to do? “The good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one” (Matt. 13:38). The solution is simple. “At harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matt. 13:30). The meaning, however, is more complex. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers” (Matt. 13:41). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive yourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The removal of sin is not, it seems, strictly the separation of persons, but the purgation of what is contrary to God. In order to attain that holiness without which no one can see God, the causes of sin must be thrown into the furnace of fire.
Jesus is the house of God, the staircase to heaven, the gate. We go with him, feeling his love and submitting to the sting of benevolent fire. Wherever we are, there he is.
Look It Up
Read Matthew 13:41. It’s subtle.
Think About It
God is there to make you a participant in holy being.