This week, in the discussion questions, we will be trying out two different sets of questions that we can apply to our readings. The first set of questions about any Scriptural text is: “1 - What surprises me? 2 - What does it tell me about God? 3 - What does it tell me about people? 4 - What is difficult about it? 5 - What action does it require of me?” The second set of questions is: “What is the a) historical, b) allegorical, c) moral/ethical, d) eschatological meaning of this text?” We will apply these specifically to each reading, and give some of the important points that should be discussed, and hopefully we will grow accustomed to these questions over time.
Day 1 (Monday)
Exodus 15:22-26, 16:1-36
Last week we read the Song of Moses, which he sung after the parting of the Red Sea. This passage comes immediately afterward. This is important to say, because the way the people are doubting and complaining, we would think it had been months or years since they saw the power of God on display. Instead, it hasn’t even been a week.
22 Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”
And Israel came to the wilderness of Sin on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”
27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29 See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 An omer is a tenth of an ephah.
1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out basic plot, that Israel ran short of water and food, complained to Moses & Aaron, that God provided both water and food and instructions about them, and the people kept disobeying His instructions)
2) What do we learn about God in this story? (Some answers might be that He takes care of His people, but that He expects His people to trust Him and obey Him).
3) What do we learn about human beings in this story? (Some answers might be that we have needs, and that we are very bad at trusting and obeying God).
4) What do you find difficult about this story? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (Sometimes we don’t like rules…and we especially don’t like it when we are called out for disobeying the rules. It may be worth pointing out that sometimes, even if we don’t understand the reason behind the rules, obeying the rules is an important way to show that we trust and love the person who makes the rules).
5) Does this story make you think that you need to change anything in your life? (This is an open question - but hopefully, for all ages, we are reminded of the importance of obedience and trust in God).
Day 2 (Wednesday)
St. Athanasios the Great on the Incarnation
During the controversy about whether Jesus Christ was fully God or not, which was a very big argument through most of the 4th century, St. Athanasios the Great (of Alexandria in Egypt) wrote an important book, “On the Incarnation,” talking about how and why Jesus Christ became a human being, and what He accomplished by so doing. We are reading a short excerpt from that book today.
“The Lord did not come to make a display or to show off. He came to heal and to teach suffering men. If He had wanted to make a display and show off, the thing to do would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders with an impressive vision. But He came to heal and to teach, and the way to do that was not just to dwell here with us, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to reveal Himself to them only as much as they could bear it, so that He didn’t destroy the value to them of His Divine appearing to them by exceeding their capacity to receive the gift.”
1) What strikes you about this passage? What do you notice about it? What do you think St. Athanasios is trying to say? (He is explaining why God came as a human being, and didn’t make a big show of lights and power).
2) What is St. Athanasios trying to tell us about God? (That there is a good reason that He didn’t come in a way that nobody could deny or argue with…because coming in the fullness of His power would be more than anyone could bear. There may be other answers as well.)
3) What does St. Athanasios think is true and important about human beings, as it relates to Jesus Christ becoming a human being? (He thinks that our ability to receive and understand God is extremely limited, and that that is part of why Jesus came as a human being. There’s more there, but that point should be emphasized)
4) What do you find difficult about this? Is there anything here that confuses or bothers you? (Open question - there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly difficult, although it is true that we human beings don’t like the idea of there being things that are beyond our capacity. We tend to barrel through warnings and rules and instructions to “not push that big red button” because we want to see what happens if we break the rules. Sometimes, when those rules are set by reality itself, we hurt ourselves badly by doing so.)
5) Is there any action that this passage makes you think you should take? Any changes in your life or way of thinking or living that taking this passage seriously would require? (Admitting that we need God’s healing and help is often difficult. Acting on that admission is still harder. If what St. Athanasios says is true, then a lot of how we live each day needs to change.)
Day 3 (Friday)
Last week we read about the sinful woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet while he was eating at Simon the Pharisee’s house, and how Jesus saw what she had done and what Simon was thinking, and what He said to both of them, chastising Simon and forgiving the woman’s sins. We continue the story from that point, as He goes through the countryside preaching and healing and explaining about the Kingdom of God.
8 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that
‘looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.’
11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.
16 “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”
19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” 21 But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
1) What happens in this reading? What are the main events? (1 - Jesus goes out preaching with the twelve and with some of the women disciples as well; 2 - He tells and explains the Parable of the Sower; 3 - He talks about the lamp and lamp stand, and his mother and brothers come to see Him. All three of these can bear more discussion.)
2) What do these things mean? Do any of them represent or tell a lesson beyond just telling what happened? (Obviously the parables of the sower and the lamp and the lamp stand mean something more…it would be good to see what everyone thinks they mean. The parable of the Sower is explained by Jesus, and it’s good to consider exactly how He explains it, but the small parable of the lamp and lamp stand is worth looking at again to see what Jesus is getting at. It may be important to think about whether the lamp on the lamp stand is connected with the good seed in the parable of the Sower.)
3) Why do you think Jesus said what He said when they told Him that his mother and brothers were there? Is there a lesson about how we should live and what is more important there? (Jesus is saying that what makes people close to Him isn’t whether they are related to Him by blood or family, but whether they hear the word of God and act on it. That doesn’t mean He is saying that He doesn’t love His mother and brothers…He is telling everyone else, including us, what we need to do to be His family.)
4) What does this reading tell us about the future? What end does God intend for us and for this world? (This can be seen especially in the parable of the Sower, since with the seeds being planted, there is the intent that they will grow and bear fruit, and that fruit will be harvested. In the parable of the lamp, as well, there is a promise that everything that is hidden will be revealed; so now is the time to shine a light on our own sins and failings and seek healing from God, so that we not have anything to hide at the Last Judgment.)