Genesis 31:1-32 and The Martyrdom of Polycarp 8-10

Genesis 31:1-32 – Things begin to get tense between Laban, Laban’s sons and Jacob. They feel that he “’has gained all his wealth at our father’s expense’” (31:1) despite the fact that Jacob has worked very hard for him for a very long time. The Lord decides it is time for Jacob to return to the land of his father Isaac.

 

Interesting to note is Jacob’s position here  — he is caught between two VERY angry men - at least he feels he is.  On the one side is his brother Esau, angry about the deception Jacob practiced on him to get the blessing.  On the other is Laban, angry because of the deception Jacob is alleged to have perpetrated against him. 

 

Jacob realizes he MUST leave Laban’s lands and go back to his own lands, but he fears his brother Esau will be waiting to kill him for having “stolen” their father Isaac’s blessing years earlier.  

 

Jacob wins the support of his two wives and they get ready to go. Rachel secretly takes the household idols and hides them in her things.  They “set out secretly and never told Laban they were leaving” (31:20).

 

They cross the Euphrates, and three days later Laban learns that they have gone. He “gather[s] a group of his relatives and set[s] out in hot pursuit” (31:23). Laban catches up with Jacob and tries to make him feel guilty, telling him he would have sent him off royally, had he only known they were leaving; but his anger is tapped over the household idols, which they do not find; compare later the story of Benjamin being caught with the silver goblet (44:2) that Joseph plants in his bag. 

 

We’ll return to the end of the story tomorrow.

 

The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Chapter 8 – His long prayer included “everyone whom chance had ever brought him into contact with—small and great, known and unknown—as well as the entire world-wide Catholic Church” (127). It was time to leave. They “mounted him on an ass” and took him to the city. Herod was the name of the Police Commissioner. None of these details were missed by anyone. Herod and his father are there when Polycarp arrives. They seem eager to avoid the worst. They ask him, “[W]here is the harm in just saying ‘Caesar is Lord’, and offering the incense . . . when it will save your life?’” (127).

 

“At first he made no reply, but when they kept on at him he said, ‘No, I am not going to take your advice’ Then, after their effort at persuasion had failed, they took to uttering threats; and they turned him out of the carriage so impatiently that he barked his shins as he was getting down” (127). He limps along as they lead him to the “circus” where a noisy crowd awaits them.

 

Chapter 9 – “As Polycarp stepped into the arena there came a voice from heaven, ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man’. No one caught sight of the speaker, but those of our friends who were there heard the voice” (128). Polycarp is brought forward before the Governor. When “the news spread round that it was Polycarp who had been captured, a deafening clamour broke out” (128). The Governor tries to persuade him to “recant” – “’Own yourself in the wrong, and say, ‘Down with the infidels!” Polycarp’s brow darkened as he threw a look round the turbulent crowd of heathes in the circus; and then, indicating them with a sweep of his hand, he said with a growl and a glance to heaven, ‘Down with the infidels!’” (128)

 

When the Governor presses him again to “’Revile your Christ.’ Polycarp’s reply was, ‘Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?’” (128)

 

Chapter 10 – The Governor persists in trying to get Polycarp to renounce Christ. A short editorial note comments again on the similarity drawn by the writer to the narrative of Pilate’s reluctance to condemn Christ. Polycarp says that if he imagines that anything will make him “swear by Caesar’s Luck” he doesn’t know what being a Christian is about, he [Polycarp] would be happy to sit down with him to explain it. The governor responds that he should try to explain it to the crowd waiting outside. Polycarp says it is to authorities that they are called to show respect but he thinks trying to convince the crowd would be a waste of time. Another similarity to Jesus’ trial; there it was the crowd that finally sealed his fate.

 

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