Daily Readings for Wednesday, March 12
Genesis 37:25–36; Psalm 51; 1 Cor. 2:1–13; Mark 1:29–45
Having thrown their youngest brother, Joseph, into the pit, planning on leaving him there to die, the brothers sit down to eat, and looking up, see a caravan of Ismaelites coming from Gilead on the trading route, headed toward Egypt. That suggests a plan to Judah who proposes that they can as easily be rid of Joseph by selling him into slavery as kill him and that, in doing so, not only will they avoid being guilty for his death, they will also gain a profit. And so, the brothers agree, all but Ruben, who is not present at the time. When Midianite traders pass by, the brothers draw Joseph out of the pit and sell him to the traders for twenty pieces of silver, and the Midianites take Joseph off to Egypt. When Ruben returns to the pit, evidently planning to rescue Joseph, he discovers the pit empty and tears his clothes as an act of sorrow and grief. Returning to his brothers he tells them that Joseph is gone; what is Ruben to do? What will he say to their father? Remember, Ruben, being the oldest, is the one responsible. Consequently, they take Joseph’s robe, which had been stripped from him, slaughter a goat and dip the robe in the goat’s blood, and then take the robe to their father asking if it is, indeed, the robe he gave to Joseph. Recognizing it, Israel says that it is Joseph’s robe, and then concludes that some wild animal has devoured Joseph. He assumes that Joseph has been “torn to pieces.” The brothers remain silent as their father tears his clothing, and dons a breechcloth of sackcloth in order to mourn for Joseph “many days.” All of Israel’s sons and daughters (in law) seek to comfort Israel, but he refuses to be comforted, saying, instead, that he shall go down to Sheol to where Joseph now is, mourning the loss of his son. In the meantime, the Midianites have arrived in Egypt and sold Joseph into the service of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials—the captain of his guard.
Psalm 51 is a confession of sin without peer, and as appropriate today as when it was first uttered. Tradition attributes it to David, upon being challenged by his prophet, Nathan, concerning David’s sin with Bathsheba and his subsequent engineering of the military murder of her husband Uriah. However, it shows marks of having been written later than that, after the return from exile, especially the last two verses. The center of the psalm focuses on the human heart, which to the Hebrew mind is not the center of affections, but the center of one’s will. In pleading for a clean heart, the supplicant expresses the conviction that, without the gift of a new and right spirit, it is not possible to remain in obedience. The human heart is prone to pride and stubbornness. And so, he pleads for God’s holy spirit to sustain him—one of the few places in the Old Testament where the phrase “holy spirit” is used. But notice, it is not yet personified, but simply an expression of God’s presence. The point is, even right praise is God’s gift to us, motivated by God’s Spirit. We cannot offer it without God’s prompting. Consequently, the psalmist utters the phrase that has become a classic invitation to prayer, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” He then expresses the prophets’ recurring conviction that rather than sacrifice, what God truly desires in each of us is an obedient heart committed to God and God’s ways. Sacrifices God may or may not accept. After all, God does not need them, and since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, there have been none. Prayer itself has become the new form of sacrifice. And so, a heart in which stubbornness has been broken, and self-pride crushed, is a heart God will never despise or reject. The prayer ends with a plea for Zion and the rebuilding of its walls following its sack by Babylon in 587 BCE, and the restoration of the sacrificial system.
Paul’s theology of the Spirit of God emerges in today’s lesson to remind us that it is the power of God at work in the world. The Spirit is God’s wisdom and the means by which God searches all things. Responding to the critics at Corinth who thought Paul not philosophically eloquent enough, he reminds them that he decided to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ, and him crucified—something that to the Corinthians seemed foolish. Yes, he came to them in weakness and in fear (the sarcasm behind Paul’s playing to his critics here is amusing, given what we know of Paul in other places), and without “plausible words of wisdom,” but with a demonstration of the Spirit of Power, so that their faith might not rest on human words, but upon the power of God. Paul continues to defend himself and the gospel he has preached among them, reminding them that among the mature—those who have come to perfection, and a not so subtle reminder that the Corinthians have not!—he does speak of wisdom, though not a wisdom of this age or belonging to the rulers of this age (Greek philosophers) who are doomed to perish. This is God’s wisdom that none can understand unless God gives it to them. Why else would the rulers of this world have crucified the Lord of glory? No one who was truly wise, or knew the ways of God, would have done such a thing. The human heart is not capable of conceiving the things of God. Only God’s Spirit, who searches everything, even the very depths of God’s own self, knows all things. It is this knowledge, rather than that of the world, that Paul and his companions have received, so that they might understand the gifts that God has given them. And so, Paul speaks by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. One other thing: for Paul, it is having received the Spirit of God that marks the difference between being children of God and children of this age (Romans 8:14-17).
Jesus and his four disciples cross the street from the synagogue to Peter and Andrew’s house, where he finds Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Jesus goes to her, takes her by the hand and lifts her up and the fever leaves her. She is so well she begins to serve them. Word of this has quickly spread through the city and, as the sabbath comes to an end, people begin to bring to Jesus their sick and all possessed by demons. “The whole city was gathered around the door.” Jesus spends the night curing the sick and casting out many demons, which he silences, not permitting the demons to speak, because they know who he is and he does not want the people to know. Early the next morning, while it is still dark, Jesus gets up and goes out to a deserted place, as will be his custom, so that he can pray. Simon and the other three come looking for Jesus, and when they find him say, “Everyone is searching for you.” Jesus responds, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” He travels throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. Somewhere in those travels, Jesus is approached by a leper, who comes to him, kneels and begs Jesus saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the leper saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leper is made clean. Jesus then “sternly warns” the leper to tell no one how this happened, but simply show himself to the priest for inspection and offer in the temple what the law requires for his cleansing, thereby ascribing the cleansing to God. But the man goes forth and tells anyone and everyone who will listen, what Jesus did, so that Jesus can no longer move in and out of towns freely. Consequently, he stays in the countryside. Yet, even there, the people come to him from every quarter.
Daily Readings for Tuesday, March 11
Genesis 37:12–24; Psalm 91; 1 Corinthians 1:20–31; Mark 1:14–28
Israel sends Joseph off to find his older brothers who are pasturing Israel’s flocks in Shechem. Joseph is to visit and then bring back a report to Israel. Joseph sets off, and when he arrives in Shechem, wanders the fields in search of his brothers tending his father’s flocks, but they are not there. A man in the fields sees Joseph wandering and asks what it is he seeks, and Joseph tells him. The man says that his brothers and the flocks have moved on to Dothan. Joseph moves on toward Dothan, and as the brothers see him coming, they conspire to kill him, saying, “Then let us see what becomes of his dreams.” They will kill Joseph, throw his body into a pit, and then tell their father that a wild animal killed him. Ruben, the eldest, intervenes and insists they not kill Joseph, but simply throw him into a pit and leave him there to die. The brothers agree. We are told, however, that Ruben’s intention was then to later rescue Joseph and return him to his father Israel. When Joseph arrives, they overpower him, strip him of his robe and throw him into a waterless pit.
Psalm 91, a song of trust and confidence, is one of the most assuring in the entire collection of 150 psalms. Though it reflects the theology of the wisdom tradition, insisting that those who remain righteous shall have the constant protection of the Lord, it is even more rich in its imagery and promises. The opening line, “He who,” can as equally be translated “You who,” or “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High (“Elyon”—one ancient name for God), who abide in the shadow of the Almighty (“El Shadday”—a second name for God), will say to “the Lord” (Yahweh—God’s personal name given to Moses at the bush), “My refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” All three names are included to make this as inclusive as possible, with the primacy given to the name Yahweh. Various forms of protection are mentioned, including the presence of God’s angels to defend in times of warfare or pestilence, and all other forms of danger. Under God’s wings we will find a refuge, whose faithfulness is a buckler and a shield, so that we need not fear anything night or day. Making the Lord our refuge assures protection. It is from this psalm that the devil quotes in his tempting Jesus to throw himself off the tower of the temple. The psalm concludes with God’s own speech: “You who love me I will deliver. You who know my name I will protect. When you call (the importance of knowing God’s name, knowing who to call upon), I will answer; when in trouble, I will rescue and honor you. With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation.” Is it any wonder this has been the byword and hope of Jews, Christians and Muslims? This psalm is a favorite of military chaplains, frequently read before a group of soldiers facing battle. It is also regularly read at funeral and memorial services.
Paul challenges the Corinthian’s love for wisdom, poetry and philosophic debate, saying that God has made all of that foolish in what God has done in Christ and his cross. In God’s wisdom, the world did not, through its own wisdom, come to know God. Rather, God decided to save those who believe it, through the foolishness of the apostles’ proclamation of Christ and his cross. The proclamation is foolishness in this regard: in this world Jews demand signs from God and Greeks desire wisdom. But, the proclamation of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews, for whom anyone hung on a cross was believed to be cursed by God. To the gentiles, a crucified God was simply absurd—how could a god suffer, much less die? Yet, to those who are called to salvation, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God—the sign the Jews are looking for and the wisdom of God that the Greeks seek. Notice, though Paul is accused of not being sophisticated, just how subtle his argument is: this is God we are talking about, one who is beyond human categories of comprehension—a truth that remains as frequently forgotten today as it was then. As Calvin famously said, God accommodated himself in order to be known by humanity. As we heard Paul write to the Philippians, Christ divested himself of his divine prerogatives in order to become human. God is God, whose foolishness is wiser than the best of human wisdom and whose weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. And now Paul uses his illustration in application to the Corinthians themselves. Further, how many of them were wise or strong by the human standards of their day? How many of them were powerful because of noble birth? But, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God has chosen what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing, things that are. Herein, Paul has addressed the challenges of both the Jews and the Greeks, and made his audience the application of the principle—pretty crafty rhetoric for one not thought to be eloquent or wise! God has done all of this for one reason: so that no one might boast in the presence of God. God is the source of life in Christ—the life the Corinthians are now living. Christ became for us wisdom from God. Notice Paul’s use of “us” here to include himself in what he is saying. Christ became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. And now, Paul has introduced a more expanded conception of salvation. Not only is salvation being put in a right relationship with God now, it produces a new kind of person, one being made holy, who has been redeemed from slavery to sin by another for that One’s own good reasons, and to whom the redeemed slave is now indebted. In other words, all of this is from God, leaving no one—not even Paul!—a reason for boasting. Paul wraps this up, alluding to Psalm 34:23, saying, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
John has been arrested and is now off the scene. Only then does Jesus emerge from Galilee proclaiming “the good news of God.” There is no suggestion of how long that interval might have been. But, though Jesus’ message appears the same as John’s, it is slightly different. “Repent” is still at the heart of it, but the reason is that the kingdom of God is drawing near—at hand! Believe the good news. Jesus then calls the fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, promising henceforth that they will fish for people. Shortly thereafter, he calls James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were also fishermen. “Immediately,” he calls and they follow.. The scene shifts to Capernaum. It is the Sabbath and Jesus goes to the synagogue to teach. Folks receive his teaching with astonished amazement, for he taught with an authority they had heretofore not experienced in their religious leaders. Suddenly, a man with an unclean spirit appears and cries out in recognition, “What have you to do with us (note the plural of demons—not just this one but the whole company of demons), Jesus of Nazareth. Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (the term used by Isaiah and Daniel has now morphed into a term for the coming Messiah). Jesus rebukes the man, silences him, and then exorcises the unclean spirit, demanding that it too remain silent and come out of him. The spirit convulses the man, and crying with a loud voice, comes out of him. The people witnessing this are amazed and begin to ask one another what this is, a new, authoritative teaching? Though Torah says much about purging evil from among the community, it says nothing about casting out evil spirits. This one commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. “At once,” another of Mark’s images of immediacy, Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Again, in thirteen short verses, Jesus’ ministry has emerged. He has called disciples, taught with authority and demonstrated his sovereignty over the powers of evil. Mark’s ability to tell this story with such brevity and clarity is remarkable.
Daily Readings for Monday, March 10
Genesis 37:1–11; Psalm 6; 1 Corinthians 1:1–19; Mark 1:1–13
We return to Genesis, and the ongoing story of the Patriarchs, today hearing the familiar story of Joseph and his dreams and the trouble that brought for him with his brothers. Jacob has now settled in the land of Canaan. His son Joseph is now seventeen and tending the flocks in the fields with his half-brothers Dan and Naphtali, children Jacob had with Rachel’s maid, Bilhah, and Gad and Asher, children his father had born through Leah’s maid, Zilpah. When Joseph returned from the field, he brought his father a bad report about the four. We then are told that Jacob, now Israel, “loved Joseph more than any other of his children because he was the son of his old age.” Israel had made Joseph a long robe with sleeves, but when his brothers saw it, they realized he was their father’s favorite, and so hated him for it, so much so that they could not speak peaceably with him. We then learn about a dream Joseph has had that he tells his brothers, which causes them to hate him even more. For in the dream, they were all binding sheaves in the field, and suddenly Joseph’s sheaf stood upright and the brother’s sheaves bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf. The brothers have not missed it; Joseph is telling them that he is to have dominion over them, and so they hate him even more. Joseph is either clueless, or egging them on, for he tells them of yet another dream in which the sun, the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to him—the eleven being his brothers. This time Joseph tells it not only to his brothers but to his father as well, who rebukes him, asking if, indeed, he (the sun), his mother (the moon), and eleven brothers shall come and bow down to Joseph. Consequently, Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him. For his part, Israel “kept the matter in mind,” for by now he has learned much about the workings of the Lord, and it is just possible that more is to come of this than any of them expect.
In Psalm 6, the supplicant pleads for God’s gracious care in what he perceives to be the result of God’s rebuking wrath. In the midst of his languishing need, he begs for healing of body and soul, for both shake in terror. “How long, O Lord—how long?” It is the cry of all who suffer unjustly or without reason. Rather, he simply begs the Lord to turn, save his life, and deliver him for the sake of God’s steadfast love. Notice that at no time does the psalmist admit guilt or confess sin, only that he is on the verge of death and that in death, there is no remembrance or praise of God. It is as though he is saying to God, “Do not let me die, for if I die I will not be able to remember you or praise you.” He has spent too many nights flooding his bed with tears, his days, likewise, drenching his couch and he is wasting away with grief. Now, for the first time, he mentions foes—workers of evil. But suddenly, the psalm turns from grief to strength, from fear and lament to confidence, for the Lord has heard the sound of his weeping. The Lord has heard his supplication and accepted his prayer. All his enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror. In a moment they shall turn back and be put to shame.
Today, we begin the continuous reading of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. If Philippi was Paul’s most supportive church, Corinth was his most factious one. Paul had arrived in Corinth approximately 50 CE, twenty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, preaching the gospel with significant success and a sizable church was formed. Corinth was a prosperous sea port south of Athens and the capital of the Roman province of Acacia. Like any prosperous seaport city, it was a mixture of all sorts and classes, with every sort of behavior one finds in such places, and the church there seems to have reflected that, though Paul will remind them that most of them were not from the upper class of the city, not wise, powerful or of noble birth. Paul stays in Corinth approximately 18 months, preaching, teaching and nurturing the infant church before moving on to Ephesus in the summer of 51 CE, where Paul had another prosperous missionary effort. It is from Ephesus that Paul writes this letter. He alludes to having written an earlier letter, though it is now lost to us, evidently dealing with the matter of holiness. In response to that, the Corinthians seem to have written back to Paul with several questions. This is one of the longest letters we have in the New Testament, and its value lies in the number of issues Paul addresses—issues that have continued to emerge in the church over the centuries. Paul opens with a traditional salutation in which he identifies himself as “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” attesting to the authenticity of his call to apostleship—a thing that, from time to time by some, will be contested in Corinth. He also mentions Sosthenes, someone we hear no more of in this or any of Paul’s other letters, obviously a companion known to the Corinthians who is working with Paul in Ephesus. Paul calls Corinth, “the church of God”—the word we translate as “church” meaning “assembly.” He then defines that assembly as “those made holy in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,” not only those in Corinth, but the members of churches in other places who call on the name of “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Unless you read carefully, you will miss Paul affirming not only the Corinthian’s relationship to God in Christ, but also their common relationship with others who do so, as he says, “both their Lord and ours.” This is about Corinth, but also about more than Corinth. Paul adds what has hereafter become a classic Christian greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not simply a pleasantry; it is the foundation of Paul’s whole theology. Paul gives thanks that this grace has been so lavishly given to the Corinthians, so that they are enriched in Christ in speech and knowledge of every kind, so that they are “not lacking in any spiritual gift” as they await the revealing—the coming of “our Lord Jesus Christ.” For all of its diverse membership, many from questionable backgrounds, Paul affirms that, within them, is “every spiritual gift.” He then confirms that until Christ returns, Christ will strengthen them so that they are blameless on the day of his coming. This will be so because God is faithful. They were called by God into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ. Notice how often Paul uses the phrase, “our Lord,” as not only a confessional, but also pastoral device to affirm their inclusion in Christ. At verse ten, Paul turns to the issues, the first of which is disagreements and divisions among them which results from their attempts to outdo one another in spiritual status. Paul has received a report from relatives of Chloe—a member of the Corinthian congregation—about their quarrels over status on the basis of who baptized them. Some claim superiority because it was Paul, others because it was Apollos, a later preacher who followed Paul, popular because of his wisdom and rhetorical gifts, and others because it was Cephas, using the Aramaic name for Peter. Some, probably those baptized by neither of the former three, simply insist it was Christ himself. Paul then asks his famous question: “Has Christ been divided?” It is, of course, a rhetorical question whose obvious answer is “No!” Unfortunately, the Corinthian’s have lost sight of that and, as a consequence, they have allowed such divisions to arise. Part of this letter’s value is that it addresses what will ultimately become one of the major problems that will plague Christ’s church and weaken its witness—its divisions over leadership and theology. For now, Paul drives the point home by asking additional rhetorical questions: “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” He gives thanks that he baptized none of them, then, quickly remembers Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanas, who Paul did baptize. Yet, he reminds them that it was not in his name they were baptized but in the name of Christ. But more, Paul was not sent to baptize but to proclaim the gospel. Paul is not playing down the importance of baptism, but rather, making the point that its power is not in who does the baptism—another frequent source of upheaval in congregations—but in whose name the baptism takes place. And now a second issue behind the divisions emerges as Paul writes about his preaching: “and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of his power.” The Corinthians were, after all, Greeks, who loved their philosophy and their poets, and one of the things that seems to lie in the background here is their criticism over Paul’s lack of eloquence in proclaiming the gospel. We will hear more about this, for the criticism gives Paul an opportunity to talk about true wisdom and power in his preaching.
We also begin today with a continuous reading of the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the earliest of the four canonical Gospels and the shortest. It is written in the simple, straightforward koine Greek of the day, probably so that everyone, especially those for whom Greek was not a primary language, might understand it. It was not written to be read by individuals, as many of the early Christians were not literate, but to a community in worship. Though some scholars debate the intended church, generally it is thought to have been written for the church in Rome during the reign of Nero, and the beginning of real persecution of Christians for their faith, sometime between 65 and 75 CE. It has been called “a passion story with an extended introduction.” Who wrote it is also a question of scholarly debate over which there is little consensus. As the first of a new form of writing for the church (until now, it had been letters from Paul), this gospel forms the outline for two others: Luke and Matthew, though both include far more material with slightly different theological views and audiences—Matthew for Jewish Christians and Luke for Gentiles. John’s Gospel is written from a different perspective and from different materials. Also, Mark seems to be in a hurry. One of his favorite words is “immediately.” He is also writing to people known more as “followers of the Way,” than “Christians.” And so again and again, we will hear, “on the way.” There is no birth narrative, or any interest in it. Rather, its interest is precisely what the first verse says: telling the “good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Second Isaiah is invoked as the prophetic context to introduce John the Baptist (who, you will remember, was also the head of a large a popular religious movement) as subordinate to Jesus, yet part of God’s plan of preparing the way for the coming of his Son. John’s popularity and success is acknowledged but his purpose more elaborately described, given the shortness of this gospel. He is a prophetic witness to “the one who is more powerful than [John who] is coming after [John].” John is no more than a house slave to this coming one. John baptizes with water, but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit. With that, Jesus appears in full manhood, coming from Nazareth and is baptized by John in the Jordan. Mark then tells us that as Jesus came up out of the water Jesus saw the heavens “torn apart” and the Sprit descending like a dove on him. The voice from heaven announces Jesus’ identity: God’s Son, God’s beloved, with whom God is pleased. “Immediately,” that same descending Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, where for forty days, Jesus is tempted by Satan. And though he was with wild beasts, angels waited on him. In these few thirteen verses, Mark has introduced Jesus, dealt with John and his community, portrayed Jesus as subject to, but triumphant over, Satan, and the one through whom God is at work.
Daily Readings for Sunday, March 9
1st Sunday in Lent
Daniel 9:3–10; Psalm 32; Hebrews 2:10–18; John 12:44–50
In the midst of a series of apocalyptic visions about what is to come, we have a lengthy prayer of confession. Daniel perceives that the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, foretold by Jeremiah, is about to unfold. And so, Daniel dons sackcloth and ashes—traditional symbols of repentance—and offers this prayer. It recognizes that the Lord is the “great and awesome God, keeping covenants and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” Notice that the parallel words of judgment on those who rebel are missing. Rather, Daniel includes himself as he confesses that the people “have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from [God’s] commandments and ordinances. Though the Lord has sent prophets to speak in his name to kings, princes and their ancestors, they have not listened. Again, the prayer recognizes God’s righteousness, while “open shame” falls upon the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and “all Israel”—those who are far away in the lands to which the Lord has driven them because of their treachery. Again, the phrase “Open shame,” is used to describe the behavior of their kings, officials and ancestors. This portion of the prayer concludes with a different kind of confession, the recognition and affirmation that “To the Lord, our God, belong mercy and forgiveness, because we have rebelled against him.” But to access that mercy and forgiveness, they owe the Lord repentance—it is an obligation—and the door through which they may enter that mercy and forgiveness.
Psalm 32 is a wisdom psalm in which the worshipper gives thanks for the gift of forgiveness. “Happy are those whose sin is covered.” He acknowledges that while he kept silence about his sin, he wasted away for the Lord’s hand was upon him, and his strength was dried up as the heat of summer dries all things. But when he acknowledged his sin, when he no longer hid it but confessed it, the Lord forgave him his guilt. He then instructs all who are faithful to offer such prayers of confession, promising that in a time of distress and the rush of many waters, these will not reach or overwhelm them. Again, addressing the Lord, he confesses that God is his hiding place who preserves him from trouble and surrounds him with glad cries of deliverance. The psalm then turns to addressing others, instructing them in the way they should go: “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near.” It concludes with one final double affirmation: “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Therefore: be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Hebrews, having attested to Jesus’ divinity, now turns to the ramifications of his humanity. It is “fitting” that the God of all things, in order to bring many children to him and his glory, should not only make Jesus the pioneer of their salvation, but do so by making him perfect through his suffering. For he is the one who sanctifies—as in “makes holy and acceptable to God”—and has the same Father as those he has come to sanctify. Consequently, he is not ashamed to call us his sisters and brothers. The author then appropriates texts from Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:17-18, quoting them from the Greek rather than Hebrew translation, because most Jews had read their scriptures in Greek for the last three hundred years. Jesus and we share the same flesh and blood so that he might, through death, destroy the one with the powers of death, so that his brothers and sisters, who have been held in slavery to death for all these years, might be free from death. He did not do this for angels, but for the descendants of Abraham. This is why he had to become like us in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, making a cleansing sacrifice of atonement for the sins of humanity. Because he was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
This chapter brings to an end Jesus’ public ministry as he cries out, one last time, “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me.” What follows is a summary of what he has said in the temple earlier about being the light of the world. He then makes a point first spoken in John 3:17: he has not come to judge the world but to save it. However, on the last day, his words to them will serve as a source of judgment for those who have heard and have not responded, for Jesus speaks, not on his own, but at the commandment of the Father who has sent him. The Father has told Jesus what to say. That commandment is eternal life. What he speaks then, he speaks as the Father has told him to speak.
Daily Readings for Saturday, March 8
Ezekiel 39:21–29; Psalm 143; Philippians 4:10–20; John 17:20–26
Israel's children are in exile, scattered to Babylon and beyond, and Jerusalem is in ruin. The Lord has hidden his face from the house of Israel, executed judgment upon it and laid his hands upon them, because of their iniquity and treacherous dealings with the Lord. The nations have seen this as a display of the Lord’s glory. But now, the Lord is ready to restore Israel, for his own name’s sake. He will bring them back—none shall be left behind. And when he does, they will forget their shame and the treachery they practice against him. When the Lord gathers them back they shall know that it is he, their God, who has done this, both sending them into exile and gathering them home once again in their own land. The oracle ends with this promise: “Never again will I hide my face from them.” Rather, the Lord promises to pour out his spirit upon his people.
In Psalm 143, the supplicant has suffered defeat and turns to the Lord for help, recognizing that no one is righteous before the Lord, yet, in spite of that, the Lord is merciful. The psalmist now remembers the old days of victory, the days when the Lord was at hand. And so now, he stretches out his hand in search of God lest he go down to the Pit. Pleading for God’s steadfast love, the psalmist has asked God to deliver him from his enemies, teach him his ways, and let God’s Spirit lead him on level paths. He is but God’s servant, and pleads no right of his own. Rather, he asks God to do all this for God’s name’s sake.Paul now expresses a very personal reason for his own rejoicing in the Philippians: the recently received gift of support that they sent to him, which he mentioned at the beginning of this letter. But in this act of expressing his gratitude, Paul is careful not to appear in any way manipulative. The issue of monetary support was a challenging one, and Paul wants to avoid the allegation that his affection for the Philippians is solely based upon their support of him, or worse, that he tailors his teaching and preaching to please those who provide him support--a challenge every preacher faces at one time or another. He is grateful, to be sure. However, he has also learned to be content both in abundance and in need. He has known what it means to be well fed and to go hungry; he has known plenty and want. Most of all, he has learned to be content with what he has in all circumstances, because he has learned that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. Nonetheless, it was kind of the Philippians to share in Paul’s distress. He then reminds them that in the early days of the gospel, once he left Macedonia, no church, save the Philippians, provided Paul support. Even in Thessalonica, the Philippians sent Paul support, and more than once. Quick to disassociate from those who preach for profit, Paul makes the point that he does not need the gift, nor does he seek it, but rather views the Philippians themselves as profit to God. Nonetheless, Epaphroditus has arrived with their most recent gift, which Paul views, more as an offering to God than to Paul himself. Paul brings his words of thanks to an end, assuring the Philippians that “my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” This section of the letter concludes with a brief doxology to God their Father.
Jesus’ prayer now turns from concern for his immediate followers to all those who will come to believe in him through their witness to him, that we, today, may be one as he and the Father are one, and that we, together, might be one with the two of them in order that the world may believe that the Father has sent him. Unity in the church is not for the sake of life within the church, but rather an essential for the church’s credible witness in the world. Not only does Jesus ask for unity in the coming church, but also that his glory be given to it, again, for the sake of their unity with him and his Father. These believers who have yet to come have also been given to him by the Father, as surely as his initial followers were given to him, and so he asks that these, too, may be with him where he is, to see the glory that is and was his from the foundation of the world. Jesus concludes the prayer summarizing what he has said earlier about his work in the world, making the Father’s name known, and asks that the love with which the Father has loved the Son may be in them so that he may be in them.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.