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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26

Joshua 23:1–16; Psalm 56; Romans 15:25–33; Matthew 27:11–23

There is a huge gap between yesterday’s events, with God stopping the sun and the moon to conquer the five kings of the south, and today’s lesson that begins to draw the Book of Joshua to a close. Between them is the story of the continuing conquest of the land, the extraordinary battles in which the Lord is a participant, a list of the kings of cities taken, the expansion of the territory both east and west, north and south, the allotment of a portion of the land to each tribe, and the establishment of the cities of refuge. The taking of the land complete, Joshua sends the warrior from the tribe of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh back to their families, cattle and land east of the Jordan. As today’s lesson begins, it is many years later and Joshua is facing his own natural death. He draws the people together to remind them of their history and who it is that has won them the victory thus far. Yet, there are still unconquered people in the land who must be dealt with. The Lord will deal with them, so long as the Israelites remain steadfast to the Law of Moses. But if they “turn to the right or to the left,” if they intermarry, if they serve other gods (as well as the Lord), which will become inevitable because of intermarriage, or swear by, bow down to them, the Lord will abandon them. The Israelites must remain steadfast to the Lord or they will incur God’s anger and wrath, and they will perish quickly from the good land God has given them.

Psalm 56 is a hymn of praise and trust in God in the midst of persecution, and most helpful when one is being intentionally besieged by others. It begins with a cry for help from one afflicted on all sides. She has no one to turn to but the Lord, and does so. Asserting that having put her trust in God there is no one to fear, the psalmist continues to lament the work of those who assail her, pleading that God cast them out. Notice, that without warning, the psalm ends acknowledging deliverance. And why? So that she can continue to walk in God’s presence according to God’s life-giving light. This psalm of trust in the face of persecution is attributed to David, when he had been captured by the Philistines at Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15). Its central theme is: “I put my trust in you, O God, whose word I praise and trust. What can flesh do to me?” Continually surrounded by enemies, the psalmist recounts the turmoil, and notes that God is watching and keeping count, so as to respond on the day when called upon. And so she exclaims, “This I know, that God is for me!” In trusting God she finds her fear removed and her soul delivered.

Paul’s work in Asia and Greece complete, he is returning to Jerusalem with the gift he has collected from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia (modern Greece from Philippi to Corinth). It is intended to bring relief to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. The Gentile churches have seized this opportunity in gratitude, for the gospel emerged out of Jerusalem, and the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings. Therefore, it is only right that they make this gift to care for those to whom they are indebted. Once Paul has delivered the gift, he plans to set out for Spain, by way of Rome, and expects to come and be with the Romans and share together with them in the fullness of the blessing of Christ and his gospel. Saying this, Paul appeals for prayers on his behalf, for he knows that in going to Jerusalem, he will encounter not only unbelievers, but believers who see him as an enemy and his ministry a distortion of the gospel. He asks the Romans to pray that he may be rescued from them, that his ministry and gift may be acceptable to the church, and that by God’s will, he may then come to them in Rome to be refreshed by their company. In closing, he invokes God’s peace upon them.

Jesus now stands before Pilate, accused of claiming to be King of the Jews (the Messiah). It is how the religious authorities plan to do away with him, for Caesar, who was king of the empire, entertained no rivals. Pilate asks, ‘So, are you a king?” and Jesus replies. It is, as all of his answers have been thus far, illusive and can be translated several ways: “You say so!” “You have said so,” “It is as you say.” The New International Version’s, “Yes, it is as you say,” is more guided by the translator’s theology of who Jesus is than by the text itself. Textually, there is no “yes” in Jesus’ answer; it is intentionally deceptive and misleading. What is different here is that Jesus is now speaking. The chief priests and the elders continue to level charges against Jesus, and Jesus refused to respond to them; he no longer recognizes their authority. Consequently, Pilate seeks to engage Jesus further, asking him about the charges brought against him, but Jesus reverts, once again, to silence; he will not take part in this sham of a trial. Pilate is astonished at Jesus’ silence. But, something much larger than the charge of sedition is going on here, and Pilate seems to know it. Seeking a way out of the situation, Pilate invokes the Roman tradition of releasing to the Jews one of their own who has been imprisoned, in recognition and honor of the Jewish festival. (The Romans did not deny people their own religious practices, so long as they also paid obeisance to the Emperor, something the religious establishment in Jerusalem had carefully worked out in order to preserve themselves, which was one of Jesus’ charges against them.) “Whom do they want,” Pilate asks the people, “Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” As Pilate ponders what it means to be caught between the religious establishment and the man standing in front of him, his wife sends word to have nothing to do with the man or any of it. The man is righteous (innocent is too weak a word for what the Greek text says). She has learned it in a dream and has suffered much because of it. But, as Pilate has been pondering, the chief priests and the elders have been at work and have persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas. Consequently, when Pilate again asks his question, the people shout “Barabbas.” When Pilate asks them what he should do with Jesus who is called the Messiah, they shout “Let him be crucified.” Pilate objects, asking what evil Jesus has done, but the crowd refuses to answer his question and simply continues to shout, “Crucify him!”


Posted July 26, 2014
Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26

Joshua 23:1–16; Psalm 56; Romans 15:25–33; Matthew 27:11–23

There is a huge gap between yesterday’s events, with God stopping the sun and the moon to conquer the five kings of the south, and today’s lesson that begins to draw the Book of Joshua to a close. Between them is the story of the continuing conquest of the land, the extraordinary battles in which the Lord is a participant, a list of the kings of cities taken, the expansion of the territory both east and west, north and south, the allotment of a portion of the land to each tribe, and the establishment of the cities of refuge. The taking of the land complete, Joshua sends the warrior from the tribe of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh back to their families, cattle and land east of the Jordan. As today’s lesson begins, it is many years later and Joshua is facing his own natural death. He draws the people together to remind them of their history and who it is that has won them the victory thus far. Yet, there are still unconquered people in the land who must be dealt with. The Lord will deal with them, so long as the Israelites remain steadfast to the Law of Moses. But if they “turn to the right or to the left,” if they intermarry, if they serve other gods (as well as the Lord), which will become inevitable because of intermarriage, or swear by, bow down to them, the Lord will abandon them. The Israelites must remain steadfast to the Lord or they will incur God’s anger and wrath, and they will perish quickly from the good land God has given them.

Psalm 56 is a hymn of praise and trust in God in the midst of persecution, and most helpful when one is being intentionally besieged by others. It begins with a cry for help from one afflicted on all sides. She has no one to turn to but the Lord, and does so. Asserting that having put her trust in God there is no one to fear, the psalmist continues to lament the work of those who assail her, pleading that God cast them out. Notice, that without warning, the psalm ends acknowledging deliverance. And why? So that she can continue to walk in God’s presence according to God’s life-giving light. This psalm of trust in the face of persecution is attributed to David, when he had been captured by the Philistines at Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15). Its central theme is: “I put my trust in you, O God, whose word I praise and trust. What can flesh do to me?” Continually surrounded by enemies, the psalmist recounts the turmoil, and notes that God is watching and keeping count, so as to respond on the day when called upon. And so she exclaims, “This I know, that God is for me!” In trusting God she finds her fear removed and her soul delivered.

Paul’s work in Asia and Greece complete, he is returning to Jerusalem with the gift he has collected from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia (modern Greece from Philippi to Corinth). It is intended to bring relief to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. The Gentile churches have seized this opportunity in gratitude, for the gospel emerged out of Jerusalem, and the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings. Therefore, it is only right that they make this gift to care for those to whom they are indebted. Once Paul has delivered the gift, he plans to set out for Spain, by way of Rome, and expects to come and be with the Romans and share together with them in the fullness of the blessing of Christ and his gospel. Saying this, Paul appeals for prayers on his behalf, for he knows that in going to Jerusalem, he will encounter not only unbelievers, but believers who see him as an enemy and his ministry a distortion of the gospel. He asks the Romans to pray that he may be rescued from them, that his ministry and gift may be acceptable to the church, and that by God’s will, he may then come to them in Rome to be refreshed by their company. In closing, he invokes God’s peace upon them.

Jesus now stands before Pilate, accused of claiming to be King of the Jews (the Messiah). It is how the religious authorities plan to do away with him, for Caesar, who was king of the empire, entertained no rivals. Pilate asks, ‘So, are you a king?” and Jesus replies. It is, as all of his answers have been thus far, illusive and can be translated several ways: “You say so!” “You have said so,” “It is as you say.” The New International Version’s, “Yes, it is as you say,” is more guided by the translator’s theology of who Jesus is than by the text itself. Textually, there is no “yes” in Jesus’ answer; it is intentionally deceptive and misleading. What is different here is that Jesus is now speaking. The chief priests and the elders continue to level charges against Jesus, and Jesus refused to respond to them; he no longer recognizes their authority. Consequently, Pilate seeks to engage Jesus further, asking him about the charges brought against him, but Jesus reverts, once again, to silence; he will not take part in this sham of a trial. Pilate is astonished at Jesus’ silence. But, something much larger than the charge of sedition is going on here, and Pilate seems to know it. Seeking a way out of the situation, Pilate invokes the Roman tradition of releasing to the Jews one of their own who has been imprisoned, in recognition and honor of the Jewish festival. (The Romans did not deny people their own religious practices, so long as they also paid obeisance to the Emperor, something the religious establishment in Jerusalem had carefully worked out in order to preserve themselves, which was one of Jesus’ charges against them.) “Whom do they want,” Pilate asks the people, “Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” As Pilate ponders what it means to be caught between the religious establishment and the man standing in front of him, his wife sends word to have nothing to do with the man or any of it. The man is righteous (innocent is too weak a word for what the Greek text says). She has learned it in a dream and has suffered much because of it. But, as Pilate has been pondering, the chief priests and the elders have been at work and have persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas. Consequently, when Pilate again asks his question, the people shout “Barabbas.” When Pilate asks them what he should do with Jesus who is called the Messiah, they shout “Let him be crucified.” Pilate objects, asking what evil Jesus has done, but the crowd refuses to answer his question and simply continues to shout, “Crucify him!”


Posted July 26, 2014
Friday July 25, 2014

Friday, July 25

Joshua 9:22–10:15; Psalm 130; Romans 15:14–24; Matthew 27:1–10

Joshua summons the leaders of the Gibeonites and demands to know why they deceived the Israelites by claiming to be a people from far away, when, in fact, they were living in the land among them. The leaders reply that they had heard that the Lord, through Moses, had given the command that the Israelites occupy the land and kill all the inhabitants thereof. Out of fear for their lives they entered into the ruse. Joshua replies that they may live, but ever-after they will serve as slaves among the Israelites, cutting their wood and drawing their water, not only for the people but also for the altar of the Lord. This may account for the fact that later, there were non-Israelites working as servants in the Temple. Word continues to spread throughout the land, chilling the inhabitants and challenging their kings. At the initiative of the King of Jerusalem, four other kings of major Amorite cities in the south of the land form an alliance to invade Gibeon. It is unclear whether this is because of its peace treaty with Israel, which is camped at Gilgal, or a means of trying to stop Israel there. The Gibeonites call on Joshua for help, who assembles the Israelites and marches the 20-some miles all night long to reach Gibeon. As he does, the Lord speaks to Joshua, telling him not to fear, the Amorites have been handed over to him; not one of them is to stand. The armies of the five kings are caught by surprise at the Israelite’s arrival, are thrown into panic (note it is the Lord who does this), and Israel inflicts a great slaughter, with considerable intervention on the part of the Lord. Not only does God send great hail stones that strike the fleeing soldiers dead, but God stops the sun and the moon, which were worshiped as gods by the Amorites, in order to give the Israelites time to finish the destruction of them, as well as to demonstrate the Lord’s sovereignty over the sun and the moon. This extraordinary event has acquired various explanations: naturalistic, militaristic, and religious, but the point is, the Lord is fighting for Israel as they take the land, and is sovereign, not only over the other people, but also their gods. The narrator somewhat overstates the case that “there has been no day like this before or since,” but the point is still the same, God is at work through Joshua as God was at work through Moses, giving them the land.

Psalm 130 is a classic lament for those living “in the depths” of life, whether physical or emotional, waiting on God to come and save. Notice that it is also a “psalm of ascent.” It is being used by a pilgrim who has come to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God in the midst of despair. Out of the depths he has been crying to the Lord with no response. Now he pleads again for the Lord to hear his voice and supplication. Notice that the psalmist has moved beyond self-recrimination. This is about more than personal sin. The pit is not God’s punishment, for if God counted sin and thus punished, who would stand? No one! No; with God there is always forgiveness. And so, the psalmist continues to hold tenaciously to God’s word and wait and watch with an intensity that exceeds that of the watchmen waiting for the morning. The psalmist knows that, when God comes, it will be with steadfast love, healing and redemption. He prays, “Come, Lord; redeem all Israel!” This is a prayer for all who wrestle with depression, all with chronic or terminal illness and for any who find themselves in the pit of life for whatever reason.

Emerging from the euphoria of his blessing, Paul pulls back and now speaks to the Romans in a more conciliatory tone. He assures them that he is convinced of their goodness and ability to admonish one another in love, as he has been urging them to do. He has written to them as boldly as he has, only to be faithful to the stewardship of the Gospel which God entrusted to him to take it to the Gentiles, serving as a minister and priest among them that they might be sanctified and made acceptable through the Holy Spirit. Realizing that he may sound boastful in this regard, Paul insists that the work, signs, wonders and power that he has done in and about Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum, have not been his own work, but the work of Christ within him as he aspired to preach the gospel, not in places where it had been previously preached—lest he build on another’s work—but where the gospel has yet to be heard. It was for this reason that he has been prevented, so long, from coming to Rome. But now, having exhausted the untapped regions, he longs to come to see them, stopping off to enjoy their company and to be “helped along the way” by them as he makes his way to Spain.

The night of interrogation over; the chief priests and elders now conspire how to put Jesus to death. They bind him and take him off to the regional Roman Governor, Pilate. Judas, having seen that Jesus has been condemned, is filled with remorse. Had he entered into this hoping to force Jesus’ hand and take the kingdom by violence? We do not know. But, now, this act of repentance, returning the thirty pieces of silver, may, in fact, suggest just that. Regardless, the deed is done and beyond his hands; the priests will have none of it. Casting the silver into the Temple treasury, Judas goes out, and in the depths of despair, hangs himself. The priests recognize that the 30 pieces of silver Judas has returned is blood money; it has no place in the treasury. Consequently, they take the money to buy a potter’s field and turn it into a place of burial for strangers. Matthew concludes this section, as is his pattern, with a quote from Jeremiah (actually, it is Zechariah 11:12-13), to show that all of this is the unfolding of what the prophets have foretold about the Messiah.


Posted July 25, 2014
Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday, July 24

Joshua 9:3–21; Psalm 36; Romans 15:1–13; Matthew 26:69–75

As the people of the land shrink in fear before the military successes of the Israelites, the people of Gibeon decide on a different tactic—a ruse. They will go before the Israelites dressed in tattered and worn-out garments, with moldy bread and patched and dried wineskins, present themselves as a people called from a distant land by the Lord to journey to the Israelites. They have done so and arrived impoverished. Presenting themselves as thus, they plead with the Israelites to make a covenant of peace with them and allow them to live among them. To the leaders of Israel it seems both logical and compassionate, and without consulting the Lord, they make the covenant in the Lord’s name. Only three days later, the Israelites realize they have been tricked, and that the people who have represented themselves as from a distant land have long occupied the neighboring land of Gibeon. The Israelites rightfully cry out against their leaders who confess that they are now bound by the oath they took in the name of the Lord: they must allow the people of Gibeon to live among them. The ruse of the Gibeonites saves their lives. However, rather than live as Israel’s neighbors, they will live as Israel’s servants, as the Gibeonites had initially presented themselves (vs 8). They become Israel’s hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Psalm 36 reflects on the difference between those who take pride in their transgressions and those who trust in the loving kindness of the Lord. It begins addressing the capacity for wickedness deep within the human heart and is unique in that the one speaking is transgression itself speaking to the wicked, deep in their hearts. The wicked have no fear of God. There is no end to the way they flatter themselves in their own eyes, thinking that their iniquity is hidden. They have ceased to live wisely and spend their time in plots of mischief and embrace evil rather than reject it. Suddenly, in contrast, the psalm turns to the Lord’s steadfast love, which extends to the heavens. God’s righteousness is like the mighty mountains and judgments like the great deep. The Lord saves humans and animals alike. The psalm lauds the preciousness of God’s steadfast love and confesses that all take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. It goes on to speak of the abundance and goodness of God’s house, where God gives drink from the river of delights. God is the fountain of life; in his light we see light. The prayer concludes by asking for God’s continued steadfast love to those who know him. As for the arrogant with whom this psalm began, do not let their foot tread on him or the hand of the wicked drive him away. Rather, let the Lord continue his salvation. As for evildoers, let them lay prostrate, thrust down, unable to rise.

Paul says that “we who are strong,” in Christ’s body, are obliged to accept and bear with the weaknesses of those among us who have no strength, not simply to please our own sense of moral satisfaction, but also for the sake of the weak and their own edification, just as Christ bore our reproach for our own sake. Paul reminds the Romans that the scriptures he cites have been written not only for their instruction, but also to give them the gift of patient endurance, and that through the scriptures and their encouragement, they might find hope. He then offers the prayer that the God of encouragement and hope will grant them the mind of Christ, so that out of their unity, they may, with one voice, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are to accept one another as Christ has accepted them, both Jew and Gentile. Christ, after all, became a servant to Jews for the sake of God’s promises to their forebears, and a servant to the Gentiles for the sake of glorifying God for God’s mercy. Paul then offers a series of scriptural quotes to confirm what he has said about God’s intentions among and for the Gentiles and concludes with a prayer that the God of hope will fill them with all joy and peace in believing so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they may abound in hope.

Peter remains in the courtyard, at a distance, but soon, one of the servant girls thinks she recognizes him as part of Jesus’ contingent. Peter denies it. A bit later, a second serving girl identifies him as one of Jesus’ followers, and this time, Peter utters an oath, saying, “I do not know the man!” Finally another bystander overhears him and says, “Surely you are one of them, your accent identifies you as a Galilean.” This time Peter erupts in swearing and cursing, insisting that he does not know “the man,” and immediately the cock crows. Remembering Jesus’ words to him about betrayal, Peter leaves the courtyard and trial, goes out, and weeps bitterly.


Posted July 24, 2014
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday, July 23

Joshua 8:30–35; Psalm 15; Romans. 14:13–23; Matthew 26:57–68

Ai conquered and destroyed, Joshua builds an altar to the Lord in accord with the instruction of Moses, and there offers two sacrifices: burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrifices of well-being. Burnt offerings were presented as acts of thanksgiving and expiation—to cleanse the space and make it suitable for God’s presence—and were totally consumed in the fire, as acts of complete dedication to the Lord, not unlike here. The sacrifice of well-being, also called “the peace offering,” was only partially consumed, the eatable parts being reserved for the priests and the people to share in a communal meal with God. The Ark is placed between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, and the people are placed on either side of the Ark behind the priests, as they face one another over the Ark. Joshua writes the Law of Moses on the stones of the altar, and then reads all that Moses had commanded before the total assembly, including the women, children and aliens residing among them. Where did the aliens come from? Either this is a later insertion into the text to address the people who had, by that time, come to live among the Israelites, or, they have been acquiring servants from other people along the way.

Psalm 15 was written as a liturgy of entrance to the temple, but may also have been used to teach the way of life expected of those who want to live within God’s presence. Once the question is asked as to who may dwell in God’s tent, eleven answers are given: walk blamelessly, do what is right, speak the truth, do not slander, do no evil to friends, do not shame a friend, despise the wicked, honor those who fear the Lord, stand by your oaths, even at the cost of your own hurt or loss, do not charge interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved. Then, as now in the Islamic community, charging interest on a loan was strictly forbidden because it took advantage of another’s need.

Rather than sit in judgment on one another, the Romans are to resolve to stop putting stumbling blocks in the way of one another. Though convinced that nothing is unclean in itself, Paul says that, because perception can too easily become reality, it becomes unclean, and therefore sinful, for those who think it so. Consequently, if eating meat sacrificed to idols brings injury to a sister or brother who thinks it unclean, continuing to eat because we are free to do so is an abuse of our freedom and a “blasphemy of good,” (the literal translation of verse 16). Doing so, we not only abuse our freedom, we cease walking in love with one another. Do not let your behavior be the cause of ruin of someone for whom Christ died. God’s reign is not about food or drink. It is about righteousness and peace (right relationships within the community), and the joy of living in the Holy Spirit. Pursue these; it is how to please God and one another! The struggles the Roman Christians have been having over issues of food and drink are tearing them apart and destroying God’s work among them, just as the issues of human sexuality are tearing apart Christ’s church today. Paul reiterates, though everything is clean, it is wrong to make others fall by eating it. Rather, let your faith be your conviction before God. If you have no reason to condemn yourself because of your convictions about what you approve, you are blessed. On the other hand, those with doubts condemn themselves if they eat, not because what they eat is unclean, but because they are acting contrary to their faith and convictions. Finally: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In the struggle between freedom and faith convictions; faith must always have the last word, lest the use (abuse) of our freedom lead us away from Christ.

Having arrested Jesus, they take him to the home of Caiaphas, the reigning High Priest where the ruling council has gathered. Though Peter had initially fled, he stopped in flight, turned around, and has now returned to follow them. He settles into the courtyard to listen to the inquisition and see where it goes. They are trying to find a capital offense with which to charge Jesus. Many come forward with false testimony against him, trying to find reason to execute him, but none of it can be sustained by the necessary standard of two witnesses. But finally, two come forward to report that Jesus said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.” Of course, Jesus did not say that, but remains silent before the charge, which only outrages Caiaphas who now demands that Jesus, under oath, tell them, “Is he the Messiah, the Son of God?” Jesus responds with the truth, but puts the words in Caiphas’ mouth. And then he adds words from Daniel (7:13), and the Psalms (110:1) that speak of the Son of Man, and thereby confirms that he is God’s Son. This is, for Caiphas, blasphemy of the highest order. He stands, tears his clothing as an act of pious rage and rejection, and says, “You have heard his blasphemy; we need no further witnesses. What is your verdict?” They answer, “He deserves death,” and proceed to abuse, mock and ridicule Jesus for such impious presumptuousness.



Posted July 23, 2014
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

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.

© 2014