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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Isaiah 51:1-8; Psalm 100; Galatians 3:23-29; Mark 7:1-23

The righteous in Israel are addressed in this oracle of restoration and are reminded to look to the rock from which they have been hewn. Look to Abraham and Sarah, who God richly blessed. The same Lord will comfort Zion and make her wilderness like Eden, her deserts like a garden of the Lord. Joy, gladness, thanksgiving and singing will be found in her. Listen; God’s teaching goes forth—give heed; God’s justice is a light to the people. Deliverance will come swiftly; God’s salvation has gone out and God’s arms will rule. The coastlands wait for God. Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look, the old will pass away, worn out like a garment, but God’s salvation we be forever; his deliverance will never end. Called again to listen, they are told not to fear the reproach of others; they have God’s teaching in their hearts. Those who reproach them will be devoured as a moth eats a garment and the worm devours wool. God’s deliverance will be forever and the Lord’s salvation will be to all generations.

Psalm 100 is one of the best known in the Psalter, primarily because of its role in metrical psalmody, though I suspect most think it a hymn rather than a psalm. “All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice. Him serve with mirth his praise forth tell; come ye before him and rejoice.” With these words, William Kethe paraphrased this classic psalm of praise and thanksgiving in 1560. The worshiper is called to the temple to sing God’s praise as her maker and to recognize that she lives among a people who are not only the sheep of God’s hand but God’s treasured flock. The Hebrew text has an important alternate version of this: “It is he that made us, and not we ourselves.” Tradition in translation has gone with the previous reading because it was favored by the rabbis. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving,” is followed by the parallel, “and his courts with praise.” The final affirmation is a summary of all 150 psalms: “For the Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

What was God’s purpose in giving the Law? It was designed to be our tutor, guardian and disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we could be justified by faith. Before then, we were imprisoned in sin and needed a custodian to care for us. The word used and translated “disciplinarian” is the word for the household slave in the Roman-Greco world, who was assigned responsibility to care for and watch over the young sons of the household in order to keep them out of trouble. Thus, the Law was given to keep us out of trouble. But now that the gift of faith in the faithful work of Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our disciplinarian or tutor. Rather, in Christ, we are all children of God through faith. “For as many of us as have been baptized into Christ, have clothed ourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are all one in Christ Jesus.” He is now our custodian. And, if we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s offspring as well, heirs according to the promise that God made to Abraham.

Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and some of the scribes has begun. They have come from Jerusalem and have gathered about him. The first thing they notice is that Jesus’ disciples are not maintaining the purity stipulations that had emerged out of the elders’ interpretation of the Law. Mark then goes on to give a gloss about what they mean: washing hands, food taken from the market, cups, pots, bronze kettles and the like. “Why,” they ask him, “do your disciples not maintain ritual purity?” Jesus responds that Isaiah was right about them when he condemned them for honoring God with their lips while remaining far away in their hearts. They worship God in vain while teaching human precepts as doctrines. They abandon the commandments of God while hanging onto traditions they have made up themselves. He cites the fifth commandment to honor parents, which they reject in order to observe their own tradition of Corban—a special offering to God that then cannot be used for any other purpose, like caring for one’s aged parents. They ignore the written commandments to observe their oral ones. And so he calls the crowd to himself and warns them: there is nothing outside a person that by going into them can defile and make them unacceptable to God. Rather, it is the things that come out of people that defile—things like their oral traditions! The disciples are still too thick-headed to understand and, in private, ask what Jesus meant. He explains that it is not food that defiles, but what comes out of the human heart: evil intentions, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly—a list of vices that were common in the culture that surrounded the church to which Mark is writing. But also notice that Mark makes it clear to his readers that kosher laws no longer apply—Jesus has declared all foods clean; Mark is thereby addressing a question that must have vexed the mixed Jewish-Gentile church in Rome.


Posted January 31, 2015
Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015
Isaiah 50:1-11; Psalm 148; Galatians 3:15-22; Mark 6:45-56

This lesson from Isaiah falls in three parts. First, we have a short poem reflecting on the reasons for the exile and again promising Jerusalem’s restoration. Had the Lord completely divorced his wife Israel in sending them into exile? Was he in debt to a creditor and had sold them off in that transaction? Was her mother truly guilty? No. It was because of their own sins that they were sold and for their own transgressions, not hers, that their mother, Jerusalem, was put away. Where were they when God called? Why was no one there when God came? Yet, God’s hand is not shortened or limited so that he cannot redeem them. Remember his former rebukes to the sea, and that he clothes the heavens with blackness and makes sackcloth their coverings—the clothing of those in mourning or penitence. Suddenly, the voice is no longer God’s, but the servant who sings his third song. Whereas Israel was absent, the servant is present. Whereas Israel did not listen, the servant awakens each morning with open ears attuned to God’s word. In all that he has heard, and not all of it is easy or good for the servant, he has not rebelled or turned back. He has given his back to those who struck him, his cheek to those who pulled at his beard, and his face to those who spit on him in insult—those among the Israelites who despise him and refuse to listen to the word he has spoken and continues to speak. No matter, it is the Lord God who helps him. None of this spiteful behavior can disgrace him, he is the Lord’s. And so he sets his face firmly, like flint, with a steadfastness that knows the One who will vindicate him is near. Are there those who wish to contend with him? Let them stand up and be counted. Are there those who are his adversaries? Let them come out of the shadows to confront him. It is the Lord God who helps the servant; who, therefore, can declare him guilty? Those people will wear out like a garment, and moths will eat what is left. Now the voice changes; it is not the servant speaking, but another who speaks to those who still resist. Who among them fear the Lord and obey the voice of his servant who, though he is walking in darkness, yet, trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon him? Evidently, not many, for a final warning is issued: they are “kindlers of fire” and “lighters of firebrands,” who walk in the light of their own fire rather than the light of the Lord. Therefore, they will face the judgment of lying down in torment. It is easy to see how the early church saw this as a script of Jesus’ struggles with the religious authorities of his day that lead to and included some of the events of his passion.

Psalm 148 calls upon all creation—the sun, moon, stars, highest heavens and waters above the heavens—to shout, “Hallelujah!”—“Praise the Lord!” The Lord commanded and each was created. Sea monsters and all deeps (the place of chaos), fire, hail, snow, frost and stormy wind are not blights of nature, but actually agents that fulfill God’s commands. The Lord is sovereign over all. Mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and all cattle, things that creep and things that fly, kings of the earth and all their people, young men and women alike, and old and young together are to praise the name of the Lord, for the Lord’s name alone is to be exalted. God’s glory (presence and power) are above both earth and heaven. Finally, all are to shout “Hallelujah” because the Lord has “raised up a horn for his people” (the horn a symbol of deliverance and strength that is often used to speak of Israel’s kings). But now, the dignity, honor, and praise due the king are given not to the king, but to the people of Israel who are close to the Lord. Hallelujah!

Paul illustrates the soundness of God’s promise to Abraham by employing the example of a person’s last will and testament. No one can annul it once; it has been written. God made such a promise to Abraham “and to his offspring,” in the Greek, the singular word for “seed.” Capitalizing on the singular, Paul makes the point that the promise was not to the Jewish people in general, but specifically to one Jew, Christ. The Law, which came four hundred thirty years later, cannot annul the promise God made to Abraham. For, if the inheritance as God’s children comes through keeping the law, it is no longer according to the promise that God made to Abraham. So, why then the Law? God added it because of transgressions of the people to identify and restrain them, until the child to whom the promise had been made had come. Thereafter, the Law was no longer necessary. Yes, the law was ordained from God through angels to Moses (see Deuteronomy 33:2 which speaks of the presence of “myriad of angels” at that event), a conviction common in Paul’s day. He takes that tradition and uses it to show that, because God acted through intermediaries at Sinai, rather than directly himself, the result—the Law—is inferior to the promise God made directly to Abraham. Is the Law then opposed to God’s promise? Absolutely not! But, if a law could have been given that had the capacity to give life in the midst of sin, then righteousness would and could come through the Law. But that is not the case. Rather, the Law (Paul uses the word “scripture” but clearly means the Law) itself is under the power of sin. Because of that, it has kept things locked up and imprisoned, disclosing both peoples’ powerlessness before sin and humanities’ alienation from God. The only solution was for God to act, which God has done through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (notice the footnote), so that what was promised to Abraham might be given to those who believe. Nothing, either in God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis or Paul’s use of it here ever suggests something being promised to us “through faith in Jesus Christ.” Rather, it was through Christ’s own faithfulness as the “offspring” of Abraham that the power of sin could be broken and the promise would come to be.

The moment the feeding was complete and the twelve baskets of leftovers had been gathered up, Jesus made the disciples get into their boats and go ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. Thereafter, Jesus went up the mountain to pray—the reason they had first come over to this deserted place. In the middle of the night, when Jesus has completed his prayer, he returns to the shore and sees that the disciples are still at sea, straining at the oars against a strong wind. He goes out, walking toward them on the sea, early, as the sun is rising. Mark tells us he intends to walk past them. Is this an allusion to God “passing by” Moses who was hidden in the cleft of the rock? Perhaps; but, the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea, think him a ghost, and cry out, for the sight of him on the water terrifies them. Jesus turns to them and says, quite literally: “Courage, I am, do not fear.” The “I am” here is frequently translated, “I am he,” or as the NRSV renders it, “It is I.” The phrase in Greek is the translation of the divine name which means, “I am,” and clearly intended to be a revelatory moment. He is not a ghost, nor simply a miracle worker among them. He is the Lord—God incarnate—who, according to Job “walks on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). He gets into the boat with them and, once again, the storm ceases as it did on their way to the land of the Gerasenes (Mark 4:35-41). They are utterly astonished, for, as Mark tells us, they have learned nothing from what happened with the loaves. Rather, they are no better than the rest of those who fail to understand who he is. The only explanation is the hardness of their hearts. In Paul’s language, they too are imprisoned by the power of sin. When the crossing is complete they land at Gennesaret. When they get out of the boat, the people there recognize Jesus at once and begin to bring to him their sick. As Jesus moves through the countryside, into villages or cities or farms, they lay the sick in the marketplaces and beg simply to touch the fringe of his cloak so that they might be healed. All who do are healed.



Posted January 30, 2015
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015
Isaiah 49:13-26; Psalm 136; Galatians 3:1-14; Mark 6:30-46

The poem of God’s restoration of Jerusalem continues with the promise that Israel’s exile is about to end. A brief psalm of praise calls on all to break forth into singing God’s praise, because he has (again, notice the past tense) comforted his people. They thought themselves forsaken and forgotten. Employing the metaphor of a mother unable to forget her child, the Lord reminds them that so, too, God has not been able to forget Israel. They have been inscribed on the palm of God’s hand: their walls are before God’s eyes, their builders outnumber their destroyers; look, even now their builders gather. Promising that what was waste and desolate will no longer be devastated, Jerusalem will so flourish that it will be too crowed for its inhabitants. Those who had been born in exile will look in wonder for a place to settle, and those who had been left behind will wonder, where have all of these come from? The Lord again speaks in promise: the nations shall be called to come and serve as foster parents to those who have been orphaned, kings and queens bringing Israel’s sons and daughters back to Jerusalem. Once there, those kings and queens will bow down to them in obeisance. The Lord asks two rhetorical questions about those who are prey and captive and then answers clearly: the Lord will take the captives away from the mighty and the prey from their tyrant captors, contending with those who have contended with Israel. Their captors shall devour themselves so that “all flesh” shall know that the Lord is Israel’s Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Psalm 136 proclaims God’s goodness and steadfast love endures forever. This becomes the refrain in a litany of praise extoling God for both who God is and what God has done. The Lord is God of gods and Lord of lords, who alone does great wonders. God made the heavens and earth and all that is within them. God struck Egypt to bring Israel out from their enslavement, divided the Red Sea, made a path through it, overthrew and devoured Pharaoh in the sea, led the people through the wilderness, struck down great kings and gave their land to Israel as a heritage. God remembered them, not only in prosperity, but also in their second bondage and again rescued them from their foes, probably a reference to the Babylonian exile. Citing the Lord as the source of sustenance to all people, the psalm ends with one more title for the Lord: the God of heaven (see Daniel 2:18, 19, 37, and 44) whose steadfast love endures forever.

Paul now turns his argument directly on the Galatians, asking first, who the sorcerers are who have cast the evil eye upon them to bewitch them? Paul asks a series of questions based upon their own experience that should make it abundantly clear to them that the law does not apply to them and is not the means of living in a right relationship with God. Did Paul not portray publically and vividly to them the reality of Christ’s crucifixion and just what it means for them? Did they receive the Spirit by obeying the law or by believing what they heard from Paul? Having begun with the Spirit are they now so ready to leave it for the flesh? Does, in fact, God give them the Spirit and work miracles among they in response to their keeping the law? Of course not! And now, Paul quotes Torah itself saying, just as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, so too, those who believe are descendants of Abraham. Paul declares this a foreseeing of the fact that God had promised to justify the Gentiles by faith, a promise made to Abraham in the law itself. They do not need circumcision to become children of Abraham. As for the law, all who rely on its works are under a curse, for it says, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the Law (Deut. 27:26). Then, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to show that those who are righteous live by faith. But it is not faith in Law, but faith in Christ who came to redeem humankind from the curse of the Law by taking that curse upon himself. Why did Christ do it? He did it in order that the blessings of Abraham might come to the Gentiles that they might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. The Galatians have already received the Spirit. What possible need could be met or benefit found in now trying to keep the law?

The disciples return from their itinerant preaching mission to tell Jesus all that they had taught and done. He calls them away on retreat for some rest, for Mark tells us that so many were coming to them that they did not even have time to eat. Boarding the boat they head for a deserted place, but the crowd gets wind of it, and heads there on foot ahead of them. When Jesus and the disciples come ashore and see the crowd there awaiting them, Jesus has compassion on them. They are like sheep without a shepherd, an image used frequently in the Old Testament to sit in judgment on unfaithful kings of Israel. Jesus will be a faithful king and good shepherd to the people, and, so, he begins to teach them “many things.” The day moves into dusk and none of them have eaten. The disciples want Jesus to send the people away into the nearby towns and villages so they may find something to eat, but Jesus says, “No, you give them something to eat.” Startled by this, the disciples object: with what? Two hundred denarii worth of bread could not feed this crowd. He asks what they have. The disciples search and discover among them five loaves and two fish. Jesus orders them to have the people break into groups and sit on the ground. He then takes the bread, looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. So too, Jesus divides the fish among them all. Mark tells us that not only was everyone’s hunger met and satisfied, but that there were twelve baskets left over. The number of those who were fed was five thousand men. The Eucharistic symbolism of this feeding is intentional on Mark’s part. Indeed, many early depictions of the Eucharistic meal included fish as well as bread and wine. The twelve baskets left over can either bring to mind the twelve tribes of Israel still wandering for lack of an authentic shepherd or, they may be an image that says there is a basket for each of the twelve disciples with which they are to continue to feed Jesus’ sheep.



Posted January 29, 2015
Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Isaiah 49:1-12; Psalm 134; Galatians 2:11-21; Mark 6:13-29

In this second of four “servant songs” in Isaiah, the servant speaks to the people to explain his call and his mission. Like Jeremiah, while still in his mother’s womb, the Lord named and shaped him, making his mouth like a sharp sword and the servant a polished arrow in the Lord’s quiver. Though hidden away, he is the one through whom the Lord will act. The Lord said to him, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Scholars remind us that this is the only one of the four poems that specifically identifies the servant with the nation Israel and in the Greek translation of Isaiah in the Septuagint, the word “Israel” is missing, further adding to the debate about the identity of the servant. His task is to bring Jacob back to the Lord. The servant tells us what he said to the Lord: “I have labored in vain, spent my strength for nothing.., yet my cause and reward are with the Lord.” At that, the Lord replies, it is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob; “I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Consistent with Second Isaiah’s universalistic theology, and in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, Israel’s vocation is to bring God’s blessings, instructions and salvation to all people. Here, the servant’s poem ends and Second Isaiah’s voice is again heard with the words, “Thus says the Lord….” The servant, who is deeply despised and abhorred by the nations, and is their slave, shall ultimately be the one to whom kings and princes shall rise, come and prostrate themselves because the servant is the Lord’s chosen, and the Lord is faithful. Again the Lord speaks, but notice, all of the language of help and salvation is in the past tense; the Lord has already done this. The Lord has acted; it is simply a matter of time as things unfold. “I have answered you…, I have helped you…, I have kept you and given you as a covenant.” In keeping with that, the Lord is saying to prisoners, “Come out,” and to those in darkness, “Show yourselves.” The speech is directed to those in exile and with it comes the repetition of the promises that have been made so many times in these previous eight chapters: God is preparing the way, making provision, and will bring them from far away—not simply those exiled in Babylon—but all from Israel who have been scattered throughout the earth. Syene is located in southern Egypt at the first cataract on the Nile where there was a strong and well-known Jewish Colony in the 5th century BCE on the island of Elephantine, in the midst of the Nile. The Lord is going to gather all of Israel through the servant.

Psalm 134 is the last of the “Songs of Ascent,” and concludes the section of such psalms that began with Psalm 120. It is short and is both a call to worship and a word of blessing. Some think it is a liturgical blessing that was invoked upon a new “shift” of priests coming to take up their service in the temple, a charge and blessing on the “changing of the guard” within the temple personnel. Others think it is simply a word of priestly blessing invoked over pilgrims as they come to the temple to bless God, make sacrifices, and dwell, for a time, in the presence of the Lord. Its tri-form structure is built around the invitation to “Come, bless the Lord….” “Lift your hands,”—the posture of prayer—and the priestly blessing: “May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.” Zion, of course, is God’s holy mountain, Jerusalem, but also a reference to the temple which was at the very top of the mountain and understood to be the Lord’s dwelling place on earth, or better, the "thin place" where heaven and earth met.

Paul continues to defend his gospel of freedom from the Jewish Law by reporting an incident that took place while Peter was visiting him, Barnabas and the Gentile church in Antioch. Peter had lived among them and enjoyed their hospitality and table fellowship fully until the circumcision faction—a group of Jewish Christians that believed that converts to the faith must be circumcised and become “Jews”—arrived from Jerusalem at James’ behest. At that, Peter, as well as some of the other Jewish believers in the Antioch church, Barnabas among them, withdrew and separated themselves from the Gentile believers. Paul confronted Peter over this “hypocrisy” reminding Peter that he and the others were not living consistently with the truth of the gospel. Paul now goes on to explain that truth: a person, whether Jew or Gentile, is not brought into a right relationship with God (“justified”) through keeping the dictates of the Jewish Law, but through...; now read your text carefully! Do you see the footnote? The phrase can be translated, “faith in Jesus Christ,” or, “the faith of Jesus Christ.” The former is chosen because it seems the most consistent with Paul’s larger message. But there is no real inconsistency here and it is perhaps best rendered, “faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” which, of course, is what the gospel is all about. We are brought into a right relationship with God through Jesus and his faithfulness to his Father. Paul argues that the Law cannot do what Jesus has done. However, by trusting in Jesus, and no longer being bound by the Law, which Jews would understand to be sinful, has Paul made Jesus an agent or servant of sin? Absolutely not! On the other hand, if Paul returned to building up the Law as the source of justification, he would indeed be a transgressor—a transgressor of God’s grace in Jesus. For it was in the pursuit of justification through keeping the Law, as Paul persecuted Christians, that he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and, there, “died to the Law” so that he might live to God. There Paul learned that God never intended the law to bring about justification. He will explain the Law’s purpose later in this letter. For now, he uses the powerful metaphor of crucifixion to explain all of this. Paul has been crucified with Christ, died to the law, and raised in Christ, so that it is no longer Paul who lives, but Christ who lives within him. And the life that Paul now lives in the flesh he lives by faith “in the Son of God” who loved him and gave himself for Paul. Again, we have a footnote to contend with that is similar to the former one. This can also be translated “the faith of the Son of God,” and even “faithfulness of the Son of God.” Again, it is a distinction without a difference. Paul is saying that he places his trust in the faith and faithfulness of Jesus, through whom God’s grace is manifest and available to all who will live into it. He does not thereby nullify that grace, for if justification comes through the Law, then Christ died for nothing. Returning to the dictates of the Jewish Law, as a means of seeking to live in a right relationship with God, is a rejection of the grace God has given us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ fame is spreading and with it misunderstanding as to who he is. Some think him John the Baptist back from the dead. Others think him Elijah returned, as he was expected to do before the Messianic reign appeared, and others simply one of the prophets of old, since the well of prophecy had dried up. Now Mark takes time to tell us about the death of John the Baptist at Herod’s hands. John had been publically condemning Herod for his marriage to Herodias, who had formerly been Herod’s sister-in-law, when married to Herod’s brother Philip (Lev 18:16; 20:21). Consequently, Herodias had a grudge against John and wanted him dead. The most Herod would dare to do is arrest John and put him in prison, for not only had John become powerful among the people, Herod both feared him, but also regarded him as a righteous man and liked to listen to him. But when, on the occasion of his birthday, Herod gave a party for his courtiers and officials in Galilee, one thing led to another. Herodias’ daughter came to dance for him and so pleased Herod and his guests that Herod promised her whatever she might ask. It was not simply an aside to the girl; it was a public oath. One gets the sense that the wine had been flowing all too freely at the party! The daughter (it is the Jewish historian Josephus who tells us her name was Salome) goes to her mother for advice, and Herodias replies, “The head of John the baptizer.” The daughter does, leaving Herod deeply grieved but bound by his word and oath in front of his guest. And so, he sends soldiers of the guard with orders to return with John’s head. They bring it back to the girl on a platter and she promptly gives it to her mother. The story ends with John’s disciples coming to claim and bury John’s body in a tomb. The point to all of this too easily gets missed in the drama of dance, vision of veils falling away, and an illicit wife’s revenge. Herod had great regard for John and found himself between a rock and a hard place. Believing in the resurrection of the dead, Herod now thinks that John has been bodily raised and is back in Jesus, which for Herod, explains the powerful things that Jesus is doing.


Posted January 28, 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Isaiah 48:12-22; Psalm 127; Galatians 1:18-2:10; Mark 6:1-13

The Lord continues to address Jacob: Listen-up you dotards! When will it finally dawn on you that “I am He; I am the first, and the last?” My hand has made all that is. When I call, all creation stands at attention. What about you? Attention! Assemble and hear: the Lord loves Cyrus! Cyrus is going to do the Lord’s work in Babylon and fell the Chaldeans (Babylon’s other name). The Lord has spoken and called Cyrus, has brought him to this time and purpose, and he will prosper. None of this is a secret. The Lord has spoken it and from the time it began, the Lord has been there. And now, the prophet reminds us that he is being sent by God’s spirit. “Thus says the Lord….” The Lord is the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Lord their God, who teaches for their own good, who leads in the way they should go. Had they only listened; had they only heeded God’s commands, they would have flourished in prosperity with the power of the sea. Their offspring would have been like the sand of the sea—never cut off or destroyed. Now get out of Babylon! Flee! Declare with shouts loud enough to be heard to the ends of the earth, just who it is that is doing this for you—the Lord! You did not thirst in the desert because he split open rocks that water might pour forth for you (an allusion to the Exodus). But, there is no peace for the wicked—“Thus says the Lord!”

Psalm 127 reminds us that the Lord is our builder and maker, and unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. So too for the city, so too for those who go to bed late and rise early, working 24/7 as they eat the bread of anxious toil. It is all vanity! Now, the psalm shifts from the things we anxiously try to do to make a name for ourselves to God’s gifts of heritage—it is our children. They are like arrows in the hands of a warrior. Here, there is a double entendre that we miss when paraphrasing “son” to “children” for the sake of inclusivity. The image of arrow is both one of sexual potency that continues to maintain the tribe, and one of protection, such as a large family provides. Might “quiver full of them” also be a reference to a wife’s womb that was believed to hold those children before conception. Whatever, happy are those who have a household full of them. However, at the end of the day, is it not the presence of many children that brings prosperity and protection. That comes from the Lord. For unless the Lord builds our house, all else that we try to do is in vain.

Paul continues to write biographically to the Galatians, reminding them that his gospel is not the work of others. Though after his vision of Christ and his time in Arabia and then again in Damascus, he did go to Jerusalem to meet with Cephas (Peter) and stayed with him fifteen days; he did not confer with any other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother, who by now was on his way to becoming a leader in the Jerusalem Church and would become its bishop after Peter’s departure for Rome. After that visit, Paul went to his home in Syria and Cilicia and remained unknown to the churches of Judea. All that was said was that the one who had formerly persecuted the Jewish believers in that region was now proclaiming the very faith he once had tried to destroy. Consequently, the Judean Christians glorified God because of him. After another fourteen years, between his first and second missionary journey, Paul went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus—a Gentile—along with them to make his case for his ministry among the Gentiles and argue that circumcision and keeping the Jewish Law was not a gospel requirement for them. In that meeting, “false believers”—Jewish Christian leaders in Jerusalem who demanded that Gentiles like Titus be circumcised—were secretly brought in to make their case and win the day. But Paul would not submit to them. And whether they were leaders or not, they contributed nothing to Paul, who remained steadfast in his convictions to the point that Peter, James and John—the three pillars of the Jerusalem church—recognized the validity of Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles and the grace Paul had been given by God for his work, just as they recognized Peter’s commission and grace-filled work among the Jews. Consequently, they gave Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship,”—both a blessing and an acknowledged welcome—and sent them on their way back to the Gentiles, asking only one thing of them: that they not forget the poor, which Paul was already eager to do.

Jesus returns to Nazareth with his disciples, and on the sabbath, goes to his home synagogue to teach. Those who hear him are astounded, wondering where he has gotten all of this and where his wisdom has come from. They are astonished at the deeds of power he is doing. They ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses, Judas and Simon, as well as his sisters. (Notice that Joseph is not included here and is clearly dead.) Why they take offence at Jesus is unclear—was it his entourage and the fact that they thought he was taking himself entirely too seriously? Jesus simply responds with the truism that prophets are honored everywhere except at home, among their own people, even in their own families, or perhaps, especially within their own families! His clearly did not know who he was or understand what he was about. At any rate, their unbelief is such that he can do no deed of power there except for laying hands on a few of the sick and healing them. Mark tells us Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. Leaving Nazareth, he moves through the surrounding villages, teaching in them. Then he calls the twelve and gives them authority over unclean spirits—it is not only his, but his to give!— and he sends them out to preach and heal. Sending them out without bread, bag or money, and limiting what they wear, he has put them into the status of itinerant preachers who are to be dependent upon the hospitality of those to whom they preach. Such was common in that day, and, generally, it was thought an honor to house and care for such a preacher. Whenever a house welcomes them, they are to stay there until they leave the village. If any place will not welcome them, and they refuse to hear what it is they have to say, leave town and shake the dust of that place off of your feet as testimony against them. And so they went out and preached that the people should repent. Notice the absence of “and believe the good news.” They cast out many demons and healed many sick by anointing them with oil, but so far, they seem not to understand that this is the good news of God and bigger than their miracle-working leader.


Posted January 27, 2015
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.

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