Wednesday: 1 Samuel 2:12-26; Psalm 89:1-18; Acts 2:1-21; Luke 20:27-40
The priesthood is in severe decline under Eli’s leadership as he has no ability to discipline his sons, who are abusing their office as priests, taking portions of the sacrifice prescribed for others, and demanding sexual favors from the women who serve at the entrance to the shrine at Shiloh. While Eli continues to decline, Samuel continues to grow and mature as he ministers before the Lord. Annually, Hannah and the family return to Shiloh for sacrifice, and each year she brings Samuel a new ephod that she has made for him—a ceremonial robe. Eli would bless Elkanah and Hannah praying that they might have more children, and indeed they do—three sons and two daughters. When Eli hears what his sons are up to, he challenges them, and warns them that it is one thing to sin against the people and quite another to sin against the Lord. Who is to make intercession on their behalf for that kind of behavior with God? Certainly, Eli cannot. But the boys refuse to listen to their father. Notice how the Deuteronomic editors credit all of it to God himself, who desires to destroy the boys—an expression of the editosr' theological conviction that nothing occurs that is not God’s will and purpose. Read that way, it seems to let the sons off the hook. It is better read that the Lord determines finally to punish them for their wanton selfishness and continual abuse of their office. Taking a broader view, as the priesthood descends into decadence, “Samuel continues to grow both in stature and favor with the Lord and with the people.”
The psalm celebrates not only God’s sovereignty over all, it remembers God’s covenant with David and prays that God will continue to preserve and protect David and his reign forever and re-establish David’s royal line. In all probability, this psalm was written while Israel was in exile (587-538 BCE). It is filled with longing for the restoration of Israel’s sovereignty and return to its land. The first eighteen verses begin with words of praise for God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. It then remembers the covenant God made with David, focusing on the Lord as the One who created all that is, and who is still sovereign over all. The clear implication is that God, who is a mighty warrior, and whose reign is based on righteousness and justice, must act to keep his word. “Rahab” in verse 10 is not a reference to the prostitute in Jericho, but rather to the sea dragon who was the Canaanite god of chaos. The Lord is sovereign over chaos as well as all creation, even sovereign over Babylon who holds the Israelites in subjugation.
The day of Pentecost comes, with Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world where they have been scattered—the diaspora. Suddenly there comes from heaven the sound of a violent wind filling the entire house where the apostles and other believers are staying. Tongues of fire appear, divided and resting upon each of them. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages, as the Spirit enables them. Note that this is not the so-called glossolalia that is today called “speaking in tongues” in Pentecostal circles, but the ability to speak languages otherwise quite foreign and unknown to them in order to be able to communicate with the Jews from various parts of the world that are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. The disciples spill into the street and begin to tell of God’s deeds of power in Jesus. For the most part, the pilgrims are amazed, but some scorn the disciples as being drunk. Peter stands and announces, it is not so. Not only is it too early in the day for that, but more, this is precisely what the prophet Joel foretold. In the last days God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh so that sons and daughters would prophesy; young men would see visions and old men dream dreams. Even upon the slaves, God would pour out his Spirit. There would be portents in heaven and signs on earth, all as a prelude to the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. “Then, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The day of the Lord has come, Jesus’ disciples have been equipped with power from “on high,” just as Jesus promised, and their ministry has begun.
There were several religious parties during Jesus’ day: the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes, the latter of which seem not to appear in the gospels, unless John’s ministry is an expression of the Essene movement. The Pharisees were the more liberal of the group, allowing all of the texts of the Hebrew scriptures to be authoritative, whereas the Sadducees accepted only the five books of Moses—Torah. The Essenes had the Hebrew scriptures, and placed special emphasis on the Book of Isaiah, but also had other scriptures of their own. The Pharisees believe there would be a resurrection. The Sadducees, not being able to find any reference to it in scripture, did not. Now the Sadducees have been recruited to be part of the attempt to be rid of Jesus and they arrive with a question about how to correctly interpret scripture. Behind this lies Moses’ instruction on levirate marriage, a practice that insured that a woman whose husband died and left her with no children would not have his name forgotten. In addition, she would not be left destitute. Rather the wife would be taken in marriage by her husband’s brother, who would then have children in his brother’s name through her. Citing this biblically mandated practice, the Sadducees come with their reductio absurdum question to prove that there could not be a resurrection of the dead. A woman marries and is widowed seven times, each time marrying a brother, but always being left childless. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus steps beyond the question, not answering it directly, but instead, says that though marriage is needed in this age, it is not so in the age to come. Those worthy of a place in that age, and in the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage. Rather, since they cannot ever again die, there is no need for marriage in order to perpetuate the family. Rather, they are like angels (notice the “like”—they do not become angels!), and are children of God and children of the resurrection. That said, Jesus moves a step further to confirm the truth of the resurrection by using only texts from Torah. Moses himself confirmed the resurrection, says Jesus, in telling about his experience at the burning bush. There, God identified himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (“I am,” not “I was” their God—God speaks of them as still alive!). Thus, God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to God they are all alive. The Sadducees are silenced, but some of the scribes respond, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” And after that, they no longer dare to ask Jesus another question.
Tuesday: 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11; Psalm 42; Acts 1:15-26; Luke 20:19-26
Elkanah and his household return to Shiloh for the annual sacrifice, but Hannah asks to remain behind with the boy and not fulfill her vow until Samuel is weaned. Elkanah agrees, but in doing so says, “May the Lord establish his word.” It is an important theme that will echo throughout the book. Samuel is to be more than a nazarite in service to God in the sanctuary. Samuel is to be the prophet of the Lord, who speaks God’s word. .Another important theme is life coming from barrenness at God’s hand. Once Samuel is weaned (perhaps about three), Hannah takes him to Shiloh, along with sacrificial offerings, and brings him to the Lord. After they slaughter the bull, they bring Samuel to Eli the priest, and Hannah identifies herself as the woman, several years earlier, who Eli first chided and then blessed, and says, “Here is the child for which I prayed; the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” Hannah leaves the child with Eli, and the text now turns to what has come to be known as Hannah’s prayer. In fact, it is a national hymn of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance in all sorts of oppression (notice neither Hannah nor Samuel are ever mentioned). It cites reversal after reversal that take place at God’s hand. The exalted are brought low, and the lowly are lifted up and exalted. The poor are fed while the rich sell themselves as servants to survive. It will become the model for the Magnificat, thesong Mary sings after learning that she is to bear God’s son (Luke 1:46-55). The poem, as does the rest of the book, resonates with the theology of the Deuteronomic editors who are behind it: the Lord blesses those who are faithful and punishes those who are not. The poem ends with political advice for the king (who has yet to be established): the Lord “will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail.” “The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”
This psalm opens the second of five sections of the Psalter that scholars generally view as a collection of psalms to instruct the community on how to live as it faces exile in Babylon after 587 BC. Its plaintive longing for contact with God (note, the divine name “the Lord” is absent here, and instead the Hebrew word for God, elohim, and variations of it are used throughout). God’s presence is sought and remembered, and God’s absence lamented. Has God forgotten the psalmist? Has God forgotten the people in Babylon? Why do his enemies persist with their taunts: “Where is your God?” What is the psalmist to say? Throughout the prayer, the persistent question is asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul,” as if to keep himself from falling into despair, “and why are you disquieted within me?” In answer to his own question, the psalmist offers this refrain: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Troubles come and go, and within them, God may seem distant. But remembering God’s acts and support in the past, and hoping in God for the future, draws us near to God in the present through the conversation of prayer, and reveals that God is not only present, but a rock who is unchanging and worthy of our trust and praise.
By now, the circle of believers has grown to about 120 people. Peter stands among them to interpret what has happened concerning Judas and attributes it to what God had planned from the beginning. Now it is time to replace Judas with another so the twelve can take up their ministry to Israel, continuing to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. Who can take up the ministry that had been allotted to Judas? The parenthetical comment about Judas’ death, which differs from the gospel account that says he went out and hanged himself, is followed by quotes from psalms 69:26 and 109:8, giving foundation for choosing another from among them to become one of the twelve. The criteria is set forth: a man who has accompanied them all the time the Lord went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from them. Two men are proposed: Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. The disciples pray, asking the Lord for guidance in the matter, and then cast lots. The lot falls on Matthias, and he joins the eleven as an apostle. Ironically, we will hear nothing more about Matthias. But in a few chapters, the Lord will choose another, but as an apostle to the Gentiles rather than to Israel.
When the chief priests realize that Jesus has just told the parable of the wicked tenants against them, they actively seek to find a way to entrap Jesus so that they may kill him. Afraid of the crowd, stoning is no longer an option. They must enlist the civil power of the governor. Throughout the early part of the week in Jerusalem, they send spies into the crowd, pretending to be honest, asking questions that could result in charges that Jesus was seditious. With gracious words as a prelude to their question, they emerge from the crowd and ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” The Roman taxation was a constant reminder of Israel’s subjugation as a vassal of Rome, and though a small sum, the tax was enormously unpopular and the stuff of which Jewish revolts emerged. So loathe was the subjugation that it was even considered unfaithful to deal in Roman coinage except to pay the tax. Jesus knows what they are up to, and says, “Show me the denarius,”—note Jesus does not have one. But look who does; the spy asking the question! Jesus then asks, “Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They respond, “The emperor’s.” The denarius bore an image of Emperor Tiberius with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” Jesus responds, “Then give to the emperor what is the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The spies are baffled and silenced, and find themselves unable to do anything to entrap Jesus. One footnote to Jesus’ answer: behind it lies the conviction that humankind is created in the image of God. Our first and foremost loyalty is to God, in whose image we have been created and who is Sovereign over all the Caesars of life.
Monday: 1 Samuel 1:1-20; Psalm 5; Acts 1:1-14; Luke 20:9-19
Today we begin reading the Book of Samuel that covers the period in Israel’s life between 1020 and 961 BCE, and events before, in and around the reigns of King Saul and King David. In the Hebrew it is one book (scroll). When it was translated into Greek the scroll was divided into two, simply because Hebrew has no vowels and Greek does, making the latter longer and unable to be placed on one scroll. The book follows chronologically on the Book of Judges, where the focus has been on conflicts with neighbors—increasingly the Philistines—and the inability of the loose confederation of tribes to meet the challenge. In Judges, the people’s faithlessness in worshiping the gods of the land into which they moved was countered by judges devoted to the Lord. Now, Israel is in transition from a people bound together in tribal structure, settling into a land and making the transition from a nomadic-pastoral to an agricultural economy and lifestyle, led into battle by charismatic tribal figures, to one that is fully agricultural and pastoral, and becoming a nation that needs a centralized leader. Initially that leadership comes from the priesthood, then moves to the prophet Samuel. But, increasingly, the people demand a king. What does that mean for a people whose religious system has been at the center of its political life as well, where God was their king, and spoke through his priests and prophets? Today’s lesson forms the backdrop to the birth of Samuel. Elkanah, from the hill country of Ephraim, has two wives: Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah has children but Hannah is barren. Yet, of the two, Elkanah favors Hannah as he loved her more than Peninnah. Each year as Elkanah and the entire family go up to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord, Elkanah gives equal portions of the sacrificed animal to Peninnah and her children, but to Hannah he always gives a double portion. Such favoritism is the seed of conflict in the family, and the Book of Samuel will show us such conflicts over and over again, and the effect of them, not only in the conflicted individuals’ lives, but also how that spills out into the larger society. Peninnah provokes Hannah severely for her barrenness. What is it Hannah has done to provoke God to shut her womb—the reproach a barren woman bore in a culture where a woman’s value was her ability to bear children and keep the tribe alive? While at one such sacrifice, Hannah goes to the threshold of the sanctuary (women were not permitted inside), and pours her heart out before the Lord. Eli, the senior priest of the shrine, sees her prostrate with her lips moving but making no sound and, assuming she is drunk, chastises her. Hannah responds to his rebuke by explaining that she is praying, beseeching the Lord to give her a son, and promising that if God does, she will dedicate him to the Lord’s service for all of his life. He will be a nazarite until the day he dies. Nazarites took vows not to cut their hair, drink wine or any produce of the vine, and not have any contact with death, even that of their own family. Samson is probably the other most famous nazarite in the Bible. Though the vow was usually for a limited time, this will be for Samuel’s entire life. Having explained her situation to Eli, he sends her home in peace with the blessing that God grant her request for a son. The next day, Elkanah and the household worship before the Lord and then returned to their home in Ephraim. Elkanah and Hananh have sexual intercourse, and the Lord remembers Hanah and she conceived, and in due time bears a son. She named him Samuel, which literally translates “Name of God,” and probably is intended to mean “He who has come from God.”
Traditionally used in morning prayer, this psalm pleads for God’s protection and care against one’s enemies. Knowing that God abhors wickedness and the boastful, the psalmist expresses the certainty that because of God’s steadfast love, he will again be able to enter God’s house to worship, even as now, he bows down toward the temple in awe. His enemies are full of lies and deceit, and have rebelled against God. He ends as he begins expressing joyful confidence in the Lord’s blessings and care.
We begin our journey through the Book of Acts, the second book of Luke’s two volume Church history, the first being his Gospel. It is addressed to Theophilus, which literally means “God-lover.” Thus begins the transition from the gospel itself to the spread of the good news from Jerusalem to the outer edges of the Empire. Luke begins by telling of the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and when he “went up into heaven.” During that time Jesus continues to reveal himself to the disciples by “many convincing proofs.” In other words, he was not with them on a 40-day retreat but continued to come and go and make himself known in ways that were irrefutable. Finally, he gathered them and told them not to leave Jerusalem but wait there for what the Father has promised. “John baptized with water,” he tells them, but they are “to be baptized with the power of the Holy Spirit.” Something totally new is about to take place. The disciples can’t understand what he means and ask, “Is this the time you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” That, of course, is what they have been expecting from the Messiah. Jesus tells them that this is not something for them to know. The Father has set a time, but for now, they are going to receive power to become his witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the utter ends of the earth. This is bigger than restoring the kingdom to Israel. God has grander things in mind, and they are to be a part of it. Having said this, Jesus is lifted up, out of their sight, while they are left, mouths hanging open, wondering where he has gone and when he will be back. After all, he has come and gone before, but never quite like this. Suddenly, “two men dressed in white” are standing next to them asking why they are wasting their time sky-gazing. Jesus, who has been taken up into heaven from them, will come in the same way they have seen him go. And so the disciples return from Mt. Olivet to the room where they had met on Thursday evening for the Lord’s Supper and where they have been staying since. Now of one mind—the first time that has been said about them!—they devote themselves to prayer as they wait. With them are the women who have followed and served Jesus, as well as Jesus’ mother and his brothers.
Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants who refused to give the owner of the vineyard his share of the produce. The owner sends slaves that the tenants might give them the owner’s share, but the tenants beat them, insult them, wound them and send all of them away empty-handed. The vineyard is the ancient biblical symbol for Israel, the owner the Lord, the tenants the people, and the slaves the prophets that Israel constantly rejected—so much so that Israelites finally gained the reputation of having killed all who were sent to them. The owner decides that there is only one way to succeed with the tenants: he will send his beloved son; perhaps him they will respect. But when the tenants see the son, they begin to discuss among themselves how to get rid of him, just as the religious leaders have begun to discuss how to be rid of Jesus. The tenants seize the son, kill him and throw his body out of the vineyard. Jesus then asks those listening, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants?” Answering his own question he says, “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” The people respond in horror, “Heaven forbid!” Jesus then quotes Psalm 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He then adds, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone upon whom it falls.” The scribes and Pharisees realize that Jesus has told this story against them, and want to lay their hands upon him and kill him at that very hour, but again, they fear the people.
Readings for the Week of the Sunday closest to June 15, Proper 6
Sunday: Exodus 6:2-13; 7:1-6, Psalm 103; Revelation 15:1-8; Matthew 18:1-14
Moses has returned to Egypt as the Lord had instructed him to do and gone to Pharaoh and said, “The Lord says to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’” Pharaoh responds, “Who is the “Lord”; I do not know him, and no, I will not let the Israelites go. Why are you trying to take the people from their work?” In response to Moses’ request, the taskmasters take away the straw for making bricks, making the Israelites’ work even more oppressive. After Moses complains to the Lord, today’s lesson opens, and God again affirms his identity as “The Lord,” and the very same God who appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but not by this name. “I am the Lord” appears three times in this section, as reaffirmation, as the Lord tells Moses that he has not forgotten the people or the covenant he made with their ancestors. Moses is told to tell the Israelites that the Lord is going to free them from their burdens, take them out of Egypt and lead them into the land he promised to their ancestors. The Lord will take them as his people and he shall be their God. (Remember, this is at a time when nations had not only one god but many, and there was no sense of what we now call monotheism. People have a god of their own was a sign of corporate identity.) Moses tells the Israelites that God wants them for his people and is going to free them but, because of their broken spirit, they will not listen to him. The Lord tells Moses to again go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Israelites leave his land. Moses objects; he is a poor speaker, why should Pharaoh listen to him? Inserted within the narrative at verse 14 is the genealogy of Moses and Aaron--both both Levites—but but with special emphasis on Aaron. At the end of the genealogy, God responds to Moses’ question: he has made Moses like God to Pharaoh, and Moses’ older brother Aaron is to be Moses’ prophet—he is the one who is to speak the words that God commands Moses. But, in the process, God will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not listen or heed what Aaron says, giving God and opportunity to visit a series of harsh acts of judgment against Pharaoh. Before it is over, the Egyptians will know that “I am the Lord.” When God stretches out his hand against Egypt, and brings the Israelites out from among them, all Egypt will know that the Lord is God. So, Moses and Aaron do as the Lord commanded them. The story ends telling us that Moses is eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits. The psalmist lists the many ways God is good, merciful, gracious and generous. In spite of the fleeting nature of human life, God’s steadfast love endures forever. The psalm ends calling on all in heaven to join in the song of blessing.
The Son of Man, sickle in hand, has just reaped the earth of its harvest. The grapes of wrath have been harvested and thrown into the press to be trodden outside the city, with blood flowing from the press as high as a horse’s bridle for a distance of two hundred miles—so great is God’s wrath. Then seven angels appear in heaven, each with a plague, which will be the last, for with them the wrath of God will be spent. Here the imagery of Egypt is used as a metaphor for Rome as the plagues of Egypt are poured out on Rome. The redeemed, who have been numbered and signed, stand beside a sea of glass before the throne of God, with harps in hand to sing a victory hymn to God as well as the song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb—the Song of Moses. The scene shifts to the temple in heaven, out of which come seven angels dressed in the white garb of victory with their seven plagues. They are given the seven golden bowls of God’s wrath. The temple is filled with the smoke that accompanies the glory (presence) of God and all are excluded from God’s presence until the seven (completeness) plagues of the angels are ended.
Some of Jesus’ disciples come to him and ask who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus places a child in front of them. These children, who in Jesus’ day were considered a nuisance and burden, are God’s beloved. More, they are a symbol of what it means to live in God’s reign. To become like them, in trust, dependence and humility, is the path to the kingdom. Receiving one of them is nothing less than receiving Jesus. Putting a stumbling block in their path will mean reaping severe judgment. What follows are a series of injunctions against those things that cause us to stumble. Jesus tells us those we marginalize are of such value that God is like the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep behind to search for the one who has gone astray—behavior unthinkable for a shepherd! To be told that God would go to such lengths must have been astonishing. Is it not still so? It is God’s will that none should perish.
Saturday: Song of Solomon 5:10-16; 7:1-7a, 9; 8:6-7; Psalm 63; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14; Luke 20:1-8
The daughters of Jerusalem ask the woman what is so special about her love, and she responds with an outpouring of adulation praising his physical appearance from head to toe. The images are a mixture of fine metals and jewels, as well as rich fragrances. His appearance is like the choice cedars of Lebanon and his speech is most sweet. He is altogether desirable. Now the man responds in kind describing the woman, beginning with her feet and continuing to her thighs, belly, breasts, neck, eyes, nose and head, crowed like Carmel, with flowing locks in which a king would be held captive. She is fair and pleasant and a delight; he speaks of her as a stately palm tree that he will climb, laying hold of its branches to enjoy her kisses which are like the very best wine that goes down smoothly. The reading comes to a conclusion with a text often used in weddings today as the woman says to her lover, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, a seal upon your arm.” He is to “wear” her in his heart forever. She then compares love to the strength of death, that none can escape. Love’s passion is as fierce and relentless as the grave that takes each of us captive. “Its flashes are flashes of fire….” What follows is translated “a raging flame,” but in Hebrew it is literally “the fire of the Lord!” [Yaw] The love of a man and woman, in all of its dimensions, is nothing less than God’s fire! “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” Such love is worth more than all the wealth of the world; were one to offer such wealth in place of it, that wealth would be utterly scorned.
The psalm blesses God for his loving kindness and mercy—better than life itself! It is attributed to David while in the Judean wilderness, remembering the joy of having been in the temple and the presence of the Lord. It contains some of the most beautiful language in the psalter, texts often used in formal prayer: “O God, you are my God, earnestly will I seek you.” “My soul thirsts for you in a dry and barren land,” “because your love is better than life itself, my lips will speak your praise,” “in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy,” “my soul clings to you, your right hand supports me,” and so on. Each is suitable as opening words of prayer and prepares and centers the soul for conscious contact with God.
Paul brings this letter to a close reminding the Corinthians that his next visit will be his third. If there are to be any charges against him, it will require two or three witnesses. Interestingly enough, Paul has no trouble turning to the law when it suits his purposes (Deuteronomy 19:15)! And when he comes this time, it will be in the strength of Christ to deal with them out of that strength. Returning to the charges that he is weak, Paul makes the point that though Christ appeared weak in his crucifixion, Christ lives by the power of God. Paul and his companions live by that same power and will exercise it, if need be. Therefore, they are to examine themselves to be sure they are living into the faith—they are to test themselves! Have they forgotten that Christ lives in them, unless, of course, they have failed the test? May the Corinthians also find that Paul and his companions have not failed. Their prayer is that the Corinthians may do nothing wrong, but meet the test. Indeed, Paul and his companions rejoice when they are weak and, subsequently, the Corinthians are strong. Their prayer is that the Corinthians may become perfect. And so Paul writes these things while away from them so that he has no need to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given him for building them up when he arrives. The letter comes to a conclusion with a series of imperatives: put things in order, listen to what has been said, agree with one another, live in peace. Doing so, the God of love and peace will be with them. They are to continue to greet one another with the holy kiss of peace. A final word of greeting from “all the saints” who are with Paul is followed by a three-fold blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” The word koinonia, commonly translated “fellowship,” also means “participation” and “sharing,” and as New Testament scholar Gerard Sloyan has commented, is best rendered “communion and fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” to give expression to the Spirit’s two-fold action: to abide with us, keeping us in communion with God, and to keep us in fellowship with all others in whom the Spirit dwells.
The day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the temple, he is in the temple courtyard teaching the people the good news. The chief priests, scribes and elders surround him and challenge his authority to be teaching. Who gave him this authority to teach and do the other things he has done here? Jesus responds that he will answer their question once they have answered his: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” Remember, the Pharisees have rejected John’s baptism and it is safe to say, so too have the chief priests and scribes, though some may have been thus baptized. The religious leaders discuss the question among themselves, and we are permitted to listen in. What are they to say? If they say “From heaven,” Jesus will ask them why they did not believe in John. But, if they say, “Of human origin,” the people will stone them for blasphemy because they are convinced that John is a prophet. Between the proverbial rock and hard place, they confess that they do not know. Consequently, Jesus tells them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” If they could not recognize God’s presence and authority in a great prophet like John, how could they possibly recognize it in Jesus?
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.