Saturday, November 1, 2014
Nahum 3:8-19; Psalm 138; Revelation 13:11-18; Luke 12:32-48
God continues to mock Nineveh: “Are you better than Thebes?” the powerful Egyptian city that fell to the Assyrians. She had Ethiopia and Egypt, Put and the Libyans as her helpers, but she went into captivity to Assyria. But what the Assyrians did to them—dashing their infants into pieces at the head of every street—will be done to them. Their nobles will have lots cast for their slavery, they will all go into hiding, seeking refuge from the enemy. Their fortresses shall fall like ripe figs falling from the tree when shaken, their troops are women—filled with fear and running from conflict—and the gates to their city will be wide open to the foe, with fire devouring the bar of their gates that they may never be locked. All of their defenses will be cut off, all of their preparations will be as useless as a locust shedding its skin and flying away in the heat of the day. Their kings are asleep, their nobles slumber, and the people are scattered on the mountain with no one to gather them back. There will be no assuaging their hurt, for their wound is mortal. All who hear about this will clap their hands in rejoicing, for who has escaped Assyria’s endless cruelty? And thus the book ends. Though this looks like unvarnished gloating over the destruction of Assyria by the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BCE, the deeper message is that Judah’s fate will be Nineveh’s if she does not turn from her sinful ways. God can be counted on to defeat her enemies if she will trust him to do so, but if not and she trusts in herself or other alliances, no amount of military might will save her. It is a theme deeply woven into the prophets: when we trust in ourselves and our own might, rather than in God and God’s power over all nations, we put ourselves at peril.
Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving that celebrates the Lord’s intervention on the psalmist’s behalf. The language is rich in the action of praise and worship, and the recognition that in all of this God has again demonstrated his steadfast love and faithfulness—the qualities that most regularly describe the Lord in the psalter. Thereby, the Lord has again exalted his own name. The psalmist called and the Lord answered, increasing the strength of the supplicant’s soul. The psalm is attributed to David, and clearly has royal overtones as it notes that all the kings of the earth shall praise the Lord, for they have heard the words of God’s mouth. They too shall sing of the ways of the Lord. Though high, the Lord regards the lowly, but the haughty, God perceives from far away—keeps them at arms-length but still under surveillance! As God has cared for, and intervened in the past, so God shall continue to do so. Consequently, the psalmist confesses, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies.” The psalm ends with a final affirmation of security: “the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” Then, confessing that God’s steadfast love endures forever, there is one final plea: “Do not forsake me, for I am but the work of your hands.”
A second beast (Roman ruler) arises out of the earth with two horns and speaks like the dragon. It exercises the authority of the first beast and causes the people of the earth to worship the first beast whose mortal wound has been healed—in all probability, Nero. The beast performs great signs and, by those signs, deceives the inhabitants of the earth, telling them to make images for the beast. It then is allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that it can speak and cause those who refuse to worship it to be killed. In addition, it causes all: great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or forehead, so without that mark—the name of the beast or its number—none can buy or sell. The number of the beast is the sum of the numerical value of its letters—six hundred sixty-six. Before Arabic numbers—the time when this is being written—each letter of the alphabet of a language had a numerical value assigned to it. The best and most likely name behind these numbers is “Nero Caesar.” Remember, Nero was the first Roman emperor to persecute the church.
Do not be afraid, little flock—Jesus’ way of identifying his friends—it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. It is a given. Therefore, sell your possessions and give alms and thereby make heavenly purses for yourselves that do no wear out. (This is not found in the other gospels and reflects Luke’s continuing concern that the church be at the service of the poor and the outcast, the alien, widow and orphan. The church that cares for the poor, no matter how confused its theology, is doing the work of its Lord.) Such behavior stores up treasure in heaven, where it cannot be stolen from you and where it cannot be destroyed, as possessions here can so easily be destroyed. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” Treasure the kingdom and you will find yourselves living in it. Set your heart on the treasures of this world and that is the kingdom you will inherit. Dress yourselves for action—gird up your loins with lamps lit—awaiting your master to return from the wedding banquet so you can open the door to him when he comes. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he returns. He will put on an apron (an alternate way to translate “fasten his belt”) and sit you down to eat at his table, and he will wait on you and feed you. (Notice the reversal: we expect the servant to wait on the master, but instead, the master feeds the faithful servant. Do not miss the Eucharistic implications here, because Luke is writing this for a church that gathers at night in its Lord’s presence to be fed by him at table in the Lord’s Supper.) What matter is the time of his arrival if you are ready for him to come? But know for sure, that, if the owner of the house had known the hour the thief was coming, he would have been prepared. So too, you must be prepared, for the Son of Man is coming at such an unexpected hour. Peter interrupts: “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” Jesus answers with a question: Who is the faithful household manager, the sensible one or the profligate one, the one who is expectant, or the one who thinks the master’s delay allows all sorts of aberrant or undisciplined behavior? Of course, the expectant, prudent and faithful one who has known and done the desire of the master (here is Luke’s theme of hearing and doing being expressed once again). To whom much is given, Peter, much is required, and even more from those to whom much has been entrusted. In other words, these words are for everyone, but even more important and demanding for those in positions of leadership like Peter.
Friday, October 31, 2014
Nahum 2:13—3:7; Psalm 54; Revelation 13:1-10; Luke 12:13-31
The Lord of Hosts speaks to Nineveh announcing its destruction. That is followed by a woe against Nineveh for her deceitful and plundering ways. The language of intense warfare is used to described human devastation—flashing sword, glittering spear, piles of dead bodies, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end, so many that the soldiers stumble over them in combat. All of this is because of Nineveh’s prostitution. She shall be disgraced, the hem of her skirt lifted about her head to expose her nakedness to the nations—a common prophetic means of describing disgrace and humiliation. To be found naked was as abhorrent then as it is now. The Lord announces, “I am against you.... I will throw filth at you, treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle….Then all who see you will shrink back and say, ‘Nineveh is devastated, who will grieve for her?’” No one; she shall have no comforters, for the Lord of Hosts is doing this.
Psalm 54 records a prayer of trust from David when Saul was seeking his life (1 Samuel 23:19), and offers a model of prayer for any who are in trouble. “Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.” The insolent have risen against him, the heartless seek his life; their disdain for God and God’s ways and judgments enables them to pursue the psalmist with such ruthlessness. Then, the psalm voices its faith and trust in God—“Surely, God is my helper, the upholder of my life.” Vengeance is left to God—“Surely he will repay my enemies for their evil.” Notice that this conviction is based upon God’s faithfulness! God not only rescues; God cuts off the enemy—the deliverance is complete. The psalm ends with the promise of a freewill offering in the temple, giving thanks to the Lord, for he is good. And now, what the psalmist sought has taken place: The Lord has delivered him from every trouble. The psalmist’s eye has looked in triumph on his enemies, for deliverance is not deliverance until it includes vindication.
The beast arises out of the sea with ten horns, seven heads and ten diadems, and on its heads blasphemous names—it is clearly the Roman Empire, whose emperors were worshiped as Dominus Deus—Lord and God. The various savage animals that make up the composite of “the beast” emphasize its vicious and voracious nature. The dragon gives its power and throne and authority to the beast. One of the heads has a mortal wound but appears to have been healed (Nero took his own life, but it was rumored that he was still alive). All the earth followed in amazement, thinking they were worshipping the beast when, in fact, they were really worshipping the dragon. “Who can fight against it?” The question echoes the dejected cry of nations who fell under Rome’s oncoming armies. The beast then engages in haughty and blasphemous speech, and is allowed to exercise authority for a short time (forty-two months = 3&1/2 years). It blasphemes against God, God’s dwelling, and those who dwell in heaven, and makes war on the saints. It is given authority over the entire world, and all who worship it, save those whose names have been written, from the foundation of the world, in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered. Then comes the solemn warning: if you are to be taken captive, to captivity you shall go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you will be killed. (Remember, those in the early church were pacifists). This is actually a word of encouragement and warning to those who are captured and to those who will die: they belong to the Lamb and have conquered all of this in him; there is no need to take up the sword.
Of what does life consist—possessions? Then why do we waste so much of life seeking to acquire them? A man shouts out of the crowd, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” The children squabble over what was their parents’; this is not new, and seems to have been as equally destructive then as now. Jesus deflects the request by asking who has established him as an arbitrator between the two of them. But that sets a context for him to warn about the corrosive nature of greed and the desire for things. He then tells the story of the rich fool, who used all of his life to make more and more, when enough should have been sufficient, and upon acquiring it, lost his life—also something that is as contemporary as the story is ancient. The “You fool!” is not simply a description of his lack of wisdom or prudence. In the Bible, it is reserved for those who deny God or God’s ability to act in their lives. The issue with life is to store up treasure in God. Then Jesus turns to another contemporary subject—worry. Quit worrying about what you will eat, or about your body, or what you will wear. Life is more than these things. Consider the ravens—God feeds them. Are you not of much more value to God than the birds? What can worry earn you—can it add a single hour to your life? (No; but it can certainly take them from us.) Consider the lilies: they neither toil nor spin yet are clothed in a glory that exceeds that of Solomon. If God so clothes the things of nature, then how much more will God clothe you—you of little faith? Quit striving for what you eat and drink, and give up worrying about it. That is how the pagan nations operate. Your Father knows that you need them and will give them to you. Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and the rest of these things will be given to you as well.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Nahum 1:15-2:12; Psalm 59; Revelation 12:7-17; Luke 11:53-12:12
Chapter one ends with a hinge verse in 15, announcing the feet of a messenger on the mountains bringing good tidings—proclaiming peace! (This same image is later borrowed by the Prophet Isaiah (53:7), that is, in turn, used by Paul in Romans 10:15—an example of how biblical images develop lives of their own in various portions of the tradition.) But, peace will come only after that battle portrayed in chapter two; therefore, Judah is to celebrate its festival and pay its vow, remembering that never again will the wicked invade, for they are utterly cut off (God has spoken, it is already a fact). Then, the text addresses the people of Nineveh with a vivid description of the attack being led by none other than the Lord, who is restoring the majesty of Jacob and Israel. Nineveh will be drained like a pool whose waters run off and leave it dry, with its warriors staggering in the streets. With the devastation, desolation and destruction (imperatives that call the action into being) their hearts faint and knees tremble. What was once a lion’s den has done its damage long enough. Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of treasure and abundance of everything for the victor’s taking. The lion will be a danger no more.
Psalm 59 is named a psalm of David which he prayed when king Saul had ordered his house watched in order to kill him, (1 Samuel 19:11), and though this prayer for deliverance from enemies may well have originated with David, (notice the royal dimension, for the enemies are national as well as personal), it takes a turn after verse four to have much wider application. From pleading for protection from personal enemies who lie in wait, and whose violence is not retribution for his sin, but simply their attempt to stir up strife against him, he cries out “Rouse yourself, come to my help and see! You, Lord God of hosts (the ancient warrior name for God), are also the God of Israel. Awake to punish all the nations that rise against Israel.” Then, the enemy is characterized as “howling dogs” (objects of derision in Israel), that come back each evening to prowl the streets, to bark and terrorize, howling sharp words, thinking, “Who will hear us?” But God does hear and laughs at them, holding the nations in derision (Psalm 2:4), and from that affirmation comes a confession of trust in God as a personal strength and defender because of his steadfast love, who will let the psalmist look in triumph over his enemies, a pleasure he wants. He asks God not to kill them, but simply to strip them of all power that they will totter and fall, so others can know the power of the God of Jacob to be their shield. The refrain returns to the howling dogs, roaring about in search of food, growling because they do not get their fill. But for the psalmist, he will sing of God’s might, sing aloud of the Lord’s steadfast love in the morning. God has been his fortress and refuge in the day of distress, a fortress of steadfast love.
War breaks out in heaven: the Arch Angel Michael and his hosts fight against the dragon, who with his angels fight back but are defeated, and the dragon and his hosts are driven out of heaven. Satan and his minions are no longer in heaven to test, accuse and testify against humanity. Then, another loud voice is heard from heaven, singing of the salvation, victory, power and reign of God, and the authority of God’s Messiah. The accuser has been thrown down, never again to accuse the saints, for he has been conquered for them by the blood of the lamb and by their own testimony. Because they did not cling to their lives, even in the face of death, they are now the victors. It is a word intended to be both comfort and encouragement to the suffering church. Another call goes out to those in heaven to rejoice, and it is quickly followed by a word of woe to the earth and sea: the devil has come down to them with great wrath because he knows his time his short. So, the dragon pursues the woman who had given birth to the male child. She, the church, is given the two wings of the great eagle so she can fly from the serpent into the wilderness for “time, times and half a time” (3 & ½)—a limited time. Remember, in the Bible, the wilderness is the place of God’s nurturing and wooing. The serpent continues to pour forth floods from his mouth in order to wash her away, but the earth comes to her help and opens its mouth and swallows up the dragon’s flood. And so, the dragon, in his anger, goes off to make war with the rest of the woman’s children—those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. The scene ends with the dragon standing on the edge of the sea—the source of chaos that is thought of as the abyss—awaiting the emerging of the beast from the sea. The war fought in heaven defeating Satan, must now be enacted on earth.
From their dinner party on, the Pharisees turn hostile to Jesus, cross-examining him whenever they can, and lay in wait to catch him. Meanwhile, the crowds are gathering “by the thousands” even trampling on one another. Jesus speaks first to his disciples warning of the yeast of the Pharisees and their hypocrisy. Everything is going to come to the surface and be known, so that what they say in the dark will come to light, and what they whisper behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops. Hypocrisy simply will no longer do and must be abandoned. But do not fear those who kill the body, and thereafter can do you no real harm. Fear the one who, after he has killed, has authority to cast you into hell—fear him! Remember, even the sparrows that fall to the earth are noted by God, but more, the hairs of the disciples’ heads are all counted. They are not to fear, they are far more precious to God than sparrows. All who acknowledge Jesus before others, he—the Son of Man—will also acknowledge before God’s angels. But whoever denies Jesus before others will themselves be denied by him before God. Whoever speaks a word of insult against the Son of Man, as the Pharisees are doing, will be forgiven. There is still time to repent and acknowledge who Jesus is. But, whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, in that final moment of accountability will not be forgiven. When they haul you before the synagogue to try you about your loyalty to Jesus, do not worry about how to defend yourselves. The Holy Spirit will give you, in that moment, the words that you are to speak.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Nahum 1:1-14; Psalm 49; Revelation 12:1-6; Luke 11:37-52
The book of Nahum is a biblical scholar’s quandary: there are questions about who wrote it, when, where and why? Because it identified two historical events: the fall of the Egyptian city of Thebes to the Assyrians in 663 BCE and the fall of the Assyrian city of Nineveh in 612 BCE, it is assumed to have been preached by the prophet in Judah soon thereafter and later written down. An initial reading can be troubling, as it seems such an overt exultation and celebration of vengeance. It is a book of oracles against other nations, primarily Assyria, and includes woes against them. In Hebrew, it is a masterpiece of poetry. The first oracle is an acrostic, using nine of the first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and begins by warning that the Lord is a jealous and avenging God, raging against his enemies. Though slow to anger, the Lord is great in power and by no means will clear the guilty. Then the Lord is described with vivid imagery that we are accustomed to hearing in creation psalms: a whirlwind and storm. The Lord rebukes the sea—sets its limits—and dries up rivers. Mountains quake, hills melt and the earth heaves at God’s presence. Who can stand before God’s indignation, who can endure the heat of his anger that is poured out like fire? Then suddenly, in the midst of this, there comes an affirmation of God’s goodness. The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble, protecting those who take refuge in him, even in the midst of a raging flood. But he will also make a full end of his adversaries and pursue his enemies into darkness. The adversary is then addressed, and it is Nineveh: why do you plot against the Lord? God will make an end to his enemies; no adversary will rise up a second time. The Lord speaks, and it is difficult to know exactly who he is addressing, Judah or Nineveh. Some translations have made a choice and name Judah as the one who will be “afflicted no more,” while Nineveh will no longer have descendants to bear its name. Other translations think it best to leave the ambiguity in the text, since neither Nineveh nor Judah are mentioned at this point in the Hebrew text. In fact, it may be an individual leading the oppression, such as the Assyrian king. However, it could as easily be a Judean naysayer who insists that the Lord will never act on behalf of Judah.
Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm addressed to all the inhabitants of the earth—both high and low, rich and poor—and warns against placing trust in one’s wealth, or boasting in the abundance of one’s riches. Why fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of your persecutors surrounds you—those who trust in their wealth and trust in their riches? There is no ransom one can pay for one’s life; death comes to everyone. The rich and the poor alike, the wise and the foolish die together and leave their wealth to others. Mortals may be pompous, but like all animals, we perish, whether foolhardy or prudently pleased with ourselves. Like sheep appointed for Sheol, death is their shepherd. In the midst of all of this doom and gloom there is a surprising, even startling word—“God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Here is one of the unusual places in the Hebrew Scriptures that witnesses to the belief that communion with God does not end at death (see also Psalm 73:24). And now the psalm turns to comforting those who see others gaining riches while they do not. Do not be afraid; they will die and carry nothing away. Though they count themselves happy because of their riches—for those who do well for themselves are praised in this world—when they die, they will never again see light. Again, we are reminded that in spite of our pride and pomp, we are no better than the animals that perish.
A great sign appears in the heaven and we are given a six verse synopsis of what is taking place in heaven before the final judgment. This takes us behind the scenes to give us a vision of the struggle taking place throughout the cosmos, of which the church is only a part. A pregnant woman appears, clothed with the sun, the moon at her feet and a crown of twelve stars. She is crying out in birth pangs. This is the mother of the messianic community. The image reminds us of Paul writing that the whole creation is in the pangs of birth—sometimes called “messianic woes,” awaiting our adoption as the children of God (Romans 8:22). Then, another portent appears with her: a great red dragon, with seven heads (the seven hills of Rome) and ten horns (great power), and seven diadems on its heads (seven rulers). The dragon’s tail sweeps down a third of the stars, as it chases after the woman and then stands before her as she is about to give birth to her child, waiting to devour it as soon as it is born. It is the messianic child who is born to rule all the nations. But the child is snatched away and taken up to God and placed upon a throne. The woman flees into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God where she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days—roughly equivalent to the 42 months—the time the nations will trample down the outer court of God’s temple. The portent speaks of the struggles of the messianic community until the full time of its suffering is complete, until the judgment begins on the world’s rulers and their league with the powers of evil, a judgment that has already been determined.
A Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him. Jesus accepts the invitation and a clash of two very different views on the religious life emerges from it. The Pharisee is amazed to see that Jesus does not wash his hands before eating—the Pharisees were very strict about such rituals and actions of outward purification. Jesus knows what the Pharisee is thinking and says, “You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” Then, in some of the strongest language yet, he calls them “Fools!” It is an epitaph that is reserved in the Bible for those who resist the ways of God. Do they not know that the one who made the outside made the inside as well? Verse 41 is a significant challenge, but seems to mean true cleanliness emerges from the inside out and not the other way around. Woe to them, they tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds—the seasonings of meals, not their substance—while ignoring the justice and love of God. (The purpose of the tithe was to support not only the Levites, but also the poor of the land: the aliens, orphans and widows.) The woes continue as Jesus challenges them on their love for seats of honor in the synagogue, and their desire to be treated with the highest of respect in the marketplaces. Woe to them: they are like unmarked graves that people do not recognize and so walk over—they have so effectively worked to hide their hypocrisy that most people do not recognize it. But he does. One of them, a lawyer objects: “Teacher, when you say such things you are insulting us too.” That turns Jesus’ woes on the lawyers as well, for they load people with burdens hard to bear and do not lift a finger to ease them. They build tombs for the prophets whom their ancestors killed, and thereby witness to their own approval of that killing—“They killed them, you build their tombs.” They have killed all the prophets and apostles sent to them by God right from the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel—the first to be murdered, to the death of the prophet Zechariah who was stoned between the altar and the sanctuary (2 Chronicles 24:20-22). Theirs is the generation that will be charged with killing the prophets. Woe to them; they have not only taken away the key to knowledge they themselves have not entered into it, but more, have hindered others from entering it as well. Is it any wonder that after this explosive encounter these religious leaders set out to do away with Jesus? This is no story-book Jesus who is meek and mild. From this point forward, he will be at violent odds with the religious authorities.
Tuesday: October 28, 2014
Jonah 3:1-4:11; Psalm 48; Revelation 11:14-19; Luke 11:27-36
Jonah has learned his lesson; or has he? Initially, it seems so; he heads to Nineveh, that great and wicked city, to proclaim God’s judgment on it: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Notice that there is no invitation to repent and be saved, just God’s ultimate destruction of it. The people of Nineveh don’t need an invitation. They believe God, proclaim a fast, and everyone, great and small, puts on sackcloth. Even the king sits in sackcloth and ashes, and makes a royal proclamation: all shall turn from their evil ways and the violence in their hands. “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind.” And, of course, that is precisely what God does. But, rather than rejoice in this and the success of his prophecy, Jonah falls into a prophetic pout, and even says, “See, I told you so, Lord! That is why I fled to Tarshish. I knew you are gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” That said, Jonah pleads for God to take his life. He simply cannot stand to look upon God’s mercy expressed to others, especially those who have been wantonly evil. Having crossed the city with his proclamation, he leaves town, makes a booth and sits under its shade awaiting God’s response. The Lord causes a large bush or plant to sprout up and provide cover for Jonah, to save him for the heat, something that greatly pleases Jonah. But the next day, God appoints a worm to attack the bush so that it dies. When the sun rises, God sends a sultry east wind and the sun beats down on Jonah so that he is faint and, in his anger, pleads to die. God asks Jonah about his anger over the bush’s destruction; is it right? “Yes,” says Jonah, “angry enough to die!” The Lord reminds Jonah of the huge discrepancy of his ways: angry over a mere bush that he did not create, that came into being in one night and perished in the next, but totally unconcerned, no more—even angry enough to die because the Lord should show mercy to the Ninevites. Herein is a warning for us all: God’s love and mercy are no more limited to those of us who claim to be God’s people than to the rest of the world, regardless of how pagan. God welcomes any who turn to him. We are not “insiders,” as God’s people, but messengers of his love. We can hear that as good news and rejoice in our salvation, or hear it as bad news, and become like Jonah, so pious and heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.
Psalm 48 is a classic psalm of praise that celebrates the Lord’s greatness and presence on Mount Zion, the site of the temple, and another name for Jerusalem, the city of God and the psalmist’s joy. It is probably a pilgrims psalm: “as we have heard so have we seen,” and remembers God’s presence in the city, setting the kings of the earth to panicked flight and smashing them as the east wind drives ships against the rocks of Tarshish. Standing within the temple, the pilgrim is struck with a moment of transcendence—this is a “thin place” in life where heaven and earth overlap—and ponders God’s steadfast love, proclaiming that God’s praise reaches the very ends of the earth. Walk about Zion, go all around it. Count its towers, consider its ramparts. Go through its citadels so that you can tell of its greatness to future generations. Most of all, remind them that God is our God forever and ever, and will forever be our guide.
The second woe past and as a third is awaited, the seventh angel blows the trumpet and a loud voice from heaven announces: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” It is not that the kingdom of the world at some time before did not belong to God, but rather a reassertion that, what has always been, is even more the case now. What has always been the case in heaven, and what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, is, in fact, reality. The twenty-four elders fall on their faces in worship singing a hymn of divine sovereignty that recalls all that has been said about God’s reign heretofore, while thanks is given to God who “was and is” (“are and were,” in the text) with the “is to come,” delayed for the moment, because the emphasis is on what is taking place in this immediate scene. Remember, the sacred name of God, “I am,” given to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), can be translated past, present or future tense, and leads to the conception of God as the One who “was, is, and is to be,” and in Revelation, sometimes named “is to come.” This book will play with that image in various configurations throughout its revelation. The emphasis here is on the past and the present. Though the nations have raged against the Lord and his Christ (Psalm 2:5), and continue to do so, God’s wrath has come, which also brings a reward for God’s servants. Judgment comes to those who destroy the earth. The “is to come” is yet to be revealed, but will be. The lesson concludes with the doors of God’s temple in heaven being opened, and lo and behold: there is the Ark of the covenant, which had been lost in the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 BCE, complete with all of the earthly marks that accompany God’s appearance.
A woman in the crowd expresses her belief in Jesus by blessing the womb that bore him and the breasts that nursed him. Jesus expands that blessing to all who hear the word of God and obey it—the theme that continues through this gospel as a cantus firmus. A new scene portrays Jesus with an even greater crowd that he tells belong to an evil generation who ask for a sign but who will receive none except the sign of Jonah. The church soon understood this as a reference to the parallel between Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, and Jesus’ three days in the tomb. However, the sign of Jonah is greater than that. Jonah is also a sign to Nineveh, that when it hears and sees, acts—it repents. It is one thing to listen to Jesus’ gracious words and take pleasure and comfort in them, and quite another to hear his call to repentance and do something about it in terms of how we order our lives. This is about not only hearing but also obeying. Just as the Queen of Sheba came to hear the wisdom of Solomon and responded to it, so the wisdom of God is in their midst. Will they respond? Something greater than Jonah is here! Luke then includes Jesus’ words about lighting a lamp that also appears in Matthew 5:15 and Mark 4:21: No one hides a source of light. Jesus is that prophetic light; will they let him shine? The complex comment about the eye being the lamp of the body is clearer in Matthew 6:22-23, but here relies on the conviction of Jesus’ day that the eye was the window through which the light of the soul shines forth and is revealed, and allows its light or its darkness to be visible to onlookers. The connection here is to “this evil generation,” whose eyes are not healthy or clear but rather wicked or evil (the world the NRSV translates here “unhealthy” is the same word in verse 29 that it translates “evil”). The saying can function in two ways: does your eye let the light in to illumine and change your life; or, is what shines from your eye the light of God revealed in Christ? Either way, the injunction is to be filled with Christ’s light so completely that we too become lamps shining forth his light, not only to enlighten the darkness, but also to be signs to those in search of light.
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.