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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Daily Readings for Thursday, February 27

Prov. 7:1–27; Psalm 81; 1 John 5:13–21; John 11:55–12:8

Again, a parent speaks to a child, imploring him to keep his commandments, make them the apple of his eye, bind them to his finger and write them on the tablet of his heart. He is to make Lady Wisdom his sister, and her insights his intimate friend. They will keep him from the evil of loose and seductive women. The text then falls into a long narrative about a young man, viewed from his father’s window, a lad who is “simple” and “without sense.” He falls into the enticement and charms of an adulterous woman, who seeks him out in her husband’s absence. The text is graphic in describing the woman’s behavior, her desire for the youth, and how she has prepared her home as a place to “take our fill of love until morning,” delighting themselves with lovemaking through the night. Her husband is gone on a long journey. With such seductive talk she persuades the young man, and with such smooth talk she compels him to her bed. The young man goes, like an ox to slaughter, or a stag toward a trap—this will cost him his life. The chapter ends, broadening the speech, so it is no longer addressed just to a son, but to all children. Listen, take heed, be attentive to the words of his mouth; do not let their hearts be turned aside to such women’s ways, nor stray into her paths. For she has laid many low through her enticements, and thus, collected many victims. Her house is the way to the land of the dead (Sheol), leading to the chambers of death.

The people are called to liturgical assembly on a festival day to sing, shout for joy, raise a song, sound the musical instruments and blow the shofar (ram’s horn) at the new moon (perhaps the feast of Passover, Pentecost or Tabernacles). The reference to Joseph may mean this was composed in the Northern Kingdom during a Levite reform. The psalm turns prophetic and introduces the voice of God remembering that he has “relieved [their] shoulder of the burden” of Egypt. They called and God answered. God tested them at the waters of Meribah (Exodus 17). Now, they are to listen, as God admonishes them. If only they would listen! There are to be no strange gods among them, nor are they to bow down to them. This is the Lord speaking, who brought them out of Egypt. If they would but open wide their mouths, the Lord would fill them. But the people did not listen and would not submit. And so, God gave them over to their stubborn hearts. Once again the Lord extends the plea: If only they would listen and walk in God’s ways. Then God would quickly subject their enemies; turn his hand against their foes, causing those who hate him to cringe. For their own part, God would feed them with the finest of wheat and honey from the rock. It initially seems quite remarkable how often these themes need to appear, causing one to wonder why the people did not respond. But then, think of how easily we are drawn away from trusting the Lord when other solutions seem to be at hand.

John the Elder brings his letter to a conclusion reiterating his theme of believing in the name of the Son of God so that they may have eternal life. He reminds them of the boldness they have in Jesus: whatever they ask, according to his will, he hears and will give them. John then turns to the subject of sin and introduces a new idea: two kinds of sin. There is sin that is mortal and leads to certain death, and that is not mortal and can be forgiven. They are to pray for brothers and sisters who sin through error, but whose sin is not mortal—God will forgive these and give them life. There is no reason to pray for those whose sin is mortal for it leads to certain death. Though all wrongdoing is sin, there is a sin that is mortal. John never defines the difference, but given the context of the argument, it may be that the mortal sin is denial that Jesus is the Christ and God’s son. John assures them that those born of God do not sin, but the one who is born of God (Jesus, the Son), protects them so that the evil one does not touch them. Though the whole world lives under the power of the evil one, the Son of God has come so that they might know what is true and belong to God in him. John ends with one final admonition: “Keep yourselves from idols.”

In the commotion following the raising of Lazarus, Jesus has withdrawn to Ephraim, but as Passover approaches, it is time to return to Jerusalem. Many of the pilgrims who have returned there are asking about Jesus, who is not there. The Chief Priest and other Jewish leaders have issued an order that should Jesus appear during the festival, he be arrested. It is part of their plot to kill Jesus. Six days before Passover (the third Passover mentioned in John’s gospel, signifying a three year ministry rather than one, as it is set forth in the other gospels), Jesus and his disciples leave Ephraim and go to Bethany to stay with Lazarus. While there, at dinner, Mary abandons her serving duties and takes a pound of costly nard and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. This act of humble service and devotion is not missed by any, but as the aroma fills the room, Judas becomes indignant: why has this nard not been sold and the money given to the poor? Judas has missed the point altogether, but we are told that he is not only a betrayer but also a thief, his motivation, less for the poor than his own pocketbook. Jesus silences Judas and tells him to leave Mary alone. She bought the nard for the day of his burial, and in this action she has anticipated it. As for the poor, they will always be among them; there is plenty of time to care for their needs. Jesus will soon not be among them. Though the author has told us that Judas was the one to betray him, one wonders how much that public rebuke in the midst of the inner circle had an impact on what Judas ultimately did.

Posted February 27, 2014
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Daily Readings for Wednesday, February 26

Prov. 6:1–19; Psalm 125; 1 John 5:1–12; John 11:45–54

The lectionary, in its attempts at gender sensitivity, steps over chapter five and the father’s advice to his son concerning marriage. Wisdom now begins to fall into practical imperatives concerning behavior other than seeking wisdom and walking its straight path. The son is warned against the temptation to step beyond the bounds of his marriage into the snare of “a loose woman” whose lips drip honey, and whose speech is smoother than oil but, in the end, is a doubled edges sword and bitter as wormwood. Rather, he is to hold fast to the bride of his youth—a lovely deer and graceful doe—that he may remain “intoxicated by her love.” He is to drink deeply of her water, rather than that of strangers, for she is a fountain of blessing—a fountain of life--widsom's word on fidelity in marriage. Chapter six, today’s lesson, continues with particular instructions to the son, this time warning against things that could turn to financial ruin. Be careful not to give a pledge to your neighbor—in contemporary language, co-sign for a loan—for in so doing, he will be caught by his own words. And, if he has already done so, he must run, without delay, to be released from it, and the power it gives the neighbor over him. The subject then turns to diligence, chiding the boy for being a “lazybones.” He is to consider the industry of the ant and learn its wisdom. Without anyone to guide or rule over it, the ant makes diligent preparation in summer for food that can later be harvested. Again, the son is called “lazybones” in an attempt to rouse him from sleep; for such slumber, such “folding of the hands to rest” is the onset of poverty, which will come upon him like a robber or armed warrior. Again, the wicked are described. They are scoundrels, villains, filled with crooked speech, winking eyes, shuffling feet, pointing fingers and perverted minds that continue to create discord. The end will be calamity—damage beyond repair. Then, employing a numerical pattern common in the ancient world (see Amos 1:3—2:8) a second, parallel section follows as the father describes six things the Lord hates: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that rush to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely. Each is an abuse or misuse of God’s good gifts to us of sight, speech, hands, heart, feet and integrity. And, there is a seventh that is an abomination to him: one who sows discord in a family.

This song of ascent is less a prayer than a wisdom hymn that extolls the Lord’s ability to care for those who trust in him. Like Mt. Zion, they will not be moved. Like the mountains that surround Mt. Zion, so the Lord surrounds his people, and will do so forever. Reigns of wickedness shall not fall on the land that has been allotted to the righteous, that they may not stretch out their hand and do wrong. Finally, there is the petition: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,” followed by the parallel refrain, “and to those who are upright in their hearts.” But for those who turn aside to walk in their own way, the Lord will lead them away with the other evildoers. The psalm ends invoking peace on Jerusalem.

Chapter five of 1st John now centers on the controversy(ies) dividing the church: was Jesus born of God or not? It may be that the issue was not simply Gnosticism.  There may also have been a faction insisting that Jesus was simply a good man that God rewarded with resurrection because of his faithfulness. Consequently, the message is: everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. The theme of obedience to God’s commandments is repeated, and the readers are reminded that this is not burdensome for those born of God, because, as such, they have conquered the world through their faith. And now, faith is identified as more than simple trust in God, it picks up a doctrinal component—believing that Jesus is God’s unique child. What follows has a rich and multivalent history of interpretation. There are three witnesses to who Jesus is: the water, the blood and the Spirit. At the most basic level, “water” can refer to Jesus’ human birth just as blood refers to his human death. At a secondary level, water can be understood as the waters of his baptism and blood as his crucifixion. The two have also been interpreted as the water and blood that flowed from Jesus' side after his death, when a member of the Roman crucifixion detail jabbed his side with a spear to see if there was still life in him. The witness of the Spirit ranges from his baptism through his resurrection and passing on the Spirit to his followers (in John’s gospel, Jesus breathes the Spirit upon them following his resurrection, John 20:22). However one reads the signs, they all witness to the same thing. But the two—water and blood—are human witnesses; whereas the witness of the Spirit is divine, and, therefore, even greater. In this, God has given testimony to his Son, and those who believe Jesus is God’s Son have God’s testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe this have made God a liar by not believing God’s testimony that he gave to his Son at Jesus’ baptism. And what is this testimony ultimately? It is that God gave us eternal life in his Son. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Raising Lazarus from death brings more who believe in Jesus, but also results in Jesus’ death sentence by the Jewish leadership. The signs are such that soon everyone will believe in him. If that happens, it stands a very good chance that Rome will remove the current Jewish leadership from power for not being able to control the people or keep the not-so-easy peace with Rome. More, if the emerging group centered around Jesus creates further uprising, Rome will come and destroy their city and its temple, as, in fact, it did in 70 C.E. Therefore, something must be done. Caiaphas, the sitting High Priest for that year, unwittingly prophesies what must happen: one man must die to save the entire people. He thinks it is for the preservation of their power and relationship with Rome, when, in fact, it will be the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission. And so, they begin to plot for Jesus’ death. As a consequence, Jesus no longer walks openly in Jerusalem, but rather, withdraws to Ephraim.

Posted February 26, 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Daily Readings for Tuesday, February 25

Prov. 4:1–27; Psalm 28; 1 John 4:7–21; John 11:30–44

In today’s narrative, the voice changes from Lady Wisdom to a father addressing his son, passing on the wisdom that he, as a boy, received from his father. The fundamental conviction, so central to all wisdom literature, is that life is good and better for those who are wise than those who are foolish—the wise being righteous while the fool is wicked. Again and again, the father reminds his son to “listen, hear, hold fast, be attentive, take hold, incline his ear, gain insight and understanding, and remain on its straight path.” In almost a tautology, the father insists that the beginning of wisdom is simply getting it and its insights on life. Notice the conviction that wisdom, though a gift, is attainable if one only seeks it. Hold fast to Lady Wisdom; do not forsake her and she will keep him; love her and she will guard him. Accept these words in order that the years of his life may be many. The father now becomes more specific, as he insists that his child must hold fast to wisdom’s path. If so, his steps will not be hampered as he walks, and if he runs, he will not stumble. Hold onto her, rather than entering the path of the wicked and the walk of the evildoers. Pass by that entrance—avoid it, turn away and pass on. For, the wicked cannot sleep unless they have done wrong. They are robbed of sleep until they have caused someone to stumble. Their bread is wickedness and their wine, violence. But the path of the righteous—those who follow wisdom’s ways—shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is deep darkness, so dark they cannot even see what it is they stumble over. Again the father calls the child to be attentive to his words, to keep them ever in his sight, and to incline his ear to what his father says. For these words are life to those who find them; healing to their flesh. Keeping wisdom in one’s heart with all vigilance insures that it will become a spring of life. One last time, the father warns his child against the ways of the wicked: crooked speech and devious talk. Rather, his son is to look straight ahead, keeping on the straight path, swerving neither left nor right, and turning away from evil.

The psalmist prays, “Listen Lord, listen, lest I be like those who go down to the pit! Hear the voice of my supplication when I cry to you for help, when I lift my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.” The prayer then turns to reflect on the wicked, pleading “do not drag me away with them!” It then calls on God to repay them for their evil work and the fact that they do not regard the works of the Lord. God’s judgment is invoked: “Break them down and build them up no more.” Then the psalm makes a shift and blesses the Lord, for he has heard the sound of the psalmist’s pleading (note the tense shift). Therefore, the Lord is blessed and a strength and shield in whom the psalmist’s heart trusts. Helped and given an exultant heart, the psalmist sings songs of thanks and hints at the fact that he may be the king. The final hymn of praise ends with a call for God to save his people, bless his heritage and be their shepherd forever.

We have come to the heart of John the Elder’s letter: “Beloved, love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” However, a word of explanation is in order. The Greeks had four words for love: sexual, familial, friendship and divine. The word consistently used here is agape—love borne out of divine fullness that is sacrificial—love as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is the love that was revealed to us in Jesus, God’s only Son, sent into the world so that we might live through him. Here, the term “only Son,” is used to mean that Jesus was not one among many, but “one of a kind,” and is employed in a culture in which emperors and other heroic figures regularly called themselves “sons of God.” This is love: not that we love God, but that God loved us and sent his son to cover the distance that separates us from God—sin—and atone for it, that we might know God’s love and live in it. Since God loves us this much, ought we not love one another as well? Though no one has seen God, if we live in such love with one another, God lives in us, is revealed in us, and his love comes to perfection in us. Again, how do we know we are abiding in this love? We know because God has given us his Spirit, which leads us to testify that the Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world. (Behind this confession lies the fundamental issue that had divided the churches, as the Gnostics did not believe Jesus to be a true human come to redeem humanity, but rather a divine spirit who came as a teacher of secret knowledge. As such he could not suffer, much less die, which is why the confessional material makes so much of his atoning sacrifice.) Now, we hear the central theme of all of John’s theology: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.” This kind of love makes us bold on the day of judgment because, like Jesus, we are “not of this world.” This kind of love not only makes us bold, when perfected, it drives out fear; it convinces us we have nothing to fear in the judgment. Moreover, this love does not come from us, but from God: we love because he first loved us. Finally, those who say they love God but hate their sisters and brothers are simply lying to themselves, for how can we love someone we have not seen when we can’t love those whom we see? His commandment is this: love one another.

After Martha confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one they have been awaiting, she returns to her sister Mary, and tells her privately, “The Teacher is here and calling for you.” When Mary hears this she quickly gets up and goes to Jesus. The friends and relatives that have come to console her think she is going out to Lazarus’ grave to continue her grieving, and so, quickly follow her. When Mary comes to Jesus, she kneels at his feet and repeats her sister’s words. When Jesus hears this the second time and sees the grief and weeping around him, John tells us he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The Greek behind those words connote irritation, anger and frustration even more than compassion. He says, ‘Where have you laid him?” When they show Jesus the grave and he too begins to weep, it is as much in anger and frustration at the work of death as it is love for Lazarus or compassion for his sisters. Though some see this as a sign of Jesus’ love for Lazarus, others use it as an occasion for criticism. After all, if he opened the eyes of the man born blind, as he had done earlier in the Temple, certainly he could have healed Lazarus and kept him from dying. Still irritated and angry, Jesus approached the tomb, a cave with a stone over its mouth, and says, “Take the stone away.” Martha is shocked; her brother has been dead four days and his body has begun to decay—there will be a stench. Driven by the same emotions that have brought him to tears, Jesus says to her (and hear it as a stern word intention not one of comfort), “Did I not tell you that if you believed you should see the glory of God?” She has already professed her belief in him; he is ready to act. As others take the stone away, Jesus engages in audible prayer, thanking his Father for having heard him. It is clearly his way of giving expression to the fact that what is about to happen is the work of his Father in and through him, and he says as much in the prayer. The prayer over, he cries out in a loud voice and commands Lazarus to come out of the cave and Lazarus does, his body still constrained by the strips of cloth used to wrap his body and cover his face in burial. It is the same clothing that Jesus will leave behind in the tomb at his resurrection. Notice Lazarus is not called by name, but only “the dead man,” lest there be some suggestion that he had not been dead, or that this was only for Lazarus. Jesus then says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Posted February 25, 2014
Monday, February 24, 2014

Daily Readings for Monday, February 24

Prov. 3:11–20; Psalm 85; 1 John 3:18–4:6; John 11:17–29

Lady wisdom continues to speak, this time addressing her reader as “My child,” as this book will often do, adopting the stance of a parent instructing a child in the ways of life that are wise rather than foolish. The subject here is the discipline of the Lord, for like a parent, the Lord only disciplines those he loves, as a father reproves a son in whom he delights. The subject then turns to the benefits of such wisdom. Not only does Lady Wisdom bring happiness and understanding, her benefits are an income that is better than silver or gold, more precious than jewels. There is nothing we can desire that compares with her. She has long life in her right hand and riches and honor in her left, both poised to give her gifts to those who regard her ways, which are not only pleasant, but walk the path of peace—the word here is shalom, which connotes more than the absence of conflict, but rather a life full with all of its goodness. The image of the tree of life is used to describe her benefits, and those who hold her fast are called “blest”—“happy is not strong enough for the Hebrew word here. And now the text shifts to another major wisdom theme—its role in fashioning creations. Lady Wisdom was present at creation and God’s helpmate. It is by her that the Lord founded the earth and the heavens. It was her gifts of knowledge that opened the depths and caused the clouds to drop their dew, a theme and conviction often echoed in the psalms, especially Psalm 104:24. .

This communal lament is preceded by reminding God of how he has been favorable to the people in the past, restoring the fortunes of Jacob, forgiving the people’s iniquity and pardoning all their sin, withdrawing his wrath and turning from his hot anger. And so the plea is now, “Restore us again.” Will you be angry forever? “Revive us again so that your people may rejoice in you. Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Whether the psalmist himself or a priest in the temple, one now speaks prophetically and says, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,” and then promises, “God will speak peace to his people, to his faithful ones, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” For these, salvation is at hand. The result of this is that steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss; faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky. These four cardinal and classic attributes of God will be upon those who turn to him as a sign of God’s favor. The land will yield its increase, and righteousness will go before the Lord, making a path for his steps.

How will we know that God abides in us? When we put our love for one another into action—this is how we will know that we are from the truth, and it will not only assure us that God abides in us, but also reassure us before God—even when our hearts condemn us! For God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. If our hearts do not condemn us, then we have boldness before God and receive from God whatever we rightfully ask, because we obey his commandments, and thus, please him. John would not say that such pleasing behavior earns us these gifts, but rather, it puts us into a relationship with God in which we can receive God’s good pleasure. The commandment to love is expanded to believe in Jesus and take him at his word, just as he has commanded. Scholars point out that in the Greek text, the word “in” is missing, but has been included here, because John regularly speaks of “believing in” Jesus. If that is the case, the meaning of the sentence shifts from “believing in” to simply “believing” Jesus—taking him at his word. That is enough. All those who believe him and obey his word truly abide in him, and he in them. Such believing obedience results in a time when we finally know that God abides in us, because of the Spirit that God has given to us. But we must beware; not every spirit in the world is the Holy Spirit. They must be tested to ensure that they are from God. How do we know? The test is the spirit’s ability to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God—the issue the Gnostics were contesting. If the spirits can so confess, they are from God. If not; the spirits are the antichrist, the one they have heard is coming into the world. Again, invoking his term of endearment, John tells them they are not to fear, for the One who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world. For they are not of the world, but are from God, know God, listen to God, and from this, know the Spirit of truth and can tell it from the spirit of deception and error.

Jesus and the disciples approach Bethany and discover that Lazarus is dead and buried. His body has been in the tomb four days. Consequently, friends and loved ones from Jerusalem have come out to Bethany to sit shiva with the sisters, to console Mary and Martha over their brother’s death. Martha—always the more aggressive and active of the two—hears that Jesus is coming, and quickly gets up to go off to meet him, while Mary stays behind. When Martha gets to Jesus she chides him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But then she says something more astonishing, “But even now I know that God will give you what you ask of him.” Has she heard of his raising Jairus’ daughter? We don’t know, for that story is not included in John’s Gospel. However, to her request Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.” In spite of her request that he do something, Martha seems to have no frame of reference for what Jesus has just said and thinks that he is talking about the general resurrection that is to take place “on the last day.” Correcting her Jesus says, “I am (there is the divine name once again) the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha makes her full confession with the formal, “I believe….” Her words are an echo of the profession of faith made by all who entered the church for which this gospel is written: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the One God has sent into the world.”

Posted February 24, 2014
Sunday, February 23, 2014

Daily Readings for Sunday, February 23

7th Sunday after Epiphany

Proverbs 1:20–33; Psalm 46; 2 Corinthians 5:11–21; Mark 10:35–45

Today, we begin to read from the book of Proverbs, one of the Bible’s central books of wisdom literature, the other three being Job, Ecclesiastes, and a significant number of psalms. Rather than identify all of the characteristics of Biblical wisdom here, we will consider them as they unfold. Foundational to all wisdom is the statement in Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge....” Psalm 111:10 echoes the same theme, but there says it is “the beginning of wisdom.” Today, we hear wisdom calling us, crying out in the street. Notice that in Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman. Whereas major sections of Proverbs consists of short, two sentence statements, sometimes called “sentence wisdom,” here we have the other form, which is more narrative and extended in style. Today, Lady Wisdom lifts her voice to warn against ignoring her words. Typical of this kind of literature, she lumps people into two groups: the wise and the foolish, the learned and the simple. Today, she chides the latter, who love being so. “Simple” here does not mean “uncomplicated” but rather, those who naively ignore her advice in favor of those who scoff at such things and hate knowledge. Again, in her reproof, she offers to pour out her thoughts and make her words known, but the simple have refused. She has stretched out her hand, but no one has heeded. Because of this, when calamity comes, as it certainly will to those who ignore her council, she will simply laugh and mock when panic hits like a storm and sweeps them up like a whirlwind. Then the foolish will call on her, but she will not answer, they will seek her diligently, but it will be too late—they will not find her. Because they hated knowledge, did not choose the fear of the Lord, and refused her counsel, they will eat the fruit of their ways and will be filled with only their desires and devices. She ends by warning that waywardness kills the simple, and complacency destroys the fool, but those who listen to her will be secure and live at ease “without dread of disaster.”

This communal psalm is a source of comfort and solace, as well as an affirmation of confidence and trust in God as our only refuge and strength in times of trouble. No matter the threat or crisis—even one as dire as massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or the enormous tides, tsunamis and floods created by the sea—we will not fear for God is with us. God is not only stronger than the forces of the earth, God is in the city of his holy habitation—Jerusalem and its temple—and it shall not be moved. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter, the Lord speaks, and the earth melts. Again, it repeats the affirmation that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. The psalm then invites us to look upon and consider the works of the Lord: his sovereignty over the chaotic forces of nature and his ability to silence and still warring and ravenous nations. Therefore, be still—know God! Know that God is sovereign over all things that can harm, be it the forces of nature or the brutality of humanity. More; know that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Be still and know God.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth to defend his apostleship and relationship among them.  He wants them to be able to “boast” about Paul and his companions among those who have been critical of them—those who boast in appearances rather than in the heart.  Doing so, Paul writes about what it is that drives him. It is the love of Christ, and what that means, not only for Paul or for the Corinthians, but for the world. Christ died for all, so that those who live in Christ might no longer live for themselves but for Christ, who died and was raised for them. The consequence of this is that we are to no longer view others “from a human point of view,” using the standards of the world by which such judgments are made, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, but we know him thus no longer. Paul now unfolds his theology of God’s new creation, initiated in Christ being raised from the dead—the new point of view we have on Christ. So, if anyone is in Christ, they are part of God’s new creation; the old has passed away and everything has become new. All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us (Paul, the Corinthians, the church), the message of reconciliation. Consequently, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal to the world through us. Paul quickly adds the basic challenge of the gospel: “be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ!” It was “for our sake that God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus and the disciples are on the way to Jerusalem. He has just told them of what is to take place there, but the twelve seem oblivious to what Jesus has said, and immediately jump to triumphal conclusions, so much so that James and John come forward to inappropriately ask for the seats of greatest honor when Jesus comes in his glory. Jesus must have been beside himself with frustration, if not despair, over this request, but he simply tells them they do not know what they are asking. Are they prepared to go through what he will go through? They don’t have a clue. Are they able to drink the cup that he drinks or be baptized with the baptism of suffering and death that he will undergo? True to form, they answer, “We are able!” Their words turn out to be prophetic, for Jesus tells them that indeed they will drink his cup of suffering and be baptized with his martyr’s death; but it is not Jesus’ to grant either to sit at his right or his left in glory. That is destined for those to whom it has been prepared. When word of James and John’s request gets to the other ten, they are rightfully angry at the two and another argument breaks out among them. Jesus silences all of them, reminding them that this is the way the Gentiles behave—their leaders lord it over them, so much so, that the great ones among them become tyrants over all others. But, it is not to be so within Jesus’ community of followers. Among them, whoever wishes to become great must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first must be a slave of all. Then, pointing to himself as the example he says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”—the first time Jesus’ death has been spoken of in this gospel in redemptive terms.

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

Author: The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.

© 2014