Thursday, August 7, 2014
Judges 8:22-35; Psalms 116; Acts 4:1-12; John 1:43-51
The Israelites ask Gideon to rule over them and set up a dynasty through his sons and grandsons. Not only does Gideon know where the victory came from, he will not seek to displace the Lord, who in Israel’s life is “King.” Rather, he requests tribute from the soldiers, one of the gold earrings each soldier had taken as booty. They comply, and the amount of gold is enormous. Gideon has it fashioned into an ephod—whether a garment, as in later years was worn by the high priest, or an object of veneration is unclear. Here it would seem to be the latter, for he sets it up in Orpha, where upon, the people begin to worship it (“prostituted themselves to it” is the Deuteronomic writer’s way of characterizing their apostasy). We are told that it became “a snare” to Gideon and his family. Yet, Midian remains subdued and is no longer a problem for the Israelites. The land had rest for forty years under Gideon. The lesson concludes with the record of Gideon’s days, wives, children and grandchildren, recording the blessings and prosperity that were his, with an injected comment about one son, Abimelech, born to him by a concubine (a slave who is also a secondary wife with whom the master has children) who lived in Shechem. Upon Gideon’s death, he is buried with his father at Ophrah, and again, the Israelites relapse, and again prostitute themselves with the Baals, making them their covenant god rather than the Lord. Not only did they forget the Lord their God who had rescued them, they no longer maintained or exhibited loyalty to the house of Gideon in return for what he and done for them.
Psalm 116 asks, “What shall we give to the Lord for all of God’s goodness to us?” This psalm professes love for the Lord who hears our cries, who is gracious, righteous and compassionate, and who preserves the simple (the naïve), who keeps our stumbling feet on God’s path, preserving our lives. The psalmist had been surrounded by the snares of death; the pangs of dying were upon him as he suffered anguish and distress. As is often the case, the emotional side of his encounter with death was even more traumatic than the physical reality of it. In that anguish, he called out to the Lord to save him and the Lord did. “What then,” he asks, “shall I offer to the Lord in return for all of God’s goodness?” What can one give to God for all God’s goodness? The psalmist will lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. He is promising to go to the temple to offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the midst of God’s people. The psalmist makes a final vow: “I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.” He seals this promise with a pledge. Lifting the cup of salvation, in much the way we would offer a “toast” to another in tribute, he simply says, “Hallelujah!”
The commotion in Solomon’s Portico has caught the attention of the officials and so the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees arrive, the latter angry that Peter and John are teaching that in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead (remember, the Sadducees denied there was a resurrection, because they could not find it mentioned in the Torah.). They arrest Peter and John who spend the night in custody in the temple jail. Yet, Luke reports that many who heard Peter’s words believed, so that, by now, the infant church numbers about 5,000. The priests, elders and scribes assemble the next morning to hear more, and among them are four high priests, Annas, Caiaphas, John and Alexander—those who reigned as High Priest from 6 through 37 CE, roughly the time of Jesus’ life. The initial argument had been over their teaching about the resurrection, but now, the priests have a different concern—power! By whose power have they healed this man? It is a perfect set-up, and Peter, filled once again with the Holy Spirit, boldly proclaims that the healing has been done in the name of Jesus Christ (note that by now, the joining of the two names means that “Jesus is the Messiah”), whom they crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. And now, Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 as a means of personalizing and explaining their continuing rejection of a truth unfolding before their very eyes: “the stone which you builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” And then Peter, filled with the courage, boldness and frankness that the Spirit can give, adds one more thing: “There is salvation in no one else!”
Another day passes, and Jesus goes to Galilee where he encounters Philip and issues his summons, “Follow me,” and Phillip does. And in keeping with the evangelistic pattern of the newly called in turn calling others to Jesus, Phillip searches out Nathanael and tells him that they have found the Messiah written about by Moses and the prophets—it is Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth. Nathanael is neither impressed nor persuaded. Nazareth? That hick village miles southwest from the sophistication of Bethsaida—can anything good come from there? Surely not! But Nathanael has forgotten how God works. Notice that Philip does not argue. Evangelism is not arguing people into God’s reign; it is simply a matter of issuing the invitation, “Come and see.” Nathanael does and as he approaches, Jesus says, “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”—quite astonishing praise coming from Jesus. Nathanael, still not convinced, asks how it is that Jesus could make such a judgment; he does not know him. Jesus’s replies that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Phillip called him. Nathanael is stunned, and in a moment, his doubt is turned to faith as he proclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” You are the king of Israel.” Embracing Nathanael’s confession, Jesus adds yet another promise: “You will see greater things than these. And then, combining the prophecy of Daniel (7:3) about the coming of the Son of Man with the vision of Jacob’s ladder (Gen 28:12), Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see the angels of God descending upon the Son of Man, revealing Jesus as even more than Messiah and King of Israel—he is the one in whom heaven and earth meet, making the title “Son of God,” that Nathanael used in his initial confession, even more than he now realizes.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Judges 7:19-8:12; Psalms 96; Acts 3:12-26; John 1:29-42
Gideon and his three hundred men surround the Midianites camped at night, standing at its outskirts. When all are in place, Gideon blows his trumpet, smashes the clay jar and lifts high the torch, and all 300 of his men do likewise, shouting “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” It throws the Midianites into utter panic, who, in their confusion, soon turn on one another as they flee into the Transjordan. And now the men who had been sent home are called out to complete the mopping up of the enemy. And note that Asher has now joined the tribes. In addition, Gideon sends word to the tribe of Ephraim to join in the campaign. Initially, the men from Ephraim are disgruntled at not being invited to the battle earlier on, but then join in and capture and kill the two Midianite captains, bringing their heads to Gideon, across the Jordan. In that encounter, they express their anger at Gideon’s exclusion of them, but he pacifies them. Using a saying common among the tribes to describe Ephriam superior to Manassah’s Abiezer, Gideon pacifies them by telling them that God has given into their hand the captains of Midian, and, therefore, their accomplishments in battle far exceed his own. Having “seized the waters against” the Midianites at the Jordan, Joshua now crosses over the river to continue the campaign east of Jordan. But without supplies and famished from the battle, he must call upon two towns—Succoth and later Penuel—to supply their need and give them support. Both refuse; after all, two of the Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalman are still alive and have their armies intact. To support Gideon at this point would be to incur the kings’ wrath, were Gideon to fail. Gideon pronounces not only a curse against each town for their refusal, but promises to be the source of their destruction once he has destroyed Zebah and Zalman. The two kings have retreated to the wilderness east of the Dead Sea with a remnant of their original armies. Of the 130,000 who had originally gone out, only 15,000 remain alive. Gideon takes his men up a caravan route east of them and attacks the army that is off its guard, probably expecting Gideon to come from the west. The two kings flee but are captured, resulting in their armies’ total panic.
Psalm 96 celebrates God’s goodness as King, and calls on all creation to “sing a new song to the Lord!” It celebrates the goodness of God’s sovereignty over all things and is a reminder that God is not only sovereign, but judge, and will judge with righteousness and truth. Every line is a call to worship. It is, perhaps, the finest example of a hymn of praise we have in the entire Psalter, filled with familiar and beautiful words and phrases that praise and thank God. In addition, it keeps before us the important truth that God not only reigns in goodness, but is coming in judgment that is righteousness and truth, which is, of course, another form of God’s goodness.
The crowd that has gathered in Solomon’s Portico is astonished and thinks that Peter and John are healers. Peter quickly corrects them: this man stands here among them because the God of their ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus. It is through the power of Jesus’ name that the man has been healed. Peter continues to pronounce judgment against the crowd for having handed Jesus over to Pilate, who wanted to release him. But in rejecting that, they rejected God’s Holy and Righteous one and embraced a murderer instead. They killed the Author of life, but God raised him from the dead. Of this Peter and John are witnesses. It is faith in Jesus’ name that has healed the man who is now in perfect health. He has not only been healed, he has been restored. Peter then eases their blame, first by acknowledging their ignorance, but more, by insisting that in the end, a suffering Messiah was God’s plan as it had been foretold through the prophets. Peter then calls upon them to repent and turn to God so that their sins may be wiped out and God can send Jesus to them, so that a time of refreshing may come to them from his presence. As for Jesus, he must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration comes, foretold, as it has been, by the prophets, beginning with Moses, Samuel and others after them. As descendants of the prophets and the Abramaic covenant, God sent Jesus to them first, in order that they would turn them from their wicked ways. They, however, rejected him.
A day has passed, and John sees Jesus coming toward him and declares to his own disciples, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The phrase “lamb of God” brings two different images to mind: first, the Passover Lamb which was killed to begin Israel’s redemption and liberation in Egypt, and second, the animal used on the Day of Atonement as a scapegoat upon which the High Priest laid his hands to impute all of Israel’s sin, before it was led out of the camp and driven into the wilderness. Notice that Jesus does not just take away the sins of people, but the entire condition of sin in the world—the separation sin creates between humankind and God. As yet, Jesus has said nothing, and this is his first appearance in the gospel. John, however, continues to witness to who Jesus is: he ranks ahead of John. John came baptizing, so that Jesus might be revealed. As John was baptizing Jesus, he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove from heaven and remain on him. The One who sent John to baptize told him that the one on whom John saw the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. John then adds, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” Yet another day passes, and Jesus returns as John is standing with two of his own disciples. As Jesus passes, John says to them, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two leave John and follow after Jesus, who turns to them and asks what they are looking for. They call him Rabbi (teacher) and ask where he is staying? He responds, “Come and see.” They do and remain with him that day. One of the two is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew quickly goes to Peter and says, “We have found the Messiah,” introducing yet another title for Jesus. Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, who looks at him and renames him Cephas, which is Aramaic for “rock,” marking Peter’s central and prominent role in the gospel and the church that will emerge from it.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Judges 7:1-18; Psalm 12; Acts 3:1-11; John 1:19-28
Gideon has gathered his troops and is encamped next to the spring of Harod, but the Lord tells him he has too many soldiers for the battle. Were he to go forth against the Midianites and the Amorites with that number, surely Israel would take credit for the victory rather than give it where it belongs—with the Lord. And so he winnows the troops, first by allowing Gideon to send home any who are frightened. Gideon “sifted out” 22,000 men in this way, but still had 10,000 left—far too many for the Lord’s taste. Consequently, God issues instructions for one more “sifting” of the men. Take them to the water to drink. Those who lap the water like a dog are to be set aside as warriors. Those who kneel, using their hands to bring the water to their mouths, shall be sent home. And now, Gideon’s band numbers a mere 300. This is a better number from the Lord’s perspective. That night, the Lord commands Gideon to get up and take the camp; but knowing that Gideon is still reluctant, God sends him to the outskirts of the enemy camp, taking his servant Purah with him. When they get there, they overhear a Midianite soldier describe a dream in which a cake of barley tumbled into the Midianite camp and collapsed the tent. The fellow soldier interprets the cake of barley to mean the farming tribe of Gideon and names it the sword of Gideon, into whose hands God has given Midian and all its army. Assured by what he has overheard, Gideon bows in worship and then returns to his own camp to revive and prepare his troops. He divides them into three companies of 100 each, equips each with a trumpet and a clay jar with a torch inside. Then he instructs them to watch him and do as he does. When they reach the outskirts of the Midian camp, he will blow his trumpet. They too are then to blow theirs and with one voice shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!”
Psalm 12 is the prayer of one in the midst of a people whose hearts are given to evil and insanity, where the wicked are always on the prowl and vileness is not simply permitted or endured, but exalted! In such a culture, the psalm pleads the case of the poor and oppressed and trusts that God will act on their behalf. God’s promises are purer and more trustworthy than the finest refined silver. The psalmist’s entreaty then turns personal, pleading for help in dealing with those who have been spinning lies against him. May God cut off their lips! God responds, “I will rise up” to give the poor, the needy and the despoiled the safety they need. The lies of the deceitful are contrasted with the promises of the Lord, and God is blessed as protector against all who are wicked, but more, the defender of all in need, a promise more pure that silver refined in a furnace seven times.
As the church grows in Jerusalem, the disciples continue their worship discipline in the temple. Peter and John, on their way to the temple for prayers, encounter a man lame from birth being carried to the temple gate named “Beautiful,” where he would sit and beg. (Remember, the lame were not permitted into the temple because of their malady.) Seeing Peter and John about to enter the temple precincts, the lame man cries out to them, asking for alms. Peter focuses his attention on the lame man and announces that he has no silver or gold to give to the man, but what he has he will give him. Taking the man by the hand Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk”—and the man does. Immediately strength comes into the man’s feet and ankles and he begins to leap and praise God, and, for the first time in his life, enters the temple together with them. All those who have regularly passed the lame man recognize him and are now filled with wonder and amazement at what has happened to him. The man clings to Peter and John, while all the people gather around them in Solomon’s Portico.
We move to a report on John, who has already been mentioned, but notice that he is not called the Baptist in this gospel. Priests and Levites from Jerusalem have been sent out to John where he was baptizing and preaching in Bethany, on the east side of the Jordan. They have come to determine just who John is. Is he the Messiah, Elijah returned, or the long expected prophet? “No,” says John, he is none of those, and then quotes Isaiah 40:3, identifying himself as a promised “voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Notice the unanimity of all four gospels on this and the consistent reference to Isaiah. But if John is not one of those three they have suggested, why then is John baptizing? John replies, “I baptize with water,” but among them stands one they do not know, who is coming after John. John is not worthy even to untie the thong of his sandal, again a theme common in all four gospels. But unlike the other three, John is not identified in this gospel as anything more than a witness to Jesus. It is important to remember what a towering religious figure John was, with a strong following, and that in the early days of the church’s life there was a strong religious movement that was following John and in competition with the church, creating controversy over who of the two—John or Jesus—was preeminent. The author of this gospel is making the answer to that question abundantly clear.
Monday, August 4, 2014
Judges 6:25-40; Psalms 62; Acts 2:37-47; John 1:1-18
Judges 6:25-40; Psalms 62; Acts 2:37-47; John 1:1-18
We continue the story of Gideon, the reluctant warrior. God tells him to take his father’s second bull and destroy the altar of Baal (Canaanite god) that his father has constructed next to the sacred pole (a tree or pole that represented the Canaanite fertility goddess, Asherah) and cut it down as well, then build an altar to the Lord and sacrifice a bull on it. Gideon takes his servants and they do so, but by night, because he is too afraid of what his family and neighbors might do if they discovered him and his men doing this, and rightly so, for all of them have become committed to these other gods as well. It may have been less a choice of Baal over the Lord, than a choice for both; hedging their bets as it were. Remember, they had experienced the Lord as a warrior God, a deliverer. Baal was a fertility god, and the people were making the transition from a nomadic culture to an agricultural one. The temptation to worship and serve both gods must have been enormous; not unlike our own temptation to worship the things that lead to wealth, thinking it provides security. The next morning, when the town’s people discover the altar of Baal destroyed and the sacred pole cut down with the sacrifice still smoldering on the altar, and learn it was Gideon who did this, they demand his life. Encouraged by his son’s boldness, Gideon’s father Joash switches allegiance, refuses to hand Gideon over, and threatens death to any who attempt to harm Gideon, saying, “If Baal is truly God, let him contend for himself.” Hence, Gideon will now also be known as Jerubbaal, which in Hebrew means “Let Baal contend.” The Midianites and Amalekites gather at the ford of Jordan River, cross over, and encamp on the west bank in the Valley of Jezreel, preparing their attack. The Spirit of the Lord descends upon Gideon who sounds the trumpet to gather the Abiezrites of his own clan, and then sends messengers throughout the rest of his own tribe, Manasseh, as well as to the tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali (all northern tribes settled in the land), who all respond. But this success is not enough to quell Gideon’s fear and resistance, and so he seeks further proof that the Lord is in this by laying out the wool fleece overnight in the threshing floor. If it alone has dew on it in the morning, the Lord is in this. The next morning he finds the fleece so filled with dew that he can wring a bowl of water from it, while all around the fleece is dry. But still reluctant, yet aware that he is testing the Lord’s patience, Gideon asks to repeat the test, but this time, the fleece must be dry and the ground wet. God cooperates, and the next morning the ground is soaked but the fleece is dry. Ever after, “putting out the fleece,” will be an expression of activity designed to discern God’s will and purposes.
Psalm 62 is built on the recurring biblical notion of waiting on God, the theme that dominates this psalm. God alone is our rock and salvation; God alone can protect. Those who scheme for rank and position are at worst nothing and at best a lie, and in the balance, “lighter than a breath.” Hope not in things, whether by ill or honesty gained—hope in the Lord, who is power and loving kindness and who rewards us according to our deeds. “My soul in silence waits for God, for God alone is my salvation.” Both power and loving kindness belong to God who pays back each according to their work.
When the Jews in Jerusalem gathered for Pentecost hear Peter’s sermon, they are cut to the heart and cry out, “What should we do?” Peter responds: “Repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and receive the Holy Spirit.” Ever after, this has been the sequence and means of entering the church as an adult. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ makes one a member of his community—the community of the Spirit. This promise of forgiveness of sins and gift of the Spirit is made not only to them, but to their children, for all far away—even the Gentiles!—to any whom the “Lord our God” calls. Even the decision to repent and be baptized originates within us at God’s decision for us, initiative and action. About 3,000 responded that day. Verse 42 encapsulates, in short-hand, the life of the new community: devotion to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship to the Lord’s Supper (“breaking of bread” here is not a metaphor for simply eating together, but rather eating and drinking with Jesus in the sacramental meal he gave them, as a means for experiencing him present among them), and “the prayers,”—those prayers every pious Jew prays throughout the day, three times daily, —morning, noon and night. Awe falls on all, while wonders and signs are done by the apostles. Enjoying the apostles’ fellowship, and believing Jesus will soon return, the new believers begin to live and share all their material goods in common. When another has need, they sell one of their possessions in order to meet that need. In addition, they are even more devout in their Temple observance, doing so daily, as well as meeting in one another’s homes—from house to house, probably on a rotating basis—sharing the sacramental meal with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all. And with each new day, “the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.” The emphasis here—“being saved”—is always on what God is doing in and through them and the impact of that upon them and those around them. It is God who saves them through their actions, not their actions that save them. Though the book is named “The Acts of the Apostles,” it has long been known that what this book is really about is the Acts of God’s Spirit at work to save.
We take up the Gospel of John, which begins with the magnificent prologue, so called because it appears to have been added by another author after the Gospel had been compiled (the gospel has an epilogue as well, probably from the same author, who likely was one of John’s younger associate and colleague). Though Matthew and Luke have written their gospels around Mark’s, utilizing Mark’s order of events and much of Mark’s own material, and though all four gospels tell the story of Jesus and repeat many of his teachings and actions, each giving us a distinctive portrait of Jesus (which people often miss by trying to blend all of the gospels into one narrative), John’s portrait is very different, as well as his chronology. For instance, Jesus’ ministry is three years in length in John, whereas it is one year in the other three. There are no parables in John, but instead what are called the “I am” sayings by which Jesus identifies himself personally with the sacred, and, by then, ineffable name for God, and subsequentally defines himself in human terms such as “good shepherd,” “bread of life,” “light of the world,” and so on. In John, miraculous events are intentional “signs” of who Jesus is. Central to John’s gospel is the conviction that Jesus is the very and only incarnation of God: He is the Word of God who was not only present at creation, but the one through whom creation came into being. He is the only Son of God who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth, something that is revealed again and again in his ministry. And so, the prologue captures this truth right up front as a central means of interpreting all that follows. He is light and life shining in darkness that is always in opposition to him, yet, it never overcomes him. Even in his passion and death, Jesus is not a victim, but acting out his divine purpose. John, Jesus’ cousin, is introduced, but not as the “Baptist,” but as witness to who Jesus is: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Remember, John was an enormously important religious reformer and leader in first century Israel. But, in the Gospel of John, his sole role is to precede, prepare, and point to Jesus, in whom we see God revealed in the flesh.
Sunday August 3, 2014
Judges 6:1-24; Psalm 108; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Mark 3:20-30
Today, we begin the story of Gideon. Again, the Israelites are under bondage to another country, because they have worshiped other gods; this time, the gods of the Midianites. The Midianites are in league with the Amorites and other peoples east of Israel and continue to invade the land and, like locusts, strip it of its produce and livestock, intentionally denying the Israelites food. Equipped with camels, their raids come swiftly. The first time the people cry out to the Lord, God sends only an unnamed prophet to announce why it is they are in such bondage. Then, beginning in verse 11, God speaks directly to Gideon. Notice how the text will vacillate between “Angel of the Lord,” and “the Lord” himself. Generally, in the older Testament, when an “Angel of the Lord,” appears it is the writer’s way of saying it is the Lord himself, but veiled because of the prohibition of seeing God face to face. God says, “The Lord is with you” (singular) and names Gideon a mighty warrior. Gideon protests: if the Lord is with him, why has all this happened to us? Gideon asks, “Where are your mighty deeds of protection and care our people remember?” The Lord (notice it is the Lord now, and not an “angel of the Lord”), turns to him, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” Gideon again protests: and says, “How; I am the least in my weak clan?” The Lord responds, “I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites.” Gideon needs to know more and asks the visitor not to depart until he returns with a present—an offering. He prepares a rich meal and sets it before the heavenly visitor to see what comes of it; will it simply be eaten as a meal, or consumed as a sacrificial offering? Now the visitor is again referred to as an angel of God, who instructs Gideon to take the meat and unleavened cakes and place them on a rock (it is to become an altar), and pour the broth upon it. Gideon does so, and the angel reaches out with his staff, touches the food offering and it is consumed by fire, and the angel vanishes from sight. It has been the Lord, and now Gideon knows it, and cries out in fear and despair: “Help me Lord God! For I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face.” The Lord responds, “Peace, you shall not die.” Gideon adds additional stones to the one upon which the meal was laid, to turn it into a true altar, and names it Yahweh-shalom—the Lord’s peace.
Psalm 108 is a psalm of praise attributed to David, and speaks of waking the dawn with his praise of the Lord because God’s loving kindness is great above the heavens and his truth reaches the skies. Then the psalm lists the lands that were Israel’s enemies—Moab, Edom, Philistia—that have become subservient to David. Yet he is besieged and feels that the Lord may have rejected him. In reaching out to God, he confesses God’s faithfulness to him. It is God who has granted him his former military success. But has God now abandoned them; will he not go out with David’s army? He pleads for God to intervene with the adversary, recognizing that seeking human is in vain. Yet, in God he will do valiantly, for God shall tread down his adversaries.
Paul is writing to the Corinthians concerning the gift that he is collecting among Gentile Christians for the church in Jerusalem that is experiencing severe financial hardship. The Corinthians were initially excited about participating in the gift, but their ardor has faded away, in part, because of some disagreement they seem to have had with Paul. Here, Paul outlines his theology about giving: there is a direct relationship between our generosity and our prosperity, because God loves cheerful givers. Those who sow little out of a begrudging spirit, receive little, while those who in gratitude and joy sow bountifully reap in that same measure. More important than the gift is the heart. The gift is to come from a joyful, thankful, generous heart, and not reluctantly nor from outside coercion or manipulation. Paul, quoting Proverbs 11:24, goes on to explain that the source of all abundance is God alone, who is able to provide abundantly for them with every blessing as they share abundantly, not only in this offering, but in every good work. Expanding the agricultural image, Paul says that not only does God provide the seed for sowing and bread to the sower to insure that they have what they need, but God supplies and multiplies their generosity and good deeds into another kind of harvest—a harvest of righteousness—so that they will be enriched in every way, spiritually as well as materially. This, of course, is the foundational truth that lies at the heart of Christian stewardship. Not only will their gift help with the needs of the Saints in Jerusalem, the trust behind it will lead to their own prosperity, but more, it will overflow in thanksgiving to God, who is the source of all things. In other words, not only does God give in great abundance to those who give generously from the heart, trusting that God will always see that we have enough, but God also turns such generosity into a spiritual harvest as well, in which we understand to foundational things: who the source of all things really is, and that having enough is best.
Jesus returns home from a healing mission, and when the people learn of it they rush to his home in droves so large that many people are left waiting outside. Among those outside are Jesus’ family members who have come to take custody of him, because they fear he is demented. The scribes who have come from Jerusalem certainly think so and announce that he is possessed by Beelzebul (Satan), and it is by Beelzebul’s power that he is casting out demons. Jesus challenges the assertion with a proverbial question: How can Satan cast out Satan? A kingdom or royal power so divided against itself is doomed to fall. If Satan is casting out Satan, he is finished. Shifting the image, he indulges in another truism, “No one can plunder a strong man’s house unless he has first entered the house and bound the strong man.” And that is precisely what is happening: Jesus is entering Satan’s house and plundering it because Satan is bound against Jesus and his power. What those who accuse him of being possessed do not understand is that he is, indeed, possessed. However, he is possessed by the Spirit of God, and those who blaspheme against him are engaging in unpardonable sin. Every sin and blasphemy that people commit will be forgiven, save one: blaspheming against the Holy Spirit—the Spirit who possesses Jesus. Whatever one thinks about Jesus, do not discount or deny that what he does is the direct result of being possessed and empowered by God’s Spirit.
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.