Thursday, July 24
Joshua 9:3–21; Psalm 36; Romans 15:1–13; Matthew 26:69–75
As the people of the land shrink in fear before the military successes of the Israelites, the people of Gibeon decide on a different tactic—a ruse. They will go before the Israelites dressed in tattered and worn-out garments, with moldy bread and patched and dried wineskins, present themselves as a people called from a distant land by the Lord to journey to the Israelites. They have done so and arrived impoverished. Presenting themselves as thus, they plead with the Israelites to make a covenant of peace with them and allow them to live among them. To the leaders of Israel it seems both logical and compassionate, and without consulting the Lord, they make the covenant in the Lord’s name. Only three days later, the Israelites realize they have been tricked, and that the people who have represented themselves as from a distant land have long occupied the neighboring land of Gibeon. The Israelites rightfully cry out against their leaders who confess that they are now bound by the oath they took in the name of the Lord: they must allow the people of Gibeon to live among them. The ruse of the Gibeonites saves their lives. However, rather than live as Israel’s neighbors, they will live as Israel’s servants, as the Gibeonites had initially presented themselves (vs 8). They become Israel’s hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Psalm 36 reflects on the difference between those who take pride in their transgressions and those who trust in the loving kindness of the Lord. It begins addressing the capacity for wickedness deep within the human heart and is unique in that the one speaking is transgression itself speaking to the wicked, deep in their hearts. The wicked have no fear of God. There is no end to the way they flatter themselves in their own eyes, thinking that their iniquity is hidden. They have ceased to live wisely and spend their time in plots of mischief and embrace evil rather than reject it. Suddenly, in contrast, the psalm turns to the Lord’s steadfast love, which extends to the heavens. God’s righteousness is like the mighty mountains and judgments like the great deep. The Lord saves humans and animals alike. The psalm lauds the preciousness of God’s steadfast love and confesses that all take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. It goes on to speak of the abundance and goodness of God’s house, where God gives drink from the river of delights. God is the fountain of life; in his light we see light. The prayer concludes by asking for God’s continued steadfast love to those who know him. As for the arrogant with whom this psalm began, do not let their foot tread on him or the hand of the wicked drive him away. Rather, let the Lord continue his salvation. As for evildoers, let them lay prostrate, thrust down, unable to rise.
Paul says that “we who are strong,” in Christ’s body, are obliged to accept and bear with the weaknesses of those among us who have no strength, not simply to please our own sense of moral satisfaction, but also for the sake of the weak and their own edification, just as Christ bore our reproach for our own sake. Paul reminds the Romans that the scriptures he cites have been written not only for their instruction, but also to give them the gift of patient endurance, and that through the scriptures and their encouragement, they might find hope. He then offers the prayer that the God of encouragement and hope will grant them the mind of Christ, so that out of their unity, they may, with one voice, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are to accept one another as Christ has accepted them, both Jew and Gentile. Christ, after all, became a servant to Jews for the sake of God’s promises to their forebears, and a servant to the Gentiles for the sake of glorifying God for God’s mercy. Paul then offers a series of scriptural quotes to confirm what he has said about God’s intentions among and for the Gentiles and concludes with a prayer that the God of hope will fill them with all joy and peace in believing so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they may abound in hope.
Peter remains in the courtyard, at a distance, but soon, one of the servant girls thinks she recognizes him as part of Jesus’ contingent. Peter denies it. A bit later, a second serving girl identifies him as one of Jesus’ followers, and this time, Peter utters an oath, saying, “I do not know the man!” Finally another bystander overhears him and says, “Surely you are one of them, your accent identifies you as a Galilean.” This time Peter erupts in swearing and cursing, insisting that he does not know “the man,” and immediately the cock crows. Remembering Jesus’ words to him about betrayal, Peter leaves the courtyard and trial, goes out, and weeps bitterly.
Wednesday, July 23
Joshua 8:30–35; Psalm 15; Romans. 14:13–23; Matthew 26:57–68
Ai conquered and destroyed, Joshua builds an altar to the Lord in accord with the instruction of Moses, and there offers two sacrifices: burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrifices of well-being. Burnt offerings were presented as acts of thanksgiving and expiation—to cleanse the space and make it suitable for God’s presence—and were totally consumed in the fire, as acts of complete dedication to the Lord, not unlike here. The sacrifice of well-being, also called “the peace offering,” was only partially consumed, the eatable parts being reserved for the priests and the people to share in a communal meal with God. The Ark is placed between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, and the people are placed on either side of the Ark behind the priests, as they face one another over the Ark. Joshua writes the Law of Moses on the stones of the altar, and then reads all that Moses had commanded before the total assembly, including the women, children and aliens residing among them. Where did the aliens come from? Either this is a later insertion into the text to address the people who had, by that time, come to live among the Israelites, or, they have been acquiring servants from other people along the way.
Psalm 15 was written as a liturgy of entrance to the temple, but may also have been used to teach the way of life expected of those who want to live within God’s presence. Once the question is asked as to who may dwell in God’s tent, eleven answers are given: walk blamelessly, do what is right, speak the truth, do not slander, do no evil to friends, do not shame a friend, despise the wicked, honor those who fear the Lord, stand by your oaths, even at the cost of your own hurt or loss, do not charge interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved. Then, as now in the Islamic community, charging interest on a loan was strictly forbidden because it took advantage of another’s need.
Rather than sit in judgment on one another, the Romans are to resolve to stop putting stumbling blocks in the way of one another. Though convinced that nothing is unclean in itself, Paul says that, because perception can too easily become reality, it becomes unclean, and therefore sinful, for those who think it so. Consequently, if eating meat sacrificed to idols brings injury to a sister or brother who thinks it unclean, continuing to eat because we are free to do so is an abuse of our freedom and a “blasphemy of good,” (the literal translation of verse 16). Doing so, we not only abuse our freedom, we cease walking in love with one another. Do not let your behavior be the cause of ruin of someone for whom Christ died. God’s reign is not about food or drink. It is about righteousness and peace (right relationships within the community), and the joy of living in the Holy Spirit. Pursue these; it is how to please God and one another! The struggles the Roman Christians have been having over issues of food and drink are tearing them apart and destroying God’s work among them, just as the issues of human sexuality are tearing apart Christ’s church today. Paul reiterates, though everything is clean, it is wrong to make others fall by eating it. Rather, let your faith be your conviction before God. If you have no reason to condemn yourself because of your convictions about what you approve, you are blessed. On the other hand, those with doubts condemn themselves if they eat, not because what they eat is unclean, but because they are acting contrary to their faith and convictions. Finally: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In the struggle between freedom and faith convictions; faith must always have the last word, lest the use (abuse) of our freedom lead us away from Christ.
Having arrested Jesus, they take him to the home of Caiaphas, the reigning High Priest where the ruling council has gathered. Though Peter had initially fled, he stopped in flight, turned around, and has now returned to follow them. He settles into the courtyard to listen to the inquisition and see where it goes. They are trying to find a capital offense with which to charge Jesus. Many come forward with false testimony against him, trying to find reason to execute him, but none of it can be sustained by the necessary standard of two witnesses. But finally, two come forward to report that Jesus said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.” Of course, Jesus did not say that, but remains silent before the charge, which only outrages Caiaphas who now demands that Jesus, under oath, tell them, “Is he the Messiah, the Son of God?” Jesus responds with the truth, but puts the words in Caiphas’ mouth. And then he adds words from Daniel (7:13), and the Psalms (110:1) that speak of the Son of Man, and thereby confirms that he is God’s Son. This is, for Caiphas, blasphemy of the highest order. He stands, tears his clothing as an act of pious rage and rejection, and says, “You have heard his blasphemy; we need no further witnesses. What is your verdict?” They answer, “He deserves death,” and proceed to abuse, mock and ridicule Jesus for such impious presumptuousness.
Tuesday, July 22
Joshua 8:1–22; Psalm 123; Romans 14:1–12; Matt. 26:47–56
Why the lectionary leaves out the story of the trial of Israel by tribe, clan and family is a mystery. Joshua 7:14-26 reports how Achan and all his family are judged, punished and destroyed because he coveted what is the Lord’s. Again, one person’s sin has implications for the whole family. All of Israel joins in the stoning and burning, and then covers them with stones as a witness. The nations cleansed, it can return to the campaign of taking the land; the Lord is with them and so commands them. The city of Ai, king and inhabitants, is to be totally destroyed, only this time, “its spoil and its livestock,” they may take as booty for themselves (vs. 3). After all, they seem to have learned their lesson. They are a people on the move and need resources. What follows is the ambush of Ai. Using their previous failure as a military ruse, they lay in ambush, and then set camp. When the king of Ai saw this, he and his warriors emptied the city of every male to pursue the fleeing Israelites. Once empty, the troops set an ambush, entered the city, took it and set it ablaze. When the men of Ai look back and see what has happened they find themselves trapped. The fleeing soldiers they were pursuing turn on them, and those who had occupied the city come out against them. Surrounded on all sides, the men of Ai are all destroyed except the king of Ai, who is taken alive and brought to Joshua.
In Psalm 123, a supplicant comes before the Lord in humility asking for God’s gracious mercy in helping her contend with the scorn and contempt of her enemies. As the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress for help, so the psalmist looks to the Lord for mercy amid the abuse and degradation of the proud. Those who live in ease, remain not only oblivious to her need, but actually blame her for it as justification for their doing nothing to help. Does that sound familiar?
Paul steps more deeply into the conflict taking place in the Roman congregation between Gentile and Jewish Christians. They are arguing over a host of things, most of which come from the cultures in which they have previously lived: Jews concerned over kosher food laws and particular days for worship and fasting, Gentiles looking upon that as totally unessential and ridiculing the Jews for their concerns. Involved may also be the shift from the Sabbath to Sunday for Lord’s Day worship. In addition, there were questions about eating meat and drinking wine that might have been offered as a sacrifice in a pagan temple before it was brought to the marketplace. Were they able to purchase, eat and drink something sacrificed to another god? Paul begins by warning the strong in faith and conviction against judging those among them who are weak in both. Then, Paul suddenly shifts from addressing the church in the second person plural to the second person singular, zeroing in on personal behavior and accountability. First, “Who do you think you are judging one another?” Both Jew and Gentile Christians are Christ’s servants, and only the master has a right to judge (and will). Yes, there are customs and behaviors that each object to in the other, but, whatever can be done and offered to God in thanksgiving, is made holy in that act of thanksgiving. Therefore, it is acceptable. In matters not essential to their redemption, they are to act out of their own conscience—God alone is Lord of it, and from whence that conviction comes. If they can do something, honoring God, they are free to do so. For the truth is, we do not live to ourselves nor die to ourselves; all that we do in life and death should honor God to whom we belong in Christ. And since Christ is Lord of all of us, only he has the right to judge, as indeed he will. Remember, in the exercise of our conscience, we will all stand before the judgment seat, being held accountable for our behavior, especially its impact on one another.
Judas arrives, leading the chief priests, elders and their servants to Jesus, and again, greets him by calling him “Rabbi.” Jesus recognizes Judas as one of his group—“friend” is better translated “acquaintance” or “colleague “—and tells him to do what he has come to do. Judas kisses him, and they arrest Jesus. In the scuffle that ensues, one of Jesus’ disciples draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus demand that they stop; do they not know that those who live by the sword die by it, a repudiation of violence not simply to accomplish God’s ends, but any form of it. It is something that will be graphically demonstrated at the revolt in 70 AD that led to Jerusalem’s destruction. If Jesus needed help here, he would call on his Father who would dispatch twelve legions of angels (a legion was six thousand soldiers), a number far greater than Rome had stationed in Jerusalem. But if he did so, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that describe precisely what is taking place. Turning to his captors, Jesus again mocks and shames them: why here and why by stealth? He was in the Temple daily teaching; why did they not arrest him there? He may be under arrest, but he is still in control. And at that moment, the false promise of the disciples comes undone; all of them flee and desert him.
Monday, July 21
Joshua 7:1–13; Psalm 135; Romans 13:8–14; Matthew. 26:36–46
The temptation to take booty was too great for Achan, of the tribe of Judah (note the care with which he is identified), who took some of the devoted things for himself. Later it is identified as “stealing what is the Lord’s.” Joshua makes plans to take Ai, the next city in their campaign, and sends spies to determine how large a group of soldiers will be needed. The spies return to say it will be an easy capture; not all should go, just two or three thousand. Joshua sends about three thousand, but they are beaten back, “turn their back” on the men of Ai and flee in retreat. Thirty-six Israelites are killed as they are chased by the men of Ai. They are not invincible after all. Fear falls upon the camp—now it is their hearts that melt within them and turn to water. In despair, Joshua and the elders fall before the Ark of the Covenant, clothing torn and ashes on their heads in acts of remorse and repentance, asking God “Why?” What is God up to; why this defeat? When the Canaanites hear of it, they will be encouraged, rise up and destroy Israel, cutting them off forever. Then, what will God do for his great name?”—Joshua has learned a thing or two from Moses! In response, the Lord reveals the reason for his anger: the covenant has been transgressed. Notice that the judgment is against all of the people, not just Achan, and thereby they become a kherem themselves—a thing devoted for destruction. Threatening to withdraw from them unless they destroy the booty that has been taken, God commands that they sanctify themselves—take part in a ritual cleansing that includes the destruction of the “devoted things”—or they will not be able to withstand their enemies. There is no such thing as private sin—sin, even when personal, always has wider ramifications.
Psalm 135 calls on everyone within the precincts of the temple to praise the Lord and praise his name, for the Lord is good and gracious, and has chosen Israel as his own possession. God’s sovereignty is celebrated over all the other gods. At this point, the Israelites were not yet a monotheistic people, but henotheistic, practicing what is called “monolatry” (the restriction of worship to one god alone), recognizing many, but taking the Lord as their own tribal god. That subsequently transitioned into the belief that the Lord is the God of gods, as is expressed here. Only later, during the period of the latter prophets of the Exile and following, would that fully develop into monotheism, the Lord saying, “there is no other beside me” (Isaiah 45:5,8). Here, the struggle against worshipping other gods is still present, and so the psalmist confesses that the Lord is sovereign over all creation (not Baal!), “doing whatever God pleases.” God’s action on behalf of Israel is recalled, beginning with striking down the first born in Egypt to God’s actions in the conquest of Canaan. The temple in Jerusalem was unique in antiquity in that it possessed no representation of God, only the ark of the covenant in its Holy of Holies. The psalm, therefore, mocks the silver and gold idols of the gods of other nations—their ears that do not hear, their eyes that do not see, and their lips that do not speak, and mouths that have no breath in them—and warns that those who trust in them shall become like them. It concludes, calling on all of Israel, beginning with the priestly families of Aaron and Levi, to bless the Lord who resides in Jerusalem.
In the midst of civic indebtedness, owe no one anything but agape, for such love fulfills the Law, especially those regulating behavior among people. More, the time is short; the Day of Christ is at hand. Therefore, they are to put away any and all behavior related to darkness, those that require the cover of darkness to continue, and instead, live honorable lives suitable for all to see, armored in the light of Christ. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and abandon the desires and behaviors of sinfulness that always emerge from darkness and self-absorption.
Leaving the Passover table, and knowing what is to come, Jesus leads the disciples to Gethsemane—an olive grove—to keep vigil with him while he prays. Arriving there, he leaves nine behind as a sort of rear guard, and takes his inner circle—Peter, James and John—with him a bit further. As he does, he begins to be agitated and filled with anguish and grief. He begs all of them to stay awake with him and watch over him. Then, he goes a bit further and falls on the ground in prayer. There he pleads with his Father that things not go forward as he knows they must. Is there not some way this cup can pass from him? He wants to remain obedient, but is there not some other way? Returning, he finds all of them asleep. Pleading more than rebuking, Jesus asks Peter, James and John why they cannot stay awake with him for just an hour. Pray, in the words that he taught them to pray, that he not “come into the time of trial.” The temptation is already descending upon him. Going away to pray a second time, again he pleads for an alternative, but resigned to what is coming, asks that his Father’s will be done. Going back to the three, who are asleep once again, he does not bother to wake them. Rather, he returns to his place of prayer and makes the request one more time. The answer, of course, is “No!” Knowing that, Jesus returns his disciples, awakens all of them and tells them it is time to be going. He is being given over into the hand of sinners and his betrayer is at hand.
Sunday, July 20
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Josh. 6:15–27; Psalm 19; Acts 22:30–23:11; Mark 2:1–12
“And the walls came a’tumblin down!” Rahab and her family are preserved and initially moved to outside Israel’s camp, but later they settle with the Israelites. She has a future yet in Israel. The instructions for taking and disposing of the city are gruesome to modern ears. Behind them is the notion of kherem, which means “devoted to destruction” and is central to the notion of “Holy War.” No, Islam did not invent it; Holy War is as old as the taking of the land in 1200 BCE, and was used by the Moabites as well as the Israelites and probably other peoples as well. Foundational to Holy War is the conviction that it is God who is leading the people in battle as a “Divine Warrior” and God who brings victory. Consequently, everything belongs to God; there is to be no plundering or taking of booty. To do so would be to bring God’s wrath upon you and your people. All that is taken in battle is to be consecrated to the deity. The way that this is done is the way any sacrifice on an altar was offered: slaughtered and then burned complete—given totally to God. Everyone and everything, save the objects of gold, silver, bronze and iron, is utterly destroyed, the latter being put into the divine treasury. In addition, Joshua pronounces a curse on anyone trying to rebuild the city, a curse that is fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34. Holy War will appear frequently in Joshua as the chronicler of his deeds, writing many years after the fact when Holy War was no longer being practiced, is less interested in presenting the facts historically (in a modern sense) than describing events through a theological lens, confirming that it is the Lord who has given the people the land and the Lord who has brought about the victory. Joshua, whatever his fame, is but the Lord’s servant.
Psalm 19 begins celebrating the glory of God in creation, and then shifts, mid-point, to praising God for the gift of the Law—the two ways God has made himself known to people. It concludes with a double petition: to be cleansed of hidden faults and kept from presumptuous sins and their power to dominate life, especially sins of the mouth. It was from verse 11 that John Calvin developed his theology of the third use of the law: to lead us into righteous living.
Paul has returned to Jerusalem, visited James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, and then goes to the Temple to worship. While there, Jewish agitators from Asia who have followed Paul assume he has brought a Gentile into the Temple and instigate a riot in an attempt to kill him. The Tribune hears of it, takes soldiers and centurions and arrests Paul as the perceived troublemaker. Later, discovering Paul is a Roman citizen, the Tribune orders the chief priests and the entire council to meet in order to sort out what it is Paul is being accused of. Paul recognizes the divided council and exploits the differences between Sadducees and Pharisees—himself a Pharisee—to evoke another riot. The Tribune, fearing they will kill Paul this time, again has him taken by force and returned to the barracks, this time for Paul’s safety. That night, the Lord Jesus appears to Paul and says, “Keep up your courage,” promising that Paul will testify to him in Rome as well as in Jerusalem.
Jesus returns to his home in Capernaum where word about him is such that people surround his house in an attempt to get near to hear his teaching. Four men attempt to bring a paralyzed friend to him for healing but find the crowd has jammed the door and they cannot get in. Undeterred, they climb the outside staircase to the roof, remove some of its planking and thatch, and lower their friend down into Jesus’ presence. Seeing their faith, Jesus turns to the paralytic and says “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Some scribes sitting nearby hear it and silently wonder who this is speaking such blasphemy—only God can forgive sin. Jesus perceives what they are thinking and asks, “Which is it easier to do, forgive sin or heal the man?” Remember, in Jesus’ day, any illness or malady was understood to be punishment for sin, doing one was a sign of having done the other. Before the scribes can open their mouths, Jesus responds. Referring to himself with the designation Mark frequently uses for Jesus—the Son of Man—Jesus turns to the paralytic and says, “Take up your bed and walk;” and he does! Yes, Jesus has authority they cannot imagine. Mark reports that, “All were amazed and glorified God,” but probably none more so than the man walking out the door with the mat on his back.
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.