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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Job 22:1-4, 21--23:7; Psalms 30; Acts 13:26-43; John 10:1-18

Eliphaz now asks a different question: what difference does it make to God whether a person is righteous or not? What benefit is that to God? Nonetheless, surely, God would not punish Job were he not guilty. The irony here is that it is precisely because of Job’s innocence that he is suffering. Yet, Eliphaz produces a list of sins that Job must somehow have committed, and then encourages him to “return to the Lord…, agree with him and receive his instruction,”—in short, accept his own condition as what he deserves at God’s hand and then plead for mercy, for God delivers even those who are guilty. Job is tired of his friend’s useless counsel and continues to long for the opportunity to place his case directly before God. Would God contend with Job in the greatness of his power? No, God would give him heed. There an upright person could reason with him. Convinced of this and his own innocence, Job knows he would be acquitted forever and delivered from his judge.

Psalm 30 offers praise to God for recovery from a grave illness. The Lord has “drawn him up.” The “foes” are not necessarily classic enemies, but simply those who, like Job’s friends, insisted that his illness was the result of his own sin. God has not let them rejoice over him. Rather, he cried to the Lord and the Lord responded, bringing him up from the land of the dead and the pit of death. Consequently, the psalm calls on all to sing praise to the Lord and give thanks to his holy name. He then recalls the error of his previous ways: in his prosperity he has thought himself unmovable. By the Lord’s favor he had stood firm like a mountain. But then the Lord looked away, hid his face, and suddenly the psalmist was faced with the error of his ways. Yet he cried out to the Lord: “What profit is there in my death; can I praise God from the grave?” And so, he cries, “Hear, O Lord, be gracious to me and be my helper.” God responded and turned his mourning into dancing, his lament into a song of praise, removing his sackcloth and girding him with joy and gladness so that his soul may sing praises to the Lord forever. He will not again be presumptuous, but give thanks and praise to God for the goodness of life forever.

Paul, accompanied by Barnabas, continues his sermon to the people in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, now focusing on the message of Jesus, using psalms and the covenant promise to David, to make his point. Though the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem rejected Jesus and had him crucified, God raised him from the dead, beyond the reach of corruption, as Psalm 16:10 foretold, and has made him the eternal king promised to David through Nathan, and has established the everlasting covenant promised through Isaiah (55:3). Paul then proclaims the gospel message: through this man, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins which they cannot be freed from by the Law of Moses. As the meeting comes to an end, the people urge Paul and Barnabas to return the following Sabbath and say more. And as they are leaving, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism follow them. They have heard enough and want to be a part of it.

Jesus continues to teach in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles, now taking up the image of shepherd from Ezekiel 34, who in Israel’s life had been the king. The king was understood to have been chosen and commissioned by God to care for the people—God’s flock—with God’s reign the sheepfold and God himself the gatekeeper. But with the loss of a king in 587 BCE, increasingly God himself was looked to as the shepherd and keeper of the sheep (Psalm 23). Jesus announces himself as the “Good Shepherd,” as well as the gate to the sheepfold—images of God both contemporary and familiar to his listeners. The sheep know his voice and follow him. All who have come before him as Messiahs have been thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. He is the gate: whoever enters by him will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. He is a shepherd who not only cares for his sheep, but actually lays his life down for them—unheard of! The hired hands (Pharisees and chief priests) do not own the sheep, so, when the wolf comes, they leave the sheep behind and run away. Jesus on the other hand, knows his own as they know him, just as he and the Father know one another. He lays down his life, but does so in order to take it up again. It is not taken from him—remember, in John, Jesus is in full control from beginning to end. He lays his life down in order to take it up again. He has authority to do this because he has received it as a command from his Father.

Posted September 6, 2014
Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

Job 19:1-7, 14-27; Psalm 31; Acts 13:13-25; John 9:18-41

The daily lectionary steps over chapter 18, in which Bildad takes up Job’s challenge asking why Job rejects the wisdom of his three friends. Bildad says nothing new in this chapter; the words are simply more extreme to make the point that God punishes the wicked in precisely the way Job is being punished, with one final act yet to come: in their death, their memory is wiped away from everyone on the earth. Job now replies: “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces? Ten times you have cast reproach upon me.” They should be ashamed of themselves, but they are not, for in casting judgment on Job they are really trying to justify themselves. It is God who has put Job in the wrong and closed the net around him to the point that when he cries out “Violence!” no one answers. He is fully walled in so that no one can respond, and all of this is God’s doing, God alone knows why. Everyone has abandoned him, not simply these three friends, but everyone—his wife, other family, intimate friends, other associates, guests in his house, neighboring children, even his serving girl! His skin hangs on his bones. It is by the skin of his teeth that he survives. And now, he pleads, not for justification or even understanding, but simply pity. He is crushed and broken and unable to ask for more. Why do all of them, like God, pursue him? And now we hear the portion of this epic poem that is most well-known: “Oh that my words were written down in a book, or with chisel and hammer they were carved in stone forever. For I know that my redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see (on my side), and not another.” The word “redeemer here, can also be translated “vindicator” or “redeeming vindicator.” Translations differ regarding the portion I have placed in parenthesis and simply say, “I will see him with my own eyes.” “On my side,” suggests that God would be on Job’s side. Or, is it that Job is asking for a heavenly vindicator to stand with him against God? What is most clear is that Job knows that a heavenly vindicator exists and, rather than be declared innocent after his death, Job wants a face to face audience with God now—with or without the vindicator. The church has, of course, identified this redeeming vindicator as Jesus, who will stand before God on our behalf at the last and has overcome the accuser and cast him out of God’s presence, so that he can never again accuse anyone in God’s presence as the satan has accused Job.

Psalm 31 is both petition and praise, and though identified as a “Psalm of David,” is a composite, echoing phrases from other well-known psalms (Psalm 4:1; 18:19; 27:14; 33:18, 22; 38:15; 69:3; 71:1-3; 115:17; 118:5). It begins with a confession of faith: “In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me be put to shame;” virtually identical with 71:1-3. God is to respond, not because of the psalmist’s virtue, but for God’s own name’s sake—to preserve God’s reputation! Verse 4 begins to list the reasons for praise and trust: you are my rock, fortress, guide, and redeemer. It then moves to an expression of trust, confessing that God has placed him “in a broad place.” (See Psalm 18:19 and 118:5.) It is followed by a plea for deliverance, followed by an exhortation to wait for the Lord, (See psalms 27:14.) Verse 5 appears on the lips of Jesus as he is dying in Luke 23:46. Images and phrases from other psalter sources abound: “Let your face shine upon me.” “Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord.” “Blessed be the Lord who has shown his steadfast love to me.” It ends with wisdom’s counsel: “The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.” It then adds the injunction so dominant in the psalms: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”

Upon John Mark’s departure for Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas move over land, north to Antioch, in the region of Pisidia (as opposed to the Antioch where they had formerly been living and working). On the Sabbath they go to the synagogue in Antioch. After the law and prophets have been read, the synagogue officials welcome the visitors to bring them some word of exhortation, a custom that was common in that day, and remains so in some synagogues to this day. Paul uses it as an opportunity to preach, reviewing God’s history with Israel beginning in Egypt, through the Exodus, their entry into the land, the time of Judges, the emergence of Samuel, the gift of a king followed by God’s promise to David, which Paul announces as fulfilled in Jesus. He then reminds them that John the Baptist, proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all of Israel, himself confessed that he was not the one. Rather, that one was coming after him, whose sandals John was not worthy to untie. Paul’s sermon will continue tomorrow.

The man born blind who Jesus has just healed is now being cross-examined by the Jewish officials. Unhappy with his answer that Jesus is a prophet, and still not convinced that he had been blind since birth, they turn to his parents to question them. Notice how their question is highly skeptical: “who you say was born blind.” The parents answer carefully: “He is our son; he was born blind, but we don’t know who opened his eyes. He is of age, ask him.” Hear behind this the parent’s fear of being implicated and themselves judged for being involved with Jesus and, therefore, being put out of the synagogue. It is an echo of precisely what is happening to Jews embracing Jesus at the time this gospel is written. And so, the officials go to the healed man a second time, and the dialogue becomes almost comical as they ask him to give glory to God and at the same time proclaim Jesus a sinner. The healed man takes the upper hand in the conversation saying, “I don’t know whether he is a sinner, but this I know: though I was blind, now I see!” Hear in this not only his physical vision, but spiritual vision as well; spiritual sight the religious officials lack. They ask, “What did he do to you?” Now irritated with their obstinacy, the man sarcastically says, “I’ve already told you, but you will not listen. Why do you want to hear again; do you also want to become his disciples?” Notice the suggestion that in what has happened the man has already become Jesus’ follower; certainly the Jewish officials think so. And so, they respond in anger, condemning him as Jesus’ disciple while they take refuge in being Moses’ disciple. God has, after all, spoken to Moses, but as for “this man, we do not know where he comes from.” Remember the former argument about from where the Messiah is to come? Now the healed man is filled with courage, and, unlike his frightened parents, challenges the authorities with the absurdity of their position. “Here is an astonishing thing: you don’t know where he comes from but he opened my eyes.” He goes on to make the point that God does not listen to sinners, but does listen to all who worship him and obey his will. Further, never, since the world began, has it been heard that someone opened the eyes of one born blind. If “this man were not from God he could do nothing.” Stung by his rebuke, the leaders resort to calling the healed man a sinner, born in sin, for he was born blind. At that, they drive him out because of his confession of belief in Jesus. Again, hear “out of the synagogue.” The scene ends with Jesus seeking out the man he has healed and completely revealing himself to the man as the “Son of Man.” When Jesus does, the man worships him, and notice that Jesus does not reject the worship, but accepts it. The episode ends with Jesus’ comment that he came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind. The Pharisees overhear and say, “Surely, we are not blind, are we?” Their question reveals not only their blindness, but the judgment against them because of it—their sin remains. Imagine the comfort this story brought to those Jews who had been put out of the synagogue because of their belief in Jesus.

Posted September 5, 2014
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Job 16:16-22, 17:1, 13-16; Psalm 37:1-18; Acts 13:1-12; John 9:1-17

In the 15th chapter of Job, which the lectionary steps over, Eliphaz re-enters the conversation but is now decidedly less friendly or supportive of Job, and, in fact, challenges Job’s behavior as “doing away with the fear of God,” which, of course, is not only the beginning of wisdom but the very soul of wisdom. Job’s words have plainly shown Eliphaz how guilty Job is as he accuses God. His own lips testify against him. After admonishing Job for not accepting the consolation of the three, Eliphaz repeats his conviction that no human can be just before God. He goes on to describe the fate of the wicked, in terms that sound very much like what Job is suffering. Chapter 16 begins with Job calling his friends “miserable comforters,”—which, of course, they are. Were they in his place, he could do as they do, but instead he would encourage them with his mouth and with the solace of his lips assuage their pain. But for his own part, Job’s speech has not assuaged his pain and, even in his forbearing, it does not leave him. God has worn him out, torn him in his wrath, hated him and gnashed his teeth at him and given Job over to his friend’s abuse. They have become his adversaries. God has given him into the hands of the wicked. With graphic and heart-wrenching language, Job describes God’s assaults: Job was at ease and God broke him in two, grabbed him by the neck and dashed him in pieces, slashed open his kidneys and poured out his gall, showing absolutely no mercy. Job’s face is red with weeping and his eyes dark circles, yet there is no violence in his hand and his prayer remains pure. He pleads that this not be forgotten, that the earth not be allowed to absorb his blood so that it become unknown, and that his outcry be allowed to ring out without a resting place so that all will hear. For Job knows, that in fact, somewhere there is in heaven someone who can vouch for him. Even though his friends scorn him, he continues to pour out his tears to God that God would behave as one does for a neighbor and at least listen, if not maintain his right. He knows his days are limited. His spirit is broken, his grave is ready and he is surrounded by mockers. He pleads for God to do something about them as well, for ultimately he believes God is responsible for them and their stupidity. Job then turns his words on the three—there is not a sensible person among them as they make night into day and the light darkness. But even if he looks to Sheol as his home, darkness as his couch, the Pit as his father, and its worms as mother or sister, yet, where is his hope?

Psalm 37:1-18 is an instruction acrostic from the wisdom tradition that counsels, “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.” With this and other such injunctions, the psalm encourages patient trust in the Lord in the face of the prosperity of the wicked. It is from the Yahwist tradition, with the name “Lord” used for God again and again, constantly exhorting: “Trust in the Lord.” Its purpose is to instruct and encourage people in the face of watching the wicked prosper. “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” “Be still before the Lord, and patiently wait for him;” Abandon anger, wrath and fretting, for they only lead to doing evil. Remember, “The evildoers will be cut off, while the Lord knows the days of the blameless, whose heritage will abide forever. In a little while, you will look for the wicked but find that “they are no more.” “The enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish like smoke.” The Lord laughs at them, knowing their day of judgment is coming. Their drawn swords and bent bows will be turned upon themselves and become their undoing, as evil always ends up being turned on itself. “Those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,” “Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way.” “The Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones.” “The Lord will not abandon [the righteous] to the powers of the [wicked].” “Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land and rescue you from the wicked.” “Better the little the righteous have than the abundance of the wicked, for the Lord knows the day of the blameless; their heritage will abide forever.”

The church in Antioch is thriving. Somewhere between 46 and 49 CE the Spirit instructs them to set apart Saul and Barnabas for the work to which the Spirit is calling them, and, after fasting, praying and laying hands on them they send them off, accompanied by John Mark. The first missionary journey has begun. The Spirit sends them first to Seleucia, the seaport west of Antioch, and from there they sail to the island of Cyprus. Landing in Salamis, they go to the synagogue there and begin to proclaim the word of God. From there, they travel across Cyprus to Paphos, to its western tip, where they encounter a Jewish magician names Bar-Jesus, who serves the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul summons Barnabas and Saul, because he wants to hear the word of God that they are proclaiming. Bar-Jesus—now named “Elymas the magician”—tries to intervene and turn the proconsul away from the faith they are proclaiming. Saul—who, for the first time, and ever after, is identified as Paul—becomes filled with the Spirit and challenges Elymas, calling him a “son of the devil and enemy of righteousness,” and invokes a curse upon him resulting in blindness for his “trying to make crooked the straight paths of the Lord.” Immediately, Elymas is struck blind and wanders about groping for someone “to lead him by the hand.” Meanwhile, Sergius Paulus becomes the first named convert of the journey, astonished by their teaching about the Lord. Their work there complete, from Paphos, Barnabas, Paul and John Mark sail North West on to Perga in Pamphylia, where John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem. Paul will later see this as abandonment on John Mark’s part and will no longer trust him as a mission partner. It will be the cause of a division between Paul and Barnabas. On the other hand, there is some speculation that John Mark realized the need to write down “the word of God” that the three have been proclaiming, and returned to Jerusalem to the apostles there, to gather the stores and traditions that appear in the first gospel, whether it was he or another, who wrote the gospel that bears his name.

The blindness of the Jewish leaders is extended into the next incident, which is told in all four gospels, as Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind, and the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” It was assumed in those days that such maladies were the result of sin. Jesus refutes that notion and says, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; rather, he was born blind so that the work of God might be revealed in him.” Jesus then comments about his need to be about the work of the One who sent him. While it is day, he must work. Soon, night will be upon them when no one can work. But for now, it is day; for as long as he is in the world he is “the light of the world”. Notice all of the images about sight and light, each a metaphor for the presence of God in him. Jesus then spits on the ground, gathers up the moist mixture of soil and spittle, kneads it into clay and places it on the blind man’s eyes. He then sends the man to the pool of Siloam to wash. The man does, and comes back seeing, thus becoming an immediate sensation among his neighbors, some thinking he has been miraculously healed, others thinking he is not really the man born blind but someone who simply looks like him. In the midst of the hubbub, the man keeps saying, “I am the man!” Finally, they respond, “But how were your eyes opened?” He tells them what Jesus did and how he received his sight. They ask where Jesus is, and the man replies, “I don’t know.” After all, he has never seen Jesus! So they take the man to the Pharisees, and now we learn that it was on the Sabbath that Jesus healed him. The Pharisees begin their inquisition, wanting to know how the man received his sight. The man tells them, and speaking of blindness, the Pharisees fixate on the fact that it was on the Sabbath when Jesus did this, rather than on what has happened, and the man once blind can now see. Because it was a violation of the Sabbath, they insist that Jesus cannot be from God. Others in the crowd ask, “But how could a sinner perform such a sign?” And so, again, we have a controversy over who Jesus is. Turning to the man born blind, they ask him what he thinks and has to say about it. The man replies, “He is a prophet.” The story is not yet over, for the man can now see, while those around him are becoming increasingly blind.

Posted September 4, 2014
Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Job 12:1, 14:1-22; Psalm 38; Acts 12:18-25; John 8:47-59

Job continues talking directly to God in a lament which expresses the futility of life—“few of days and full of trouble”—as ephemeral as the sea evaporating unseen or the riverbed drying up. People are like flowers that wither under the heat, with their days determined. For a tree there is hope; when it is cut down and thought dead, when its stump senses water, the shoots of new life comes forth. It is not so with human beings. They die and are no more. Then he pleads that God would hide him in Sheol, so that God’s wrath could return to God and give Job rest. But, he also recognizes the ways of God as he observes them in the world around him and ultimately, God prevails in all things and destroys the hope of mortals, overpowering them, changing their appearance and sending them away. Their children may come to honor, but they will never know it. Speaking in the third person plural, he describes himself: “They feel only the pain of their own bodies, and mourn only for themselves.”

Psalm 38 is the third of seven penitential psalms (6; 32; 51; 102; 130 & 143) and is a challenge to modern sensibilities, because of the way it makes a direct connection between sin and sickness and understands the latter as God’s wrath unleashed against humankind. It was, of course, common in Old Testament times to attribute everything to God, and that nothing took place outside of the scope of God’s permission. There was no concept of a power of evil at work in the world, demons or devils, a much later solution to the problem of evil. Rather, there was divine purpose in suffering and affliction, and it ranged from punishment to instruction, to purification. All of this we see reflected in the counsel of Job’s friends, while Job remains resolute in affirming his innocence. This, rather, is the prayer Job’s friends are urging on him. A closer analysis reveals that the psalm was carefully composed (twenty-two lines, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet), rather than an impromptu expression of personal failure. It was written to be used by those who were sick and seeking recovery and is a prayer of confession from one who knows that his “foot has slipped.” As a result, the psalmist is bearing the pain of divine wrath: God’s arrows having sunk deep within him; God’s hand is heavy upon him—he is physically ill as well as sick at heart. Repentant, through and through, the prayer does not deny culpability; this is all because of his own foolishness. He describes the effect of his illness and the bodily suffering he endures. But, beyond his physical pain and isolation is the alienation that he feels, not only from loved ones and friends (it may well be a skin disease that has caused him to be quarantined), but more, the isolation his sin has caused with God. And so, the psalm is addressed to God who knows his longing, more for the removal of the isolation than other intervention. Though, to make matters worse, his enemies are using this to seek his ruin as they continue to mediate on their treachery. But, he will remain deaf and blind to that; it is God he seeks, it is the Lord who is his only hope in this and he knows it. And so, he confesses his iniquity, sin, and sorrow, and his desire for God’s presence. His final plea is for God not to forsake him, but to come quickly as his only source of salvation. Unlike laments that almost always end in a note of triumph that celebrates God’s intervention, this psalm simply leaves the supplicant “waiting,” as Job waits. And, it was in order to refute the theology behind this psalm that the book of Job was written. A final thought concerning this psalm: we must exercise care in using it. This is not a universal statement that all sickness is God’s punishment for specific sin. Rather, when used in the larger context of scripture, it can be helpful as a confession of sin or an expression of the general sinful condition in which all of us live.

When Peter is discovered missing from the prison, Herod calls for and examines the guards who suffer the fate of any sentry who has failed at his post. Herod then leaves Jerusalem for his resort on the sea at Caesarea and, while there, has to deal with the people of Sidon and Tyre, with whom he has had some hostilities. Because the people of Sidon and Tyre are dependent upon Judea for food, they come to Herod seeking reconciliation through the offices of his chamberlain, Blastus. On the day appointed for the audience, Herod dons his royal robes, takes his seat on the platform and begins to address the people. As he does, the people from Sidon and Tyre shout back with overt flattery, “The voice of a god and not a man.” Immediately, Herod drops dead. We are told that it is because he accepted honor that belongs solely to God. Note the difference between Herod, and Peter, Saul and Barnabas when people similarly tried to worship them as gods. An angel of the Lord struck Herod down, and worms ate him alive. But, the word of God continues to flourish and gain followers. With their mission of relief to the Jerusalem church complete, Saul and Barnabas return to Antioch from Jerusalem (notice the footnote identifying the confusion in prepositions) and bring with them John Mark, the son of Mary, in whose home the Jerusalem church meets.

The confrontation in the temple between Jesus and the Jewish leaders continues as they contend over who Jesus is. Because he continues to identify himself as come from God, they accuse him of being a Samaritan (not only an outsider, but also a gross insult), who is demon possessed. Again, Jesus ignores their allegations and brings the conversation back to his own behavior: in all that he does he honors, not himself, but God. But then, Jesus escalates things by adding, “Whoever keeps my word will never see death.” It is a startling statement that convinced them that he is possessed. Abraham died, so did each of the prophets; is he greater than these; just who does he claim to be? But, Jesus will not answer that question; for in doing so, he would be glorifying himself. Rather, he trusts his Father to glorify him—the One they too claim as their God. Yet, they do not know God as Jesus does, and for him to suggest otherwise would make him a liar. Rather, Jesus knows the Father and keeps the Father’s word. And now, again, Jesus increases the tension in the dialogue by telling them that Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus’ day (the rabbis taught that God had revealed the future to Abraham). Startled even further by Jesus’ astonishing claims, the Jewish leaders respond dismissively with a rhetorical question: “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answers: “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am! They have not missed it; Jesus has until now used the sacred name publically in relation to metaphors of light, water, and so on. But now, he has openly used it about himself. Such blasphemy produces the prescribed and predictable response (Lev. 24:13-16), and they pick up rocks to stone him to death. But, his hour is yet to come, so Jesus hides himself and then slips out of the temple.

Posted September 3, 2014
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2104

Job 12:1, 13:3-17, 21-27; Psalms 26; Acts 12:1-17; John 8:33-47

Job’s friends have not told him anything he does not already know; it simply does not answer his question and so he wants to speak to the Almighty (notice the name) and argue his case directly with God. Is God as “almighty” as God’s name implies? As for Elipaz, Bildad and Zophar, they are simply whitewash lies and worthless physicians. He would have been better off had they remained silent. That would be real wisdom on their part, and one of the themes that is emerging in this book! Why is it they feel the need to speak for God? Their speech is false and misleading. How will God look upon it when judging them? Surely, God will rebuke them and terrify them with his divine majesty, with its dread falling on them. Their maxims are proverbs of ashes and defenses of clay. He pleads for silence from them. It is God he wants to hear from. He will speak to God, come what may, taking his life in his own hands. God will surely kill him—he knows he has no hope—but he will defend himself to God’s face. In this, Job will find salvation, rather than having himself judged by the false words of his friends. Prepared to argue his case, he knows he will be vindicated. Who else is there to contend with him? And now his speech is turned to God. In doing so, he asks for two things: that God not withdraw his hand, and that he not be terrified by God’s presence and overcome with dread, lest he not be able to speak freely. Then, God can call and Job will replay, or Job will speak and let God reply. He asks God to tell him of his iniquities, transgressions and sins—how many are they? Why has God hidden his face and counted Job as his enemy? Why is Job being so oppressed, tormented and driven to the edge of life, like a decaying, rotten thing, like a moth-eaten garment?

Psalm 26 could easily have been written by Job. It pleads for vindication while insisting on one’s own integrity. She has trusted in the Lord with unwavering devotion. If there is any doubt of that on God’s part, then prove her, try her, test her heart and mind. She walks faithfully trusting in God’s steadfast love. She continues to make her point: she does not sit with the worthless or consort with hypocrites, hates the company of evil doers and shuns the wicked. In innocence, she washes her hands, cleansing herself in preparation for offering temple sacrifice, and circles the altar singing songs of thanksgiving and praise (rather than penitence seeking forgiveness). How she loves being there and doing that! And so she asks that she not be swept away with sinners, the bloodthirsty whose hands are filled with evil and bribes. As for her, she walks in integrity and so pleads for God’s gracious redemption. Sanding in the midst of the congregation she continues to bless the Lord.

Persecution now moves beyond the synagogue to the civil authorities, as King Herod takes it up, having James, John’s brother, killed. Because Herod sees that doing so pleases the Jews, he then arrests Peter. It is taking place during Passover and the parallels to Jesus’ arrest are not only striking but probably intentional. Peter is jailed, chained between two guards and in a dungeon supervised by four squads of soldiers. Meanwhile the church prays. The night before Herod plans to bring Peter forth, an angel of the Lord appears in divine light, illuminating the cell. Tapping Peter on the shoulder, he awakens him, and tells him “Get up.” Immediately, Peter’s chains fall away. The angel tells him to get dressed and follow, and Peter does, but thinks all of this is a dream. They pass by the guards and out the prison door and head to the city gate, which swings open on its own before them as they approach. As they continued to walk into the city, the angel departs, and, suddenly, Peter realizes this is not a dream but the work of the Lord to set him free. Immediately, he goes to the house of Mary, leader of one of the house churches in Jerusalem and mother of John Mark, where many are gathered praying for Peter. The comic nature of the story brings not only relief, but also makes it clear that the power of the Empire is ridiculous in the face of God’s power in Jesus. Peter knocks on the door of the gate and when the slave girl, Rhoda, recognizes Peter’s voice, rather than open the door, she leaves Peter, standing outside knocking, while she rushes back to Mary and the others to say Peter is there. They tell her she is out of her mind and assume that what she has seen is Peter’s guardian angel, while she insists, ‘No, it is Peter’ (who is still outside, pounding on the door!). Finally they open the gate door to see for themselves, and there he stands. They are amazed. Peter motions them to be silent and then describes what has happened and then adds, “Tell this to James and to the other sisters and brothers.” The “James” here is not John’s brother, who has been killed, but the brother of Jesus, who seems to have now become, or is in the process of becoming, the leader of the Jerusalem church. Having said this, Peter leaves them, though for where we are not told. It makes sense; otherwise the authorities would have known where to search for and arrest him once again.

Jesus’ words about the truth making them free offend the Jewish leaders. After all, they are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. Really; have they forgotten Egypt; and what about Babylon and now Rome? At any rate, they ask what he means by being made free. He is talking about their slavery to sin, which keeps them, like all slaves, from having a permanent place in the household and is so total that they do not even recognize it. On the other hand, the son has a place forever. So, if he, as God’s son, makes them free, they will be really free. Yes, they are descendants of Abraham, yet they seek to kill him, because they cannot make space for or accept his word, even though he is only speaking what he has seen and heard in the Father’s presence. They again assert that Abraham is their father. Jesus responds that, if they truly were children of Abraham, they would do what Abraham did and not be trying to kill him, a man who has told them the truth that he has heard from God. Abraham believed the word that he heard from God. However, they are indeed doing what their father—the Devil—does. Not yet clear about what Jesus has just said, or thinking he may be making reference to Abraham fathering Esau, the illegitimate heir, they insist that they are not illegitimate children, and have only one father, God himself. Jesus responds that if God were their Father, they would love Jesus as well, because he has come to them from God. Again, affirming that all of this is part of God’s design, he insists that he has not come on his own but from the One who sent him. Why can’t they understand what he says? It is because they are from the Devil—he is their father—and they are doing his will. A murderer from the beginning, not only does he not stand in the truth, he cannot stand it, for there is no truth in him. Rather, he lies—that is his nature—and is the father of lies, which is why they do not believe Jesus. As Jesus continues, he makes it clear that their lack of belief is because they are not from God, as he is, but from the Devil, whose work they are doing. This is anything but the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” that we so often romanticize about. This is Jesus, the truth teller, the living Word of God, speaking in their midst and ours.

Posted September 2, 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