Friday: 2 Kings 23:36-24:17; Psalm 141; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Matthew 9:27-34
The lectionary steps over the death of Josiah in a military engagement against King Neco of Egypt, who had formed an alliance with Assyria. The battle took place at Megiddo, and when Neco killed Josiah, his servants carried his dead body to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb and took his twenty-three year old son Jehoahaz as their king to replace his father. His reign was but a brief three months, when Neco confined him to the land of Hamath, so Jehoahaz could no longer rule and in his place put his younger brother, Eliakim, on the throne, changing his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz was then taken to Egypt where he died. King Neco of Egypt demanded huge sums of money from Jehoiakim, which he paid by placing a special tax on the people. Jehoiakim reigned as a vassal of Egypt for eleven years in Jerusalem. But again, we are told that “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as all his ancestors had done.” But in the eighth year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon moved against Jehoiakim. He made Jehoiakim his servant for three years, but then Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. In the meantime, the surrounding nations all descended on Judah to destroy it. The editor sees this as clearly the hand of the Lord exercising his wrath over the failure of the people to be faithful, especially King Manasseh, who had shed much innocent blood. The Lord was no longer willing to look the other way, or patiently wait for repentance. Jehoiakim dies and his eighteen year old son Jehoiakin becomes king. The king of Egypt does not move against Jehoiakin, as he did his father, because the king of Babylon had taken over all the land that belonged to Neco from the Wadi of Egypt to the River Euphrates. Jehoiakin continues in the apostate ways of his father and the Babylonian army came up to Jerusalem and besieged the city. In the battle, Johoiakin gave himself up to Nebuchadnezzar, along with his mother, servants, court officers and palace officials. He became Nebuchadnezzar’s prisoner at 26, in the eighth year of his reign. The Babylonian king then stripped the temple of all of its wealth, cut in half the sacred vessels that had been established by Solomon. All of this had, of course, been foretold. Nebuchadnezzar carried away 10,000 captives, beside the king, his wives and family and his court, all the other officials, the warriors, the artisans and the smiths and took them to Babylon leaving only the poorest people on the land. In stripping Judah of all of his powers, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Johoiakin’s uncle, Mataniah king over Jerusalem, and named him Zedekiah.
This wisdom psalm is a personal petition that calls on God for protection from the lures of evil and alternates between “the way of life” and “the way of death”—the traditional “two ways” theme of wisdom literature. It opens with a call to prayer that has, ever after, been used in communities gathered for evening prayer: “Let my prayer rise before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” It recalls the incense burning in the Temple as a symbol of the prayers of the faithful. God is called upon to “Set a guard over my mouth, and keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not turn my heart to any evil.” God is asked to keep the psalmist from the company of those who work iniquity. “Do not let me eat of their delicacies.” It is a plea to be kept from the company of those who walk in the way of evil and rather, be kept in the way of good, even to the point of, “Let the righteous strike me....” This is an expression of continual openness to correction on the way, especially by those who are more wise than themselves. This is followed by the plea that “the oil of the wicked never anoints my head.” The imagery quickly shifts to violence that befits the wicked. But, just as quickly, the psalmist returns her focus upon the Lord and addresses God directly: “O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; do not leave me defenseless. Keep me from the trap that the wicked have laid for me; let them fall into their own nets, while I escape.
Paul now introduces his famous metaphor of the church as the body of Christ. And just as the body does not consist of only one member, repeated over and over again, so too the body of Christ recognizes the need for its diversity. Their unity is not in their good will, nor even in the purpose, but in the Spirit who has baptized them into Christ’s body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—for all of them were made to drink of the same Spirit. Moving further, he points out that one portion of the human body cannot say to the rest, “I have no need of you.” Doing so does not make it any less a part of the body. Expanding the metaphor, Paul asks if the ear insisted on being the body, how would it see, and if the eye made the same claim where would the sense of smell come from. But God has put the body together in such a way that all of its members work together for the sake of the whole. So too, should the Corinthians. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor the head say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the weaker portions of the body seem to be given the greater honor and protection, and the less respectable members of it treated with greater respect. In fact, God has so arranged the body that the greatest honor is given to the weakest and most inferior members so that there may be no dissension within the body, the various members providing care of one another. For if one member suffers, the whole body suffers, whereas if one member is honored, all rejoice together with him.
Moving home after his raising the dead girl, Jesus is followed by two blind men who cry out loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us.” Clearly, they can see that he is the Messiah. When Jesus reaches his home, the blind men come into his house, and Jesus asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”—the “this” here being the restoration of their sight, but also a subtle way of acknowledging that Jesus is up to being the Messiah. They respond “Yes,” and Jesus touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you,” and their eyes were opened and they could see. Jesus demands that they tell no one about this, but he is wasting his breath. The blind men go away and spread the news about him throughout the district. Shortly thereafter, the people bring to Jesus a demon possessed man who cannot speak. Jesus casts out his demon and the mute man begins to speak. The crowds witness all of this saying to themselves, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees have a different answer for Jesus’ power: it is by the ruler of the demons that he casts the demons out.
Thursday: 2 Kings 23:4-25; Psalm 134; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Matthew 9:18-26
Josiah’s massive religious reform is not for Jerusalem alone; rather, he scours the entire land that has been occupied by Israel and Judah, destroying the various places of worship of foreign gods that began when Solomon built temples for them outside the city so that his foreign wives could continue to worship their gods. Reading these verses carefully reveals just how broad-based and diverse the pagan worship had become and how it had made its way straight into the temple itself. Many a pastor has lamented the cultural practices that have made their way into Christian worship today that are sometimes as much “articles of faith” as those listed in the creeds, so perhaps it is not as difficult to understand, after all. The temple had been rife with the worship of pagan Gods; therefore, the cleansing reform began there. Josiah orders the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of “the second order” and those who are the guardian of the threshold to begin the cleansing of the temple, by removing all of the idols, altars and other paraphernalia used for the worship of other gods, and has them burned outside Jerusalem. He deposes the priests who had been ordained by his ancestral kings to oversee that worship. That complete, he moves throughout the rest of the country continuing his reform. Notice that he goes as far as Israel’s borders to obliterate paganism and restore the worship of the Lord. The high places are defiled, sacred poles are cut down and burned, altars desecrated by burning human bones upon them, idols burned, and any vessel that had been used in worshipping a foreign god was burned in the fire, its ashes sometimes scattered on pagan altars, and sometimes scattered among the tombs. Seeing a monument, Josiah asks about it—should it be torn down as well? When told it marks the tomb of “the man of God who came from Judah” and foretold all of this great reform that Josiah was accomplishing, Josiah says, “Let him rest.” But then he gathers all of the priests that had been involved in worship in the high places and slays them, and then burns them and their bones to desecrate the altar at Bethel. Josiah also tore down the houses of male prostitution and banished those priests along with all other priests associated with the worship of other gods. In addition, he defiled Topheth and the valley of Hinnon, where the people—especially kings—had burned their children in sacrifice. Finally, the king commands all of the people to observe passover as it is described in the book of the law that was just discovered. We are told that no observance of passover had been kept since the time of the judges. But in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign it was celebrated. Finally, to make things complete, Josiah does away with the mediums, the wizards, teraphim, idols and all of the other abominations that had crept into common life. The editor ends by telling us that before Josiah, there was no king in Israel or Judah like him, who turned to the Lord with “all his soul, with all his heart, and with all his might,” according to the book of the law, nor did any others rise like him. But it was a king’s reform, and the nation itself still stood under the Lord’s judgment. He will remove Judah out of his sight as he removed Israel. He will reject Jerusalem, which he had chosen, and the house where he had said his name would reside.
This psalm, the last of the “Songs of Ascent,” concludes the section of such psalms that began with Psalm 120. It is short and is both a call to worship and a word of blessing. Some think it is a liturgical blessing that was invoked upon a new “shift” of priests coming to take up their service in the temple, a charge and blessing on the “changing of the guard” within the temple personnel. Other think it is simply a word of priestly blessing invoked over pilgrims as they come to the Temple to bless God, make sacrifice, and dwell, for a time, in the presence of the Lord. Its tri-form structure is built around the invitation to “Come, bless the Lord….” “Lift your hands,”—the posture of prayer—and the priestly blessing: “May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.” Zion, of course, is God’s holy mountain, Jerusalem, but also a reference to the temple which was at the very top of the mountain and understood to be the Lord’s dwelling place on earth.
Paul now answers the Corinthian’s question about “spiritual gifts”, which seemed to be part of the party spirit and division in the church there. He reminds them that in their pagan days they went off to various temples to idols that cannot speak. But they are recipients of the spirit of God, and no one who has that Spirit is able to say, “Jesus be cursed.” A confession that “Jesus is Lord,” is the first gift of God’s Spirit. The Spirit brings other gifts and forms of service as well, and Paul names them, reminding the Corinthians that it is God who activates them all, placing manifestations of the Spirit among them for the common good of all. The list begins with wisdom, not surprising in that Greek culture, then knowledge—and there is a decided difference between the two. To another is given the gift of faith—there are those among us who remain absolutely unshakable in their faith no matter what; a gift of God indeed. The Spirit gives gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy—what today we would call proclamation or preaching—and to another, discernment of the Spirit. After all, there are many spirits in the world not simply the Spirit of God. Finally, to others the Spirit gives the gift of tongues, and to another the interpretation of those tongues. It seems that the gift of tongues was being used as a super-credential among some Corinthians. Notice that Paul tongues and their interpretation last. All of these are “spiritual gifts” given to people for the sake of building up the church, and are given to people each as the Spirit chooses.
Matthew tells the story of the healing within the healing, but in much briefer terms than Luke.8:40-56. A leader of the synagogue comes and begs Jesus to come. His daughter has just died. Notice that in Luke, she is sick unto death, and lies there dying. The nameless leader of the synagogue believes that if Jesus will come touch her, she will return to life. Jesus gets up and follows the man, with the disciples in tow. Suddenly a woman emerges who has been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years. She has told herself that if only she can touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she will be healed; she comes up behind him and does so. Turning to her Jesus says, “Take heart daughter; your faith has made you whole.” And instantly, the woman is healed—not as she touched his robe, but at his word. Jesus moves on to the house where the dead child’s body lies. When he arrives, the house is surround by friends and professional mourners (flute players), all making a commotion. Jesus tells them they are quite wrong—the child is not dead, only sleeping. The crowd laughs at this notion, but is soon put outside. Then Jesus goes into the house and takes the dead girl’s hand in his own and the girl gets up. Little wonder that word of this spread throughout the whole region. Notice the brevity of Matthew’s presentation and the differences from what we know from Luke. I have already mentioned the fact that the girl is already dead. Notice that touching the hem of Jesus’ garment does not heal the hemorrhaging woman. That only happens as Jesus turns to her and says, “Your faith has made you well.” Finally, Jesus simply steps in the house to the dead child’s bed side and takes her by the hand—he says nothing to her—and she gets up. No wonder the crowds flock to him.
Wednesday: 2 Kings 22:14-23:3; Psalm 128; 1 Corinthians 11:23-34; Matthew 9:9-17
Josiah sends his chief advisors, secretary and the high priest to the prophetess Huldah, who is also the wardrobe mistress who lived in the second quarter of Jerusalem. Huldah delivers a prophecy against Israel and reaffirms that all of the disasters and punishments Josiah has read about in the book of the law will come upon the land and its people, because the people abandoned the Lord. But she instructs them to tell the King of Judah that, because his heart has been penitent and he has torn his clothes in grief and wept, none of this will take place during his reign. The Lord will “gather him to his ancestors in peace; his eyes shall not witness the disaster and devastation the Lord will bring upon the land. With that, Josiah directs that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem be gathered to him. Then the king went to the house of the Lord along with all the people, their elders, priests and prophets—both great and small—and read before the people in their hearing all the words of the book of the law. Then standing by the pillar of the temple, Josiah makes a covenant with the Lord, to follow his commandments, decrees and statutes with all of his heart and soul, to perform the word of the covenant that was written in the book. We are told that all the people join Josiah in making the covenant.
“A Song of Ascents,” tells us that this was part of an entrance liturgy to the Temple that was employed as men made their three annual compulsory visits to Jerusalem to worship during one of the three major feasts. It is a wisdom psalm with a message very much like Psalm 1: those who walk in God’s ways receive God’s blessing—the negative is not even considered! It may have been offered by the pilgrim himself, or, it may have been invoked on the pilgrim as he entered the temple. But, whereas Psalm 1 is general in its application, this one is more personal, expressing the blessings and their impact on one’s wife and children. It ends with a general blessing, first on the worshipper, may he see the prosperity of Jerusalem, and finally, a blessing on the worshipper’s family, and finally, on all of Israel itself.
Still chastising the Corinthians for their behavior at the Lord’s Supper, Paul now quotes what today we call “the words of institution.” Read carefully, and you will see that these words came to Paul directly from the Lord. He uses them to continue to press the issue of unity on the chaotic congregation. He “handed on that which he received.” It is a first century expression that functions like quotation marks for us today. “On the night before he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and having given thanks for it, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you; do this to remember me.’ Likewise after supper, the cup, saying, ‘This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood; do this as my remembrance.’” Paul then reminds the Corinthians that as often as they eat the bread and drink the cup they proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. But now Paul ups the ante: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner is guilty of the blood and body of the Lord.” Therefore, they are to examine themselves to assure they are ready. For whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup without discerning the body, eats and drinks it in judgment against themselves.” Notice that “the body” here is not the bread, but the body of Christ gathered about the table. Paul is still working on his mandate for unity. He goes on to say that this is precisely why some in the community are sick and some have already died. So, they are to discern for themselves, and when they do, they are not judged by others. But, when judged by Christ himself they are disciplined so that they may not be condemned with the world. So then, when they come together for the meal they are to wait for one another, and if one is too hungry to wait, eat at home first, so that when they come together to eat the supper it will not be to their condemnation with the rest of the world.
Matthew has responded to Jesus’ call to follow and is now hosting a large dinner party for Jesus in his home. Included among the guests are many tax collectors and other notorious sinners seated with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees see this, they ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” If he were a good Jew, he would distance himself from such people to maintain ritual purity. Jesus overhears the conversation and answers for them saying, “Those who are well need no physician, but those who are sick.” Then, more directly still he quotes Hosea 6:6 telling the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” In the crowd were some disciples of John the Baptist. They ask Jesus why then they and the Pharisees fast often but his disciples do not fast? “Jesus replies that wedding guests do not mourn as long as the bridegroom is among them, do they?” The days are coming with the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast. Matthew places Jesus’ words about a new patch on an old coat, and new wine into old wineskins, and the potential damage that brings.
Tuesday: 2 Kings 22:1-13; Psalm 124; 1 Corinthians 11:2, 17-22; Matthew 9:1-8
Manasseh dies and his eight year old son, Josiah, comes to the throne. With the exception of David himself, no other king was so faithful in Judah as Josiah. The editor simply says, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or the left. Josiah is destined to be the greatest religious reformer in Judah’s life short of Jesus. It begins with Josiah’s concern for repairing the house of the Lord, which had clearly been ignored during Manasseh’s long reign. At 26 years of age, already king for eighteen years, Josiah gives orders to the high priest Hilkiah, through his secretary Azaliah, that the temple is to be repaired, and the cost for it is to come, not by a tax on the people, but from the money that has been stored up in the temple treasury. It is to begin with a count of all the money that has been brought into the temple and given to “the keepers of the threshold.” Clearly, there was an admission charge or expected offering involved. All of that is to be given to the workers in charge of the house, so that it can be rebuilt. The craftsmen and other workers are to be free to do their work, given what they ask for without the expectation of an accounting for how they have used the money, for, as Josiah says, these men “deal justly.” In the course of emptying the various rooms in the temple the high priest Hilkiah comes across the book of the law, long lost in Judah. Scholars tend to think this an early edition of what today we call Deuteronomy. Hilkiah gives the book to the king’s secretary, Shephan, who reads it and in turn gives it to the king. When Josiah reads the book, he tears his clothing in pieces as sign of repentance. How is it that Judah has deviated so far from the instructions of this book and risked the ire and judgment of the Lord? He now sees his people’s history in a new light. They have been living under the wrath of the Lord that was kindled against them, because their ancestors did not obey this book and disregarded it so wantonly. It is not the last time a capital project will bring reform among God’s people. One wonders how we would respond to reading a gospel for the first time, or Paul letters to the churches. Might we too be shocked?
“Had not the Lord been on our side—now let Israel say—had it not been the Lord who was with us when our enemies rose up against us, we would not have survived.” This is a communal psalm of thanksgiving following a war that was just barely won, in which Israel survived in spite of its lack of strength or might, and now gives thanks where it understands thanks is due. The Lord is blessed for not giving them into the enemies’ teeth as prey. Israel escaped destruction as the bird escapes the fowler’s broken snare. The psalm ends with the theme recurrent, not only in the psalms, but throughout the Bible: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” A paraphrase of this psalm was sung in Coventry Cathedral in England, at the conclusion of World War II, as recognition of the country’s own deliverance.
After some explicit language about sexual relations in the community and the rights of wives as well as husbands, the lectionary steps over Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians concerning household codes of conduct. The argument is classic first century Jewish cultural customs incorporated into Roman-Greco culture. Though Paul makes an attempt to argue his position from scripture, employing the image of men being created in the image of God, he quite conveniently looks past the fact that women are as well! It is fascinating to see the power of culture on how, someone like Paul, was reading his scripture at this point and should be a constant reminder of the pitfalls of interpretation. We may wish that Paul had been given a revelation that was more equitable, for in the 21st century we know of many centuries this text was abused to justify men’s behavior, even when it was abusive, and to deny women leadership in the church, (though Paul is quick to recognize they can pray and prophecy, and even names women as leaders—in one place, as an apostle), but we must assume that he did not. On the other hand, one wonders what would have become of the infant church in that first century CE world had women been given the gift of equality in all things. Would it have built up the church or isolated it as an object of scorn in that culture in which the standard Paul is espousing were the norm? Having done this, Paul turns to the abuses that are taking place in worship as the Corinthians come together for the Supper. Until now, he has commended the Corinthians, but now he lambasts them. There is division and party spirit among them when they come together—not only over leadership, but class. Paul will acknowledge that “factions” are in fact inevitable among them, because things have become what they are. More, the fact that some are striving to be true will be seen as a party spirit by those who do not care. In resignation, Paul says that , it be so, if only to reveal who is genuine. Things are so bad that Paul actually tells them that it is not the Lord’s Supper they are observing and eating. When it comes time to eat, it is a free-for-all, the well-healed going ahead to eat without waiting for the others, taking not only the best portions, but the lion’s share resulting in the fact that some who come to the table even go hungry. In addition some of them imbibe in so much wine that they become drunk. Do they not have houses of their own in which to behave this way if that is what they choose; but why bring contempt upon the church of God and humiliate those who have little or nothing? The Corinthian’s former behavior in the symposia lies closes at hand here. Paul is literally speechless. What should he say? The most he can say is that he cannot commend them in this.
Jesus and the disciples sail back home and as Jesus steps out of the boat some people are carrying to him a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus sees the people faith he speaks to the paralyzed man saying, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Remember, it was assumed that things like paralysis and leprosy, blindness and other maladies were the result of God punishing the person for some great sin. When the scribes standing nearby hear Jesus, they accuse him of blasphemy—no mean accusation as it is punishable by stoning. Jesus responds by asking “Which it is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk?’ So that they may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—and now Jesus turns to the paralyzed man and says, “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And the man stands up and goes home. When the crowds see this they were filled with understandable awe, and rightly glorified God for giving such authority to a human being. We are not told how the scribes responded. In all likelihood, they convinced themselves that the man was not really lame, but with the crowd in awe, there was little they could do. Jesus leaves the healing and walking along the road comes upon a Jew in a booth named Matthew, collecting taxes for Rome. Jesus says to Matthew, “Follow me.” We are told that is precisely what Matthew did.
Monday: 2 Kings 21:1-18; Psalm 106:19-48; 1 Corinthians 10:14—11:11; Matthew 8:28-34
What Hezekiah had thought was good news from Isaiah turns very bad indeed, as the center of power shifts in the Ancient Near East from Assyria to Babylon. As Hezekiah approaches death, his twelve year old son Manasseh becomes co-regent with him. The Deuteronomic editor pronounces judgment on Manasseh’s reign for the traditional reasons: he did not walk in the ways of his father, but in the ways of the apostate kings who mixed the worship of foreign gods with the worship of the Lord. And though his reign was a long one, most of it was under Assyrian vassalage; much tribute was paid, and, at the people’s expense. Under that vassalage, Manasseh imported Assyrian astral worship. He not only allowed the return of the altars and sacred poles to worship the Canaanite god Baal, but also the gardens and the high places that his father had pulled down. More, Manasseh actually erected altars to other gods within the temple itself—Baal and Astarte—the height of sacrilege. A list of his additional abominations is stunning, consulting with the dead, forbidden by Lev. 19:26; 31 and Deuteronomy 18:10-14, which was the undoing of Saul years before. He used magicians, astrologers and other forms of divination, but most of all, passed one of his sons through the fire in child sacrifice. This is the low mark of the Judean monarchy. If prophets spoke out against Manasseh, he slayed them in Jerusalem’s streets. In misleading the nation, Manasseh caused them to do more evil than the nations that had preceded in the land had done. As God had destroyed Israel, so now the measuring line and plumb line are in God’s hands and everything in Judah is out of line. The Lord will bring judgment on Judah, emptying out the city as one empties a bowl, until finally it is fully turned over, and wiped clean. The people will be cast out and become the possession of their enemies. The report closes in traditional style, reminding us that the rest of the accomplishments of Manasseh are recorded in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah. Manasseh dies, and is not buried with the other kings of Israel, but in the garden of his house, the garden of Uzza, quite possibly a pagan worship site within his palace.
This confession of sin continues, recounted Israel’s apostasy at Mt. Horab, making and worshiping the golden calf, exchanging the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass, and forgetting that it was the God who was their savior. For that, God was ready to destroy them all. Had it not been for Moses’ intercession, God’s wrath would have been poured out upon them. But still, they despised the pleasant land that was reported to them by their spies, and having no faith in God’s promise, they grumbled in their tents and disobeyed God’s voice. Consequently, God consigned them to the wilderness, there to wander and die, and only then place their descendent in the land of promise. But even in their wanderings, they attached themselves to foreign gods, and sacrificed to the dead. God’s anger was stoked and plagues broke out among them until Phinehas intercede on their behalf and the plague was stopped (Numbers 25). The people argued with the Lord at Meribah to the point that even Moses was implicated, became rash and spoke bitter words. The Israelites did not destroy the nations, as God had commanded, and instead, mingled with them, taking up their religious practices, sacrificing their children to demons and the idols of Canaan so that the land was polluted with their children’s blood. Thus, the people became unclean and prostituted themselves. Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against them and he gave them into the hand of the nations who ruled over them. Many times the Lord raised up judges to liberate them, but the people remained rebellious in their iniquity. Nevertheless, God remembered his covenant and showed compassion and steadfast love so that those who held them captive pitied them. The psalm of confession ends with a plea for redemption and salvation: “Gather us from among the nations that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.” After a final blessing of the Lord as their God from everlasting to everlasting, the people say “Amen!” The psalm ends with a final word of praise: “Hallelujah!”
Paul now uses the Corinthians’ sacramental practice in their worship as a means of illustrating why they must not participate in any pagan sacrifice. Quite coincidentally, in these words, we have early Eucharist theology and liturgical language and belief of the infant church. The cup of blessing which they bless at the beginning of their worship meal, “is it not a participation in the blood of Christ (the word is koinonia meaning “sharing in”)? The bread that they break in the meal, is it not a participation (same word) in the body of Christ?” This is made even clearer by Paul reminding them that “because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body because we all eat of the same loaf. Eucharistic nurture is not simply personal but binds the community of faith in a bond that is as organic as it is spiritual. Paul now uses Israel’s sacrificial worship practice as an example. The worshipper would bring the animal for offering to the Lord to the temple and a priest would slit its throat and pour the animal’s blood on the altar. But after its blood had been poured upon the altar as an expression that its life belongs to the Lord (life is in the blood for the Israelites—it is why it cannot be eaten), the animal was roasted, the finest portion given to the officiating priest, and the rest of the animal consumed by the worshipper, especially the supplicant and his family. In doing so, they became “partners” (again the word is koinoia) in the altar. What does Paul imply? If they participate in sacrificial worship in a temple to a pagan god, they share in that. Paul quickly clarifies himself, not that the idols represent God, or are anything. Rather, the pagans sacrifice to demons and Paul does not want them doing that. One cannot worship God and demons, one cannot share in the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, or sit at Christ’s table and then the table of demons, or we provoke the Lord as Israel did, again and again. But worship is one thing, food is quite another. All things in that regard are lawful, yet, not all things are helpful; all things are lawful, but not everything builds up. Therefore, in making decisions about these what to eat, they are far safer seeking the other’s benefit or privilege rather than their own. Eat whatever is sold in the market place, whether part of a sacrifice or not. It comes from God and is good—do so without raising questions of conscience. If an unbeliever invites you to dinner, eat what is set before you, confident that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein” (Psalm 24:1) But, if your host tells you that the meat has been sacrificed to a pagan god, then abstain, not for your own sake, but for the sake of your host’s conscience—behind this is the honor code of the day. Why should our liberty be constrained to the judgments of someone else’s conscience? It should not. If we partake with thankfulness, why should we be denounced because of that for which we offer thanks? “So,” concludes Paul, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Behave in ways that will give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to others in the church of God, especially those weaker members! Try to please everyone in everything. Notice Paul says “try!”, and uses himself as an example of one trying to please others rather than himself. “Imitate me”—that common first century command from teachers to students—just as Paul is an imitator of Christ.
Jesus has just demonstrated his authority over the forces of nature; now it is time to demonstrate his authority over the demonic. The little boat sails on into the night, landing on the Gentile coast of Gadarenes (notice that the name of the place is slightly different in Matthew’s version Gergesnes in the other two synoptic gospels), and that there are two men rather than one. Both are possessed so severely that no one can deal with them. As the possessed men come out of the cave tomb in which they have been living, the demons within them begin to shout, “What have you to do with us, Son of God?” Notice the confession of recognition—they, at least, know who he truly is. They ask, “Have you come to torment us before the time?” There is a time in which he will not only torment them but take victory over them, but that is yet to be. Recognizing their own vulnerability, the demons ask Jesus to cast them into a herd of swine feeding on a nearby hill. Jesus simply says, “Go!” and they do. Upon entering the swine the entire herd rushes headlong down the hill, falls into the sea and is drowned. The sea being a place of chaos, they are returning to their home base, never to torment the two men ever again. The herders of the swine see all of this and run to town for protection, telling the whole story about what had happened to the possessed men. Then, “the whole town comes out to meet Jesus,” and when they see him, they begged him to leave the region of their country. They fear his power and just who he may represent, which will become a common accusation of Jesus later in the gospel: that by the power of the lord of the demons, he cast them out.
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.