Monday, February 23, 2015
Deuteronomy 8:1-20; Psalm 119:73-80; Hebrews 2:11-18; John 2:1-12
Moses addresses the dangers of success and affluence: it not only causes us to forget our dependence upon the Lord for our daily bread (and breath!), it causes us to think that what we have we have created ourselves. Moses rehearses for them their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, while the first and most rebellious generation died off there: their shoes did not wear out, nor did their clothes, and God provided water from the rock and manna from heaven. All of this was to discipline them to learn to fear and trust the Lord alone for their needs and to have imbedded within them the conviction that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord. Therefore, they are exhorted to keep the words that God has given them in the commandments. If they do, they will flourish. If they don’t, they will become like the nations that the Lord is driving out before them. “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth,’ but remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors as he is doing today.” We may get weary of hearing Moses say this, but it is astonishing how little they took his words to heart. But then, how seriously do we take God’s word to heart in our day-to-day lives—especially in the work place or politics? Is there a reason those are “out of bounds?” It sounds like the thinking of the Israelites as they made their accommodations to the cultures around them.
Psalm 119:73-80 is a portion of the longest work in the psalter and is acrostic in its construction, each section built on a word beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, unfolding in its descending order and rendered in two-line strophes. The psalmist opens this section on Yod (Y), with the affirmation that God has made and fashioned him like a master-builder and pleads for understanding in order to learn God’s commandments. Verses 73 through 80 are an acknowledgement of the justice of God’s ways and a prayer that he may ever walk within them. Those who fear the Lord rejoice in him. They know God’s judgments are right, and, even in moments of humbling, recognize it is God’s faithfulness at work. God’s steadfast love, promise and mercy are our comfort as we delight in God’s law. As for the arrogant, let them be put to shame. As for us, let us be blameless, saying, “May my heart be blameless in thy statutes, that I may not be put to shame.”
How is it Jesus’ death saves us? Hebrews, having attested to Jesus’ divinity, now turns to the ramifications of his humanity. He is the one who sanctifies—as in “makes holy and acceptable to God”—and has the same Father as those he has come to sanctify. Consequently, he is not ashamed to call us his sisters and brothers. He then appropriates texts from Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:17-18, ironically, quoting them from the Greek rather than Hebrew translation. Jesus and we share the same flesh and blood so that he might, through death, destroy the one with the powers of death, so that his brothers and sisters, who have been held in slavery to death for all these years, might be free from death. He did not do this for angels, but for the descendants of Abraham. This is why he had to become like us in every respect so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, making a cleansing sacrifice of atonement for the sins of humanity. Because he was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
Jesus now has Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael as his followers who are referred to, for the first time, as ‘his disciples.” The next day they attend a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus’ mother is with them. The wine gives out; a huge social embarrassment to the host. Jesus’ mother (never referred to as “Mary” in this gospel, but only as “the mother of Jesus,” perhaps to avoid confusion because of too many Marys), turns to Jesus and says, “They are out of wine.” Jesus responds, “Woman, what is that to you and to me?” In effect, Jesus is saying, “That is not our problem but the host’s. He then adds, “My hour has not yet come.” (“Hour,” in this gospel, is the time of Jesus’ glorification, which, of course, is a long way away.) Addressing his mother as “Woman,” Jesus is distancing himself from what, otherwise, might seem a reasonable request from a mother to a son and is making it clear that family ties are now secondary to his mission. He will not let them deter him from it. But, it seems that his hour is beginning to unfold after all, as this will be the first of a series of signs that begin to reveal who he is. She, on the other hand, is his mother, and, ignoring what he said, simply turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” The story cuts away to tell us of the six, huge stone jars filled with water to enable the wedding guests to wash their hands before eating. This is either a very large wedding, or, the quantity of water has been exaggerated to enhance the meaning of the sign; whatever, the jars are no longer full. Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water, and they do. He then tells them to take some of it to the chief steward to test its appropriateness for the guests. They do, and, when the chief steward tastes it, he is astonished: not only is it wine; it is, by far, the best wine yet! He goes to the bridegroom and, in awe, says, “Everyone else serves the best wine first and, when everyone’s ability to tell the difference between the good and the inferior has been destroyed by too much wine, they serve the cheap stuff. But you; you have reserved the best for last.” And, notice the abundance! Jesus drops out of the story when he sends the servant to the unsuspecting chief steward. The narrator simply tells us that Jesus did this as the first of his signs—signs that reveal his glory—and his disciples believed in him. There will be more signs—events that reveal a power that can only be God present in and at work through him. At that, Jesus and his entourage depart for Capernaum. But read carefully, it is not simply his mother and disciples who are with him, but also his “brothers.” His hour has not yet come, but, it certainly has begun.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Jeremiah 9:23-24; Psalm 84; 1 Corinthians 1:17-31; Mark 2:18-22
Jeremiah has been issuing words of warning to Israel concerning her sin and God’s ensuing judgment against her and the weeping and wailing that will accompany its destruction. Suddenly, he falls into prose describing two ways of life, similar to that of the wisdom tradition. The false way is that of the wise, the mighty and the wealthy—the three good things in human life that have the capacity to become idols, to displace God, and to lead us into unfaithfulness. It is not wealth, wisdom or might that are wrong in and of themselves, but human reliance on them and the things we do to convince ourselves that, with them, we can endure on our own. Do not boast in these, but rather, boast in the fact that you know and understand the Lord, who acts with steadfast love, justice and righteousness. Notice the triplets paired off against one another, it is not accidental! It is these latter things that delight the Lord. Now the judgment turns against those depending upon ritual acts as a means of their salvation—in this case circumcision. (The Jews were not the only Semite people to circumcise; the difference was the meaning Jews gave to it as a sign of their covenant with the Lord.) The nations mentioned are thought to have been a coalition of nations who practiced circumcision, who had banded together to stand against Babylon. “Shaved temples” may refer to a remote tribe of people who indulged in unique haircuts as a sign of identity. It matters not; the issue is not outward cultic ritual, but a cutting of the heart (the center of human will). No matter how circumcised Israel and her neighbors may be, all will face destruction—the nations for not knowing or serving the Lord, and Israel for its uncircumcised heart.
Psalm 84 is a reflection on the wonders and gifts of abiding in God’s dwelling place, and one of the most beautiful psalms in the entire collection of one hundred fifty. The well-known psalm, set so masterfully by Brahms in his German requiem, written for the occasion of his mother’s death, celebrates the beauty of the temple as God’s dwelling place among the people, as well as the psalmist’s longing and desire to be in God’s presence there. In the temple all are cared for—even the lowly sparrow and swallow are welcome at God’s altar. It is worth the dangerous and difficult journey as they go from “strength to strength” on their pilgrimage to Zion and its temple, for a day there in its courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. Better a life of modest service at God’s threshold, than a life of luxury and ease among the wicked. For, the Lord is light and protection, the source of all good for those who walk in God’s ways, and the source of happiness for all who trust in him.
Paul and Jeremiah are on the same page as they warn about the dangers of boasting in this or that. In Corinth there were a number of things: wisdom, spiritual gifts, and of all things, the question of who had baptized you. Out of that context, Paul shuns such foolishness, reminding them that he was called, not to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with sophisticated words of wisdom but in plain understandable speech lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (How many a worshipper has come away remembering the eloquent preacher’s words of inspiration or the moving story but missed the gospel message?) Reversing the age old wisdom tradition, Paul acknowledges that the word of the cross is foolishness—but only to those who are perishing; in Jeremiah’s context, those who boast in their circumcision, wisdom and wealth. But for those who are being saved (notice that this is not a done deal but a process that is life-long), it is the power of God! The quotation about God destroying the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning is from Isaiah 29:14. With a series of rhetorical questions, Paul calls the wise of the world to task: has their wisdom revealed God? No; God has made their wisdom pure foolishness. Since, in its wisdom, the world did not know God, God decided, through the foolishness of Paul and his associates’ proclamation, to save those who believe it. The world, for its part, is always looking for a proof—the Jews a sign and the Greeks wisdom. Well here it is—Christ crucified! But that is a scandal to the Jews (a crucified Christ?), and foolishness to the Greeks (a crucified God?), but to those who are called by God, whether Jew or Greek, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness stronger than human strength. This is about Christ, the power of God for the salvation of the world. Paul now asks the Corinthians to reflect on their own lives before and after accepting the call of the gospel for them. Few of them were wise by human standards, powerful or noble. Do you hear Jeremiah’s trilogy of wisdom, power and wealth in the background? They are, themselves, a vivid illustration that God has chosen the foolish in the world to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, the low and despised—things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are—the noble. Why? So that, as Jeremiah long before warned, no one might boast in anything but the Lord. He is the source of our life in Christ Jesus who is God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. (One wonders why Paul did not say “wisdom, strength and wealth,” but then that is my 12th grade English teacher asking such questions in the background!) Finally, Jeremiah is brought to the fore: “Let those who boast, boast in the Lord.”
We encounter this event in Matthew 9:14-17 and in Luke 5:33-39, but today we read it in its most basic form as it first entered the gospel vocabulary. John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, and Jesus and his disciples were not. The sinners and tax collectors with whom Jesus was eating now ask, “Why do they fast but your disciples do not?” Jesus’ answer reveals a new dimension to his identity. Do wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? No; as long as they have him, they cannot fast. Yet, the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away and then they will fast—a word spoken to the church to whom Mark is writing, emphasizing the acceptability of the practice of fasting in the church. What is among them is new, so new that if they try to force it into old forms, it will destroy them. A new, un-shrunk patch sewed to a garment will, when washed, shrink and tear the garment even more, and new wine in old wine skins will simply explode them, losing both the skins and the wine. Therefore, one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Deuteronomy 7:17-26; Psalm 43; Titus 3:1-15; John 1:43-51
Moses continues with instructions for how the children of Israel are to respond to the nations that currently occupy the land of promise. They are not to fear them or assume that, because they are larger and more powerful, they cannot be overcome. Remember what the Lord did to Pharaoh in Egypt. He will do the same to all the people of whom they are afraid. Have no dread; the Lord is in your midst. The Lord will clear these nations away, little by little. The land would fall into chaos if he drove them all out at once. But the Lord will give the nations over to them. When he does, they are to blot out the names of the nations’ kings and destroy the people. The images of the nation’s gods, covered with gold and silver, shall be burned in the fire. They are an abomination to the Lord. Do not bring them into your house lest you be ensnared by them. You must utterly detest and abhor them, for they are set aside for destruction. This is not a very comfortable section of scripture for modern westerners to read, and reflects two things. First, countries rose and fell by conquest and regularly went to war against one another to expand their control, usually bringing the conquered in as slaves or wives. It may also reflect the conviction of the “Deuteronomic Editor” (those who sewed the scrolls together and edited them in their current form), that had the Israelites driven the people from the land and blotted out kings’ names, rather than incorporating the conquered into their society as slaves and wives, along with their Canaanite gods (Baal), Israel could have remained faithful to the covenant and would not have experienced the judgment of exile.
Psalm 43 is a wonderful little psalm that is a petition for God’s help in times of trouble, asking for God’s vindication against the ungodly ones who have behaved in deceitful and unjust ways against her. Affirming her trust in God, she asks why this has happened: “Why have you cast me off?” Then she prays, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me!” Isn’t that what we most need when besieged by deceit and injustice all around? Once led through the treachery of injustice, let God’s light and truth bring her to God’s holy hill in Jerusalem and to God’s dwelling there, the temple. There she will worship God with exceeding joy and praise him with the harp. After reaffirming her commitments to God, the psalmist turns reflective and asks herself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Her counsel is that universal word that continues to resound throughout scripture: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Yes, this is a difficult time, but God is present within it as her help and will again be triumphant. There will come a time beyond this when she will again be filled with joy and praise.
Titus is told to remind his people of the need for their orderly behavior, not only within the church, but outside of it as well, especially in matter of public activity. Let their good works be such that no one speaks evil of them; avoid quarreling, be gentle and show courtesy to all. Remember that they too were once foolish, disobedient and led astray; slaves to their passions and pleasure. Citing what many think may be an early baptismal creed, Titus is reminded that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved [them], not because of any works of righteousness that [they] had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” All this was through “Christ our Savior,” so that justified by his grace they might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Notice the development of thought that in verse four speaks of “God our Savior,” and verse 6 that speaks of “Christ our Savior.” Again, Titus is told to remind his flock that they are to devote themselves to good works and avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions and the divisions that come from them that are worthless. On the other hand, if, after a first or second admonition, someone continues to be divisive, have nothing more to do with them. They are simply perverted and sinful and condemning themselves. The letter ends in typical Hellenistic style for the period, listing travel plans, greetings and blessings. Those who think that Paul had a ministry after his imprisonment in Rome, look to this as evidence of that. Finally, though the letter is addressed to Titus, the final “you” in the last verse is plural, indicating that this may well have also been intended to be read by a larger community or to be read by Titus to his congregations.
The following day, on the way to Galilee, Jesus calls Phillip. Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the same city that Andrew and Peter came from, returns to his brother Nathaniel and tells him that “We have found him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote,” and names him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathaniel responds with typical skepticism, quoting an aphorism of the day that denigrated Jesus’ home because it bordered Gentile country and was considered “the sticks”: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The promised anointed prophet was to come from Judah. Philip responds with the classic invitation to discipleship: “Come and see.” Nathaniel does, and, as he approaches Jesus, he is greeted with, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,”—high praise from Jesus. Nathanael, still skeptical about someone from Nazareth, asks how it is Jesus got to know him. Jesus responds that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip called him. Startled by Jesus’ prescience, Nathanael confesses that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel, and yet another title for Jesus enters the gospel’s vocabulary. Jesus answers, “Do you believe because I saw you under the tree? Greater things than these will you see.” And then, employing his favorite title for himself and combining it with the ancient story of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12), he tells the disciples, the “you” here is plural, “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. He is the one in whom heaven and earth meet—he is “the house of God,” and “the gate of heaven” that Jacob named the place of his vision.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Deuteronomy 7:12-16; Psalm 22; Titus 2:1-15; John 1:35-42
Moses continues to set forth the stipulations of the covenant: it is conditional on their obedience to the Lord. If they maintain loyalty to the Lord, the Lord will love and care for them and cause them and their land to prosper in every way. They shall not know barrenness of any kind or illness. Rather, the Lord will visit that upon their enemies. They are to “devour” all the people of the land the Lord is giving to them and show them no pity. They shall not serve their gods for that will be a snare to them. And, in fact, they did not drive the people out completely, but entered into leagues and agreements, often seen as convenience, and, consequently, ended up worshipping their gods along with the Lord, if only as a bit of “insurance” to help the crops grow. It was their downfall. Lest we be too hard on them, what gods do we worship as “back-up insurance” in our own day?
Psalm 22 is the best known lament in the Psalter, primarily because it contains the words that are on the lips of Jesus hanging on the cross and is all but prophetic concerning what takes place there. It is a lengthy plea for help that describes the psalmist’s troubles. Day and night he calls for help with no answer. Yet, God is the Holy One enthroned on the praises of Israel; the One his ancestors trusted and he delivered them. But the psalmist does not ask on the basis of his own righteousness. He is but a worm, not human, and is scorned by others who despise and mock him. “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver,” is repeated in the passion (Matthew 27:43 ) with the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees using these words to mock Jesus in his dying. In the midst of suffering, the psalmist remembers that God has cared for him since his birth and from that time the Lord has been his God. Again he pleads, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” Vivid language follows to describe the psalmist’s condition: surrounded by strong and destructive bulls, poured out like water, a heart melted like wax, bones out of joint, mouth dried like a potsherd, and his tongue cleaving to his jaw. The psalmist understands this as God’s judgment against him: “you lay me in the dust of death,” circled by dogs ready to devour his flesh. His enemies likewise stare and gloat over his suffering and divide his clothing among them by casting lots—another image Matthew includes at the cross. After one final plea for the Lord’s presence and aid to save him from the power of the dog and the mouth of the lion, suddenly, there is a shift in the second half of verse 22: “From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.” God has acted. The rest of the psalm is one of praise to God for not hiding his face, for answering and for coming to the psalmist in his distress. The psalm is exultant and filled with promises to testify to the Lord’s goodness among his brothers and sisters in the midst of the congregation. His rescue is such that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship him.” For, dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. Even those yet unborn will be told about the Lord and proclaim him. It is easy to see why the infant church found in this psalm prophetic witness to Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and eternal rule, and how its influence found its way into the passion narratives.
Titus is reminded of the need for him to teach sound doctrine and to put everyone’s house in order so that the gospel will not be discredited by their behavior. Older men are reminded to be temperate, prudent, sound in faith, love and endurance. Older women are to be reverent, temperate in the use of wine, teach what is good, especially to the younger women, who are to love their husbands and children, remain chaste and be good managers of the household. Younger men are to show self-control. Titus is to be a model of good works, teaching with integrity and sound speech that cannot be censured, which will put his opponents to shame, leaving them nothing evil to say. Slaves are to be submissive, give satisfaction in all regards, not talk back, not steal from their masters, but show complete fidelity. All of this is so that each may be an “ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.” The language itself reflects a second or third generation church, and sounds very much like Ephesians and Timothy. This is followed by a confessional statement in which God’s salvation is understood to be for all. It is a source for training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and to live lives in the present age that are self-controlled as we await the appearance and blessed hope of “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It is he who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify us for himself to be a people zealous for good deeds. We have moved from “Jesus is Lord,” through “Jesus is Lord and Savior,” to “great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” as the church continues to work out its understanding of who Jesus is. In this letter, the emphasis is less on faith and trust in him, and more on behavior that does not discredit him or the gospel.
A day has passed, and John is with two of his disciples as Jesus passes by. Again, John witnesses to Jesus: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples leave John and follow Jesus, who turns and asks them what it is they are looking for? They call him Rabbi (note that the author feels the need to translate that for his Greek-Gentile readers) and ask where he is staying. He responds with his classic invitation to discipleship: “Come and see.” They do and remain with him that day. Scholars scratch their heads about the reference to time (the tenth hour, translated “about four in the afternoon”), some suggesting it is a transition marking a new way of life for these two who have followed. Notice that they are nameless up to this point. Only now are we told that one of them was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew goes to find Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah,” (again the author feels the need to translate that “the anointed” or “the Christ” and we have yet a new title for Jesus). Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Andrew is now functioning fully as a disciple; he is bringing others to Jesus as well as following him. Jesus greets Simon and gives him a new name, suitable to his new vocation in life: “Cephas,” and again, he translates it “Peter.” It is also a means of demonstrating Jesus’ omniscience, which will occur again and again in this gospel.
Thursday, February 19, 2014
Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Psalm 27; Titus 1:1-16; John 1:29-34
Why has God chosen Israel as his special people, his “treasured possession”? Not because of their size, for they were the smallest of the nations. God chose them because God loves them. The Lord brought them out of slavery in Egypt, keeping an oath made to their ancestors. They are a people “holy to the Lord”—the word “holy” here bears the connotation of set aside, separate, or consecrated to the Lord, rather than a special, saintly quality of purity. Know that the Lord is a faithful God, who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments from generation to generation—forever—but who swiftly repays, each in their own person, those who reject him. Therefore, they are to observe diligently the commandments Moses sets before them.
Psalm 27 expresses confidence in the presence of the Lord and does so in triumphal language. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” (Sorry, that’s the way I memorized it, and this should be memorized, right after Psalm 23!) The Lord is the strength and stronghold of my life, of whom should I be afraid? Enemies range from “evildoers,” adversaries and foes—all shall stumble and fall because of the Lord’s care. “Even though an army encamps against me, yet, my heart shall not fear.” The imagery of a fearful heart is so true to life when anxiety hits. After one more expression of confidence, the psalm turns more reflective: “One thing have I asked of the Lord and that will I seek after: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” This is precisely the same sentiment with which Psalm 23 ends. It goes on to affirm (and perhaps even recall) God sheltering care in the day of trouble. The double action of “conceal me in his tent,” and “set me high on a rock” covers the span from shelter when on the run to ultimate triumph over those who pursue. And now, the psalm turns victorious and exultant with promises of sacrifice, shouts of joy and songs (psalms) and melodies to the Lord (remember, they were often accompanied by or sung to melodies; not just recited). There is the request for God to hear when he cries, and to answer. Immediately, his heart says to him, “Come, seek his face,” and he replies, “Your face Lord, do I seek; do not hide it from me.” Notice the kind of face-to-face intimacy of relationship that is being sought as the psalm pleads not to be turned aside, cast away or forsaken. And then there is the extraordinary confession, “Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will not, but will take me up.” There follows the request to be taught the Lord’s ways and to be led on a level path (who of us does not want life without its ups and downs?), and to be kept out of the hands of his adversaries, for false witnesses have arisen against him and are breathing threats of violence. The psalm ends with the wonderful affirmation, “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” and then “wait for the Lord, be strong, let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.” This last phrase, in one or another form, appears some fourteen times in the Old Testament, better than a third of them in the Psalter. The faith of the Psalter, if not all of Scripture, can be summed up as “Waiting for the Lord.” Seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living along with the previous, “the Lord will take me up,” was later seen as a reference to life after death in heaven. Here, in its original setting, it simply means goodness of life lived with and out of the strength of the Lord now, here, in the land of the living.
The Letter to Titus is one of those letters that scholars debate over its authorship. Was it Paul or one of Paul’s younger assistants writing at a later date, after Paul’s death, (some of the vocabulary seems “un-Pauline”). None of Paul’s undisputed letters ever mention Crete. Further, it is dealing with “pastoral” matters—setting things in order, appointing elders and bishops and correcting a leadership that has strayed back toward Jewish practice, as in Galatia. It is addressed to Titus, who was one of Paul’s companions, and who intervened for him with the Corinthian community when Paul was having his difficulties with them. The introduction is classic, though Paul introduces himself “as servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,” rather than his more common, “servant of Jesus Christ,” as in Romans, Galatians and Philippians. Further, we have no evidence that Paul was ever in Crete except as a prisoner on his way to Rome (Acts 27:7-13), and in that account there is no mention of Titus. Still, that does not satisfactorily answer the question. We best take the text at face value—an older apostle giving pastoral advice to a younger associate. As the lesson says today, Paul left Titus behind in Crete so that he could put in order what needed to be done there. In telling him to appoint elders, we are given the earliest requirements for spiritual leadership in the young church. Notice that the word “elder” and “bishop” are used interchangeably; we are talking about those individuals who were charged with pastoral oversight of the house church(es) within a town. Beyond the ethical qualifications, he must have “a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching,” not only so that he may preach with sound doctrine (a continuing concern of this letter, but a word Paul only uses twice, and that in Romans), but also so that he may refute those who are contradicting it. The churches in Crete are filled with “many rebellious people,” whose behavior is identified and includes circumcision. Have the Jewish missionaries from the church in Jerusalem been in Crete preaching the necessity of circumcision as they were in Galatia? Further, it appears that beyond upsetting “whole families,” they are teaching for financial gain what it is not right to teach. The author then employs a racial-ethnic slur against the Cretans that seems to have been a well-accepted truism of the day: Cretans were regarded as “liars, vicious brutes, and lazy gluttons.” Affirming that to be true, Titus is told not to drive them out, as we might expect, but rather, to rebuke them sharply so that they may become sound in the faith, and disregard the “Jewish myths” or the commandments of those that reject the truth. “To the pure all things are pure,” sounds like Paul or even Jesus rebuking the Jewish purity laws that, obviously, those teachers that Titus is to rebuke are teaching as “sound doctrine.” Such teachers are “unfit for any good work.” They profess to know God, but deny him by their actions (and teachings).
Having heard John’s denial that he, himself, is the Messiah, and word that “one is coming after [him],” today we hear John identify Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Continuing to refute those who thought John Jesus’ equal (and remember, at the time this gospel was written, there was a large religious community rivaling the church, who believed John was the long-promised “prophet” ), John confesses that this one who “comes after me, ranks ahead of me, because he is before me.” John himself does not know who he is. For John's part, he has come baptizing with water in order that the “coming one” might be revealed to Israel. John then confesses that he saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and it remained on Jesus. Notice that John does not say he baptized Jesus, but only that he saw the Spirit descending upon him; again, a means of seeking to insure that Jesus is never portrayed as subservient to John. Rather, John insists that he did not know him. However, the One who sent John to baptize with water said, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And now John himself confesses that “this is the Son of God."
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.