Daily Readings for Saturday, December 7, 2013, Advent 1, Year II
Amos 5:18-27; Psalm 80; Jude 17-25; Matthew 22:15-22
Amos is the first of the prophets to employ the term, “The Day of the Lord.” It seems to have been prevalent among the people in Israel as a symbol for God acting on their behalf in blessing or fulfillment of a promise. Amos turns it on its head and the Day of the Lord becomes a day of darkness, not light, of calamity and destruction rather than salvation. Fleeing a lion, one will be met by a bear. Resting against the wall of a house, one will be bitten by a snake. The day of the Lord is a day of darkness and gloom with no brightness in it. And now the Lord speaks out against the false piety of the people, who have been elaborate and precise in their ritual behavior, but have ignored the weightier matters of God’s expectations for them. The Lord hates their religious festivals that they keep, ostensibly to honor him. He takes no delight in their solemn assemblies, burnt and grain offerings. The Lord refuses to accept them. Rejecting all of the liturgical and sacrificial apparatus of Israel’s worship, the Lord issues his one desire: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteous like an ever flowing stream.” Here is this high-water mark of biblical prophecy and the goal of God’s mercy and steadfast love among us. To make the point even more forcefully, the Lord asks if he required sacrifices and offerings the forty years the children of Israel were in the wilderness. He did not. But now they have taken up with other gods as well—Sakkuth and Kaiwan—images they have made for themselves and also worhship. For all of this, the Lord is going to take the people into exile beyond Damascus. All of this is promised in the name of the Lord, the God of all the heavenly hosts.
This psalm is a community lament at the time of national disaster, brought on by an oppressing super-power. Some scholars think it can be traced to 722 BCE, when Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom—note the specific reference to Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh, all northern tribes. It is directed to the God as the “Shepherd of Israel” the one who leads Joseph’s flock, enthroned in the heavens. “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” This classic call for God’s presence to rise up and destroy the enemy is repeated at the conclusion of each of the psalm’s three sections. The first, the initial plea for salvation, the second, a description of Israel’s troubles, and the third, a beautiful allegory of Israel as God’s vine—uprooted from Egypt, brought into a new land and firmly planted there, but now in jeopardy of full destruction. “How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?”—their worship! From this psalm comes the memorable phrases “bread of tears,” and “tears to drink in full measure.” Near the end, it prays for God’s presence and strength for the king, the one at God’s right hand who God has made strong for himself. Later, this phrase will take on Messianic tones. For the psalmist, it is a plea for God to rise up and restore his people.
Jude now reminds his readers that none of this turmoil they are experiencing should come as a surprise. Do they not remember the predictions of the “apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who said that “in the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts?” Jude’s reference to “the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,” causes most scholars to see this as the writing of a second generation Christian. The issues alluded to in regard to ungodly lust and defiled tunics may also point to various behaviors that plagued the second generation church, born of the notion that because they had been saved by their belief in Christ, it did not make any difference how they behaved, and, consequently, some continued to participate in symposiums that often turned into orgies. Whatever their “ungodly lust,” Jude points to those creating the trouble as “worldly people devoid of the spirit.” They are the ones causing the divisions in the community. How, then, are those seeking to remain faithful to behave? They are to hold fast to the faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep themselves in the love of God, and look forward to the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. In a word, they are to remain grounded in and practicing the faith. But notice, how are they to respond to those worldly, spirit devoid people among them in their community? Jude’s advice may come as a significant surprise and if practiced in the church today would help heal a multitude of divisions: they are to have mercy on those who are wavering. They are to seek to save others by snatching them out of the fire of their ungodly desires. They are to have mercy on all, while hating the tunic that is defiled by their behavior. It is the ancient dictum of “hate the sin but love the sinner.”
The religious leaders have chaffed in public under Jesus’ words long enough. It is time to do away with him in a way the people will not be able to stop. It is time to co-opt the powers of Rome, to entrap Jesus in some form of sedition or revolt against the empire that will make him their enemy as well. Therefore, the leaders send some of their disciples to Jesus, including among them some known as Herodians. We know little about this group, though it is safe to assume that they were aligned with the Jewish king Herod and his policy of accommodation to Rome, and, therefore, would also be eager to catch Jesus in some form of treason, if only to keep the status quo. These approach Jesus with “smooth words,” thinking that speaking this way will cause him to believe their question an innocent one: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” It was, of course, the subject of great discussion, and a sore if not violent issue among the Jews, for whom the tax was the preeminent symbol of their subjugation to Rome. Jesus knows of their malice, calls them hypocrites and asks them why they are putting him to the test. He then says, “Show me the coin used for the tax?” Notice that Jesus does not have any on him, but the challengers do. They produce the Roman denarius and Jesus asks, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They rightly answer, “The emperor’s.” Jesus then says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” They can pay taxes to Caesar, using his coins, without abandoning their loyalty to the one whose image is stamped on them and who is their supreme master and Lord. Jesus’ detractors are foiled once again, and in amazement, leave him.
Daily Readings for Friday, December 6, 2013
Amos 5:1-17; Psalm 130; Jude 1-16; Matthew 22:1-14
Amos sings a lament for the Israel yet to fall; she shall be forsaken with none coming to help her. She will march out a thousand troops but only a hundred will survive. Yet, even here, the Lord pleads for Israel to return and live through lives of justice and righteousness, rather than flocking to the sacrificial centers of Bethel and Gilgal, there to offer sacrifices the Lord does not want. Bethel and Gilgal shall be crushed. But if they seek the Lord through their acts of justice, they will live. Otherwise, the Lord will break out against the house of Joseph like fire. A list of their crimes is noted: turning justice to wormwood and bringing righteousness to the ground. A brief creation hymn seems to have been inserted here, but rather than being a song of praise, is a warning: the one who made all of this is sovereign, seeks justice, and can use his power to destroy as well as create. Again, the people’s transgressions are listed. They hate the judges, whose task it is to sit at the gate and render justice to those who come to them. They abhor any who speak truth. They trample on the poor, demanding grain, and build houses out of hewn stone. Yet, they shall not live in them nor drink the wine of the vineyards they have planted. They take bribes and push aside the needy at the gate. In such a time, the prudent keep silent, itself a transgression. When the prudent keep silent it is indeed an evil day. Once again Amos offers a plea for repentance: “seek good and not evil that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with [them.]” In a poetic reversal he repeats himself: “Hate evil and love good; and establish justice in the gate.” It may be that the Lord will overlook the past and be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Or, is this the word that only a remnant of Joseph will survive the judgment to live in obedience? Either way, the oracle ends with the word that the land will be filled with wailing and lament. Everywhere from the farmland to the vineyard, to the city square, those skilled in lament will wail, for the Lord will pass through the midst of them.
The psalm is a classic lament for those living “in the depths” of life, whether physical or emotional, waiting on God to come and save. Notice that it is also a “psalm of ascent.” It is being used by a pilgrim who has come to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God in the midst of despair. Out of the depths he has been crying to the Lord with no response. Now he pleads again for the Lord to hear his voice and supplication. Notice that the psalmist has moved beyond self-recrimination. This is about more than personal sin. The pit is not God’s punishment, for if God counted sin and thus punished, who would stand? No one! No; with God there is always forgiveness. And so, the psalmist continues to hold tenaciously to God’s word and waits and watches with an intensity that exceeds that of the watchmen waiting for the morning. The psalmist knows that when God comes, it will be with steadfast love, healing and redemption. He prays, “Come, Lord; redeem all Israel!” This is a prayer for all who wrestle with depression, all with chronic or terminal illness and for any who find themselves in the pit of life for whatever reason.
The one-chapter book of Jude is interesting at several levels, as it seeks to strengthen unnamed believers who are being beset by false teachers. The author identifies himself as Jude, a servant (or slave) of Jesus Christ and brother of James. If this is James of Jerusalem, then Jude would be, like James, Jesus’ brother, and this would be some of the earliest writings in the New Testament. The author, whether or not related to Jesus, knows his Jewish texts and lore well and employs them in his argument and exhortation. His unidentified readers know that “certain intruders have stolen in among [them].” These are people, who long ago were designed for this ungodly and perverse behavior and are already condemned for attempting to transform the grace of God into licentiousness. They deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jude then reminds his readers that though the Lord is gracious in saving people, he does not hesitate to punish those he has saved who do not remain obedient to the truth. He cites those the Lord destroyed in the Exodus, and then repeats the Jewish lore about fallen angels, who the Lord keeps in deepest darkness for that final day of great judgment—when they too shall be judged. He cites Sodom and Gomorrah for its sexual immorality and abuse and defilement of the flesh. Jude now takes up the issue of slander and its corrosive effect in the church, as he includes the Jewish lore about the archangel Michael contending for the body of Moses at his death and ascension. Though the devil tried to claim Moses, and Michael prevented him from doing so, yet, Michael would not resort to slandering the devil, but only says, “The Lord rebuke you!” In other words, we need say nothing more. But, these people who have come among them slander what they do not understand, and are captive, like irrational animals to their instincts. Pronouncing woe, Jude reminds them that they go the way of Cain, abandon themselves to Balaam’s error, perish like Korah’s rebellion—each a major episode in this history of Israel—and have become blemishes on the church’s love feasts, even as they feast among them without fear. But they have no lasting power. They are “waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, not only leafless, but uprooted, wandering stars with no fixed place in the cosmos, and so on. Again, resorting to Jewish-Christian lore of the day, Jude reminds the reader that it was about these very ones that Enoch prophesied. He not only walked with God, but was regarded as one of Israel’s earliest prophets, seven generations from Adam. Even then it was known that the Lord is coming with ten thousand of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict the ungodly of both their ways and their words. The intruders are not only grumblers and malcontents, but indulge in their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, and flattering to people for their own personal advantage.
Jesus tells a third parable to describe the kingdom of heaven, this one of the king who throws a great wedding banquet. The king sends his slaves out to all of his friends to invite them and tells them that the feast is ready (the groom is here!). But the invited guests refuse to come. Again, the king sends more slaves and this time those invited abuse the slaves, making light of the invitation, and go their own way, one to a farm one to a business, and so on. Finally, they seize some of the slaves, mistreat them and even kill them. The king is enraged at the people’s behavior and sends his troops to destroy “those murderers” and burn down their city. The king then tells his slaves that the wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore, the slaves are to go out and invite, not the worthy, but those in the main streets, anyone they find. And so the slaves do, gathering all they find into the wedding hall, both good and bad alike. The place is packed. But when the king enters and sees the guests, he notices a man there who is not wearing a wedding robe. He asks, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” The man is speechless. The king then tells his attendants to bind the man hand and foot and throw him into outer darkness. Jesus ends the parable saying once again, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The parable makes its point clearly enough, but if turned into an allegory, is stronger still. As an allegory, the king is God, and the invited guests are God’s people, Israel. The slaves and servants are the prophets, and the groom who has come to consummate the wedding and bring the kingdom in its fullness is the king’s son, Jesus. The anger of the king over the way the people have treated his servants is expressed in burning down the city and destroying those who murdered the king’s servants, and is understood by scholars to be Matthew’s reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE. But the wedding banquet is still to take place, and the king sends slaves to invite everyone, both good and bad—the proclamation of the gospel to all who will hear. But, when the king arrives, he finds someone unsuitably dressed for the banquet, and asks how it is he has gotten in? Is the lack of a wedding robe an act of disrespect for the king, as the earlier invitees had disrespected the king, or, is it that among all who have come, this one has yet to truly respond, but is simply hanging on but remaining in his old ways, or, is it that he is the only one in the room without a baptismal robe? The point is, the grace of God accepts everyone, both good and bad, but expects that such acceptance will produce new life, not more of the same. Whether invited first or last, the king expects us to be dressed in our new-found relationship with him.
Amos 4:6-13; Psalm 126; 2 Peter 3:11-18; Matthew 21:33-46
The Lord has tried to warn Israel, repeatedly, but the people would not turn back to him. He sent them famine (“cleanness of teeth”), denied them rain prior to harvest, sent rain on one city but not another, creating scarcity and thirst, where fields withered and peoples wandered and searched in vain for drinking water. Yet, they did not return to the Lord. He struck them with blight and mildew, laid waste their gardens and vineyards, and sent devouring locusts to their fig and olive trees. Yet, they did not return. The Lord sent pestilence like that in Egypt, and various invasions and natural disasters, similar to those of Sodom and Gomorrah, but still they did not return. Therefore, the Lord warns, “Prepare to meet your Lord.” The section ends with a verse that is almost a hymn of praise, noting God’s power and sovereignty over all of creation, who formed the mountains, creates the wind and reveals his thoughts to mortals. Having done the latter, without any response, he will now act to make the morning darkness.
This psalm of pilgrims, sung to the song of ascents, remembers the initial joy experienced by the people upon their return home to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. They were like those who dream: their mouths were filled with laughter, their tongues with shouts of joy. As the Lord had promised, the nations said among themselves, “The Lord has done great things for them.” In affirmation, they declare it themselves: the Lord has done great things for them,” and in them they rejoiced. They have been saved. But, now home, there are new challenges. The second half of the psalm falls into a petition for God to bless them, to come and restore their fortunes, like water rushing through the watercourses in the Negeb. When the rain comes, those flat, dry riverbeds suddenly become awash with torrents of water. May the restoration come as suddenly as a flash flood so that those who sow in tears—planting season in the Ancient Near East was associated with sorrow for many reasons, not the least being that the summer drought was drawing near and threatened to destroy the seed—will reap with shouts of joy, because the crop has been abundant beyond belief.
Continuing with the theme of the earth being devoured by fire as part of God’s judgment—one of the few places in the New Testament fire is used as an instrument of God’s judgment—the author reminds his readers that they need not fear this, but rather, must live lives of “holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” Notice that the faithfuls’ lives of holiness can actually hasten the day of the Lord’s coming! And though the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolve, in accordance with some of the day’s philosopher’s convictions, the faithful have been promised and, indeed, await, a new heaven and a new earth—one where righteousness is not simply the expected norm, but at home as a reality in all people. While they await all of this, they must strive to be found at peace without spot of blemish. More, rather than fret over the delay of the Lord, they are to regard it as his patience and opportunity for salvation. The author now cites Paul’s teachings as wise and good, but also recognizes that there are some things in them that may be hard to discern and, in fact, are open to distortion by the “ignorant and unstable,” who twist Paul’s words to their own destruction, just as they also twist the other words of scripture. Therefore, the readers are forewarned to beware, lest they be carried away with the error of lawlessness—obviously, a reference to Paul’s opponent’s use of his conviction of those in Christ being freed from the demands of the law. Rather, they are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Having said this, he ends with a doxology of blessing Christ, and invoking glory upon him both now and “to the day of eternity.” Unlike 1st Peter, the emphasis here is less on avoiding external threats than giving into internal ones, divisions, dissentions and false teachers among them. The remedy to this is the church living lives of holiness and godliness, growing in the grace and knowledge of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Against this, there can be no successful assault.
Standing in the temple precincts, surrounded by both the crowds of followers and the religious officials, Jesus tells another parable, this one about a landowner who established a rich vineyard, with all that it needed to flourish, and then went away, leaving the vineyard in the hands of tenants. When it came time to receive the harvest, the landowner sent slaves to the tenants to gather the harvest, but they seized the slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned yet another. The landowner sent other slaves, but they were treated by the tenants in the exact same way. Finally, the owner decided to send his son, convinced that the tenants would recognize and respect him as the heir. But, on the contrary, the tenants seized the son, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus then asks, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The crowd rightfully answers, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him the produce at harvest time.” Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 118:22-23, implying that he is the stone that the religious officials are rejecting, and will become the cornerstone. All of this is the Lord’s doing. He continues that the kingdom of God will be taken away from “you”—does he mean the entire nation, simply the religious officials, or any who reject him?—probably the latter. This is not a judgment on all of Israel, but only those who have failed to live into the kingdom, work in the vineyard and produce a harvest of righteousness. Instead, the kingdom will be given to a people who will do that—those reading Matthew’s words. When the chief priests and the Pharisees hear this, they realize that Jesus is speaking about them. Though they want to arrest him, they fear the crowds, who regard Jesus as a prophet.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013, Advent 1, Year II
Amos 3:12-4:5; Psalm 53; 2 Peter 3:1-10; Matthew 21:23-32
Amos warns the people of Israel that they will become like the remnant of an animal devoured by a lion: only a leg or an ear will remain. So total will be their destruction that only a corner of their elaborate couches and part of their beds will remain. For the Lord God is going to punish Israel for its transgressions, tearing down the altars of Bethel—one of the oldest places of worship in the Bible—and cutting off the horns of its altars to desecrate them. Both the winter and the summer houses of the wealthy will be destroyed, their opulent homes of ivory shall perish and the great families of the tribe shall come to an end. Amos now turns his ire on the women in Samaria, whom he calls “Cows of Bashan,” for like those animals, the women have become corpulent on excess and lack of work. They oppress the poor and crush the needy and continue to press their husbands for more. The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that the time is coming when they shall be lead away like animals, with hooks through rings in their noses. Then they will look for breaches in their city walls in order to escape, and will flee, running straight ahead as they are flung out. Finally, Amos turns to irony, mocking the people’s false religious practice. He encourages them to come to Bethel and Gilgal to transgress by offering to the Lord false sacrifice, keeping the dictates of religious liturgical practice while ignoring the larger matters of justice among the people. Come, offer tithes, thanks and freewill offerings. Make them widely known, as they love to do. Herein begins the prophetic tradition that others will repeat: one cannot substitute sacrifice for righteous living. The Lord does not accept such sacrifice and actually despises its practice.
This is a variation on psalm 14 and almost identical with it except that this psalm uses the more generic word Elohim for “God,” rather than the divine name Yahweh traditionally rendered “The Lord.” It derides and names as “fool” those who deny God’s existence and behave in godless ways. Corruption and other abominable behaviors emerge from them, and none of them are able to do good. But God looks from heaven in search of the wise, defined as those who seek after him. The assessment is bitter: all have fallen away, all are perverse, no one does good, “no, not one.” Whereas psalm 14 identifies God on the side of the righteous and the poor, neither is mentioned here. Rather, the focus is on God’s judgment on the fools. God will scatter their bones and put them to shame. The psalm ends with the very same plea of psalm 14 that deliverance would come from Zion with God restoring the fortunes of the people.
In the preceding chapter, stepped over by the lectionary, the author identifies and condemns the false prophets that will appear among them, just as false prophets appeared among the people in Israel’s day. They will be easily identified by their greed and licentious ways. God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and rescue of Lot are recounted. The false prophets are bold and not afraid to slander God, but are waterless springs who at one time escaped the world’s defilement through trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, but have now returned to be entangled and overpowered, and so are like dogs who turn back to their own vomit, and a sow who is washed only to again wallow in the mud. Consequently, this second letter is designed to arouse their sincere intentions by remembering the words spoken to them by the holy prophets, and the commandments of the Lord and Savior spoken to them through their apostles. Notice that by now Jesus’ words are well known through the gospels and have become the new standard for living—almost a second law. Harkening back to the theme of Jesus’ return he reminds them that in the last days, scoffers will come, indulging in their own lusts and asking “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” It must have been a bitter challenge to the infant church convinced that Jesus would be back at any moment. No wonder, many were falling away. However, the author reminds them that those who say such things deliberately ignore the fact that, by the word of God the heavens existed long ago. Using the science of the day as illustration, God created the earth out of water and by means of it again perished (a reference to the flood). So too by that same word, the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire—a Stoic belief of the day—in which it will be judged and refined of the godless. And now, the author turns time on its head. Do not ignore this one fact: with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow to keep his promise, but simply being patient and merciful, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. With this, 2nd Peter has placed an entirely new chronology and theology around the delay of Jesus’ return. Still, the day of the Lord will come, again, like a thief—always striking at an unsuspected time. And now the author employs apocalyptic imagery with the heavens passing away with a loud noise and the elements of creation being dissolved with fire. Then the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
In the excitement and even chaos created by Jesus’ teaching in the temple, the chief priests and elders come and demand that he tell them by what authority he is saying these things; he has no religious credentials recognized by them. Jesus agrees that he will if, in fact, they will answer his one question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” That sets the religious leader arguing against themselves. They had rejected John’s baptism but the people had not, and if they say “From heaven,” the people will ask, “Why then did you not believe in him?” and if from human origin,” the people will turn on them, for they regard John as a prophet. Consequently, they tell Jesus that they do not know. As a result, Jesus refuses to tell them by what authority he is doing these things. Rather, he tells a parable of a man with two sons, both of whom are sent out to labor in his vineyard (a common biblical symbol of serving God’s reign). The first son refused, but later changed his mind and went and worked. The second promises to go, but never does. Which of the two did the will of the father? The religious leaders rightly respond, “The first.” Jesus then says, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” John came in the way of righteousness and they did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when the religious leaders sawthis, they did not change their minds and believe John. They are the second son in the parable.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Advent 1, Year II
Amos 3:1-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 1:12-21; Matthew 21:12-22
Amos levels his prophetic oracle at Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and makes the point that their guilt is even greater, because of all of the families of the earth, the Lord has chosen Israel, and they have abused that relationship. He brought them out of the land of Egypt. Only them has he known as his own. The word “know” here bears all of the intimacy implied when the Bible says, “Adam knew Eve and she bore him a son.” And just as that relationship has been the height of love and devotion on the Lord’s part, so too will be the punishment for their iniquities. Amos levels a series of rhetorical questions, all of which can be answered, “No.” Then he asks, “Does disaster befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?” The Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret through his servants the prophets. Thus, they have been warned. The lion has roared, the Lord has spoken, how can Amos not prophesy? And so he proclaims what is to come, telling everyone from the Philistine strongholds of Ashdod all the way into the land of Egypt. Amos invites those ancient enemies to come and see for themselves the treachery and inequity taking place on Mount Samaria, the capital of Israel. No one knows how to do right, but rather, all store up violence and robbery. Therefore, an adversary shall surround the land and strip Israel of her defense. Her strongholds shall all be plundered. All of this Egypt and the Philistines will witness.
This communal lament is preceded by reminding God of how he has been favorable to the people in the past, restoring the fortunes of Jacob, forgiving the people’s iniquity and pardoning all their sin, withdrawing his wrath and turning from his hot anger. And so the plea is now, “Restore us again.” Will you be angry forever? “Revive us again so that your people may rejoice in you. Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Whether the psalmist himself or a priest in the temple, one now speaks prophetically and says, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,” and then promises, “God will speak peace to his people, to his faithful ones, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” For these, salvation is at hand. The result of this is that steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss; faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky. These four cardinal and classic attributes of God will be upon those who turn to him as a sign of God’s favor. The land will yield its increase, and righteousness will go before the Lord, making a path for his steps. This psalm is the basis of the gospel hymn, “Revive us Again.”
This author, whether Peter, or another writing in Peter’s name, makes the point that his purpose in writing is simply to remind the unnamed readers of what they already know, but to do so in a way that will insure their continuing in the faith once he is gone. The Lord has made it clear to him that his death will come soon. So, he is making every effort to see that they may be able to recall all that he has said. “Peter” and his companions did not follow cleverly devised myths, when they made known to them the power of the gospel and the coming of the Lord Jesus. And now the author inserts an autobiographical reference into the texts as if to prove that he is truly who he claims to be. After all, he was among the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John on the “holy mountain.” It was then, in the midst of that honor and glory from God the Father that they heard “The Majestic Glory” speak saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Consequently, the prophetic message about Jesus as the Christ was more fully confirmed. That being the case, they will do well to be attentive to what he is saying, regarding it as a lamp shining the darkness of the false teachers that will surely come among them. They are to live by this light until the day dawns and the morning star (Jesus) rises in their hearts. And regarding false teachers, they must remember this: “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own personal interpretation,” Why? Because the prophecy of scripture did not come by human will. It has come by men and women who were moved by the Holy Spirit and spoke from God.” It requires that same Spirit to reveal its truth to the hearer. Herein lays the beginning of a tradition in which scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation, but must be read and interpreted in light of other scripture, by the community, believing that doing so, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, it will enable the reader to truly hear what God intends to say in the prophecy.
The triumphal entry has arrived at its destination—the temple. Jesus dismounts and enters the outer courtyard of the temple and immediately begins to drive out all who are selling and buying there, overturning the tables of the money changers and the booths of those selling doves. Though all of this is part of the apparatus of the sacrificial system, and ostensibly there for the worshipper’s convenience, it has turned his Father’s house, which is to be a house of prayer, into a den of robbers. In the turmoil, the blind and lame who have gathered there to beg, now gather about Jesus. These have been prohibited from entering the temple itself, because it was believed that their condition was a punishment for sin and they were thereby unclean. Consequently, Jesus cures them so they too can now enter the temple. This puts the chief priests and scribes in the difficult position of being unable to stop him. But when they hear the children in the temple courtyard crying out, “Hosanna to the son of David,” the priests and scribes become angry and challenge Jesus, saying, “Do you not hear what these are saying?” Jesus responds with his classic oblique answer: “Yes, have you never heard, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise for yourself,” an allusion to Psalm 8:2, infuriating the religious leaders even more. Having said this, Jesus and his disciples leave the temple and go back to Bethany and spend the night there, probably with Lazarus and his daughter’s Mary and Martha. The next morning, as they are returning to the temple, Jesus is hungry and passes by a fig tree at the side of the road. Jesus walks over to the tree in search of fruit to eat, but finds none—only leaves. At that, he curses the tree saying, “May no fruit ever come from you again,” and the tree withered at once. This is about more than Jesus’ physical hunger. This is about God’s judgment on those things designed to bear fruit that only produce the window-dressing of leaves—the temple and its establishment. The disciples see this, are amazed and ask, “How did it wither at once?” Jesus responds that if they have faith and do not doubt, not only will they do what has been done to the fig tree, but even the mountains will respond to their command. Whatever they ask for in prayer with faith, they will receive.
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.