Friday, May 15, 2015
Ezekiel 1:28-3:3; Psalm 148; Hebrews 4:14-5:6. Luke 9:28-36
Ezekiel recognizes, within the vision, the appearance of the “likeness of the Lord”—again, he cannot bring himself to say he has seen the Lord himself!—and falls on his face. There, he hears the voice of “someone” speaking, who addresses him as “son of man,” (ben adam) the way the Lord will address Ezekiel throughout this book some 93 times! (The name “Ezekiel” only appears in this book in narrative third person form.) When God speaks to him, he is always called ben adam. Unfortunately, pressure to de-gender things has caused the translators to devolve ben adam into “mortal,” missing the symbolic meaning of the name—the one representing all humanity. It appears twice in Job in a collective sense and, most dominantly, in Psalm 8 (collectively), as well as twice in Isaiah and four times in Jeremiah, always in the collective sense of human being. Scholars suggest that, in Ezekiel, the phrase conveys not only the insignificance of Ezekiel in contrast to the Lord who addresses him, but also the honor, dignity and weightiness of being so addressed, not only in order to speak for God, but also as one who is the representative of the entire human family. The phrase finds itself in Jesus’ mouth some 81 times in the gospels, always as his way of referring to himself, and is never used by anyone else in the gospels. The only other place is it used is in Acts 7:56, when Stephen describes his vision of the risen Jesus standing next to the glory of God. When Stephen says this, the men rush and stone him. Ezekiel is told to stand, but is so overwhelmed that he cannot do so until the spirit enters him and sets him on his feet. We will hear about the spirit again and again in Ezekiel, as it plays a central role in this book and is identified as the spirit of God (not yet personified). The Lord says, “Son of man, I am sending you to the people of Israel.” Here is Ezekiel’s prophetic commission. But, rather than identify Israel as God’s covenant people, they are named “a nation of rebels who have transgressed against [the Lord] to this very day.” Still, in exile, they have not learned. Ezekiel is to say, “Thus says the Lord God,” and, whether or not they listen, for they are a rebellious household, they will know that there has been a prophet among them. Ezekiel is not to be afraid of them, their words or their looks. Again, Israel is named “a rebellious household.” He is to speak God’s words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear. A third time, in as many verses, God names Israel “a rebellious household.” Ezekiel, as the son of man, is to hear what the Lord says to him, and not be rebellious like that rebellious household Israel—a fourth naming. Ezekiel is commanded to open his mouth and eat what the Lord gives him. Looking, Ezekiel sees an outstretched hand, extending to him a written scroll. The hand spreads the scroll open and Ezekiel sees writing, on the front and back. The scroll is filled with words of lamentation, mourning and woe. He is again called “son of man” and is told to eat the scroll and go and speak to the house of Israel. Ezekiel opens his mouth, the scroll is placed in it and he ingests it on command. He has internalized God’s word, not simply heard it. This is what he will speak. Ezekiel tells us that in his mouth the scroll was as sweet as honey.
Psalm 148 calls upon all creation—the sun, moon, stars, highest heavens and waters above the heavens—to shout, “Hallelujah!”—“Praise the Lord!” The Lord commanded and each was created. Sea monsters and all deeps (the place of chaos), fire, hail, snow, frost and stormy wind are not blights of nature, but actually agents that fulfill God’s commands. The Lord is sovereign over all. Mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and all cattle, things that creep and things that fly, kings of the earth and all their people, young men and women alike, old and young together, are to praise the name of the Lord, for the Lord’s name alone is to be exalted. God’s glory (presence and power) are above both earth and heaven. Finally, all are to shout “Hallelujah” because the Lord has “raised up a horn for his people” (the horn a symbol of deliverance and strength that is often used to speak of Israel’s kings). But now, the dignity, honor, and praise due the king are given not to the king, but to the people of Israel who are close to the Lord. Hallelujah!
Our high priest is no longer like the human high priests in Israel’s sacrificial system, but one who has passed through the heavens—Jesus, the Son of God. For that reason, we are to hold fast to our confession of faith in him. Having been one of us, he is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, for he was tempted as we are, yet, remained without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness to receive mercy and find grace in our times of need. The writer now continues with his argument to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority over all others. In the priestly system of Israel, high priests came from a specific family—Aaron’s—so designated by God and vested with the things pertaining to God on the people’s behalf, especially the major sacrifices for sins. High priests were able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward among them, because they themselves were subject to the same weakness. Consequently, the high priests needed to offer sacrifices for their own sins before offering them on behalf of the people. In addition, no high priest presumed to take on that honor, but rather, was called by God as Aaron was called. By Jesus’ day, that calling took place through a lottery system, in much the same way the apostles replaced Judas by lot (Acts 1:21-26). So, Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed thus by God. What follows are two quotations from the psalms (2:7 and 110:4) that speak of Jesus as Son of God and an eternal priest. Because of his unique relationship with God as both son and priest, according to the order of Melchizedek, Jesus was and remains able to live out his role as the intermediary and intercessor before the Father on our behalf.
Jesus’ promise that some of the disciples listening to him would not taste death before they saw the kingdom of God, now unfolds as Jesus takes Peter, James and John—the inner three of his cohort of apostles—and leads them up a high mountain to pray. High mountains were thought to be “thin places” where the membrane between God’s dwelling and earth was porous and consequently, experiences of the divine were more readily encountered—what today we call “mountaintop experiences.” The issue of Jesus’ identity has been at the forefront of things in the last chapter. Now, about eight days after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus’ demand that they remain silent about that, and the first of Jesus’ three predictions of his rejection, suffering, death and resurrection in Jerusalem, Jesus and the three are on the mountain top. While Jesus is praying, the three disciples see Jesus transfigured before them—his face changes in its radiance and his clothing becomes a dazzling white, and, suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear, talking to Jesus about his exodus that is about to take place in Jerusalem. Though the three apostles are “weighed down with sleep” from their trek up the mountain, they have managed to stay awake and, therefore, see all of this. As Moses and Elijah appear to be leaving, Peter speaks up and suggests making three booths or tents so that Moses, Elijah and Jesus can continue their conversation. Luke tells us Peter said this because he did not know what else to say. Can you blame him? But, as Peter speaks, a cloud comes and overshadows them—the cloud that so often represents God’s presence—and a voice from it says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” With that, the cloud, Moses and Elijah are gone and Jesus is seen alone. The three disciples keep silent about all of this and in the days that follow say nothing to anyone.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Ezekiel 1:1-28b; Psalm 68; Hebrews 2:5-18; Matthew 28:16-20
We begin today with episodic readings from the Book of Ezekiel, a prophet embedded with the exiled in Babylon. In a four-verse introduction, Ezekiel tells us much about the exiles’ situation: it is 593 BCE; they are by the river Chedar in Babylon; their king, Jehoiachin is in exile with them; Ezekiel is thirty years of age, a priest, and, most important of all, the word of the Lord has come to Ezekiel, and the Lord’s hand is upon him. The Lord has not been constrained to the temple in Jerusalem, as most ancients thought their gods to be, but is with them here. Ezekiel then describes a vision of a storm cloud arising in the north that approaches with all the manifestations of divine power—brilliant light, burning fire, lightening and gleaming amber—and in the middle of it “something like four living creatures.” The creatures look very much like those ancient sculptures and bas reliefs that guard the Assyrian and Babylonian sanctuaries and palaces (you can see them at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Babylonian collection). But each of these four creatures has a different face—one human, one of a lion, one of an ox, and one of an eagle (reason, strength, fertility and speed) with legs, arms, wings and hands. The tips of the extended wings are joined forming the four creatures into a cube, and within the cube, a flaming fire. Each creature is seated on a wheel apparatus (wheel within a wheel) that allows it to move in all directions and at any time; the creatures' spread wings allow them to ride together on the wind of the spirit. Above the creatures is a crystal dome and above that a sapphire throne, and seated on the throne “something that seems like a human form.” From the waist up it is glowing fire like amber, and from the waist down, more fire, and glory like a rainbow. The entire vision is filled with indescribable glory, for that is what it is. Ezekiel is telling us of his vision of the Divine Presence—he cannot bring himself to say he has seen the Lord—but uses that vision as the basis for what is to come.
Psalm 68 is a battle hymn remembering and celebrating the victories of the Lord on behalf of his people. It is complex in that it uses virtually all of the biblical names for God: Elohim, El, Yah, Adonai, El Shaddai, Yah Elohim and Yahweh. It opens with the plea that those who hate the Lord will be driven out like smoke driven by the wind, as wax melts before a fire, that the wicked may perish. The righteous will be glad and rejoice in God and will sing to the Lord a new song. The prayer then turns to extolling God’s justice and righteousness—a father to the orphan, an honest judge for the widow, a home for the lonely, one who leads prisoners to freedom. It is a mixture of high praise for the Lord who dwells in his sanctuary among his people executing justice. It is also a description of various moments in Israel’s life when the Lord has intervened to give them victory—from their release from captivity in Egypt, their travels through the wilderness, to their settling into the land of promise, and the various wars and skirmishes thereafter. The land quaked at Sinai at the presence of the Lord. Rain clouds opened to give drink to his people. Kings fled before the Lord giving the people peace and prosperity among the sheepfolds. The mountains of Bashan are celebrated (a place in the Transjordan, famous for raising cattle). The number of God’s chariots is myriad—thousands upon thousands—and the Lord leads the people and is among them, while he imprisons those who have been taken captive. Ascribed to David, the psalm recalls a moment when the Lord has given the enemy into his hand. Verses 21 to 23 indulge in the language of battle that is graphic (evidently why those who developed the daily lectionary excluded it from today’s reading), but it reminds us of the brutality of war in any age. It then returns to blessing the Lord as a festival procession makes its way to the temple to celebrate God’s presence in Jerusalem. Envoys come from far and wide to pay tribute. The kingdoms of the earth sing praises to the Lord who rides above Israel with strength and victory. The psalm ends with one final ascription of praise: the Lord gives strength and power to his people. Blessed be God.
Is Jesus inferior to the angels being worshipped by other religions of the day? After all, he was made “lower than the angels for a while, and subject to death.” How could he then be superior to the angels? Hebrews explains that is was necessary for him to become lower than the angels in order to become one of us, so that in and through his suffering as one of us, he could expiate sin and open the way for our reunion and atonement with God. After his suffering and death, he was not simply resurrected, but ascended to his Father, again superior to the angels, where he now stands as our high priest continuing to intercede for us. And so, the one we saw suffer, we now see “crowned in glory, the human pioneer, who tasted death for us all,” and who is now exalted in risen glory. Because he shared our flesh and blood and is now enthroned as our high priest in his risen flesh, we too shall see God. Calvin speaks of one of the dimensions of the ascension as a promise that, just as the Lord stands in the presence of the Father in risen human flesh, so too shall we. And because, in his suffering and death, he was tested, he is able to help those of us who are so tested.
Matthew closes his gospel with the eleven disciples and Jesus reunited in Galilee on a mountain, where again, they worship Jesus, though Matthew is forthright in saying “some doubted.” Jesus then gives them their commission, now known as “The Great Commission.” First, all authority in heaven and on earth now belongs to Jesus—the Father has given it to him. Therefore, they are to go and make disciples of all nations. By the time Matthew writes this gospel, the Spirit has been given and the inclusion of the Gentiles within the church is an accepted fact. They are to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—the three ways the disciples have and will experience and know God. This triadic idea of God has not yet formed into the notion of One Triune God, but soon will begin to do so. For now, they are to go forth as Jesus’ envoys, making disciples of all people, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has taught and commanded them (this gospel is full of those teachings). Most of all, they are to remember that he is with them always—to the end of the age. And so they did, and so we too are charged to do.
Wednesday, May 13, 2014
Deuteronomy 19:1-7; Psalm 99; James 5:13-18 (19-20); Luke 12:22-31
The Law is clear on the issue of murder: you shall not kill another human being. But what about those moments when an accident occurs leaving one person dead and the other alive? Was it intentional, accidental, and how did the community protect the one alive from the vengeance of the dead person’s family? The solution was the establishment of three cities of refuge, places where the person involved in the death could flee the dead person’s family avenger and live in safety until all of the evidence had been sorted through and a determination be made concerning the cause and circumstance of death—was it intentional or truly accidental? Three such cities already existed on the eastern side of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 4:41-43), but, once the people had crossed over to occupy the rest of the land, three more were required. This lesson designates the conditions, distances and circumstances necessary for those three new cities of refuge.
Psalm 99 is a psalm of praise that extolls the Lord’s holiness and sovereign power—the mighty King of the universe—who is also a lover of justice. The Lord is enthroned on the cherubim in the Holy of Holies in the temple; let the whole earth quake. For God is not only sovereign in power, but has also established equity, justice and righteousness among Jacob’s people. This, the last of the psalms that praise God as King, was and continues to be used in the church as a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, ascension and triumphant reign. Because the church of the New Testament regarded the psalms as the work of the prophet David, it quickly understood him to be writing about his greater son, the Messiah. As Moses, Aaron and Samuel all went before the Lord on Israel’s behalf, so also did Christ go into heaven on our behalf. This psalm then blesses God for being forgiving, but also remembers God’s need to avenge wrong-doings. The psalm ends, calling on everyone to extoll, praise and worship the Lord at his holy mountain.
Packed within six short verses, James turns all that he has said from individual exhortation to instructions for the whole community, revealing the understanding of the communal nature of faith, especially as it is related to sickness, suffering, healing and forgiveness. God works through the faith of the community as much, if not more, than through the faith of individuals. If someone among you is suffering, they should pray. If someone is cheerful, they should sing songs of praise to God. If any are sick, bring them to the elders of the church to have them pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. This is described as “the prayer of faith,”—the intercessions of the faith community—that will be instrumental in saving the sick person, so that the Lord “raises them up” and restores them to life. Those who have committed sin will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous—another way of describing “the prayer of faith”—is powerful and effective. James then employs the illustration of the prophet Elijah, who through prayer, stopped rain in Israel for three years, and, after praying again, it rained. This is the text that lies behind the sacramental practices of anointing with oil for healing and auricular confession (as opposed to corporate confession), which later was institutionalized into the ministry of the priest. The point James is making is that the faith of the community, expressed in its prayer, healing ministries and acts of forgiveness, are more than wishful thinking. God responds to such behavior in healing and saving ways. He is so convinced of this that he tells us that anyone who brings a stray or wandering sister or brother back to the faith, has actually saved that person’s soul from death and has covered the multitude of their sins. Have we so individualized faith that we have cut ourselves off from these truths?
Jesus’ familiar words on worry remind us of how quickly we become distracted by the daily cares of living and forget that it is God’s desire to give us life and that God is with us in every moment, closer than our breath. Life is more than food and clothing. Besides, who among us has added even an hour, much less a day, to our life by worrying about it? Frankly, such worry usually takes days off of our lives! Using illustrations of nature: the ravens, the grass and the lilies of the field, Jesus reminds us that what we are to be striving for is living into God’s reign. It is the “nations” (Gentiles) who do not know God, who allow themselves to be obsessed with worry and anxiety, and behave this way. We, who know of God’s providential care, should be living in ways other than “the nations,” seeking God’s reign as our first priority, living into it as it unfolds among and around us. When we do that, God supplies the rest.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Deuteronomy 8:11-20; Psalm 66; James 1:16-27; Luke 11:1-13
Moses continues to recount what the Lord did for Israel, leading them out of Egypt and caring for them in the wilderness. He reminds them, again, not to become self-satisfied when they finally live in the land being given to them. “Do not say to yourselves, ‘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.’” If they forget that and follow after other gods to serve and worship them, Moses solemnly warns that the people shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before them to give them the land, they shall surely perish, because they do not obey the voice of the Lord. The Deuteronomic editor is, of course, on the other side of the exile and knows just how true Moses’ words are.
Psalm 66 calls upon the entire earth to make a joyful noise and sing to the glory of God’s name, telling God how awesome he is. The whole earth is called to worship God. Then, all are invited to “come and see what God has done among mortals.” The psalm then remembers God’s acts of redemption out of Egypt and deliverance at the Red Sea. God has kept us among the living and does not allow our feet to slip. But, God also tests. And so, the people have known the burdens that come with subjugation by other peoples. But, in the end, God “brought us out into a broad and spacious place.” The psalmist now vows to enter the temple with burnt offerings to fulfill the promise that his lips have made, making an offering of bulls and goats. Finally, the psalmist calls on all who fear God to listen as he tells them what God has done for him. He cried aloud and extolled God and God listened, because the psalmist was innocent. Had he cherished iniquity in his heart, God would not have heard his voice. But truly, God has listened. Blessed be God, who has neither rejected his prayer nor removed his steadfast love.
The didactic nature of the pastoral letter of James continues, first addressing giving. Every generous act of giving, just like every other perfect gift, is from above. It comes from the Father of light. This is in order to fulfill God’s promise to the patriarchs. He has given us birth by his word, so that we will become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. The next subject is speech and anger: be quick to listen, slow to speak and even slower to anger, for anger does not produce God’s righteousness. In addition, we are to rid ourselves of all nastiness and wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word of God that has the power to save us. We now hear the famous instruction to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” If God’s word is to be truly implanted in us in ways that save, we must act on it and live out of it. Otherwise, we simply fool ourselves and forget who we are, not unlike the person who looks at himself in the mirror, but upon walking away, forgets what he has seen. When we stop doing God’s word and cease living by it, we forget whose we are. All who do God’s word will be blessed in their doing. Finally, the issue of piety is addressed: if you think you are religious and do not bridle your tongue, you deceive yourself, and your religion is worthless. True religion, that is undefiled before God, cares for orphans and widows in their distress and keeps oneself unstained by the world.
Today, we move to the tenth chapter of Luke to read Jesus’s words on prayer. After Jesus has completed his prayers, one of his disciples asks him to teach them to pray. After all, John did that for his disciples; Jesus needs to do it for his disciples as well. Jesus responds, and the prayer is straightforward. Begin by calling God “Father,” and ask that his name be “revered and respected”—kept holy. Hallowing or sanctifying God’s name was a regular feature of Jewish prayer and, by it, the one praying recognizes and confesses the radical difference between God and every other thing in creation—especially oneself. Plead for the coming of God’s reign that it may break into human life in all of its fullness. Ask God daily for your bread—what you need---not just food, but for all of your daily needs. Ask for God’s forgiveness of your sins—again, daily! Here, Luke intentionally uses the Greek word for “sin,” not “debt,” pointing to the ways in which we fail or offend God by what we do. Yes, it indebts us to God, but it is far more than simply a debt. It separates us from God—the foundational meaning of the word “sin.” And, it is God’s forgiveness of our sins that not only restores our relationship with God, but also enables and compels us to forgive everyone indebted to us. Do not bring us to the time of testing. Here, the “test” is those chronic things that plague us day by day and lead us away from faithfulness, but it is also the final test, not unlike the one Jesus will face in the garden. Luke then employs the tools of Greek rhetoric known as “from the lesser to the greater” and turns to human examples of responses to petitions to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to us as our “Father.” In a culture where children were frequently the victims of fathers who possessed enormous power over them and were often bullied, if not abused, this distinction is essential. Our Father in heaven is different. If your friend, who you approach at midnight with a request, finally gets out of bed to give you what you ask, simply because of your persistence at banging on the door, how much more will our Father in heaven respond to our requests and needs. So, “ask and it will be given; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened.” Who among us, when our child asks for a fish would instead give that child a snake, or offer a scorpion for an egg? So, if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? With the mention of the Holy Spirit, Luke has introduced a theme that will unfold both here and in the Book of Acts.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Psalm 115; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27
Moses warns the people that, when they come into the land of promise, not to forget the Lord or, in their prosperity, fail to do his commandments. Look at how the Lord has cared for them these forty years in the wilderness, while he was humbling them, testing them and teaching them to trust him. The clothes on their backs did not wear out, their feet did not swell, he gave them manna daily, all to teach them that “one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” The land the Lord is bringing them into is rich in resources, filled with good things, where they will be able to eat bread without scarcity and will lack nothing. The land is filled with iron and copper and all that they need. They are to eat their fill and bless the Lord for the good land that he has given them. How quickly, however, humans take God’s good gifts and turn them, not only into our own possessions, but also of our own doing. And, of course, that is precisely what Israel will do. But rather than judge them, we are to learn from them and their experience. Looking at our possessions as our own doing leads us into a form of exile as well.
Psalm 115 was probably written for use communally and reflects on the greatness of God as the Sovereign One in heaven who rules over the earth. The psalm calls on God to act on the worshippers’ behalf, lest their enemies, the foreign nations, say, “Where is your God?” Where? In heaven, and God does whatever God pleases! The psalm then levels an attack on the idolatrous enemies, probably fellow Jews who worship idols—things of silver and gold, made of human hands that have mouths, but do not speak; have eyes, but do not see; have ears, but do not hear and so on. Those who make them are exactly like the sightless, deaf and speechless idols they craft; so too are those who worship and place their trust in them. The psalm then calls on the people of Israel to trust in the Lord! The Lord is their help and shield. The exhortation is repeated, probably antiphonally, another two times, followed by a reminder that the Lord has been mindful of his people and will bless them all, great and small—all who fear the Lord. There is then a blessing, perhaps offered by the priest, praying that the Lord give them and their children increase. The heavens are the Lord’s, the earth has been given to humans, and the netherworld belongs to the dead. There, the dead do not praise the Lord. The psalm concludes with the communal affirmation and promise to bless the Lord from this time on and forevermore, ending with “Hallelujah!”
The Book of James is another “Pastoral Letter” sent to churches with general teaching on appropriate behavior—this one “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” those beyond the boundaries of the Jewish-Christian community in Palestine. The letter begins by discussing various trials the believers are experiencing. They are not to be vexed by them, but consider them “nothing but joy,” because in such testing their faith is producing both endurance and assurance, so that, in the end, they will be lacking in nothing. Now, the subject turns to wisdom—a frequent concern for James—and he reminds readers that, if they are lacking in wisdom, then they should simply ask God for it, for God is the source of all wisdom. God will ungrudgingly and generously give it to them. But, ask in faith, never doubting, for doubt is faith’s enemy. Doubt makes the faithful like waves of the sea that are tossed about by the wind, making the doubter double-minded and unstable, and therefore unable to receive anything from the Lord. From the testing of faith, we now come to the subject of resources or the lack of them. The believer who has little is being “raised up,” while the rich are being “brought low,” because, in the end, the rich will become like the flowers of the field who though, for a moment, are splendid, finally wilt under the heat of the sun. It is an interesting reversal of Jesus’ words about the lilies of the field. But James’ point is not unlike Jesus’: those who spend their time in life busy trying to make more, rather than trusting God to provide, will ultimately wither away. Finally, James turns to the subject of temptation—a trial of its own. Never say, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil and himself tempts no one (had James read Job?). James’ point is that, for us, the temptations emerge out of our own desires that lure and entice us to things that when they come to birth in us create sin, a sin that if allowed to grow to fullness will bring death.
The question of “Who this is?” has dominated Luke’s gospel thus far, asked most recently by Herod. And so, while alone with his disciples, Jesus asks them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The answer to that question is consistent in each gospel that tells of this event: John the Baptist raised from the dead; Elijah, who never died, but was taken up into heaven; and others say, one of the ancient prophets who has risen from the dead. None of those answers is correct and Jesus implies as much when he asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, by now the spokesperson for all of them, answers Jesus saying, “The Messiah of God.” Rather than congratulate Peter on getting it right, Jesus sternly orders and commands all of them to not tell anyone—notice he does not deny it! Rather, utilizing the public name he prefers to Messiah—in part, because there were so many different understandings of who and what the Messiah might be and do—Jesus tells them that “the Son of Man must undergo great sufferings, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” This is the first of three such passion warnings by Jesus in Luke, and it is specific in naming the elders, chief priests, and scribes—the religious leaders who made up the Sanhedrin that ruled over Israel from Jerusalem who will be responsible for his death. It was not the Jews who killed Jesus, but their religious leaders. This is where Jesus will meet the hostility that will ultimately take his life. Stepping by the objections we are accustomed to hearing from Peter, Luke simply continues to quote Jesus who tells them the conditions for following him: say “no” to yourself, take up your cross daily (“daily,” is Luke’s unique addition here), and follow him. If he, the Messiah is to suffer thus, can those who follow him not expect to suffer as well? But to this Jesus adds his promise/warning: those who want to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives for his sake will save them. Notice that losing one’s life is about doing so in witness to Jesus—martyrdom, which was becoming a threat in the church for which Luke writes this gospel. Then, Jesus asks the rhetorical question about gaining the whole world but losing or forfeiting oneself in the process—a timeless truth whether one follows Jesus or not, but all the more central to those who want to be his disciple. This is followed by a warning against being ashamed of him and his words. For those who are, of them Jesus will also be ashamed when he comes in his glory and that of his Father and the holy angels. He then promises that some of them standing there with him will not taste death before seeing the kingdom of God. It is not simply a promise that they will be witnesses to his resurrection, but a preparation for what happens in the next portion of Luke’s gospel: Jesus’ transfiguration before Peter, James and John’s eyes.
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.