Daily Readings for Monday, April 14
Monday of Holy Week
Lamentations 1:1–2, 6–12; Psalm 119:73-80; 2 Corinthians 1:1–7; Mark 11:12-25
The book of Lamentations, though traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah, is hardly his work, as it appears to have been written from exile as the captive Jew’s communal lament for the fall of Jerusalem. They are classic laments and constructed in an acrostic pattern, in an attempt to plumb the depths of despair to its absolute fullness. Jerusalem sits, virtually uninhabited, like a widow with no one to care for her. She, who was great among the nations and a princess among royalty, has become another’s vassal. The city is portrayed as weeping, recognizing that among all of the lovers with which she cavorted, none are there to comfort her. Rather, they have dealt treacherously with her and she is in exile. The roads to Zion are portrayed as weeping, because, though once crowded with pilgrims, they are now empty; her priests groan—there is no temple—and her girls weep. Though her foes have become her masters, it is the Lord who has done all of this because of the multitude of Jerusalem’s transgressions—notice how the city is the personification of the people and their sins. The princes fled from her like stags that cannot find pasture, and flag before their pursuers. In grief, the days of old are remembered, but now, those who once honored her despise her; they have seen her nakedness—the most extreme form of humiliation. Jerusalem sinned grievously. Though her uncleanliness was in her skirts—a classic prophetic imagery of the worship of fertility gods, also frequently named “whoredom”—she took no thought for her future, and so, her downfall is appalling, but worse, there is no one to comfort her. The poet cries out to God to look upon their affliction. The nations have not only conquered her, they have invaded the Lord’s sanctuary—outsiders prohibited from being in the temple. The people groan as they trade their treasures for food. And now, the poet turns from God to others as a personified Jerusalem asks, “Is it nothing to you? Look, see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought on me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. It is as though the captives never heard the prophetic warnings. Nevertheless, in their captivity, they have been wise enough to bring their lament where it belongs—to the Lord.
Psalm 119 is the longest one in the Psalter, having 176 verses. The Psalm is an acrostic that praises the Lord for the gift of Torah and contains a number or different forms ranging from petitions to laments to hymns of praise. This portion of Psalm 119 begins with the letter yod (y), recognizing God as the one who has created him and fashioned the psalmist as he is, giving him understanding of God’s commandments. Those who fear the Lord rejoice in him. He knows God’s judgments are right, and even in moments of humbling it is God’s faithfulness at work. God’s steadfast love, promise and mercy are his comfort as he delights in God’s law. As for the arrogant, let them be put to shame. As for him, let him be blameless.
In his first letter, Paul had promised the Corinthians that he planned to return to them while traveling through Macedonia, beginning and ending in Corinth, perhaps staying with them for the winter, but it seems that visit never took place. Whether in disappointment or for reasons of loyalty to other apostles and teachers, the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians thereafter became strained, as the people accused him of vacillating and questioned not only Paul’s pastoral authority but also his integrity. Another visit is noted, one that was “painful” for all concerned, causing Paul to delay other visits in case they too should be as destructive as this painful one (there is no record of this visit in the Book of Acts). Instead of visiting, Paul wrote a letter out of distress and anguish that was, of Paul’s own admission, severe in its nature, as he tried to express his love for the Corinthians. This letter he sent to them by the hand of a fellow-worker, who many assume was Titus. Whether that letter has been lost or is embedded within chapters 10-13 of this letter is a debate left to scholars. The severity of the letter caused Paul even more anxiety and caused him to leave Ephesus in search of Titus, to learn what he could about things in Corinth. Finally connecting with Titus in Macedonia, Paul received good news about the Corinthians and their feelings for Paul. Encouraged, Paul writes this letter, which has come to be known as 2nd Corinthians. It opens with its customary self-identification: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, Timothy “our brother,” to the church of God in Corinth as well as all the saints throughout Achaia. This is followed by a typical Pauline greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God is blessed as the father of all mercies and consolation, who consoles all who are in affliction—themes that will emerge and be elaborated on in the letter. As affliction and suffering is abundant through Christ, so, too, is consolation. It is with that consolation that Paul and his colleagues can comfort the Corinthians. Paul says his own afflictions are for the Corinthians’ consolation, which they experience as they patiently endure the same sufferings he is suffering. He adds that his hope for them is unshaken, knowing that as they share in his sufferings so, too, they share in his consolation.
Jesus and the disciples have spent the night in Bethany and now prepare to return to Jerusalem. On the way there, they come to a fig tree and Jesus approaches it in hopes of finding fruit on it. When he discovers there is none, he curses it within the hearing of the disciples. Is this simply Jesus venting his frustration, or is this symbolic of his response to the lack of fruit he is finding in Jerusalem? Entering the city, they go to the temple and now, on Monday, rather than Palm Sunday, Mark recounts Jesus’ cleansing the temple, driving out the merchants, turning over the tables of the money changers, and not allowing anyone to carry on business, quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ ‘But you have made it a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and scribes, who have much to gain by the commerce taking place, recognize the threat and begin to look for a way to kill Jesus, but the crowd is standing spellbound by Jesus’ teaching, so the religious officials are, for the moment, powerless. That evening, Jesus and the disciples return to Bethany, and passing the fig tree, find it withered to its roots. Peter sees it and draws it to Jesus’ attention, who responds, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” Jesus then continues to tie the theme of the power of faith and the destructive nature of doubt—a continuing theme in this gospel—by tying all of this to prayer. He says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” In addition, if you have something against someone, you must forgive them so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you—the same thought incorporated into the Lord’s Prayer. Notice your footnote with regard to verse 26, which is omitted in the NRSV.
Daily Readings for Sunday, April 13
Zechariah 9:9–12; Psalm 84; 1 Timothy 6:12–16, Luke 19:41–48
Zechariah is a complex book—two distinct works—made up of many authors. The first wrote at a time when return from exile was taking place and prior to the rededication of the second temple in 515 BCE, and the second from about 450 BCE during the Greco-Persian wars when Israel was a vassal of Persia. Today’s lesson comes from the second part of Zechariah and falls on the heels of an oracle from the Lord that obviously is from an earlier, pre-exilic time when Israel’s enemies were those surrounding her. Our lesson opens with what is the best known text from Zechariah and calls on the daughters of Zion to rejoice, for her king is coming to her. (Handel used this for the magnificent soprano aria “Rejoice” from Messiah.) The image is of a triumphant Messiah who, in spite of being victorious, comes in humility, which is symbolized in the animal he is mounted upon. With his arrival, God will rescue Israel and restore her to full autonomy and power. Israel is addressed as “prisoners of hope,” and told to return to her stronghold, for God is going to restore her double and be her constant guardian. “On that day...;” reminds us that this is still a prophetic oracle; it has yet to happen. It reminds us that the return from Babylon to Israel, when Cyrus set the Jews free, was not a mass exodus, but a slow process and it took considerable time for the returning people to re-establish their lives, their economy and religious life.
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. This well-known psalm, so mastefully set to music 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 and 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.
Having been warned that those who seek riches have fallen into many destructive and senseless traps, bringing great harm upon themselves, Timothy is charged to shun all of that for righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. He is to “fight the good fight of faith” and take hold of the eternal life to which he was called when he first made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. This is followed by another confessional extract ending with “Amen.” Just as Jesus made the good confession before Pilate, so too, Timothy is charged to “keep the commandment without spot of blame until “the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which [God] will bring about at the right time.” God is then named confessionally as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,” who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, and who no one has ever seen or can see. The lesson ends with an ascription of praise, ascribing honor and eternal dominion to God. The section closes with an “Amen,” giving witness to the fact that, in all probability, Paul is quoting a well-known confession and ascription of praise rather than creating this himself.
As the Palm Sunday entourage reaches the top of the Mount of Olives, it stops. Jesus looks down on the temple mount and the city spread out before him and weeps over it. If only they had recognized this day the things that make for peace! But now, all of this is hidden from their eyes. He then speaks of the coming disaster that Jerusalem will experience at the hand of Rome when it destroys the city and its temple. They will be hemmed in on every side; crushed to the ground and their children with them. Not one stone will be left standing upon another, because they did not recognize the time of their visitation, and indeed such disaster did come in 70 A.D. when Titus destroyed the city after another uprising. Jesus then enters the city and temple (probably through the Golden Gate to the east of the temple wall, putting him directly into the temple courtyard) and begins to drive out those who are selling things. Though the temple is to be a house of prayer, they have, in the words of Jeremiah, turned it into a “den of robbers.” Luke cuts short the story, telling us that every day Jesus was teaching in the temple. Now, the chief priests, scribes, and leaders of the people look for ways to kill him, but cannot find anything to charge him with or bring against him, because Jesus is holding the people spellbound by what they hear from him.
Daily Readings for Saturday, April 12
Exodus 10:21–11:8; Psalm 31; 2 Corinthians 4:13–18; Mark 10:46–52
The Lord brings yet another plague on Egypt, this one, deep darkness so severe that it can be “felt.” For three days darkness hangs over all the Egyptians, though the Hebrews have light. The darkness is such that one person cannot see another. Pharaoh summons Moses, by now knowing for certain that Moses is associated with his troubles. He tells Moses to take the people and go worship the Lord. However, they are to leave their flocks and herds behind. Even their children may go, but the livestock must remain behind. Moses deftly tells Pharaoh that if they are going to sacrifice to the Lord, they need to take their livestock with them, for they will not know what is appropriate for sacrifice until they get there. But once again the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh not only refuses, but tells Moses to “Get away from me!” He now warns Moses: “Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses replies that it is just as Pharaoh has said, and he will never see Pharaoh’s face again. But the Lord continues to speak and Moses, though the sequence of speech is mixed, tells Pharaoh that the Lord is bringing one more plague upon him and upon Egypt, and after that, Pharaoh will not only let them go, he will drive them away. Moses is to tell the people to go to their Egyptian neighbors and ask for gold and silver. We are told that the Lord gave the Hebrews favor in the Egyptian’s sight and they responded as the Hebrews requested. Then Moses tells the people that the Lord is ready to act and that about midnight, the Lord will go throughout Egypt striking down every first born in the land, starting with Pharaoh’s own firstborn to the firstborn of the most menial slave. Even the first born of the livestock shall die. There will be a loud cry throughout Egypt such has never been heard nor ever will be again. Yet, not a dog will growl at any of the Israelites—whether the people or their animals—so that the people may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites. Moses concludes his address to Pharaoh saying, “Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” With that, still hot with anger, Moses leaves Pharaoh.
Psalm 31 is both petition and praise, and is a composite, echoing phrases from other well-known psalms (Psalm 4:1; 18:19; 27:14; 33:18, 22; 38:15; 69:3; 71:1-3; 115:17; 118:5). It begins with a confession of faith: “In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me be put to shame;” virtually identical with 71:1-3. God is to respond, not because of the psalmist’s virtue, but for God’s own name’s sake—to preserve God’s reputation! Verse 4 begins to list the reasons for praise and trust: you are my rock, fortress, guide, and redeemer. It then moves to an expression of trust, confessing that God has placed him “in a broad place.” (See Psalm 18:19 and 118:5.) It is followed by a plea for deliverance, followed by an exhortation to wait for the Lord, (See psalms 27:14.) Verse 5 appears on the lips of Jesus as he is dying in Luke 23:46. Images and phrases from other psalter sources abound: “Let your face shine upon me.”; “Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord.”; “Blessed be the Lord who has shown his steadfast love to me.” It ends with wisdom’s counsel: “The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily”; then adds the biblical injunction: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”
Returning to affirm his own integrity in ministry, Paul quotes Psalm 116:10 to make the point that he speaks out of faith and conviction, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise Paul and his companions, and will bring them, with the Corinthians, into God’s presence. They do not lose heart. Even though their outer nature is wasting away, their inner nature is being renewed day by day. And so, Paul looks upon this as “momentary affliction” that, in fact, is preparing them for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” They know this because they look, not at what can be seen, but what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, while what cannot be seen is eternal.
Jesus and his followers have reached Jericho and now prepare to turn west up the Jericho road to Jerusalem. As they are leaving the city, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, is sitting by the roadside. When he hears that it is Jesus who is passing by he begins to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd tries to silence Bartimaeus; what he is shouting is seditious. But Bartimaeus will not be silenced and shouts it out again, even more loudly. The irony here is that among all of Jesus’ followers, only the blind Bartimaeus really sees who Jesus is. Jesus stops and says, “Call him here.” When the crowd tells Bartimaeus of this, he throws off his cloak, springs to his feet and comes to Jesus. Jesus asks Bartimaeus what it is he wants of him, and the blind man calls Jesus “Rabbi” and asks to see again. Jesus tells him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately, Bartimaeus regains his sight. But rather than go, Mark tells us he followed Jesus on the way.
Daily Readings for Friday, April 11
Exodus 9:13–35; Psalm 105; 2 Corinthians 4:1–12; Mark 10:32–45
The lectionary steps by the fourth, fifth and sixth plagues: flies, striking the livestock with pestilence and boils on humans and animals alike, each with the same result: Pharaoh’s heart is hardened even further and he refuses to let the people go, just as the Lord has told Moses. Today, the Lord tells Moses to again present himself to Pharaoh with the same demand, this time telling Pharaoh that if he refuses he will send plagues upon Pharaoh and his people, so that he may know that there is no other like the Lord in all the earth. The Lord reminds Pharaoh that by now, he could have struck him and his people with pestilence and cut him off from the earth. But rather than do so, the Lord has let him live to show him the Lord’s powers and to make the Lord’s name resound through all the earth. But Pharaoh is still exalting himself again the Lord’s people, refusing to let them go. Consequently, the next day the Lord will send the heaviest hail to ever fall in Egypt. Pharaoh is told to send and have his livestock, and all else that he has in the open field, and bring them in to a secure place, for when the hail comes, whatever is not under shelter will die. Pharaoh’s officials who have come to fear the Lord hurry and gather their slaves and livestock to a secure place, while those who have not yet done so, leave their slaves and livestock in the open field. The next day, the Lord tells Moses to stretch out his hand toward the heavens so that hail may fall on the whole of Egypt. Moses does, and the Lord sends thunder, hail and fire—such heavy hail that had never before fallen in Egypt. The hail struck down everything in the open fields: humans, animals, plants, and trees. Only Goshen, where the Hebrews lived, was spared. At this, Pharaoh summons Moses and confesses that he has sinned against the Lord. He pleads with Moses to pray to the Lord to stop the hail, rain and lighting. If he does, Pharaoh will let the people go. Moses says that he is leaving, and when he reaches the edge of the city, he will stretch out his hands to the Lord, and the Lord will bring the hail, rain and lighting to an end. However, Moses is not fooled; Pharaoh and his officials do not yet truly fear the Lord. We are told that the flax and barley were ruined in the storm, but the wheat and spelt had not yet broken through the earth’s surface, and so were unharmed. Evidently, Pharaoh thinks he can hedge his bets with the Lord—the wheat and spelt will sustain them. Moses leaves the city, and as he does, he stretches out his hand to the Lord, and the Lord brings the storm to an end. But when Pharaoh sees that the rain, hail and lightning have ceased, again, he hardens his heart and refuses to let the people go, just as the Lord had told Moses.
Psalm 105 is a psalm of praise that calls everyone to make known God’s deeds among the people. The language of praise dominates the first portion of it: “give thanks,” “call,” “sing,” “glory” and “rejoice.” It then recounts the reasons for this praise: God’s faithfulness to Israel. It begins citing God’s initial covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and the children of Israel—a covenant made forever—making them God’s “chosen ones.” Then, the psalm remembers their past: few in number and of little account and nomads in the land, a famine took them to Egypt, where God had, beforehand sent Joseph. Joseph’s trials are remembered until he gained the king’s pleasure and became Pharaoh’s chief officer and lord of his household. The portion of the psalm remembers that because of Joseph’s success (and the famine), Israel came to Egypt and lived there as aliens. It was there that the Lord made the people very fruitful and strong—so much so that the Egyptians came to hate them. God then sent them Moses and Aaron, and the plagues in Egypt, which are remembered as God’s work to free the people. Remembering the ultimate woe—the striking down of all first born—God brought Israel out of Egypt with its silver and gold, and spread the covering of fire by night and cloud by day to lead them. God fed them with quail and gave them bread from heaven, opened the rock to produce water in the wilderness, and did so because God remembered the covenant he had made with Abraham. The psalm concludes, remembering that God has brought the people out with joy and into the lands of the nations in Canaan. God gave them these lands and the wealth of all of their inhabitants so that they might be a people who kept his statues and observed his laws. The psalm ends with one final word of praise: “Hallelujah!”
In the course of authenticating his ministry among the Corinthians, Paul has given us an in-depth and profound theological understanding, not only of his own ministry, but all Christian ministry. It renounces manipulation and falsification of things to achieve its ends, and never speaks falsely about God or falsifies God’s word. Rather, by open statements of the truth, ministers commend themselves to others in the sight of God. And even when the gospel they preach is veiled, it is so veiled to those who are perishing. This not only harkens back to what Paul has been saying earlier about the veil cast over Israel’s eyes when the law is read so that they cannot truly comprehend its meaning, but now extends the veiling to all who hear the gospel of Christ but cannot accept it. The god of this world has blinded their minds to keep them from seeing the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” This last phrase is packed with confessional information about Christ as the one who reveals the presence of God (glory), because he is the very image (icon) of God. When we look at Christ, we see God, who otherwise is invisible. The One who has prohibited all attempts to represent him in physical form now presents himself to us in a physical form that we can comprehend and is absolutely true to who God is. Christian ministers do not proclaim themselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord and themselves as others servants for Christ’s own sake. For the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” at creation, has shown in our hearts to give us the knowledge of God’s very presence in the person of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we have this treasure in clay jars—fragile humanity—in order that it may be made clear that the extraordinary power we have been given belongs to God and does not come from us. Paul now turns autobiographical to describe the hardships he has experienced as he has proclaimed the gospel of Christ, and speaks of the sufferings and death of Jesus being made visible in him and his companions. As Jesus was given up to death in life, so too, Paul and his companions have often been given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that Jesus’ life may be made visible in their mortal bodies. Ministry is giving witness to Jesus in both life and in death, so that the life Jesus gives may be made manifest to all.
Jesus and the disciples are on the way to Jerusalem. He has just told them of what is to take place there, but the twelve seem oblivious to what Jesus has said, and immediately jump to triumphal conclusions, so much so that James and John come forward to inappropriately ask for the seats of greatest honor when Jesus comes in his glory. Jesus must have been beside himself with frustration, if not despair, over this request, but he simply tells them they do not know what they are asking. Are they prepared to go through what he will go through? They don’t have a clue. Are they able to drink the cup that he drinks or be baptized with the baptism of suffering and death that he will undergo? True to form, they answer, “We are able!” Their words turn out to be prophetic, for Jesus tells them that indeed they will drink his cup of suffering and be baptized with his martyr’s death; but it is not Jesus’ to grant either to sit at his right or his left in glory. That is destined for those to whom it has been prepared. When word of James and John’s request gets to the other ten, they are rightfully angry at the two and another argument breaks out among them. Jesus silences all of them reminding them that this is the way the Gentiles behave—their leaders lord it over them so much so that the great ones among them become tyrants over all others. But it is not to be so within Jesus’ community of followers. Among them, whoever wishes to become great must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first must be a slave of all. Then, pointing to himself as the example he says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”—the first time Jesus’ death has been spoken of in this gospel in redemptive terms.
Daily Readings for Thursday, April 10
Exodus 7:25–8:19; Psalm 27; 2 Corinthians 3:7–18; Mark 10:17–31
Seven days have passed since the Lord told Aaron and Moses to strike the Nile. Now the Lord tells Moses to again go to Pharaoh, saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs.’” The entire land shall swarm with frogs from Pharaoh’s palace and his bedchamber to the ovens and kneading bowls of Pharaoh’s people. Without giving Pharaoh an opportunity to respond, the Lord commands Moses to tell Aaron to stretch out his hand with his staff over the rivers, canals, and pools and make frogs come upon the Land. He does, but so do Pharaoh’s magicians through their secret arts. Now, Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron and says, “Pray to the Lord to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord. Moses responds by asking at what time Pharaoh would like this to happen so that he knows it is the work of the Lord. Pharaoh says, “Tomorrow,” and Moses replies, “As you say! So that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God, the frogs shall leave you and your people’s houses and return only to the Nile. Moses and Aaron go from Pharaoh, and Moses “cries out to the Lord concerning the frogs that he had brought upon Pharaoh.” The Lord does as Moses requests, and the frogs die all across the land. The Egyptians gather them in heaps, and the land stinks from their rotting. But, when Pharaoh sees that there has been a respite, he again hardens his heart, and will not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said. And so, the Lord tells Moses to say to Aaron, “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats throughout the whole land.” Aaron does, and throughout the whole land, the dust is turned to gnats. This time the magicians try to replicate the wonder, but are not able to do so. Therefore, they tell Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” But still, Pharaoh will not listen, just as the Lord had said.
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’s 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.
Paul now turns to one of the issues of division at hand in Corinth that has been raised by the “Judaizing” teachers who followed him there, preaching the need to become a Jew to be Christian. In astonishingly graphic language, Paul characterizes the law of Moses as “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets.” Yes, the law came in glory, so much so that when Moses came down from the mountain after receiving the tablets from God, the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses face because it still reflected God’s glory (see Exodus 34:27-35). But over time that glory faded. If the law came in glory, how much more will the ministry (notice that he calls it ministry not law) of the Spirit come in glory. If there was glory in “the ministry of condemnation” (the law only being able to judge and condemn people for their behavior, rather than enable them to live into it), how much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory? The former has lost its glory because of the much greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit and has been set aside because the permanent has now come. This, then, is their hope, a hope that enables Paul to act with great boldness. Returning to the image of Moses, who wore a veil over his face so that God’s reflected radiance would not blind the people, Paul, in rabbinic fashion, turns the image on its head. Moses wore that veil, not to protect the people, but so that the people might not see that the glory of the old covenant was fading and being set aside. Consequently, the people’s minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when Jews hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is there, since only in Christ is it set aside. So, when Moses is read, a veil lies over the Jews’ minds. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted. Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (as opposed to the constraints of the law). Paul now takes the veiled glory of God one step further, telling the Corinthians that all who have turned to Christ have unveiled faces and are able to see his glory as though reflected in a mirror. And as they do, they are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another. All of this is from the Lord, the Spirit.
As Jesus and his disciples prepare to leave Capernaum, one of the wealthy young men of the community comes to him, kneels and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Notice that though other religious figures have referred to Jesus as “Teacher,” this man adds “Good.” Clearly, he is among the privileged, genuinely striving to live a faithful religious life, and this is quickly demonstrated in his response to Jesus’ question. But first, Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments ….” Interestingly enough, Jesus only cites the second table of the law—that dealing with relationships between people—and substituted “do not defraud” for “do not covet.” Regardless, the young man openly, and innocently, claims that he has kept all of these from his youth—from the day he became responsible before the law. Jesus looks on the young man, and Mark tells us, “loved him”—the only place in this gospel where that is said of Jesus and another human. Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing: he is to go, sell what he owns, give the money to the poor, thereby he will discover treasure in heaven; then he is to come and follow Jesus. The answer is more than the young man can bear. Hearing this he is filled with sorrow for he has many possessions. The young man goes away grieving and in distress, and as he does, Jesus looks around at his disciples and says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples are amazed and perplexed, because in their world wealth is the means that enables one the privilege of study and devotion to Torah—how can this be so? Jesus repeats what he has said, calling the disciples “Children,” and then to further make the point, adds a parable expressing the impossibility of doing so: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples are even more astonished and begin to ask one another, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looks at them and says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter still does not get it and says to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” And, indeed they have, to which Jesus adds, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers and children, and fields”—what happened to the fathers?—but adds “with persecutions!” Clearly, Mark is directing Jesus’ words not only to the disciples gathered about Jesus, but those gathered about him in the reading of Jesus’ words in the churches where this gospel circulates. And then Jesus adds, “and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark then concludes this incident with the proverb of reversal, again making the point that God’s ways are of an entirely different order than our own. Yet, the truth of Jesus’ words continues to be demonstrated day in and day out as possessions possess rather than serve us, convince us they have the capacity to give life, and thereby distract us from living more fully into the world where God, and God alone, is the source of life. No wonder Andrew Carnegie spent his later years trying to divest himself of his fortune.
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.