Daily Readings for Tuesday, February 25
Prov. 4:1–27; Psalm 28; 1 John 4:7–21; John 11:30–44
In today’s narrative, the voice changes from Lady Wisdom to a father addressing his son, passing on the wisdom that he, as a boy, received from his father. The fundamental conviction, so central to all wisdom literature, is that life is good and better for those who are wise than those who are foolish—the wise being righteous while the fool is wicked. Again and again, the father reminds his son to “listen, hear, hold fast, be attentive, take hold, incline his ear, gain insight and understanding, and remain on its straight path.” In almost a tautology, the father insists that the beginning of wisdom is simply getting it and its insights on life. Notice the conviction that wisdom, though a gift, is attainable if one only seeks it. Hold fast to Lady Wisdom; do not forsake her and she will keep him; love her and she will guard him. Accept these words in order that the years of his life may be many. The father now becomes more specific, as he insists that his child must hold fast to wisdom’s path. If so, his steps will not be hampered as he walks, and if he runs, he will not stumble. Hold onto her, rather than entering the path of the wicked and the walk of the evildoers. Pass by that entrance—avoid it, turn away and pass on. For, the wicked cannot sleep unless they have done wrong. They are robbed of sleep until they have caused someone to stumble. Their bread is wickedness and their wine, violence. But the path of the righteous—those who follow wisdom’s ways—shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is deep darkness, so dark they cannot even see what it is they stumble over. Again the father calls the child to be attentive to his words, to keep them ever in his sight, and to incline his ear to what his father says. For these words are life to those who find them; healing to their flesh. Keeping wisdom in one’s heart with all vigilance insures that it will become a spring of life. One last time, the father warns his child against the ways of the wicked: crooked speech and devious talk. Rather, his son is to look straight ahead, keeping on the straight path, swerving neither left nor right, and turning away from evil.
The psalmist prays, “Listen Lord, listen, lest I be like those who go down to the pit! Hear the voice of my supplication when I cry to you for help, when I lift my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.” The prayer then turns to reflect on the wicked, pleading “do not drag me away with them!” It then calls on God to repay them for their evil work and the fact that they do not regard the works of the Lord. God’s judgment is invoked: “Break them down and build them up no more.” Then the psalm makes a shift and blesses the Lord, for he has heard the sound of the psalmist’s pleading (note the tense shift). Therefore, the Lord is blessed and a strength and shield in whom the psalmist’s heart trusts. Helped and given an exultant heart, the psalmist sings songs of thanks and hints at the fact that he may be the king. The final hymn of praise ends with a call for God to save his people, bless his heritage and be their shepherd forever.
We have come to the heart of John the Elder’s letter: “Beloved, love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” However, a word of explanation is in order. The Greeks had four words for love: sexual, familial, friendship and divine. The word consistently used here is agape—love borne out of divine fullness that is sacrificial—love as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is the love that was revealed to us in Jesus, God’s only Son, sent into the world so that we might live through him. Here, the term “only Son,” is used to mean that Jesus was not one among many, but “one of a kind,” and is employed in a culture in which emperors and other heroic figures regularly called themselves “sons of God.” This is love: not that we love God, but that God loved us and sent his son to cover the distance that separates us from God—sin—and atone for it, that we might know God’s love and live in it. Since God loves us this much, ought we not love one another as well? Though no one has seen God, if we live in such love with one another, God lives in us, is revealed in us, and his love comes to perfection in us. Again, how do we know we are abiding in this love? We know because God has given us his Spirit, which leads us to testify that the Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world. (Behind this confession lies the fundamental issue that had divided the churches, as the Gnostics did not believe Jesus to be a true human come to redeem humanity, but rather a divine spirit who came as a teacher of secret knowledge. As such he could not suffer, much less die, which is why the confessional material makes so much of his atoning sacrifice.) Now, we hear the central theme of all of John’s theology: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.” This kind of love makes us bold on the day of judgment because, like Jesus, we are “not of this world.” This kind of love not only makes us bold, when perfected, it drives out fear; it convinces us we have nothing to fear in the judgment. Moreover, this love does not come from us, but from God: we love because he first loved us. Finally, those who say they love God but hate their sisters and brothers are simply lying to themselves, for how can we love someone we have not seen when we can’t love those whom we see? His commandment is this: love one another.
After Martha confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one they have been awaiting, she returns to her sister Mary, and tells her privately, “The Teacher is here and calling for you.” When Mary hears this she quickly gets up and goes to Jesus. The friends and relatives that have come to console her think she is going out to Lazarus’ grave to continue her grieving, and so, quickly follow her. When Mary comes to Jesus, she kneels at his feet and repeats her sister’s words. When Jesus hears this the second time and sees the grief and weeping around him, John tells us he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The Greek behind those words connote irritation, anger and frustration even more than compassion. He says, ‘Where have you laid him?” When they show Jesus the grave and he too begins to weep, it is as much in anger and frustration at the work of death as it is love for Lazarus or compassion for his sisters. Though some see this as a sign of Jesus’ love for Lazarus, others use it as an occasion for criticism. After all, if he opened the eyes of the man born blind, as he had done earlier in the Temple, certainly he could have healed Lazarus and kept him from dying. Still irritated and angry, Jesus approached the tomb, a cave with a stone over its mouth, and says, “Take the stone away.” Martha is shocked; her brother has been dead four days and his body has begun to decay—there will be a stench. Driven by the same emotions that have brought him to tears, Jesus says to her (and hear it as a stern word intention not one of comfort), “Did I not tell you that if you believed you should see the glory of God?” She has already professed her belief in him; he is ready to act. As others take the stone away, Jesus engages in audible prayer, thanking his Father for having heard him. It is clearly his way of giving expression to the fact that what is about to happen is the work of his Father in and through him, and he says as much in the prayer. The prayer over, he cries out in a loud voice and commands Lazarus to come out of the cave and Lazarus does, his body still constrained by the strips of cloth used to wrap his body and cover his face in burial. It is the same clothing that Jesus will leave behind in the tomb at his resurrection. Notice Lazarus is not called by name, but only “the dead man,” lest there be some suggestion that he had not been dead, or that this was only for Lazarus. Jesus then says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Daily Readings for Monday, February 24
Prov. 3:11–20; Psalm 85; 1 John 3:18–4:6; John 11:17–29
Lady wisdom continues to speak, this time addressing her reader as “My child,” as this book will often do, adopting the stance of a parent instructing a child in the ways of life that are wise rather than foolish. The subject here is the discipline of the Lord, for like a parent, the Lord only disciplines those he loves, as a father reproves a son in whom he delights. The subject then turns to the benefits of such wisdom. Not only does Lady Wisdom bring happiness and understanding, her benefits are an income that is better than silver or gold, more precious than jewels. There is nothing we can desire that compares with her. She has long life in her right hand and riches and honor in her left, both poised to give her gifts to those who regard her ways, which are not only pleasant, but walk the path of peace—the word here is shalom, which connotes more than the absence of conflict, but rather a life full with all of its goodness. The image of the tree of life is used to describe her benefits, and those who hold her fast are called “blest”—“happy is not strong enough for the Hebrew word here. And now the text shifts to another major wisdom theme—its role in fashioning creations. Lady Wisdom was present at creation and God’s helpmate. It is by her that the Lord founded the earth and the heavens. It was her gifts of knowledge that opened the depths and caused the clouds to drop their dew, a theme and conviction often echoed in the psalms, especially Psalm 104:24. .
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.
How will we know that God abides in us? When we put our love for one another into action—this is how we will know that we are from the truth, and it will not only assure us that God abides in us, but also reassure us before God—even when our hearts condemn us! For God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. If our hearts do not condemn us, then we have boldness before God and receive from God whatever we rightfully ask, because we obey his commandments, and thus, please him. John would not say that such pleasing behavior earns us these gifts, but rather, it puts us into a relationship with God in which we can receive God’s good pleasure. The commandment to love is expanded to believe in Jesus and take him at his word, just as he has commanded. Scholars point out that in the Greek text, the word “in” is missing, but has been included here, because John regularly speaks of “believing in” Jesus. If that is the case, the meaning of the sentence shifts from “believing in” to simply “believing” Jesus—taking him at his word. That is enough. All those who believe him and obey his word truly abide in him, and he in them. Such believing obedience results in a time when we finally know that God abides in us, because of the Spirit that God has given to us. But we must beware; not every spirit in the world is the Holy Spirit. They must be tested to ensure that they are from God. How do we know? The test is the spirit’s ability to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God—the issue the Gnostics were contesting. If the spirits can so confess, they are from God. If not; the spirits are the antichrist, the one they have heard is coming into the world. Again, invoking his term of endearment, John tells them they are not to fear, for the One who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world. For they are not of the world, but are from God, know God, listen to God, and from this, know the Spirit of truth and can tell it from the spirit of deception and error.
Jesus and the disciples approach Bethany and discover that Lazarus is dead and buried. His body has been in the tomb four days. Consequently, friends and loved ones from Jerusalem have come out to Bethany to sit shiva with the sisters, to console Mary and Martha over their brother’s death. Martha—always the more aggressive and active of the two—hears that Jesus is coming, and quickly gets up to go off to meet him, while Mary stays behind. When Martha gets to Jesus she chides him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But then she says something more astonishing, “But even now I know that God will give you what you ask of him.” Has she heard of his raising Jairus’ daughter? We don’t know, for that story is not included in John’s Gospel. However, to her request Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.” In spite of her request that he do something, Martha seems to have no frame of reference for what Jesus has just said and thinks that he is talking about the general resurrection that is to take place “on the last day.” Correcting her Jesus says, “I am (there is the divine name once again) the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha makes her full confession with the formal, “I believe….” Her words are an echo of the profession of faith made by all who entered the church for which this gospel is written: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the One God has sent into the world.”
Daily Readings for Sunday, February 23
7th Sunday after Epiphany
Proverbs 1:20–33; Psalm 46; 2 Corinthians 5:11–21; Mark 10:35–45
Today, we begin to read from the book of Proverbs, one of the Bible’s central books of wisdom literature, the other three being Job, Ecclesiastes, and a significant number of psalms. Rather than identify all of the characteristics of Biblical wisdom here, we will consider them as they unfold. Foundational to all wisdom is the statement in Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge....” Psalm 111:10 echoes the same theme, but there says it is “the beginning of wisdom.” Today, we hear wisdom calling us, crying out in the street. Notice that in Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman. Whereas major sections of Proverbs consists of short, two sentence statements, sometimes called “sentence wisdom,” here we have the other form, which is more narrative and extended in style. Today, Lady Wisdom lifts her voice to warn against ignoring her words. Typical of this kind of literature, she lumps people into two groups: the wise and the foolish, the learned and the simple. Today, she chides the latter, who love being so. “Simple” here does not mean “uncomplicated” but rather, those who naively ignore her advice in favor of those who scoff at such things and hate knowledge. Again, in her reproof, she offers to pour out her thoughts and make her words known, but the simple have refused. She has stretched out her hand, but no one has heeded. Because of this, when calamity comes, as it certainly will to those who ignore her council, she will simply laugh and mock when panic hits like a storm and sweeps them up like a whirlwind. Then the foolish will call on her, but she will not answer, they will seek her diligently, but it will be too late—they will not find her. Because they hated knowledge, did not choose the fear of the Lord, and refused her counsel, they will eat the fruit of their ways and will be filled with only their desires and devices. She ends by warning that waywardness kills the simple, and complacency destroys the fool, but those who listen to her will be secure and live at ease “without dread of disaster.”
This communal psalm is a source of comfort and solace, as well as an affirmation of confidence and trust in God as our only refuge and strength in times of trouble. No matter the threat or crisis—even one as dire as massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or the enormous tides, tsunamis and floods created by the sea—we will not fear for God is with us. God is not only stronger than the forces of the earth, God is in the city of his holy habitation—Jerusalem and its temple—and it shall not be moved. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter, the Lord speaks, and the earth melts. Again, it repeats the affirmation that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. The psalm then invites us to look upon and consider the works of the Lord: his sovereignty over the chaotic forces of nature and his ability to silence and still warring and ravenous nations. Therefore, be still—know God! Know that God is sovereign over all things that can harm, be it the forces of nature or the brutality of humanity. More; know that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Be still and know God.
Paul writes to the church at Corinth to defend his apostleship and relationship among them. He wants them to be able to “boast” about Paul and his companions among those who have been critical of them—those who boast in appearances rather than in the heart. Doing so, Paul writes about what it is that drives him. It is the love of Christ, and what that means, not only for Paul or for the Corinthians, but for the world. Christ died for all, so that those who live in Christ might no longer live for themselves but for Christ, who died and was raised for them. The consequence of this is that we are to no longer view others “from a human point of view,” using the standards of the world by which such judgments are made, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, but we know him thus no longer. Paul now unfolds his theology of God’s new creation, initiated in Christ being raised from the dead—the new point of view we have on Christ. So, if anyone is in Christ, they are part of God’s new creation; the old has passed away and everything has become new. All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us (Paul, the Corinthians, the church), the message of reconciliation. Consequently, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal to the world through us. Paul quickly adds the basic challenge of the gospel: “be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ!” It was “for our sake that God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
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 Saturday, February 22
(Genesis 34:1-31) Gen. 35:1–20; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:11–18; John 11:1–16
The lectionary steps over chapter 34 which tells the story of the rape of Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, by Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, who was prince of the region. Hamor sees Dinah, is smitten with lust and seizes her and forces her into sexual relations. Thereafter, his lust turns to love and Shechem goes to his father and asks that he get Dinah to be Shechem’s wife. As commentators point out, later Jewish law, which is harsh on sexual abuse of married or engaged women, does not treat this so, but rather, proscribes that the man pay the marriage price and take the woman as his wife (Exodus 22:16). Hamor approaches Jacob, who has held his rage in check, and asks for Dinah on behalf of Shechem. Further, Hamor proposes blending the two families and their fortunes. As a prince of the land, he welcomes Jacob and his sons to settle in the land, become citizens, buy property, take Hivite women as wives, have children, and live together in peace. It is, frankly, quite an attractive offer, and Jacob considers it. For his part, Shechem begs Dinah’s outraged brothers to accept him, telling them that he loves Dinah, asking them to set the bridal price as high as they like, he will pay it—he truly is smitten. The brothers still outraged over the abuse of their sister, enter into a deceitful arrangement: only if all of the Hivite men are circumcised, will they give Dinah to Shechem. Hamor and Shechem agree, and persuade the rest of their men to comply; convincing the men of the economic advantage Jacob’s wealth will bring to them. Three days after the circumcisions, while the Hivite men are still disabled, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi, enter the city and slay not only Hamor and Shechem but all the men of the city, and rescue Dinah from Shechem’s house. Thereafter, the other brothers descend on the city, plunder it, and take captive all the women, children, servants, property and livestock to become their own. When Jacob learns of this he is severely distressed; for Simon and Levi have brought trouble on the family with the inhabitants of the land. If they rise up against Jacob, he will be destroyed. But the brothers respond, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Behind this story lie two issues: an explanation concerning the historic relationship between the inhabitants of Shechem, named after Hamor’s son, and the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, and the issue of how conflict over sexual abuse is to be treated within and between families. Jacob was open to negotiation with Hamor, whereas the boys were predisposed to violence, and destroyed the entire city. At this, God tells Jacob to go north to Bethel and settle there. He is to make an altar to the God who had first appeared to him when he was fleeing from his brother Esau. Jacob complies, gathering all that he has and has acquired, commanding that they put away the foreign gods that have been acquired among them, purify themselves, change their clothes and come with him to Bethel so that Jacob may make an altar to the God who heard his plea and has protected him to this day. The extended family gives up the idols of their foreign gods and gold rings associated with them, and Jacob buries them under the sacred oak at Shechem, where the Lord had appeared to Abraham on his initial journey from Haran (Genesis 12:6-7). As they journey north, “a terror from God fell upon all the cities around them,”—clearly, what had happened with the Hivities was more widely known—and none of the people of Canaanites pursued them. On arrival at Luz, Jacob builds an altar and calls the place El-beth-el (The God of Bethel), for this is where God had first revealed himself to Jacob. We are told that Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah dies, and is buried there under an oak tree, naming it “the oak of weeping.” God again appears to Jacob, and now changes his name from Jacob (the supplanter) to Israel—he who strives with God and prevails. This section is clearly from another literary tradition, for God identifies himself as El Shaddi—God Almighty—and the covenant promise first made to Abraham is now made to Jacob. The promise is now fully transferred from Abraham, through Isaac, to Jacob. God departs and Jacob sets up a pillar of stone, pours a drink offering over it, and names it Bethel (again, we are looking at various traditions of how Luz became known as Bethel). From Bethel, they journeyed on toward Ephrah, later named Bethlehem. Some distance from their destination, Rachel, who was again pregnant, falls into hard labor and gives birth to another son. As she lies dying, Rachel names the boy Benoni, meaning “son of my sorrow,” but Jacob renames him Benjamin—“Son of the South”—for among his brothers, only Benjamin is born in the land of Canaan. Jacob buries Rachel and sets up a pillar to memorialize her grave, and “it is there to this day,” as indeed, it is there in Bethlehem.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” With these words the psalmist—possibly the king—calls the people to a hymn of praise that remembers the ways God has blessed and intervened on his behalf. The Lord has responded in the psalmist’s distress and so he confesses, “The Lord is with me, I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Consequently, he can look at his enemies with satisfaction; the Lord is among those who support him. Therefore, it is better to take refuge in the Lord than in men, in the Lord than in princes. The king now reflects that though the nations surrounded him to destroy him, in the name of the Lord he cut them off. He was pushed violently to the point of falling, but the Lord intervened. At this we have a psalm within a psalm—the king’s own words of praise directed to the Lord. “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become the source of my salvation. There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous.” In victorious joy he continues, “I shall not die, but I shall live to tell of the works of the Lord. He punished me severely, but did not give me over to death.” Herein, the early church heard the words of Christ speaking to them in and through the psalm, which is why it is appointed both for Palm Sunday and Easter Day liturgies. Finally, the psalmist prepares to go to the temple to pay his vows: “Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and pay my vow. This is the gate of the Lord, only the righteous shall enter through it. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is marvelous in our eyes.” Again, phrase after phrase of this psalm has worked itself into the treasury of the Gospels and Christian prayer. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The people shout, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord (Hosanna!)” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” All of this is the language of the worshipper in the temple, confessing loyalty and trust in God: “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God and I will extol you.” The prayer concludes as it began: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
John continues to work with the commandment to love one another. We are not to be like Cain—who was from the evil one—who rose up and killed his brother Abel because Cain saw that Abel was righteous--in a right relationship with God. So too, they are not to be surprised that the world hates them because of their own relationship with God (righteousness). They have passed from death to life because they do love one another. Love is the litmus test. Whoever does not love abides in death. Any who hate a brother or sister are murders just as Cain was a murder, and they have no life in them. The true witness to love is that Jesus laid down his life for us. Therefore we ought to lay down our lives for one another. So far, the focus here has been on how anger in a church conflict can turn to hatred. The elder is warning the congregation that they must not let the conflict that divided them escalate into hatred of those who have left. But now John turns the corner on love and asks how God’s love can abide in someone who has the world’s goods and sees a sister or brother in need and does not help. It is not enough to love in word or speech. We must love in truth and action. Here—with love in action—is how we will know that we are from the truth and it will reassure us before God—even when our hearts condemn us. But more, God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. If our hearts do not condemn us, then we have boldness before God and receive from God whatever we rightfully ask. John would not say that obeying God’s commandments earns us these gifts, but rather, doing so puts us into a relationship with God in which we can receive God’s good pleasure. The commandment to love is expanded to believe in Jesus and take him at his word, just as he has commanded. Scholars point out that in the original, the word “in” is missing so that the sentence shifts from “believing in” to simply “believing Jesus”—taking him at his word. All who believe and obey his word abide in him, and he in them. Finally, we will know that he abides in us because of the Spirit that he has given to us.
Jesus has been talking about giving eternal life to those who believe in him. Today’s lesson begins the story of the raising from the dead his dear friend Lazarus, and unites his previous teachings and statements in the temple to what follows. The village of Bethany lies just east of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, live there. They are Jesus’ dear friends and we are told beforehand that it was Mary who later anointed Jesus with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair, not the woman who in Luke is the notorious sinner who bathes Jesus feet with tears (Luke 7:34-48). Lazarus has fallen ill and the sisters send a message to Jesus in the expectation that he will come and heal their brother. Instead, Jesus intentionally delays. He tells the disciples that this illness is not one that leads to death, but rather exists for God’s glory to be further revealed through him. And so, though Jesus loves all three, he remains behind for two days. Then he says, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples rightly object. After all, the people in Jerusalem are trying to stone Jesus, and they remind him of that. Jesus responds that there is work to do and only twelve hours of daylight in which to do it, and returns to the theme of him being the light of the world; those who walk in him do not stumble like those who are of the night. To further clarify, Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” Misunderstanding Jesus’ words, the disciples reply that if he is asleep he will be alright, and awaken again. Consequently, Jesus has to be more specific with them: “Lazarus is dead.” But, for the disciples’ sake, Jesus is glad that he was not present to heal Lazarus, for something significant is about to happen—a revelation that will strengthen their own belief. Thomas simply says, “Let us go with him that we may die with him.”
Daily Readings for Friday, February 21
Gen. 32:22–33:17; Psalm 32; 1 John 3:1–10; John 10:31–42
Later that evening, Jacob takes his two wives, their two maids and all of the eleven children and crosses the Jabbok River at the ford where it flows into the Jordan. Jacob sends them and everything that he owns to the other side. Returning to the camp alone, Jacob encounters “a man” who wrestles with him all through the night until day break. When the man realizes that he is not going to prevail over Jacob, he strikes him at the hip socket and puts it out of joint, but still cannot prevail. As the sun is rising, the man asks to be let go, but Jacob refuses unless the man bless him. The “man” asks Jacob’s name, and when told, tells Jacob that this shall no longer be his name. Henceforth he is to be known as Israel—the word means “God strives”—for Jacob has striven with God and with human beings and has prevailed. At that, Jacob asks the man his name, but the man refuses. Rather, he blesses Jacob, who is now Israel and departs. Jacob names the place Peniel—which means “the face of God”—saying, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” As the sun rises on him, Jacob passes by Peniel, limping because of his hip, no longer out of joint, but severely injured because of the encounter. The chapter ends using this to explain why it is the muscle on the inside of an animal’s thigh is not eaten by the Israelites. Traveling back across the river he gathers up his wives and children. Soon, Jacob looks up and sees Esau approaching with the four hundred men. Consequently Jacob divides the children among the four women, putting Bilhah and Zilpha and their children in front, followed by Leah and her childen and then Rachel with Joseph. Jacob goes ahead of them, bowing deeply to the ground seven times until he reaches Esau. When Esau sees Jacob, he runs to meet him, embraces him, and falls on his neck and kisses him. Then the two brothers weep in their embrace. When Esau looks up and sees the women and children following Jacob he asks who they are and Jacob says, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant” Then the two maids and their children draw near Esau and bow in obessience. Likewise, Leah and her children do the same, and finally Rachel and Joseph do as well. Then Esau asks Jacob what he has meant in sending the company of servants and livestock ahead of him. Jacob says he has done so “To find favor with my lord”—note the continuing deference with which Jacob approaches his older brother. Esau responds, “No, I have enough, my brother”—signaling his acceptance of Jacob as a brother rather than a servant or underling. Jacob is to keep what he has. Jacob pleads with Esau to accept his present, telling Esau that the privilege of seeing his face is like seeing the face of God, since Esau has received Jacob with such favor. God has been generous to Jacob and he has all he wants. And so he urges Esau to take the presents, which he does. Esau then suggests that they travel together, but Jacob, not wanting to press his luck with his brother, tells Esau that the children and the flocks are frail, and if overdriven for even one day, the flocks would die. Jacob does not want to burden Esau and his company with such slow travel. They are to go on ahead of them; they will meet in Seir. Esau offers to leave some of the people who have come with him, but Jacob demurs, asking “Why should my lord be so kind to me? So Esau and his people return to the home in Seir, to the south east of the Dead Sea, while Jacob and his family move to Succoth, thus creating a distance between the two brothers and all their possessions. In Succoth Jacob builds himself a house. No longer will he dwell in a tent, but settle in this place. In addition, he builds booths for his cattle, and names the place after those booths.
This is a wisdom psalm in which the psalmist gives thanks for the gift of forgiveness. “Happy are those whose sin is covered.” He acknowledges that while he kept silence about his sin, he wasted away for the Lord’s hand was upon him, and his strength was dried up as the heat of summer dries all things. But when he acknowledged his sin, when he no longer hid it but confessed it, the Lord forgave him his guilt. He then instructs all who are faithful to offer such prayers of confession, promising that in a time of distress and the rush of many waters, these will not reach or overwhelm them. Again, addressing the Lord, he confesses that God is his hiding place who preserves him from trouble and surrounds him with glad cries of deliverance. The psalm then turns to addressing others, instructing them in the way they should go: “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near.” It concludes with one final double affirmation: “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Therefore: be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
God’s love given to us is revealed in the fact that we are called God’s children; and indeed we are. Repeating words we heard from Jesus in John 17, the readers are reminded that the reason the world does not know them as God’s children is because the world did not know Jesus, God’s son. He goes on to remind them that if they are God’s children now, but what they shall ultimately be is yet to be revealed. This probably witnesses to one of the points of division in the community that caused the others to leave; if that group were Gnostics, then this may be about the notion of the resurrection of the body, which the Gnostics denied. What these, who are God's children, need to know is that when the risen Lord is revealed, they will be just like him. Those who hold onto this hope purify themselves as Jesus is pure. That leads to talk about sin in a way that suggests more than just behavior that is unacceptable to believers. John has mentioned sin in chapter 2, but this seems to be sin of a different order—rejecting Christ himself. For now the typology is either being a child of God or a child of the devil. Those who abide in Christ (notice same imagery Jesus uses in John 17), are children of God, while those who commit sin are children of the devil. In other words, one cannot abide in Christ and set forth to intentionally sin. That behavior is of the devil. The Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. Those who abide in the Son cannot sin because God’s seed (Jesus) abides in them. In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed. All who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.
When those gathered about Jesus hear him say, “The Father and I are one,” they take up stones once again to kill him for his blasphemy. Jesus, rather than run, confronts them further: for which of the works of Father that he has shown them will they stone him? They respond that it is not for the works but rather, though a human being, he makes himself out to be God. Jesus then appeals to scripture, quoting Psalm 82:6 and saying that if scripture makes the claim that they “are gods and sons of the most high,” how can they take up stones against one that God has sent into the world who claims to be God’s son? Returning to the theme of his work, he tells them to examine them. If he is not doing the works of his Father, then do not believe in him. But, if he is doing them, even though they don’t believe him, believe the works in order to understand that the Father is in him and he is in the Father. That enrages them further, and now they try to arrest him. But again, he slips through their hands. It is time to leave Jerusalem, and so he crosses the Jordan to the site where John had been baptizing. Many come out to him saying, John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man is true,” and many believe in Jesus.
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.