Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Hosea 13:1-3; Psalm 13; Acts 27:9-26 Luke 9:1-17
Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom) grew to such prominence that when its king spoke, the people trembled. He was exalted in all Israel. But the guilt he incurred through Baal worship brought his death. Yet, the people kept sinning, making graven images and bowing down to them. The NRSV translation has a footnote at the end of verse two that is more in keeping with the original Hebrew text, and is better translated “they who sacrifice people speak to the idols,” which suggests human sacrifice as a part of Israel’s worship. Kissing calves refers to the worship of the golden calves used in Baal worship. “Therefore,” draws the section to a close with four images of what will happen to Israel because of its apostasy: they will disappear like morning mist, like dew that evaporates in the sun, like chaff that is swept away from the threshing floor, and like smoke from a fire escaping the room through a window.
Psalm 13 is short but powerful; an individual lament that asks the classic question of all who suffer injustice, or who wait on the Lord for healing: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Expressions of abandonment dominate the psalm: “How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and sorrow in my heart? Then the lament turns to a demand: “Consider and answer me!” Do not let my enemies exalt over me and my reliance on you. (Often, laments put God on notice that others are watching and God’s reputation is at stake.) Now notice the shift in tense: “I trusted in your steadfast love (past tense), my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (future tense).” God has acted! “I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” The problem that was the focus of the lament has been resolved.
On the voyage from Caesarea to Rome, much time has been lost in the port of Fair Havens. Even the fast for Yom Kippur is behind them. By now, Paul has had a vision and can see that the future voyage is going to be plagued with storms to the point that the cargo and the ship will need to be abandoned to save their lives. But the centurion listens to the owner of the ship rather than to Paul, and since the harbor is not suitable for spending the winter, they put out to sea from there, hoping to reach Phoenix, at the western end of Crete, which has a harbor suitable for wintering. With a moderate south wind they creep along the southern shore of the island as they sail west toward Phoenix. But suddenly, a violent “north-easter” (it is not an American expression, but much older!) rushes down on them from Crete and pushes them out to sea, driving them deeper south and away from their destination. Fearing they will run aground on Syrtis, a reef on the north coast of Africa, they let out the sea anchor and begin to batten down the ship. As the storm continues, they throw the cargo overboard. By the third day, they are also throwing over the ship’s tackle. Without it, they drift, and go days without seeing the sun or the stars (their means of navigation as well as plotting their location). Soon, they abandon hope of being saved at all. Having gone without food for some time, Paul encourages them to eat and addresses them, in an “I told you so; you should have listened to me,” speech, but then urges them to keep up their courage. Paul has had a vision. An angel of the God he serves has appeared to him and said, “do not be afraid, Paul, you must stand before the emperor. God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” There will be no loss of life among them; only the ship. But to survive they will have to run aground on some Island.”
Today’s reading is a jumble of things: it begins with Jesus gathering the twelve and giving them power and authority over all the demons to cure diseases. Until now, the twelve have been little more than bystanders; now they take up ministry. Jesus sends them forth as extensions of his own work—to proclaim the kingdom and to heal. Their travel instructions make the point that they are to rely upon God’s providence and the generosity of God’s people. Where that is lacking, they are to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. And so they go through the villages, bringing the good news everywhere and curing everyone. We then have a strange interlude about Herod hearing about Jesus through the talk of the people who think Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead or Elijah, or another of the ancient prophets arisen from the dead. We are told that Herod tries to see Jesus, but not how or why. The twelve return, now named “apostles”—those who are sent with a mission—and they tell Jesus what has happened, and he takes them away privately to Bethsaida, on the north east tip of the Sea of Galilee. When the crowd learns of it, they follow him. When they arrive, Jesus welcomes them, and speaks to them about the kingdom of God and heals those who need to be cured. As the day draws to a close, we have Luke’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. What is unique in Luke’s telling of this event is the Eucharistic symbolism: taking the loaves, Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses and brakes the bread and the fish, and gives it to them,” the very words incorporated into the early Eucharistic liturgy of the church, later incorporated into the “words of institution.” All eat and are filled, and enough is left over to fill twelve baskets—one for each tribe of Israel, one for each apostle and the churches that will emerge from their ministries.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Hosea 12:2-14; Psalm 10; Acts 26:24-27:8; Luke 8:40-56
The prophetic oracle against Israel continues by recalling this history of rebellion of their ancestor Jacob. In the womb, he contended with his twin brother Esau and tried to supplant him. In his manhood he outwitted Esau for his inheritance over a bowl of lentil stew. But, he also contended with God (“the angel”) and prevailed, and his name was changed to “Israel.” At Bethel, he had the vision of angels ascending and descending and named it “the House of God,” where the Lord, the God of Hosts appeared. And so, the call comes for the nation to return to the Lord, hold fast to love and justice and wait upon the Lord. But Ephraim (Israel) remained a trader with false balances who loved to oppress. He said to himself, “I am rich and have gained all this by myself,” thinking himself sinless. Again, the Lord pronounces judgment, saying that they will again be forced to live in tents as they did in the wilderness wanderings. The Lord then identifies himself as the one who has spoken to them through prophets and, now, through those prophets he will bring oracles of destruction. Historic reference is again made to Gilead, to their altars for Baal and their stone heaps to mark boundaries between them and the Canaanites. God brought Israel up from Egypt by the Prophet Moses, and by a prophet was guarded. But now, Ephraim has given bitter offense, and the Lord will bring his crimes down upon his head to repay him for his insults.
Psalm 10 pleads for God to intervene against the evils of the wicked against the poor. The evils are set forth in vivid detail by this psalm that calls upon God to respond as the poor’s only source of defense against them. But first, the eternal question: why is God remote in all of this; why does God hide in times of trouble? In arrogance, the wicked persecute the poor, boasting in the desires of their greedy hearts, and curse and renounce the Lord, saying, “There is no God”--the proverbial creed of fools. Yet, the other proverbial question is: Why do they prosper, why are they allowed to ambush and murder the innocent and, like a lion, seize the poor and the helpless and drag them off to their dens? In their hearts they think that God has either forgotten, or has simply looked the other way. After a long rehearsal of their wickedness, the psalmist cries out, “Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed!” The Lord does see, does note trouble and grief in order to take it into his hands. “The helpless commit themselves to you, you who have been the helper of orphans. Break the arm of the wicked; seek out their wickedness until you find none.” This is followed by a confession of faith: “The Lord is king forever and ever.” Nations perish from his land. And now, with a word of hopeful confidence the psalm proclaimed that the Lord will hear the desire of the meek and strengthen their hearts. The Lord will hear and do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from the earth who strike terror may do so no more.
Festus interrupts Paul in his self-defense to declare him out of his mind; that his great learning has driven him insane. Paul objects, saying that he is speaking the sober truth. Indeed, he knows that King Agrippa understands all this for he is familiar with the issues at hand, and it is to him that Paul is speaking. None of this, after all, has happened in a corner. He then asks the King if he believes the prophets, and quickly answers for the King, “I know you believe.” Agrippa is, after all, a Jewish king. He responds, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul replies, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you, but all who are listening to me today, might become such as I am—except for these chains.” It is the conclusion of Paul’s defense. Agrippa rises and with him Festus and Bernice and those with them, and the audience is over, but as they are leaving, Agrippa and Festus converse and say, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” Agrippa then says, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.” Indeed he could have, but would he have survived free, with so many plots against his life? Better he travel to Rome under imperial guard, as will now take place. And so, they set sail for Italy, placing Paul under the command and protection of a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, names Julius. We get a detailed, first person account of their travel itinerary (the last of the “we” sections), as well as the names of those who accompany them. We are told that Julius treats Paul kindly and allows him to go to his friends in various ports along the way that they might care for him. The wind is against them, slowing their trip as the ship hugs the coast lines of Cyprus and Asia Minor until finally coming to Fair Havens, a port on the south eastern side of Crete, where they will spend the winter to avoid the storms.
Jesus and the disciples return from the eastern side of the lake and find the crowds still gathered and waiting for him. Luke now tells us a story within a story—one of his signature traits—both stories about the healing power of Jesus and its response to faith. A leader of the synagogue named Jairus comes, falls at Jesus’ feet (a most unusual thing for a leader of a synagogue to do), and begs Jesus to come to his house to heal his dying, twelve year old daughter, his only child. As Jesus goes, a nameless woman has joined the crowd. She has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years. We are told that she has spent all she has on doctors but no one could cure her. She tells herself that if she can only touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak she will be healed. And so, she ventures into the crowd, so intent upon her goal is she that she ignores the fact that all she touches or who touch her will be rendered ritually unclean. Coming up behind Jesus, she touches his garment and immediately she is healed. But equally immediately, Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” When everyone denies it, Peter expresses his wonder as Jesus’ question: after all, with this crowd, how could anyone not touch him? But that is not the touch Jesus is talking about. Their touch is curiosity; this was the touch of faith. Jesus again says it, “Someone touched me, for I noticed that the power had got out from me.” In the silence that surrounds that, as people look at one another, the woman realized she can no longer hide, and so, trembling, comes forth to Jesus, falls at his feet and confesses what she has done and how immediately she was healed. Jesus looks upon her and says, “Daughter,” addressing her as one of his family who have heard his word, “your faith has made you well; go in peace.” As Jesus is saying this, someone comes from Jairus’ house to announce that his daughter has died; they need not trouble Jesus any longer. But Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe, and she will be saved,” and proceeds to the house. Upon arrival he allows no one to accompany him but Peter, John and James and the child’s father and mother. The house is surrounded by grieving friends, and Jesus says to them, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” They, of course, laugh at him, for they know that she has died. Leaving the crowd outside, Jesus goes to the little girl’s side, takes her by the hand and says, “Child, arise!” and she does. He tells her parents to give her something to eat (ghosts do not eat!). They are astonished, all the more so when he orders them to tell no one what has happened.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Hosea 11:12-12:1; Psalms 2; Acts 26:1-23; Luke 8:26-39
This short reading simply summarized the difference between the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Ephraim (Israel) surrounds God with lies and deceit, while Judah still walks with God. Ephraim herds the wind, pursuing the east wind all day long. Multiplying falsehood and violence, they make a treaty with Assyria and pay tribute to Egypt.
Psalm 2 is the first of a series of what are called “Royal Psalms,” probably used at the annual re-enactment of the King’s enthronement, reminding him that he is God’s viceroy, God’s anointed, and God’s own adopted son. The nations can rage and conspire against him, but the Lord, for whom he reigns, sits in heaven laughing at them. God will speak to them in wrath, reminding them that the king who reigns in Zion (Jerusalem) sits on that throne at God’s hand as God’s choice. That said, the king now speaks and repeats what the Lord has said to him, “You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The psalm then turns to the rulers of the earth, warning them to hear and be wise. They too are called upon to serve the Lord with fear, as all the rulers of the earth are called on to reign under God’s sovereign rule or experience God’s judgment themselves. Happy are all who take refuge in him. After the loss of the monarchy in Israel, following the Babylonian captivity, the idea of the king as God’s anointed (meshiach), began to develop into the notion of an ultimate Messiah-King who would appear and return God’s reign and glory to God’s people. The New Testament capitalized on this psalm as a means of identifying Jesus as that Messiah.
Paul stands before King Agrippa, who was the last of the Herodian kings (Jews who reigned in Palestine on Rome’s behalf), and makes his defense. In the speech that follows, Paul’s fifth and last recorded defense in the Book of Acts, we hear a biography of Paul’s life and work, his background as a Jew who grew up in Jerusalem and his membership in the Jewish sect of Pharisees—the strictest in Judaism. Now, he stands on trial because of his hope in the resurrection—a conviction held by all Pharisees—a promise made by God to their ancestors. Paul asks, “Why is it thought incredible that God raises the dead?” He then rehearses his former life as a persecutor of those committed to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. He received authority from the chief priests to lock up and persecute many of “the saints” and even cast his vote against them, condemning them to death. He moved throughout all the synagogues trying to force the followers of Jesus to blaspheme, pursuing them even to foreign cities. It was while doing so, traveling to Damascus, with authority and commission of the chief priests, that, at mid-day, the risen Jesus appeared to him. Jesus commissioned him to serve him and testify to the things Paul had seen in Jesus and to those who will come as Jesus continues to him. Jesus will rescue Paul from the Jews and the Gentiles to whom Jesus is sending him, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, and receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are made holy by faith in him. After that encounter, Paul was obedient to the vision, first in Damascus, then Jerusalem, then throughout the countryside of Judea, and finally to the Gentiles. Paul’s message was that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. It is for this reason that the Jews who seized him in the temple have tried to kill him. But to this day, Paul has received help from God, to the point that he now stands in this hall, before great and small, saying nothing more than what the prophets and Moses have said would take place: that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise form the dead, he would proclaim light both to the Jews and the Gentiles.
Sailing on, beyond the storm at sea, Jesus and the disciples arrive at Gerasenes—Gentile country on the east side of the lake—and upon stepping on land, Jesus is encountered by a demoniac who has been running naked and living among the tombs for a long time. Seeing Jesus, he falls on his face and shouts at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me,” for, Luke tells us, Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him. Luke then comments on the destructive work of the demon in the man, giving him super-human strength and other particular forms of madness. Jesus responds to the demon by asking its name and he replies “Legion”—there is not one demon possessing this man, but many. They beg Jesus not to send them to their true home, the abyss. On the hillside nearby, a large herd of swine is feeding; the demons beg Jesus to let them enter them. And so, Jesus gives them permission—notice that he has already commanded them to leave—and they come out of the man, enter the swine, and the herd rushes headlong down the steep bank into the lake and is drowned. (Large bodies of water, lake or sea, were considered the home of the demonic, as was demonstrated in the previous lesson when Jesus calmed the storm at sea—that too was an exorcism.) When the owner of the swine sees this, he rushes into the city to tell everyone who will listen. The people come out to see for themselves and find the man, from whom the demons had gone, sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind. Notice their reaction: rather than rejoice, Luke tells us they are afraid, even as they are told how all of this has happened. And so, they ask Jesus to leave. Jesus cooperates. As Jesus is getting back into the boat, the healed man asks for permission to come with him, but Jesus sends him away, back to his home, saying, “Tell how much God has done for you.” The man does go back to his people, but proclaims to all who will listen how much Jesus has done for him.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 4:9-16 Matthew 15:21-28
After days and chapters of judgment and oracles of doom, we come to one of the most beautiful prophetic poems in the entire Bible, as God reflects on the nature of his love for his people. This oracle begins with a recollection of Israel as a child being called out of Egypt, and being named God’s son. But, as has been recalled in the oracles before this one, from almost the beginning, the people began to turn to other gods, especially the Baal. God taught Ephraim to walk, took them in his arms, but through it all they did not know him (the sexual double entendre bears special significance throughout this book, but especially here). Rather, they “knew” Baal. With cords of compassion and bands of love God led them, and “bent down to them,” to feed and love them as a parent lifts a child to her cheek. But they ignored such love and will, therefore, return to the captivity of Egypt; Assyria shall be their king. The sword will ravage their cities, and when they finally call on the Lord, he will not listen. But suddenly, once again, God is heart-struck, like all parents, and asks, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” God recoils at the thought; God’s compassion will not permit it. God’s anger is fierce, to be sure, but God is not a mortal, but the Holy One in their midst. Rather than come in wrath, the Lord will come as a roaring lion, and when he does, his children will hear and tremble, but they will come after him. They shall come from the west (Egypt), and like doves from the north (Assyria), and will return to their homes.
Psalm 112 is a wisdom psalm—another acrostic—that sings the praises of those who fear the Lord. After an initial “Hallelujah,” it lists the blessings (“happy are those”) that come to those who delight in God’s commandments. Descendants, wealth, riches, and light come to those who are gracious, merciful, generous and righteous. They shall never be moved—a biblical phrase that speaks of eternal blessing and being remembered forever. They fear no evil tidings, because their hearts are firm and secure in the Lord. In the end, they will look in triumph over their foes. They give freely, especially to the poor, and their righteousness endures forever. Their strength (“horn”) is celebrated with honor. The wicked see it and are angry, gnash their teeth and melt away, and, in their desire, come to nothing.
Paul is not beyond using irony and sarcasm to make his point among the Corinthians who have come to be “puffed up” in their sense of superiority, and have embraced other leaders than Paul—especially Apollos—leaders who are more “eloquent” than Paul. Earlier, he has identified himself as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries (v.4:1). He asks them what they have that they did not receive (from him!), and having received it, why do they boast as though it were not a gift but their own doing (v. 4.7)? They have become rich—even kings. On the other hand, God has exhibited him and the other apostles as “last of all; as though sentenced to death, because [they] have become a spectacle to the world….” Where Paul and his companions are fools for Christ’s sake, the Corinthians are wise. Where Paul is weak, they are strong. The Corinthians are held in honor, while Paul and his fellows are held in disrepute. They are hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, and weary from the work of their own hands, and though persecuted, endure, and when slandered (as the Corinthians are slandering Paul) they speak kindly. They have become rubbish and dregs to the world—the reason the Corinthians have tried to distance themselves from them. Now Paul turns from irony to instruction: he is not writing to make them ashamed, but rather to admonish them as beloved children. For that is what they are—Paul’s children in the faith—for though they might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, they do not have many fathers. (The guardian was the slave in the Greek household responsible for the oversight of the child until adulthood.) But in Christ, Paul has become their father through the gospel. Therefore, he appeals to them, “Be imitators of me.” This is not arrogance on Paul’s part, but simply him stating, in a straightforward way, what the Corinthian’s themselves know: in their world the father has ultimate responsibility for his children, and children are expected to learn by modeling their parents.
Jesus moves northwest to the Mediterranean coast and Gentile country and is encountered by a Canaanite woman from that region who follows and cries out to him, identifying him as “Son of David,” and asking for help with her sick daughter who is possessed by a demon. Jesus ignores her, but with great persistence she continues to cry out and follow him. The disciples urge Jesus to send her away. Jesus finally speaks to her, saying he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” With that, she kneels at his feet and says, “Lord, help me.” Jesus replies that it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs (the Jew’s derogatory term for Canaanites), but she counters, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus is caught up short—one of the few incidents in the gospels—and, astonished at her faith and her persistence, he does as she asks. Her daughter is healed instantly.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Hosea 10:1-15; Psalm 144; Acts 25:13-27; Luke 8:16-25
Hosea continues his oracle of judgment against the Northern Kingdom, Israel, here called by the name of her capital city, “Samaria,” employing fertility metaphors and images of sexual worship to describe Israel’s sin and the reason for God’s judgment on her. Here, the focus is on her kings and priests who, as they flourish, build more and more altars and erect more and sacred pillars, implements of Baal worship, in their sanctuaries. Though they also make oaths to the Lord, they are empty. As a result, political chaos and litigation “spring up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.” The inhabitants of Samaria tremble. The golden calf, placed in the sanctuary of Bethel (Beth-aven—house of iniquity), will be carried off by the Assyrians, with whom their kings have made alliances, and the sanctuary will be destroyed. All of its people shall mourn. Their king will perish; their high places of wickedness will be destroyed, with thrones and thistle covering their worship places. Though Ephraim was trained as a heifer to thresh grain, and God spared her “fair neck” the plowing yoke, now she bears that yoke in order to plow, just as Judah must plow and harrow for himself. The tribute Israel must pay to Assyria for its alliance will be so large that ultimately her yoke will be exile. Verse 12, as an exhortation to return to the Lord, appears to be a later insertion and should be skipped over, as verse 13 and those that follow continue the themes of Israel plowing wickedness, reaping injustice, and eating the fruit of lies. Consequently, war will rise up against them and they shall be conquered and destroyed as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel in a particularly cruel and vicious battle, when even mothers were dashed to pieces with their children. The same atrocity awaits them in Bethel.
Psalm 144, a Royal Psalm, is a composite prayer, offered by and on behalf of Israel’s kings, using themes from psalm 8 and 18. It looks back to the reign of David, longing for God to break in as he did in those former times to give victory. The question, “what are human beings that you regard them,” picks up that question from Psalm 8, but without the profound wonder and praise of psalm 8. The plea for God to bow the heavens and come down with arrows of lightning flash to scatter and rout the enemy comes from Psalm 18:7-16, but appears without reference to any real particular enemy, further revealing the general nature of the psalm. But anticipating God’s response, the psalmist promises new songs of praise sung on ten-stringed harps, and again pleads for God to rescue him from those who speak lies against him or who raise their right hand in false promise. The psalm then turns to praying for continued blessing upon the people and their land, with no breach in their walls and no distress in their streets. It ends as it begins, blessing the Lord who blesses God’s people.
Several days after Festus had overseen another trial between Paul and his Jewish antagonist from Jerusalem, King Agrippa and his widowed sister Bernice arrive in Caesarea and Festus tells him about Paul and his quandary over what to do. Paul has appealed to the Emperor, and Festus has agreed to the request, but does not know what to charge Paul with, since the disagreement with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem seem to be over fine points of their religion—something to do with a certain Jesus who had died, but whom Paul now asserts to be alive. That said, there is nothing that would warrant Paul the punishment of death under Roman law. King Agrippa expresses interest and asks to hear from Paul himself. The next day, Agrippa and Bernice come with great pomp and enter the audience hall surrounded by military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Festus then orders Paul to be brought in, and tells the king and all present with them the circumstances that have brought Paul before them. Festus then presents Paul to be examined by King Agrippa.
Jesus’ previous image was seed being sown and heard; now the image is light. No one puts a lighted lamp under bed, but on a lamp stand so that all who enter may see. In the kingdom, nothing is hidden and all will come to light. So, pay attention—listen! What you hear must come to light, for to those who have (hear), more will be given and to those who do not, even what they seem to have will be taken away (remember the birds coming to take away the seed?). Jesus mother and brothers suddenly appear but are unable to reach him because of the crowd. When told they are outside wanting to see him, Jesus replies that his true mother and brothers and those who hear the word of God and do it. The scene then cuts away to Jesus and the disciples getting into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. As they sail out into the deep, Jesus falls asleep. A windstorm arises and threatens to swamp the boat. Panic stricken, the disciples awake Jesus who simply rebukes the wind and waves which fall to a calm. Looking at them, Jesus asks, “Where is your faith?” Have they not yet heard? They are too astonished and afraid to respond, but simply say among themselves, “Who is this that even the winds and the waters obey him?”
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.