Monday, March 16, 2015
Jeremiah 16:1-21; Psalm 119:73-80; Romans 7:1-12; John 6:1-15
We have stepped over chapter 15, where God assures Jeremiah that the promised destruction against the people will come and then speaks directly to Jerusalem to deliver the same message. Jeremiah then offers the second of his confessional laments. Today, God commands Jeremiah not to marry. He is to remain celibate. Taking no wife, he will have no children, for all of the wives and children of the land are to die of deadly diseases. Neither buried nor lamented, they shall be like dung on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine and become food for the birds and animals of prey. Further, Jeremiah is not to engage in any acts of mourning or lament the dead. The Lord has taken away their peace as well as his steadfast love and mercy. Both the great and the small shall suffer the same fate, and no one shall lament their death or mourn their dying through the traditional customs of grieving. Neither is Jeremiah to enter a house of feasting to eat or drink with them. God will soon banish both bride and bridegroom and their wedding celebrations. The Lord tells Jeremiah that, when he tells all this to the people, they will ask him, “Why has the Lord pronounced this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed?” Then Jeremiah is to tell them, “It is because your ancestors have forsaken me, says the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law; and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors, every one following their own stubborn will and refusing to listen.” Therefore, the lord will hurl them out of this land to one that neither they nor their ancestors have ever known, a land where they shall serve other gods day and night. That said, the days are coming when it will no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but rather, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north, and out of all the lands where he had driven them. For,” says the Lord, “I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.” Then, from that brief word of consolation, the Lord quickly returns to pronouncing judgment: he has already sent for fishermen and hunters to catch and hunt them out. Their ways are not hidden from him nor their iniquity concealed from his sight. He will repay them doubly for their sin, because they have polluted the land with their idols. In response, a voice addresses God directly with a psalm of trust, while scorning their ancestors for inheriting nothing but lies. It sounds like it might be instructions for those already living in exile. “Can mortals make for themselves gods? Such are no gods!” To that the Lord replies, “I am surely going to show them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.”
Psalm 119:73-80 is a portion of the longest work in the psalter and is acrostic in its construction, each section built on a word beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, unfolding in its descending order and rendered in two line strophes. The psalmist opens this section on Yod (Y), with the affirmation that God has made and fashioned him like a master-builder and pleads for understanding in order to learn God’s commandments. Verses 73 through 80 are an acknowledgement of the justice of God’s ways and a prayer that he may ever walk within them. Those who fear the Lord rejoice in him. They know God’s judgments are right and, even in moments of humbling, recognize it is God’s faithfulness at work. God’s steadfast love, promise and mercy are our comfort as we delights in God’s law. As for the arrogant, let them be put to shame. As for us, let us be blameless, saying, “May my heart be blameless in thy statutes, that I may not be put to shame.”
Paul shifts the metaphor from slavery to marriage. A woman is bound to her husband for as long as he lives and is not free to marry another without becoming an adulteress. But, once her husband dies, she is free to be joined to another. Applying this, he says we have died to the law through the body of Christ so that they might be joined to another—Christ himself—in order that from that union we may bear fruit for God. Before, while still bound in the flesh, the law aroused our sinful passions. But now, we are dead to the law so that we can live, not by the letter of the law, but out of the newness of the Spirit. But, is the law then the author of sin? Absolutely not! It is the law that has enabled humanity to be aware of sin. (Paul’s first person here is a literary device and not a personal confession—we will see more of this in a few verses.) Sin has taken advantage of that which is holy and good to bring forth sin and death. Paul wants to honor Torah (Law), and is arguing that sin has taken something good, distorted it, and used it for its own purposes.
The sixth chapter of John is rich in symbolism and is built around two miracles that then become the foundation for long discourses which are really sermons. Today, the miracle is the feeding of the multitude of five thousand, with five loaves and two fish—the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels. It too is a “sign,” and it is because of the signs that Jesus has been doing among the sick that the multitude follow him. Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberius), and, seeing the crowd coming after him, he goes up a mountain and sits down with his disciples to await the crowd. Turning to Philip, Jesus sets him up by asking, “Where are we to buy bread enough for these people to eat?” Notice that Jesus has assumed responsibility for their care and well-being, anticipating their need for food. It is, after all, God’s nature to do so. But all of this is a context to speak about another kind of food that is Jesus’ to give. Philip simply witnesses to the impossibility of attempting to feed the crowd. Peter’s brother, Andrew, reports on a boy with five barley loaves and two fish, but what is that in this crowd? After having the disciples tell the people to sit down on the grassy slope, Jesus takes the boy’s loaves, gives thanks and gives them to the people, and does the same with the two fish. Notice the Eucharistic language—“took,” “gave thanks,” “gave it to them” (behind the word translated “distributed” is the Greek word for “handed over”). This language is not accidental, as we will see later in this chapter, where this sign is further amplified in its significance. Everyone has as much as they want, and, when all were satisfied (again, the language is not accidental), Jesus tells the disciples, “Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost,” and they fill twelve baskets. It is not only a sign of the abundance at Jesus’ hand, but also a word to the church for whom this Gospel was written (signified by the number twelve), that there is bread enough for them as well. At this sign, the people realize that this is the Prophet that Moses spoke of and they move to acclaim him Messiah and make him king. But, Jesus will have none of it and withdraws higher up the mountain to be by himself.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Jeremiah 14:1-22; Psalm 84; Galatians 4:21-5:1; Mark 8:11-21
Following two poems that warn of exile, one from Jeremiah and the other from the Lord, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah concerning a coming drought. There is no water, anywhere, leaving the people in dire need and dismay. Even the cisterns are dry with cracked bottoms; even if there were water, the cisterns would leak and be useless—like the people. The situation is so grim that even the doe abandons her newborn fawn because there is no green grass. Such is the impact of the people’s apostasy, not simply upon themselves, but upon the whole natural order. The lament then breaks into a confession of the nation’s sin, followed by a plea for the Lord, “The hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble,” to act and not forsake them. The Lord responds, whether to the supplicant or to Jeremiah, “Truly this people have loved to wander …, therefore the Lord does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.” The text now turning again to a conversation between Jeremiah and the Lord, Jeremiah is reminded that he is not to pray for the welfare of the people; God will not accept their fasting, crying, burnt or grain offerings. Rather, by sword, famine and pestilence the Lord will consume them. Jeremiah reports on the court prophets who are promising that the people shall not see the sword or have famine, but rather, the Lord will give them true peace in Jerusalem. God responds, “They are lying in my name. I did not send them, nor commission them to speak. They are prophesying lying visions and worthless divination and the deceit of their own minds.” By the sword and famine they deny, they shall be consumed, and those to whom they prophesy shall be thrown out into Jerusalem’s streets and die there, with none to bury them. Their own wickedness is being poured out upon them. The Lord tells Jeremiah, “Say this to them: Let my eyes run down with tears night and day …, the virgin daughter—God’s own people—is struck down with crushing blows.” In the field they are killed by the sword, in the city by the sickness of famine as they starve to death, for both the priests and the prophets ply their trade but do so without knowledge. The peoples’ plea for mercy is again heard: “Have you completely rejected Judah? Does your heart loathe Zion?” Asking why they have been struck down—it appears that the invasion has already taken place—they now look for healing and peace, but there is neither at hand. Finally, they acknowledge their wickedness and sin, the iniquity of their ancestors as well as their own sin, pleading that the Lord not abandon them, not so much for their own sake, but for the Lord’s name sake. How can God dishonor his glorious throne in the temple in Jerusalem, how can God break his covenant with them? Now, they know and confess that no idol can bring rain and that worshiping celestial bodies will not cause the heavens to give them showers. Rather, only the Lord can do this. And so, in him they place their hope, knowing that it is the Lord who is doing all of this to them.
Psalm 84 is a reflection on the wonders and gifts of abiding in God’s dwelling place and is one of the most beautiful psalms in the entire collection of one hundred fifty. The well-known psalm, set so masterfully 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, as well as 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.
Paul recalls Abraham’s life and develops an allegory to illustrate the superior nature of life in the new covenant in Christ. Abraham had two children, Ishmael, born of his slave concubine Hagar, and Isaac, born of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah. Hagar, the slave, and her son, Ishmael, are emblems of the covenant of the law given at Sinai, which enslaves. Sarah and Isaac are emblems of the promise. Hagar and Mt. Sinai correspond to Jerusalem who remains in slavery to the law. Sarah corresponds to the New Jerusalem, from above. She is free and the mother of the free. Paul then quotes Isaiah 54:1 to make the point that the mother from above—the new Jerusalem—is bearing more children than the one from below and is therefore superior. That said, he reminds the Galatians that they are children of the promise from above, like Isaac. But, just as Isaac was persecuted by his older half-brother Ishmael the slave, so too, those who have come to them from Jerusalem are persecuting them and trying to lead them back into slavery. Quoting Genesis 21:10, where God tells Abraham to drive out Hagar and her child, Paul tells the Galatians to drive out the intruding missionaries from Jerusalem because the Galatians are children, not of the slave, but of the free woman. For such freedom Christ has set them free. Therefore, they are to stand firm in the gospel that Paul proclaimed to them, and not submit again to the law which is a yoke of slavery.
The Pharisees come to Jesus to argue with him and, in the process, ask for a sign from heaven to test him, not unlike he has been “tested” by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus responds with deep resignation to the stubbornness and inability of these, who were the most religious people of the day, to see the reality of God’s reign breaking in around them. No sign will be given to them. He quickly gets into the boat, leaves them behind, and sails to the other side. At sea, the disciples suddenly realize they have forgotten to bring any bread and discover they have only one loaf among them. Jesus uses the occasion to warn them about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and the Herodians. Yeast is here an image of evil and its capacity to infect, spoil, distort, and destroy. The disciples are again clueless and wonder what it is Jesus is talking about. Is it because they have no bread that he says these things? With exasperation equal to that he felt with the Pharisees, Jesus challenges and chides them: They have eyes; can they not see? They have ears; can they not hear? Why do they not understand? Don’t they remember how he broke the bread and fed two crowds of people? How much was left over? The Pharisees are not the only ones to suffer from hardness of heart. The yeast has spread and done its work even among these, his closest friends.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Jeremiah 13:1-11; Psalm 43; Romans 6:12-23; John 8:47-59
In the previous chapter, Jeremiah has lamented to God about the ways of the people asking, “How long will the land burn, and the grass of every field wither,” because of the wickedness of those who live in it. Jeremiah is weary of all of this. God responds with words of challenge and warning: “If you have raced with the foot-runner and he has wearied you, how will you compete with the horse?” Jeremiah has not seen anything yet! The Lord has forsaken his house, abandoned his heritage, and has given his beloved into the hands of their enemy. Today, the Lord tells Jeremiah to go and buy a new linen loin cloth and wear it, but not wash it out. Jeremiah does so. Then, the Lord commands him to take the unlaundered cloth, go to the river Euphrates and hide the loin cloth there in a cleft of the rock. Jeremiah does so. Thereafter, the Lord tells Jeremiah to return to the Euphrates and retrieve the loin cloth he has buried. He does, and discovers that it is ruined; it was good for nothing. Then, the word of the Lord comes to him again saying, “Just so will I ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” The people are evil and refuse to hear God’s word, but, stubbornly following their own will, they have gone after other gods to serve and worship them. They shall be like the loin cloth, which is good for nothing. As a loin cloth clings to one’s loins, so the Lord made the house of Israel and Judah to cling to him, so that they might be for him a people, a name, a praise, and a glory; but they would not listen.
Psalm 43 is a wonderful little psalm that is a petition for God’s help in times of trouble, asking for God’s vindication against the ungodly ones who have behaved in deceitful and unjust ways against her. Affirming her trust in God, she asks why this has happened: “Why have you cast me off?” Then she prays, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me!” Isn’t that what we most need when besieged by the confusion of deceit and injustice all around? Once led through the treachery of injustice, let God’s light and truth bring her to God’s holy hill in Jerusalem and to God’s dwelling there, the temple. There, she will worship God with exceeding joy and praise him with the harp. After reaffirming her commitments to God, the psalmist turns reflective and asks herself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Her counsel is that universal word that continues to resound throughout scripture: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Yes, this is a difficult time, but God is present within it as her help and will again be triumphant. There will come a time beyond this when she will again be filled with joy and praise.
Paul continues to press the case that the grace of God is not merely forgiveness of past sin, but a summons to live a new way, empowered by such grace. Our slavery to sin has been transformed into slavery to righteousness—a curious phase that means the process of sanctification—in which we, by God’s grace, participate. As slaves we have no other choice! What did our slavery to sin bring us, but death? Freed from that slavery, we are now enslaved to God, who is making us holy as we live into God’s service. The ultimate gift of this is eternal life. Such are a slave’s wages: sin brings death, but the grace of God in Christ brings eternal life. There is no third option.
The confrontation in the temple between Jesus and the Jewish leaders continues as they contend over who Jesus is. Because he continues to identify himself as come from God, they accuse him of being a Samaritan (not only an outsider, but also a gross insult), who is demon-possessed. Again, Jesus ignores their allegations and brings the conversation back to his own behavior: in all that he does he honors, not himself, but God. But then, Jesus escalates things by adding, “Whoever keeps my word will never see death.” It is a startling statement that convinces them that he is possessed. Abraham died, so did each of the prophets; is he greater than these; just who does he claim to be? But Jesus will not answer that question, for, in doing so, he would be glorifying himself. Rather, he trusts his Father to glorify him—the One they claim as their God. Yet, they do not know God as Jesus does, and for him to suggest otherwise would make him a liar. Rather, Jesus knows the Father and keeps the Father’s word. And now, again, Jesus increases the tension in the dialogue by telling them that Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus’ day (the rabbis taught that God had revealed the future to Abraham). Startled even further by Jesus’ astonishing claims, the Jewish leaders respond dismissively with a rhetorical question: “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answers: “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am! They have not missed it this time; Jesus has, until now, used the sacred name in relation to metaphors of light, water, good shepherd and so on, but now he has openly used it about himself. Such blasphemy produces the prescribed and predictable response (Lev. 24:13-16). They pick up rocks to stone him to death. But, Jesus’ hour is not yet here, but yet to come, so Jesus hides himself from them and then slips out of the temple.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Jeremiah 11:1-8, 14-20; Psalm 22; Romans 6:1-11; John 8:33-47
We begin the second section of the Book of Jeremiah where the prophet’s life begins to be more evident in shaping the texts. If the first section of the book was dominated by calls for Judah to repent, amend its life and return to the Lord, these next ten chapters are dominated by declarations of judgment and expressions of lament—the people’s, the Lord’s and Jeremiah’s—the latter often called “Jeremiah’s confessions.” The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah saying “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah is told to invoke curses upon all who do not heed the words of the covenant. God rehearses for Jeremiah the formation of the covenant, bringing their ancestors out of Egypt, in which God said, “Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you.” That is the condition for being God’s people and the Lord being their God and giving them a land flowing with milk and honey. Given his prophetic commission, Jeremiah responds: “So be it, Lord.” God tells Jeremiah to proclaim this in all the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, reminding them that to this very day the Lord has offered forgiveness to those who obey his voice. Yet, the people have not listened, have not obeyed and have not abandoned their false and faithless worship of the Baal. Their vows and sacrifices in the temple will not avert God’s judgment. Disaster is coming. Judah has been an unfaithful wife; she is now to pay the penalty for her adultery. As disaster befalls her, she will call to the Lord, but he will not listen. Further, Jeremiah is no longer to pray for the people. They have not listened; God will not listen to them. Though once a green olive tree filled with fair fruit, the roar of a tempest is coming that will set afire its branches and consume it. The Lord, who planted her, has pronounced this evil against her because of her own doing, provoking him by making offerings to Baal. Such preaching results in death threats to Jeremiah, which the Lord has revealed to him. Jeremiah confesses to being a gentle lamb led to the slaughter, not knowing that it was against him that they were devising such schemes. Their plan is to kill him, silence his words and blot out his name so that he will not be remembered. The lesson ends with Jeremiah calling upon God to let him see the Lord’s retribution upon his enemies, for it is to the Lord that Jeremiah has committed his cause.
Psalm 22 is the best known lament in the Psalter, primarily because it contains the words that are on the lips of Jesus hanging on the cross and is all but prophetic concerning what takes place there. It is a lengthy plea for help that describes the psalmist’s troubles and matches Jeremiah’s lament. Day and night he calls for help with no answer. Yet, God is the Holy One enthroned on the praises of Israel; the One his ancestors trusted and he delivered them. But the psalmist does not ask on the basis of his own righteousness. He is but a worm, not human, and scorned by others who despise and mock him. “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver,” is repeated in the passion (Matthew 27:43 ) with the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees using these words to mock Jesus in his dying. In the midst of suffering, the psalmist remembers that God has cared for him since his birth and from that time the Lord has been his God. Again he pleads, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” Vivid language follows to describe the psalmist’s condition: surrounded by strong and destructive bulls, poured out like water, a heart melted like wax, bones out of joint, mouth dried like a potsherd, and his tongue cleaving to his jaw—absolute physical and emotional misery! The psalmist understands this as God’s judgment against him: “you lay me in the dust of death,” circled by dogs ready to devour his flesh. His enemies likewise stare and gloat over his suffering and divide his clothing among them by casting lots—another image Matthew includes at the cross. After one final plea for the Lord’s presence and aid to save him from the power of the dog and the mouth of the lion, suddenly, there is a shift in the second half of verse 22: “From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.” Notice the tense of the verb—God has acted. The rest of the psalm is one of praise to God for not hiding his face, for answering and for coming to the psalmist in his distress. The psalm is exultant and filled with promises to testify to the Lord’s goodness among his brothers and sisters in the midst of the congregation. His rescue is such that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship him.” For, dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. Even those yet unborn will be told about the Lord and proclaim him. It is easy to see why the infant church found in this psalm prophetic witness to Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and eternal rule, and how its influence found its way into the passion narratives.
Does this free gift of redemption in Christ mean that it makes no difference whether or not we sin, and that if we do sin, we simply cause God’s grace to abound all the more? This is more than a rhetorical question for Paul. It was the criticism that had been leveled against him because of his insistence that the law was no longer applicable to those who are in Christ. His “By no means” means “Absolutely not!” How can we, who have been baptized into Christ, and in that baptism, died to sin, go on living in it? Rather, as Christ was raised to new life, so too we have been raised to walk in the new life Christ makes possible. We are no longer slaves to sin, but rather, dead to it in Christ and in him, alive to God as God continues to pour his love and Spirit into our lives to make us holy. The references here to baptism reveal just how important this sacrament was in the infant church.
Jesus’ word about the truth making them free offends the Jewish leaders. After all, they are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. Really; have they forgotten Egypt? At any rate they ask what he means by being made free. He is talking about their slavery to sin, which keeps them, like all slaves, from having a permanent place in the household. On the other hand, the son has a place forever. So, if he, as God’s son, makes them free, they will be really free. Yes, they are descendant of Abraham, yet they seek to kill him because they cannot make space for or accept his word, even though he is only speaking what he has seen and heard in the Father’s presence. They again assert that Abraham is their father. Jesus responds that if they truly were children of Abraham they would not be trying to kill him, a man who has told them the truth that he has heard from God. This is certainly not how Abraham behaved. However, they are truly doing what their father—the Devil—does. Not yet clear about what Jesus has just said, or thinking he may be making reference to Abraham fathering Esau, the illegitimate heir, they insist that they are not illegitimate children, and have only one Father, God himself. Jesus responds that if God were their Father, they would love him, because he has come to them from God. Again, affirming that all of this is part of God’s design, he insists that he has not come on his own but from the One who sent him. Why can’t they understand what he says? It is because they are from the Devil—he is their father—and they are doing his will. A murder from the beginning, he does not stand in the truth and cannot stand it, for there is no truth in him. Rather, he lies—that is his nature—and he is the father of lies, which is why they do not believe Jesus. As Jesus continues, he makes it clear that their lack of belief is because they are not from God, as he is, but from the Devil, whose work they are doing.
Thursday, Mar 12, 2015
Jeremiah 10:11-24; Psalm 27; Romans 5:12-21; John 8:21-32
The first portion of the Book of Jeremiah comes to a conclusion with this chapter that begins by reminding the people that they have brought all of this upon themselves through their blatant idolatry. Mocking sarcasm is used to demonstrate the foolishness of idols. It is the Lord who is the living God, whose wrath makes the nations quake. This is followed by a hymn of praise that celebrates the Lord as the maker of heaven and earth. Nonetheless, “everyone is stupid and without knowledge” making and chasing after worthless idols fashioned from wood and covered in gold. When the people are punished, the idols will be useless and perish. Reaffirming God as the maker of all things, the people are again reminded that Jacob is still the Lord’s “portion”—he formed them—and Israel is the tribe of God’s inheritance. And now, the Lord addresses the daughter Zion telling her to gather up her things, the siege is about to end and they are going to be “slung” out of the land and go into exile. God’s distress is soon to be upon them. Daughter Zion responds in lament: her wound is severe. Yet, this is her punishment and she must bear it. Her tent is destroyed, her children are scattered, and there is no one to set up her tent again. Her shepherds (kings) are stupid and still do not know the Lord. As a consequence, the flock is scattered. A sentry announces the coming of the invading army: a great commotion is descending upon them from the land of the north and will make Judah desolate—like the lair of jackals. Daughter Zion responds, confessing her helplessness and inability to control her own affairs. Consequently, she now pleads with the Lord to correct her, but do so in just measure rather than in uncontrollable wrath. Rather, let the Lord’s wrath be poured out on the nations that have devoured Jacob, consumed him, and laid waste to his habitation.
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.
Sin entered life through Adam’s deliberate disobedience and brought with it death for everyone, whether with or without the Law and whether their sin was deliberate or inadvertent. Death reigned in life for everyone. But now, grace, justification and life have entered the scene through the obedience of one man—Jesus Christ. And the free gift of his work, though for everyone, is even much more than that of Adam, for it has power to redeem all from sin and death. Paul has set up the Adam/Christ typology in parallel, to show that both come from willful action—Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience—and both have consequences, one death and one life. But, that is where the parallel ends, for the grace that has emerged out of Christ’s obedience is “much more” than the sin that has come from Adam’s disobedience, and that grace leads to “justification and life for all.” What God has done in Christ, God has done for all so that God’s grace may abound in all.
Jesus continues his teaching in the temple, telling them that soon he is going away and they are going to search for him but not find him, and die in their sin. For, where he is going they cannot come. Confused by this, they ask, “Is he going to kill himself?” No, rather, they are from “below,” while he is from “above,” they are of “the world,” he is “not of this world.” They are going to die in their sin unless they believe he is the “I am.” (“I am he” is a bad translation of what the text actually says, and, again, is an occasion when Jesus uses the ineffable, divine name for himself.) At that they ask, “Who are you?” and he responds, “Why do I talk with you at all?” in essence saying—“are you listening? I have told you this from the beginning!” And so, he continues his condemnation of them, not simply out of his own experience, but on the basis of what he has heard from the One who sent him, reminding them that because it is from Him, it is true. They, of course, do not understand that. But, when they have “lifted up” the Son of Man—a phrase that means not only to “raise” as “on a cross” but also “to exalt” as in, what comes from all of that—then they will understand what they have done to him and that he is the “I am.” The One who sent him is with him; he has not been left alone, because he always does what is pleasing to the Father. Jesus then turns to those Jews who do believe in him and he says, “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
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.