Thursday: 1 Maccabees 1:1-28; Psalm 85; Revelation 19:1-10; Matthew 16:1-12
We begin reading the Book of 1 Maccabees, as we continue the history of Israel in literature that comes from the Apocrypha—often called “inter-testamental literature. Protestant Reformers did not include the Apocrypha in the Bible, because they believed it was not divinely inspired literature. They did, however, consider it appropriate for historical purposes. Roman Catholics and Anglicans include the Apocrypha in their Bible. Increasingly, modern English translations have included the Apocrypha with their translations, placing it between the close of the Protestant Old Testament’s twelve Minor Prophets and the Gospels. If your Bible does not include an Apocrypha, you can purchase just the Apocrypha separately. Judea (now the name for all the remnant of the tribes living in the land), remained a vassal of Persia until Persian sovereignty came to an end, when the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great, entered Egypt in 332 BCE defeating Darius. Though the text says that when Alexander fell sick and knew he was going to die, he divided his empire among his “most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from his youth.” Other historical sources tell us that at Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, two of his Greek generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus, vied with each other for control of the empire. Ptolemy and his successors reigned over Egypt and the land between there and Syria for the next hundred years (between c300 and c200 BCE), until the Seleucid dynasty took control of the Middle Eastern region including Judea. 1 and 2 Maccabees are written at the time Judea is part of the Seleucid Empire, and also tells of Rome’s rise to power in that area. In the first nine verses, we get a simplified compression of those events from 336 BCE until 175 BCE, when a Seleucid general, Antiochus IV took the throne. Antiochus took for himself the name “Epiphanes” which means “God manifest.” The text now turns to certain renegades—lawless ones in Judea—who misled many, suggesting that the separation the Jews had maintained from other nations had brought upon them many disasters. Consequently, they suggest a covenant with the king of the Gentiles—Antiochus Epiphanes. The proposal pleases those who heard it and they went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinance of the Gentiles. Thereupon, they build a gymnasium in Jerusalem—center of Hellenistic activity—and indulged in surgical procedures to remove the marks of circumcision, abandoning the holy covenant with the Lord. We are told they joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves into evil. Having established himself in the land of Syria and Judea, Antiochus determined to become king of Egypt as well, in order to be sovereign over all of the empire. And so, he invaded Egypt on all fronts and King Ptolemy fled before him, enabling Antiochus to plunder the fortified cities of Egypt and plunder their land. After subduing Egypt, Antiochus turned toward Jerusalem to take it. He entered the city with strong force and entered the sanctuary of the temple, taking the golden altar, the lampstands and its utensils. He also took the table for the bread of the Presence, and the other things that were part of the temple establishment, stripping it of its silver and gold. Our lesson closes with a poetic lament, which describes all of Israel in mourning over what has taken place.
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.
As the merchants of the earth weep, the inhabitants of heaven shout “Hallelujah!” This section of Revelation is filled with ascriptions of praise, confessions of faith and the hymns of the early church as God’s victory over the powers of evil is celebrated and confirmed. The whore has been judged; Hallelujah! Twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fall down in worship, saying, “Amen, Hallelujah!” A voice from the throne commands: “Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him small and great.” Out of a voice of a thunderous multitude comes another “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God reigns.” The kingdom for which Jesus has taught his followers to earnestly pray has now come. The marriage of the lamb to his bride, the church, is now to be complete. “She is dressed in the fine linen of the righteous deeds of the saints. Blessed are all who are invited to this feast. The angel turns to John and says, “These are true words of God,” and at that, John falls at the angel’s feet to worship. But John is warned, “You must not do that!” The angel is but a fellow servant with John and his friends who hold the testimony of Jesus. “Worship God!” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy—God’s very word! It is why the church can say, “Hallelujah!” in Jesus’ name.
The Pharisees and Sadducees come to Jesus to test him and demand a sign from heaven. Jesus mocks them, telling them that though they know how to read the heavens for signs of the weather, they cannot read the signs of the times that are unfolding around them. No, this evil and adulterous generation will be given no further signs, save the sign of Jonah. At that, Jesus leaves them. When he and the disciples reach the other side of the lake, they realize they have forgotten to bring any bread. This gives Jesus occasion to warn them against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The disciples wonder among themselves what this means—what has that to do with having no bread? Clearly Jesus is irritated with them and says, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread.” Do they still not get it? Do they not remember the five thousand fed with how many baskets left over, or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets left over? How can they fail to perceive that he is not talking about the bread of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but rather to beware of their teaching? It is false.
Wednesday: Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3,5-18; Psalm 81; Revelation 18:21-24; Matthew 15:29-39
Our readings from Ezra-Nehemiah come to a conclusion with the report of the people gathering at the Water Gate, “as one man” in the presence of the priests, Levites and other officials. Nehemiah tells Ezra, the scribe, to bring forth the book of Moses, and he does. It is then given to Ezra the priest to read—are they one in the same or two different men named “Ezra?” The text is not clear. Ezra the priest blesses the Lord and the people respond, “Amen,” and the people bow themselves prostrate to the ground. Ezra reads from morning to midday, as the people listen. Some can understand what Ezra is reading, but for most who had returned from Babylon, this was probably the first time they had heard the Torah. Notice that in exile the people have lost the original language of Hebrew. As a consequence, what is read needs not only explanation but also translation. As the law is read, the people begin to weep, understanding how far they have been living from the laws dictated. Ezra responds that the people should not weep. This is a day holy to the Lord. He goes on to say, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." The Levites calm the people and send them to their homes. The following day, the heads of the households, along with priests and Levites, gather before Ezra to learn what they should do. Ezra continues to read and they discover that the Lord has commanded the people to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they send word throughout the land that the people are to keep the feast. They command the people to go to the hills and gather leafy branches and palms to build booths on top of their houses or in their courts, and the court before the Water Gate. The entire assembly gathered to observe the feast of tabernacles, as Ezra continued to read the law of Moses to them. For seven days they kept the feast as the law prescribes, ending on the eighth day with a great convocation.
The people are called to liturgical assembly on a festival day to sing, shout for joy, raise a song, sound the musical instruments and blow the shofar (ram’s horn) at the new moon (perhaps the feast of Passover, Pentecost or Tabernacles). The reference to Joseph may mean this was composed in the Northern Kingdom during a Levite reform. The psalm turns prophetic and introduces the voice of God remembering that he has “relieved [their] shoulder of the burden” of Egypt. They called and God answered. God tested them at the waters of Meribah (Exodus 17). Now, they are to listen, as God admonishes them. If only they would listen! There are to be no strange gods among them, nor are they to bow down to them. This is the Lord speaking, who brought them out of Egypt. If they will be open wide their mouths, the Lord will fill them. But the people did not listen and would not submit. And so, God gave them over to their stubborn hearts. Once again the Lord extends the plea: If only they would listen and walk in God’s ways. Then God would quickly subject their enemies; turn his hand against their foes, causing those who hate him to cringe. For their own part, God would feed them with the finest of wheat and honey from the rock. It initially seems quite remarkable how often these themes need to appear, causing one to wonder why the people did not respond. But then, think of how easily we are drawn away from trusting the Lord when other solutions seem to be at hand.
A strong angel appears and throws a great millstone into the sea, as a symbol of all that will go down and no longer be found: the musicians, the artists, the artisans of any trade, the joy of ongoing life symbolized by the bride and bridegroom, the merchants and magnates of the earth, all who were deceived by the city’s sorcery. All of that falls with the fall of Babylon, for in her was found the blood of the prophets and saints, and all who have been slaughtered. The judgment is more comprehensive than simply Rome. This is about every nation that rises up against the meek of the earth and others of God’s people, and pursues power for its own purposes, abusing its subjects rather than serving them. In other words, powerful nations of the world, beware of how you use your power and who you serve with it.
Jesus leaves the region of Sidon and Tyre, after healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter, and returns to the Sea of Galilee and goes up a mountain, and the people came to him bringing their sick, their lame their blind and their mute, and Jesus heals them. The people are astonished and rejoice, for Jesus has had compassion on them. What follows is a second miraculous feeding, this time serving four thousand with seven baskets left over. Scholars debate whether this is really the story of feeding the five thousand that has made its way into Matthew’s gospel because of different numbers, or if it is simply a second time Jesus has had compassion on the crowd, blessed bread and fish and had the disciples serve the people in their time of need. If you read on to verse 39, you discover that this feeding ends slightly differently than that of the five thousand. Earlier, Jesus sends the disciples on before him in the boat while he goes further up the mountain to pray, and then joins the disciples in the boat by walking on the sea. Here, he simply gets into the boat with the disciples and sails on to the region of Madagan, an example of Matthew’s quick transitions.
Tuesday: Nehemiah 9:26-38; Psalms 78:40-72; Revelation 18:9-20; Matthew 15:21-28
Nehemiah continues his prayer of confession before the Lord on behalf of all of the people. It is a recital of the Lord’s mercy to his people, and a history of Israel’s response: initial gratitude, then apathy or rationalizations concerning what God’s law requires, followed by open indifference, leading to the inclusion of worshipping other gods, especially the fertility gods the people thought themselves dependent upon for prosperity. Again and again the Lord sent prophets to warn the people and call them back to the Lord’s way. But the people ignored, harassed, drove out or imprisoned the prophets for their word and even killed them. The Lord’s patience worn thin, divine judgment would fall upon the people in the form of defeat to a neighboring people. Then, the people would cry out to the Lord, who in his mercy would respond and remove the oppressive nations. But beginning with the king of Assyria in 720 BCE, the Lord’s judgments became more severe, leading to the northern tribes of Israel being defeated by Assyria, and ever after non-existent as an identifiable nation with its own king. So too in Judah, who followed the same customs in spite of being the home for the temple. God ultimately took vengeance and judgment upon them, through the siege, sack and total destruction of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. Once again, the people cried out and the Lord heard giving Persia victory over Babylonia, whereupon God turned the heart of the Persian king Cyrus who let the Jews return to their land. But even now that they have returned, built a new temple and restored the walls and gates of Jerusalem, and reside once again in the land God gave to their ancestors, they remain slaves, subject to the Persian king. Consequently, the rich yield of the land that God has intended for the children of Israel now goes as tribute to the king of Persia. Nehemiah acknowledges that in all of this, it is his people who are guilty and deserve what they have received, though the Lord has remained gracious and merciful through it all. After all, the remnant has remained, as God frequently promised. Because of all of this Nehemiah and the people are ready to make a firm agreement with the Lord in writing, and signed and sealed by Nehemiah, Judah’s officials, the Levites and the priests. Commentators note that this “agreement” is not called a covenant, possibly because its initiation has been by Nehemiah and the people rather than the Lord. Only the Lord makes covenants of this sort with the people.
The psalmist continues to recount for a later generation how their ancestors have behaved so badly in response to God’s goodness until the time God established David as king and Jerusalem as God’s home. The people’s continuing rebellion in the wilderness is recalled, in spite of all that God did for them in Egypt to liberate them. He led them through the wilderness as a shepherd cares for his sheep; brought them to God’s holy hill; drove out the nations before them and gave them appointed portions of the land in which to settle. Yet, they continued to test God, rebelling and ignoring God’s decrees, and provoking him by indulging in the worship of the gods of their Canaanite neighbors. God abandoned his place in Shiloh and allowed the ark to be captured by the Philistines, delivering his glory to the hands of the foe. Behind this also lies an allusion to the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria, with the priests falling by the sword as God vented his wrath. Rather than choose Joseph or Ephraim, the more powerful and noble, God chose David from the tribe of lowly Judah to be king, and Mount Zion, in the land of Judah, as his dwelling. There God built his sanctuary, a replica of the high heavens, and chose David, taking him from the sheepfolds, to become the shepherd of all of the people of Jacob, of Israel (Jacob’s other name), and Jacob’s inheritance. With upright heart and skillful hand, David tended them as a faithful shepherd.
A lament for the fall of “Babylon,”—a veiled reference to Rome—the poem continues into today’s lesson. All the kings of the earth who have indulged in fornication with her will now stand afar and in fear say, “Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon—in one hour your judgment has come!” It is swift and sure. The merchants who have made great wealth selling to the city will stand afar in fear and weeping; who will now purchase their goods? In one hour, all this wealth has been laid waste—so fast will be the judgment on her. Shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all who trade by sea will do the same. They will throw dust on their heads in grief. On the other hand, the heavens are called to rejoice over her with the saints and the apostles. The vengeance that belongs to God alone has now come in judgment upon Babylon.
Jesus and the disciples have traveled up to Sidon and Tyre, Gentile country north and west of Galilee. As they do, a Canaanite woman comes to him shouting, “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David,” begging him to come and cast a demon out of her demented daughter. Jesus ignores her plea, and the disciples also irritated with her behavior go to Jesus urging him to send her away for she keeps shouting after them. Jesus’ answer seems not to fit the disciples’ request but rather confirm it: he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house Israel. The woman comes up to Jesus, kneels in front of him and pleads for his help. Jesus’ answer is again startling: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jews regularly called Gentiles “dogs,” a particularly demeaning term when dogs were mostly wild and simply lived by devouring scraps or other forms of dead flesh thrown out in dumps. Some had dogs for security, but even these were considered highly unclean. Jesus has come to bring food to the children of Israel. The woman hears this and responds, “Yes, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus is startled by that answer and responds, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Matthew tells us that “instantly her daughter was healed.”
Monday: Nehemiah 9:1-15(16-25); Psalm 77; Revelation 18:1-8; Matthew 15:1-20
We return to the book of Nehemiah—remember, it and Ezra were initially one scroll, separated into two books later by Origin and Jerome, and not done so in the Hebrew Bible until the 15th century CE. Today’s reading follows upon yesterday’s account of the returned exiles separating themselves from the foreign wives of the people of the land that they had married or given their sons to in marriage, upon their return to Judah. It is now the 24th day of the 7th month, six months after the completion of the divorces and there is a national assembly of the people who are fasting and wearing sackcloth with earth on their heads. This is a national liturgy of penance. Those who had married foreign wives and had now separated themselves, stand and confess their sin as well as the iniquity of their ancestors. The book of the law of the Lord is read for a fourth part of the day, while another fourth is given to confession and worshipping the Lord. Specific Levites are named who cry out to the Lord with a loud voice on behalf of the people. A second group of Levites is named who then lead the people, commanding that they “Stand up and bless the Lord” their God from everlasting to everlasting. They bless God’s glorious name, which they confess is exalted above all blessing and praise. At this, Ezra stands and begins a prayer which is, in fact, a recital of holy history beginning with creation, the call of Abram, the change of his name to Abraham, the covenant God made with Abraham to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites and others, in which they are now residing, citing God as righteous in fulfilling his promise. Then Ezra recalls Israel’s bondage in Egypt, God’s response, the exodus, the defeat of Pharaoh’s warriors in the sea, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, the giving of the law upon Mount Sinai (notice, there seems to be no recognition of a covenant associated with the giving of the law), and all of the statues and commandments given through Moses. God’s provision for them through manna and water out of the rock are recalled. The prayer goes on to report on how “stiff necked” the people were, refusing to obey the commandments and wanting to return to the slavery of Egypt. But the Lord is a God who forgives; is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord did not forsake them, but gave his good spirit to instruct them. Forty years the Lord sustained them in the wilderness with them lacking nothing: their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. The Lord ultimately gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner of the land, so that they took possession of it. The Lord multiplied the people like the stars of heaven promised to Abraham, and brought them into the land to possess it. They captured fortressed cities and rich land, and took possession of houses filled with good things, hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. They ate and were filled and became fat, and delighted themselves in the Lord’s goodness. It is almost as though Ezra, in the form of prayer, is reciting their holy history to them, a history many of them may not have known.
The psalmist offers a lament in his time of trouble; where is the Lord? Will he remain absent forever? Through long, sleepless nights, his soul is troubled. In that time of God’s silence he occupies himself with remembering the mighty works of God who leads Israel through the sea and to the land of promise. Sometimes, we can do no better in those times of our own trouble. Remembering God’s work in our lives in a posture of thanksgiving has power to lift our spirits.
Another angel appears in heaven singing the song of Babylon’s fall. Cast as a lament, it is filled with Old Testament prophetic imagery and judgment against “the nations,” that have oppressed God’s people. All the nations have drunk of her wine of wrath and fornication. Kings and merchants have participated and grown rich in her whoredom. Another voice from heaven calls out to people, “Come out of her; do not take part in her,” lest they finally participate in her plagues. It is, yet, one more invitation to repentance. Then, there is the call to render to her double for her deeds, and give her measure of torment and grief in proportion to the way she glorified herself and lived in luxury. The queen is becoming a widow and she will be burned by fire. It is the mighty One, the Lord God who is judging her. This is not a hymn about personal vindication for the saints, so much as it is a declaration of the ultimate justice of God being acted out against a power that was thought to be the greatest in the world and abused it for its own glorification and purpose.
The Pharisees and scribes come to Jesus from Jerusalem and ask why it is his disciples break the tradition of the elders. They do not wash their hands before they eat. Jesus counters, asking why they break the commandments of God for the sake of keeping their traditions. He illustrates this with the commandment to honor father and mother. Yet, they tell their father and mother that whatever support they might have received from the Pharisees and scribes, is in fact, given to God. Consequently, they teach that such a person does not need to honor father or mother. So, for the sake of their traditions, they make void the word of God. Calling them hypocrites, Jesus quotes Isaiah’s words about honoring God with their lips but not with their hearts. Moving away from the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus calls the crowd to him and tells them, it is not what goes into someone that defiles them, but what comes out of their mouths. The disciples warn Jesus that what he has just said caused the Pharisees to take offence and him. Jesus replies that every plant that his heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Leave the Pharisees and scribes alone; they are blind guides. And when the blind lead the blind, both ultimately end up in the ditch. Peter seems to think this a parable and asks for an interpretation. Jesus is a bit taken aback by Peter’s cluelessness and asks him if he is still without understanding. He then points out that it is not what enters the mouth that defiles, whether taken with washed or unwashed hands. For it simply enters the stomach, then goes out into the sewer. But rather, it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. For from it the desires of the heart and its intentions are revealed: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are the things that defile a person—eating with unwashed hands is nothing.
Sunday: Ezra 10:1-17; Psalm 34; Acts 24:10-21; Luke 14:12-24
Ezra recognized that the returning exiles are falling into the same trap that their ancestors fell into in marrying foreign wives and continues his prayer of confession, weeping and throwing himself on the ground in the court before the temple. As he does this, a great company of men, women and children of Israel gather around him and begin to join him in his weeping. Schecaniah addressed Ezra, speaking for the rest, saying, “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land.” Yet, he believes there is hope. If the people will make a covenant with the Lord to send away all these wives and the children, born of these recent unions, doing so according to the counsel of Ezra and all who tremble at the commandments of God; let it be done as the law stipulates divorce is to be carried out. Schecaniah urges Ezra to “be strong, and do it.” Ezra then stands and makes the leading priests, the Levites and all Israel swear that they will do this. As the people promise to do so, Ezra withdraws from the temple to the chamber of Jehohanan to spend the night, and he continues his fasting, praying and mourning over the faithlessness of the returned exiles. He grief was not just to gain the people’s attention. The next day, a proclamation is made throughout Jerusalem and Judah that all returned exiles must assemble in Jerusalem, and if any do not come within three days, by order of the officials and elders, their property will be forfeited and they will be banned from the congregation. Consequently, the people of Judah and Benjamin assemble on the 20th day of the 9th month. They sit in the open square in front of the temple, trembling, not only because of the gravity of the matter, but also because of the heavy, cold rain. Ezra stands and declares the people guilty, not only those who had married foreign wives, but also the others who permitted and condoned it. Everyone is guilty and has trespassed, increasing the guilt of Israel. He calls them to make confession to the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and promise to do God’s will. They are to separate themselves from the people of the land and from their foreign wives. The entire assembly answers with a loud voice, “It is so, we must do as you have said.” However, given the size of the group and the time of the heavy rain, it does not seem possible to accomplish this in one or two days, especially if they are to do so according to the provisions of the law. And, so they ask that the officials represent the whole assembly and let those from the surrounding towns, who have taken foreign wives, come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every town who permitted this, until the Lord’s fierce wrath is averted. Though the majority agrees, there are four who do not. It appears that they believe the matter so serious that it should be dealt with immediately. The four are named for their objection. Then, the returned exiles do as they have been commanded, and Ezra selects men—the heads of their families—designating them by name. On the first day of the tenth month they began to examine the matter and execute the divorce decrees. Three months later, on the first day of the first month, the work is done. All of the men who had married foreign wives have divorced them and sent them away. Though the judgment seems harsh to modern ears, one must realize that much of the faithlessness and worship of other gods that led to Jerusalem’s destruction, the loss of Solomon’s temple and the people’s exile had emerged from the people having married foreign wives, a practice that began with Solomon. Ezra acts quickly to avert what he recognizes would be a fatal repeat of that mistake.
This psalm is attributed to David, when he feigned madness before king Abimelech so that the king drove David out, allowing David to escape. It is a wisdom psalm built on an acrostic pattern, each new section beginning with a word that begins with the successive letter of the alphabet and focuses on God’s goodness. It uses a number of Hebrew parallelisms, the first phrase making a statement that the second phrase repeats with different language: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be continually in my mouth.” “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt in his name together.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” These, of course, have been solidly incorporated in the liturgical language of the church as the Psalter was its first prayerbook. The psalm is testimonial through and through: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me…, look to him and be radiant. …. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord.” The young are then summoned to listen and learn the fear of the Lord and what it means for their lives. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in sprit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. …. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
The high priest Ananias arrives in Caesarea with some elders and an attorney named Tertullus, to begin Paul’s trial, and outlines their case against Paul as “a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world (Roman empire), and “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” the first time Christianity is acknowledged as a sect of Judaism, similar to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Our lesson begins as Felix allows Paul an opportunity to defend himself. Paul does so “cheerfully” and ingratiates himself to Felix with kind words. But, then he points out that the Jewish leader’s charges against him are false: he was not disputing with anyone in the Temple or their synagogues in the city. He had simply entered the Temple after purification, in order to bring alms and offer sacrifices. It was the Jews from Asia that arrived and created the disturbance. This one charge alone, he will acknowledge, he is a member of “the Way,” which they call a sect. He hopes in the same God, follows the same law, but believes in the resurrection, and it is about this that he is on trial.
Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee, to dine on the sabbath. Noticing how the other guests have jockeyed with one another for places of honor, he gives some instructions on hospitality. When you put together a dinner party; who do you invite, the rich, the powerful, the important, all who will be compelled to return the favor? That was certainly the case in the quid pro quo world of the Judaism of the day. But Jesus says, “No. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind—all who are outcasts and cannot repay the favor—and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Hearing that phrase, one of the dinner guests burst out saying, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God,”—a pious statement that all can affirm. Jesus uses it to tell a parable of a great banquet, and does so in such a way that it can be construed as a description of banquet at the consummation of the kingdom the pious guest has just alluded to, making the point that none of those initially invited will be there, because they have all allowed the cares of the world to get in the way of their obedience and discipleship (remember, these stories are being read aloud in churches gathered in dinner settings). Or, it can be read as a description of someone who has heard and is not acting out the rules for hospitality that Jesus has described earlier in verses 12-14. His host and other guest realize Jesus is talking about them.
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.