Daily Readings for Monday, February 17
Gen. 30:1–24; Psalm 97; 1 John 1:1–10; John 9:1–17
Rachel remains barren, and now is in severe distress because of the shame of being unable to bear children. She begs Jacob to make her pregnant, but he objects in anger, saying, “Am I in the place of God who has withheld from you the fruit of your womb?” And so Rachel resorts to the custom of giving her slave to Jacob as a wife. The children born to Bilhah will legally belong to Rachel. Jacob takes Bilhah as a wife and soon Bilhah is pregnant. She bears Jacob a son who is named Dan. Notice that it is Rachel who names him, as was the custom of the time, after the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. The Lord has judged Rachel, keeping her womb closed, but he has also heard her voice. Dan comes from the Hebrew word for “judge.” Soon, Bilhah is pregnant again, and bears Jacob yet another son. Once again, Rachel names him, saying she has wrestled mightily with her sister and has prevailed. She names the child Nephtali, which means “the wrestlings of God.” Leah, who is now barren, sees this, and jumps back into the sibling maternal competition, giving her servant Zilpah to Jacob for a wife. Jacob takes Zilpah as his wife and soon she is pregnant and bears another son. Leah takes the right of maternal ownership and names the boy Gad, after her good fortune. Zilpah is soon pregnant again, and this son is named Asher, as an expression of Leah’s happiness at his birth. Both the sisters now are barren. One day, Leah’s eldest son Ruben is in the field and comes across some mandrakes, which were thought to possess special powers of fertility. He takes them back to his mother, Leah. When Rachel discovers this, she goes to Leah and asks to have some of her mandrakes. Leah responds, “You have taken my husband away from me, will you also take my mandrakes?” Then, Leah makes a bargain with Rachel: Jacob is to return to Leah’s tent that night and have sexual relations with her; if so, Rachel may have some of her mandrakes. The sisters agree, and as Jacob comes in from the field, Leah goes out to meet him and tells him she has just bought him with her mandrakes and he must now have sex with her. So, Jacob does. And we are told that God heard Leah’s plea, and she became pregnant again, bearing Jacob a fifth son, who she names Issachar, recognizing God’s recompense in having given her servant Zilpah to Jacob for a wife. Once again, Leah bears Jacob a son, this one named Zebulun, because God has honored her with a sixth son. After that, Leah bears Jacob’s only daughter Dinah. Jacob now has twelve sons and one daughter. Each of the sons will become the patriarch of a tribe named after him, and together form the twelve tribes of Israel—though Jacob’s name has yet to be changed.
The psalm celebrates God’s sovereign rule over all the earth—not just Israel!—and utilizes material from other psalms, as well as many themes from Second Isaiah (40-55), to construct a hymn of praise that recognizes the Lord as King. References to lightning and storm challenge the notion that those are the work of the Canaanite god, Baal. Not simply, the earth proclaims God’s glory, but the heavens as well. Though nothing can fully contain God’s glory, it puts to shame those who bow down before worthless idols. For the Lord is not simply a god, but the God of all the gods. This is a conviction that emerged in Israel, upon its return from Babylon. The Lord had rescued them from the land of the wicked and now continues to “sow light for the righteous,” leading them in God’s way. “Rejoice then in the Lord, O you righteous. Give thanks to God’s holy name!”
Whether a letter or a sermon, 1 John is addressed to churches living with theological divisions that have caused some to leave. The author writes to assure those who have remained that they are the ones who remain faithful. Whether written by the author of the Gospel of John, or another who was a member of John’s community in Ephesus, the similarities in vocabulary and theology emerge immediately. Yet, there are also differences between this and the Gospel. The first four verses of today’s lesson can easily be a synopsis of the essentials, or the prologue, of John’s gospel. “We declare to you,” witnesses to the fact that this is written from a well-known community of faith, firmly established as true to the authentic traditions of the faith. What they have seen and heard they now declare to the struggling congregations to whom this is written. It is true and can enable the community to have fellowship, with not only the authors, but more, with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. They are writing so that their joy may be complete—a common phrase used by Jesus in John’s gospel—but whether this refers to the authors or the recipients of the letter is unclear due to textual variations. The first major theological theme emerges in the affirmation that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. One cannot claim to have fellowship with God and walk in darkness as it appears those who had left the congregation were doing, claiming that their new exalted status in Christ enabled them to do whatever they pleased. Only as we walk in the light, as he, himself, is in the light, are we able to have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. From here the text transitions to the second theological issue—that of sin in the lives of the redeemed. Those who have left evidently believed that because they were Christ’s they could no longer sin. However, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”—we even make God a liar. But, “if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These are words we often use in Reformed worship to call a congregation to the corporate confession of sin.
The blindness of the Jewish leaders is extended into the next incident, which is told in all four gospels, as Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind, and the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” It was assumed in those days that such maladies were the result of sin. Jesus refutes that notion and says, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; rather, he was born blind so that the work of God might be revealed in him.” Jesus then comments about his need to be about the work of the One who sent him. While it is day, he must work. Soon, night will be upon them when no one can work. But for now, it is day; for as long as he is in the world, he is the light of the world. Notice all of the images about sight and light, each a metaphor for the presence of God in him. Jesus then spits on the ground, gathers up the moist mixture of soil and spittle, kneads it into clay and places it on the blind man’s eyes. He then sends the man to the pool of Siloam to wash. The man does, and comes back seeing, thus becoming an immediate sensation among his neighbors, some thinking he has been miraculously healed, others thinking he is not really the man born blind but someone who simply looks like him. In the midst of the hubbub, the man keeps saying, “I am the man!” Finally, they respond, “But how were your eyes opened?” He tells them what Jesus did and how he received his sight. They ask where Jesus is, and the man replies, “I don’t know.” He has never seen him! So they take the man to the Pharisees, and now we learn that it was on the Sabbath that Jesus healed him. The Pharisees begin their inquisition, wanting to know how he received his sight. The man tells them, and speaking of blindness, the Pharisees fixate on the fact that it was on the Sabbath when Jesus did this, rather than on what has happened, and the man once blind can now see. Because it was a violation of the Sabbath, they insist that Jesus cannot be from God. Others in the crowd ask, “But how could a sinner perform such a sign?” And so, again, we have a controversy over who Jesus is. Turning to the man born blind, they ask him what he thinks and has to say about it. The man replies, “He is a prophet.” The story is not yet over—the man can see, but those around him are becoming increasingly blind.
Daily Readings for Sunday, February 16
6th Sunday after Epiphany
Gen. 29:20–35; Psalm 81; 1 Tim. 3:14–4:10; Mark 10:23–31
Jacob has completed his seven years of service to Laban and now asks to have Rachael as his wife. Laban holds a great marriage feast and, in the evening, gives his elder daughter Leah to Jacob, who, whether Leah was veiled or whether he was already in the darkened tent or what, Jacob assumes it is Rachel and happily has sexual relations with her, consummating the marriage. We are also told that Laban gives to Leah (and therefore to Jacob), her maid-servant Zilphah as a wedding present. The next morning, when Jacob awakens, he realizes the woman lying next to him is not Rachael, but her older sister Leah, and goes to Laban, demanding to know what Laban has done and why he has deceived Jacob. Laban responds that in this country, one does not give a younger daughter in marriage until the older is married, and so he has given Jacob Leah. He tells Jacob to complete the week of wedding festival and its sexual obligation with Leah, and then Laban will also give him Rachael, for whom Jacob can work another seven years. Jacob agrees, completes the week with Leah, and then is given Rachael, to whom Laban gives her maid-servant Bilhah. Jacob goes to Rachel, has sexual relations with her, and therein, takes her as his wife. And so, the deceiver has himself been deceived. He will now have to work for Laban another seven years to pay the bride price for his wife Rachel. The narrative now steps to the challenges of those seven years, when Jacob loves Rachel but not Leah. When the Lord sees that Jacob, who continues to have sex with both wives, does not love Leah, the Lord opens her womb and she conceives and bears him a son, while Rachael remains barren. Leah names him Ruben, which means “Behold, a son!” Surely now, Jacob will love her; but no. And so, Leah conceives again, and bears another son, who she names Simeon, which is associated with the Hebrew word for “hated.” The Lord has heard her cry, for he knows that Leah is hated. Leah conceives yet again, and names this son Levi, believing that because she has born Jacob three sons, he will now welcome her. Finally, she bears a forth son, and names him Judah as her response of praise to the Lord for his gift of four sons. At this Leah ceases to bear children, while all this time, Rachael remains barren as Jacob fulfills his second seven years of service to Laban.
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 but 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.
First Timothy begins the section of epistles we call “Pastoral Letters.” They were written to churches to provide instruction in the midst of continuing dissident teaching and influence from outsiders bringing with them new rules and regulations. Whether written by Paul, as the letter suggests, or by one of Paul’s associates in his name, as some of the internal evidence would suggest, it is addressed to Timothy, Paul’s “loyal child in the faith” (1:2), a Pauline convert and close traveling companion of Paul’s, whom Paul thought of as one of his most trustworthy colleagues. The letter assumes Timothy has now been left in Ephesus, to exercise his authority in the church there that is being troubled by those teaching deceitful things. The letter makes the point that the church is God’s household, and those vested with authority to oversee it, must do so with integrity and diligence, withstanding those who would come in from the outside to corrupt it. In today’s lesson, Paul expresses the desire to come to Ephesus soon, but is writing now because of the urgency of things. Affirming the church as the household of the living God, and pillar and bulwark of the truth, Paul then quotes what appears to be a hymn or confessional statement, being used in the churches of Central Asia, to summarize the truth about Christ. Paul goes on to remind Timothy that the Spirit has expressly warned that, in latter times, some would renounce the faith, turning instead to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons that come to the churches through hypocrites. The liars ‘consciences have been seared with hot irons—branding them like slaves—to show that they belong to the demons. These outside teachers are forbidding marriage, and demanding abstinence from certain foods. Paul rejects both their insistence on celibacy and their ascetic standards. Both are inappropriate to followers of Christ, for everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by God’s word and by prayer. Paul tells Timothy to place the word before the sisters and brothers in order to be a good steward of Christ, nourished on the words of faith and of the sound teaching that Timothy has followed. Timothy is warned against having anything to do with “profane myths and old wives tales.” Rather, he is to train himself in godliness. For though physical training is of value, so much more is training in godliness, holding to both the promises of now and those of what is to come—this is sure and worthy of full acceptance. This is the reason he and Paul toil and struggle: they have set their hopes on God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Jesus has just had an encounter with a wealthy young man who comes to him asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to divest himself of his possessions and follow him. The young man has gone away grieving and in distress, because he has many possession, and as he does, Jesus looks around at his disciples and says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples are amazed and perplexed, because, in their world, wealth is the means that enables one the privilege of study and devotion to Torah—how can this be so? Jesus repeats what he has said, calling the disciples “Children,” and then to further make the point, adds a parable expressing the impossibility of doing so: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples are even more astonished and begin to ask one another, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looks at them and says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter still does not get it, and says to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” And, indeed they have, to which Jesus adds, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers and children, and fields”—what happened to the wives; are some of the disciple's wives among them? To this Jesus adds “but with persecutions!” Clearly, Mark is directing Jesus’ words not only to the disciples gathered about Jesus, but those gathered about him in the reading of Jesus’ words in the churches where this gospel circulates and where wives are disciples as well. And then Jesus adds, “…and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark then concludes this incident with the proverb of reversal, again making the point that God’s ways are of an entirely different order than our own. Yet, the truth of Jesus’ words continues to be demonstrated day in and day out, as possessions possess rather than serve us, convincing us they have the capacity to give life and, thereby, distracting us from living more fully into the world where God, and God alone, is the source of life. No wonder Andrew Carnegie spent his later years trying to divest himself of his fortune.
Daily Readings for Saturday, February 15
Gen. 29:1–20; Psalm 138; Rom. 14:1–23; John 8:47–59
Jacob leaves Bethel and goes eastward, on his way to Haran. As he approaches, he sees shepherds with their sheep, gathered about a stone-capped well. Jacob first inquires of them if they know Laban, son of Nahor, his kinsman. They do, and Jacob asks about Laban’s well-being. At that moment,Laban’s daughter Rachel appears, leading her father’s flock to the well to water them. Wanting some time alone with this young woman, Jacob chides the shepherds: it is not yet evening; should they not water the sheep and then take them back to pasture? The shepherds complain about the rock over the mouth of the well. At that, Rachel arrives and Jacob realizes these are Laban’s flock, and immediately removes the stone and waters Rachel’s flock for her. Jacob, always a bit impetuous, kisses Rachel—after all, she is his cousin—and weeps aloud, telling her that he is her father’s kinsman. At that, Rachel leaves the sheep and runs back to her father Laban to tell him of Jacob’s arrival. When Laban learns that his sister’s son is here, he runs to meet him, embraces him, kisses him, and brings Jacob into his house. Jacob tells Laban all that has taken place, and Laban confesses that Jacob is his own flesh and bone. Jacob stays with Laban for a month. During that time, Jacob assumes responsibilities, and Laban asks what his wages should be—after all, he is not a slave but a kinsman. We are now told that Laban has two daughters: Leah, the older who has delicate eyes (some translations say “weak eyes”) and Rachel, the younger, who was not only beautiful, but graceful. Jacob has fallen in love with Rachel and asks that she be his wages. He will serve Laban for seven years in return for Rachel. Laban agrees; it is better to give her to his sister’s son than to another man—it keeps the wealth in the larger family! And so, Jacob serves Laban seven years. We are told that “they seem to him but a few days,” because of his love for Rachel.
This psalm celebrates and gives thanks to the Lord for God’s intervention on the psalmist’s behalf. The language is rich in the action of praise and worship, and the recognition that in all of this God has again demonstrated his steadfast love and faithfulness—the qualities that most regularly describe the Lord in the psalter—and thereby, has again exalted his own name. The psalmist called and the Lord answered, increasing the strength of the supplicant’s soul. The psalm is attributed to David, and clearly has royal overtones as it notes that all the kings of the earth shall praise the Lord, for they have heard the words of God’s mouth. They, too, shall sing of the ways of the Lord. Though high, the Lord regards the lowly, but the haughty, God perceives from far away—keeps them at arms-length but still under surveillance! As God has cared for, and intervened in the past, so God shall continue to do so. Consequently, the psalmist confesses, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies.” The psalm ends with a final affirmation of security: “the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” Then, confessing that God’s steadfast love endures forever, there is one final plea: “Do not forsake me, for I am but the work of your hands.”
Paul continues to insist upon the rule of love among the members of the Roman church, where the differences between Jewish and Gentile Christians are creating tension, dissention and even divisions. They are to stop quarreling about their opinions over food regulations, over festival days, and even over matters of faith. Whether weak or strong in faith, they are to welcome one another. Imagine one who had been well versed in Jewish law and tradition, who, subsequently, became a believer, having to deal with a new Gentile convert to Christ, whose former religious tradition had been poly-theistic and pagan. Can you hear the frustration and arguments that must have emerged? And whether they believe they must still maintain kosher food laws of Torah, or were free to eat and drink anything and everything, they must not judge others by their own standards. Rather, to the extent that they can give thanks to God for what they are eating and drinking or abstaining from, their behavior is made holy and acceptable to God. Some come with a calendar of religious days that still bear significance to them and argue that they must be kept. Others have no such tradition and think that trying to hang onto the past is a mistake. Paul, probably in deference to both sides, does not name the days. Was this sabbath observance, the fast days of Tuesday and Thursday, the move of worship from Saturday to Sunday, arguments over Passover observance and the like? We do not know. But the point is this: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” Those whom God has welcomed you must welcome as well. You are, after all, not the judge (and here the “you” in verse 4 has moved from its plural form in Greek to the singular, as if to make it more personal still). In all of this, if we live, we live to the Lord. If we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s! It was for this that “Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Therefore, stop holding your sister or brother in Christ in despising judgment. Have you forgotten that each of us must stand before the judgment seat of God—a message too easily forgotten in a church that has grown soft on cheap grace, producing members who presume upon it rather than become reformed by it? We are and will be held accountable for what we do and do not do. Continuing to address the strife in the Roman congregation, because of their very different former religious backgrounds, and the “hangover” from those days, Paul urges them to put away all judgments against one another. He goes on to say that, for his part, he is sure in the Lord Jesus that nothing the Lord has made is unclean; that, in fact, it becomes unclean for those who think it so. So, if your brother is offended by something you are eating, and you continue to do so before him, you are no longer walking in love. Yes, you have the freedom to do so, but why abuse that freedom to destroy another in the faith? Do not let what you know to be good be spoken of as evil. But more, the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness (right relationships), peace and joy in the Spirit. The one who serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and has human approval. Consequently, pursue the things that make for peace and build up the body. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food or drink. Regardless of your freedom, it is good to not eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. Rather, have regard for their concern. The faith that you have gives you conviction before God that you have no reason to be condemned. But those who have doubts are condemned if they do eat, because they are not acting from faith. Whatever does not come from faith is sin.
Jesus’ confrontation in the temple with the Jewish leaders continues, as they contend with him over who he is and by what authority he is teaching and doing what he is doing. Because he continues to identify himself as coming from God, they accuse him of being a Samaritan (not simply an outsider, but 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 convinced them that he is possessed. Abraham died, so did each of the prophets, save Elijah. Is Jesus 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, too, 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; Jesus has until now used the sacred name in relation to metaphors of light, water, and so on. But now, he has openly used it about himself. Such blasphemy produces the prescribed and predictable response (Lev. 24:13-16), and they pick up rocks to stone him to death. But, his hour is yet to come, so Jesus hides himself from them and then slips out of the temple.
Daily Readings for Friday, February 14
Gen. 27:46---28:4, 10–22; Psalm 142; Rom. 13:1–14; John 8:33–47
Is it really that the Hittite women that Esau married have been a burden to Rebekah and worn her out—certainly they had been set against her. Or, was this the pretext to get Jacob out from under the threat of his brother Esau? Whatever, Rebekah goes to Isaac and tells him she cannot and will not endure the same treatment from Jacob’s wife—he must not choose one from among the Canaanite women. Consequently, she asks Isaac to send Jacob off to their ancestral home in Paddan-aram, there to get for himself a wife among their extended family. Isaac complies with her wish. He blesses Jacob and sends him off to Laban. In the blessing, Isaac invokes the promise of Abraham on Jacob, passing on the promise: Jacob is to be fruitful and multiply and become a company of people. He is to inherit the land that God has promised to his grandfather Abraham and return there to live once he has his wife. Jacob departs. The Lectionary skips over Esau’s reaction to learning of his mother’s displeasure with his Hittite wives and that Isaac blessed Jacob and sent him in search of a wife from his father’s family. Consequently, Esau goes to his uncle Ishmael and marries one of his daughters. It seems an attempt on Esau’s part to bring himself back into his father and mother’s graces in search of an additional blessing. In the meantime, Jacob has left Beersheba and begun his journey to Haran. At sunset, he stops on his journey, and takes a stone for a pillow and falls asleep. In that rest, he has a dream in which he sees a ladder extended from heaven down to earth, with angels ascending and descending upon it. In the dream, the Lord stands above the ladder and speaks to Jacob. The Lord begins by identifying himself by name—the Lord--who is the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. The Lord promises that the land upon which Jacob lies shall belong to him and to his descendants. And so, the Lord repeats the promise first made to Abraham, the one that Isaac had invoked upon Jacob. Jacob is to be the father of people beyond number. They shall spread north, south, east and west, and through his descendants, all the people of the earth shall bless themselves. Jacob awakens from his sleep and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. How awesome is this place! It is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.” The next morning, on rising early, Jacob takes the stone upon which his head had rested, pours oil on it and names the place Bethel (House of God). He then makes a vow that if the Lord will accompany and keep him on his journey, give him food to eat and garments to wear, and allow him to return to his father’s house in safety, then the Lord shall be his God. The stone which Jacob has set up will be the house of God, and a tenth of all Jacob has he will give to the Lord.
This personal lament cries to the Lord for relief in the midst of troubles brought on by unidentified enemies. Not only is the psalmist being oppressed by foes, it seems the entire community has abandoned him—no one takes notice, no refuge remains, no one cares. And so the psalmist cries out to the Lord, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Only the Lord can provide the care that is needed while “imprisoned” in this state of affairs. But, the prayer ends on a note of triumph: freed from affliction and now able to give thanks to God’s name, the righteous will surround him and recognize God’s bountiful rescue and help.
We turn to thoughts from Paul to the church at Rome that, subsequently, vexed Christians for generations—remaining subject to the governing authorities. The context for this is essential. Paul does not want the spirit of rebellion and revolt that led to previous Jewish uprisings, from the Maccabeans in the 2nd century BCE and the Zealot party in Jesus’ own day, to cause the church in Rome to be seduced into similar rebellious sympathies that still exist in Jerusalem. Already, an emperor has banished Jews from Rome, because of their disruptive behavior—probably hostilities between Jews and those Gentile Romans who had become Christian. Now that the Jewish Christians have been allowed to return, they are to behave as good citizens. Paul begins with the logic that, since all authority comes from God, those who exist in authority do so at God’s institution, and those who resist it are actually resisting God. Rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. In order to not fear the authorities, do what is good and they will receive the authorities’ approval, for the government is God’s servant for their own good. Only in doing wrong should they fear the authorities. So, too, they are to pay taxes. In all things, they must give the authorities what is their due—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, and honor to whom honor is due. The real debt Christians owe everyone is love. This, above all else, is the command we are to obey. Paul then quotes the second table of the law—that dealing with interpersonal relationships—reminding them that love fulfills all of these commandments. Beyond this law of love, they need to be reminded that the day is at hand for them to wake from sleep. Salvation is nearer to them now than when they all became believers, and here Paul included himself. As the Day of Christ approaches, they are to put on the garment of light and lay aside all works of darkness. They are to live honorably, as in daylight, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, they are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify the desires Paul has just identified as works of darkness. This text only makes sense in its Roman-Jewish context, for within less than ten years of Paul writing this, there would be yet another Jewish rebellion in Jerusalem that would cause Rome to destroy it and its temple, leaving not one stone upon another. If one adds the words “authentic,” or “good” before Paul’s words about authority and rulers, it does make sense. It is from this text that Luther built the theology of God’s right and left hand—the right the church, and the left the civil authorities—to exercise just rule over all people. However, I have always wondered how Paul felt about this when finally condemned to death by Rome—assuming he was. If so, in all probability he saw it as God working out his will and using Paul’s martyrdom as witness. But we remember how problematic these words were for German Christians as Hitler rose to power, and not only for German Christians, but all who have lived under despotic rulers who claimed their authority came from God. It is the reason the Barmen Declaration has been included in the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions. It reminds us that we must discern the spirits and always and only serve God in Christ-like ways.
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 descendants 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 Ishmael, 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, Jesus 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.
Daily Readings for Thursday, February 13
Gen. 27:30–45; Psalm 16; Rom. 12:9–21; John 8:21–32
No sooner has Jacob left his father than his brother Esau returns from the field, having been successful in his hunt. Esau quickly prepares the savory meal from the game that he has hunted and brings it to Issac, as requested, and asks for the blessing that is rightly his; he is the first born. Isaac cries out in shock and horror. Who was it then that he blessed before Esau came? Isaac has blessed him, and it cannot be revoked; “Blessed he shall be!” Esau responds in a cry of mixed desperation and rage, asking Isaac to also bless him. Does his father have but one blessing? Isaac responds that Esau’s brother came to him deceitfully and has taken away Esau’s blessing. Esau responds that Jacob is rightly named; this is the second time he has supplanted Esau, having first taken away his birthright, and now, having taken away his father’s blessing. Again, he asks his father for a blessing, but Isaac responds that he has already made Jacob lord over Esau and all his brothers and servants, and the grain and the wine to sustain him. What is there left to give to Esau? Still, Esau insists that his father bless him. Isaac weeps and he lays his hands on his eldest son and pronounces what is less a blessing than a curse—an oracle of who Esau and his people shall be, and the relationship between Esau and Jacob. Esau shall live away from the fatness of the land, and shall live by his sword. More, he will serve his younger brother. But then, he will break loose, and in doing so, break his brother’s yoke. With that, Esau leaves his father, filled with hatred for Jacob. He knows his father’s days are numbered, and vows that, when the days of mourning for Isaac are ended, he will kill Jacob. Esau’s rage and plans are overheard and passed on to Rebekah, who calls Jacob and warns him: “Your brother is consoling himself by planning to kill you.” She tells Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in Haran and there, stay with him, until Esau’s rage has past. Once that has happened, Rebekah will send for Jacob to return. But now he must leave, lest she lose both of them in one day.
This psalm of trust acknowledges the Lord as not only a refuge, but the source of all good in life. The psalmist looks to the holy ones for guidance and fellowship while not willing even to speak the names of those who serve and worship other gods. With the Lord at the center of life—the chosen portion—the dimensions of life have fallen in “pleasant places,” delivering a goodly heritage. Therefore, the psalm blesses the Lord who gives constant counsel. Keeping the Lord always at the center means not being overcome or defeated. Rather, heart, soul and body rejoice, are glad and rest secure, for God does not give up His faithful ones to Sheol or the Pit. Rather, God reveals the path of life. In God’s presence there is fullness of joy, and pleasures forever more.
A mind that is renewed in Christ lives less out of logic than out of the abundance of divine love (the word is agape). Therefore, let their love be genuine—the love of God they have received in Christ. Like God, such love hates what is evil and refuses to remain indifferent to it, but rather than combat it with more evil, holds fast to what is good. Holding one another in mutual affection, such love seeks to outdo the other in showing honor and respect. It does not lag in zeal, is ardent in spirit, serves the Lord, rejoices in hope, is patient in suffering, perseveres in prayer, contributes to the need of the saints (the gift for Jerusalem is clearly in mind), and extends hospitality to traveling missionaries who are strangers. Though these gifts can and should be extended to those beyond the Christian community, they are first and foremost the behavior expected of all in the church. That said, Paul reminds us of how we are to behave toward those who do not share in the mind of Christ. We are to bless them—even those who persecute us. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We are to live in harmony with all others, not simply those well thought of, but especially those of low esteem, and, regardless, we are not to claim to be wiser than we are. We are to repay no one evil for evil. Rather, we are to take thought of what is noble in the sight of all. To the extent that it is possible, and that it depends upon us, we are to live peaceably with all, never avenging ourselves, but entrusting that to the wrath of God. Quoting Proverbs 25:21-22, Paul reminds us that if our enemies are hungry, we are to feed them and if they are thirsty, we are to give them drink, thereby pouring burning coals on their heads. The function of the coals is not to punish them, but to call them to repentance. Whatever we do, never let ourselves be overcome by evil—never take up its game or strategies—for in doing so we have been co-opted and conquered by it. The only way to be victorious over evil is to meet it with good.
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.