Daily Readings for Friday, April 4
Exodus 2:1–22; Psalm 148; 1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3; Mark 9:2–13
The second chapter of Exodus introduces Moses into the story of God’s people. A Levite marries a Levite woman and she has a son. Aware of the ban and command to throw the Hebrew children into the river, she hides the child—yet unnamed—for three months. But when the secret can no longer be contained, she makes a papyrus basket, lines it with pitch so that is will not sink, puts the child in it and places the basket among the reeds in the river. The child’s sister, also unnamed, stands by to see what will become of her young brother. Soon Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the river to bathe, and seeing the basket, has one of her attendants bring it to her. Discovering the child who has begun to cry, Pharaoh’s daughter has pity on him. She rightly surmises that this is one of the Hebrew children. The child’s sister quickly appears and offers to get a wet nurse for the child, and Pharaoh’s daughter agrees, and pays the child’s mother to care for him. His mother nurses him until he is old enough to go to Pharaoh’s daughter, who takes him as a son and names him Moses, which means “drawn from the water.” What the story here steps over is the fact that Moses is raised as royalty as Pharaoh’s adopted grandson, with all the privileges that suggests. Rather, the narrative moves over Moses childhood to two incidents as an adult. One day Moses sees an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave. Moses intervenes on behalf of the slave, who he recognizes as one of his own kin, killing the Egyptian slave master and hiding his body in the sand. The next day, Moses goes out and finds two Hebrew slaves fighting, and again he intervenes, asking the one who was in the wrong, why he was striking a fellow Hebrew. The aggressor asks, “Who made you a ruler and judge over me?—notice the irony, as that is precisely what Moses will become—and then asks, “Are you going to kill me the way you killed the Egyptian?” Moses now realizes that what he did is known. In fact, Pharaoh soon seeks to kill him because of it. Consequently, Moses flees Egypt to the Land of Midian (the Sinai). There, he sits down by a well, where the Priest of Midian’s daughters have come to water their flocks. Some bedouin shepherds appear, and drive the girls away from the well, but Moses intervenes and waters the girls’ flock. When the girls return to their father and tell him what took place—that an Egyptian helped them against the other hostile shepherds—their father Reuel, asks, “Where is he?” and chastises them for their lack of hospitality. “Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” They return to Moses and he agrees to stay with Reuel, who soon gives Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. Moses and Zipporah have a son who Moses names Gershom; the Hebrew word meaning “drive out,” which can refer either to his driving off the bedouin shepherds or to the fact that Moses is now an alien residing in an alien land, “driven out” of Egypt. The story is told swiftly, but hidden within it are additional truths about Moses: not only his royal childhood and upbringing, with all of the privileges and education for leadership that would involve, but his empathy for his people, his concern for what is fair, his willingness to intervene, his journey from Egypt to Sinai, which he will one day, in the not too distant future, make once again as he returns to Egypt, his relationship with Reuel, the Priest of Midian, whose name means "friend of God" and who is named in another literary source as Jethro, and finally, his knowledge that he is now an alien, as one translation put it, “living as a stranger in a strange land.”
Psalm 148, a “Hallel” psalm, calls upon all creation—the sun, moon, stars, highest heavens and waters above the heavens—to shout, “Hallelujah!” The Lord commanded and each was created. Sea monsters and all deeps (the place of chaos), fire, hail, snow, frost and stormy wind are not blights of nature, but actually agents that fulfill God’s commands. The Lord is sovereign over all. Mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and all cattle, things that creep and things that fly, kings of the earth and all their people, young men and women alike, and old and young together are to praise the name of the Lord, for the Lord’s name alone is to be exalted. God’s glory (presence and power) are above both earth and heaven. Finally, all are to shout “Hallelujah” because the Lord has “raised up a horn for his people” (a symbol of deliverance and strength that is often used to speak of Israel’s kings). But now, the dignity, honor, and praise due the king are given not to the king, but to the people of Israel who are close to the Lord. Hallelujah!
Paul now applies the logic of the body’s constitution to the Corinthians, reminding them that they are the body of Christ and individually members of it. God, through the gifts of the Spirit, has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets (preachers), third teachers. Notice that these three offices are at the head of the list, in part, because of Paul’s continuing need to establish his authority where some think him an apostle, but others just a preacher or teacher. After these three come the lesser gifts: deeds of power, gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, and last of all, various kinds of tongue. Moving to a rhetorical mode, Paul makes the point that not all are apostles, or prophets or teachers. Not all have the gifts that give them power for miracles or of healing. The final question is, “Do all speak in tongues; do all interpret?” No. Rather than use tongues as a litmus test, they are to strive for the greater gift, which is the more excellent way—the gift of love for one another. And now, Paul begins his famous reflection on the characteristics of true love and its value in the life of the community, contrasting it with the gifts he has already listed above. Though Paul might speak with the tongue of the most eloquent of mortals or even angels, if he lacks love, he is nothing more than a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. And if he should have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have faith that would remove mountains (a direct reference to Jesus’ teaching, which has obviously been circulated in Corinth), but does not also love, he is nothing. If he gives away all of his possessions, and even hands over his body to be burned in martyrdom, but has not love, he gains nothing.
Fresh from Peter’s confession, six days later, Jesus takes him, along with James and John, and they go up a high mountain on a mini-retreat. Mountain-top experiences are a metaphor for what often happens there—thin places where the membrane between heaven and earth is almost non-existent. And this is the mountain-top of all mountain-top experiences. While there, suddenly, Jesus is transfigured (the Greek word is the one from which we get “metamorphous”) and he and his clothing become radiant and a level of white beyond anything one has ever seen. Suddenly, Elijah and Moses appear talking with Jesus. Peter suggests making three booths, one for Elijah, one for Moses and one for Jesus, for Mark tells us Peter was otherwise terrified and simply did not know what else to say. But the words are not out of Peter’s mouth when a cloud of glory descends upon all of them, and God’s voice says, “This is my son, the beloved; listen to him.” With that, the cloud is gone and so are Moses and Elijah. Peter’s instinct in confession had been right, and this has given him and the two other leaders within the inner circle confirmation of that. But the point is not only who they confess Jesus to be—something the demons have been proclaiming all along—but rather, they are listening to him and what he has to say. This is about more than them. Coming down the mountain, Jesus orders them to tell no one about this—not even their fellow disciples—until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. That, of course, leaves them further confused, and they fixate on what rising from the dead may mean. The three disciples’ thoughts turn to Elijah, who they have just seen. The scribe says that he must come first, how is that, if Jesus is the Christ, he has been here ahead of Elijah. Jesus tells them that Elijah does come first to restore all things. As for the Son of Man, he will be treated with contempt and suffer many things. Yes, Elijah has come, and they did to him as they wished, just as it was written of him.
Daily Readings for Thursday, April 3
Exodus 1:6–22; Psalm 102; 1 Corinthians 12:12–26; Mark 8:27–9:1
We move from the book of beginnings, with its ancestral history traced through Jacob and Isaac back to Abraham, to move forward as the children of Israel become a nation rather than just a people. Jacob and his generation have died, yet the Israelites, living in Goshen continue to be fruitful and multiply, growing exceedingly strong. They fill the land in such a way that a new Pharaoh, one who did not know Joseph, comes to the throne and decides he must deal shrewdly with the people, lest they overrun the Egyptians, or join with the Egyptian’s enemies, fight the Egyptians and escape from the land. It is clear that, by now, Egyptian economy has become dependent upon the presence of the Israelites. Consequently, Pharaoh sets task masters over the Israelites, forcing them to build supply cities, including Pithom and Rameses. But the more Pharaoh oppresses the people, the more they flourish, so that the Egyptians begin to dread the Israelites. Pharaoh calls the Hebrew midwives Shiphah and Puah, and commands that when a male child is born he is to be killed, but a female is to be allowed to live. In this way, Pharaoh can exercise population control over the Hebrews. Notice that the word “Hebrew” which has been used modestly until now, simply to identify a people from Canaan, now, increasingly becomes a term of derision, pointing to their nature as slaves. But the Hebrew midwives are God fearing women and ignore the command. When Pharaoh demands an accounting of Shiphah and Puah, they confess that the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptians, but strong, vigorous, and give birth before the midwives can arrive and intervene to keep Pharaoh’s command. God (the word is Elohim and this is its first appearance in the narrative all the way back to Abraham) blesses the Hebrew midwives with children of their own because of their faithfulness. Pharaoh now takes more drastic measures. He commands that every male Hebrew child be thrown into the Nile, there to die; but every Hebrew girl shall live. After all, he still needs slaves. The context is set for the birth of Moses.
Psalm 102 is entitled “A prayer of the afflicted when faint and pouring out his soul to the Lord,” which is precisely what this psalm is about. Pleading for the Lord’s saving and reviving presence, the psalmist laments that God has hidden his face from the supplicant’s distress. He compares himself to a pelican in the wilderness or a lone owl in a waste place, like a single bird perched on a rooftop. He is so bereft and overcome that he has forgotten to eat. His flesh hangs on his bones. His enemies taunt him endlessly. His days pass away like smoke. His heart is withered like grass. Too stricken to even eat, his only food has been the ashes of penance and tears so abundant that they have diluted his wine. All of this is because, in God’s wrath, he has been singled out and cast away. Though his days are but a lengthened shadow, the Lord’s days are forever. And now, the psalm turns the corner from lament to intercession as he pleads for God’s presence and compassion, not on himself, but on Zion. The Lord, who lives forever, will arise and have compassion on Zion and on the Lord’s servants there who hold its stones dear. Perhaps he hopes to be included among those on whom God has compassion. God is called on to act so that nations and generations yet unborn will praise his name. God will regard the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. From here, the psalm turns to praise, declaring for generations to come that God did look down from his high place. God heard the groans of the prisoners and set free those doomed to die, so that the Lord’s name may continue to be declared in Zion when people gather there to worship him. Though God has broken the psalmist’s own strength midcourse, he pleads that God not end his life at its mid-point. Long ago God established the foundations of the earth and made the heavens. Though they will perish, God will endure. They will all wear out like a garment. God changes them like clothing, yet remains the Lord forever. A final note of affirmation and hope is spoken: the children of the Lord’s servants shall live secure, with their children established in God’s presence.
Paul now introduces his famous metaphor of the church as the body of Christ. And just as the body does not consist of only one member, repeated over and over again, so too the body of Christ recognizes the need for its diversity. Their unity is not in their good will, nor even in the purpose, but in the Spirit who has baptized them into Christ’s body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—for all of them were made to drink of the same Spirit. Moving further, he points out that one portion of the human body cannot say to the rest, “I have no need of you.” Doing so does not make it any less a part of the body. Expanding the metaphor, Paul asks if the ear insisted on being the body, how would it see, and if the eye made the same claim where would the sense of smell come from. But God has put the body together in such a way that all of its members work together for the sake of the whole. So too, should the Corinthians. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor the head say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the weaker portions of the body seem to be given the greater honor and protection, and the less respectable members of it treated with greater respect. In fact, God has so arranged the body that the greatest honor is given to the weakest and most inferior members so that there may be no dissension within the body, the various members providing care of one another. For if one member suffers, the whole body suffers, whereas if one member is honored, all rejoice together with him.
Jesus leaves Bethsaida and the newly healed man behind and takes the disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and “on the way”—another favorite phrase in Mark’s gospel—he asks them who the people are saying that he is. Some say John the Baptist, others, Elijah, and still others one of the prophets. He then asks them who they say he is and Peter makes his great confession: “You are the Messiah.” Again, Jesus sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him. Rather, he goes on to say that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priest and scribes and be killed, and after three days, rise again. The disciples are taken aback. They know he is talking about himself. Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke and correct him. Jesus turns, looks at the other disciples and then dresses down Peter, calling him Satan, and telling him to get behind him. It is both a “Get out of my way,” and a command to “get back in line and follow.” Peter is setting his mind, not on divine things but human ones. Disciples are not there to tell the master how to behave. He has already been tempted by Satan. He does not need this from Peter. Jesus then turns to the crowd that has been following and calls them nearer. He tells them and the disciples that if they want to follow him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow. Those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their life for his sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. What then does it profit if they gain the whole world and lose their lives in the process? Furthermore, what can they give in return for their lives? Those who are ashamed of him and his words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them he will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels. Jesus completes this sermon by telling them that there are some standing with him who will not see death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.
Daily Readings for Wednesday, April 2
Genesis 50:15–26; Psalm 51; 1 Corinthians 12:1–11; Mark 8:11–26
With Jacob buried, the brothers realize they could be in significant jeopardy with Joseph, who out of regard for his father, just may have been awaiting his time to get even with them for selling him into slavery. They come to Joseph saying that Jacob had given them instruction before he died, to plead with Joseph to forgive them their crimes against him. Joseph is reduced to tears, as are the brothers, and once again they fall before him offering to be his slaves, again, fulfilling the original dream. Joseph tells them not to be afraid—he is not God in this matter. And even though they meant it for evil against Joseph, God was at work in it for good, to preserve Jacob’s family. Herein is the beginning of a theological theme in scripture: God’s sovereignty over evil and ability to work to transform it into good. Paul will echo this theme in Romans 8:28, though most translations follow the incorrect rendering of the King James Version. It is not that “all things work together for good to those who love God,” but rather, “in all things, God works for good for those who love him.” Joseph reassures his brothers that they have no reason to fear him, and that he will care for them and their little ones. The book comes to a close with Joseph and the extended family of Israel in Egypt. Joseph’s days are numbered at one hundred ten, and we are told that he saw the children of Ephraim to the third generation, as well as the children of Manasseh. As Joseph’s life draws to an end, he gathers his brothers and tells them that, though he is about to die, God will surely come to them and bring them up out of the land of Egypt and back to the land that God swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He makes them swear that when that day comes, they shall carry up Joseph’s bones from Egypt and take them with them back to Canaan. Joseph dies, is embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt to await that day. Thus the book of beginnings comes to its conclusion with the children of Israel living prosperously in Egypt.
Psalm 51 is a confession of sin without peer, and as appropriate today as when it was first uttered. Tradition attributes it to David, upon being challenged by his prophet, Nathan, concerning David’s sin with Bathsheba and his subsequent engineering of the military murder of her husband Uriah. However, it shows marks of having been written later than that, after the return from exile, especially the last two verses. The center of the psalm focuses on the human heart, which to the Hebrew mind is not the center of affections, but the center of one’s will. In pleading for a clean heart, the supplicant expresses the conviction that, without the gift of a new and right spirit, it is not possible to remain in obedience. The human heart is prone to pride and stubbornness. And so, he pleads for God’s holy spirit to sustain him—one of the few places in the Old Testament where the phrase “holy spirit” is used. But notice, it is not yet personified, but simply an expression of God’s presence. The point is, even right praise is God’s gift to us, motivated by God’s Spirit. We cannot offer it without God’s prompting. Consequently, the psalmist utters the phrase that has become a classic invitation to prayer, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” He then expresses the prophets’ recurring conviction that, rather than sacrifice what God truly desires in each of us, is an obedient heart committed to God and God’s ways. Sacrifices God may or may not accept. After all, God does not need them, and since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, there have been none. Prayer itself has become the new form of sacrifice. And so, a heart in which stubbornness has been broken, and self-pride crushed, is a heart God will never despise or reject. The prayer ends with a plea for Zion and the rebuilding of its walls following its sack by Babylon in 587 BCE, and the restoration of the sacrificial system.
Paul now turns to answer the Corinthian’s question about “spiritual gifts”, which seemed to be part of the party spirit and division in the church there. He reminds them that in their pagan days they went off to various temples to idols that cannot speak. But, they are recipients of the spirit of God, and no one who has that Spirit is able to say, “Jesus be cursed.” A confession that “Jesus is Lord,” is the first gift of God’s Spirit. The Spirit brings other gifts and forms of service as well, and Paul names them, reminding the Corinthians that it is God who activates them all, placing manifestations of the Spirit among them for the common good of all. The list begins with wisdom, not surprising in that Greek culture, then knowledge—and there is a decided difference between the two. To another is given the gift of faith—there are those among us who remain absolutely unshakable in their faith no matter what; a gift of God indeed. The Spirit gives gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy—what today we would call proclamation or preaching—and to another, discernment of the Spirit. After all, there are many spirits in the world not simply the Spirit of God. Finally, to others the Spirit gives the gift of tongues, and to another the interpretation of those tongues. It seems that the gift of tongues was being used as a super-credential among some Corinthians. Notice that Paul lists tongues and their interpretation last. All of these are “spiritual gifts” given to people for the sake of building up the church, and are given to people each as the Spirit chooses.
The Pharisees come to Jesus to argue with him, and, in the process, asking 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 of the day, to see the reality of God’s reign breaking in. No sign will be given to them. He quickly gets into the boat and leaves them behind to sail to the other side. At sea, the disciples suddenly realize they have forgotten to bring any bread, and discover they have only one loaf. Jesus uses the occasion to warn them about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and the Herodians (see the note). 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? 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 its way and done its work.
Daily Readings for Tuesday, April 1
Genesis 49:29–50:14; Psalm 91; 1 Corinthians 11:2–34; Mark 8:1–10
Jacob concludes his blessing of his sons and then charges them, telling them he is about to die. They are not to bury him in Egypt, but rather, in the cave at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, the cave and field that Abraham bought from the Hittites in order to bury Sarah. It is there that Isaac and Rebekah are buried, and where Jacob buried Leah. After this charge, Jacob “drew up his feet into the bed” and died. Joseph responds with grief, weeping over his father’s dead body. Joseph then commands the physicians to embalm Jacob—necessary for the long journey in that part of the world. Pharaoh’s physicians do so, and we are told it took forty days. The Egyptians join Joseph and weep for Jacob seventy days. Once the days of mourning are past, Joseph addresses Pharaoh’s household, asking for permission to go and bury his father in the land of Canaan, as Jacob had charged him to do. Pharaoh responds, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.” And so Joseph, his brothers, the elders of his household and the elders of Pharaoh’s household form a grand funeral entourage as they make their way back to Machpelah. Only the Israelites' children and their flocks and herds are left in Goshen—clearly, they intend to return. When the group comes to the threshing floor at Atad, east of the Jordan, they hold a great and sorrowful lamentation, and observe a time of additional mourning for seven days. We are told that the Canaanites were aware of it and assumed all of them were Egyptians. Consequently, they named the place Abel-miz’raim, which means “the mourning of Egypt. Thus, the brothers carried their father back to Canaan and buried him with his ancestors as they had been instructed. Thereafter, Joseph, his brothers, and all who went with them returned to Egypt.
Psalm 91, a song of trust and confidence, is one of the most assuring in the entire collection of 150 psalms. Though it reflects the theology of the wisdom tradition, insisting that those who remain righteous shall have the constant protection of the Lord, it is even more rich in its imagery and promises. The opening line, “He who,” can as equally be translated “You who,” or “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High (“Elyon”—one ancient name for God), who abide in the shadow of the Almighty (“El Shadday”—a second name for God), will say to “the Lord” (Yahweh—God’s personal name given to Moses at the bush), “My refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” All three names are included to make this as inclusive as possible, with the primacy given to the name Yahweh. Various forms of protection are mentioned, including the presence of God’s angels to defend in times of warfare or pestilence, and all other forms of danger. Under God’s wings we will find a refuge, whose faithfulness is a buckler and a shield, so that we need not fear anything night or day. Making the Lord our refuge assures protection. It is from this psalm that the devil quotes in his tempting Jesus to throw himself off the tower of the temple. The psalm concludes with God’s own speech: “You who love me I will deliver. You who know my name I will protect. When you call (the importance of knowing God’s name, knowing who to call upon), I will answer; when in trouble, I will rescue and honor you. With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation.” Is it any wonder this has been the byword and hope of Jews, Christians and Muslims? This psalm is a favorite of military chaplains, frequently read before a group of soldiers facing battle. It is also regularly read at funeral and memorial services.
In Chapter eleven, Paul turns to matters of behavior in worship, beginning first with answering the question of whether women must have their heads covered in worship. The argument is classic first century Jewish cultural customs incorporated into Roman-Greco culture. Though Paul makes an attempt to argue his position from scripture, employing the image of men being created in the image of God, he quite conveniently looks past the fact that women are as well! It is fascinating to see the power of culture on how, someone like Paul, was reading his scripture at this point and should be a constant reminder to all of us of the pitfalls of interpretation. We may wish that Paul had been given a revelation that was more equitable, for in the 21st century for we know of the many centuries this text was abused to justify men’s behavior, even when it was abusive, and to deny women leadership in the church, (though Paul is quick to recognize they can pray and prophecy, and even names women as leaders—in one place, as an apostle). But, evidently, he did not receive such a revelation. On the other hand, one wonders what would have become of the infant church in that first century CE world had women been given the gift of equality in all things. Would it have built up the church or isolated it as an object of scorn in that culture, in which the standard Paul is espousing was the norm? In the midst of it all, Paul, nevertheless, insists that woman is not independent from man or man from woman, as all things come from God. Having done this, Paul turns to the abuses that are taking place in worship as the Corinthians come together for the Lord’s Supper. Until now, he has commended the Corinthians in most things, but now he lambasts them. There is division and party spirit among them when they come together—not only over leadership, but class. Paul will acknowledge that “factions” are, in fact, inevitable among them, because things have become what they are, and those who strive to be true will be seen as a party spirit, but must be so, if only to reveal who is genuine. Things are so bad that Paul actually tells them that it is not the Lord’s Supper they are observing and eating. When it comes time to eat, it is a free-for-all, the well-healed going ahead to eat without waiting for the others, taking not only the best portions, but the lion’s share, resulting in the fact that some who come to the table even go hungry. In addition, some of them imbibe in so much wine that they become drunk. Do they not have houses of their own in which to behave this way if that is what they choose; but why bring contempt upon the church of God and humiliate those who have little or nothing? The Corinthian’s former behavior in the symposia lies closes at hand here. Paul is literally speechless. What should he say? The most he can say is that he cannot commend them in this. Instead, Paul now quotes what today we call “the words of institution.” Read carefully, and you will see that these words came to Paul directly from the Lord. He uses them to continue to press the issue of unity on the chaotic congregation. He “handed on that which he received.” It is a first century expression that functions like quotation marks for us today. “On the night before he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and having given thanks for it, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you; do this to remember me.’ Likewise after supper, the cup, saying, ‘This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood; do this as my remembrance.’” Paul then reminds the Corinthians, that as often as they eat the bread and drink the cup, they proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. But now Paul ups the ante: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner is guilty of the blood and body of the Lord.” Therefore, they are to examine themselves to assure they are ready. For whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup without discerning the body, eats and drinks it in judgment against themselves.” Notice that “the body” here is not the bread, but the body of Christ gathered about the table. Paul is still working on his mandate for unity. He goes on to say that this is precisely why some in the community are sick and some have already died. So, they are to discern for themselves, and when they do, they are not judged by others. But, when judged by Christ himself they are disciplined so that they may not be condemned with the world. So then, when they come together for the meal they are to wait for one another, and if one is too hungry to wait, eat at home first, so that when they come together to eat the supper it will not be to their condemnation with the rest of the world.
For three days the people have been with Jesus in the desert, listening to him teach, and their food is now gone. Jesus has compassion on them, knowing that if he sends them away hungry, many will faint along the way. The disciples ask how it will be possible to feed this crowd in the desert. He asks them how many loaves of bread they have; seven. He has the people sit down, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it (see the three Eucharistic actions taking place here), and the disciples distribute the bread among the crowd. He does the same with some fish that they have and some four thousand are fed. Then, immediately (one of Mark's favorite words), Jesus sends the crowd away, gets into the boat with the disciples and sails off to Dalmanutha.
Daily Readings for Monday, March 31
Genesis 49:1–28; Psalm 6; 1 Corinthians 10:14–11:11; Mark 7:24–37
The narrative pauses to incorporate an ancient poem about the twelve tribes of Israel and places the words in Jacob’s mouth as his final blessing to his sons. The poem is shaped around the characteristics of each tribe, as it later came to be known, once settled in the land of promise, most of them described by their military prowess in taking and defending the land. Some tribes are described in one short verse, whereas the tribe of Judah and the tribes of Joseph are described elaborately, probably reflecting the fact that this was incorporated during the reign of David, who, of course, is the “whelp” of Judah. It begins with Ruben, the firstborn, who loses his birthright because he defiled his father’s bed in going to Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine, and having sex with her. Simeon and Levi are noted for their violence, Zebulun for its role as a sea port, Issachar either for strength, or for the fact that it later became a “beast of burden” for the Canaanites. Dan, whose name means “judge,” “advocate” or “fight for,” is noted for military skills against enemy cavalry. After a short, one-line prayer, the list continues with Gad, Asher and Naphtali, each dealt with in only one couplet. The extended blessing of Joseph reflects the role he played in preserving the people. Notice the many names of God that are included in this section of the blessing. Finally, Benjamin is named as last born, who becomes “a ravenous wolf,” reflecting not only his role in Israel’s early battles with its neighbors, but also that this is the tribe from which Israel’s first king—Saul—emerged. The section ends affirming that this is what Jacob said to the sons when he blesses each with a “suitable blessing.”
Psalm 6 pleads for God’s gracious care in what is perceived to be the result of God’s rebuking wrath. In the midst of his languishing need, the psalmist begs for healing of body and soul, for both shake in terror. “How long, O Lord—how long?” It is the cry of all who suffer unjustly or without reason. Rather, he simply begs the Lord to turn, save his life, and deliver him for the sake of God’s steadfast love. Notice that at no time does the psalmist admit guilt or confess sin, only that he is on the verge of death and that, in death, there is no remembrance or praise of God. It is as though he is saying to God, “Do not let me die, for if I die I will not be able to remember you or praise you.” He has spent too many nights flooding his bed with tears, his days, likewise, drenching his couch and he is wasting away with grief. Now, for the first time, he mentions foes—workers of evil. But, suddenly, the psalm turns from grief to strength, from fear and lament to confidence, for the Lord has heard the sound of his weeping. The Lord has heard his supplication and accepted his prayer. All his enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror. In a moment they shall turn back and be put to shame.
Paul now uses the Corinthians’ sacramental practice in their worship as a means of illustrating why they must not participate in any pagan sacrifice. Quite coincidentally, in these words, we have the early Eucharist theology and liturgical language and belief of the infant church. The cup of blessing which they bless at the beginning of their worship meal, “is it not a participation in the blood of Christ (the word is koinonia meaning “sharing in”)? The bread that they break in the meal, is it not a participation (same word) in the body of Christ.?” This is made even clearer by Paul reminding them that, “because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body because we all eat of the same loaf. Eucharistic nurture is not simply personal, but binds the community of faith in a bond that is as organic as it is spiritual. Paul now uses Israel’s sacrificial worship practice as an example. The worshipper would bring the animal for offering to the Lord, to the temple, and a priest would slit its throat and pour the animal’s blood on the altar. But, after its blood had been poured upon the altar as an expression that its life belongs to the Lord (life is in the blood for the Israelites—it is why it cannot be eaten), the animal was roasted, the finest portion given to the officiating priest, and the rest of the animal consumed by the worshipper, especially the supplicant and his family. In doing so, they became “partners” (again the word is koinoia) in the altar. What does Paul imply? If they participate in sacrificial worship in a temple to a pagan god, they share in that. Paul quickly clarifies himself, not that the idols represent God, or are anything. Rather, the pagans sacrifice to demons, and Paul does not want them doing that. One cannot worship God and demons, one cannot share in the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, or sit at Christ’s table and then the table of demons, or we provoke the Lord as Israel did, again and again. But worship is one thing, food is quite another. All things in that regard are lawful, yet, not all things are helpful; all things are lawful, but not everything builds up. Therefore, in making decisions about what to eat, they are far safer seeking the other’s benefit or privilege rather than their own. Eat whatever is sold in the market place, whether part of a sacrifice or not. It comes from God and is good—do so without raising questions of conscience. If an unbeliever invites you to dinner, eat what is set before you, confident that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein” (Psalm 24:1). But, if your host tells you that the meat has been sacrificed to a pagan god, then abstain, not for your own sake, but for the sake of your host’s conscience—behind this is the honor code of the day. Why should our liberty be constrained to the judgments of someone else’s conscience? It should not. If we partake with thankfulness, why should we be denounced because of that for which we offer thanks? “So,” concludes Paul, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Behave in ways that will give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to others in the church of God, especially those weaker members! Try to please everyone in everything. Notice Paul says “try!”, and uses himself as an example of one trying to please others rather than himself. “Imitate me”—that common first century command from teachers to students—just as Paul is an imitator of Christ.
Jesus sets out for Tyre—gentile country—in an attempt to get away from the people besieging him. The Jewish crowds will not follow him there. Still, his fame has come before him and a gentile woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit hears he is there and immediately comes, falls at his feet, and begs him to cast out the demon. Using a well-known adage Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first; it is not fair to take their food and cast it to the dogs.” “Dogs,” here is how Jews felt about Gentiles. He is telling her that he has been sent to the house of Israel and must not be deterred from that. She calls him up short with her response: “Sir; but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus is caught off guard by her response, reminded of a truth about his ministry, and says “Go—the demon has left your daughter.” When she gets home she discovers it is true; the demon has been cast out of her daughter. Returning home from Tyre through predominantly Gentile territory (though Mark’s geography leaves much to be desired!), they bring Jesus a deaf man with an impediment of speech and beg him to lay hands on him. Jesus takes the man aside in private and, using the techniques common among healers of his day, Jesus sticks his fingers in the man’s ears and puts his own saliva on the man’s tongue. But here is where Jesus departs from the healers of the day: he looks up to heaven, sighs, and says, “Be opened.” Immediately the man’s ears are opened and his tongue is released and he beings to speak plainly. Though Jesus orders the man to say nothing about this, he is wasting his breath. The more he orders people to silence, the more zealously they talk about him. “Astounded beyond measure,” they say, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak—signs of his messianic credentials (Isaiah 35:5-6).
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.