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.”
Daily Readings for Wednesday, February 12
Gen. 27:1–29; Psalm 1; Rom. 12:1–8; John 8:12–20
The lectionary steps over the brief mention that Esau married a Hittite woman (rather than send back for wives from the extended family), and that those wives made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. The time has come for Isaac to pass on his blessing. It matters little that Esau sold his birthright; Isaac must actually bestow his blessing for it to be so. And so, one of the greatest ruses of the Bible is about to unfold: the way Rebekah and Jacob fool Isaac into giving the blessing that belongs to Esau, instead, to Jacob, the supplanter. Near the end of his days, Isaac, who is now blind, calls Esau and sends him out to hunt game and then prepare a savory meal for his father to eat; then Isaac will bless him. Esau goes forth to hunt. But, Rebekah has overheard the conversation and sets about to foil her husband’s intent. The blessing is not to fall to his favorite, Esau, but to hers, Jacob. She sends Jacob to the flock to get two choice kids and bring them to her so she may prepare his father’s favorite meal. Notice that Jacob initially objects—surely his father will discover the ruse and end up cursing Jacob rather than blessing him. But, Rebekah prevails—he is his mother’s son!—and Jacob does as he is told. Once the meal is prepared, Rebekah dresses Jacob in his brother’s clothing and covers his hand and neck with the skins of the kids, so that he will feel like Esau to blind Isaac’s touch. Thus, Jacob goes to his father with the food and asks him to sit up and eat. Isaac is confused and asks, “How is it Esau has returned so quickly with the game?” Jacob responds with astonishing audacity: “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” At that, Isaac invites the boy forward so that he may feel him, for he is still confused and not really sure this is Esau. Jacob moves forward for his father’s touch, who confesses that the voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are the hands of Esau—they are hairy. One last time Isaac asks, “Are you really my son Esau?” and Jacob answers, “I am.” Thereupon, Isaac asks for the food that Jacob has brought to him and eats and drinks. Then he calls Jacob and says, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” Jacob does, and Isaac smells the garments Jacob is wearing that belong to Esau, and Isaac is now convinced. And so he blesses Jacob, thinking it is Esau. May God give him all good things, and may the people serve him, and nations bow down to him. He is to lord it over his brother and may his mother’s sons bow down to him. Cursed be everyone who curses him, and blessed be everyone who blesses him. The blessing has been passed on and it cannot be revoked. What began as wrestling hostility in the womb is about to break into open family warfare.
The psalter begins with a celebration of God’s gift of Torah, and a reflection on two ways of life: one centered and nurtured by the “law of the Lord,” the other surrounded by scoffers and sinners—one righteous, the other wicked, respectively. The former are like trees planted near streams of water, deeply rooted, richly nurtured, that produce fruit in its season. The latter are like chaff during threshing; the wind simply drives it away because it has no substance. The wicked will not withstand the judgment or be among the congregation of the righteous, because the Lord watches over the righteous, while the wicked perish.
Paul has completed his reflection on God’s redemption of his own people, Israel, and then broken into a magnificent doxology. Now, he turns to what is one of the “load stone” chapters of the book—what new life in Christ looks like. Paul begins by defining it, then describes its marks and, thereafter, exhorts his readers to behaviors that exhibit life transformed in Christ. Christianity is not a “head-trip.” It is bodily, in that we are to present all of ourselves—in everything we do—as an act of worship to God. Rather than be conformed to this world in our choices, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds—in Christ! Only with such a mind can we discern God’s will—the good, the acceptable, and the perfect. Such renewed minds do not think of themselves as better than others; they do not indulge in comparison for the sake of self-congratulations. Rather, renewed minds in Christ remind us that all of us are part of his body and each of us has a role to play therein. We have different gifts that range from preaching [prophecy] to serving [ministry—actually, waiting on tables], to teaching, to encouraging [exhortation], to giving, to leading, to acts of mercy [compassion]—seven fold in character and each essential to the health of any congregation.
Jesus is in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles and has just announced his gift of life-giving water. Now his “I am” sayings take up another image—light—a common metaphor for the presence of God and itself an important element in the Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Whoever follows him will never walk in darkness but have the light of life. The Pharisees challenge him for testifying on his own behalf, a testimony, therefore, that is not valid. Jesus does not deny it, but says, “even so, it is valid, because I know where I have come from and where I am going, while you know neither!” Further, the Pharisees judge by human standards; Jesus judges no one, but simply does what his Father tells him. But if he did judge, it would be valid for it is not Jesus alone who judges, but also the Father who sent him. Quoting “your law” back to them, he reminds them of the Torah’s requirement of two witnesses to make something valid. He then says that he and his Father are those two witnesses. The Jewish leaders respond by asking where his father is. Jesus tells them that they know neither him nor his Father, for if they knew him, they would know his Father. To know Jesus is to know the Father and vice versa. It is open testimony to who he is, but they cannot hear it. The lesson closes by telling us that Jesus continued to teach this openly in the temple, but no one arrested him for “his hour had not yet come.” Whereas in the other three gospels, Jesus’ identity is a secret (Mark), or not fully disclosed until the trial before the Sanhedrin (Matthew) or Pilate (Luke), in John, Jesus speaks very openly about his identity as God’s Son. As the gospel continues to unfold, that becomes even more apparent. It is one of the reasons John has been a favorite among people involved in evangelistic ministries.
Daily Readings for Tuesday, February 11
Gen. 26:1–33; Psalm 102; Heb. 13:17–25; John 7:53–8:11
As his father had formed a covenant with King Abimelech, so, too, will Isaac. Famine in the land causes him to have to move, and the choice is between Egypt and the western region belonging to the Philistines. The Lord tells him not to go to Egypt, but to Gerar, in Philistia, to King Abimelech, promising to be with Isaac, for it is to him and his descendants that the Lord will ultimately give this land. The Lord will fulfill the oath he made with Isaac’s father; he will make Isaac’s offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and give them these lands, and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessings through them. As Abraham obeyed the Lord’s commands, so too, is Isaac to obey his “commandments, statues and laws”—notice the hand of the priestly editor! Isaac settles in Gerar, and when the men, obviously attracted to Rebekah, ask about her, fearful for his life as her husband, Isaac tells them she is his sister—after all, his father got away with it. But sometime thereafter, King Abimelech sees Isaac fondling Rebekah and realizes she is his wife. The king calls for Isaac and demands to know why he has called Rebekah his sister when she is, indeed, his wife. Isaac confesses that fear caused him to do it. Abimelech reminds Isaac of the risk that Issac has brought upon him and his people, and so, issues an edict that whoever touches either Isaac or Rebekah shall be put to death. The story moves on, with Isaac sowing in fields and reaping one hundred fold, for the Lord has blessed him, and he becomes rich. Soon he is very wealthy, with flocks, herds, a great household, and the envy of the Philistines. Out of that envy, the Philistines begin to fill Isaac’s wells with dirt—the wells his father had dug—in an attempt to drive him away or reduce his wealth. King Abimelech tells Isaac he must go away from them; he has become too powerful for them. And so, Isaac moves on and encamps in the valley below Gerar, setttling there and digging new wells for water. But when his servants find springs of water, the herders of Gerar quarrel with Isaac’s men over the water. So he names the well “contention,” and goes about the business of digging another well. When this one strikes water, they quarrel over it again, and so, he names it “enmity,” and moves on. Isaac finally puts enough space between himself and the Philistines’ flocks and herds that there will be no more contention over water, and settles in, digging another well. This one, they do not quarrel over and he names it Rehoboth, meaning “a broad place” or “room,” saying, “Now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” Still, Isaac moves on to put more distance between himself and the Philistines and finally settles further southeast in Beersheba. That very night, the Lord appears to him and repeats the covenant promise that had been made to Abraham, assuring that Isaac is the bearer of the promise. In response, Isaac rises and builds an altar to the Lord in order to call on the name of the Lord, and there he pitches his tents, while his servants dig a well. The quarrels that have emerged between Isaac and the Philistines over Isaac’s prosperity have come to the attention of King Abimelech, who now comes to Isaac, accompanied by his chief advisor as well as the commandeer of his army, asking to make a covenant of peace between them. It is clear to Abimelech that the Lord is with Isaac; Abimelech wants no further trouble. So, Isaac makes a great feast and they eat and drink together—such meals being the mode of covenant making—and the next morning, after exchanging oaths of peace, Isaac sends the king and his men on their way home. That very morning, the servants digging the well strike water. Isaac names it, “the well of the oath,” and there they settle.
Named “a prayer of the afflicted, when faint and pouring out his soul to the Lord,” that 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.
The letter to the Hebrews comes to a conclusion with words of final exhortation, a benediction and a post script. The readers are reminded to obey their leaders. After all, they are keeping watch over their souls. They are to see to it that they behave in such a way that the leaders may do so in joy rather than with sighing and groaning—the latter will be harmful to the readers. They are called on to pray for the author (ostensibly Paul), who though he has a clear conscience, desires to act honorably in all things. He urges them all the more to pray, for he wants to be restored to them soon. That leads to his words of blessing, one of the great benedictions in the New Testament that names Jesus “the shepherd of the sheep,” who by his blood has established an eternal covenant that has the power to make them complete in everything good. Thus, God is working among them to produce things pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom the author gives glory “forever and ever.” A postscript adds words, pleading for the readers to bear with the exhortations that have made up this letter, for he has written to them briefly, and has only cited what he thought essential. He also adds words about Timothy, who has evidently now been freed from his imprisonment. If he comes in time, Timothy will accompany the author in his visit to them. Following a greeting to their leaders and all the saints, we read, “Those from Italy send you greetings.” It can mean the letter is being written from Rome or to Rome—scholars tend to think it the latter—the Jewish Christian’s in Rome. It ends with “Grace be with all of you.”
This story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery does not appear in the very earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel and seems to be a later addition. That is why it is placed in double brackets in the NRSV text, as the footnote will attest. However, the theme of Jesus returning to the temple from the Mount of Olives, early in the morning, fits the chronology of that we read in Luke. The story is well known and beloved. Jesus is teaching. The scribes and the Pharisees haul before him a woman who has been caught in adultery, and again, in an attempt to test Jesus, quote the Law of Moses which says she should be stoned. They ask Jesus what he has to say about it. Jesus says nothing. Rather he bends to the ground and writes with his finger in the dirt—we know not what; this appears to be a symbol of his disengagement. When the religious leaders continue to demand an answer, Jesus stands and responds with his well-known, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, he bends to the ground and writes, as the accusers all fall away, leaving only Jesus and the woman. Standing again, Jesus addresses her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She says, “No one, sir.” Neither will he; rather, he sends her on her way with the injunction to not sin again. Forgiveness is intended to enable us to live into new life. Whether or not it appeared in the earliest manuscripts of John or was a story later added by an editor, its message is gospel through and through.
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.