Saturday: 1 Maccabees 2:1-28; Psalm 136; Revelation 20:1-6; Matthew 16:21-28
We are introduced to Mattathias, a priest from the family of Joarib who has moved out of Jerusalem to a town north of Jerusalem within a day’s walking distance of it. Mattathias has five sons, each of whom is named, the most famous of who is Judas. Each of them is also in the priestly line of their father. When Mattathias sees the abominations and blasphemies taking place in Judah and Jerusalem, he falls into deep lament recounting the blasphemous and treacherous actions of Antiochus: the ruin of his people and its holy city, the desecration of the temple, the murder of infants and youth for claiming their Jewish identity, the general over-run of Judea by “the nations” which can also be translated “Gentiles,” who have inherited all of Israel’s palaces. They are no longer free, but every bit as much slaves as they were in Egypt and Babylon, and maybe more so. Why then should they continue to live? With that question, Mattathias and his five sons tear their garments and don sackcloth in a great ritual of mourning. When the king’s enforcer comes to Modein, where Mattathias and his sons live, to offer inappropriate sacrifice, many from Israel come out to him. Mattathias and his sons are among them. The king’s officer recognizes Mattathias as an honored leader in the town and tells him to come and be the first to do as the king demands—offer sacrifices or abominations to the king and to other false gods. If Mattathias will do so, he will be numbered among the king’s friends—those with courtly privilege and power. He and his sons will be honored and given silver, gold and many gifts. Mattathias refuses, and in a loud voice makes it clear that he and his family have no intention of obeying the king’s laws and abandoning their ancient religion and its covenant and commandments. At that, a man from the town comes forward to offer a sacrifice on the altar as the king commands, and Mattathias is so outraged and filled with zeal that he kills not only the man, but also the officer-enforcer who commanded the sacrifice, and then tears down the altar. Mattathias burns with the same kind of zeal for the law as ancient Phinehas did, Aaron’s grandson, who killed a man and foreign woman in the midst of their sexual tryst because it was a violation of the law (Numbers 25). Thereafter, Phinehas was granted “perpetual priesthood” to himself and all of his descendants. Mattathias has just identified with him and will, later in this chapter, claim Phinehas as his ancestor. Having slain both the Israelite and the enforcer, Mattathias announces rebellion: “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!” With that, he and his sons flee to the hill, leaving all that they have in the city behind. The first of the Jewish rebellions has just begun.
God’s goodness and steadfast love endures forever. This becomes the refrain in a litany of praise, extoling God for both who God is and what God has done. The Lord is God of gods and Lord of lords, who alone does great wonders. God made the heavens and earth and all that is within them. God struck Egypt to bring Israel out from their enslavement, divided the Red Sea, made a path through it, overthrew and devoured Pharaoh in the sea, lead the people through the wilderness, struck down great kings and gave their land to Israel as a heritage. God remembered them, not only in prosperity, but also in their second bondage and again rescued them from their foes, probably a reference to the Babylonian exile. Citing the Lord as the source of sustenance to all people, the psalm ends with one more title for the Lord: the God of heaven (see Daniel 2:18, 19, 37, and 44) whose steadfast love endures forever.
An angel descends from heaven holding the key to the bottomless pit and, with a great chain, seizes the dragon, the ancient serpent of Genesis three, who was the tempter, now identified as the Devil and Satan, and binds him for a thousand years, shutting him into the pit and sealing it for a thousand years. John now sees the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and the word of God—probably Roman rather than Jewish Christians, the latter of which would have been stoned rather than beheaded. These martyrs return to life and reign with Christ for those thousand years—but only the martyrs, the others who have died in the faith do not come to life until the thousand year reign is ended. Notice that nothing is said here about a reign on earth! Also, remember the words “thousand years” are symbolic and not arithmetic. This is the first resurrection in heaven of the martyrs. Over these the second death has no power.
Peter has just made his great Christological confession, and Jesus has acknowledged it is true, but commanded the disciples to remain silent on the subject. He now tells them that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes—the religious establishment in Judaism. He will be killed, and on the third day be raised. The notion of suffering and dying are so shocking to the disciples that they do not hear “and be raised.” Instead, Peter, now commissioned the leader of the infant community, takes Jesus aside and begins to object saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Jesus turns and rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” Peter is setting his mind on human, rather than divine, things, and cannot see the mystery of redemption unfolding in what Jesus has described. So, Jesus now tells all of them that if they want to be his disciples, they must deny themselves and take upon their own crosses and follow him. Note that all but one of them will die a martyr on his behalf. Those who try to save their lives at the cost of denying him will lose them eternally, while those who lose their lives for his sake will find it eternally. What profit is there in gaining the world in this way and losing your life in the process? What can they give in return for their lives? And to this Jesus adds that the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and when they do, they will repay everyone for what has been done. Notice that the image of “Son of Man,” which Jesus has so frequently used as a symbol for himself, is now changed from that in Daniel to one who comes to earth as judge. To this he adds, there are some standing among the disciples who will not have died before they see the Son of Man coming into his kingdom. This is not a reference to the kingdom in its completeness, but the beginning of Christ’s eternal reign following his resurrection, which of course, all of them will see.
Friday: 1 Maccabees 1:41-63; Psalm 91; Revelation 19:11-16; Matthew 16:13-20
With some of the Jews co-opted, Antiochus begins a radical program of secularization in Judah. He writes a decree that his whole kingdom should be one people, and that all should give up their former religious customs. We are told that all of the Gentiles accepted this decree, as well as many in Israel. The king sent letters to Jerusalem and the towns around it, directing them to follow the Gentile customs and to stop sacrificing to the Lord, forbidding burnt offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings in the temple sanctuary. He insisted that people work on the sabbath, thereby profaning it, and forbid the keeping of Israel’s festivals. He defiled the sanctuary and its priests, built altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idol worship throughout the land. He sacrificed swine and other unclean animals and forbid circumcision. Through this, the people became an abomination to the Lord, forgetting his law and its ordinances. To enforce all of this, the king promised death to those who did not comply. Circulating this letter throughout the kingdom, Antiochus appointed inspectors over the people of Judah, demanding that the Israelites sacrifice town by town. We are told that many of the Jews joined in all of this, driving those who did not do so into hiding. In mid-December of that year, Antiochus had erected in the temple on its altar, a “desolating sacrilege”—a statue of Zeus. Thereby, he dedicated the temple to Zeus (2 Macc 6:2). Other altars were built for burning incense at the doors of houses. The books of the law, when found, were torn to pieces and burned, and anyone found to have a copy of it in their possession or attempting to adhere to its statutes was condemned to death. The women who resisted, and had their sons circumcised, as well as those who did the circumcisions, were put to death, and the mothers with their children hanging about their necks as a warning for what happens to people who try to continue to maintain Jewish identity. Yet, many in Israel stood firm, and resolved not to eat unclean food, and chose death over being defiled or abandoning the covenant.
This psalm 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 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 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 who face battle. It is also regularly read at funeral and memorial services.
After all of the “Hallelujahs,” the book turns to seven visions of the consummation. The heavens open and there is a white horse (white being a symbol of victory, with the addition that he is also pure) mounted by one called “Faithful and True” who, in righteousness, judges and makes war. It is the Christ, whose first appearance upon the earth was as a lowly servant who healed, taught, proclaimed the kingdom and welcomed sinners. At this, his second appearing, he comes as a divine warrior decked out in apocalyptic finery—eyes of fire, many diadems reflecting his wide-ranging sovereignty, a secret name that only he knows, and a robe dipped in his own blood—this is the Living Word of God—who has come to wage war on all the enemies of heaven. All of the armies of heaven—the heavenly hosts—follow him, also mounted on horses of triumph. A sharp, two-edged sword issues from his mouth striking down the nations. As with a word he created, with but a word he now destroys! He rules them with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9). He is “trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” (This is where Julia Ward Howe found the imagery for the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”) It is the wrath of God the Almighty. And on the blood-soaked robe and on his thigh his name is inscribed: “King of kings, and Lord of Lords.”
Jesus and the disciples have moved north to Caesarea Philippi, and there he asks them, “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?” They reply, some think him John the Baptist back from the dead, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Jesus now asks the disciples who they think he is and Simon responds with his great Christological confession, “You are the Messiah (Christ), the Son of the living God.” Jesus answers Simon with words of blessing, telling him that flesh and blood has not revealed this to him, but his Father in heaven. Now Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, which also means “rock,” and describes Peter as the rock upon which Jesus’ church will be built, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. In addition, Jesus gives to Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Whatever Peter locks will be confirmed in heaven and remain locked, and whatever Peter opens will be confirmed in heaven and remain. Herein lies the Roman Catholic church’s doctrine, not only of the primacy of Peter in the church, and later called the first Pope, but also Rome’s theology of “binding” and “loosening” sins on earth, so that they remain likewise bound or loosened in heaven. Jesus then “sternly orders” the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. The people do not yet understand what kind of Messiah Jesus is, and he does not want them expecting him to lead an uprising against Rome, in order to make him Israel’s political king in place of the Emperor.
Thursday: 1 Maccabees 1:1-28; Psalm 85; Revelation 19:1-10; Matthew 16:1-12
We begin reading the Book of 1 Maccabees, as we continue the history of Israel in literature that comes from the Apocrypha—often called “inter-testamental literature. Protestant Reformers did not include the Apocrypha in the Bible, because they believed it was not divinely inspired literature. They did, however, consider it appropriate for historical purposes. Roman Catholics and Anglicans include the Apocrypha in their Bible. Increasingly, modern English translations have included the Apocrypha with their translations, placing it between the close of the Protestant Old Testament’s twelve Minor Prophets and the Gospels. If your Bible does not include an Apocrypha, you can purchase just the Apocrypha separately. Judea (now the name for all the remnant of the tribes living in the land), remained a vassal of Persia until Persian sovereignty came to an end, when the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great, entered Egypt in 332 BCE defeating Darius. Though the text says that when Alexander fell sick and knew he was going to die, he divided his empire among his “most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from his youth.” Other historical sources tell us that at Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, two of his Greek generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus, vied with each other for control of the empire. Ptolemy and his successors reigned over Egypt and the land between there and Syria for the next hundred years (between c300 and c200 BCE), until the Seleucid dynasty took control of the Middle Eastern region including Judea. 1 and 2 Maccabees are written at the time Judea is part of the Seleucid Empire, and also tells of Rome’s rise to power in that area. In the first nine verses, we get a simplified compression of those events from 336 BCE until 175 BCE, when a Seleucid general, Antiochus IV took the throne. Antiochus took for himself the name “Epiphanes” which means “God manifest.” The text now turns to certain renegades—lawless ones in Judea—who misled many, suggesting that the separation the Jews had maintained from other nations had brought upon them many disasters. Consequently, they suggest a covenant with the king of the Gentiles—Antiochus Epiphanes. The proposal pleases those who heard it and they went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinance of the Gentiles. Thereupon, they build a gymnasium in Jerusalem—center of Hellenistic activity—and indulged in surgical procedures to remove the marks of circumcision, abandoning the holy covenant with the Lord. We are told they joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves into evil. Having established himself in the land of Syria and Judea, Antiochus determined to become king of Egypt as well, in order to be sovereign over all of the empire. And so, he invaded Egypt on all fronts and King Ptolemy fled before him, enabling Antiochus to plunder the fortified cities of Egypt and plunder their land. After subduing Egypt, Antiochus turned toward Jerusalem to take it. He entered the city with strong force and entered the sanctuary of the temple, taking the golden altar, the lampstands and its utensils. He also took the table for the bread of the Presence, and the other things that were part of the temple establishment, stripping it of its silver and gold. Our lesson closes with a poetic lament, which describes all of Israel in mourning over what has taken place.
This communal lament is preceded by reminding God of how he has been favorable to the people in the past, restoring the fortunes of Jacob, forgiving the people’s iniquity and pardoning all their sin, withdrawing his wrath and turning from his hot anger. And so the plea is now, “Restore us again.” Will you be angry forever? “Revive us again so that your people may rejoice in you. Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Whether the psalmist himself or a priest in the temple, one now speaks prophetically and says, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,” and then promises, “God will speak peace to his people, to his faithful ones, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” For these, salvation is at hand. The result of this is that steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss; faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky. These four cardinal and classic attributes of God will be upon those who turn to him as a sign of God’s favor. The land will yield its increase, and righteousness will go before the Lord, making a path for his steps.
As the merchants of the earth weep, the inhabitants of heaven shout “Hallelujah!” This section of Revelation is filled with ascriptions of praise, confessions of faith and the hymns of the early church as God’s victory over the powers of evil is celebrated and confirmed. The whore has been judged; Hallelujah! Twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fall down in worship, saying, “Amen, Hallelujah!” A voice from the throne commands: “Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him small and great.” Out of a voice of a thunderous multitude comes another “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God reigns.” The kingdom for which Jesus has taught his followers to earnestly pray has now come. The marriage of the lamb to his bride, the church, is now to be complete. “She is dressed in the fine linen of the righteous deeds of the saints. Blessed are all who are invited to this feast. The angel turns to John and says, “These are true words of God,” and at that, John falls at the angel’s feet to worship. But John is warned, “You must not do that!” The angel is but a fellow servant with John and his friends who hold the testimony of Jesus. “Worship God!” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy—God’s very word! It is why the church can say, “Hallelujah!” in Jesus’ name.
The Pharisees and Sadducees come to Jesus to test him and demand a sign from heaven. Jesus mocks them, telling them that though they know how to read the heavens for signs of the weather, they cannot read the signs of the times that are unfolding around them. No, this evil and adulterous generation will be given no further signs, save the sign of Jonah. At that, Jesus leaves them. When he and the disciples reach the other side of the lake, they realize they have forgotten to bring any bread. This gives Jesus occasion to warn them against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The disciples wonder among themselves what this means—what has that to do with having no bread? Clearly Jesus is irritated with them and says, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread.” Do they still not get it? Do they not remember the five thousand fed with how many baskets left over, or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets left over? How can they fail to perceive that he is not talking about the bread of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but rather to beware of their teaching? It is false.
Wednesday: Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3,5-18; Psalm 81; Revelation 18:21-24; Matthew 15:29-39
Our readings from Ezra-Nehemiah come to a conclusion with the report of the people gathering at the Water Gate, “as one man” in the presence of the priests, Levites and other officials. Nehemiah tells Ezra, the scribe, to bring forth the book of Moses, and he does. It is then given to Ezra the priest to read—are they one in the same or two different men named “Ezra?” The text is not clear. Ezra the priest blesses the Lord and the people respond, “Amen,” and the people bow themselves prostrate to the ground. Ezra reads from morning to midday, as the people listen. Some can understand what Ezra is reading, but for most who had returned from Babylon, this was probably the first time they had heard the Torah. Notice that in exile the people have lost the original language of Hebrew. As a consequence, what is read needs not only explanation but also translation. As the law is read, the people begin to weep, understanding how far they have been living from the laws dictated. Ezra responds that the people should not weep. This is a day holy to the Lord. He goes on to say, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." The Levites calm the people and send them to their homes. The following day, the heads of the households, along with priests and Levites, gather before Ezra to learn what they should do. Ezra continues to read and they discover that the Lord has commanded the people to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they send word throughout the land that the people are to keep the feast. They command the people to go to the hills and gather leafy branches and palms to build booths on top of their houses or in their courts, and the court before the Water Gate. The entire assembly gathered to observe the feast of tabernacles, as Ezra continued to read the law of Moses to them. For seven days they kept the feast as the law prescribes, ending on the eighth day with a great convocation.
The people are called to liturgical assembly on a festival day to sing, shout for joy, raise a song, sound the musical instruments and blow the shofar (ram’s horn) at the new moon (perhaps the feast of Passover, Pentecost or Tabernacles). The reference to Joseph may mean this was composed in the Northern Kingdom during a Levite reform. The psalm turns prophetic and introduces the voice of God remembering that he has “relieved [their] shoulder of the burden” of Egypt. They called and God answered. God tested them at the waters of Meribah (Exodus 17). Now, they are to listen, as God admonishes them. If only they would listen! There are to be no strange gods among them, nor are they to bow down to them. This is the Lord speaking, who brought them out of Egypt. If they will be open wide their mouths, the Lord will fill them. But the people did not listen and would not submit. And so, God gave them over to their stubborn hearts. Once again the Lord extends the plea: If only they would listen and walk in God’s ways. Then God would quickly subject their enemies; turn his hand against their foes, causing those who hate him to cringe. For their own part, God would feed them with the finest of wheat and honey from the rock. It initially seems quite remarkable how often these themes need to appear, causing one to wonder why the people did not respond. But then, think of how easily we are drawn away from trusting the Lord when other solutions seem to be at hand.
A strong angel appears and throws a great millstone into the sea, as a symbol of all that will go down and no longer be found: the musicians, the artists, the artisans of any trade, the joy of ongoing life symbolized by the bride and bridegroom, the merchants and magnates of the earth, all who were deceived by the city’s sorcery. All of that falls with the fall of Babylon, for in her was found the blood of the prophets and saints, and all who have been slaughtered. The judgment is more comprehensive than simply Rome. This is about every nation that rises up against the meek of the earth and others of God’s people, and pursues power for its own purposes, abusing its subjects rather than serving them. In other words, powerful nations of the world, beware of how you use your power and who you serve with it.
Jesus leaves the region of Sidon and Tyre, after healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter, and returns to the Sea of Galilee and goes up a mountain, and the people came to him bringing their sick, their lame their blind and their mute, and Jesus heals them. The people are astonished and rejoice, for Jesus has had compassion on them. What follows is a second miraculous feeding, this time serving four thousand with seven baskets left over. Scholars debate whether this is really the story of feeding the five thousand that has made its way into Matthew’s gospel because of different numbers, or if it is simply a second time Jesus has had compassion on the crowd, blessed bread and fish and had the disciples serve the people in their time of need. If you read on to verse 39, you discover that this feeding ends slightly differently than that of the five thousand. Earlier, Jesus sends the disciples on before him in the boat while he goes further up the mountain to pray, and then joins the disciples in the boat by walking on the sea. Here, he simply gets into the boat with the disciples and sails on to the region of Madagan, an example of Matthew’s quick transitions.
Tuesday: Nehemiah 9:26-38; Psalms 78:40-72; Revelation 18:9-20; Matthew 15:21-28
Nehemiah continues his prayer of confession before the Lord on behalf of all of the people. It is a recital of the Lord’s mercy to his people, and a history of Israel’s response: initial gratitude, then apathy or rationalizations concerning what God’s law requires, followed by open indifference, leading to the inclusion of worshipping other gods, especially the fertility gods the people thought themselves dependent upon for prosperity. Again and again the Lord sent prophets to warn the people and call them back to the Lord’s way. But the people ignored, harassed, drove out or imprisoned the prophets for their word and even killed them. The Lord’s patience worn thin, divine judgment would fall upon the people in the form of defeat to a neighboring people. Then, the people would cry out to the Lord, who in his mercy would respond and remove the oppressive nations. But beginning with the king of Assyria in 720 BCE, the Lord’s judgments became more severe, leading to the northern tribes of Israel being defeated by Assyria, and ever after non-existent as an identifiable nation with its own king. So too in Judah, who followed the same customs in spite of being the home for the temple. God ultimately took vengeance and judgment upon them, through the siege, sack and total destruction of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. Once again, the people cried out and the Lord heard giving Persia victory over Babylonia, whereupon God turned the heart of the Persian king Cyrus who let the Jews return to their land. But even now that they have returned, built a new temple and restored the walls and gates of Jerusalem, and reside once again in the land God gave to their ancestors, they remain slaves, subject to the Persian king. Consequently, the rich yield of the land that God has intended for the children of Israel now goes as tribute to the king of Persia. Nehemiah acknowledges that in all of this, it is his people who are guilty and deserve what they have received, though the Lord has remained gracious and merciful through it all. After all, the remnant has remained, as God frequently promised. Because of all of this Nehemiah and the people are ready to make a firm agreement with the Lord in writing, and signed and sealed by Nehemiah, Judah’s officials, the Levites and the priests. Commentators note that this “agreement” is not called a covenant, possibly because its initiation has been by Nehemiah and the people rather than the Lord. Only the Lord makes covenants of this sort with the people.
The psalmist continues to recount for a later generation how their ancestors have behaved so badly in response to God’s goodness until the time God established David as king and Jerusalem as God’s home. The people’s continuing rebellion in the wilderness is recalled, in spite of all that God did for them in Egypt to liberate them. He led them through the wilderness as a shepherd cares for his sheep; brought them to God’s holy hill; drove out the nations before them and gave them appointed portions of the land in which to settle. Yet, they continued to test God, rebelling and ignoring God’s decrees, and provoking him by indulging in the worship of the gods of their Canaanite neighbors. God abandoned his place in Shiloh and allowed the ark to be captured by the Philistines, delivering his glory to the hands of the foe. Behind this also lies an allusion to the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria, with the priests falling by the sword as God vented his wrath. Rather than choose Joseph or Ephraim, the more powerful and noble, God chose David from the tribe of lowly Judah to be king, and Mount Zion, in the land of Judah, as his dwelling. There God built his sanctuary, a replica of the high heavens, and chose David, taking him from the sheepfolds, to become the shepherd of all of the people of Jacob, of Israel (Jacob’s other name), and Jacob’s inheritance. With upright heart and skillful hand, David tended them as a faithful shepherd.
A lament for the fall of “Babylon,”—a veiled reference to Rome—the poem continues into today’s lesson. All the kings of the earth who have indulged in fornication with her will now stand afar and in fear say, “Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon—in one hour your judgment has come!” It is swift and sure. The merchants who have made great wealth selling to the city will stand afar in fear and weeping; who will now purchase their goods? In one hour, all this wealth has been laid waste—so fast will be the judgment on her. Shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all who trade by sea will do the same. They will throw dust on their heads in grief. On the other hand, the heavens are called to rejoice over her with the saints and the apostles. The vengeance that belongs to God alone has now come in judgment upon Babylon.
Jesus and the disciples have traveled up to Sidon and Tyre, Gentile country north and west of Galilee. As they do, a Canaanite woman comes to him shouting, “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David,” begging him to come and cast a demon out of her demented daughter. Jesus ignores her plea, and the disciples also irritated with her behavior go to Jesus urging him to send her away for she keeps shouting after them. Jesus’ answer seems not to fit the disciples’ request but rather confirm it: he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house Israel. The woman comes up to Jesus, kneels in front of him and pleads for his help. Jesus’ answer is again startling: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jews regularly called Gentiles “dogs,” a particularly demeaning term when dogs were mostly wild and simply lived by devouring scraps or other forms of dead flesh thrown out in dumps. Some had dogs for security, but even these were considered highly unclean. Jesus has come to bring food to the children of Israel. The woman hears this and responds, “Yes, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus is startled by that answer and responds, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Matthew tells us that “instantly her daughter was healed.”
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.