Daily Readings for Monday, February 10
Gen. 25:19–34; Psalm 82; Heb. 13:1–16; John 7:37–52
Strangely, the lectionary steps over Abraham’s third marriage to a woman named Keturah, who bears him a number of children, among them Midian, whose people will occupy the Sinai, and among whom Moses will live when he flees Egypt, and from whom he will choose a wife. The text is clear, though Abraham had all these sons, he gave all that he had to Isaac—Isaac is clearly the heir of all things, especially the promise. The text also draws a distinction between the three mothers of Abraham’s children, using the word “concubine”—a term for a secondary wife—to describe Keturah and Hagar, as opposed to Sarah as Abraham’s “wife of wives,” and Isaac’s mother. Abraham gives gifts to all of his children and their mothers, but sends them away eastward from Isaac, further preserving Isaac as the heir. Abraham lived one hundred seventy-five years, breathed his last and died “in a good old age.” Isaac and Ishmael bury their father alongside Sarah, in the cave at Machpelah, in the field that Abraham had purchased from the Hittites. After Abraham’s death, we are told that God blessed Isaac, who again settled at Beer-la hai-roi. We then read a genealogy of Ishmael’s descendants, noting that he had twelve sons, each of whom became princes among their people—just as the Lord had promised. Ishmael dies at one hundred thirty-seven years of age, his people inhabiting the eastern portion of Egypt. Today’s lesson now shifts to Isaac and Rebekah and the birth of the twins, Esau and Jacob. We are told that Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah, but she, too, is barren—the theme of barrenness again appearing as a threat to the promise, to make the point that it is God at work in these things. Isaac entreats the Lord for Rebecca and he hears Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah becomes pregnant. But it is a difficult pregnancy, as the twins begin their sibling rivalry in utero. So difficult is it on Rebekah that she wonders if she will live, and goes to inquire of the Lord. The Lord responds in a poetic oracle to describe what is to come of this pregnancy. Two nations abide within her, but they will be divided, and the older shall serve the younger. And true to the Lord’s oracle, when the time comes for their birth, Esau emerges first, red and with a full mantle of hair, while Jacob emerges hanging onto his brother’s heel. In accord with the common custom, the boys are named after the circumstances at birth, one Esau, because he was “hairy” and the other Jacob, which come from the Hebrew word for “heel”, but then comes to mean “supplanter.” Isaac and Rebekah have waited twenty years for these children, and each dotes on one favorite, Isaac choosing Esau, because he was a man of the field, and Isaac loved game, and Rebekah upon Jacob, because he was a homebody—a “momma’s boy—staying near his mother. The story now quickly shifts to an event that will lie as pivotal in what is to come. Esau is out hunting, while Jacob is at home cooking stew. Esau arrives famished and asks for “some of that red stuff,” referring to the stew. We are told, parenthetically that this is why he was called Edom (the father of the Edomites), because the word Edom means red. Jacob refuses his brother, insisting that first Esau sell Jacob Esau’s birthright as first born. Esau thinks he is dying and wonders what-on-earth good a birthright will be when he is dead, and says, “What use is that to me?” But that is not enough. Jacob makes him swear to it, which Esau does. And so, Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. Esau eats and drinks and goes his way, and we are told that Esau did not simply fail to respect his birthright, he despised it!
God has assembled the leaders of the peoples and is holding court in the midst of “the gods,” not the gods of the foreign nations, but the angelic beings that form the Lord’s court servants. He passes judgment on the rulers of the peoples: how long will they judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? They are appointed to give justice to the weak and the orphan and maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rulers in the Bible are regularly reminded that the measure of their faithfulness is how they care for the poor and the destitute. But the rulers assembled before God do not get it, they do not understand and walk around in darkness so that the foundations of earth are shaken. God then addresses them again: “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you. Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” They have been appointed to govern on God’s behalf and have failed. Though thought of as gods by their people, they shall die like every mortal, and fall like any prince. Thereafter, the psalmist calls on God to rise up and judge the earth and bring the justice God desires, for all the nations of the earth belong to God. The universal theology behind Second Isaiah is clearly woven deeply into this psalm.
As Hebrews comes to its conclusion, the readers are reminded of the obligation of love among them. More, they are not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers—those Christians traveling through, whether teachers or others, who need assistance on their way. Abraham’s experience of hosting God and his two angels is cited as an unexpected benefit of such hospitality. They are to remember their brothers and sisters who are in prison as though they themselves were in prison, and those among them being tortured as though they themselves were being tortured—remember, this is written at a time of official persecution by the state. They are reminded of the need for fidelity in marriage—something unusual in the rest of the culture—and the need to shun the love of money, a theme also cited in the first letter to Timothy (6:10). Rather, they are to be content with what they have, knowing that the Lord will never leave them or forsake them. Psalm 118:6 is quoted as the foundation of that promise. They are to remember their leaders, those who first spoke the word of God to them. They are to consider their leader’s way of life and imitate them. The author now inserts a brief confession of faith, probably known to and used by them in worship: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Therefore, they are not to be carried away by strange teachings but to be strengthened by God’s grace, not by regulations about food. Clearly, the Jewish Christian teachers have arrived and are seen here as false teachers. There is no benefit to the observation of those rules. But more, belonging to Christ they have an altar—Christ’s table—from which those who officiate in the tabernacle (an allusion to the temple), have no right to eat. And, are not the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the temple as sacrifice for sin, not burned outside the camp? So too, Jesus suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Therefore, “Let us then go to him outside the camp (probably a reference to the synagogue, or even temple, from which they have been expelled), and bear the abuse he endured. For things here are temporal. Our heritage is in that city—the New Jerusalem—that is to come. Consequently, we are to offer a sacrifice of praise to God through Christ, the fruit of the lips of those who confess his name. Finally, they are not to neglect doing good and sharing what they have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
On the last day of the festival, as the priests are pouring fresh water on the altar as an offering to God, Jesus stands and cries out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let those who believe in me drink,” and with allusions to Isaiah 44:3, 55:1 and 58:11, he proclaims himself the source of new life. As his body is the manna of Passover, he is also the life-giving water celebrated in the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). The author quickly reminds us that Jesus is talking about the gift of the Spirit, which believers will receive after Jesus’ glorification. When the crowd heard this, some said, “He really is the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But, the skeptics in the crowd returned to the theme of his origin—Galilee. The scriptures are clear; the Messiah is from David and will come from Bethlehem. And so, a division occurs among them. The temple police return to the chief priests and Pharisees empty handed, so overwhelmed were they by Jesus’ words and the peoples’ response. The Pharisees accuse them of having been deceived, like the rest of the ignorant crowd, and then ask a self-incriminating question: “has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?” After all, the crowd is both accursed and ignorant of the law—what do they know? But Nicodemus, who in chapter 3 went to Jesus by night, is among them and, knowing the law, challenges them with it: the law does not allow them to judge people without first giving them a hearing. Angered and embarrassed, they try to shame Nicodemus by accusing him of being a stupid, ignorant Galilean as well, and challenge him to search the scriptures. He will learn that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.
Daily Readings for Sunday, February 9, Year II
Gen. 24:50–67; Psalm 117; 2 Tim. 2:14–21; Mark 10:13–22
The marriage contract has been completed, but, will Rebekah accompany the servant back to his master, or, must other arrangements be made? What does it mean to entrust a daughter to a stranger who claims to serve Abraham and has entered the house with this story, and bestowed gifts upon them? Laban and Bethuel’s answer reveal that they, too, know and worship the Lord, and that somehow, all of this is caught up in what the Lord is doing. When the servant hears their words of permission, he again bows his head to the ground to bless the Lord. Then the other servants bring out the gifts of dowry that have been born by the ten camels—jewelry of silver and gold and garments. These are given to Rebekah, to her brother and mother. Then the servant and his men eat and drink the meal that Laban has placed before them, and they spend the night. Rising the next day, the servant asks permission to leave with Rebekah, but Laban and her mother resist. “Let the girl remain with us awhile, at least ten days; after that she may go.” Thus, Rebekah’s mother and brother are attempting to protect her in a way that was customary after a betrothal. Ten days later, Laban could deliver her to Abraham, and, in the process, assure that all was well. But the servant insists in the name of the Lord. He has made the journey successful, so let him take the girl and go. They decide to allow Rebekah to be the one who makes the decision, a subtle way of showing that she is not powerless in all of this and that, through her decision, she fully accepts and consents to the betrothal and can be faithful to the destiny it will bring. “I will,” she says. And so, they send away Rebekah with Abraham’s servant and his men. In her departing they bless Rebekah with words that bespeak who she is to become out of this marriage, the one through whom God’s promise to Abraham, to be the father of many nations, takes its next step. And so, Rebekah and her servant attendants rise up, mount the camels, and follow Abraham’s servant, who takes them on their way. The story now shifts to Isaac, who we are told, has been living in the land of Beer-la hai-roi—the very place where Hagar had fled from Sarah when learning she was pregnant, where the Lord appeared to her, sending her back. She named the place, “The Lord will see,” or “The Lord sees to it.” And that is the point. The Lord has seen to it and now Isaac can leave that place to settle in the Negeb, which will become his home for a while. He has gone out into the field in the evening to walk. The narrative gives a sense of his remembering and a mournful longing for his mother. He looks up and sees the camel caravan approaching. Now, the story shifts to Rebekah, who sees Isaac and quickly slips down from the camel, to be less visible. “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” she asks. The servant says, “It is my master,” as he acknowledges that this is Master Abraham’s heir and, therefore, his master as well. Hearing that, Rebekah quickly veils herself. When they meet, the servant tells Isaac all the things that he had done. Isaac takes the veiled Rebekah and brings her to his mother’s tent—she is to be the new matriarch, inheriting all that belonged to Sarah—and there, he takes Rebekah as his wife. We are told that Isaac loved Rebekah, and was thus comforted after his mother’s death. If it seems strange that the narrative does not tell us more about the initial encounter between Isaac and Rebekah, beyond her becoming Isaac’s wife and Isaac loving her, remember that the author is making the point that all of this is the Lord’s doing, who remains in the background, but is guiding all of the events as they unfold. To some, they seem the ordinary things of life, and nothing more than coincidence. To others, this is the hand of the Lord at work in their lives, as he is at work in our own.
This, the shortest psalm in the collection of 150, is a call to worship addressed to everyone, followed by a brief hymn of praise. It easily comports with the theology of Second Isaiah: the Lord is God, there is no other. But more, the Lord is steadfast love and faithfulness, and endures forever. Hallelujah!
Scholars argue whether 2 Timothy is written by Paul or another in his name. For today’s lesson, this is inconsequential, and so I will speak of “Paul” and “Timothy” as the author and recipient, respectively. The issue here is false teachers in the church and how to deal with them in such a way that still sees them as belonging to Christ. First, pastors like Timothy must not indulge in “wrangling over words” and “senseless controversy,” which breed quarrels that divide the body, the church. They are to be avoided. Rather, Timothy—as well as the rest of us!—is to do his best to present himself to God as one approved by him, a worker who rightly handles the word of truth, in his living and sharing the gospel. And when it comes to “profane chatter,” avoid it. All it does is lead people more deeply into impiety, which, like gangrene, eats away at the body. Two false teachers are singled out by name as illustrations of those indulging in this—Hymenaeus and Philetus. Both have been claiming that the resurrection has already come. They are doing, what controversy does—upsetting the faith of some. That said, Paul reminds Timothy that the church is God’s firm foundation, an allusion to Numbers 16:5 and Joel 2:32, and it shall stand. Paul now employs the metaphor of household utensils, some made of precious metal, some of wood and some of clay—different in value—but all useful, each in its own unique way. Therefore, all who cleanse themselves of this contentious behavior will become special utensils, dedicated to and useful to Christ, the owner of this house, and ready for every good work. Therefore, abandon the youthful passion for argument, and rather, pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Again, Timothy is warned to have nothing to do with “stupid and senseless controversies” that simply breed quarrels. The Lord’s servants are not quarrelsome but kind to everyone, apt teachers, patient, who correct their opponents with gentleness. After all, through such correction, God, who has held their opponents captive so they may do his will, will grant them the gift of repentance so that they come to know the truth and serve God once again (please see the footnote in your text).
In the midst of a controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees over divorce, people break in, to bring their children to Jesus so that he might touch them. The disciples sternly object; they are interrupting this important argument. At this, Jesus becomes indignant with them saying, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Then elaborating further on what he means Jesus says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child—without warrant, right or claim—will never enter it.” Remember, children were powerless in that culture. At this, Jesus takes the children up in his arms, lays hands on them and blesses them. As Jesus and his disciples prepare to leave Capernaum, one of the wealthy young men of the community comes to him, kneels and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Notice that though other religious figures have referred to Jesus as “Teacher,” this man adds “Good.” Clearly, he is among the privileged, genuinely striving to live a faithful religious life, and this is quickly demonstrated in his response to Jesus’ question. But first, Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments ….” Interestingly enough, Jesus only cites the second table of the law—that dealing with relationships between people—and substituted “do not defraud” for “do not covet.” Regardless, the young man openly, and innocently, claims that he has kept all of these from his youth—from the day he became responsible before the law. Jesus looks on the young man, and Mark tells us, “loved him”—the only place in this gospel where that is said of Jesus and another human. Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing: he is to go, sell what he owns, give the money to the poor, thereby, he will discover treasure in heaven; then he is to come, and follow Jesus. The answer is more than the young man can bear. Hearing this he is filled with sorrow, and in grieving and distress, goes away, for he has many possessions.
Daily Readings for Saturday, February 8, Year II
Genesis 24:28–38, 49–51; Psalm 125; Hebrews 12:12–29; John 7:14–36
Rebekah runs to her house to tell her mother what has just taken place. When her brother Laban sees the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, he recognizes this is a man of substance and runs out to greet him. Abraham’s servant has remained by the spring with his camels and the men who have come with them. When Laban greets him he says, “Come in, O blest of the Lord. Why do you stand outside when I have prepared the house for you and a place for your camels?” So Abraham’s servants go with Laban, who welcomes them with traditional hospitality, giving the men water to wash their feet, unloading their camels, giving them straw and fodder, and setting before the men food. The servant says that he cannot eat until he has asked Laban and his father Bethuel a question. “What is that?” they ask. He tells them that he is Abraham’s servant. Abraham has become wealthy and in his old age been given a son, to whom he will leave everything. Abraham has dispatched the servant to find a wife for his son among his kinsman, rather than from among the Canaanites where he is living. And so Abraham has sent him here, back to the land of his kin. He then tells them of what took place at the spring, and how he prayed to the Lord to make his journey a success, and asked that the woman the Lord had chosen would offer him a drink as well as water his camels. Before he had finished praying, Rebekah did just that. He ask who she was, and upon finding that she was a kinswoman—Nahor’s granddaughter—he put a gold ring in her nose and the gold bracelets upon her arms. He then bowed his head to worship God in thanksgiving for having answered his prayer. And now, the servant asks Laban and Bethuel to deal loyally and truly with Abraham, giving Rebekah as a bride for Isaac. If they will, then say so. If not, say so, in order that he may continue his search. Laban and Bethuel answer that this thing comes from the Lord; how can they speak anything good or bad? “Look, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.”
This song of ascent is less a prayer than a wisdom hymn that extolls the Lord’s ability to care for those who trust in him. Like Mt. Zion, they will not be moved. Like the mountains that surround Mt. Zion, so the Lord surrounds his people, and will do so forever. Reigns of wickedness shall not fall on the land that has been allotted to the righteous, that they may not stretch out their hand and do wrong. Finally, there is the petition: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,” followed by the parallel refrain, “and to those who are upright in their hearts.” But for those who turn aside to walk in their own way, the Lord will lead them away with the other evildoers. The psalm ends invoking peace on Jerusalem—God’s dwelling place.
As Hebrew’s continues it is filled with reference to various biblical texts, each of which is skillfully woven into this exhortation. The readers are to pursue peace (Psalm 34:14), but do so with everyone, as well as the holiness, without which, no one wills see the Lord. They are to assure than none among them fail to obtain the grace of God. More, they are to let no root of bitterness (Deuteronomy 29:18), spring up and cause trouble and through that trouble, defile many. How many a church conflict has driven people from the church? None of them are to be like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. He reminds them that when Esau went back to his father to inherit the blessing he was rejected (Genesis 27:30-40). With this, the author is reminding his readers that those who slip away under hardship will not then, later, be able to repent, no matter how many tears they might shed. Images of Moses at Sinai and the reception of the covenant dominate this next section: blazing fire, darkness, gloom, tempest, sound of a trumpet, and a voice that made its hearers beg it to stop—all images of God’s presence—with the reminder that the mountain was declared holy. Any and all who touched it would die. So terrifying was the sight that even Moses said he trembled with fear. But they have not come to that mountain in the Sinai. Rather they have come to Mount Zion, and now the text begins to be dominated by images shared in the book of Revelation. They have come to the city of the living God (Revelation 11:10), the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), with innumerable angels in a festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first born (Revelation 19:6), and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous who have been made perfect—a reference both to those Biblical heroes of faith who have waited patiently for this moment, as well as those martyrs who have given their lives for the faith. The have all come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, a covenant with sprinkled blood that speak a better word than the blood of Abel (Genesis 4:10). Therefore, they must see to it that they do not refuse the word he is speaking. For if they who refused Moses’ warning, did not escape, how much less “will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!” There, at Sinai, God’s voice shook the earth (Exodus 19:18). And he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but the heavens” (Haggai 2:6). The author explains that “Yet, once more,” refers to the shaking away of that which has been created and needs to be removed, while that which cannot be shaken remains. He then reminds them that they are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Therefore let them live lives that show grace and thanks, for in doing so, they offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. Finally, they are again reminded, “…for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”
Jesus remains back in Galilee until the middle of the festival and then goes up to Jerusalem and to the temple and begins to teach there in the treasury, where people gather to give their temple tax. The people, especially the Jewish leaders, are astonished at Jesus’ teaching since he has obviously had no formal training like that of the Pharisees or chief priests. Jesus responds that his teaching is not his own but the One who sent him, (repeating the theme of 5:19-30), and that anyone resolved to do the will of God will recognize and accept that. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory, but Jesus does not speak on his own, but for the Father and seeks the glory of the One who sent him, not his own. Consequently, there is nothing false in him or what he teaches. Jesus then cites Moses giving them the law—teaching from God—but observes that none of them keep it. If that is so, why are they now looking for an opportunity to kill him? They accuse him of being possessed by a demon and ask who is trying to kill him. Jesus ignores their question and turns the conversation to their central objection—his having healed the man at the pool on the Sabbath (5:1-18), and points out that even on the Sabbath they circumcise a child if the 8th day happens to fall on it. Why then are they angry that he has healed on the Sabbath? Are they so preoccupied with their own religious and cultural concerns and their judgment so poor that they cannot see the presence of God at work in that act? Some in the crowd recognized that Jesus is the man their leaders are trying to kill; why have they done nothing, not even arrested him? Can it be that they know he is the Messiah? Yet, they know where he comes from; on the other hand, no one is to know where the Messiah comes from. Jesus uses that to play on the notion that, not only do they not know where he comes from, more, they do not know the One who sent him. Jesus knows him because “I am from him,” another use of the sacred name for his own identity, “he sent me.” They understand that well enough and now try to arrest him, but they can’t—his hour has not yet come. Many in the crowd believe in Jesus, while others insist that when the Messiah comes he will do more signs than this. The Pharisees hear the crowd’s “mutterings” and so, with the chief priests, they send the temple police to arrest Jesus. Jesus tells them he will be among them only a short time more and then he will go to a place they cannot come. As is often the case in this gospel, such words are misunderstood by the hearers, which sets up more opportunity for Jesus to explain himself. They think he is talking about leaving Jerusalem to go among the Jews of the dispersion to continue his teaching among them. He, of course, is talking about his return to the Father.
Daily Readings for Friday, February 7, Year II
Genesis 24:1–27; Psalm 25; Hebrews 12:3–11; John 7:1–13
It is time to find a wife for Isaac, and that wife must not come from among the Canaanites, but from the larger family that Abraham left behind in Haran. Abraham calls his senior servant, the one to whom the management of all of his property is entrusted, and makes him swear to go back to his country and his kindred and find a wife for Isaac. Under no circumstances is he to get a wife from among the Canaanites; this he must swear in the name of the Lord. The servant asks, “But what if the woman is not willing to follow me back to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Absolutely not; this land has been promised to him, he is not to leave it, for in doing so, he would abandon the heritage that Abraham has just purchased for him. No, the Lord has promised Abraham that the land will belong to his offspring; he must not take Isaac back to Haran. So, if the woman he finds is not willing to come, he is freed from the oath. The servant obeys and participates in an ancient form of oath taking, placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh—the Hebrew word here can be translated “loins” or “genitals”—promising to do as Abraham has said, for the future of his descendants—his progeny, ergo, his sexual organs—depends upon it. The servant takes ten of Abraham’s camels and loads them with all kinds of choice gifts from the household, and sets out to the city where Nahor, Abraham’s brother, lives. Just outside the city, he has the camels kneel near a well. It is the evening, the time when the women of the city come to the well for water. And so, he prays to the Lord, saying, “Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say in return, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one you have appointed for Isaac.” Before the servant is finished praying, Rebekah appears. We are told that her grandmother was Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, and we are told that “she was very fair to look upon.” She has come to the well and filled her jar and is returning home. The servant runs to her and asks for a drink. She gives him his drink and as he is finishing, she offers to water his camels as well, and does. As the servant watches all of this unfold, he is filled with wonder—has the Lord made his journey successful? Once the camels have been watered, the servant rewards Rebekah with a gold nose-ring and gold bracelets of some significant value and then asks whose daughter she is, and if there is room in her father’s house for him and his other servants to spend the night. Rebekah identifies herself as Milcah’s grand-daughter, and adds that they have plenty of straw and fodder for the camels and a place for them to stay the night. The servant bows his head to the ground and worships the Lord, saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham….” The Lord has remembered his promise and led the servant to his master’s kin.
This acrostic psalm is a prayer in which the psalmist pleads for God’s protection, guidance mercy, instruction, pardon and grace. A wisdom psalm, it repeats the convictions that those who wait upon the Lord and who walk in God’s ways (Torah), will never be put to shame, while the wantonly treacherous will end in disgrace and defeat. Seeking for the wisdom to ever know God’s ways, the psalmist asks to be led in God’s truth and taught God’s ways. She pleads for God’s mercy and steadfast love and asks that the sins of her youth be forgotten. She blesses the Lord as good and upright, who instructs sinners and leads the humble in the paths of steadfast love and faithfulness. In the midst of many foes, she asks that they not prevail or put her to shame, for she has taken refuge in the Lord. May that integrity and uprightness be a source of strength and preservation as she waits on God. Finally, the scope of this petition is expanded beyond personal concerns to pray that God will redeem Israel out of all its trouble.
Jesus’ suffering and death are used as models for those to whom this book is written, who seem to be considering falling away under the hardship of their persecution. The author reminds them of what Jesus suffered on their behalf, in order that they might not grow weary or lose heart. Besides, in their struggle against sin, they have not resisted to the point of death, as Jesus did; the Roman persecution has not yet moved to martyrdom. Quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, the author reminds his readers that the Lord disciplines those he loves. Therefore, they are to endure and not lose heart in their trials—this is parental discipline. The Lord is testing them as loving parents discipline a child, knowing that it is for the child’s best. So, they are to endure the trials that come to them for the sake of this parental discipline. Beyond the fruit of the discipline is another gift: by it they know that they are legitimate children of God. For who would bother to try to discipline an illegitimate child? Our human parents disciplined us for a short time, but God disciplines us through life for our own good, in order that we may finally share in his holiness. Yes, discipline is painful, rather than pleasant; but look at what it yields to those who allow themselves to be trained by it—the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Thus, the author calls upon them to “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.” They are to set a straight path for their feet, again, a reference to Proverbs 4:26, so that their lameness may be healed.
Jesus remains in the region of Galilee, teaching, healing and working his signs, staying away from Judea because the Jewish leaders there are on the lookout for him, hoping to find an opportunity to kill him. As the festival of Booths (Feast of Tabernacles, Lev 23:39-43) approaches, a harvest festival commemorating God’s care for Israel in the wilderness, Jesus’ brothers--yes, these are his siblings still not convinced about him--test him by urging Jesus to join the pilgrim festival in Jerusalem, so that his disciples can see what he is up to and to make himself more widely known. Hear the sarcasm in their saying to him, “…for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret.” Jesus refuses, saying his time has not yet come, but theirs is always here. They are not hated by the world as he is, for he continues to testify against it that its works are evil. And so, he sends them to the festival by themselves, while he remains in Galilee, because his hour for glorification has not yet come. After they leave, he also goes up to Jerusalem, but in secret, knowing that the Jewish leaders are expecting him to be at the festival and are asking, ‘Where is he?” There is considerable disagreement about Jesus within the crowd, some complaining that he is deceiving people, while others are saying, “He is a good man,” but the latter are doing so quietly because of their fear of the Jewish authorities.
Daily Readings for Thursday, February 6, Year II
Genesis 23:1–20; Psalm 26; Hebrews 11:32–12:2; John 6:60–71
We step over the genealogy of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, which sets the context for Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah, to move to the death of Sarah. But the story of Sarah’s burial is about much more than that. Abraham and Sarah are living in Hebron, located in the southern portion of the land of Canaan, but as aliens—they have no land or place to call their own, even as prosperous as Abraham has become. Sarah dies at one hundred twenty-seven years, and Abraham mourns for her. He then rises up and goes to the locals—the Hittites—and asks for land to bury his dead. The Hittites, who greatly admire Abraham, offer to give him any burial place he chooses, including the most choice of their plots, he is, after all, a prince among them; he may bury Sarah on their land. But Abraham refuses the gift. He wants to purchase land as his own legal property among them. Land, in that culture moved one from alien to citizen, but more often than not, did not leave the possession of the larger family or tribe. Though refusing the Hittites’ offer, Abraham nonetheless demonstrates great respect and asks them to entreat Ephron, son of Zoar, to give Abraham the cave at Macpelah, located at the end of the field that Ephron owns. Ephron happens to be among the men seated at the city gate in Hebron and overhears Abraham’s request. He comes to Abraham, in the presence of the leaders of the city, and publically offers to give the field and cave to Abraham as a gift. But again, Abraham refuses, and asks that he be given the privilege of purchase. Ephron agrees, stating the value of the land in his “What is four hundred shekels of sliver between you and me? Bury your dead.” And with that, Abraham weighs out the silver in the presence of the Hittites. Notice how exactingly the transaction is described including the description of the property: field, cave, trees—all of it passes into Abraham’s ownership. After this, Abraham buries Sarah in the cave that will also be his final resting place along with Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. Though the story is about Sarah’s death and burial, it is really an assertion of the Patriarch’s legal right to a place in the land. Abraham and his descendants will no longer be aliens in the land of Canaan.
This psalm could easily have been written by Job, for it pleads for vindication while insisting on one’s own integrity. She has trusted in the Lord with unwavering devotion. If there is any doubt of that on God’s part, then prove her, try her, test her heart and mind. She walks faithfully trusting in God’s steadfast love. She continues to make her point: she does not sit with the worthless or consort with hypocrites, hates the company of evil doers and shuns the wicked. In innocence, she washes her hands, cleansing herself in preparation for offering Temple sacrifice, and circles the altar singing songs of thanksgiving and praise (rather than penitence seeking forgiveness). How she loves being there and doing that! And so she asks that she not be swept away with sinners, the bloodthirsty, whose hands are filled with evil and bribes. As for her, she walks in integrity and so pleads for God’s gracious redemption. Standing in the midst of the congregation she continues to bless the Lord.
Hebrews continues its roll-call of the faithful, remembering some of the great judges who appear in the book by that name: Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. It then moves on to Samuel and David and then the prophets, who through faith accomplished mighty things. The list includes allusions to the biblical heroes of faith from Sampson to Daniel and beyond, the miraculous works of Elijah, raising the widow’s dead son back to life, Elisha, and into the period of the Maccabees. These suffered greatly under the Greek rule of Antiochus Epiphanies. They were flogged, imprisoned, stoned, even “sawn in two,” others killed by the sword. They wandered destitute, dressed in the skins of sheep and goats, being persecuted, living in caves and holes in the ground. Yet, through faith they persevered—the world was not worthy of them. But even as great as their faith was, they did not receive the promise, because God was awaiting something even greater. They were not, apart from “us,”—the author’s readers—to be made perfect. Having built his case for the foundational role of faith, the author uses those models of faith as witnesses, and calls upon those who read and hear his words to join them by laying aside every weight and sin that they so closely cling to. Rather, with perseverance they are to run the race that is set before them, looking to Jesus, the “pioneer and perfector of faith”. For the sake of the joy that was to be ultimately his, he endured the cross, disregarding it shame, and has now taken his seat of honor at God’s right hand. All that had come before, in that great roll-call of faith, has been brought to perfection in Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. Therefore, let us lay aside anything that would keep us from following him.
It is not simply the Jews in the synagogue who take issue with what Jesus has said about his body being flesh that must be eaten to have eternal life, even many of Jesus’ disciples have been offended by it, and so complain. Aware of their grumbling he asks, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” But the words he has spoken to them are spirit and life. Yet, among them are some who do not believe, as surely, in the church for which this was written, there were complaints about calling the bread and the wine his body and blood and the notion that in eating and drinking they were receiving Christ himself. Is it any wonder that one of the early accusations against Christians was that they were cannibals who ate the flesh and drank the blood of their Lord in their worship? This too, Jesus knows, as from the beginning he has known who would not believe, and who it was that would betray him. But as he has said from the beginning, no one can come to him unless it is granted by the Father. Consequently, there will always be those who come for the wrong reason and who soon cannot believe or find his words too hard and fall away. And so, we are told that many who had been following him now turned back and no longer went with him. As the crowd thins out, Jesus turns to the initial twelve and asks, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter speaks for at least twelve of them: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life,” and then he confesses Jesus to be the Holy One of God (some ancient manuscripts read “The Christ, the Son of the living God”). Jesus reminds them that he has chosen them, and yet, even then, among them is one who is a devil.”
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.