Monday, September 29, 2014
Hosea 2:2-15; Psalm 89:1-18; Acts 20:17-38; Luke 5:1-11
Hosea begins by pleading with the children calling them Ammi (“my people”) and Ruhamah (“mercy”) signaling an openness to reconciliation, not only for himself with his wife and children, but more importantly still, God’s openness to reconciliation with his “bride” Israel. Hosea calls on the children to plead with their mother—notice, he will not claim her as his wife, for he is not her husband. He then levels his charges of adultery against her, embracing other lovers. This is clearly an allegory in which Gomer, Hosea’s wife, represents the adulterous people of Israel. “Adultery” in the mouth of a prophet is usually a way of saying that the people have chased after other gods (lovers) and looked to them as husband to provide for them. At issue is not only the alliance with Assyria, but also the cult of Baal, the fertility cult that was the chief competitor for the people’s religious affections. For some, it was a total commitment to the Baal cult, for most, I suspect, it was simply hedging their bets, for the cult proclaimed that it was Lord Baal that made the crops to grow, that gave them abundant harvest, bread, wool, flax and oil. Therefore, we read the references to this as Hosea vows, on God’s behalf, to strip Gomer (the people) of her husbands, to cause them to run after other loves and not find them, to take away what God alone has given them: grain, wine, wool and flax, and uncover her nakedness and shame. God will severely punish her on the festival days of Baal as she offers incense. But the oracle of judgment ends in a word of hope: the Lord will “allure her” and bring her into the wilderness once again and speak tenderly to her. It is an allusion to the wilderness wanderings of the people during the exodus when the Lord bound the children of Israel to himself.
Psalm 89:1-18 celebrates not only God’s sovereignty over all, it remembers God’s covenant with David and prays that God will continue to preserve and protect David and his reign forever and re-establish David’s royal line. In all probability, this psalm was written while Israel was in exile in Babylon (587-538 BCE). It is filled with longing for the restoration of Israel’s sovereignty and return to its land. The first eighteen verses begin with words of praise for God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. It then remembers the covenant God made with David, focusing on the Lord as the One who created all that is, and who is still sovereign over all. The clear implication is that God, who is a mighty warrior, and whose reign is based on righteousness and justice, must now act to keep his word. “Rahab” in verse 10 is not a reference to the prostitute in Jericho, but rather to the sea dragon who was the Canaanite God of chaos. The Lord is sovereign over chaos as well as all creation, even sovereign over Babylon who has them in subjection. Happy are those who know (and remember) the “festal shout” that accompanied worship in the temple, now gone. Still, they exalt in God’s name, for the Lord is the glory of their strength. It is the Lord who gives them strength (horn). He is their shield and king—the Holy One of Israel.
Though Paul has decided to sail past Ephesus in order to not be delayed there, from Miletus, about 30 miles north of Ephesus, he sends word to the elders in Ephesus to come and meet him. When they do, Paul recounts for them his ministry. It is the third time this has happened in Acts and it interrupts the “We” sections of the book. It is also the only long speech of Paul’s that is addressed to believers; the first two were to unbelievers. He remembers his past work, from the first day he set foot in Asia and the trials he endured because of the plots of “the Jews,”—some believers and some not. Yet, he did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming and teaching both publically and from house to house, about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. He then tells them he is captive to the Spirit as he makes his way to Jerusalem. He does not know what is in store for him except that the Spirit testifies to him, everywhere, that it will involve imprisonment and persecution. Nonetheless, Paul must go. He does not count his own life of value, but only the fact that he must finish the course and ministry he has received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace. That said, he tells them that none of them will ever see his face again. Consequently, he invokes the formal vow of separation, placing responsibility into their own hands: “I am not responsible for the blood of any of you.” We heard it in Corinth as well (18:6), for he has declared to them the full purpose of God. Now, they are fully accountable for themselves as well as those they oversee. Paul charges them to care for the flock the Holy Spirit has given them. He uses several formal terms that will later become formal offices of ministry; episkopos which, though our translations renders it “overseer,” is more commonly translated “bishop.” They are to shepherd (“pastor”) the church of God obtained by the blood of God’s own son. He then warns of those who will come after him after he is gone, calling them “savage wolves.” Even some from their own group will turn and begin to distort the truth in order to get people to follow them. They are to be alert, remembering that for three years Paul did not cease warning everyone, night and day, and with many tears. And so, he now commends them to God and to the message of God’s grace that can build them up and give them an inheritance among all who are saints. After reminding them that he has coveted no one’s silver or gold, and neither should they, he direct them to care for the poor remembering that Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive. With that, they all kneel and pray. There is much weeping among them. They embrace and kiss Paul, painfully aware that he has said that they will never see him again. And then they bring him to the ship.
The crowd has followed and detained Jesus to hear more of his teaching. Standing by the lakeside (Gennesaret is another name for the Sea of Galilee), Jesus sees two boats on the shore as their owners wash out their nets. Jesus gets into the boat that belongs to Simon and asks him to put out into the lake a bit, so that Jesus can be free from the crowd and teach (remember how sound carries over water). When Jesus is done teaching, he tells Peter to put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch. Notice Peter’s address: “Master, we have worked all night and caught nothing. Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.” He does, and the catch is such that the nets begin to break. As he attempts to pull the catch aboard, the boat beings to sink. Simon signals his partners who come to the rescue with their own boats, taking on board part of the catch. But Simon falls at Jesus’ knees and says, “Get away from me; depart, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Luke tells us that he and everyone with him were amazed by the size of the catch, including Simon’s partners James and John, the two sons of Zebedee. Luke has probably tried to say too much in that sentence and obscured, not only the profound impact all of this has had on Peter and his associates, but more, that it is precisely people like Peter—those who know their own culpability and failings—that Jesus is calling to himself to help with his work. “Do not be afraid,”—there it is again; how often those words appear in the Bible when God appears and is doing unexpected and marvelous things. From now on Peter is going to be catching people. Luke tells us that when they got to shore, they simply left the boats and their catch—everything!—and followed Jesus. He has called, and Simon Peter, James and John have become his first disciples.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Hosea 1:1—2:1; Psalms 66; James 3:1-13; Matthew 13:44-52
We begin a continuous reading of the Book of Hosea, the first of the so-called “Minor Prophets”—“minor,” because of the length of their books, not the importance of what they say. The prophecy is written in the mid-8th century BCE and concerns the northern kingdom (Israel). Its king, Jeroboam (r. 786-746 BCE), has continued the alliance with Assyria formed by his great-grandfather, King Jehu (r. 842-815 BCE). Hosea uses events in his personal life as symbols of what is going on between Israel and the Lord. The historical markers of Judean kings at the opening of the book lead scholars to think that Hosea may have been writing from the safety of the southern kingdom—Judah. God commands Hosea to take a wife of harlotry—probably a Canaanite cultic prostitute who engaged in sexual acts as part of the ritual of Canaanite worship—and have children with this harlot, because the land of Israel is committing harlotry in is alliance with Assyria. Further, he is to name each of the children born to her with symbolic names. (Born of her harlotry may mean that they are not Hosea’s own, though as her husband he is responsible for them). The first son is to be named Jezreel, after the historic place of God’s judgment upon the nation (2 Kings 9 & 10). Thus, more judgment is coming. His daughter is named Lo Ruhamah, “no mercy;” as there will be none in the coming judgment, and a third child, a son, Lo Ammi, “not my people,” for they no longer are. Alternatively, in the middle of this first prophecy of judgment against Israel, the Lord announces “I will have pity on the house of Judah (the southern kingdom), and I will save them...; not by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses or by horsemen.” This word in Judah’s favor is actually further judgment on King Jeroboam’s reliance on human power and foreign political alliance rather than God’s sovereign care. Yet, at the end of this first oracle come words of ultimate restoration of some of the people of Israel. A remnant “like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured or numbered,” will remain, and in that place where it has been said, “You are not my people,” it will then be said to them, “Children of the living God.” Then the people of Israel and Judah shall be joined together—the kingdom restored and united—and they shall appoint for themselves one head over them, as was the case prior to the revolt of the northern tribes after the death of Solomon (2 Samuel and 1 Kings1-12).
Psalm 66 calls upon the entire earth to make a joyful noise and sing to the glory of God’s name, telling God how awesome he is. The whole earth is called to worship God. Then all are invited to “come and see what God has done among mortals.” The psalm then remembers God’s acts of redemption out of Egypt and deliverance at the Red Sea. God has kept us among the living and does not allow our feet to slip. But, God also tests. And so, the people have known the burdens that come with subjugation by other peoples. But, in the end, God “brought us out into a broad and spacious place.” The psalmist now vows to enter the temple with burnt offerings to fulfill the promise that his lips have made, making an offering of bulls and goats. Finally, the psalmist calls on all who fear God to listen as he tells them what God has done for him. He cried aloud and extolled God and God listened because the psalmist was innocent. Had he cherished iniquity in his heart, God would not have heard his voice. But truly, God has listened. Blessed be God, who has neither rejected his prayer nor removed his steadfast love.
James issues a warning to teachers that they are being held to a higher standard than all else in the faith community. Therefore, they need to exercise care to assure their teaching is correct. He then turns to the subject of the power of the human tongue and its capacity for harm. Like the small rudder on a ship, it can guide large ships to great or disastrous things; like a forest fire, the tongue can rage and consume. Everything else in God’s creation has been tamed, but who can tame the tongue? With it, we both bless the God who made us and curse those whom God has made. This ought not to be. Do fountains spring forth both good and brackish water, or fig trees produce olives, or salt water make fresh? No! If you are wise, take heed and let your good deeds reveal your own integrity.
Jesus uses a series of illustrations to talk about the kingdom of God and its value. It is like a treasure hidden in a field. When someone becomes aware that the treasure is in the field, they rush to sell all that they have so they can purchase the field and enjoy its prize. It is like a pearl merchant looking for the very best; when he comes upon it, he sells all that he has in order that he can purchase the pearl. It is like a dragnet cast into the sea that gathers up everything, good and bad sea creatures alike. Then the fishermen bring the net to shore and sort through it, placing the good fish in a basket and throwing the bad away. Thus, at the end of the age, the angels will come and sort through the righteous and glean the wicked and toss them into the fire—a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus asks if they understand, and they say “Yes.” Therefore, he tells them that every scribe who is trained for this kingdom is like a householder who brings out his treasures, both old and new. There is continuity in this reign of God. Jesus’ disciples must understand that and, in doing so, are to measure all by the unsurpassed value of the new being revealed in Jesus.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Esther 9:1-32; Psalm 87; Acts 20:1-16; Luke 4:38-44
The story of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai come to an end. This and the next chapter of Esther appear to be a later addition, a summary explaining the holiday of Purim. But over the years the two chapters have become a part of the initial story. The first nineteen verses of chapter 9 chronicle a series of reversals: Mordecai is now in full power, having displaced the evil Haman, and all of Haman’s future is destroyed with the hanging of his sons on the same gallows. The fear of Mordecai has fallen on the Gentiles of the land, especially those in governmental offices, all of whom come out in support of the Jews against their oppressors. The Jews “struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.” Remember, this is a novel, with a Jewish “happy ever after ending.” The numbers are large and symbolic in nature. Verses 17-19 speak of the origins of the festival of Purim, a secular holiday that not only celebrates the end of the fighting, but, ever after, commemorates the Jews’ liberations from their oppressors. As I said at the beginning: the word “God” never appears in this story. Rather, there seems to be an assumption that Providence is at work to preserve them through the wisdom of Mordecai and the courage and fidelity of Esther, and a means of encouraging similar wisdom, courage and fidelity among the people.
Psalm 87 praises the glories of Mt. Zion (Jerusalem and its temple). It is the inspiration for the hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, Zion City of Our God.” It mentions other important places, Babylon, Rehab (Egypt), Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia, either as a means of identifying Jews who live there, or more probably, that even these nations have among them “children of Zion” who have helped establish those kingdoms and who recognize Zion as the city of God, and who are of special stature because Zion is the place of their birth. Of Zion, let it be said, “This one and that one were born in it, for the Most High himself will establish it. The notion is that the Lord himself records the names of those born there—blessed are they.
With the uproar put away in Ephesus, Paul gathers the disciples, encourages them, says “Farewell,” and then sets out for Macedonia, greeting and exhorting all the churches there as he moves on to Corinth, staying there for three months. But again, there is a plot set against Paul by the Jews in that city, which is discovered as Paul is preparing to sail to Syria. So, rather than sail from Corinth home, he returns on foot, retracing his steps back through Athens to Beroea, to Thessalonica to Philippi and on, and, from Philippi, sails to the western coast of Asia to the city of Troas. The text gives us a list of Paul’s traveling companions from the various cities in which he had established churches from Corinth, well into Galatia. These named traveling companions had gone ahead of Paul to wait for him in Troas. The text then falls back into the “we” narrative, explaining that Paul and his immediate companion(s) sailed from Philippi to Troas after the Passover, joining the others and staying there seven days. On that Sunday in Troas, all gather in an upstairs room of a house for worship. Paul intends to leave the next day, and so speaks long into the night. As he goes on and on, a young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, is either overcome by the fumes from the many burning lamps, or simply falls asleep as Paul drones on. Either way, the boy slips through the window and falls to the ground three floors below, now dead. Paul, realizing what has happened, rushes down to the boy, bends over him, takes him in his arms and says, “Do not be alarmed, his life is in him.” The narrative is clear; Paul has brought him back to life. But, why Luke, who has described the wonders God has done through Paul, this being the greatest—raising the boy from the dead—leaves it unstated as such, is something of a mystery. Perhaps it is because raising someone from the dead, in Luke’s mind, is a miracle reserved for Jesus alone. The disciples return upstairs (without the boy, who has been taken to his home), and they continue their worship, celebrating the Lord’s Supper (“breaking of bread’) and Paul talks on through the night until daybreak. At dawn, they go to the ship that is setting sail for Assos, which Paul had earlier made arrangements for them to take, but now has made plan to go to Assos on foot. In Assos, Paul rejoins them, and together they sail on to Mitylene. Their travel itinerary is detailed as the party of evangelists makes its way south to Miletus, a port on the mouth of the Meander River, about 30 miles from Ephesus. Though we might expect Paul to go to Ephesus, given his last experience there, he decides to sail past it in order to not have to spend more time in Asia. Paul wants to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost.
After teaching and the exorcism in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus crosses the street to Peter’s home and there find’s Peter’s mother-in-law ill and in bed with a fever. Jesus rebukes the fever and it leaves her and she gets up from her sick bed and begins waiting on them. Knowing he has gone there, many bring their sick to Jesus for healing, and he lays hands on them and makes them well. In exorcizing demons, many of them cry out in recognition, “You are the son of God.” Jesus silences them, for they recognize him as the Christ. After a long night of healing and exorcism, Jesus leaves the house for a lonely place, there to renew himself, but the crowd follows not wanting him to let him go away. He tells them he must leave, for he must preach the kingdom of God to other cities; it is for this that he has been sent. Luke tells us Jesus moved on south, preaching in the synagogues of Judea (the southern part of the country—Capernaum is located in the north, on the Sea of Galilee).
Friday, September 26, 2014
Esther 8:1-8, 15-17; Psalms 91; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37
Haman is dead; hanged on his own gallows. On that day the king gives to Esther the house of Haman—everything he possessed. In this story women can own property. The king also elevates Mordecai to Haman’s previous position as the king’s most trusted advisor, giving Mordecai the king’s signet ring as he had given it to Haman. Mordecai has now replaced Haman in the kingdom. Esther, likewise, establishes Mordecai over what is now hers, the house of Haman. But the initial edict to destroy all the Jews is still in effect and cannot be revoked. Esther again risks going to the king, and once again, he extends the golden scepter to her. She pleads for the life of her people but the king responds that what has been issued in his name cannot be revoked. On the other hand, the king has given the house of Haman, who he hanged on the gallows because he plotted against the Jews, to Esther and the signet ring to “the Jew Mordecai” (now a term of respect rather than derision). Mordecai and Esther (the “you” in the text is plural), may write and seal a new edict with the ring as they choose. Once that edit is in place it, too, cannot be revoked. And so, Mordecai writes in the king’s name that henceforth all Jews assembled in his cities have the authority “to defend themselves, to destroy, kill and annihilate an armed force of any people or province that might attack them with their women and their children, and to plunder their goods, on a single day throughout the province, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.” (vss.11-12). Having dispatched the edict, Mordecai leaves the presence of the king dressed in royal robes, wearing a golden crown and mantle of fine linen, while all the people of Susa rejoice. It becomes a time of light and gladness, joy and honor for the Jews; not only in Susa but everywhere in the kingdom the edict is read. The day becomes a festival and holiday. Jews have now become so honored and important in the kingdom that Gentiles side with them now that Haman is gone and that Mordecai is now the king’s most trusted advisor, and, because of the esteem in which they are held and the power they now exert in the kingdom, some of the people even claim to be Jews themselves.
Psalm 91, a song of trust and confidence, is one of the most assuring in the entire collection of 150 psalms. Though it reflects the theology of the wisdom tradition, insisting that those who remain righteous shall have the constant protection of the Lord, it is even more rich in its imagery and promises. The opening line, “He who,” can as equally be translated “You who,” or “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High (“Elyon”—one ancient name for God), who abide in the shadow of the Almighty (“El Shadday”—a second name for God), will say to “the Lord” (Yahweh—God’s personal name given to Moses at the bush), “My refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” All three names are included to make this as inclusive as possible, with the primacy given to the name Yahweh. Various forms of protection are mentioned, including the presence of God’s angels to defend in times of warfare or pestilence, and all other forms of danger. Under God’s wings we will find a refuge, whose faithfulness is a buckler and a shield, so that we need not fear anything night or day. Making the Lord our refuge assures protection. It is from this psalm that the devil quotes as he tempts and challenges Jesus to throw himself off the tower of the temple, trusting that God will save him. The psalm concludes with God’s own speech: “You who love me I will deliver. You who know my name I will protect. When you call (the importance of knowing God’s name, knowing who to call upon), I will answer; when in trouble, I will rescue and honor you. With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation.” Is it any wonder this has been the byword and hope of Jews, Christians and Muslims? This psalm is a favorite of military chaplains, frequently read before a group of soldiers facing battle. It is also regularly read at funeral and memorial services and times of grave national distress.
As Paul’s work in Ephesus continues to flourish, while in prayer, the Spirit calls him back to Jerusalem via Macedonia and Acacia. Consequently, he sends two of his group ahead to make the plans, Timothy and Erastus, while he continues his work in Ephesus a bit longer. It is then that the uprising occurs. It was inevitable; the success of the gospel, as it began to be fully understood, meant that people were giving up their former ways of idol worship and magic, having an impact on those whose business it was to manufacture the small replicas of the Goddess Artemis (Astarte), whose statue was in Ephesus and was believed to have fallen there from heaven as a means of her self-revelation. The silversmiths are on hard times. And so, one them, Demetrius, gathers together those of his guild and reminds them that if something is not done to stop Paul, they will be out of work and are even at risk of the Temple of Artemis being scorned, which means the people from all of Asia that come to Ephesus to worship at her temple will stop, with the resultant impact on their economy and businesses. The group erupts in a riot as they begin to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” As the crowd expands, they move to the great amphitheater in Ephesus, shouting their slogans and dragging with them two of Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus—both from Macedonia. Paul hears of it and wants to go to into the crowd, but several of the disciples prevent him from doing so for his own safety, as do some of the officials of Asia who were friendly with Paul. Meanwhile, the crowd has grown into a full riot, to the point that most of the people do not know why they have come together. Some push forward a Jew, Alexander, who motions for silence and tries to make a defense before the people. But when they find he is a Jew, it simply causes them to return to shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Finally, the town clerk steps in to quiet them. He reminds them that, of course, Ephesus is the keeper of the temple of the great Goddess Artemis, whose statue fell from heaven. Who does not know that; so why this riot? And why have they singled out “these men who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of their goddess?” If Demetrius and his fellow artisans believe themselves wronged, the courts are open; settle it there. Rather, the crowd should be quiet, lest they soon find themselves being charged with rioting, since there is no justifiable reason for the commotion they have created. With that, the town clerk dismisses the assembly, and they leave.
Jesus escapes the men from his hometown synagogue in Nazareth who have tried to stone him and, leaving Nazareth, goes to Capernaum, which will ever-after be his new base of operation. He begins to teach and the people are amazed at his authority. On the sabbath, he goes to the synagogue and is accosted by a demon-possessed man. The demon, upon seeing Jesus, cries out, “What do we (note the plural—this man is possessed by more than one), have to do with you Jesus of Nazareth; have you come to destroy us?” Indeed he has! The demon who is speaking knows this and announces who Jesus is, “The Holy One of God.” Jesus demands that the demon be silent and come out of the man, and, with a writhing body-slam, the demons cast the man they possess to the ground but then come out of him. Everyone is astonished. “What is this? With what authority he commands the unclean spirits and they come out! And so, the news about Jesus begins to spread throughout the district of Galilee.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Esther 7:1-10; Psalms 83; Acts 19:11-20; Luke 4:14-30
Esther’s second banquet has begun, and it, like the first, is involved with abundant wine. In the course of things, the king repeats his question to Esther with the same promise, “to the half of my kingdom.” It is then than she pleads for her life. Read carefully how she goes about it, maintaining deference to the king’s authority. After all, he signed the decree, though Haman wrote it. If it had only involved slavery or deportation, that she and her people could live with; but sold into annihilation? And notice how subtly she has announced that she too is a Jew. “Who,” asks the king, would presume to do this?” Only now she can say it: “Haman.” The king erupts in rage, so much so that he leaves the banquet chamber and goes into his garden to calm himself. Haman knows that he is in trouble, and in the king’s absence begins to beg Esther for his life, even to the point of crawling onto her couch with her. As the king returns he sees this, and interprets it as Haman trying to assault her, in his very presence. Harbonah, one of the king’s eunuchs, is standing nearby watching all of this, and reminds the king of the gallows Haman has constructed for Mordecai and suggests using it for Haman. The king consents, and Haman is hanged from his own gallows. But the story is far from over.
Psalm 83 is a cry for help in the midst of national crisis and severe adversity and has a very contemporary ring to it, reminding us that the struggles between Israel and its neighbors are ancient. The children of Lot—the nations that trace their lineage to him and who surround Israel—are in tumult and conspiring to destroy the Israelites from the face of the earth. They are named as hating the Lord and the people “the Lord protects.” It names the countries and nations that have stood against Israel, remembering how, in the past, God intervened again and again on Israel’s behalf. It is a recounting of the events of the exodus and the entrance into the land of promise, remembering how God acted on Israel’s behalf again and again, recounting the names of nations and kings we encounter in the books of Joshua and Judges. Even Philistia and Assyria have joined in the coalition of evil. The psalm ends with the plea that God make them all like “the whirling dust” and chaff driven by the wind, like the flame that consumes the forest so that that they may know that the Lord alone is Most High over all the earth.
Paul continues his ministry in Ephesus and God does many wondrous things through him to validate the message he is preaching. Even portions of his clothing were believed to be imbued with God’s power, so that aprons and handkerchiefs were taken from him to the sick and demented so that their diseases and their evil spirits left them. Always, the healings were done in the name of Jesus. Some traveling Jewish brothers who are exorcists, begin to attempt their exorcisms in Jesus’ name as well, saying, “I adjure in the name of the Jesus Paul proclaims, come out.” Among them were the seven sons of chief priest Sceva. But when the seven sons attempted this, the spirit responds, “I recognize Jesus, I know about Paul, but who are you?” Thereupon, the possessed man leaps upon them and subdues them to the point that the seven men must flee the house, running naked into the streets—as humiliating then as it would be today. This becomes widely known in the area and fear falls on all in Ephesus where Jesus’ name begins to be magnified and spoken of with awe and reverence. Many come to believe in Jesus, among those, people who practiced magic. Recognizing that the practice of magic is dabbling in the world of spirits and inconsistent with faith in Jesus, the magicians not only confess their practices, but actually bring their books of magic to be burned—books of great value in that world. We are told that the sum of their value was fifty thousand pieces of silver. So, the word of the Lord continues to grow and prevail.
Jesus returns from his temptations in the wilderness full of the Spirit and goes to Galilee, teaching and preaching on his way. On the sabbath he goes to his home synagogue in Nazareth and, as was the practice of the day, is given the honor of reading the scriptures for the day and making comment on them. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah is given to him, and Jesus reads from Isaiah 58:6 and 61:1-2, declaring that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, anointing him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of God’s favor—each a major theme that will unfold in Luke’s Gospel. Closing the scroll, Jesus returns it to the attendant and goes back to his place in the synagogue. As everyone’s eyes are focused on him, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke tells us “all spoke well of him and were amazed at his gracious words.” Yet, at the same time, they were asking themselves about him and what he had just said about himself. After all, they knew him; he is Joseph’s son—one of them! Jesus continues, “Doubtless you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here the things we have heard you did in Capernaum.’ But the truth is, ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town.’” Jesus goes on to remind them that there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah when there was famine and no rain, but God sent Elijah to the widow of Zarephath in Sidon—a Gentile! There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, but none of them were cleansed by Elisha except Naaman the Syrian—another Gentile outsider! Upon hearing this, the people in the synagogue rise up in anger at Jesus and, in their rage, try to drag him to the edge of Nazareth in order to throw him off the brow of the hill and stone him. But, Luke tells us, Jesus passed through their midst and went his way. Jesus’ ministry has begun.
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.