Email Facebook Twitter


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Habakkuk 3:1-19; Psalm 100; James 3:1-12; Luke 17:1-10

After the call to silence because God is in his holy temple, Habakkuk offers a lengthy prayer. It begins with a petition that God act on the vision and cause it to come to be. The prayer then turns into a psalm that praises God’s victories over Israel’s previous enemies and then turns to creation. God is sovereign over the chaos of the sea, brings forth land with its rivers and mountains and establishes and maintains the sun and the moon. God has come forth to save his people and his anointed, and has crushed the head of the wicked house, coming like a whirlwind to scatter the proud who were ready to devour the poor in hiding. Habakkuk calls on God to do that now, and in the recital of those incidents he is overwhelmed. He hears himself and trembles at what he is asking and determines to wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon Babylon. And though all the forces of nature cease to produce, yet, he will not only wait, he will rejoice in the Lord and exalt in the God of his salvation. The book ends with the affirmation that God has given him the nimble feet of a deer who can tread the most treacherous of mountain heights. God, the Lord, is his strength.

Psalm 100 is a summons for all who dwell on earth to “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” It is a call to worship the Lord, not in severe piety or penance, but in joy and gladness, coming into God’s presence with thanksgiving. William Kethe, in 1560, paraphrased this classic psalm of praise and thanksgiving beginning with these words: “All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice. Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell. Come ye before Him and rejoice.” We know it as “Old Hundredth.” The worshiper is called to the temple to sing God’s praise as her maker, and to recognize that she lives among a people who are not only the sheep of God’s hand but God’s treasured flock. The Hebrew text has an important alternate version of this: “It is he that made us, and not we ourselves.” Tradition in translation has gone with the previous reading because it was favored by the rabbis. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving,” is followed by the parallel, “and his courts with praise.” The final affirmation is a summary of all 150 psalms: “For the Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

James warns those of us who teach within the church that we have a special responsibility and higher accountability than others. The teaching office has long been held in such importance in the church and what lies behind the Presbyterian Church (USA), recovering the title “Teaching Elder” for its Minister of Word and Sacrament. James then turns to the larger issues of speech and our inability to control the tongue and the dangers thereof, with several vivid illustrations: the ship guided and controlled by the small rudder; the forest set ablaze by a small fire; the tongue staining the whole body—we are, to many, what we say!—and too often the tongue is set on fire by hell. Every creature under heaven can and has been tamed by humans, yet we cannot tame our tongues that are restless evil and full of poison. With them, we both bless the Lord and curse those God made in God’s likeness. We pray to the Lord and prey on God’s people. This ought not to be. Does both fresh and brackish water come from the same spring? Does a fig tree yield olives or a grapevine figs? Clearly, James has been listening in on the back-handed conversations and thoughtless things people say about one another and its fall-out in the church, that so often occupies a pastor’s time and energy to try to resolve and reconcile.

Jesus continues to teach on his way to Jerusalem. Whereas he has been engaged with the mocking of the Pharisees and scribes, he now turns to his disciples with positive teaching about discipleship. He notes that occasions for stumbling are surely going to come, but woe to those who cause them. This is not only a reference to the religious leaders, but directed to the disciples themselves. Better for them to have a millstone tied about their necks and they be tossed into the sea, than to cause one of “these little ones,” to stumble. The word behind “to stumble” is also the word from which we get “scandal.” “These little ones” is Matthew’s favorite word for members of the believing community, but this is the only time it appears in Luke. Pay attention then; keep watch over yourselves that you do not cause others to stumble or became a scandal to them. If another sister or brother in the faith sins, you must rebuke them (notice that the polite or evasive silence on such matters is not acceptable and makes us culpable as well) and, if there is repentance, you must forgive. How often must we forgive a repentant sister or brother? You can hear Peter’s earlier question in the background. Forever! The verb is in the future tense—“you will forgive”—making it imperative. As God’s endless forgiveness is always given to repentant sinners, so too, we must also forgive one another when repentance appears. To this, the apostles step forward, out from the crowd that is following Jesus, and ask him to increase their faith. Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, which not only makes the point that faith is faith and even a little of it can do miraculous things, but, also, to recognize that the apostles do not yet have such faith. Further, their motivation to such faith is off-point and rather like the Pharisees who seek to be complimented for their religious behavior. Faithfulness is what is expected of Jesus’ servants. They are not behaving in extraordinary ways when they avoid scandal and keep others from stumbling, when they forgive a repentant sister or brother again and again, when they have and exercise their faith, and when they seek no special recognition or justification for such behavior. These are things that are basic to being Jesus’ servants. So, when drawn into the temptation to seek praise for such conduct, we are to remember that such behavior is the norm for being Jesus’ servants and we are only doing what servants do—our duty.

Posted November 18, 2014
Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Habakkuk 2:1-20; Psalm 89:19-52; James 2:14-26; Luke 16:19-31

The Lord responds to Habakkuk’s demand, telling him to take a tablet and write down the vision in letters large enough for the runner to read: there is a vision for the appointed time, a time that speaks of Babylon’s end. Though it seems to tarry, wait for it. It will come, without delay, in its own time. As for the proud (the enemy), their spirit is not right in them. Yet, the righteous live by their faith and confidence in God and God’s faithfulness. This is the verse that quickened Martin Luther out of his despair in striving to be righteous before God—it was less about works than it was about faith. Thereafter, the text breaks into a hymn condemning the enemy, portraying them as wicked, drunken, gluttonous, bloodthirsty, plundering idolaters. Once the instruments of God’s judgment of Judah, they have now become proud and, in their conceit and arrogance, see themselves as gods. They will be punished because they fail to fear the Lord. The hymn ends with a worship command uttered during sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

Psalm 89:19-52 celebrates the reign of David and the dynasty that God promised him that was to be David’s forever. Verses 1 through 18 are a hymn of praise recalling God’s promise and a beautiful celebration of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Today’s reading begins remembering God’s faithfulness to David and speaks of the unique relationship God and David have with one another. It recount’s God’s promise to David, not only that he is the Lord’s anointed, but that one of his sons will always reign forever, “as long as the heavens endure.” David calls out to God as “My father,” and God makes him the firstborn, “the highest of the kings of the earth.” God will forever keep his steadfast love for David and the covenant with him. But if David’s children forsake God’s law, do not walk after its ordinances, violate its statutes and do not keep God’s commandments, then God will punish their transgressions. Nonetheless, God will not remove nor violate this covenant, nor take his steadfast love from David. Once and for all, God has sworn by his holiness, “I will not lie to David. His line will continue forever.” From here, the psalm turns to a lament. God has spurned and rejected the king and his wrath has appeared against David. God has turned his back. That is followed by the traditional lament: “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” Appeals call on God’s steadfast love, and for God to remember how many insults are being born by the current king. The psalm ends with a traditional word blessing God. Though this psalm is initially portrayed as one of David’s, it was probably written just before, or, more likely still, during the Babylonian exile as the people remembered and prayed for God’s deliverance and the reestablishment of the Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem. Thereafter, it became part of the body of “messianic” prophecies that sustained the community as it looked for “the coming one.”

We return to James and the center of his message: faith that does not express itself in our daily living—what James calls “works”—is not faith; it is dead. It was written to a community at a time in which some thought that the only important thing was to know (gnosis) salvation facts—what came to be known in the church as “Gnosticism.” With that, it made little difference how one acted in this life. All that was important was that, at death, having known the salvation secret, your spirit would return to the divine. And so, James speaks in bold and distinct categories as if faith (gnosis) were one thing and works another. In fact, it is impossible to demonstrate faith apart from its actions. What we believe about God—some theological conviction such as the Jewish conviction that God is one—is not enough. Even the demons know and believe that, but it does not change their behavior. Faith must change how we live, especially to those in need around us. James then uses an illustration about Abraham being justified by his “works” when placing his son Isaac on the altar in preparation for sacrifice to God at God’s command. In doing so, Abraham demonstrated his complete trust in God, and God declared him righteous. So too, for the prostitute Rahab; it was not just that she welcomed and befriended the Israeli spies, she put her life on the line for them. So, just as the body is dead without breath, so, too, faith without works is dead. It is unfortunate that James could not have found another verb for “works.” It would have saved Luther much anguish, who was desperately striving to prove his justification through his good works. But then again, James’ words need to be heard today by those who think it enough to believe something about Jesus and do nothing more about it. As Faulkner said, “Finding truth, sticking it in my back pocket, and sitting on it.”

Jesus tells the last in this series of stories about the use of wealth as his interactions and judgments against the religious leaders continues. A poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with sores and filled with hunger, is dumped at the gate of a wealthy man who dines sumptuously every day. Clearly those who have placed Lazarus there expect the rich man to attend to his needs. All Lazarus longs for is what falls from the rich man’s table, nothing more. But the rich man does nothing and Lazarus is left in his misery, compounded by the dogs that come to lick his sores, making him further unclean. Lazarus dies and is carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man dies and is buried and finds himself in Hades, where he is constantly tormented. Looking up, he sees Lazarus at Abraham’s table and calls out “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” Abraham replies, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides, there is this great chasm between us that is fixed so that no one can pass from here to there.” The rich man accepts that word, but begs Father Abraham to send to his family household and warn his five brothers so they too do not end in such torment. Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” The rich man objects: “No; but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.” Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The story is, of course, intended for the religious leaders who live in luxury and comfort and are ignoring the needs of the sick and poor around them, yet calling Abraham their Father as their means of security. It is a perfect example of what James is saying in today’s lesson. Notice that Abraham called the rich man “Child” (v. 25), but the relationship is not enough to rescue him. Also, hear this being read in the assembly for which Luke wrote this gospel and its impact on them as they consider those around them who do not respond to their gospel. One has come back from the dead with words of life, but even that is not enough to change some into believing and behaving differently. It is not enough to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It must change us and the way we live among one another in this world.

Posted November 17, 2014
Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Habakkuk 1:1-2:1; Psalm 46; Philippians 3:13-4:1; Matthew 23:13-24

The short but influential book of Habakkuk tells us nothing about the author. Scholars look for hints as to the time of its writing with most dating it to the last two kings of Judah, Jehoiakim and his son Jehoiachin. That would make Habakkuk a contemporary of Jeremiah (640-586 BCE). The setting, then, is events that led up to Babylon’s defeat of Judah and the exile that followed it in 587 BCE. The book’s major theme emerges immediately: “How long, O Lord…?” In these first four verses, the prophet cries out to God to do something about the violence, wrongdoing, trouble and injustice that he is being forced to observe. Thereafter, the Lord responds and tells Habakkuk to look at the nations and be astonished: it is the Lord who has roused the Caldeans (Babylon) to inflict this judgment on Judah. However, in their love of violence and their emerging military might, they have become proud and arrogant and have made their own might their god. Habakkuk responds in verse 12 that this is too much to believe. The Lord his God is the Holy One, whose eyes are too pure to behold all of this. Why then does God look on all of the treachery and not do something about it? God has made people like fish of the sea or crawling things that have no ruler. Consequently, the enemy has dragged Judah out as with a net and gathers them in his dragnet, rejoicing and exalting himself and his power as he does. Is the enemy permitted to do this, destroying nations without mercy? With still no answer, Habakkuk puts the Lord on notice: he will station himself like one who stands guard over the city. He will mount the rampart and keep watch to see how the Lord will answer his complaint.

Psalm 46 is a communal psalm that is a source of comfort and solace as well as an affirmation of confidence and trust in God as our only refuge and strength in times of trouble. No matter the threat or crisis—even one as dire as massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or the enormous tides, tsunamis and floods created by the sea—we will not fear for God is with us. God is not only stronger than the forces of the earth, God is in the city of his holy habitation—Jerusalem and its temple—and it shall not be moved. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter, the Lord speaks, and the earth melts. Again, it repeats the affirmation that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. The psalm then invites us to look upon and consider the works of the Lord: his sovereignty over the chaotic forces of nature and his ability to silence and still warring and ravenous nations. Therefore, be still—know God! Know that God is sovereign over all things that can harm, be it the forces of nature or the brutality of humanity. More; know that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Be still and know God.

Paul urges his beloved congregation in Philippi to join him in pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing is as important as this. Paul urges them to imitate him—something, in that day, disciples of a teacher were expected to do—and to live according to the example they have in Paul and his companions. This is issued in the context of recognizing that there are many in the church living as “enemies of the cross of Christ” who have made their personal lusts and appetites lord of their lives. Paul has warned before; their end will be destruction. But for the Philippians who join Paul in his race, their citizenship is in heaven from whence they are expecting the Lord. And when Jesus comes, he will transform the humble status of their bodies into glory that matches his own heavenly glory, and do so by the power that enables him to be sovereign over all. Paul concludes by affirming his love for the Philippians while exhorting them to “stand firm in the Lord!”

Jesus announces seven woes—curses—against the scribes and Pharisees for their greed, false piety, and destructive religious leadership. They are hypocrites, locking people out of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew, in his piety, is loath to even utter the word “God”). Not entering or living in the kingdom themselves, they even try to block others from entering it. They cross land and sea to make converts but, in doing so, make the convert as much a child of hell as they are. They are blind guides—scrupulous about little things, while failing in the larger matters of faithfulness. They major in minors, splitting hairs over the teachings of Torah, making false distinctions between swearing by the altar itself versus swearing by what is upon it—suggesting the latter is binding while the former is not—and tithe mint, dill and cummin, while neglecting the weightier matters of the law: love, justice, honesty in financial matters and concern for the poor.

Posted November 16, 2014
Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Joel 3:9-17 (18-21); Psalm 90; James 2:1-13; Luke 16:10-17(18)

After announcing restoration for Judah, Joel again turns to the judgment of the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat and, in doing so, twists the words of Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kingdom (Isaiah 2:4) into one preparing for holy war, as agricultural tools are turned into weapons. The Lord is about to judge the nations in and through Judah’s response to the call to war. The imagery of destruction and vivid violence is the biblical language of war. Joel has found this elsewhere and now uses it. This imagery will be repeated in the book of Revelation. The Lord roars from Zion and the heavens shake. Yet, in this, the Lord is a refuge for his people. They shall know that the Lord their God dwells in Zion. But notice, whereas for other prophets, “on that day” the nations shall stream to Zion and the Lord’s glory there, in Joel; all the other nations are excluded. The universality of Isaiah and others has now become the fear of other peoples that accompanies nationalism and the racial prejudice among the people that lies behind the books of Ruth and Jonah. The book concludes with the physical blessings and manifestations of the Lord’s presence in Zion: the mountains drip sweet wine, the hills flow with milk, the streams of Judah are filled with water, whereas their traditional enemies from both south and north, Egypt and Edom respectively, shall be a desolate wilderness because of the violence they have inflicted on Judah. The Lord will avenge their blood and refuse to clear the guilty. Behind this must be seen Joel’s more dominant theme: the people have experienced the Lord’s judgment, but now, upon their repentance, the Lord returns to dwell among them, and his presence brings them justice, security and peace.

Psalm 90 reflects on the majesty and awesomeness of God and the frailty and limitedness of human beings, as it ponders life’s meaning. Where God has existed from everlasting to everlasting and for whom a thousand years is but a moment, our days are short, like grass that sprouts in the morning, flourishes midday, and by evening fades and withers. Our days pass away under God’s wrath. Wrath here is both a symbol of God’s anger or disapproval at the ways of humanity, and also a symbol of God’s constant plea for humanity to return to the purposes for which we were first brought into being. Our days are lived out under that watchful eye and then come to an end, like a sigh. They are seventy, perhaps eighty years with good health, but still, they are filled with toil and trouble, and too soon gone. Given all this, the psalmist asks for wisdom to count our days, and therein to gain some wisdom. Finally, the Lord is called on by name and asked to turn from wrath to compassion. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” God is asked to make us as glad as the many days God has afflicted us. More, let God’s work be manifest in our own work, thereby giving it meaning and purpose. The concluding benediction is bold in its request that life be good and meaningful: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.” The psalm concludes with this final, direct and bold request: “Prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands.”

James challenges the churches for their partiality to the rich and their rejection of the poor. Do they really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? It appears they do not. In making such distinctions among themselves, they have become judges of one another and become filled with evil thoughts. God has, after all, chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the reign he promises to those who love him—a truism that has manifest itself again and again in American culture. It is the poor who most know how to trust in God, perhaps because they have no resources to confuse them about where true help comes from in life. Why then, do we dishonor the poor and make them responsible for their circumstance. Do we not dishonor them in doing so? After all, it is the rich who oppress, not the poor. One need not look too far for examples of that in contemporary economic culture. The royal law of scripture remains: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We do well by living into that. But in showing partiality, we violate it. Then James’ background comes to the fore, and he sounds a bit like Paul (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 15:13-15), though from a different perspective. For James, “faith” and “law” do not stand in opposition to one another as they do in Paul. However, law for James is not ritual law, but the law of love, the law of the kingdom, the law of liberty, which is why it is the second table of the law that is being referenced, the six that have to do with our relations with one another. It is in terms of this that we will be judged. And, those who show partiality in the assembly are not living by the perfect law of love. James speaks of “the law of liberty;” does this mean we are free from each specific dictate of Torah, and are judged, rather, by the “weightier matters of the Law?” Or does it mean that judgment will be without mercy for those who show no mercy, a declaration of the truth we plead for in the Lord’s Prayer when we ask to be forgiven our sins and we forgive those who are in debt to us. Authentic mercy overcomes judgments such as the ones that are taking place among them.

Jesus builds on the parable of the shrewd steward who is wise enough to see the end coming by saying that the issue is the basic orientation of one’s life and how one uses what one has been given. Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much. If you can be faithful with the use of your wealth, you will be able to be faithful with what belongs to God. (“Dishonest wealth” is probably too strong for the word “mammon,” which simply means “riches.” Wealth does not have to be dishonestly gained to be a competitor with God.) The point is simply this: we cannot serve two masters. Either our orientation is to faithfulness to God, or to the pursuit of wealth for its own, or, for our own sake. We can only love, serve (worship) and be devoted to one master in life. Luke then tells us that the Pharisees were lovers of money (a form of idolatry far more serious than worshipping idols) and, upon hearing this, they ridicule Jesus. In response, Jesus tells them that, in spite of trying to justify themselves in the sight of others, God knows their idolatrous hearts and what it is they truly love and worship. (One does not need to be wealthy to love money more than God!) Jesus then reiterates that this is not new; the law and the prophets, even John came proclaiming it, and, even now, everyone is being strongly urged to enter the kingdom (note the alternative reading in the footnote) for it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one jot or tittle of the Torah to be done away with. Righteousness is righteousness and God is not fooled. The text ends with Luke’s version of Jesus’ words on divorce which simply condemn it. However, that is in open conflict with Jesus’ words on the Law not passing away or being changed. Though the Torah forbids adultery in all regards, it nowhere connects divorce to adultery as is done here, and, in fact, it permits divorce (Deuteronomy 24:4). The trouble seems to emerge out of Jesus’ use of the word “abomination” in verse 15, when he says that what is loved by human beings is an abomination in God’s sight. The word translated “abomination” was regularly understood to include not only idolatry and financial misdealing, but the abuse of divorce law.

Posted November 15, 2014
Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Joel 2:28-3:8; Psalm 92; James 1:16-27; Luke 16:1-9

With the announcement that God will redeem and live among the people, there is yet another promise: God will pour out his spirit on all flesh. Israel’s sons and daughters shall prophesy, the old men shall dream dreams, and her young men see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, the Lord will pour out his spirit. The text then becomes apocalyptic in its imagery of the cosmos responding to God as a sign of the coming great Day of the Lord. “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Jerusalem shall be a place of safety, a people who God calls, and among those who survive. This is, of course, the prophecy that Peter quoted on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). But, in restoring the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord will also gather all the nations that have stood against them and bring them to an imaginary valley whose name is “The Lord will Judge,” and, there, enter into judgment with them on account of God’s people and heritage Israel. They scattered the people; they divided the land; they cast lots for God’s people; and they traded boys for prostitutes and girls for wine, using them for their own sensual pleasures; they have stolen silver and gold from the temple. The nations are named: Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia with its five cities. Sea coast cities, they have engaged in slave trade, selling God’s people to the Greeks, disbursing them afar. But now God will rouse those sent afar to leave the places that they have been sold unto. God will turn the nations’ deeds back on their own heads, and sell their sons and daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, who shall, in turn, sell them to the Sabeans, a desert people now thought to have lived in the Arabian Peninsula, as far east from Philistia as Greece is west from Judah. Often, in announcing God’s judgments on nations, the punishment is a turning of their own crimes back upon them, as is the case here, consistent with “an eye for an eye” understanding of justice.

Psalm 92 is a hymn of thanksgiving and is identified in its header as a song for the sabbath. It is perfectly suited for remembering and praising the Lord in sabbath rest, when the worshipper is to reflect on God’s goodness. The hours of prayer are cited, as well as the music to accompany such prayer in the temple. The Lord has made the psalmist glad by God’s work. At the sight of it, the psalmist sings for joy. He then turns to reflect upon what God has done. The dullard cannot know and the stupid cannot understand the ways of God. Though the wicked sprout like grass, they are doomed for destruction forever, for the Lord will destroy his enemies. In addition, the Lord has exalted the psalmist’s strength (horn), like that of a wild ox, and poured fresh oil upon him in blessing. His eyes have seen the downfall of his personal enemies and his ears have heard of the doom of his assailants. The psalm ends in typical wisdom tradition with the affirmation that the righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon planted in courts of the house of the Lord. In old age, they continue to be fruitful, full of strength and sexual potency—showing that the Lord is upright and a rock to those who fear him. “There is no unrighteousness in him.”

James reminds the church that all good gifts come from God. Every generous act of giving is from above, coming from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation. The ultimate gift is that he has given birth to them, by the word of truth, that they would become a kind of first fruits of God’s new creation—a theme very common in Paul’s writings. The text now quickly shifts to admonitions concerning the word of truth among them: be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for anger does not produce God’s righteousness. They are to rid themselves of all sordidness and wickedness, and welcome with meekness the word that has been implanted within them in their baptismal rebirth. They are to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves (the same theme we are hearing in Luke’s gospel). Those who only hear are like people seeing a reflection of themselves in a mirror: at that moment, they can see who they are, but upon going away they forget what they look like. But those who look into the perfect law of truth and persevere, not only hearing but doing, will be blessed. And now a warning: if any think they are religious (James is the only one to use this word to describe the Christian faith. Paul uses it in his appearance before the Roman court to talk about Judaism in general [Acts 25:19; 26:5] and it is used negatively in Colossians 2:23 to talk about useless behavior.) James’ point is to counter the notion that faithful living is indulging in worship without it having an interior effect as well. Pure and undefiled religion is caring for orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself unstained by the world.

Now, Jesus tells the outrageous story of a dishonest manager who, when learning that his master is about to audit the accounts and find him out, realizes he is about to lose his job and will be in the poor house. He is not strong enough to do manual labor and he is too ashamed to even beg. So what does he do? He goes and further cooks the boss’ books, but this time in favor of the debtors. Surely, they will welcome and care for him in his future distress. When the master arrives and discovers what the manager has done, he commends him for his shrewdness. Jesus then adds that the children of this evil age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light (the church to which this is being written). Do not try to remove the outrageous nature of this parable, nor miss its point. Jesus is not telling us to “cook the books.” Rather, he is urging that we recognize where all we have comes from and to whom it truly belongs. Therefore, make friends for yourselves by the way you use this wealth given to you, especially among those in need, so when it is gone you may be welcomed into the eternal homes. (The reason “mammon” is “unrighteous” or “unjust”—the word can be translated both ways—is because it divides us—it causes us to think those with more deserve it, and those with less have no one to blame but themselves for their need.) Jesus has given us an example of finally using resources properly and laying up treasure in heaven through what then was known as alms giving.

Posted November 14, 2014
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

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.

© 2014