Friday, September 19, 2014
Esther 1:1-4, 10-19; Psalm 69; Acts 17:1-15; John 12:36b-43
We take up the Book of Esther, one of the most unusual books in the Bible, in part, because God is never mentioned. It is a work of humorous and ironic fiction, written to sustain Jews in times of exile, hardship and victimization—set during the period of the Babylonian exile—with the theme that God, though never mentioned, works through providence to ensure the survival of his chosen people. The book opens with Ahasuerus—the Persian emperor Xerses—holding a series of banquets for his nobility as a context in which to display all the riches and glory of his reign. The text jumps over descriptions of a second banquet, held in the courtyards for those who served the court as well as other people of Susa. The description of the banquet and its surroundings are lavish, including the drinking bouts, for which the Persians were famous. At the same time, Vashti, the Queen, is giving a similar banquet for the women of the palace. On the last day of the feasts, when the wine has done its full work, King Ahasuerus calls for his eunuchs—important court officials in Persia—and tells them to bring forth Queen Vashti, adorned with her crown—and possibly little else!—to display her beauty to his guests. The Queen refuses, which, of course, is unheard of! The King erupts in drunken rage. Turning to his sages, who are versed in the law of the land so that his decision will be consistent with himself, he asks what is to be done. Introduced here is the theme that Persian law was not biased or based upon the emotions of the moment, but consistent and unalterable—even the King could not reverse it. The sages respond that not only has Vashti wronged the King, she has also insulted his officials—she is to be banished, never to see the King’s face again, and another take her place. For, if the other women hear of her behavior and that it has gone unpunished, they too will begin to behave in much the same way, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath. (This is a novel; hear the women to whom it is told laughing out loud and the men groaning—inwardly, of course!) And so, Ahasuerus banishes her. Queen Vashti is no longer Queen and is never again permitted in the King’s presence. The road is prepared for another, a Jewish orphan girl named Esther.
Psalm 69 is the prayer of one who suffers and calls on the Lord for rescue from enemies, and incorporates much of the vocabulary of Biblical lament: “the floods sweep over me,” “my eyes are weary with crying; my throat parched,” “I am hated without cause,” “have done no wrong,” and so on. “Do not hide your face,” “Answer me,” “Do not let me be put to shame,” are standard pleads in such laments. One unusual plea here is that “none will lose hope in God” because of the psalmist’s shame and condition, who claims that this suffering, shame, abandonment by family and friends and reproach are all being born for God’s sake. It is easy to see why writers of the New Testament so easily turned to this psalm as Old Testament prophecy of Jesus’ life and passion. Hated without cause, “he hoped in God, let him deliver him,” “zeal for [his Father’s] house has consumed [him],” “for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”—all are images that were incorporated into the gospel narratives about Jesus. As a result, this psalm took on new Messianic understanding, after the fact, for the way in which it seemed to prophetically foretell Jesus’ innocent and vicarious suffering. However, the psalm takes a very human turn at verse 22 and leaves the Messianic dimensions behind and turns imprecatory, invoking suffering upon one’s enemies: “pour out your indignation upon them,” “May their camp be desolation,” “Add guilt to their guilt…, let them be blotted out of the book of the living.” The psalm then turns to one of praise as it anticipates the Lord’s faithful response to these pleas. Heaven and earth are called upon to join in praise as it affirms that God will save Zion, rebuild Judah, and God’s servants—those who love God’s name—will live there in prosperity and peace.
Paul and Silas and their companions move south and then westward until they arrive in Thessalonica, a prosperous sea-port town, where they find a synagogue. As was their custom, for three successive sabbaths, they go to the synagogue to proclaim the gospel, using the scriptures and reason to explain why it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and how it was that he is the Christ. Some in the synagogue are convinced and join them, as do a great number of the God-Fearers who had been attracted to the synagogue because of its monotheism and ethical standards, but who had remained Gentiles rather than proselyte converts. In addition, a number of leading women in the community became believers. Once again, such success on the part of the gospel strikes jealousy in the leaders of the synagogue, who go to the market place and recruit a group of ruffians to start a riot and set Thessalonica in uproar. They come to Jason’s house—evidently a believer where other new believers were gathering for nightly worship—looking for Paul and Silas. When they are found not to be there, the mob drags Jason and some fellow believers into the street and before the city authorities, blaming them for starting the uproar. “These men who have turned the world upside down” have come here acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor and claiming there is another king, named Jesus. Suddenly, the new movement finds itself in opposition to the Emperor, and a new form of persecution will emerge, not simply from its Jewish roots, but also by the Empire. The authorities get a pledge from Jason concerning his guests—he is, after all, responsible for their behavior as their host—and after he has posted bail to keep them out of jail, they released them to Jason’s care. Immediately, the fellow believers who have gathered at Jason’s home, decide to forfeit the bail and send the missionaries away. They move on to Beroea, where again, they go to the local synagogue. The people of Beroea are more “noble minded” and open to what Paul, Silas and Timothy are proclaiming, and receive their word with great eagerness, examining the scriptures to see if this is true. Many in the synagogue come to believe in Jesus along with the prominent Greek men and women of the city. But when word of this reaches back to Thessalonica, the leadership there sends men to Beroea to stir up a similar commotion in Beorea. Immediately, the believing community in Beroea sends Paul east to the coast, with others of their group accompanying him, and they board a ship and sail south to Athens. Leaving Paul in Athens, they take back his word that Silas and Timothy should join him there soon. And now the gospel has reached the center of the Greek philosophic world.
Jesus’ public ministry in Jerusalem is over. In an interlude, the author struggles with how it is Jesus should have done so many signs and wonders among them, yet the people do not believe in him. He reconciles this with words from Isaiah (52:1 and 6:10); something the author rarely does in this gospel, concluding that in the end, their rejection is part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. After saying that Isaiah “saw this,”—a common phrase for the prophetic act—we are told that, nevertheless, many, even some of the authorities, believed in Jesus, but remained silent about it for fear of the Pharisees, who if they knew of it, would put them out of the synagogue (the way many in the church for which this gospel is written, were likewise put out of their synagogues because of their belief in Jesus). The final judgment on their silence is one on all who remain silent about Jesus in moments appropriate for witness: “they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Job 28:1-28; Psalms 71; Acts 16:25-40; John 12:27-36a
Our reading of the Book of Job comes to a conclusion by returning us to chapter 28, which we earlier stepped over because it appears to be a later insertion in the book. It is not a summary, but rather an interlude that reflects on the illusive nature of wisdom. It begins celebrating humanities’ gifts, recognizing that people will search far and wide for the other of the world’s riches, and, in its search, find them. But, such searching for wisdom by people is futile, not only because wisdom is far more valuable than all of the other riches in the world, but because it is simply beyond the capacity of every living thing—even the crown of God’s creation, humankind. Who then can be wise, and where is wisdom to be found? God only knows! In the course of the poem it both confirms the value of wisdom, but also refutes much that appears in the wisdom literature of the Bible, especially the book of Proverbs which insists that keeping its ways actually makes one wise. One alone is wise! God, the all-powerful and all-knowing One understands the way to wisdom and knows it place. As for humankind, the path to it is simply this: “the fear of the Lord.” Walk in God’s way and depart from evil—that is the closest one can come to wisdom and is true understanding! If the ending of these readings seems anticlimactic, remember, this book was written to be a critique of the wisdom tradition, which could easily evolve into a religious system of its own. The best wisdom can do is to remind us to fear the Lord and walk in God’s ways. We will never be wise enough to approach life’s challenges and questions on our own, as “the fool”—those who say there is no God—never learns.
Psalm 71 is both a lament and a song of praise, and almost seems to be an extension of Psalm 70. If David did not write this, he should have! It is filled with the language of praise, trust and assurance, and also with the continuing plea for God’s sustaining and saving presence in the midst of the wicked who seek his life, as indeed, many sought David’s life. But this is equally as important a prayer for us to pray through the seasons of our lives, as we continue to look to God to be for us a rock of refuge, a strong fortress that saves. From the moment of birth, when God began to watch over us, until our last breath, God will not forsake us but be our source of life and salvation. Therefore, the psalm shouts for joy and sings continuing praises to God.
Paul and Silas console themselves while in prison by singing hymns and praying, and at the darkest hour (midnight), an earthquake not only opens all the doors but also frees the shackles of all the prisoners—this is no mere earthquake! The Jailer, in despair over what will come of him because the prisoners will have escaped, is about to kill himself when he hears Paul shouting, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Astonished, the jailer calls for light, rushes to Paul and Silas, and falls trembling before them. He then takes them outside their cell and asks the question of the hour—remember, it was asked in Jerusalem as well, on Pentecost?—“What must I do to be saved?” Paul responds, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” and then adds, “you and your household.” Notice that this salvation is free and through Jesus and is given in abundance to all—the whole household—to be receive and lived into, as it was by Cornelius and his household. Paul speaks the word of the Lord to him and the jailer takes them to his home and washes their wounds. He and his whole household are baptized—all enter into the way of Salvation. Then he brings food and sets it before them as he and his household rejoice in their new state of belief. Meanwhile, the magistrates have had better thoughts and send word for the jailer to quietly release Paul and Silas and send them on their way. They want this incident behind them as soon as possible. Paul objects rigorously; the magistrates have publically beaten Roman citizens, who were not even condemned, and having imprisoned them; now want to secretly release them and get them out of town? No; there has been a gross violation of Roman law. They must come themselves and release them. When this is reported to the magistrates, they do come and apologize and release them, but still ask them to leave the city. Paul, Silas and the entourage will, but before doing so, Paul and Silas will return to Lydia’s house where the church in Philippi gathers for worship, to continue to encourage the brothers and sisters in the faith. Only then do they leave the city.
As Jesus continues to speak about the necessity of his death, he becomes deeply troubled—the very same word in Greek that was used of him as he stood before Lazarus’ tomb and wept (John 1:33). Yes, this is not despair, but the serious recognition that his hour is upon him. In affirmation of this, he says, “Father Glorify your name,” and the Father responds from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” To those standing by it sounds like thunder, though some think it the voice of an angel speaking to him. Jesus uses the confusion among them to tell them that it is for their sake that this voice has spoken; the ruler of this world is about to be driven out. And, when he is lifted up from the earth—a reference not only to his death, but to his resurrection—he will draw all people to himself. This further confuses the crowd for they have come to believe that the Messiah is forever; why then, has he said that the son of man must be lifted up? “Who is the son of man?” Rather than answer their question, Jesus reminds them that the light (of the world) is with them just a little longer—therefore, walk in his light so that the darkness does not over take them (a word spoken not only to those around Jesus, but also to the church reading this gospel). While they have the light, believe in the light, that they may become children of light. But for now, it appears that the darkness is still present and obscuring their sight.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Job 42:1-17; Psalm 119:73-96; Acts 16:16-24; John 12:20-26
As God’s speech comes to an end, Job does answer. He does not disagree with God’s majesty, power, or sovereignty. Who is this that disregards counsel without knowledge? Someone who has uttered what he did not understand—things too wonderful, which he did not know. Job seems to acknowledge that even the answer he seeks he would not be able to understand. Heretofore, he had only heard of God by the ear, but now Job sees God and, in that seeing, recognizes that what he asked for—an explanation—will never come—it is simply beyond him. Verse 6, as it is traditionally translated, portrays Job confessing the sin of challenging God’s justice. But the Hebrew is capable of being translated another way. Job does not despise himself, and he does not repent, if such a word means “apologize,” “regret” or “feel sorry for his actions.” More correct is the translation “therefore I retract, recant and regret, being nothing more than dust and ashes,” or, “I retract and recant and regret these dust and ashes.” The Lord now responds, not to Job, but to Elihu and his friends, with words of wrath. They have not spoken what is right about God or Job, as Job has! (Notice that God says this twice to make the point.) They are told to prepare a sacrifice for Job and offer up a burnt offering for themselves and Job will pray for them, and God will accept Job’s prayer and not deal with them according to their actions. As for Job, he was right! The story ends “Happily ever after…” with all of Job’s fortune and prosperity not only restored, but increased. Though his property is restored two-fold, his new children number the same as before—seven sons and three daughters. Interestingly enough, only the daughters are named, each symbolically named after some aspect of beauty: dove, cassia perfume, and eye cosmetic, respectively, and we are told that “no women were found so fair as Job’s daughters.” Also, notice that contrary to patriarchal culture, Job’s fortunes are shared equally with his daughters as well as well as his sons, each of whom is given an inheritance. And so the book ends. And between the bookends of Job’s prosperity is the result of the wisdom tradition of Israel struggling with the ancient question of evil, and the role of suffering in the lives of the just, righteous, or innocent—what theologians call “Theodicy.”
Psalm 119:73-96 continues to meditate upon God, God’s ways and word (Torah), using the acrostic literary form, each of its three sections beginning with a descending letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and consisting of separate two-lined strophes, suitable for memorization. It opens on Yod (Y), with the affirmation that God has made and fashioned him like a master-builder and pleads for understanding in order to learn God’s commandments. Verses 73 through 80 are an acknowledgement of the justice of God’s ways and a prayer that he may ever walk within them, ending, “May my heart be blameless in thy statutes, that I may not be ashamed.” Verses 81 through 88, beginning with Kaf (K) turn to a two-fold lament. On the one hand, life seems to simply be wasting away as he waits for God’s word and its comfort. He has become like a dried up, heat-worn wineskin, yet he does not forget God’s statutes. On the other hand, this is more than physical, as enemies, described as “the arrogant” have dug pits and other traps for him, persecuting him with lies. In the midst of this he cries out, simply, “Help me!” They have almost destroyed him, and yet he has not abandoned God’s precepts. Therefore, the plea that God revive him according to his loving kindness. Why? So that he may keep the testimony of God’s mouth! The third section of today’s reading begins at verse 89, with the Hebrew letter Lamed (L), declaring the universal and eternal nature of God’s word, revealing God’s faithfulness through all generations. It returns to themes of creation, now less about the psalmist than the physical world, still affirming that central and foremost in all of this is God’s ordinances. Had God’s law not been his delight, he would have perished long ago. Rather, he will never forget them, for by them he is revived. Thus, follows a vow: “I am yours;” with the plea for salvation. Again, though the wicked seek to destroy him, rather than engage them in their evil, he will diligently consider God’s testimonies. After all, the psalmist has seen that there is a limit to all perfection, but not to God’s commandments. They are, like God himself, forever. One can do no better than to read, ponder, meditate on and memorize God’s statutes and commandments. In them is life and salvation.
Paul, Silas and Timothy continue their ministry in Philippi where there is a young slave girl with “the spirit of divination” who is owned by men exploiting her gifts for their own living. As the ministry team makes its way through the streets of Philippi, the young girl follows and keeps announcing to all who will listen, that Paul, Silas, Timothy and their companions are “bond servants of the most-high God who are announcing the way of salvation.” After many days of this, and no marked sign that her words were having any impact on anyone, but simply becoming a problem to the ministry team, Paul demands, in the name of Jesus Christ, that the spirit leave her, and it does. This so infuriates her owners that they seize Paul and Silas, drag them before the city magistrates, in the city market place, and charge them, not with casting out the spirit, but of being Jews disturbing the city and advocating customs that are not lawful for Romans—what customs, we are not told. Soon the crowd is drawn into the controversy and adds its voice to the attack on the three outsiders. The magistrates order Paul and Silas stripped, beaten with rods, and thrown in jail. Ordered to keep the two prisoners secure, the jailer places them deep within the prison and places their feet in stocks.
The festival of Passover gathers Jews and Jewish proselytes from all over the dispersion. Greeks, from we know not where—remember the Pharisee’s comment that the whole world was going after him?—approach Phillip, whose name is Greek, asking to see Jesus. Phillip tells Andrew and, together, they go and tell Jesus. The arrival of the Greeks triggers for Jesus the awareness that “the hour has come” for him to be glorified. But it will be in a most unexpected way. Using language that must have had heavy resonance in a church experiencing persecution, suffering and death, Jesus tells his followers that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains but a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He is not only foretelling his own death and resurrection, but assuring those who follow who also face persecution and death for his sake, that loving their own life will cause them to lose it, but those who “hate” their lives in this world on his behalf will keep them in the next. Whoever serves him must follow him, and where he is thereafter, so will his servants be. Whoever serves him, the Father will honor. Suddenly, following Jesus has taken on a deeper meaning and more profound commitment than simply a confession of faith.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Job 40:1; 41:1-11; Psalm .61; Acts 16:6-15; John 12:9-19
God continues a diatribe about his majesty and power, this time referring to Leviathan, the mythical creature of chaos from the deep who no human could control. God is not only its maker and master, but actually plays with it. Can Job do any of the things that God does with Leviathan? Then who is he to stand and demand an answer?
Psalm 61 is a prayer of intercession from the psalmist who calls out to God from the ends of the earth. When his heart is faint, the cry goes up: “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you are my refuge a strong tower against the enemy.” The psalm expresses trust in God’s sovereign power and protection, seeking to abide under the shelter of God’s wings, and in God’s tent and protecting presence forever. Acknowledging that God has heard his vow and has given the heritage God gives to all who fear God’s name, the prayer turns to invoking long life for the king. Whether this is another praying for the king, or the king himself speaking in the third person, the notion of being enthroned forever before God speaks of the special relationship between God and the king in Israel, and will develop into deeper Messianic consciousness among the people as time passes and there is no king. The psalm prays for steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over the king. The final verse, gives hint that it might be the king himself who is offering this prayer. Christians pray this with a different view, knowing that the risen Lord is enthroned with God forever, and is “the rock higher than I,” who is our refuge and strong tower against the enemy.
The second missionary journey expands beyond visits to previously established churches as Paul, Silas and Timothy attempt to move north and more deeply into what is now Turkey, but the Spirit forbids them to speak the word in Asia. Instead they continue to move northwest until coming to Mysia (near contemporary Istanbul), and, from there, attempt to move eastward up into Bithyina on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Again, the “Spirit of Jesus” does not allow them to do this. Consequently, they turn south, possibly headed to Ephesus, while during the night in Troas, Paul has a vision of a man standing in Macedonia, pleading with him to come and help. The text adopts a subtle but important change at this point, saying, “When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over into Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” This is the first of four such “we sections” in the book generally considered to be from a diary of one of Paul’s companions on the journey. It could also have been from a travel diary of one of Paul’s companions on his voyage from Caesera to Rome that later came into Luke’s possession, or simply Luke’s own addition for literary effect (less likely, because there are so few). The point, however, is that after several failed attempts to preach elsewhere, it finally becomes clear to them that God is calling this missionary journey to leave Asia and move into Europe. They immediately head to Macedonia by ship, passing Samothrace and on to Neapolis, where they disembark and move on to Philippi. Philippi was a large colony of retired Roman soldiers, located on the Egnatian Way that linked by ship to the Appian Way. There, they settle in. On the sabbath, they go outside the city gate, at the riverside, searching for a place to worship as there seemed to be no synagogue in Philippi. There they discover a group a women, among whom is Lydia, a business woman from Thyatira, who was also “a worshipper of God.” Was she Jewish or Gentile? We don’t know, but probably a Gentile God-fearer, given the fact that she was a business woman. Paul engages her in conversation and the Lord opens her heart to receive the gospel. She and her entire household are immediately baptized. Thereupon, Lydia urges Paul, Silas and Timothy to come and reside in her home, which becomes the site of the first church in Europe. This is more than an act of hospitality. Lydia becomes the first woman in leadership in the church and the elder-overseer of that Philippian congregation.
When word that Jesus is staying with Lazarus in Bethany reaches Jerusalem, those who had been looking for Jesus in Jerusalem, rush out to Bethany, though we are told that some went, not to see Jesus, but to simply see Lazarus, who Jesus has raised from the dead. Consequently, the Jewish leaders’ deadly plot expands to include Lazarus as well, in order to erase whatever evidence there might be about who Jesus claims to be. Those in the multitude that go out from Jerusalem take palm branches—symbols of national triumph—and greet Jesus with the ancient words of Psalm 118:26, welcoming him as the King of Israel: the one they expect will wrest control from Rome and restore the nation and people’s sovereignty. Jesus responds by mounting a young donkey, acting out the words of Zephaniah 3:14-18, that announces that their king is in their midst. And so, the Palm Sunday procession makes its way from Bethany into Jerusalem. We are told that the disciples did not understand all of this until after Jesus was “glorified,” (after his death and resurrection). As the crowd that had seen him raise Lazarus and those who had seen the other signs in Jerusalem continued to testify, the Pharisees recognize there is nothing more than can be done; “the whole world has gone after him.”
Monday, September 15, 2014
Job 40:1-24; Psalms 58; Acts 15:36-16:5; John 11:55-12:8
Job is addressed by God for the first time, and, notice, there is no whirlwind mentioned. But also notice the name for God has reverted back to “the Almighty.” Does a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Whoever does, must respond. Job is overwhelmed. He has heard what the Lord said to Elihu and his friends, and so he is now speechless. Confronted directly with the Lord, what can he say? God is not amused—this time the whirlwind is again mentioned—God is looking for an answer and calls Job to stand like a man prepared for confrontation, even battle, and answer: will Job put God in the wrong; will Job condemn God in order to justify himself? Notice, Job has done neither! All he has done is asked “Why?” and sought vindication. What follows is often overlooked: God tells Job that if he has the courage to call upon and now stand in God’s presence, it is time to pour out his anger on the proud who have surrounded him with false counsel and bring them low. It is time to tread down the wicked where they stand and hide them in the dust. Thereafter, God will acknowledge that he has gotten victory by his own hand. But for now, Job lacks the capacity to do anything but listen. He is directed to consider the Behemoth—a word in the ancient world that probably referred to the hippopotamus, and may also be a generic term for cattle, or the mythical animal of all animals. This one, created by God just as Job was, has the strength to stand, is fearless before all others in the animal kingdom, and only God can approach it, sword in hand, to tame or capture it. Job knows that he is in trouble.
Psalm 58 ponders what one does with the frustration and anger that emerges in us when we see the innocent suffer and the wicked continue to prosper, especially when much of that violence seems condoned or even created by those in charge. Do the gods of the earth—those who rule, govern or control others—do so fairly? No; they too in their hearts work unrighteousness and weigh out violence from their hands. The wicked go astray from the womb, are like deadly serpents that respond to no one. What recourse does the psalmist have but to call upon God for vengeance? In much the same manner that psalm 137 ends, this psalm’s entire focus is upon God executing justice in a land where it is absent, breaking teeth, tearing out fangs, causing the wicked to vanish like water that is absorbed into dry ground, or grass that disappears when trodden under too many feet. When God acts to sweep them away, the righteous will rejoice. “Bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked,” is the Bible’s hyperbole for complete victory over the foe (Deuteronomy 32:42, Psalm, 68:23, Revelation 14:18-21; 16:3-4; 19:2). Surely there is a reward for righteousness for there is a God who judges the leaders (gods) of the earth. In anger, the righteous call on God to act and wait, for God’s wrath to vindicate and set right. It is a word as appropriate now as then, but no easier to hear, and, harder still, to obey, as watching innocent suffering, whether here in this country or in the Middle East, we want to do something. Pray! Otherwise we simply add to the suffering.
After a period of time, Paul asks Barnabas to come with him to visit the churches that they had established on their first missionary journey. Barnabas wants to bring John Mark along with them, but Paul objects because John Mark had abandoned them on the first journey in Pamphylia, and had not been part of their work thereafter. The argument grows sharp, and, in the end, the two missionaries separate, Barnabas taking John Mark with him westward to the Island of Cyprus (where John Mark had been a fellow missionary), and Paul taking with him the emissary from Jerusalem, Silas. The two of them head in the opposite direction. Paul and Silas head first to visit the churches in Syria and Cilicia, and then to the main body of the previous journey, Derbe, Lystra and Iconium—whether by sea or overland, we do not know, but the latter seems more likely. In Lystra they come upon a young disciple named Timothy, whose mother is a Jew but whose father is Greek, and who has been raised as a Greek rather than Jew (he had not been circumcised), but now is a believer. Paul wants to take Timothy as part of their missionary group, but he has not been circumcised and that is well known—he is the son of a Greek. Though circumcision was no longer required, yet, because of the challenges an uncircumcised male would present in their missionary endeavors among the Jews, Paul has Timothy circumcised. They take this action because the mission is more important than the controversy—something it would be well for the contemporary church to remember. As they repeat the steps of the first journey, they read the decrees of the council in Jerusalem concerning Gentile Christians not needing to be circumcised or maintain the law, and that word is received with joy. The churches continue to be strengthened in faith and increase in number.
In the commotion following the raising of Lazarus, Jesus has withdrawn to Ephraim, but as Passover approaches, it is time to return to Jerusalem. Many of the pilgrims who have returned there are asking about Jesus, who is not there. The Chief Priest and other Jewish leaders have issued an order that, should Jesus appear during the festival, he be arrested. It is part of their plot to kill Jesus. Six days before Passover (the third Passover mentioned in John’s gospel, signifying a three year ministry rather than one, as it is set forth in the other gospels), Jesus and his disciples leave Ephraim and go to Bethany to stay with Lazarus. While there, at dinner, Mary abandons her serving duties and takes a pound of costly nard and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. This act of humble service and devotion is not missed by any, but as the aroma fills the room, Judas becomes indignant: why has this nard not been sold and the money given to the poor? Judas has missed the point altogether, but we are told that he is not only a betrayer but also a thief, his motivation less for the poor than his own pocketbook. Jesus silences Judas and tells him to leave Mary alone. She bought the nard for the day of his burial, and in this action she has anticipated it. As for the poor, they will always be among them; there is plenty of time to care for their needs. Jesus will soon not be among them. Though the author has told us that Judas was the one to betray him, one wonders how much that public rebuke in the midst of the inner circle had an impact on what Judas ultimately did.
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.