Daily Readings for Tuesday, February 4, Year II
Genesis 21:1–21; Psalm 36; Hebrews 11:13–22; John 6:41–51
The lectionary steps over two chapters to bring us to the birth of Isaac. In between, we first hear the story of the origins of Israel’s neighbors, the Moabites and the Ammonites, descendants of Lot through the incestuous scheme of Lot’s two daughters. After that, we read of a repeat of Abraham and Sarah’s deception in Egypt. Again, they put the promise at risk, as Abraham presents Sarah as his sister, and she is taken into King Abimelech’s haram. Thereafter, we move directly to the birth of Isaac. The Lord kept his promise and Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, just as the Lord had promised. Abraham named the boy Isaac, and circumcised him when he was eight days old, as God had commanded. Sarah also comments on her son’s name, saying, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” But the laughter begins to fade as the child grows and is weaned. Abraham makes a great feast to celebrate Isaac’s weaning, but in the festivities of the day, Sarah sees Hagar’s son, Ishmael, playing with Isaac and realizes that something must be done, for Ishmael is Abraham’s first born and heir to Abraham's fortune. Consequently, Sarah demands that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away, lest the son of a slave woman inherit along with Sarah and Abraham’s son Isaac. Hear how distressed Abraham is over this demand, “on account of his son.” The text is not clear. Is Abraham’s distress for Ishmael, who is now thirteen or fourteen, or is it for Isaac, who he knows as second born, could be displaced by Ishmael? Abraham is truly caught in a double-bind. God tells Abraham not to be distressed because of the boy Ishmael and his mother, their slave. Abraham is to do whatever it is that Sarah asks of him in this matter, for it is through Isaac that God intends to keep the promise of offspring named for Abraham. As for Ishmael (notice how his name is never used), the Lord will make a nation of him as well because he is Abraham’s son. So Abraham rises early the next morning, takes bread and a skin of water, gives it to Hagar, along with Ishmael, and sends them away. The two depart and wander about in the wilderness of Beersheba. It does not take long before the water is gone, and they are delirious and she places Ishmael under a bush and then goes a distance of a bowshot away, so that she does not have to look upon the child’s death. Sitting there, she lifts up her voice in weeping and wailing. But notice that it is the voice of the dying Ishmael that God hears, and an angel of God calls to Hagar from heaven asking what it is that is troubling her. She is not to fear; God has heard the voice of the boy. She is to go back to him and lift him up and hold him fast, for God is going to make of him a great nation. Then God opens Hagar’s eyes and she sees a well of water. She goes to the well, fills the skin with water and gives Ishmael a drink. They are saved, and we are told that “God was with the boy, and he grew up, living in the wilderness, where he became an expert with the bow. Ishmael lived in the wilderness of Paran, while his mother got for him a wife from her homeland, Egypt. Among the many things going on in this story, is the origin of the Ishmaelites who occupied the southern desert, and moved across it in trading caravans. It is to such an Ishmaelite caravan, on its way to Egypt, that Joseph’s brothers will sell him for twenty-five shekels of silver.
This psalm reflects on the capacity for wickedness deep within the human heart and is unique in that the one speaking is transgression itself, rather than the Lord. The wicked have no fear of God. There is no end to the way they flatter themselves in their own eyes, thinking that their iniquity is hidden. They have ceased to live wisely and spend their time in plots of mischief and embrace evil rather than reject it. Now, in contrast, the psalm turns to the Lord’s steadfast love, which extends to the heavens. God’s righteousness is like the mighty mountains and judgments like the great deep. The Lord saves humans and animals alike. The psalm lauds the preciousness of God’s steadfast love and confesses that all take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. It goes on to speak of the abundance and goodness of God’s house, where God gives drink from the river of delights. God is the fountain of life; in his light we see light. The prayer concludes by asking for God’s continued steadfast love to those who know him. As for the arrogant, do not let their foot tread on him or the hand of the wicked drive him away. Rather, let the Lord continue his salvation. As for evildoers, let them lay prostrate, thrust down, unable to rise.
The theme of faith and faithfulness continues as Hebrews reminds us that all who had come before Jesus died in faith, without having received the promises, but rather, only saw them from a distance, yet still welcomed them. They confessed to being strangers and foreigners on earth, seeking for a better homeland, rather than return to the one they had left behind. And that better country they sought is a heavenly one. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed he has prepared a city for them.” The theme of faith returns, as the text recites for us the pattern of the Patriarchs’ faith: Abraham being put to the test and found to be willing to offer up Isaac, though Isaac was the son and link to God’s promise. We are told that Abraham did so because he was convinced that God could raise someone from the dead, and in that trust, received Isaac back. By the same faith, Isaac invoked the promised blessing on his sons Jacob and Esau, which Jacob, when dying, passed on to the sons of Joseph. By the same faith, Joseph, as he came to the end of his life in Egypt, foretold the exodus and gave the people instructions for his burial.
Jesus’ words about himself as the bread of life that has come down from heaven, causes the people to grumble against him, not only because of the audacious claim it makes, but also because Jesus has used the ineffable name of God in doing so. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they ask. “We know both his father and mother, how can he say he has come down out of heaven?” Jesus overhears and tells them to stop grumbling; no one can come to him unless the Father (and they know he is not talking about Joseph!), who sent him draws them to him. These he himself will raise up on the last day. The stakes have now gotten higher and his claims about himself more extraordinary still. Quoting the prophets he reminds them that the promised time when they would be taught by God has come to them in him. Everyone who learns from the Father comes to him. Not that they have seen God. No one has seen God except “the One” who is from God—he has seen the Father. Whoever believes (in him) has eternal life for he is the bread of life. Their ancestors ate manna in the wilderness but died, this bread that has come down from heaven has been given so that they may eat of it and never die. And now, lest someone has not yet understood what he is saying, Jesus makes it starkly clear: he is the living bread that has come down from heaven, if anyone eats it, they shall live forever. This bread which he gives for the life of the world is his flesh. We have moved more deeply from Jesus’ description of himself and his mission, to a discourse on the nature of bread which is received in his supper. Jesus’ words will become even more plainly Eucharistic in the remainder of this chapter.
Daily Readings for Monday, February 3, Year II
Genesis 19:1–17 (18–23) 24–29; Psalm 73; Hebrews 11:1–12; John 6:27–40
The two men, who accompanied the Lord to visit Abraham and Sarah and then went on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, turn out to be angels and the Lord’s agents of destruction. As they approach the city, they find Lot seated at the gate. Upon seeing the two, he bows in obeisance and invites them to be his guests for the night. The angels say they will spend the night in the city square, but Lot, having learned the gifts of hospitality from his uncle, insists that the two stay with him and they agree. Lot prepares a feast for them, and they eat. But before they lay down, the men of the city gather outside of Lot’s door, demanding that he turn the two visitors over to the men of the city for their own sexual enjoyment. Lot goes out to meet the men of the city and pleads with them, even offering his two virgin daughters as substitutes to satiate the mobs’ sexual appetites. But the men refuse, grow angry and demand that Lot stand back, reminding him that he is an alien among them and in no position to play the judge among them. As the riot begins to break out, the two angels behind the door snatch Lot back into the house to safety and then strike the men of the city blind, so that whether young or old, small or great, they cannot find the door. Now the angels reveal their purpose and warn Lot, telling him to gather his wife, daughters and their betrothed husbands-to-be and flee the city immediately. Lot gathers them, but the son-in-laws think Lot is jesting and hold back. Early the next morning, the angels dispatch Lot, his wife and their daughters, telling them to go, lest they be destroyed with the city. Lot lingers, so one of the angels takes him by the hand and leads all of them out, commanding that they run to the hill country and not stop in the plain. They are to flee to the hills lest they, too, be consumed. Lot pleads with them, asking permission to stop at the little city of Zoar, an oasis south of the base of the Dead Sea, and the angels relent. But Lot and his family must hurry if they are to escape the destruction. By the time Lot and his family arrive at Zoar, the sun has risen, and the Lord rains fire and brimstone (hot asphalt) on the cities. They erupt in fire destroying not only Sodom and Gomorrah, but all else that grew on the plain and everyone therein. Lot and his daughters arrive safely at Zoar, but Lot’s wife looks back, and as she does she is turned to a pillar of salt, much like those that are found today in the Dead Sea basin. Abraham rises early in the morning and, standing at the place where he had stood haggling with the Lord over the cities’ safety should there be ten righteous within them, looks on their destruction. It is as the Lord had said. Yet, the Lord continues to remember Abraham and Lot, rescuing Lot and his family out of the conflagration.
This psalm is a confession of one who almost gave up on the Lord, whose feet nearly slipped. When seeing the prosperity of the wicked, he became envious. When seeing that their proud and arrogant ways seemed only to bring them success and that they were filled with an abundance of good things, he asked himself, “Why?” Why should he maintain his integrity before the Lord, when all it was doing was bringing him hardship? Pride is their necklace; violence is their way. They speak wickedly and oppress, and even mock the heavens, saying to themselves, “God does not see.” They have no pain in death, are always at ease, and only increase in their wealth. The psalmist laments, “It is in vain that I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence!” Stricken all day long he is chastened every morning. And so, in an attempt to understand this, he pondered it, and found it deeply troubling to him. But then, he entered the Lord’s sanctuary. It was there that he perceived the wickeds’ end; destroyed in a moment and swept away by sudden terrors. He then confesses that when he was embittered by what he saw among the arrogant, he was himself pierced within, and behaved like a senseless beast. But now, he realizes that even then, the Lord was with him, holding his right hand. Verse 24 is a classic: “With your counsel you will guide me, and afterward, you will receive me into your glory.” Whom then does he have in heaven or earth but the Lord? Beside him, there is no one else. Though his heart and his flesh may fail, God is his strength and portion forever. Those far away from God will perish; God destroys all who are unfaithful to him. But for the psalmist, the nearness of God is his good. He has made the Lord God his refuge that he may tell of God’s works.
In the previous reading from Hebrews the author reminded his readers that they are not among those who “shrink back” and are, therefore, lost, but among those who have faith and are therefore saved. In today’s well-known reading the subject is faith and what it looks like. “It is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” It was through such faith that our spiritual ancestors received their approval, and it is by faith that we understand that the worlds were created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things not seen. The author then begins a recitation of the heroes of faith, beginning with Abel and culminating in Abraham—a summary of our recent readings from the book of Genesis. After reminding us that God took Enoch because he “pleased God,” we are reminded that without faith it is impossible to do so. For, whoever would approach God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who seek him. It may seem a statement of the obvious, but it is the fundamental difference between faith and agnosticism—a conviction of things not seen. Next, we are reminded of the faith of Noah who was warned of a phenomenon he had never seen—a catastrophic flood—yet he believed God, becoming “an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith." Then, the text moves to Abraham, beginning with his response to God’s call to “Go” and the promise of an inheritance. That faith took him to unknown places and events, as he dwelled in the land God has promised to him, living among its inhabitants in tents, as he looked forward to a city whose builder and maker was God. And finally, it was by faith that he received the power of procreation, when he and Sarah were old and well beyond the age of child bearing. Nonetheless, he had faith that God would fulfill his promise, and through such faith was born descendants, as many as the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the sand of the sea. Faith is not hope in hope; it is trust in God, who remains faithful to his promises, even when those promises seem beyond reason--cannot be seen.
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to life eternal, which the Son of Man gives to you, for upon him, God the Father has set his seal.” This sets the context for a sermon on Jesus as the bread of life, the true bread of heaven, which, like the manna in the wilderness, the Father has sent to them that they may eat and live. “Work,” here is defined not as an activity, but rather believing in Jesus whom the Father has sent. Ironically, they ask yet for another sign—did they not know that the feast they had on the hillside came from five barley loaves and two fish? Whatever; they ask about the work and sign that Jesus is doing so they might believe. Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses who gave them the manna in the wilderness, but his Father, who now gives them the true bread from heaven—bread that gives life to the world. They plead for that bread always, not yet recognizing that he is in their midst. And so, Jesus says, again using the sacred and ineffable name of God, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” That said, yet, they do not believe in him. God has given him to them, but they have yet to respond; why? Everything that the Father gives him will come to him, and anyone who does come to him he will not send away, for he has come from heaven, not to do his own will but the will of the Father. And what is that? That he should lose nothing of all that the Father has given to him, but—and here the dynamic of life eternal takes on a new dimension—raise them up on the last day. The hard word to hear in this dialogue is that unless the Father has “given” us to the Son, we cannot believe in him. The good news is the Father has given all of us to him.
Daily Readings for Sunday, February 2, Year II
Genesis 18:16–33; Psalm 66; Galatians 5:13–25; Mark 8:22–30
The promise of a child has been made, and now the Lord and his two traveling companions move on toward Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham accompanies them to assure that they are safely on their way. As the Lord’s two companions move on, the Lord decides to tell Abraham why it is he is going to Sodom and Gomorrah. He has heard the outcry of those there who are powerless against the cities’ wickedness and has seen how great and grave is their sin. He is going there to destroy them. Abraham is shocked. Will the judge of all the earth punish the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people there? Will the Lord destroy them all? “No,” says the Lord; “if there are fifty righteous there, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham continues, “But what if five are lacking?” Again, the Lord promises mercy on the entire place for the sake of the forty-five. And now the haggling begins in earnest: what if there are only forty, or thirty, or twenty, or even ten. In each case, the Lord promises to relent from punishment. Notice that the bargaining stops at ten, which is, of course the definition of a minion—the minimum number of Jewish men needed to gather for worship in the synagogue. In addition, notice the power of a community of faith in the midst of great wickedness. Numbers are less important than faithfulness. But, the Lord does have his limit! And so, Abraham and the Lord separate; Abraham returning to his tent and the Lord continuing on his way to Sodom and Gomorrah. One more thing: the story introduces the Yahwist tradition of arguing with the Lord as an act of faithfulness, especially when it involves concern for the righteous or the oppressed.
Our psalm 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.
In Christ we have been given the gift of freedom from the law, but now we are called to live into our freedom. In doing so, we are to exercise care to insure that we use our freedom in the proper way—not as a matter of self-indulgence. Rather, through love, we are to use our freedom to become servants of one another! For the whole law is summed up in the single command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Interestingly, Paul has sidestepped the first commandment to move to the second, so concerned is he over the quality of life within the Galatian church. For, if they fall into conflict, biting and devouring one another, they will all be consumed. So, too, for the church reading this lesson today. As righteousness comes to us through the Spirit, Paul urges the Galatians to walk by the Spirit. If they do, they will be able to avoid the ways of the flesh. “Flesh” for Paul is much more than biology or sex. It is a theological term that, for him, encompasses all in life that works in opposition to God, but is buried deep within our human nature because of the power of sin. Walking by the Spirit enables us to guard against walking by the flesh since the two are in opposition to one another and the Spirit is more powerful. Further, those who walk according to the Spirit are no longer under the Law. Paul now lists the deeds of the flesh, all pretty self-evident, and warns that those who do these things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. He then lists the fruits of walking by the Spirit and says, “…against these there is no law.” Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its desires. Since it is living out of the Spirit that gives life, let us walk that way daily, giving up the search for vain glory, competition and boasting, which only leads to challenging one another and living in envy.
Jesus and the disciples come ashore at Bethsaida, and people bring a blind man to him, begging Jesus to touch him. Jesus takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out of the village away from the crowd. Then, Jesus puts saliva on the man’s eyes and lays his hands on the man and asks, “Can you see anything?” The man looks up and responds, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” Consequently, Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes once again, looking intently at him, and the man’s sight is fully restored, so that he sees everything clearly. Jesus sends the man home, telling him to stay out of the village. This is one of the few healing stories in the gospels that is in two stages. Is it Mark’s comment on the initial blindness of the disciples and how it is they are beginning to see, though still in distorted ways? It seems it may be so, for now Mark tells of Jesus taking the disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way, asking the disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?” They respond, “John the Baptist; and others Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Jesus then asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, having gained some “sight” in all that he has been through, responds for them all in saying, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus responds to that with the stern order that they tell no one.
Daily Readings for Saturday, February 1, Year II
Genesis 18:1–16; Psalm 100; Hebrews 10:26–39; John 6:16–27
In the previous chapter we read the priestly account behind the birth of Isaac, today we read the Yahwist account (note that God is always “the Lord” in this narrative). Abraham is encamped beside the sacred oak at Mamre, sitting at the door of his tent mid-day, at its warmest time, and sees three strangers standing nearby, one more prominent, and clearly the leader. Abraham runs from his tent, greets the strangers in obeisance, indicating that these visitors are somehow more than routine travelers, and says to their leader, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.” The Hebrew word behind “lord” is not the sacred name of God (Yahweh)—notice the translators have rendered the word with a lower case “l”—but simply the word for lord (adon), which means master or owner. Clearly, Abraham recognizes in these visitors people of unusual stature, but little more. The three visitors stay, and Abraham becomes the consummate host, preparing a special meal, including meat, which was, in that culture, reserved for special occasions. With the meal prepared, he serves it to the three as they rest beneath the oak tree, and stands by to be attentive to their needs while they eat. In the conversation over the meal, they ask Abraham about his wife, calling her by name. These are, indeed, unusual visitors. Sarah, in keeping with the culture, has remained out of sight in the tent, but near enough the door to overhear what is going on among the men. When Abraham tells them she is in the tent, the leader of the three says, “Surely I will return to you in due season—at the appropriate time—and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” When Sarah hears this, she laughs. She is, after all, too old to have a child, and having gone through menopause, she no longer has a menstrual cycle. So, too, for Abraham—he is too old to be potent. The sexual side of their relationship seems to have waned some time ago. And so, Sarah laughs, saying to herself, “Shall I have such pleasure?”--a reference, not only to the promised child, but also the sexual intimacy that will lead to the child’s conception. Only now is the one speaking identified as the Lord, as in the Yahwist tradition, it is common for the Lord to appear among the patriarchs as a human being. But please do not transpose on these three visitors a Trinitarian theology. It is the Lord accompanied by two of his heavenly hosts, and as we will learn in the next chapter, they are on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, to deal with the wickedness in those two cities. For now, the Lord speaks, asking Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child now that I am old?” What follows is a central motif of Yahwist theology: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Continuing to speak to Abraham, the Lord says, “At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah, still behind the tent flap denies the Lord’s accusation, saying “I did not laugh,” for now she realizes that the one speaking is more than a mysterious visitor. The oak beside which they are encamped is, after all, “a thin place” where God is known to appear. And now the Lord addresses Sarah directly, saying, “O yes, you did laugh.” This is less an accusation than a confirmation that this is the Lord, and what has been said will take place. Sarah will become pregnant, not because of some sudden biological abnormality—she has, after all, been barren all these years—but because the Lord has said so. After all, he has made this promise repeatedly, and is now about the business of keeping it in a context that will be clear to both Abraham and Sarah, that nothing is too wonderful for the Lord. The Lord keeps his promises, even when they seem absurd and beyond the bounds of what seems possible.
“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.” With these words, in 1560, William Kethe paraphrased this classic psalm of praise and thanksgiving. 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.”
Today’s reading warns against presuming on the mercy of God and taking our salvation for granted or as license to live in any way other than obedience, even when that obedience means hardship, suffering and persecution. The subject is willfully living in sinful ways after having received the knowledge of the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Such living not only rejects Christ’s sacrifice for sins, but obliterates its application, and instead, subjects us to “the fearful prospect of judgment,” and the fury of fire that will consume the adversary—the devil himself. Referring back to the penalty for willfully violating the Law of Moses—dying without mercy—the author asks, “How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God?” Doing so profanes the blood of the covenant by which they were being made holy and acceptable to God, and, outrages the Spirit of grace. This is, after all, the One who has said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And so, the obverse of God’s grace is God’s wrath. Do not sing “Amazing Grace,” so much that you forget that God will judge his people, and that shy of obedience to that grace, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! The author now calls upon his readers to think back on the early days of their “enlightenment” and of the struggles and sufferings they endured for it. Clearly, there was hardship and persecution associated with their becoming followers of Christ—possibly a reference to formal persecution by Rome. They were publically exposed to abuse and persecution, some being imprisoned, others having their households plundered of their possessions. But they accepted all of this cheerfully for they knew themselves to possess something far superior and more lasting. Recalling those early days in the faith, the author exhorts them not to abandon their former confidence, for it brings a great reward—all that God has promised to them in Christ. Quoting the prophet Habakkuk, they are reminded that in a little while, the Lord is coming, and until that time those who are righteous will live by faith (Hab. 2:3-4). Conversely, the Lord takes no pleasure in anyone who “shrinks back” and abandons the faith they once embraced. All of these hard words are then put back into the context of their salvation, as the author identifies with them and affirms, “But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.”
Jesus has withdrawn from the crowd and the disciples by going further up the mountain. As evening comes, the disciples get into their boat and head back home, rowing their way east to Capernaum. About four miles into their journey across the lake, a storm arises, but in the midst of it, suddenly, they see Jesus, walking on the water. They are rightfully terrified. Approaching them Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” those words that so often precedes a moment of God’s self-revelations, and then he says, “I am!” which, of course, is God’s name. Unfortunately, the NRSV translation “It is I,” misses the point altogether. In the midst of the storm, Jesus reveals his glory—he is Lord of the storm and the sea. As the disciples urge him to join them in the boat, they suddenly discover they have reached home. The next morning, the crowd that had been left behind on the mountain side and had seen the disciples leave without Jesus, realizes Jesus is now gone as well, and decides to go looking for him. Some boats arrive from Tiberias and transport the crowd to Capernaum. When they find Jesus, they ask how he got there. Jesus ignores their question and reminds them that they have come, not because they have seen and understood the signs of his feeding them, but because they ate their fill and are again hungry. He then tells them to stop working for the food that perishes, but rather work for the food that endures for eternal life—food that endlessly brings them into the life-giving presence of God in Jesus. That is the food that he has to give them, if they will receive it.
Daily Readings for Friday, January 31, Year II
Gen. 17:15–27; Psalm 6; Hebrews 10:11–25; John 6:1-15
As Abram’s name was change to Abraham, to mark this change in his future, so too is Sarai’s name changed to Sarah, which means “princess,” pointing to the fact that she will be the mother of kings. With this comes God’s promise that he will give Abraham a son with Sarah. Abraham doubles over in laughter at the thought of becoming a father at one hundred years of age and Sarah a mother at ninety. Rather, let Ishmael live in God’s sight and inherit the promise. But God says “No.” Sarah will bear him a son and he is to name the boy Isaac, which means “he laughed.” Every time Abraham calls his son or hears another call him by name, he will remember how he laughed in God’s face at this promise. Yet, God fulfilled it. It is with Isaac that God plans to fulfill the covenant promises that he has made to Abraham. As for Ishmael, God has heard Abraham’s plea for his firstborn son. God will bless him and make him fruitful and also exceedingly numerous—the father of twelve princes—and a great nation. But the covenant promises God will establish with Isaac, who Sarah will bear to him at this season next year. At that, God leaves Abraham. For his part, Abraham gathers his son Ishmael, and all of the male slaves born in his house or bought with his money—every male in Abraham’s house—and he circumcises them that very day, just as God had commanded. We are reminded that Abraham was ninety-nine and Ishmael thirteen, when this took place—ouch! But the coming child will be conceived within the mark of the covenant.
The psalmist pleads for God’s gracious care in what he perceives to be the result of God’s rebuking wrath. In the midst of his languishing need, he begs for healing of body and soul, for both shake in terror. “How long, O Lord—how long?” It is the cry of all who suffer unjustly or without reason. Rather, he simply begs the Lord to turn, save his life, and deliver him for the sake of God’s steadfast love. Notice that at no time does the psalmist admit guilt or confess sin, only that he is on the verge of death and that in death, there is no remembrance or praise of God. It is as though he is saying to God, “Do not let me die, for if I die I will not be able to remember you or praise you.” He has spent too many nights flooding his bed with tears, his days, likewise, drenching his couch and he is wasting away with grief. Now, for the first time, he mentions foes—workers of evil. But suddenly the psalm turns from grief to strength, from fear and lament to confidence, for the Lord has heard the sound of his weeping. The Lord has heard his supplication and accepted his prayer. All his enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror. In a moment they shall turn back and be put to shame.
Continuing to emphasize the “once for all” nature of Christ’s sacrifice the author reminds his readers that the priest of the old covenant stands day after day at service, offering again and again the same sacrifice that can never take away sin. On the contrary, when Christ offered himself up for all time, a single sacrifice for sin, he then sat down at the right hand of God, never to be sacrificed again. It is from there that he waits until all of his enemies become his footstool—subservient to him and his Lordship. In his single offering, Christ has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And now, the author quotes the prophet Jeremiah once again (Jeremiah 31:33-34), including Jeremiah’s words about the new covenant’s power to write God’s law on our hearts, but emphasizing the conclusion of that passage which says, “I will remember their sins no more.” As a consequence, because of the forgiveness of sins brought about by Jesus' sacrifice, God no longer remembers our sin. Consequently, there is no longer any need for an offering for sin. And now, that argument made, the author turns to exhort his readers to take confidence in entering the sanctuary of God’s presence by this sacrifice (“the blood of Jesus”), for by it a new and living way into God’s presence has been opened for us “through the curtain” of his flesh. It is both an allusion to the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, shielding people from the power of God’s holiness, and the fact that, at Jesus death, that curtain was torn from top to bottom, giving everyone access to God’s presence. “Since we have this great high priest over the house of God, let us approach God with true hearts in the full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The author has deftly brought together images of assurance, faith and faithfulness, buttressed by a quotation from Ezekiel 36:25-26, in which God promises to sprinkle the people with water to so that they may be clean, as well as give them a new heart and a new spirit, a heart of flesh rather than stone. All of this is a part of their baptism when their bodies were washed with pure water. Therefore, they are to hold fast to this confession of hope without wavering, for God, who has promised, is faithful. And while holding to their confession, they are to consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to come together for worship, as it seems has become the habit of some. Rather, they are to encourage one another all the more as they see the Day of Jesus' return coming on the horizon.
The sixth chapter of John is rich in symbolism and built around two miracles that then become the foundation for long discourses which are really sermons. Today the miracle is the feeding of the multitude of five thousand, with five loaves and two fish—the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels. It too is a “sign,” and, it is because of the signs that Jesus has been doing among the sick that the multitude follow him. Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberius), and seeing the crowd coming after him, he goes up a mountain and sits down with his disciples to await the people. Turning to Philip, Jesus sets him up by asking, “Where are we to buy bread enough for these people to eat?” Notice that Jesus has assumed responsibility for their care and well-being, anticipating their need for food. It is, after all God’s nature to do so. But all of this is a context to speak about another kind of food that is Jesus’ to give. Philip simply witnesses to the impossibility of attempting to feed the crowd. Peter’s brother, Andrew, reports on a boy with five barley loaves and two fish, but what is that in this crowd? After having the disciples tell the people to sit down on the grassy slope, Jesus takes the boy’s loaves, gives thanks and gives them to the people, and does the same with the two fish. Notice the Eucharistic language—“took,” “gave thanks,” “gave it to them” (behind the word translated “distributed” is the Greek word for “handed over”). This language is not accidental, as we will see later in this chapter, where this sign is further amplified in its significance. Everyone has as much as they want, and when all are satisfied (again, the language is not accidental), Jesus tells the disciples, “Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost.” They do, and they fill twelve baskets. It is not only a sign of the abundance at Jesus’ hand, but also a word to the church for whom this Gospel was written (signified by the number twelve): there is Eucharistic bread enough for them as well. At this sign, the people realize that this is the Prophet that Moses spoke of and move to acclaim him Messiah and make him king. But Jesus will have none of it, and withdraws higher up the mountain to be by himself.
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.