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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Daily Readings for Thursday, March 20

Genesis 42:29–38; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 6:12–20; Mark 4:21–34

The brothers arrive home and tell Jacob what has happened to them in Egypt, and how the “Lord of the land” spoke harshly to them and accused them of being spies. They denied it, but the Lord of the land would not believe them. They repeat to Jacob what they said to Joseph, and how Joseph demands that they leave one of them with him and return home with their grain, but then bring their youngest brother back to him in Egypt. Then he will know they are not spies but honest men. When that happens, he will release their brother and give them permission to trade in the land. Again, as they empty their sacks, they discover that each one has had his money returned, and now they are further dismayed, but not so much as their father. Jacob tells them that he is the one they have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and now they would take Benjamin also? How is it that all of this has happened to Jacob? Ruben steps forth and offers his own two sons as a pledge that he will return from Egypt with Benjamin. If not, Jacob can kill Ruben’s sons. But Jacob replies, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead and he alone is left, if harm should come to Benjamin on the journey, they propose it would bring Jacob’s grey hairs down to the land of the dead in sorrow. Jacob will not let them return with Benjamin.

Psalm 27 expresses confidence in the presence of the Lord and does so in triumphal language. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” (Sorry, that’s the way I memorized it, and this should be memorized, right after Psalm 23!) The Lord is the strength and stronghold of my life, of whom should I be afraid? Enemies range from “evildoers,” adversaries and foes—all shall stumble and fall because of the Lord’s care. “Even though an army encamps against me, yet, my heart shall not fear.” The imagery of a fearful heart is so true to life when anxiety hits. After one more expression of confidence, the psalm turns more reflective: “One thing have I asked of the Lord and that will I seek after: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” This is precisely the same sentiment with which Psalm 23 ends. It goes on to affirm (and perhaps even recall) God’s sheltering care in the day of trouble. The double action of “conceal me in his tent,” and “set me high on a rock” covers the span from shelter when on the run to ultimate triumph over those who pursue. And now the psalm turns victorious and exultant with promises of sacrifice, shouts of joy and songs (psalms) and melodies to the Lord (remember, they were often accompanied by or sung to melodies; not just recited). There is the request for God to hear when he cries, and to answer. Immediately, his heart says to him “Come, seek his face,” and he replies, “Your face Lord, do I seek; do not hide it from me.” Notice the kind of face-to-face intimacy of relationship that is being sought as the psalm pleads not to be turned aside, cast away or forsaken. And then there is the extraordinary confession, “Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will not, but will take me up.” There follows the request to be taught the Lord’s ways and to be led on a level path (who of us does not want life without its ups and downs?), and to be kept out of the hands of his adversaries, for false witnesses have arisen against him and are breathing threats of violence. The psalm ends with the wonderful affirmation, “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” and then “wait for the Lord, be strong, let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.” This last phrase, in one form or another, appears some fourteen times in the Old Testament, better than a third of them in the Psalter. The faith of the Psalter, if not all of Scripture, can be summed up as “Waiting for the Lord.” Seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living along with the previous, “the Lord will take me up,” was later seen as a reference to life after death in heaven. Here, in its original setting, it simply means goodness of life lived with and out of the strength of the Lord now, here, in the land of the living.

The Corinthians have clearly heard Paul’s gospel of freedom, and have taken it to excess, declaring for themselves, “All things are lawful for me.” Paul quotes their words back to them, and, without denying their freedom in Christ, makes the point that not all things are beneficial. The word behind beneficial (sumphero) not only means personal benefit, but also that which contributed to the common good. Food, kosher or not, is meant for the stomach just as the stomach was designed to receive and process food, and both will ultimately be destroyed. The body, however, is not meant for fornication. Rather, it is meant for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and by that same power will raise us. Have the Corinthians forgotten that their bodies are joined to Christ and his members? Do they realize what they are doing when they use their bodies in immoral ways, going to prostitutes or engaging in other forms of immoral behavior? They have actually joined the sexual partner to Christ himself in a defiling way, making him one body with her, just as they have become one body with her. As one of my biblical professors somewhat plainly observed when talking about this text, “Sexual intercourse is, after all, more than just screwing around!” There are physical consequences, emotional consequences, and, as Paul makes clear, spiritual consequences. After all, to be joined to Christ is to be one spirit with him. Therefore, the faithful are to shun fornication. It, among all the sins—the majority of which are “outside the body,” is actually a sin against “the body itself.” Here, Paul clearly has two bodies in mind: that of the ones engaged in sexual immorality, but also, the larger temple of God’s Spirit, the church. Few things tear up a congregation like sexual immorality within it. But now, he takes his image of being the temple of the Holy Spirit, initially applied to the whole assembly, and makes is personal. Each and every one joined to Christ in baptism had become a temple in whom God’s Spirit dwells. We are no longer our own. Bought with a price, we are to use our bodies to glorify God. All else is an abuse that not only harms us physically, but is also an abuse and hurtful to God. These are startling words to people who lived in a culture of sexual excess, not unlike the one we live in today. The dynamics attendant to indulging in such excess, whether with a prostitute or just another consenting participant, remain the same—a serious misuse of God’s gift of sexuality. It is harmful to all from God himself, through us, all the way to the “consenting partner.” The church is backing away from this stance in an attempt to be “pastoral” and not appear preoccupied with matters of sex, which simply reveals how poorly we understand sexual dynamics. The warning is for everyone’s sake.

Jesus continues telling his parables, reminding his listeners that no one puts a lighted lamp under a bed or beneath a basket, but on a lamp stand so that its light may be seen. For there is nothing hidden, except to be revealed; and nothing secret that will not come to light. Again, if they have ears, let them listen! In the context of the parable of the master taking the talent from the man who had buried it to give it to the man with five who made five more, he tells them that the measure they give is the measure they will receive and even more will be given to them. To those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. This is followed by the parable of the growing seed: it is scattered by the sower who does little more, night or day, until it grows, stalk, head, and then full grain. Once it reaches its fullness, the sower comes with his sickle and reaps the harvest. And with what shall this kingdom of God he describes with parables be compared? It is like a mustard seed, one of the smallest of all seeds, yet when sown on the ground, grows up to be the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth its branches so that the birds can nest in its shade. And so, with such parables, Mark tells us, Jesus spoke the word to them as they were able to hear. He did not speak to the crowds except in parables. But to his disciples, in private, he explained everything.

Posted March 20, 2014
Wednesdday, March 19, 2014

Daily Readings for Wednesday, March 19

Genesis 42:18–28; Psalm 5; 1 Corinthians 5:9–6:11; Mark 4:1–20

The brothers’ three-day sojourn in Pharaoh’s prison complete, they are brought back to Joseph, who, speaking through an interpreter, tells them what they must do to live. They must leave one of them behind, and the other nine can carry bags of grain back to their households to address the famine, but they must then bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, back to Egypt. If they do this, their words will be verified and they shall not die. And so, the brothers agree. Talking to themselves in Joseph’s presence, they confess that this hardship has come upon them because of what they had done to Joseph, and, how, when they saw his anguish and he pleaded with them, they would not listen. Consequently, this anguish has come upon them. At that, Ruben chastises them. Did he not tell them not to wrong the boy; but they would not listen? As a consequence they all have to deal with the reckoning for his blood. They do not know that Joseph understands what they are saying, and overhearing this, he turns away and weeps. Then, he returns to his place among them and selects Simeon, the second oldest of the brothers, and has him bound before their eyes. Joseph then gives orders to fill their bags with grain, but to return every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. And so, they load their donkeys with their grain and depart for Canaan. That evening, when they reach their lodging place, one of the brothers opens his sack to give his donkey fodder and discovers the money has been placed in the top of his sack. Unsure what to make of this, they lose heart and begin to tremble. What is it that God has done to them?

Psalm 5 is more a prophetic sermon than a prayer, the speaker is God and the ones being addressed are those who have come to the temple to worship God through sacrifice. In essence, it says that we cannot substitute sacrifice for right conduct. The psalm is structured like a lawsuit. Initially, God calls on all creation to observe as he judges his people, those who made a covenant with God by sacrifice. Judgment begins by God declaring that he has no need for food and even if he did, all of the animals of the earth are his in the first place. What God desires is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and paying their vows to him. Even now God promises to deliver those who call upon him. The wicked, on the other hand, are severely rebuked. What right do they think they have by giving lip-service to God’s statutes? They hate God’s discipline and leave his words behind, while making friends with thieves and keeping company with adulterers. Their mouths are filled with evil, even against their own family. Thus far, God has remained silent, and in that silence they have assumed that God was like them—duplicitous, and did not care. But now God is judging them. Mark God’s word or be torn apart—it is as simple as that! Those who bring God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and who walk in God’s ways, honor him. To these, God will show salvation.

Paul had earlier written to the Corinthians (a letter we seem not to have), telling them not to associate with sexually immoral persons, meaning people within the Corinthian church. They took him to mean people beyond the bounds of the church. Consequently, he clarifies himself and tells them to drive out all of the sexually immoral among them, as well as the greedy, the idolatrous, the revilers, the drunkards and the robbers. One wonders who would be left! Not only are they to avoid fellowship with these, they are not even to eat with them. For the judgment Paul is invoking is not on those outside the church—that is God’s job—but on those within it. They are to “Drive out the wicked person from among [them].” He now turns to the settling of disputes among them. It seems that they have been going to Roman courts, suing one another to resolve their differences. Paul is astonished that they take their concerns outside the church. Are there not those among them wise enough to rightly settle these disputes? Then, utilizing the apocalyptic conviction of life in the new age that Christ will bring with him, have they forgotten that, ultimately, they are to be among the saints to whom God will give the responsibility of judging the world? Why, then, are they standing before unbelievers to do so? The very fact that they have such suits is already to their shame. Why not simply be wronged and leave it at that? Rather, in seeking to defend themselves, they themselves have wronged and defrauded others. It is a reminder that seems to have been forgotten in the contemporary church, where congregations, congregants and even pastors have resorted to the civil courts to get their way, and in each case, it ultimately brings shame to the church. Paul then reminds them that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God. They should not be deceived! He then lists a series of these behaviors and reminds them that this is what some of them were before they were washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God. They must not return to their past forms of behavior.

Until now, Mark has only given us short snippets of Jesus’ teaching, but now he gives some extended parables--today, the parable of the sower. The crowds are such now that Jesus cannot sit among them and teach, and so he goes out to the Sea of Galilee and gets into one of his disciple’s boats and begins to teach just a bit off shore as the people sit on the land next to the sea. Calling on them to “Listen,” he tells the parable of a sower who goes forth casting seed in every direction without regard for where it lands. Some seed fell on the path and the birds quickly came and ate it. Some fell on rocky ground without much soil, and though it rose up quickly, when the sun came, it was scorched, and, having no root, withered away. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns choked out what grew, so that the seed yielded no grain. Some fell onto good soil, grew, and brought forth grain with an increase of thirty, sixty and a hundred fold. At this Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” The scene now shifts, and Jesus is alone with the twelve who ask him about the parables. Jesus tells them, “To you has been given the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables in order that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand.” He is quoting Isaiah 6:9-10 in which God foretells the people’s obstinacy. Here, in Mark, the parables mask the truth to all but those given the secrets of the kingdom of God. Jesus then proceeds to explain the parable. The seed is the word, the various forms of soil are those in various states of life, some so hard that it does not sink in and Satan comes and snatches the seed away, some so rocky that the word initially sprouts but never takes root and withers in the heat of the day, some in which it does take root and grow, but is choked out by the concerns of life before it bears fruit, and some in which the word sprouts, takes root, grows and produces a harvest of thirty, sixty and a hundred fold.

Posted March 19, 2014
Tuesday, March 18, ,2014

Daily Readings for Tuesday, March 18

Genesis 42:1–17; Psalm 34; 1 Corinthians 5:1–8; Mark 3:19b–35

Famine has reached the land of Canaan, and Jacob turns to his sons and asks them why they stand around looking at one another rather than doing something about it. Do they not know that there is grain in Egypt? And so, he dispatches them all except the youngest of his sons, Benjamin, Joseph’s brother who was born as their mother Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, died. Jacob has a sense that the brothers were behind his loss of Joseph, he will not put Benjamin at that same risk. The ten brothers travel to Egypt and find themselves there among all the other peoples of the world, wanting to buy grain, and to do so, must appear before Joseph. When they do, Joseph recognizes them, though they do now know who he is. Joseph treats them like strangers and is harsh with them, demanding to know where they are from and why they have come. They tell him, from the land of Canaan; they have come to buy grain. Joseph remembers the dream of them bowing down to him and becomes even more harsh, accusing them of being spies who have come to see the “nakedness of the land.” The brothers deny this. They are all sons of one man in Canaan; they are honest, not spies. Again and again, they represent themselves as Joseph’s servants, fulfilling the dream. Still, Joseph accuses them of being spies, which again, they deny. Rather, they are twelve sons of a certain man in Canaan. The youngest son has remained there with their father, while one of their brothers “is no more.” Imagine how those words fell on Joseph’s ears! But Joseph says to them, “It is just as I have said to you, you are spies.” There is only one way to determine if this is true—he will test them. One of them is to return to their father and younger brother and bring the younger brother back while the rest remain in prison, in order that their words may be tested, to determine if there is truth in them or if, in fact, they are truly spies. And Joseph has all of them put in prison for three days.

Psalm 34 is attributed to David, when he feigned madness before king Abimelech so that the king drove David out, allowing David to escape. It is a wisdom psalm built on an acrostic pattern, each new section beginning with a word that begins with the successive letter of the alphabet and focuses on God’s goodness. It uses a number of Hebrew parallelisms, the first phrase making a statement that the second phrase repeats with different language: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be continually in my mouth.” “O magnified the Lord with me, and let us exalt in his name together.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” These, of course, have been solidly incorporated in the liturgical language of the church as the Psalter was its first prayerbook. The psalm is testimonial through and through: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me…, look to him and be radiant. …. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord.” The young are then summoned to listen and learn the fear of the Lord and what it means for their lives. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in sprit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. …. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Paul now turns to some of the other issues in the Corinthian community that are destroying it, beginning with sexual behavior that is immoral, and of a sort that is not even found among the pagans renowned for their sexual libertine behavior. A man is actually living in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife, and the Corinthians have done nothing about it. Just how arrogant can they be? Do they think that anything is permitted? They should be in deep mourning over this, with the man who has done this being removed from the church. Though Paul is absent in body, he is present in spirit, and has already pronounced judgment on the man in the name of the Lord Jesus. Notice that the woman has been assumed powerless in this, as, indeed, in that culture, women were powerless in such matters. As for the man, they are to eject him from their fellowship, and “hand him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Unfortunately, this text was later used in the medieval church to justify all forms of torture, including burning at the stake, the notion being that in burning, the impurities of the flesh were being consumed and removed from the soul, rendering it pure and acceptable so that it could return to God. How easily scripture’s nose can be twisted to fit our own desires. It is one thing to leave someone to Satan to do his work; it is quite another to be Satan’s accomplice in it! All of this has come from their boasting about living now in the fullness of God’s reign where all is permitted—even this. Do they not know that a little yeast leavens the entire batch of dough? This behavior will spread among them if it is not now checked. Therefore, they are to clean out the leaven of their old lives—especially that of the symposium, which was where such sexual libertinism and excess took place—so that they may be a new batch of dough. What seems a throw-away line, “as you really are unleavened,” is anything but that. It is Paul telling them that their behavior reveals that they have yet to be leavened with the yeast of Christ, the paschal lamb who was sacrificed. Here is Paul’s only reference to Jesus’ crucifixion as a new Passover—“Passover lamb” is not the correct translation of pascha. Rather it should be translated, “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us,” as it is quoted today in many contemporary Eucharistic liturgies before the bread and wine are distributed. Here, Paul is using pascha as shorthand to connect Jesus’s death as a means of redemption, but also to the enactment of a new Passover meal, by which Paul means their Eucharistic assembly, which in Corinth seems to have fallen into the ways and behaviors of the Greek symposium. And so, in very compressed language, Paul is not only affirming a conviction already held in the church, that Christ’s crucifixion is a new Passover and that the Eucharistic meal they share in coming together in worship is God’s new Passover meal. Consequently, they are not to bring the leaven of malice, immorality and evil into that assembly, but the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth that can then be leavened by Christ, as they partake of him in the meal.

Jesus returns home, in all probability, to Capernaum, his base of operations in Galilee. His fame and popularity have spread and people now crowd in upon him and the twelve so that they cannot even eat. When his family learns that he is back at his home, they go out to restrain him. They have heard what some are saying about him: he is demented, and doing the work of the devil. Chief among these are the scribes from Jerusalem who have seen Jesus violating Torah again and again. How can he be from God? But from whence comes his power? It must be the devil. And so, they claim that his exorcisms are being done by none other than Beelzebul, the chief or Lord of the demons. Knowing this, Jesus calls the crowd and challenges the scribe’s notion by telling two parables, one dealing with political realities the other household matters. A kingdom or a house divided against itself cannot stand. If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, casting himself out, then his end has come. Shifting to another metaphor, Jesus says no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder it without first tying up the strong man. But this is precisely what is happening. The demons are not only recognizing Jesus as God’s Son, but responding to Jesus’ superior commands. They come out when commanded to do so and remain silent. Satan is bound, his house is being plundered. Then Jesus adds these formidable words: people will be forgiven whatever blasphemies they utter except those against the Holy Spirit; these can never be forgiven. The scribes’ allegations that he is possessed are true—but not by Satan. He is possessed by the Holy Spirit, and misnaming, and failing to see that is unforgivable. By now his mother and brothers have come, but are unable to get into the house because of the crowd. Standing outside they send word to him. “Outside” here, is more than Mark’s desire to locate them in the geographic landscape. They, too, are on the outside and think he might be demented. Whatever, they have come to take him home. When he is told that his mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for him, he redefines the nature of family in the kingdom of God. The connection is no longer biological, but rather, those who do the will of God. Looking around at his followers he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers and sisters—those who do the will of God. “Sisters” here is not an editorial gloss to make the text inclusive. The word appears in the Greek and is witness to the fact that there were women among Jesus’ earliest disciples and followers.

Posted March 18, 2014
Monday, March 17, 2014

Daily Readings for Monday, March 17

Genesis 41:46–57; Psalm. 119:73–80; 1 Corinthians 4:8–20 (21); Mark 3:7–19a

Joseph is now thirty years of age and Pharaoh’s chief officer. The next seven years are years of enormous abundance, just as Joseph has said they would be. And so, Joseph goes throughout the land collecting and storing grain in every Egyptian city. Soon, the store houses are full beyond measure, so much, so that Joseph no longer measures, but simply stores the grain away. It is like the sand of the sea—beyond measure. During those seven years of abundance, Joseph and his Egyptian wife, As’e-nath, have two sons. The first, Joseph names Manasseh, from the Hebrew word that means “to cause to forget,” saying that God has made him forget all of his hardships and all of his father’s house. The second son he names Ephraim, from the Hebrew word for fruitful. The abundance in the fields has also been apparent in Joseph’s own household. God has made him fruitful in the land of his misfortune. The seven years of abundance end, and the seven years of famine begin, just as Joseph had said. It is not simply a localized famine but one that spreads “in every country,” but, within the land of Egypt, there was bread. When the famine began to affect even the people of Egypt, they came to Pharaoh for bread and he sent them to Joseph. Only then did Joseph open the storehouses and sell grain to the Egyptians. Soon, “the world” was coming to Joseph to buy grain, for the famine ‘became severe throughout the world.”

Psalm 119:73-96 is the portion of this acrostic wisdom psalm that begins with the letter yod (y), and recognizes God as the one who has created him and fashioned him as he is, giving him understanding of God’s commandments. Those who fear the Lord rejoice in him. He knows God’s judgments are right, and, even in moments of humbling, it is God’s faithfulness at work. God’s steadfast love, promise and mercy are his comfort as he delights in God’s law. As for the arrogant, let them be put to shame. As for him, let him be blameless as he meditates on God’s precepts. Let those who fear God turn to the psalmist that he may teach them God’s decrees. In doing so he asks that his own heart may be blameless with regard to God’s statutes, that he may not be put to shame.

Paul now begins to use irony and sarcasm to chide the Corinthians for their theological misunderstanding: some think the kingdom has come in its fullness and they are now reigning with Christ as kings and can do anything they please. For these, they have all they want or expect, and, with that, has come the denial of a future resurrection, as we will later learn. But, for now, Paul mocks them, already, they have become kings. Already they have all that they want. He wishes they had, so he might become a king with them. Rather, he thinks that God “has exhibited [him and the other apostles] as least and last of all, as though sentenced to death, because [they] have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals.” Piling on more sarcasm, Paul says that he and his fellows have become fools for the sake of Christ, whereas the Corinthians are wise. The apostles are weak, but the Corinthians claim to be strong. The Corinthians are held in honor while the apostles are held in disrepute. Paul then goes on to list the apostles’ real hardships and troubles, using them as counterpoints to shame the Corinthians into a change of heart. For when the apostles are reviled, they bless; when persecuted, they endure, when slandered, they speak kindly—just as is happening now in this letter written to those who have reviled and slandered Paul. Paul and his friends have become like the world’s rubbish. Now turning pastoral, Paul says that he is not writing this to make the Corinthians ashamed. Rather, he is writing like a father admonishing his beloved children. And, though they might have ten thousand heavenly guardians in Christ, they do not have that many fathers in Christ, for Paul became precisely that—their father in Christ—through the gospel. And now, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to imitate him. As I have written before, to the modern ear this injunction sounds conceited, boastful and arrogant, but in the first century Roman-Greco world, it was expected that students would imitate their teachers and children their fathers. To help them in this, Paul had sent to them Timothy, Paul’s beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind them of Paul’s ways in Christ Jesus—the ways that Paul teaches everywhere in the church. But, some of the Corinthians, thinking that Paul is not returning, have become arrogant. And so he now tells them, “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills,” and he will find out, not the talk of those arrogant people, but rather their power in Christ. “For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.” Which would they prefer that he come to them with, a stick or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

We have an interlude between the controversy in the synagogue, over Jesus healing on the sabbath, and his official call of the twelve apostles. Jesus’ fame is spreading, so much, so that people are coming to him, at the Sea of Galilee, from every corner of Palestine, and as far north as Sidon and Tyre, and as far south as Idumea (now Gaza), bringing their sick and demented with them. He cures many. And when the unclean spirits that are the source of illness see him, they fall at his feet shouting “You are the Son of God!” but Jesus silences them. Because of the press of the crowd, Jesus tells the disciples to have their boats ready in case he needed to get away from the crowd, lest it crush him. The scene shifts, curiously, not to the sea or the boats, but to Jesus going up the mountain, probably because mountains were “thin places” of revelation and divine action. He calls to himself “those whom he wants, and they come to him.” The twelve are named “apostles”—the word means “sent out with a commission” and appears only once again in Mark 6:30—sent out to proclaim the message with him. To them he gives authority to cast out demons (which also means authority to heal). The twelve are named. Simon is listed with the note that Jesus also gave him the name Peter (for the event is not otherwise reported in Mark). He also gives a nickname to John, the brother of James, “Son of Thunder.” Is he giving us an insight into John’s temperament? Interestingly enough, Levi son of Alphaeus, the tax collector, who Jesus called in 2:13 is not included within the list, of the twelve apostles unless he is the one now named “James son of Alphaeus.” Commentators differ as to whether Levi was included in the twelve or part of the larger circle of those following Jesus. Finally, Judas is named and identified as the one who will betray him. Remember, this story is known in it major parts. Mark is telling it as the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Posted March 17, 2014
Sunday, March 16. 2014

Daily Readings for Sunday, March 16

2nd Sunday in Lent

Genesis 41:14–45; Psalm 84; Romans 6:3–14; John 5:19–24

Pharaoh sends for Joseph, who, once properly bathed, shaved and clothed, appears before the king. Pharaoh explains that he has had the two disturbing dreams and none of his magicians or wise men can discern it. He has heard of Joseph from his cupbearer; can Joseph interpret the dream? Joseph replies that interpretation of dreams belongs to God alone, and then asks Pharaoh to tell him the two dreams—God, and not Joseph, will give a favorable answer. Pharaoh tells Joseph of the two disturbing dreams, which Joseph rightly understands and tells Pharaoh that they are one and the same. Seven years of great abundance is about to come upon Egypt; a time of exceptional plenty. But they will be followed by seven years of such blight and famine that no one will remember the years of plenty. The fact that God has given Pharaoh this message in two different dreams is simply confirmation that this is about to begin. Now, Joseph steps beyond dream interpretation to providing Pharaoh counsel, though under the guise of still interpreting the dream. Pharaoh is to appoint a wise and discerning man and set him over the land of Egypt. In addition, Pharaoh is to appoint overseers over the land, and take one fifth of the produce of the land during each prosperous year and set it aside in the cities under Pharaoh’s protection in preparation for the coming seven years of famine. This will keep Egypt from perishing during the famine years. The counsel pleases Pharaoh and his servants, and Pharaoh asks them where they can find such a wise and discerning man. Perceiving that God is with Joseph, Pharaoh appoints him, and gives Joseph absolute authority over the land—over everything save Pharaoh’s throne itself. Joseph is lavished with gifts: Pharaoh’s signet ring with which Joseph can sign and issue edicts, linen clothing, which was that of royalty, a chain of gold to wear about his neck as a sign of his authority, and permission to ride in the chariot of Pharaoh’s second in command. Joseph is set over the entire land, and without Joseph’s consent “no one shall lift up a hand or foot.” In addition, Pharaoh gives Joseph an Egyptian name: Zaph-e-nath-pa-ne’ah, which means “the god speaks and he lives.” In addition, Pharaoh gives Joseph As’e-nath, the daughter of the priest of On, as Joseph’s wife, a woman of very high standing in the Egyptian culture. Thus, Joseph has gone from prisoner in Pharaoh’s dungeon to the most powerful and prosperous man in Egypt, save Pharaoh himself, with Pharaoh placing in him absolute sovereignty over the land and its peoples.

Psalm 84 is a meditation on the wonders and gifts of abiding in God’s dwelling place. The well-known psalm celebrates the beauty of the temple as God’s home among the people, as well as the psalmist’s longing and desire to be in God’s presence there. In the temple all are cared for—even the lowly sparrow and swallow are welcome at God’s altar. It is worth the dangerous and difficult journey as they go from “strength to strength” on their pilgrimage to Zion and its temple, for a day there in its courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. Better a life of modest service at God’s threshold, than a life of luxury and ease among the wicked. For, the Lord is light and protection, the source of all good for those who walk in God’s ways, and the source of happiness for all who trust in him.

Paul’s theology of baptism comes front and center here to remind us that baptism is more than an external act which we do; it actually incorporates us into Christ and his death. Because we have been baptized and buried with Christ in death, so too, just as he was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too have been raised from the power of death so that we might walk in newness of life. More, this is not just about a new way of life now. If we have been united with him in his death through baptism, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. For in baptism, we know that our old self has been crucified with him, so that the body of sin might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin—we are now dead to it in Christ. Christ, being raised from the dead will never die again for death has no dominion over him. And the death that he died, he died to sin, once for all—everyone! The life that Christ now lives, he lives to God. So too, then, we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. For this reason we are to no longer let sin exercise dominion in our mortal bodies or be controlled by its passions. Rather than present ourselves to sin as instruments of its wickedness, we are to present ourselves to God as those who have been brought through death to life, offering ourselves to him as instruments of righteousness. We can do this because sin no longer has dominion over us, since we are not under the law, but under God’s grace.

The Jewish leaders are shocked and angered by Jesus’ claim of relationship with God and consider it blasphemy, a sin punishable by death. Jesus, for his part, simply elaborates on what he means by having just said, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” He can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; what the Father does, he does. The Father, for his part, loves the Son and, therefore, shows him all that the Father is doing. Greater works than these will Jesus do and they will see, to the point of their astonishment. Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father, rather than act as judge, has given that authority to the Son, so that the Son may be honored. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father. Their judgment against the judge is, in fact, judgment against themselves. But all who hear Jesus’ words and believe the One who sent him have eternal life and do not come under judgment, for in believing, they have passed from death to life.

Posted March 16, 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