Saturday, March 14, 2015
Jeremiah 13:1-11; Psalm 43; Romans 6:12-23; John 8:47-59
In the previous chapter, Jeremiah has lamented to God about the ways of the people asking, “How long will the land burn, and the grass of every field wither,” because of the wickedness of those who live in it. Jeremiah is weary of all of this. God responds with words of challenge and warning: “If you have raced with the foot-runner and he has wearied you, how will you compete with the horse?” Jeremiah has not seen anything yet! The Lord has forsaken his house, abandoned his heritage, and has given his beloved into the hands of their enemy. Today, the Lord tells Jeremiah to go and buy a new linen loin cloth and wear it, but not wash it out. Jeremiah does so. Then, the Lord commands him to take the unlaundered cloth, go to the river Euphrates and hide the loin cloth there in a cleft of the rock. Jeremiah does so. Thereafter, the Lord tells Jeremiah to return to the Euphrates and retrieve the loin cloth he has buried. He does, and discovers that it is ruined; it was good for nothing. Then, the word of the Lord comes to him again saying, “Just so will I ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” The people are evil and refuse to hear God’s word, but, stubbornly following their own will, they have gone after other gods to serve and worship them. They shall be like the loin cloth, which is good for nothing. As a loin cloth clings to one’s loins, so the Lord made the house of Israel and Judah to cling to him, so that they might be for him a people, a name, a praise, and a glory; but they would not listen.
Psalm 43 is a wonderful little psalm that is a petition for God’s help in times of trouble, asking for God’s vindication against the ungodly ones who have behaved in deceitful and unjust ways against her. Affirming her trust in God, she asks why this has happened: “Why have you cast me off?” Then she prays, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me!” Isn’t that what we most need when besieged by the confusion of deceit and injustice all around? Once led through the treachery of injustice, let God’s light and truth bring her to God’s holy hill in Jerusalem and to God’s dwelling there, the temple. There, she will worship God with exceeding joy and praise him with the harp. After reaffirming her commitments to God, the psalmist turns reflective and asks herself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Her counsel is that universal word that continues to resound throughout scripture: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Yes, this is a difficult time, but God is present within it as her help and will again be triumphant. There will come a time beyond this when she will again be filled with joy and praise.
Paul continues to press the case that the grace of God is not merely forgiveness of past sin, but a summons to live a new way, empowered by such grace. Our slavery to sin has been transformed into slavery to righteousness—a curious phase that means the process of sanctification—in which we, by God’s grace, participate. As slaves we have no other choice! What did our slavery to sin bring us, but death? Freed from that slavery, we are now enslaved to God, who is making us holy as we live into God’s service. The ultimate gift of this is eternal life. Such are a slave’s wages: sin brings death, but the grace of God in Christ brings eternal life. There is no third option.
The confrontation in the temple between Jesus and the Jewish leaders continues as they contend over who Jesus is. Because he continues to identify himself as come from God, they accuse him of being a Samaritan (not only an outsider, but also a gross insult), who is demon-possessed. Again, Jesus ignores their allegations and brings the conversation back to his own behavior: in all that he does he honors, not himself, but God. But then, Jesus escalates things by adding, “Whoever keeps my word will never see death.” It is a startling statement that convinces them that he is possessed. Abraham died, so did each of the prophets; is he greater than these; just who does he claim to be? But Jesus will not answer that question, for, in doing so, he would be glorifying himself. Rather, he trusts his Father to glorify him—the One they claim as their God. Yet, they do not know God as Jesus does, and for him to suggest otherwise would make him a liar. Rather, Jesus knows the Father and keeps the Father’s word. And now, again, Jesus increases the tension in the dialogue by telling them that Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus’ day (the rabbis taught that God had revealed the future to Abraham). Startled even further by Jesus’ astonishing claims, the Jewish leaders respond dismissively with a rhetorical question: “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answers: “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am! They have not missed it this time; Jesus has, until now, used the sacred name in relation to metaphors of light, water, good shepherd and so on, but now he has openly used it about himself. Such blasphemy produces the prescribed and predictable response (Lev. 24:13-16). They pick up rocks to stone him to death. But, Jesus’ hour is not yet here, but yet to come, so Jesus hides himself from them and then slips out of the temple.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Jeremiah 11:1-8, 14-20; Psalm 22; Romans 6:1-11; John 8:33-47
We begin the second section of the Book of Jeremiah where the prophet’s life begins to be more evident in shaping the texts. If the first section of the book was dominated by calls for Judah to repent, amend its life and return to the Lord, these next ten chapters are dominated by declarations of judgment and expressions of lament—the people’s, the Lord’s and Jeremiah’s—the latter often called “Jeremiah’s confessions.” The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah saying “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah is told to invoke curses upon all who do not heed the words of the covenant. God rehearses for Jeremiah the formation of the covenant, bringing their ancestors out of Egypt, in which God said, “Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you.” That is the condition for being God’s people and the Lord being their God and giving them a land flowing with milk and honey. Given his prophetic commission, Jeremiah responds: “So be it, Lord.” God tells Jeremiah to proclaim this in all the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, reminding them that to this very day the Lord has offered forgiveness to those who obey his voice. Yet, the people have not listened, have not obeyed and have not abandoned their false and faithless worship of the Baal. Their vows and sacrifices in the temple will not avert God’s judgment. Disaster is coming. Judah has been an unfaithful wife; she is now to pay the penalty for her adultery. As disaster befalls her, she will call to the Lord, but he will not listen. Further, Jeremiah is no longer to pray for the people. They have not listened; God will not listen to them. Though once a green olive tree filled with fair fruit, the roar of a tempest is coming that will set afire its branches and consume it. The Lord, who planted her, has pronounced this evil against her because of her own doing, provoking him by making offerings to Baal. Such preaching results in death threats to Jeremiah, which the Lord has revealed to him. Jeremiah confesses to being a gentle lamb led to the slaughter, not knowing that it was against him that they were devising such schemes. Their plan is to kill him, silence his words and blot out his name so that he will not be remembered. The lesson ends with Jeremiah calling upon God to let him see the Lord’s retribution upon his enemies, for it is to the Lord that Jeremiah has committed his cause.
Psalm 22 is the best known lament in the Psalter, primarily because it contains the words that are on the lips of Jesus hanging on the cross and is all but prophetic concerning what takes place there. It is a lengthy plea for help that describes the psalmist’s troubles and matches Jeremiah’s lament. Day and night he calls for help with no answer. Yet, God is the Holy One enthroned on the praises of Israel; the One his ancestors trusted and he delivered them. But the psalmist does not ask on the basis of his own righteousness. He is but a worm, not human, and scorned by others who despise and mock him. “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver,” is repeated in the passion (Matthew 27:43 ) with the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees using these words to mock Jesus in his dying. In the midst of suffering, the psalmist remembers that God has cared for him since his birth and from that time the Lord has been his God. Again he pleads, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” Vivid language follows to describe the psalmist’s condition: surrounded by strong and destructive bulls, poured out like water, a heart melted like wax, bones out of joint, mouth dried like a potsherd, and his tongue cleaving to his jaw—absolute physical and emotional misery! The psalmist understands this as God’s judgment against him: “you lay me in the dust of death,” circled by dogs ready to devour his flesh. His enemies likewise stare and gloat over his suffering and divide his clothing among them by casting lots—another image Matthew includes at the cross. After one final plea for the Lord’s presence and aid to save him from the power of the dog and the mouth of the lion, suddenly, there is a shift in the second half of verse 22: “From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.” Notice the tense of the verb—God has acted. The rest of the psalm is one of praise to God for not hiding his face, for answering and for coming to the psalmist in his distress. The psalm is exultant and filled with promises to testify to the Lord’s goodness among his brothers and sisters in the midst of the congregation. His rescue is such that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship him.” For, dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. Even those yet unborn will be told about the Lord and proclaim him. It is easy to see why the infant church found in this psalm prophetic witness to Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and eternal rule, and how its influence found its way into the passion narratives.
Does this free gift of redemption in Christ mean that it makes no difference whether or not we sin, and that if we do sin, we simply cause God’s grace to abound all the more? This is more than a rhetorical question for Paul. It was the criticism that had been leveled against him because of his insistence that the law was no longer applicable to those who are in Christ. His “By no means” means “Absolutely not!” How can we, who have been baptized into Christ, and in that baptism, died to sin, go on living in it? Rather, as Christ was raised to new life, so too we have been raised to walk in the new life Christ makes possible. We are no longer slaves to sin, but rather, dead to it in Christ and in him, alive to God as God continues to pour his love and Spirit into our lives to make us holy. The references here to baptism reveal just how important this sacrament was in the infant church.
Jesus’ word about the truth making them free offends the Jewish leaders. After all, they are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. Really; have they forgotten Egypt? At any rate they ask what he means by being made free. He is talking about their slavery to sin, which keeps them, like all slaves, from having a permanent place in the household. On the other hand, the son has a place forever. So, if he, as God’s son, makes them free, they will be really free. Yes, they are descendant of Abraham, yet they seek to kill him because they cannot make space for or accept his word, even though he is only speaking what he has seen and heard in the Father’s presence. They again assert that Abraham is their father. Jesus responds that if they truly were children of Abraham they would not be trying to kill him, a man who has told them the truth that he has heard from God. This is certainly not how Abraham behaved. However, they are truly doing what their father—the Devil—does. Not yet clear about what Jesus has just said, or thinking he may be making reference to Abraham fathering Esau, the illegitimate heir, they insist that they are not illegitimate children, and have only one Father, God himself. Jesus responds that if God were their Father, they would love him, because he has come to them from God. Again, affirming that all of this is part of God’s design, he insists that he has not come on his own but from the One who sent him. Why can’t they understand what he says? It is because they are from the Devil—he is their father—and they are doing his will. A murder from the beginning, he does not stand in the truth and cannot stand it, for there is no truth in him. Rather, he lies—that is his nature—and he is the father of lies, which is why they do not believe Jesus. As Jesus continues, he makes it clear that their lack of belief is because they are not from God, as he is, but from the Devil, whose work they are doing.
Thursday, Mar 12, 2015
Jeremiah 10:11-24; Psalm 27; Romans 5:12-21; John 8:21-32
The first portion of the Book of Jeremiah comes to a conclusion with this chapter that begins by reminding the people that they have brought all of this upon themselves through their blatant idolatry. Mocking sarcasm is used to demonstrate the foolishness of idols. It is the Lord who is the living God, whose wrath makes the nations quake. This is followed by a hymn of praise that celebrates the Lord as the maker of heaven and earth. Nonetheless, “everyone is stupid and without knowledge” making and chasing after worthless idols fashioned from wood and covered in gold. When the people are punished, the idols will be useless and perish. Reaffirming God as the maker of all things, the people are again reminded that Jacob is still the Lord’s “portion”—he formed them—and Israel is the tribe of God’s inheritance. And now, the Lord addresses the daughter Zion telling her to gather up her things, the siege is about to end and they are going to be “slung” out of the land and go into exile. God’s distress is soon to be upon them. Daughter Zion responds in lament: her wound is severe. Yet, this is her punishment and she must bear it. Her tent is destroyed, her children are scattered, and there is no one to set up her tent again. Her shepherds (kings) are stupid and still do not know the Lord. As a consequence, the flock is scattered. A sentry announces the coming of the invading army: a great commotion is descending upon them from the land of the north and will make Judah desolate—like the lair of jackals. Daughter Zion responds, confessing her helplessness and inability to control her own affairs. Consequently, she now pleads with the Lord to correct her, but do so in just measure rather than in uncontrollable wrath. Rather, let the Lord’s wrath be poured out on the nations that have devoured Jacob, consumed him, and laid waste to his habitation.
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 or another form, 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.
Sin entered life through Adam’s deliberate disobedience and brought with it death for everyone, whether with or without the Law and whether their sin was deliberate or inadvertent. Death reigned in life for everyone. But now, grace, justification and life have entered the scene through the obedience of one man—Jesus Christ. And the free gift of his work, though for everyone, is even much more than that of Adam, for it has power to redeem all from sin and death. Paul has set up the Adam/Christ typology in parallel, to show that both come from willful action—Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience—and both have consequences, one death and one life. But, that is where the parallel ends, for the grace that has emerged out of Christ’s obedience is “much more” than the sin that has come from Adam’s disobedience, and that grace leads to “justification and life for all.” What God has done in Christ, God has done for all so that God’s grace may abound in all.
Jesus continues his teaching in the temple, telling them that soon he is going away and they are going to search for him but not find him, and die in their sin. For, where he is going they cannot come. Confused by this, they ask, “Is he going to kill himself?” No, rather, they are from “below,” while he is from “above,” they are of “the world,” he is “not of this world.” They are going to die in their sin unless they believe he is the “I am.” (“I am he” is a bad translation of what the text actually says, and, again, is an occasion when Jesus uses the ineffable, divine name for himself.) At that they ask, “Who are you?” and he responds, “Why do I talk with you at all?” in essence saying—“are you listening? I have told you this from the beginning!” And so, he continues his condemnation of them, not simply out of his own experience, but on the basis of what he has heard from the One who sent him, reminding them that because it is from Him, it is true. They, of course, do not understand that. But, when they have “lifted up” the Son of Man—a phrase that means not only to “raise” as “on a cross” but also “to exalt” as in, what comes from all of that—then they will understand what they have done to him and that he is the “I am.” The One who sent him is with him; he has not been left alone, because he always does what is pleasing to the Father. Jesus then turns to those Jews who do believe in him and he says, “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Jeremiah 8:18-9:6; Psalm 5; Romans 5:1-11; John 8:12-20
As the sound of the horses’ hooves is heard pounding their way south to invade Judah, someone with a broken heart announces the end of joy and the beginning of grief. Whether it is Jeremiah, the Lord, or some third person is not clear. The speaker reports the cries of the people from far and wide across the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her? Parenthetically, God asks why it is the people have provoked him to such anger with their images and idols. The people cry, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” The speaker—whether Jeremiah or the Lord—shares in the heart-break of the people; mourning and dismay have taken hold of him. “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Gilead was known for its healing ointments, but it is clear that the answer is now, “No, there is no physician there to cure this or restore the health of the people.” Overwhelmed with the tragedy and stricken with deep grief, the speaker wishes that his head were a spring of water so that he might adequately weep forever over the slain. But quickly, the sin of the people return to the Lord’s mind. They are a band of adulterers and traitors who have grown strong in a land of falsehood, sharing in its fruits. They go from evil to evil and do not know him. Consequently, the Lord issues this warning: “Beware of your neighbor, put no trust in your relatives.” They are supplanters and slanderers who deceive, lie and produce not only oppression upon oppression but deceit upon deceit. That is what comes from their refusal to know the Lord.
Psalm 5, traditionally used in Morning Prayer, pleads for God’s protection and care against his enemies. Knowing that God abhors wickedness and the boastful, the psalmist expresses the certainty that, because of God’s steadfast love, he will again be able to enter God’s house to worship, even as he bows down toward the temple in awe. His enemies are full of lies and deceit and their rebellion is really rebellion against God. Let them bear the fruit of their guilt and fall by their own counsel. On the other hand, let all who take refuge in the Lord rejoice. Let them sing forever. Pleading for the Lord to spread his protection over all who take refuge in him, the psalmist ends as he begins, expressing joyful confidence in the Lord’s blessings and care for those who are righteous (in a right relationship with God and one another). Cover them with divine favor as a shield.
Whatever alienation existed between us and God because of the power of sin has been undone in what God has done in Jesus Christ. When embraced in faith, we are “justified”—put in a right relationship with God where we experience peace with God and God’s gift of true life. We boast then, not in our faith, but in what God has done in Christ and our hope of sharing the glory of God in Christ. And to the extent that we know suffering, we boast in that also, not because suffering is good; it is not! Rather, we can boast in it because of what it leads to: a chain reaction from suffering, to endurance, to character, then to hope. And unlike all other human hope, this hope does not disappoint. Why? Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (this is the first Paul has spoken of either). By faith, we live in a state of grace—a condition as life-giving as the state of sin is deadly. And notice that it is completed action that continues into the future! Back to what God has done in Christ: while humanity was still captive to sin, Christ died. And notice, it was not for the righteous or the Godly. It was for the ungodly! Why would anyone, much less God, do that? So God could prove God’s love for the world. Jesus’ death on the cross was not an accident or the result of things getting out of control. It was God’s way of dealing with the condition of sin that kept us from God’s presence. It reveals God’s love for us and enables us to be reconciled to God. In Christ, God has filled the breech so that we can now live out of God’s love and power, sanctifying us—the word means “making us holy.” Notice that it, too, is an ongoing action. The life of faith is one in which the love and power of God are making us holy and fit to be God’s people at work for God’s purposes and able, at last, to live in God’s eternal presence.
The lectionary skips over John 8:1-11 because it is not found in the oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel, and seems to have more in common with the stories of the controversies between Jesus and the Temple authorities that we read in the other three gospels, whereas John is a series of extended conversations and debates in sermonic form. It does not make the story any less valid or true, but does interrupt the flow of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles and seems to be a later insertion. And so, our lesson begins with verse 12 of chapter 8 and falls on the heels of Jesus’ announcing his gift of life-giving water. Now, his “I am” sayings take up another image—light—a common metaphor for the presence of God and itself an important element in the Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Whoever follows him will never walk in darkness but have the light of life. The Pharisees challenge him for testifying on his own behalf, a testimony that is therefore not valid. Jesus does not deny it, but says, “even so, it is valid, because I know where I have come from and where I am going, while you know neither!” Further, the Pharisees judge by human standards; Jesus judges no one, but simply does what his Father tells him. But if he did, it would be valid for it is not Jesus alone who judges but the Father who sent him. Quoting the law back to them, he reminds them of the Torah’s requirement of two witnesses to make something valid. He then says that he and his Father are those two witnesses. The Jewish leaders respond by asking where his father is. Jesus tells them that they know neither him nor his Father, for if they knew him they would know his father. To know Jesus is to know the Father and vice versa. It is open testimony to who he is, but they cannot hear it. The lesson closes by telling us that he continued to teach this openly in the temple, but no one arrested him, because “his hour had not yet come.” Whereas in the other three gospels, Jesus’ identity is a secret (Mark), or not fully disclosed until the trial before the Sanhedrin or Pilate (Matthew and Luke), in John, Jesus speaks very openly about his identity as God’s Son, and, as the gospel continues to unfold, that becomes even more apparent. It is one of the reasons that John has been a favorite among people involved in missionary and evangelistic ministries.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Jeremiah 7:21-34; Psalm 14; Romans 4:13-25; John 7:37-52
After telling Jeremiah not to intercede with him for the people, it is too late and God will not listen, the reason for the judgment is given: they are baking cakes for the Queen of Heaven, a cosmic deity. And so, God tells Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh—it is worthless. Remember, when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, I said nothing about offerings and sacrifice. My one demand was that you obey my voice and keep me, alone, as your God, walking in the way that I command you. But you did not obey or listen, but in stubbornness walked in your own counsel.” Nevertheless, from the moment they left Egypt, God sent them prophets to call them back to his ways, but still, they did not listen. Rather, they stiffened their necks and did even worse things than their ancestors. Jeremiah is to speak this word to them knowing they will not listen—truth has been cut off from their lips. God tells Jeremiah to cut off his hair and throw it away, raise a lamentation in the high places of their false worship, for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation that has provoked his wrath. Not only have they set their abominations in the temple—a statue to the Phoenician goddess Asherah (2 Kings 23:6)—they have gone to the high place named Topheth, west of Jerusalem, and there offered their sons and daughters as burnt sacrifices—something the Lord neither commanded nor even came to his mind (see 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; 23:10). The days are coming when it will no longer be called Topheth, but the valley of slaughter, for so many will die there that there will no longer be room for burial. The corpses will be strewn across the land as food for birds of prey and wild animals. The Lord will bring an end to joy and gladness as the land becomes a wasteland.
Psalm 14 is a condemnation of those who say, “There is no God,” who as a result are both corrupt and lack any moral compass whatsoever. Though thinking themselves wise in their own eyes, they are fools. There are fewer strong words of personal condemnation in the Old Testament than “fool!” It is, in wisdom literature, the term for the “empty headed” but it is less about thoughtless, imprudent behavior than about the orientation of one’s life. Though, in this psalm, the “fool” is defined as those who say there is no God, this is less a question about whether or not there is a god, than the question of whether a god even cares. After all, they are corrupt and do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. It is one of the earliest affirmations of what will come to be known in reformed theology as “total depravity.” But the Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise. The verdict is “No!” All have gone astray; all are perverse; no one does good. They have no knowledge (here, more about relationship with God than information about God), fail to call upon him, and eat up God’s people as though they were bread. The psalm now describes their fate: they shall be in great terror for God is with the company of the righteous. Those who would confuse and abuse the poor should know that the Lord is the refuge of the poor; in abusing them, they abuse God. The psalm ends with a plea that deliverance for Israel will come from the Lord with the acknowledgment that when that does occur, and the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice. Notice that nowhere in this psalm is the Lord addressed. Rather, this seems to be a psalm intended to drive home the conviction that God is looking, God does care, and God will act against those who, in their wickedness, abuse the poor and fail to recognize, much less, serve the Lord. The conviction is repeated, virtually verbatim in Psalm 53.
Paul continues to make the point about the superiority of faith in Christ over the observance of the law. He argues that God’s promise to Abraham, that he would inherit the world, did not come through the law but though Abraham’s faith based upon God’s grace, a grace guaranteed to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only the Jews (adherents of the law) but also those who share the faith of Abraham (Gentile believers). Even when all of the external signs pointed away from the fulfillment of the promise, Abraham hoped against hope, trusting that God was able to do what God had promised and that it would be fulfilled. Such unwavering hope is faith in action that put Abraham in a right relationship with God who, consequently, reckoned Abraham righteous. Such righteousness is also reckoned to those who believe God raised Jesus from the dead—the one who was handed over to death for our sins, and raised for our own justification. None of this was accomplished by keeping the law, but by faith that believes God keeps God’s word.
On the last day of the festival, as the priests are pouring fresh water on the altar as an offering to God, Jesus stands and cries out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let those who believe in me drink,” and with allusions to Isaiah 44:3; 55:1 and 58:11, he proclaims himself the source of new life. As his body is the manna of Passover, he is also the life-giving water celebrated in the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). The author quickly reminds us that Jesus is talking about the gift of the Spirit, which believers will receive after Jesus’ glorification. When the crowd heard this, some said, “He really is the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But the skeptics in the crowd returned to the theme of his origin—Galilee. The scriptures are clear; the Messiah is from David and will come from Bethlehem. And so, a division occurs among them. The temple police return to the chief priests and Pharisees empty-handed, so overwhelmed were they by Jesus’ words and the peoples’ response. The Pharisees accuse them of having been deceived, like the rest of the ignorant crowd, and then ask a self-incriminating question: “Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?” After all, the crowd is both accursed and ignorant of the law—what do they know? But Nicodemus, who in chapter 3 went to Jesus by night, is among them and, knowing the law, challenges them with it: the law does not allow them to judge people without first giving them a hearing. Angered and embarrassed, they try to shame Nicodemus by accusing him of being a Galilean as well and challenge him to search the scriptures. He will learn that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.
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.