Monday: Hosea 11:12-12:1; Psalms 2; Acts 26:1-23; Luke 8:26-39
This short reading simply summarized the difference between the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Ephraim (Israel) surrounds God with lies and deceit while Judah still walks with God. Ephraim herds the wind, pursuing the east wind all day long. Multiplying falsehood and violence, they make a treaty with Assyria and pay tribute to Egypt.
This Royal Psalm was probably used at the annual re-enactment of the King’s enthronement, reminding him that he is God’s viceroy, God anointed, and God’s own adopted son. The nations can rage and conspire against him, but the Lord for whom he reigns, sits in heaven laughing at them. God will speak to them in wrath reminding them that the king who reigns in Zion (Jerusalem) is there at God’s hand. Then the king repeats what the Lord has said to him, “You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The psalm then turns to the rulers of the earth warning them to hear and be wise. They too are called upon to serve the Lord with fear, as all the rulers of the earth are called on to reign under God’s sovereign rule or experience God’s judgment themselves. Happy are all who take refuge in him. After the loss of the monarchy in Israel, following the Babylonian captivity, the idea of the king as God’s anointed (meshiach), began to develop into the notion of an ultimate Messiah-King who would appear and return God’s reign to God’s people. The New Testament capitalized on this psalm as a means of identifying Jesus as that Messiah.
Paul stands before King Agrippa, who was the last of the Herodian kings (Jews who reigned in Palestine on Rome’s behalf), and makes his defense. In the speech that follows, Paul’s fifth and last recorded defense in the Book of Acts, we hear a biography of Paul’s life and work, his background as a Jew who grew upon in Jerusalem, and his membership in the Jewish sect of Pharisees—the strictest in Judaism. Now, he stands on trial because of his hope in the resurrection—a conviction held by all Pharisees—a promised made by God to their ancestors. Paul asks, “Why is it thought incredible that God raises the dead?” He then rehearses his former life as a persecutor of those committed to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. He received authority from the chief priests to lock up and persecute many of “the saints” and even cast his vote against them, condemning them to death. He moved throughout all the synagogues trying to force the followers of Jesus to blaspheme, pursuing them even to foreign cities. It was while doing so, traveling to Damascus, with authority and commission of the chief priests, that, at mid-day, the risen Jesus appeared to him. Jesus commissioned him to serve him and testify to the things Paul has seen in Jesus and to those in which Jesus will yet appear to him. Jesus will rescue Paul from the Jews and the Gentiles to whom Jesus is sending him, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, and receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are made holy by faith in him. After that encounter, Paul was obedient to the vision, first in Damascus, then Jerusalem, then throughout the countryside of Judea, and finally, to the Gentiles. Paul’s message was that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. It is for this reason that the Jews who seized him in the Temple have tried to kill him. But to this day, Paul has received help from God, to the point that he now stands in this hall, before great and small, saying nothing more than what the prophets and Moses have said would take place: that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise form the dead, he would proclaim light both to the Jews and the Gentile.
Sailing on, beyond the storm at sea, Jesus and the disciples arrive at Gerasenes—Gentile country on the east side of the lake—and upon stepping on land, Jesus is encountered by a demoniac who has been running naked and living among the tombs for a long time. Seeing Jesus, he falls on his face and shouts at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me,” for, Luke tells us, Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him. Luke then comments on the destructive work of the demon in the man, giving him super-human strength and other particular forms of madness. Jesus responds to the demon by asking its name and he replies “Legion”—there is not one demon possessing this man, but many. They beg Jesus not to send them to their true home, the abyss. On the hillside nearby a large herd of swine is feeding; the demons beg Jesus to let them enter them. And so, Jesus givens them permission—notice that he has already commanded them to leave—and they come out of the man, enter the swine, and the herd rushes headlong down the steep bank into the lake and is drowned. (Large bodies of water, lake or sea, were considered the home of the demonic as was demonstrated in the previous lesson when Jesus calmed the storm at sea—that too was an exorcism.) When the owner of the swine sees this, he rushes into the city to tell everyone who will listen. The people come out to see for themselves and find the man, from whom the demons had gone, sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind. Notice their reaction: rather than rejoice, Luke tells us they are afraid, even as they are told how all of this has happened. And so they ask Jesus to leave. Jesus cooperates. As is getting back into the boat the healed man asks for permission to come with him’ but Jesus sends him away, back to his home, saying “Tell how much God has done for you.” The man does go back to his people, but proclaims to all who will listen, how much Jesus has done for him.
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.