Monday: Micah 2:1-13; Psalms 9; Revelation 7:1-8; Luke 9:51-62
Having “seen” the judgment against Israel for its worship of the Baal and alliances with Assyria, Micah trains his eye on Judah (Southern Kingdom) and especially its capital Jerusalem, for those within it who are greedy for gain and exploit the financial weakness of neighbors. This is a warning against any who would exploit another’s hardship, especially those who “rob” their property, covet fields and seize houses. The “therefore” in verse 3 introduces God’s judgment: they will be utterly ruined. The property they have seized from the vulnerable among them will be taken from them as they took it from the weak, and be given to foreigners. It is not a good word for those whose business is buying distressed properties, driving the price down, and then restructuring financially it to gain profit—which is profit at other’s expense. Not only will their profit be given to others, they will lose their place in the assembly of the Lord. The people in Jerusalem do not like what they hear and say to Micah, “Do not preach such things here.” Stick to spiritual things, preacher, not politics or business which you do not understand! Micah responds, these are spiritual things; “Is the Lord’s patience exhausted? Are not my words good to those who walk uprightly?” On the other hand, the people in Jerusalem have become an enemy to the people, stripping the robes from the peaceful, driving out women from their homes. Micah is not a false prophet, but speaks the truth. They, on the other hand, want a preacher who whose soft words will bring them assurance and peace—someone to preach to them of wine and strong drink. The oracle ends with a word of hope, not to the greedy, but to their victims. The Lord will gather them as he will gather the survivors of Israel, and set them in a shepherd’s fold to care for them. The one who breaks out—the Lord—will do so like a king leading them to victory. Scholars puzzle over these last two verses, wondering what they are doing here, and if they are really Micah’s words, or those added by another at a later time, perhaps after all of the doom, gloom and judgment of this book have actually come for both Israel and Judah, the former in captivity to Assyria, the latter some 250 years later with Judah in captivity in Babylon. Either way, the word is a word of hope, not to the oppressors, but to the oppressed and an expression of the fact that the Lord does not abandon those in need or those who are the victims of economic as well as political oppression.
This acrostic psalm gives thanks to the Lord for continuing protection and salvation. Though it might appear a royal psalm, the enemies being other nations, we never hear the voice of the prayer identified as the king, as it would be in a royal psalm. Rather it simply focuses on God’s ability to respond, whether “present” or afar, to scatter the wicked and maintain the just person’s cause. The text moves from thanksgiving for God’s wonderful deeds, to thanks for deliverance from particular enemies, to praise for the rebuke of other nations and the wicked, to the affirmation that the Lord is enthroned forever and his throne is a throne of judgment. Then it affirms that the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed who seek him. These he will not forsake. After calling for praise in Zion the psalm turns to personal intercession and deliverance from those who hate him. Again, there is recollection of God’s judgment on the nations who have been caught in their own net. The wicked are consigned to Sheol while the needy shall “not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor taken away,” one of the high and memorial phrases from this psalm. Finally, God is called upon to “Rise Up” and judge the nations and put them in their place—they are only human. “Se’lah,”is a word that then calls upon a musical chorus of praise, whether instrumental or vocal, from the Temple musicians. Because this is an acrostic psalm, beginning each successive section with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the flow of ideas can seem a bit jumbled. It can seem two psalms that have been joined into one: the first a psalm of thanksgiving, the second a petition for help. And, because psalm 10 has no introductory material some to believe Psalm 9 and Psalm 10 were originally one. In fact, they appear as one in both the Greek Septuagint and the Roman Catholic Vulgate Bibles.
We have suddenly jumped into the Book of Revelation. Though we have read earlier portions of it prior to now, those reading have been episodic. Consequently, it will be good to review what has happened before today’s reading. The opening chapters witness to Christ’s presence in and among the churches speaking to them messages of hope as well as correction. Chapter 4 introduces God’s judgment on “the Great city,” (Rome), which will continue through the emergence of the “Holy City,” (the New Jerusalem) in chapter 21. So, we are squarely in the middle of the judgment section. We have been party to the worship that takes place in heaven: praise to God as creator of all, praise to the Lamb as the redeemer of all, and the opening of the seven-sealed scroll by the Lion of Judah, the lamb that was slaughtered but now lives and has all power (seven horns) and all sight. Six of the seven seals have been opened, each unveiling their horror and introducing the four horsemen and their judgments: conquest, war, famine and death by plague—the wages of warfare. The fifth seal reveals the martyrs beneath the throne of God crying out “How long, O Lord, before you judge and avenge our blood?” They are each given a white robe (symbol of triumph rather than purity). The sixth seal represents the beginning of the end as the earth and its cosmic partners begin disintegrate, and the cosmic order turns to chaos. Today’s lesson gives us an interlude in the destruction as the church is sealed (an ancient term for Christian baptism) and Christians are marked with the gift of endurances. The number of those sealed is symbolic: twelve tribes of Israel multiplied by the twelve apostles times 1000—the apocalyptic number for absolute fullness. As Paul has written in Romans, all Israel is to be redeemed (Romans 11:26).
As the time draws near for Jesus to be “taken up,” he sets his face toward Jerusalem where he knows he must die. Jesus sends messengers ahead of them, to make preparation for their hospitable welcome in the towns and villages along the way. The Samaritans, when they learn that he is headed for Jerusalem (capital of the Samaritan’s ancient enemy), refuse to receive him. James and John are outraged and want to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans, but Jesus rebukes them. Notice that at this point, a portion of the text lies in the footnotes, which seem to be a later theological correction to the judgment on the Samaritans, perhaps because of the churches there, and Jesus’ disclaimer of violence against them. As Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem others want to join him, providing the opportunity for Jesus to talk about the demands of discipleship. Those who offer to follow him need to know that he has no permanent place here to rest, neither will they. When Jesus calls another to follow he asks permission to first bury his father, to which Jesus says, “This is more important.” “Let the dead bury the dead. As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” “Another is ready to follow but wants to go back and first bid farewell to his family. Jesus responds that no one looking back to old ties is fit for the kingdom of God—even family ties. These are extraordinarily harsh responses. In all probability they are included here by Luke to speak to the church for which his gospel is written. Is it warning about the cost of discipleship, or is it confirmation that the very hardships they are experiencing as Jesus’ disciples have, in fact, been foretold by Jesus, and give witness and confirmation to the fact that they are truly Jesus’ disciples? Probably both!
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.