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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Judges 16:1-14; Psalms 107:33-43; Acts 7:30-43; John 5:1-18

The chronicle of Samson’s escapades among the enemy Philistines continues, this time with what results from his weakness for women, first with a prostitute from Gaza. When the men of Gaza realize he is with her, they gather at the closed city gates, prepared to block his way and capture him. At midnight Samson arises and upon recognizing the city gates locked against him, simply pulls the doors and doorposts off the wall, puts them on his shoulders and carries them to the top of an adjoining mountain. Now we turn to his adventures with the woman from the valley of Sorek—Delilah, with whom Samson falls in love. When the lords of the Philistines discover this, the come to Delilah, offering a huge sum of money if she will entice Samson to tell her the secret of his great strength in order that they may finally overcome and be rid of him. She agrees, and thus begins three incidents in which she tries to discover his secret (which, of course is no secret to any child in Israel listening to these heroic episodes—he is a nazarite, and dedicated to God, his source of strength). And so she manipulates Samson’s affections for the information. But notice that Samson is not the fool they think him to be. Three times he gives her false information: bind him with seven fresh cords not yet dried; bind him with new ropes never before used; weave his hair into a web and tie it up with a pin. Each time she tries to thus bind him and then announces that the Philistines are upon him, the lie reveals itself and Samson prevails. 

This psalm begins with “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever. Verse after verse examines the way God’s steadfast love has been expressed and experienced in Israel’s life and salvation history. Today we are at the conclusion of the psalm that focuses upon God’s providence and sovereignty over creation. God changes rivers and springs into waterless wasteland and rich fields into barren land because of the wickedness of its people. Conversely, he turns wastelands into rich inhabitable places so that the hungry might dwell there. He builds cities, sows fields, plants vineyards, and blesses with fruitful harvests. He brings down princes who abuse their power and lifts up the needy. The righteous see it and are glad while the unrighteous look on with shut mouths. Are you wise? Give heed to these things and consider the loving kindness of the Lord.

Stephen continues to review salvation history, picking up the story with Moses in the Sinai wilderness, where, after forty years, the Angel of the Lord appears to him to send him back to Egypt to be the one though whom God liberated his people. In rich narrative, Stephen tells the story of Moses and God at the burning bush. In doing so, he adds a spin: God chose Moses, who the people rejected, to be their liberator. He will build on this theme. Moses leads the people forth from Egypt, through the Red Sea and to Mt. Sinai, where he converses with God and receives the oracles passed on from God through him to the people. Moses promised that God would raise up among them yet another prophet like him. Yet the people rebelled, repudiated Moses’ work and leadership, asked to return to Egypt, and turned to Aaron who made for them a calf of gold. Stephen also reminds them of other incidents of idolatry and apostasy, bringing along with them the tabernacle of Moloch and.the star of the god Rephan, as well as their idols to whom they offered sacrifices while in the wilderness wandering. For this, God would remove them to Babylon.

Jesus leaves Galilee for Jerusalem in order to observe the Passover feast, and enters into the city by the sheep gate next to which was pool named Bethesda with its five porticos. The space was filled with invalids of many kinds, the lame, the blind, the sick, the withered, all waiting for the stirring of the waters. For when that happened, it was believed to be the work of an angel, so that whoever got into the waters first was healed. Jesus encounters a man who has been ill for 38 years and asks him if he wants to be well. The man replies, “Of course; but how, I have no one to put me into the water when it is stirred? Someone always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus responds, “Arise, take up you pallet and walk,” and immediately the man is healed, takes up his pallet and walks. It happens on the Sabbath. When the Jewish leaders see the man walking and carrying his pallet they rebuke and remind him that it is not lawful to do so on the Sabbath. Are they blind to what has happened to the man, or simply so preoccupied with keeping the law that they have forgotten its greater purpose? The man’s response is classic in its obedience: “the one who healed me told me to do so, and I did.” Their response is equally classic but in it obtuseness: “Who told you to take up your pallet?” They seem oblivious to the fact that the man has been healed and are only concerned with the Sabbath violation. Either way, the healed man does not know who Jesus is, as after the healing Jesus slipped away into the crowd. Later, Jesus finds the healed man in the Temple—the first time the man has been permitted in the Temple in 38 years—and Jesus tells him to be sure he sins no more so that no further afflictions befall him. In that exchange, the man recognizes Jesus as the one who has healed him, and went away from the Temple telling everyone who would listen that it was Jesus who had healed him. We are told that it was because Jesus was healing on the Sabbath that the Jewish leaders began to persecute him, and when confronted for it, Jesus would respond, “My Father is still working, as I myself am working.” And so the persecution takes on new dimensions: now they look for ways to kill him because of his blasphemy: he is not only breaking the Sabbath laws, but calling God his Father and making himself equal with God.

Posted August 18, 2012


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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.

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