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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Joshua 6:15-27; Psalms 19; Acts 22:30-23:11; Mark 2:1-12

“And the walls came a’tumblin down! Rahab and her family are preserved and initially moved to outside Israel’s camp, but later they settle with the Israelites. She has a future yet in Israel. The instructions for taking and disposing of the city are gruesome to modern ears. Behind them is the notion of kherem, which means “devoted to destruction” and is central to the notion of “Holy War.” No, Islam did not invent it; Holy War is as old as the taking of the land in 1200 BCE and was used by the Moabites as well as the Israelites, and probably other peoples as well. Foundational to Holy War is the conviction that it is God who is leading the people in battle as a “Divine Warrior” and God who brings victory. Consequently everything belongs to God; there is to be no plundering or taking of booty. To do so would be to bring God’s wrath upon you and your people. All that is taken in battle is to be consecrated to the deity. The way that is done is the way any sacrifice on an altar was offered: slaughtered and then burned complete—given totally to God. Everyone and everything, save the objects of gold, silver, bronze and iron, is utterly destroyed, the latter being put into the divine treasury. In addition Joshua pronounces a curse on anyone trying to rebuild the city, a curse that is fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34. Holy War will appear frequently in Joshua as the chronicler of his deeds, writing many years after the fact, when Holy War was no longer being practiced, is less interested in presenting the facts historically (in a modern sense) than describing events through a theological lens, confirming that it is the Lord who has given the people the land and the Lord who has brought about the victory. Joshua, whatever his fame, is but the Lord’s servant.

The psalm begins celebrating the glory of God in creation, and then shifts, mid-point, to praising God for the gift of the Law. It concludes with a double petition: to be cleansed of hidden faults and kept from presumptuous sins and their power to dominate life, especially sins of the mouth. It was from verse 11 that John Calvin developed his theology of the third use of the law: to lead us into righteous living.

Paul has returned to Jerusalem, visited James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, and then gone to the Temple to worship. While there, Jewish agitators from Asia who have followed Paul assume he has brought a Gentile into the Temple and instigate a riot in an attempt to kill Paul. The tribune hears of it, takes soldiers and centurions and arrests Paul as the perceived troublemaker. Later, discovering Paul is a Roman citizen, the tribune orders the chief priests and the entire council to meet in order to sort out what it is Paul is being accused of. Paul recognizes the divided council and exploits the differences between Sadducees and Pharisees—himself a Pharisee—to evoke another riot. The tribune, fearing they will kill Paul this time and again has him taken by force and returned to the barracks, this time for Paul’s safety. That night, the Lord Jesus appears to Paul and says, “Keep up you courage,” promising that Paul will testify to him in Rome as well as in Jerusalem.

Jesus returns to his home in Capernaum where word about him is such that people surround his house in an attempt to get near to hear his teaching. Four men attempt to bring a paralyzed friend to him for healing but find the crowd has jammed the door and they cannot get in. Undeterred, they climb the outside staircase to the roof, remove some of its planking and thatch, and lower their friend down into Jesus’ presence. Seeing their faith, Jesus turns to the paralytic and says “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Some scribes sitting nearby hear it and silently wonder who this is speaking such blasphemy—only God can forgive sin. Jesus perceives what they are thinking and asks, “Which is it easier to do forgiven sin or heal the man?” Remember, in Jesus day, any illness or malady was understood to be punishment for sin, doing one was a sign of having done the other. Before the scribes can open their mouths Jesus responds. Referring to himself with the designation Mark frequently uses for Jesus—the Son of Man—Jesus turns to the paralytic and says, “Take up your bed and walk;” and he does! Yes, Jesus has authority they cannot imagine. Mark reports that, “All were amazed and glorified God,” but probably none more so than the man walking out the door with the mat on his back.

Posted July 22, 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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