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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday: Micah 1:1-9; Psalms 149; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Matthew 16:13-20

Today we begin reading the prophet Micah, who with Isaiah of Jerusalem, Amos and Hosea is one of the first of the “writing prophets.” Micah’s preaching can be dated by the three king mentions in the introduction verse: Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, who reigned in Jerusalem, sequentially, from about 742 to 686 BCE. Micah’s initial preaching is during the last days of the northern kingdom before it fell in 722 BCE and became a province of Assyria. Thereafter, Micah’s preaching is to the Southern Kingdom—Judah. The book begins with an editorial introduction in verse one, telling us that Micah came from Moresheth, a village in the Judean foothills south of Jerusalem. Notice that it is the things he “saw,” that are written down. Then he begins an oracle of judgment against Israel delivered from Judah warning that the Lord is coming from his Temple in Jerusalem to tread down the high places of worship in Israel. The mountains will melt before him like wax before a fire and the valleys burst open like water running down a steep place. All of this is because of the transgressions of Jacob. Notice the Hebrew parallelism—the pattern of making a statement, then following it with a second, similar statement. Micah follows “the transgressions of Jacob,” with “the sins of the house of Israel.” Both phrases say the same thing as Jacob’s name was ultimately changed to Israel after wrestling with God. The transgressions are identified as those of Samaria—the very same that Hosea was denouncing. This is the only oracle that Micah delivers against Samaria. Scholars think that someone other than Micah later added to it the words about Jerusalem, since it was the capital of Judah where Micah did most of his preaching. Samaria will be destroyed and become a heap fit only for planting vineyards. The reference to pouring down stones into the valley has to do with the king’s stone palace built in Samaria thought to be invincible. It will tumble down into the valley with its walls razed to their foundations. The idols they use in worship will be destroyed. The wages of a prostitute is a reference to the tribute Israel paid to Assyria and earlier Egypt. Finally, Micah calls on the people of Jerusalem to join him in lament and wailing. The biblical prophets often enacted their prophecy and so Micah promises to go barefoot and naked as a sign of what will happen to Israel. Her wound is not only incurable, it has spread to the gates of Judah.

This is another “Hallelujah” psalm that calls on the assembly to “sing to the Lord a new song.” Employing Hebrew parallelism Israel is called to be glad in its maker, and the children of Zion to rejoice in their king, making melody with tambourine and lyre, and praising him with dancing. The Lord takes pleasure in his people, adorning the humble with victory. Let the high praises of God be in their throats as the two-edges battle sword is in their hands, executing vengeance against their enemies, binding the defeated king in fetters and his nobles in chains. In other words, remember that this victory is not their doing, but the Lord’s, a judgment decreed by the Lord. It is glory for all of God’s faithful. The psalm ends as it begins, with a Hallelujah—“Praise the Lord!”

Paul employs sacramental imagery linked to stories of the Children of Israel’s wilderness wanderings to warn the Corinthians that just as their forbearers were baptized with Moses in the passing through the sea and ate the spiritual food of the wilderness (an allusion both to the manna and to the bread of the Lord’s Supper), and drank from the spiritual rock of Christ (the cup of Christ in the Supper), nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them and struck them down, a reference to Numbers 14;16. Paul says these things were allowed to occur so that they could become examples to the Corinthians so that they might not desire the same evil that the children of Israel did in the wilderness. Those people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to revel in sexual immorality. The result was God’s judgment in which twenty-three thousand fell in one day (Numbers 25:1-9). So do not put Christ to the test by your grumblings and complaints, as those in the wilderness did who were struck by serpents (Numbers 21:4-9). Do not complain as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer (God’s avenging angel, Exodus 12:23; 2 Samuel 24:16). All of this happened to serve as an example to those who followed. So Paul warns the Corinthians about the temptations they are facing in their worship meal gatherings that run the risk of sliding into Greek Symposia, with the drunkenness and sexual exploits that were common in such Hellenistic gatherings. On the other hand, Paul reminds them that they are not left to themselves. No testing has overtaken them that is not common to everyone. Remember, God is faithful, and will not let us be tested beyond our strength, and with every testing will also provide a way out so that we may be able to endure it.

We hear the event of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, told through the eyes and words of Matthew. The site is named, Caesarea Philippi (a site in the north at the base of Mt Hermon and headwaters of the Jordan, not the Caesarea that was home to the royal summer palace on the sea). In Matthew, Peter is blessed for his confession rather than warned—he has not come to this by himself but been granted it by Jesus’ Father in heaven. And so another blessing is bestowed: his name is changed from Simon to Petros, which mean “boulder” or large rock. And upon this rock Jesus will build his church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. In addition, Peter is given the keys to the kingdom and the power to bind and loose sins. (It is from this text that the Roman Catholic Church traces the authority of the Pope.) Only after this does Jesus warn the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Christ. It is a very different account than we read in Mark or Luke, written for a different church in which Peter is clearly the leader.


Posted October 21, 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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