Sunday: Jonah 1:1-17a; Psalm 98; 1 Corinthians 10:15-24; Matthew 18:15-20
We begin today with Jonah, one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. On the other hand, it is among the least well understood. Scholars consider it an allegory, a legend, a novel, a parable, or a satire. All of those dimensions are present. What it is not is a literal account of the prophet’s life and adventure. Of the twelve minor prophets, this is the only one in which the prophecy being made is not written or spoken by the book’s name sake, but rather, by his actions and responses to God. The word of the Lord comes to Jonah: “Go to Nineveh, that great, evil city, and cry out against it.” Jonah immediately responds; he heads in the opposite direction! Boarding a ship for Tarshish, he seeks to sail “away from the presence of the Lord.” (Notice the notion of God’s omnipresence is not yet understood; God is still localized to a place.) God hurls a great wind on the sea putting the ship at great risk. The mariners toss everything they can overboard in an attempt to save the ship, but to no avail. Jonah, on the other hand, is in the ship’s hold, fast asleep. When the ship’s captain discovers Jonah, he awakens him and demands that Jonah pray to his god for rescue. In the meantime, the sailors have cast lots to see who it is among them that is the object of the god’s wrath, and the lot falls on Jonah. Consequently, they interrogate him in order to discover what he has done to anger his god. Jonah tells them he is a Hebrew and worships the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, who made the sea and the dry land. When they heat this, the men are even more frightened. They ask Jonah what they should do to him to make the sea quiet down, and he tells them to throw him overboard—he is indeed the problem. They do, but only after calling out to the Lord themselves, asking that they not perish on account of Jonah, and that they not become guilty of innocent blood. Once Jonah is in the sea it settles down, causing another kind of fear to come over the sailors who immediately offer sacrifices to the Lord and make vows. A group of pagan sailors have been converted in the process. God has used even Jonah’s unfaithfulness for God’s purposes. But Jonah is not yet off the hook. God provides a large fish to swallow Jonah (it is not a whale, though it is “a whale of a story!”), and Jonah spends the next three days and nights in the belly of the great fish.
“Sing to the Lord a new song!” All creation is called on to sing joyfully for what the Lord has done—marvelous things! Israel is called to remember the way the Lord has gotten victory for them in the midst of the nations. In their distress, the Lord remembered his steadfast love for them and his faithfulness to them, and vindicated them in the sight of their captors. All the ends of the earth have seen God’s victory on Israel’s behalf. The earth is especially called to join in the song of praise using all the musical instruments at hand: lyre, lute, trumpets and horns. The personification of aspects of creation is rich and expressive: let the sea roar, and all who live in it; let the floods clap their hands and the hills together break into song at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. And when he comes, he will judge the entire world with righteousness, and its peoples with equity. Joy to the world! Isaac Watts paraphrased this psalm into that well-known and deeply loved hymn. Though most think it was written as a Christmas carol, it is really a metrical setting of this psalm.
Paul continues to use sacramental language to help the Corinthians deal with the controversies among them, in this case, whether it is permissible to eat meat that has previously been offered to pagan gods. In the midst of that argument we hear his theology of the Lord’s Supper: the cup of blessing in the supper is actually the blood of Christ, just as the bread that they break in the supper is the body of Christ. And just as there is one loaf and they all partake of that loaf, they are one, not only with Christ, but also with one another. Their unity is a given, because of their unity with Christ, effected in their eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Supper. He then uses the sacrificial practice of the Israelites to further strengthen his point. They offered sacrifices to the Lord and then ate the meat of the animal offered to God. This made them partners in the sacrifice. So too, intentionally eating meat offered to a pagan god makes one partners in that and is forbidden. One cannot partake of the Lord at his table and also partake of the table of demons (false gods). Otherwise, they are provoking the Lord to jealousy, which will bring judgment. Though all things are lawful, not all things are beneficial. In the arguments they are having about this among themselves, they must stop seeking their own advantage and rather seek to mutually find the truth. The function of debate in the church is not for one side to win over against the other, but rather, together, through conversation, to discern the truth.
How are disputes and other differences between church members to be resolved? If your brother or sister in the faith sins against you, go and point it out to them in private so the two of you can resolve it. If they listen, you have regained the one from whom you were estranged. But if they refuse to listen, then take one or two others with you so that the conversation can be witnessed in accordance with the standards of the law—at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). If the member still refuses to listen, then bring the issue before the whole faith community. And if the member refuses to listen to the church, then, treat them as you would a tax collector or Gentile—exclude them from the assembly. For what we, as the church, bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, for where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there in the midst of them. Here is one of the foundational texts for the Roman Catholic Church’s understanding of the powers of the priest to forgive sins (the other is the “keys to the kingdom” that have been given to Peter, “to lock and unlock”). For Protestant’s, with our conviction of the priesthood of all believers, it means we all have that power. One other thing: notice that this standard of Jesus being present when two or three are gathered in his name is first, and foremost, about church discipline, though it is also true about worship.
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.