Sunday: Hosea 5:8—6:6; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Matthew 14:1-12
Blow the trumpet to sound the alarm that God’s vengeance is coming on Israel for their unfaithfulness. Their political alliances with Assyria and Egypt reveal that they no longer trust the Lord to protect them. Judah has been using the political turmoil as an attempt to expand its boundaries (Deut. 19:14). The cities named all have historic import in Israel and Judah’s past, and warn that the trouble is coming, not from the outside by an invader, but rather from the Lord and will issue from the Temple in Jerusalem. God is going to pour out his wrath like water. The imagery of the ravaging lion for Ephraim and the destruction of the young lion in Judah, speaks of the ferocity of the coming judgment—tearing and carrying them away like a lion’s kill. God will then withdraw until they acknowledge their guilt and seek God’s face. That is followed by a plea from the people to return to the Lord. Though he has struck down he will bind up. After two days he will revive, and on the third day, raise up, that they may live before him—a phrase early Christians saw as a prophetic reference to Jesus’ resurrection, but here, a sarcastic phrase employing Canaanite imagery that claimed Baal brought the rain rather than the Lord. God responds with a plaintive question: “What shall I do with you O Ephraim? What shall I do with you O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.” Repeating the judgment that is coming, the Hosea ends with a word that is virtually universal among the prophets: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Religious behavior—sacrifices and offerings—are not a substitute for faithfulness.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” With these words the psalmist—possibly the king—calls the people to a hymn of praise that remembers the ways God has blessed and intervened on his behalf. The Lord has responded in his distress and so he confesses “The Lord is with me, I will not fear; what can man do to me?" Consequently, he can look at his enemies with satisfaction; the Lord is among those who support him. Therefore, it is better to take refuge in the Lord than in men, in the Lord than in princes. The king now reflects that the nations surrounded him to destroy him but in the name of the Lord he cut them off. He was pushed violently to the point of falling, but the Lord intervened, and now we have a psalm within a psalm. “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become the source of my salvation. There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous.” And now in victorious joy he responds, “I shall not die, but I shall live to tell of the works of the Lord. He punished me severely, but did not give me over to death.” Herein, the early church heard the words of Christ speaking to them in and through the psalm. Finally, the psalmist prepares to go to the Temple to pay his vows: “Opens to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter in and pay my vow. This is the gate of the Lord, only the righteous shall enter through it. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is marvelous in our eyes.” Phrase after phrase has worked itself into the treasury of Christian prayer. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The people shout “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord (Hosanna!)” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” The language of the worshipper in the Temple, confessing loyalty and trust in God: “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you, you are my God and I will extol you. The prayer concludes as it began: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.“
Paul has just reminded the Corinthians that when he initially came to them proclaiming the mystery of God, he did not do so with lofty words of wisdom but with the demonstration of the Spirit and power. He now speaks to them about two forms of wisdom: the world’s—for which the Greeks were famous—and God’s which is “not of this world.” He tells them that among the mature he does speak wisdom, though it is not the wisdom “of this age.” Rather, Paul speaks God’s wisdom, which is hidden and secret, decreed by God for our glory before the ages. None of the rulers of this world have comprehended it or they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. God has revealed this through the Spirit, who searches everything, including the human heart—even the depths of God. Humans can comprehend only what is human, and cannot fathom what is God’s except by the Spirit of God. But that is precisely what has been given to us so that we may speak spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for these things are foolishness to them. But those who are spiritual discern all things because they have been given the mind of Christ.
Matthew tells us that Herod hears reports about Jesus and thinks that John the Baptist, who he had beheaded, has returned from the dead and that is the reason he has the power manifesting itself in his work. The text then digresses to tell of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. John had been publically critical of Herod for his incestuous relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias, who was also Herod’s niece. Herod had wanted to kill John, but, because John was so popular with the people, Herod simply placed him in jail. But on his birthday, as a banquet, Herodias’ daughter dances for the guests and Herod is so pleased that he promises her whatever she asks of him. At her mother’s prompting she asks for John’s head on a platter, and though grieved (though we are really not told why, as Herod had initially wanted John dead anyway), he complies. John’s head is given to the girl, who presents it to her mother. Then some of John’s disciples came and took John’s body and buried it, and then went and told Jesus.
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.