Thursday, October 24: Micah 5:1-4; 10-15; Psalm 37:19-42; Revelation 9:1-12; Luke 10:25-37
Jerusalem is under siege, its king being humiliated. But from Bethlehem, David’s birthplace, will come a new ruler like David, who will liberate Israel and restore its strength and prosperity. He will be an authentic shepherd (recurring image for faithful king ruling on behalf of the Lord), and his name will be great throughout the earth as a man of peace. When this was not ultimately fulfilled upon return from the exile, this became one of the texts that fueled messianic expectation. Matthew cites it when the Magi come to Herod looking for the new king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-7). Today’s reading skips two sections which scholars believe to be later additions: verses 5b-6, appear to be a war hymn asserting Judah’s triumph over Assyria, and 7-9 portrays Israel as a remnant, surrounded by nations, yet having the ravenous strength of a lion, enabling its hand to be lifted over all its enemies. The reading picks up in verse 10 with “In that day...,” the prophet’s way of shifting to future fulfillment. It best falls directly on verse 5a, and the prophecy of the new Davidic king. When that monarch arrives, all of the false things Israel has depended upon for strength and security: horses, chariots, stronghold, sorceries, soothsayers, idols, and sacred poles, will be put away and destroyed. God will cut them off, because they are not necessary. Israel’s strength will be the Lord, who will execute vengeance upon all of Israel’s enemies. The prophets regularly challenged reliance on military might as a sign that the people did not trust the Lord to protect them. The reference to idols and sacred poles reveals the same mixture of Baalism with Yahwism that brought down the Northern kingdom.
Psalm 37:19-42: This wisdom psalm continues, affirming that the blameless will not be put to shame, but ever supported and defended by the Lord. The psalm continues in its acrostic structure to contrast the wicked from the righteous in a series of proverbs. The wicked borrow and do not pay back, the generous give and keep giving. Our steps are firm when the Lord delights in our way, and though we stumble we will not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand. Other memorable proverbs complete the theme of the Lord giving prosperity, life and generosity to those who love him and walk in his ways, while the wicked will be cut off forever. “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are ever giving liberally and lending and their children become a blessing. …. Depart from evil and do good; so you shall abide forever. For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. …. Wait for the Lord, and keep his ways, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked. ….The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord, he is their refuge in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked and saves them because they take refuge in him.
The fifth trumpet is blown and the first woe unfolds. A heavenly messenger is dispatched to open the gates of the underworld, so that its plagues and wickedness can invade the earth and do its damage. The image is that of the locusts in the Egyptian plague, devouring vegetation, but also locusts with a sting in their tail, like that of a scorpion, inflicting pain and suffering so great that the people will long for death, but it will flee from them. Only those sealed with God’s mark upon them will escape. The imagery is vivid, with a mixture of vicious metaphors. The locusts are servants of Abaddon—the Destroyer, the king of the bottomless pit—but their power and time of destruction is limited. With that the first woe is past, but there are two yet to come.
Jesus has been talking about hearing and doing the word, and Luke inserts an episode in which a lawyer interrupts and asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what is written in the Law of Moses, and the lawyer responds with what we know as the summary of the Law: love the Lord with all you have and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus commends him for his correct answer and says, “Do this and you will live.” But unable to live with that, the lawyer equivocates and seeks to justify himself by asking, “But who is my neighbor?” It sets the context for the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus begins, “A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho….” The man is nameless, as an expression of all humankind. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was infamous for its dangers, and the man succumbs to robbers who strip him, beat him and leave him half dead. A priest comes along and, seeing the man, crosses over to the other side and passes him by. Commentators wonder if this was his way of protecting his status as one free from the taint of anything unclean, for the man certainly appears dead, but Jesus does not comment on it. So, likewise, the Levite, for perhaps the same reasons, but again, that is not Jesus’ concern. He is simply pointing to the fact that two of the most respected people within the community do nothing. When a Samartian comes along—among the most despised people in Judah—he intervenes. Moved with pity he goes to the nameless man, pours wine to cleanse, and oil to help heal, and then bandages the man’s wounds. Then, placing the man on the Samaritan’s animal, he brings him to an inn for care, staying the night. When the Samaritan leaves, he pays the innkeeper two days wages and says, “Care for him, and when I return I will repay you for whatever you spend.” Jesus then responds to the lawyer’s question with an oblique question of his own: who of the three behaved like a neighbor? Of course, the one who had pity and showed mercy. Jesus tells him to go and do likewise and shifts the definition of neighbor from that of someone living in close proximity, within one’s family or clan, to one who behaves in mercy toward others, whoever they may be.
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.