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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday: Hosea 12:2-14; Psalm 10; Acts 26:24-27:8; Luke 8:40-56

The prophetic oracle against Israel continues by recalling this history of rebellion of their ancestor Jacob. In the womb, he contended with his twin brother Esau and tried to supplant him. In his manhood he outwitted Esau for his inheritance over a bowl of lentil stew. But he also contended with God (“the angel”) and prevailed, and his name was changed to “Israel.”. At Bethel he had the vision of angels ascending and descending and named it “the House of God,” where the Lord, the God of Hosts appeared. And so the call comes for the nation to return to the Lord, hold fast to love and justice and wait upon the Lord. But Israel remained a trader with false balances who loved to oppress. He said to himself “I am rich and have gained all this by myself,” thinking himself sinless. Again, the Lord pronounces judgment, saying that they will again be forced to live in tents as they did in the wilderness wanderings. The Lord then identifies himself as the one who has spoken to them through prophets and now, though those prophets he will bring oracles of destruction. Historic reference is again made to Gilead, to their altars for Baal and their stone heaps to mark boundaries between them and the Canaanites. God brought Israel up from Egypt by the Prophet Moses, and by a prophet was guarded. But now, Ephraim has given bitter offense, and the Lord will bring his crimes down upon his head to repay him for his insults.

The evils of the wicked are set forth in vivid detail by this psalm that calls upon God to respond as the only source of defense against them. But first, the eternal question: why is God remote in all of this; why does God hide in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor, boasting in the desires of their greedy hearts, and curse and renounce the Lord, saying “There is no God,” the proverbial creed of fools. Why do they prosper, why are they allowed to ambush and murder the innocent and, like a lion, seize the poor and the helpless and drag them off to their dens? In their hearts they think that God has either forgotten, or has simply looked the other way. After a long rehearsal of their wickedness, the psalmist cries out, “Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed!” The Lord does see, does note trouble and grief in order to take it into his hands. “The helpless commit themselves to you, you who have been the helper of orphans. Break the arm of the wicked; seek out their wickedness until you find none.” This is followed by a confession of faith: “The Lord is king forever and ever.” Nations perish from his land. And now, with a word of hopeful confidence, the psalm proclaims that the Lord will hear the desire of the meek and strengthen their hearts. The Lord will hear and do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from the earth who strike terror may do so no more.

Festus interrupts Paul in his self-defense to declare him out of his mind; that his great learning has driven him insane. Paul objects, saying that he is speaking the sober truth. Indeed, he knows that King Agrippa understands all this for he is familiar with the issues at hand, and it is to him that Paul is speaking. None of this, after all, has happened in a corner. He then asks the King if he believes the prophets, and quickly answers for the King, “I know you believe.” Agrippa is, after all, a Jewish king. He responds, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian? Paul replies, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you, but all who are listening to me today, might become such as I am—except for these chains.” It is the conclusion of Paul’s defense. Agrippa rises and with him Festus and Bernice and those with them, and the audience is over, but as they are leaving, Agrippa and Festus converse and say, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” Agrippa then says, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.” Indeed he could have, but would he have survived free, with so many plots against his life? Better he travel to Rome under imperial guard, as will now take place. And so they set sail for Italy, placing Paul under the command and protection of a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, names Julius. We get a detailed, first person account of their travel itinerary (the last of the “we” sections), as well as the names of those who accompany them. We are told that Julius treats Paul kindly and allows him to go to his friends in various ports along the way that they might care for him. The wind is against them, slowing their trip as the ship hugs the coast lines of Cyprus and Asia Minor until finally coming to Fair Havens, a port on the south eastern side of Crete, where they will spend the winter to avoid the storms.

Jesus and the disciples return from the eastern side of the lake and find the crowds still gathered and waiting for him. Luke now tells us a story within a story, both about the healing power of Jesus and its response to faith. A leader of the synagogue named Jairus comes, falls at Jesus’ feet (a most unusual thing for a leader of a synagogue to do), and begs Jesus to come to his house to heal his dying, twelve year old daughter, his only child. As Jesus goes, a nameless woman has joined the crowd. She has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years. We are told that she has spent all she has on doctors but no one could cure here. She tells herself that if she can only touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak she will be healed. And so, she ventures into the crowd, so intent upon her goal that she ignores the fact that all she touches or who touch her will be rendered ritually unclean. Coming up behind Jesus, she touches his garment and immediately she is healed. But equally immediately, Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” When everyone denies it, Peter expresses his wonder: after all, with this crowd, how could anyone not touch him? But that is not the touch Jesus is talking about. Their touch is curiosity; this was the touch of faith. Jesus again says it, “Someone touched me, for I noticed that the power had got out from me.” In the silence that surrounds that, as people look at one another, the woman realized she can no longer hide, and so, trembling, comes forth to Jesus, falls at his feet and confesses what she has done and how immediately she was healed. Jesus looks upon her and says, “Daughter,” addressing her as one of his family who have heard his word, “your faith has made you well; go in peace.” As Jesus is saying this, someone comes from Jairus’ house to announce that his daughter has died; they need not trouble Jesus any longer. But Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe, and she will be saved,” and proceeds to the house. Upon arrival he allows no one to accompany him but Peter, John and James and the child’s father and mother. The house is surrounded by grieving friends, and Jesus says to them, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” They, of course, laugh at him, for they know that she has died. Leaving the crowd outside, Jesus goes to the little girl’s side, takes her by the hand and says, “Child, arise!” and she does. He tells her parents to give her something to eat (ghosts do not eat!). They are astonished, all the more so when he orders them to tell no one what has happened.


Posted October 16, 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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