Tuesday: Hosea 2:16-23; Psalm 95; Acts 21:1-14; Luke 5:12-26
After saying that God will allure Israel into the wilderness, the oracle further describes an ideal time of restoration. Having shamed his people before their false lovers (the Baal), God will restore Israel as his wife. The Valley of Achor—once a sign of God’s judgment (Joshua 7)—will become a door of hope: God will again give her vineyards, grain and oil and she will call God “my husband, and no longer my Baal, “my master.” (The phrase in Hebrew has a wonderful double entendre for the word Baal refers to the Canaanite gods Israel was also worshipping, whereas the Hebrew word “baali” means “my master.”) Then God will make a covenant with the wild animals, the birds and all the creeps on the ground, and abolish the bow and the sword so that they may all lie down in safety. God’s covenant will bring peace in all regards. God will take Israel as his wife forever in righteousness, justice, steadfast love and mercy—the four dominant qualities that best describe God’s character—and she shall “know” the Lord. Again, the use of the word “to know,” with its sexual double entendre is vivid and intentional and highly ironic. It is a judgment on Baal worship, in which sexual intercourse was central, but from it comes no knowledge of the Lord. The oracle ends reversing the initial judgment: on that day they will call and God will answer, God will have pity on those formerly named “no pity” and they shall be the Lord’s people and he will be their God.
Psalm 95: This psalm begins as one calling the congregation to worship, singing for joy to the Lord, who is the rock of our salvation, calling worshippers to come before him with joyful psalms, rather than bulls, goats or other sacrificial animals. This may indicate that the psalm was not composed until after the loss of the Temple in 587 BCE and the Babylonian exile, when the rabbis began to define prayer and praise as another form of sacrifice to the Lord. The Lord is described as “a great God, and a great King above all gods,” indicating that though Israel might now be monotheistic in its worship, it still considered there to be other gods over which the Lord is sovereign, rather than the Lord being the only God. None the less, the Lord’s sovereignty over all creation is described in traditional ways: depths of the earth, heights of the mountains, seas, dry land and so on. Though God is Sovereign over all, God is also Maker and shepherd of the people, who are here called to “bow down” before and listen to, rather than test their maker. Then the Lord speaks, warning, “do not harden your hearts, as the people did at Meribah and Massah, moments in the exodus wilderness wandering (Ex. 17:1-7), that led to God’s judgment, that they would not enter God’s rest. It is a reference to their forty years of wandering and loss of the rest that came with entering the land, as well as to the sabbath rest that is emblematic of sharing in God’s abiding presence.
Leaving the elders of Ephesus behind at Miletus the text re-enters the “we narrative” providing the travel Itinerary as Paul and his companions sail south to Cos, then southeast to Rhodes and on eastward to Patara. There they find a ship headed to Phoenicia, sailing south of Cyprus and finally landing at Tyre, an important port on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. There, the ship unloads its cargo. While there they look up disciples and stay with them for seven days. During that time, through the Spirit, the disciples tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul will not listen. When the time is ready for them to depart, the people accompany Paul to the board, and after praying together on the beach, Paul and his travel companion(s) again board the ship and embarked to Ptolemais. There, they are greeted by believers and stayed with them one day, and from there sail on to Caesarea (travel by ship along the coast was far easier and faster than traveling on land). At Caesarea they go to the house of Phillip the evangelist and also one of the deacons appointed in Acts 6.5. Philip has four unmarried daughters, each of whom has the gift of prophecy. And while there for several days, another prophet named Agabus comes from Judah, and taking Paul’s belt, binds his own hands and feet with it and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him to the Gentiles.’” Hearing this, everyone urges Paul not to go on to Jerusalem, but Paul insists it is his duty to go, not only to be bound in Jerusalem for the sake of the Lord Jesus, but also to die for him. Recognizing that nothing can persuade Paul otherwise, the believers with Phillip fall silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.” Then the “we section” continues describing how they got ready to go to Jerusalem, and how they were accompanied from Caesarea to Jerusalem by some of the believers, bringing him to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, one of the earliest disciples to become a believe during Paul’s first missionary journey. It is with Mnason that they stay. It is interesting that the Spirit again and again warns Paul against going to Jerusalem, and yet he insists upon going. This brings to an end Paul’s third missionary journey.
Luke tells us of Jesus being approached by a leper who falls at Jesus feet and says, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Jesus says he is “willing,” and stretches forth his hand and touches the man and he is instantly healed. Notice that in each of these forms of physical healing, Jesus is rendering himself ritually unclean by touching someone who is unclean. Clearly, that no longer matters—those barriers need to come down. But, he does tell the man to go and show himself to the priest, to verify the healing, and be permitted back into the community, as well as to make the offering for his healing, prescribed by the Law of Moses. Consequently, word about Jesus spread even faster and wider, so that crowds were coming from everywhere both to hear him teach and to be cured. In the midst of those demands, Jesus regularly slips away from the crowds to pray. The next incident occurs while Jesus is teaching and the Pharisees and teachers of the law are sitting nearby. We are told they have come from Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem—the whole region—and are here to verify for themselves what they have heard and Luke tells us the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Some men arrive carrying a paralyzed man on a pallet, trying to bring him to Jesus, but because the crowd is such around the house where Jesus is teaching, they cannot get near. Consequently, they carry the paralyzed man up to the roof of the house, remove the floor/roof tiles to open it, and then let the man down in front of Jesus surrounded by the crowd. Seeing the faith of these men, Jesus says to the paralytic, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes and Pharisees immediately react: “Who is this speaking such blasphemies, since only God alone can forgive sin?” Luke tells us Jesus perceives their questions and answers with one of his own: “Which is it easier to say, your sins are forgiven you, or to say, stand up and walk?’” And then, confronting the religious authorities with an act that will be both an answer to their question and a revelation that he is the Son of Man—the first time the phrase has appeared on Jesus’ lips in the gospel—he turns to the paralyzed man and says, “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately the man does just that, giving glory to God as he does. The crowd is amazed, and glorifies God along with the man, saying “We have seen strange things today.” They will see even “stranger things” as they days unfold.
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.