Tuesday: Hosea 7:8-16; Psalm 120; Acts 23:12-24; Luke 7:1-17
The charges against the Northern Kingdom continue with the last several of the metaphors. Israel is a cake half baked, when turned it will crumble. It has mixed itself with other peoples and alliances, and foreigners now devour his strength, but he does not yet know it. He is aging but does not recognize his failing strength, and his pride continues to witness against him. Like a silly dove Ephraim flits about, flying off to Egypt and Assyria for alliances that will never save them. Like the easily trapped dove, God will cast a net over them and bring them down, and discipline them according to the report about them. They have strayed from God which will mean their destruction. God would redeem them, but they speak lies against him. Rather than call to him from the heart, they wail upon their beds in sexual pursuit of Baal, and gash themselves for grain and wine, as Baal’s prophets did in the contest with Elijah. Though God trained and strengthened them, they plot against him, and turn to things that will not bring profit. They have become a defective bow that is either broken or has lost its strength. Either way, they are not able to defend themselves and their officials will all fall.
This prayer begins asking for relief from lies and deceitful slander, and focuses upon the tongue and its ability to do great damage. The tongue is like the sharp arrows of a warrior or glowing hot coals, able to set things a fire. The prayer is almost a curse against the tongue, whether one’s own or another’s, though as the prayer ends it appears to be a neighbor’s tongue that is doing the damage. The psalmist then tells us he is in a distant land living among those who hate peace. Meshech and Keder are places of great distance from Jerusalem, and the psalmist appears to be living there as an alien. Announcing his desire for peace, he acknowledges that there is no peace because his neighbors only want war. Every now and again we need this prayer, either to remind us of the need to guard our tongues, or, in another way, when we have neighbors for whom, no matter what you do, their desire or disposition is to speak falsehoods and to create trouble.
Though Paul is in the safety of the barracks, the Jews in Jerusalem are still enraged and now plotting his assassination. Forty of them take a vow to not eat until they have killed Paul. They come to the council to announce their plan and incorporate the council in it. The Council is to send word to the tribune that they want to examine Paul more fully. As he is being sent, the forty will ambush and kill Paul. Fortunately, the son of Paul’s sister hears of the plan and runs to the barracks to tell Paul. When Paul hears the story he asks that the boy be permitted to speak with the tribune. The centurion takes the boy to the commander who takes the boy aside to listen to what he has to say. Upon learning the plan, the tribune commands two centurions to prepare to leave for Caesarea by 9 pm that evening, taking two hundred soldier, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen—possibly exaggerated for effect!—as well as a mount for Paul, and take him to the safety of Felix the Governor.
Jesus returns to Capernaum and a centurion in that village, whose slave is ill and near death, sends word to Jesus through some Jewish elders, asking him to come and heal the slave. The elders appeal earnestly with Jesus telling him the Centurion is an honorable man, worthy of this act, for he loves their people and has built their synagogue for them. Jesus goes with them, but not far from the centurion’s home they are met by the man’s friends through whom the man has sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not presume to come to you myself. But speak the word and my servant shall be healed.” The centurion knows himself to be a person of authority who speaks and things happen. Surely Jesus can do that. Jesus is astonished, and says to the crowd, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Though Luke does not say what Jesus does next, he tells us that when the friends returned to the Centurion they find that his slave had been healed. Shortly thereafter, Jesus goes to a town called Nain, followed by a large crowd. As he approaches the city gates, a man who has died is being carried out for burial—his widowed mother’s only son. When Jesus sees it he has compassion on the woman, and tells her, “Do not weep.” He then approaches the bier, and the bears stop in place. Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” and the young man sits up on the bier and begins to speak. Jesus gives him to his mother, while Luke tells us “fear seized all of them.” Beyond glorifying God, they say “A great prophet has risen among us. God has looked favorably on his people.” Word begins to spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
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.