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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hosea 3:1-5; Psalm 101; Acts 21:15-26; Luke 5:27-39

Hosea is now commanded to “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress,” in the same way that God still loves Israel, who has other lovers and pursues their delicacies. So, Hosea tells us the bridal purchase price, and the nature of the marriage covenant. She must remain alone, in seclusion, and not play the whore. It is not only a metaphor for the first commandment, but goes on to foretell a period of aloneness (exile). She is not to have sex with any man, not even he will come to her. For like her, the Israelites will remain many days without a king or prince, without sacrifice or the other implements of worship. Only after this will they come to appropriately respect the Lord for his goodness, and return. Then the Lord will be their God, and David their king. The phrase “goodness in the latter days,” is not a reference to the end of time, but simply an acknowledgement that this will be sometime in coming, but, indeed, will come to be.

The psalm can be read either as a royal psalm in which the King is making an oath concerning his office, and promising to root out the evil and perverse from the community, or, it may be read as a wisdom psalm that is a model for instructing the young, warning against attachments to the wrong things—“setting the eye on anything base”—slandering neighbors and abandoning one’s own integrity for the easier way. God looks with favor on the faithful, those who walk in God’s way not only keep the law, but actually “minister” to the Lord. The language is harsh for effect, and not meant to be taken literally. “Moring by morning” is not a daily call to destroy all the wicked in the land. Soon the land would be desolate! Rather, it is an expression of the need for daily vigilance against the wicked.

Paul is now in Jerusalem, having been accompanied by believers from Caesarea who have taken him to Mnason’s home, so that Paul may stay with him. The next day Paul goes to see James and all the elders. He relates to them the things God had done among the Gentiles through his three missionary journeys. James and the elders respond in praise and thanksgiving but then warn Paul about their dilemma. There are many thousands of Jews in and about Jerusalem who have become believers but who still remain zealous for the Law of Moses. They have heard about Paul and his work and how he has told Gentile converts not to circumcise theirs sons or be constrained by the law and they are his enemy. What is to be done? Surely they will hear that Paul has come. They suggest that he accompany the four men they have who have taken a Nazirite vow and are about to complete it. They suggest that Paul go with them, pay for the shaving of their heads (cutting the hair being the visual symbol of ending the vow), and go through the rite of purification with them. Thereby, his critics will know their accusation about Paul are wrong as far as Jews are concerned. They reiterate what was in the letter they sent throughout the region after their first meeting on this subject, telling the Gentiles the only constraints of the Law that they were to observe is to abstain from what had been sacrificed to idols, from what had been strangled and from fornication. So Paul takes the four men the next day, and after having purified himself, goes to the Temple with them for the offering of the final sacrifice that ends the vows, making public his own honoring of the Law. For the moment, it seems to calm the situation, but soon things will change.

As Jesus moves on he comes to Levi, a tax collector, and says, “Follow me.” Immediately, Levi leaves his post and money behind and follows Jesus. Later that day Levi hosts a large banquet for Jesus, to introduce him to his friends, many of whom are tax collectors. When the Pharisees and their scribes see it they are critical of Jesus: “Why is it you eat and drink with tax collectors and other sinners?” Jesus tells them that those who are well do not need a physician. He has come, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Not persuaded, the Pharisees continue their complaint: John’s disciples fast and offer prayers, he and his followers eat and drink, how does he explain this? It is quite simple, says Jesus, you cannot constrain members of the wedding party when the groom is among them. The days are coming when the groom will be taken away from them; then they will fast and pray. He then tells them a parable—the first time he uses that term in this gospel. No one sews a new piece of cloth on an old one as a patch, for when it is washed, the new will shrink and tear away from and further damage the old garment. No one puts new wine into old wine skins, for when the wine ages and ferments, it was burst the old wine skins. This latter portion of parables is frequently interpreted to mean that Jesus is the new thing. However, including the last verse, “no one who drinks old wine desires the new,” challenges those interpretations of this text. The “new” here is what the Pharisees have been adding to the Law of Moses (the old), which is sufficient unto itself, and which Jesus will later say has foretold his coming. It is the Pharisees and their scribes that have been tearing the fabric of faith with their new patches added onto the Law as they try to pour new wine into old wineskins, doing damage to God’s people. Jesus may seem to them to be something new, but he is really God’s ancient plan at work among them—the old wine, which, once it has truly been tasted, is good and sufficient.


Posted October 3, 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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