Monday, December 31, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 93-101 and Matthew 17-18

Psalm 93 – “The Lord is king! He is robed in majesty. Indeed, the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength. The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial. You yourself are from the everlasting past” (93:1-2).

There have been floods and raging of seas, but “the Lord above is mightier than these” (93:4).

“Your royal laws cannot be changed. Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever” (93:5).

Psalm 94 – “O Lord, the God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth! Arise, O judge of the earth. Give the proud what they deserve. How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?” (94:1-3).

They speak arrogantly and boast. They crush those “you claim as your own” (94:5). They kill the helpless and say, “’The Lord isn’t looking,’ . . . the God of Israel doesn’t care.’” (94:7)

But the “Lord will not reject his people; he will not abandon his special possession. Judgment will again be founded on justice, and those with virtuous hearts will pursue it” (94:14-15).

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer” (94:19).

But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide. God will turn the sins of evil people back on them. He will destroy them for their sins” (94:22-23).

Psalm 95 – “Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it” (85:1-5).

“Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!” (95:6-7).

“The Lord says, ‘Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness.” (95:8)

“For forty years I was angry with them, and I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’” (95:10).

Psalm 96 – “Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!” (96:1)

“Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary. O nations of the world, recognize the Lord; recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong” (96:6-7).

“The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. He will judge all peoples fairly. Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice. Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise. Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord, for he is coming! He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with his truth” (86:10-13).

Psalm 97 – “The Lord is king. Let the earth rejoice. Let the farthest coastlands be glad. Dark clouds surround him. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (97:1-2).

“His lightning flashes out across the world. The earth sees and trembles” (97:4).

“Those who worship idols are disgraced—all who brag about their worthless gods—for every god must bow to him . . . For you, O Lord, are supreme over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods” (97:7-9).

“Light shines on the godly, and joy on those whose hearts are right. May all who are godly rejoice in the Lord and praise his holy name!” (97:11-12)

Psalm 98 – “Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done wonderful deeds. His right hand has won a mighty victory; his holy arm has shown his saving power!” (98:1)

“Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King. Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise. Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the Lord. For the Lord is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with fairness” (98:6-9).

Psalm 99 – “The Lord is king. Let the nations tremble. He sits on his throne between the cherubim. Let the whole earth quake!” (99:1)

“Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established fairness. You have acted with justice and righteousness throughout Israel” (99:4).

Of Moses, Aaron and Samuel, “They cried to the Lord for help, and he answered them. He spoke to Israel from the pillar of cloud, and they followed the laws and decrees he gave them . . . You were a forgiving God to them, but you punished them when they went wrong” (99:6-8).

Psalm 100 – “Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation” (100:1-5)

Psalm 101 – “I will sing of your love and justice, Lord. I will praise you with songs. I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life in integrity in my own home” (101:1-2).

“I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride. I will search for faithful people to be my companions” (101:4-5).

Matthew 17The Transfiguration  - Six days later, Jesus goes up a high mountain with Peter, James and John where he is “transfigured.” His face shines like the sun, his clothes become white. Moses and Elijah appear to talk with him. Peter offers to build three dwellings, one for each of them; but while he speaks a cloud overshadows them and a voice is heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (17:5) They fall to the ground and are overcome with fear. Jesus tells them to get up and not be afraid—he is alone again.

On the way down Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about the vision until after the “Son of Man has been raised from the dead (17:9). They want to know why the prophets (Malachi) said that Elijah must come before the Messiah (since they take what Jesus has said as an assurance that he is the Messiah and Elijah has not come).  Jesus tells them that he has come; they just did not recognize him in the person of John. He was struck down just as Jesus will be made to suffer. Matthew’s account here is closer to Mark than to Luke.  Luke says this happens eight days after the assurance that some would actually see the coming of God’s kingdom; there is no reference to these eight days in Matthew. Also Luke does not have the passage about Malachi’s prophecy and Jesus’ response that Elijah has come in the figure of John the Baptist.

Jesus encounters a man who kneels before him and tells him he has an epileptic son who has terrible seizures that his (Jesus’) disciples have not been able to cure the boy. Jesus calls them a “faithless and perverse generation” and seems eager to be done with his mission to them. Jesus rebukes the demon and the boy is cured. Jesus tells his disciples if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains (17:20).

Then Jesus predicts his passion again, distressing his disciples. All accounts have this second reminder of his passion following the transfiguration and cure of the epileptic boy.

They come to Capernaum. Those who collect the Temple tax come to Peter and ask him if Jesus pays this tax.  Peter says yes. Later when he sees Jesus, Jesus raises the issue with him by asking him whether kings raise taxes from their own children or from others.  Peter answers “from others.” Jesus says, “Then the children are free.  However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me” (17:27). Jesus here is using this story to claim sonship (and through his disciples’ love for him their brotherhood with him) to the temple’s owner—God.  They should not have to pay the tax, but Jesus does it so as not to give offense.

Reflection: The story of the transfiguration is closely linked to what is written in Deuteronomy 18:15 “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen . . .I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him.”  Jesus is that brother, that prophet.  To him we must listen, and not only the words he spoke to his apostles but the words he speaks to us according to the promise given through Jeremiah: “Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.  Then I will be their God and they shall be my people.  There will be no further need for neighbor to try to teach neighbor, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know Yahweh!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest . . .”(31:31). 

The revelation of Jesus as this prophet comes in waves – first to Jesus at his baptism, then in this reading to his closest disciples and through their teaching to us.  It is also tied in with the prophecy of Moses by the setting – on the mountain and by the fact that he is seen as radiating the light of God’s radiance as Moses did when he came down from the mountain.

Matthew 18 – The disciples come and ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven - they are SO COMPETITIVE as to status in Jesus' eyes. I see in this something the different Christian denominations might listen to. Jesus shows them a child and says unless they change and become like this child they will not even enter the kingdom of heaven. They must be humble. They must welcome people like that child in Jesus’ name. He teaches them too that they may not set up stumbling blocks to innocent believers. “Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks” (18:7). Don’t be the occasion of such stumbling blocks.

If your right hand “offends”[Today’s English Version says “makes you lose your faith”; New Living Translation reads “causes you to sin”], cut if off. It “is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than the have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire” (18:8).

Do not despise these “little ones for I tell you, in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father” (18:11).

If a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? The finding of one lost sheep causes him more pleasure than the having of ninety-nine who never have gone astray (19:12-14).

If a member of the church (some translations use “believer” or “brother”) sins against you, go and point out the fault when you are alone. Friends saw in these words an admonition against spreading rumors - talking about someone you have problems with behind their back. You can't rely on your own judgment alone especially in matters of faith. If you go to him and he listens, you have regained that one (like the lost sheep), but if he won’t listen take one or two others with you. If he still refuses to listen “to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (18:17).

And then we hear these words AGAIN what was said to Peter in 16:19: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (18:18). If two or three of you agree and ask the father, it will be given you. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (18:20). 

Interesting – here again we see the same words Jesus’ spoke to Peter in 16:17-19. People [Church members together? Leaders? The chief leader?] are given an interesting power – the power to make moral decisions on earth that will be accepted by God in heaven. Now we know from that story that Jesus’ discernment of what his disciples should do and how they should convey his message can be sharply different. It takes Peter about five minutes to show that his vision of how things should be is sharply different from Jesus'. But here again, Jesus seems to stick to his original message, that we do have a power to decide, but maybe it should not be a power given to just one. In the second articulation of the power, in 18:18-19, Jesus seems to revise it a little and speaks of “two or three” deciding. As a Catholic, I wonder if this might be seen as bearing on the issue of papal infallibility – maybe it is a power that should be not solely held by the pope. I know this question and this thinking is not anything a Quaker might see as meaningful, but even within a Quaker context, it could be that it bears on the decision-making process. No decision should be made without some degree of consensus.

And the other thing my mind goes to when I consider these words is that maybe we are given here some latitude in deciding things like permitting "gay unions" even when it seems to run against the “traditional” judgment of believers in the past. If we faithful decide with some unanimity that this should be approved of in heaven.

Peter asks how many times he should be willing to forgive a member of the church who sins against him—seven times? Jesus says, “’No, not seven times, . . .but seventy times seven’” (18:22). Jesus compares the Kingdom of God with an earthly kingdom where the king deals with people who owe him money in a generous way: one man who owes the king 10,000 talents is brought to him, and when he tells the king he cannot pay and begs the king to be patient with him, the king forgives him the debt. But then this same man goes out and deals with a man who owes HIM money in a ruthless way – having him thrown into prison. When the king hears of this, he becomes furious and says “’You worthless slave! . . . I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you’” (18:33). Jesus says, “’That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother form your heart’” (18:35).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 90-92 and Matthew 16

Psalm 90 – “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home. Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God” (90:1-2).

“For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered” (90:4-6).

“Our days dwindle under your wrath, our lives are over in a breath . . . over in a trice, and then we are gone” (90:9-10).

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. O Lord, come back to us. How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants (90:12-13). “[L]et our children see your glory” (90:16).

Psalm 91 –  “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him” (91:1-2).

“He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday” (91:4-6).

“Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. Just open your eyes, and see how the wicked are punished. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home” (91:7-10).

The Lord says, ‘I will rescue all who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation’” (91:14-16).

Psalm 92 – “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening, accompanied by the ten-stringed harp and the melody of the lyre” (92:1-3).

“[T]he godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green” (92:13-14).

Matthew 16 – “One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (16:1). Jesus replies that the signs are already there to see, but they just can’t discern them.  “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (16:4).

They go to the other side of the lake again, and again they realize they’ve forgotten to bring any bread. They get confused when Jesus talks about “the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (16:6). They think he is getting to them because they’ve forgotten the bread.  Jesus gets exasperated. He is talking about something more transcendent, and they are not “getting it.” “’Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread?” (16:11). He is speaking about the bad influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  I think this is Matthew’s attempt at the thought Mark conveys to us in 6:52 where he says “they did not understand about the loaves” just after he walks on water.  

When Jesus arrives in the region of Caesarea Philippi, “he asks his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” (16:13). Simon Peter answers, “’You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’” (16:16). Christ rewards him with the famous words of commission – “’You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven’” (16:17-19). But he warns his disciples not to tell anyone this truth, not yet.

Jesus then explains that it will be “necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (16:21). Always the emotional one, Peter “began to reprimand him for saying such things” (16:22), and Jesus says “’Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s’” (16:23).

So we see in a matter of six verses the history of the Catholic Church – the faithful rock AND the body that trusts too much in its own human thinking.  Could it be that Jesus knew these two would define the church he built on Peter? We point to 16:18; Protestants point to 16:23.  I would point to both and remind people that this is what has ALWAYS been – blessing and curse, high mindedness and low behavior.

The gospel message is “deny [yourselves] and take up [your] cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (16:25). The Son of Man will come with his angels, and “will judge all people according to their deeds” (16:27). Then he says to them, “some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (16:28).

Friday, December 28, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 88-89 and Matthew 15

Psalm 88 – “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near” (88:1-3).

This is a prayer of one totally in despair, yet still not rejecting of God, though God is seen in many ways as the one who has caused all the pain.

“They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten, cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit, to its darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me” (88:5-7).

“My eyes are blinded by my tears” (88:9). “Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise you?” (88:10).

“Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?” (88:12). “You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend” (88:18).

Psalm 89 – “I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever! Young and old will hear of your faithfulness. You unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens” (89:1-2).

“The Lord said, ‘I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant.  I have sworn this oath to him: I will establish your descendants as kings forever; they will sit on your throne from now until eternity’” (89:3-4).

“The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne” (89:7). “You are entirely faithful. You rule the oceans. You subdue their storm-tossed waves . . . The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours—you created it all” (89:9-11).

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants. Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord” (89:14-15).

Of David, the psalmist proclaims God’s intention: “I will beat down his adversaries before him and destroy those who hate him” (89:23). “I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers. And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ I will make him my firstborn son, the mightiest king on earth. I will love him and be kind to him forever; my covenant with him will never end” (89:25-28).

“But if his descendants forsake my instructions and fail to obey my regulations . . . then I will punish their sin with the rod” (89:30-32). But God seems to have renounced this covenant. The “walls protecting him” (89:40) have been destroyed. His enemies have grown strong. “O Lord, how long will this go on?. . . How long will your anger burn like fire?” (89:46)

Matthew 15 – Pharisees and scribes wonder why Jesus’ disciples do not keep the traditions of their fathers (here the ceremonial washing of hands). Jesus asks them why their traditions break God’s direct commands to honor their fathers and mothers by the dedicating goods to God that they should be giving to them. “So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God” (15:6).

He says Isaiah was right when he wrote, “’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me . . . they teach man-made ideas as commands from God’” (15:8-9). Mark has the same with perhaps even more detail at 7:1, but Luke omits this one.

“’It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth’” (15:11). Jesus is concerned with the heart, with transforming it and nurturing the fruits of the heart that are good.  Jesus thinks of the Pharisees as “blind guides of the blind” (15:14), and he tells his disciples to just “ignore them” (15:14).

Jesus goes north to the district of Tyre and Sidon where he encounters a Canaanite woman who begs him to have mercy and helps her daughter who “tormented by a demon” (15:22). The disciples try to chase her away because she is not an Israelite. And Jesus says to her, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (15:26). Ouch, Jesus! Wisely, she responds, “’That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their maters’ table’” (15:27). He commends her faith and says, “’Let it be done for you as you wish’” (15:28). Her daughter is healed. Mark has this at 7:24.

He returns to the Sea of Galilee, and climbs up a mountain. Great crowds come to him and are cured of many things. They are with Jesus for three days when he tells his disciples to feed them. They have only seven loaves and a few fish.

“Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted” (15:35-37). He feeds 4000 men with their women and children, and there were “seven large baskets of leftover food” (15:37). Mark has this at 8:1. After he gets into a boat and goes to Magadan.

A couple of years ago in a Meeting for Worship, I felt I had an insight into these mass feeding stories: I realized something very obvious, that God can feed so many because His presence in our lives is so nourishing that we really need only a breath of it to sustain us. It is mostly the “offering of Himself” to us that feeds us, not anything very material.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 81-84 and Matthew 13

Psalm 81 – “Sing praises to God, our strength. Sing to the God of Jacob. Sing! Beat the tambourine. Play the sweet lyre and the harp” (81:1-2). Let us celebrate our God who gave us the narrative we live by, whose presence we have felt and whose direction has given our lives purpose.

“He made it a law for Israel when he attacked Egypt to set us free. I heard an unknown voice say, ‘Now I will take the load from your shoulders; I will free your hands from their heavy tasks. You cried to me in trouble, and I saved you; I answered out of the thundercloud and tested your faith when there was no water at Meribah” (81:5-7).

He gives his people a stern warning to listen to the Lord. “You must never have a foreign god; you must not bow down before a false god” (81:9). But the people do not listen – again and again.

“Oh, that my people would listen to me . . . follow me, walking in my paths” (81:13).

Psalm 82 – “God presides over heaven’s court; he pronounces judgment on the heavenly beings – and on earthly rulers: ‘How long will you hand down unjust decisions by favoring the wicked? Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people” (82:3-4).

The princes, it says here were once called “gods, sons of the Most High” (82:6), all of them, but they will die like other men. All nations belong to God in the last analysis.

Psalm 83 – “O God, do not be silent! Do not be deaf. Do not be quiet, O God” (83:1).

Help your people defeat their enemies – Edomites, Ishmaelites, Moabites and Hagrites; Gebalites, Ammonites, Amalekites and people from Philistia, Tyre and Assyria. “O my God, scatter them like tumbleweed, like chaff before the wind” (83:13).

“Then they will learn that you alone are called the Lord, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth” (83:18).

Psalm 84 – “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God” (84:1-2).

“I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. For the Lord God is our sun and our shield . . . The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right” (84:10-11).

Happy is the person who puts his trust in you.

Matthew 13 – Jesus is so pressed by crowds, he gets into a boat and teaches people on the shore from it. 

He tells the parable of the sower. “A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (13:3-8).

The disciples ask why he speaks in parables.  He says they (the disciples) know “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” but others do not: “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand” (13:13). But “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (13:16). To those who have, more will be given; of those who have nothing, what little they have will be taken away” (13:12).

The mysteries of spiritual “logic.” You would think that those who don’t see very well or hear very well would need the explanation, but they only get the parable.  What is there about the parable? If you want a modern expression of this truth, see the Life of Pi, one of the best movies I’ve seen. It explains in an entertaining way how people learn to “see” human as more than “pissing” beings, as beings who are capable of unbelievable intellectual and spiritual insight.

Could it be that explicit statement is more resisted by those who are on the wrong path? The imaginary world of parable haunts them and lives with them longer, waiting for the moment when they will have their eyes opened by some mysterious grace.

He ends by saying that many holy people have longed to see what the disciples are seeing, but did not get to. This last is in Luke 10:24 but not in this context at all. And the part above about those who have getting more is also in Luke but again in a different place—in 19:25 in the parable about the landowner who leaves his servants with money to invest.

Jesus goes on to explain the sower parable he told earlier.  The next parable is about a farmer who sows seed in his field, but when he is asleep, an enemy comes and sows weeds.  The slaves want to tear them up, but the master tells them not to uproot them.  They might uproot the wheat along with the weeds.  They must wait till the harvest.  Then they will be gathered and burned while the good wheat will be gathered into the master’s barn.

Another parable—the kingdom is like a mustard seed; it is the smallest seed planted but when it grows it becomes a tree that the birds can make nests in (13:31-32).

The kingdom is like yeast too that is mixed with flour to leaven it. This would seem a good argument for realized eschatology in that the kingdom is by definition not a place set apart, but a part of the larger whole—it’s virtue is to bring the whole to its intended end.

Jesus uses parables in part to fulfill the prophet’s words that are quoted but not referenced in any of my bibles.  It might be from Isaiah, but not sure.  He goes into a house and explains the parable of the weeds.  The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world and the good seed are the children of the kingdom.  The weeds are children of the evil one.  The harvest is the end of the age (13:37-39).

The kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field.  The finder will hide it again and go out to sell all he has to buy the field. Or it is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he finds one, he swells all he has to buy it.

The kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea to catch fish of every kind.  The good will be separated from the bad at the end of the age.  The angels will separate them as they were the ones to separate the weeds from the wheat.  The bad will be thrown into “the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:50). He asks them if they understand, and they say yes. Then he says, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (13:52).

The note in The Jerusalem Bible is interesting on this. It says, “The Jewish teacher who becomes a disciple of Christ has at his disposal all the wealth of the Old Testament as well as the perfection of the New . . This picture. . .sums up the whole ideal of Matthew the evangelist and may well be a self-portrait.”

Jesus finally comes to his hometown and teaches in the synagogue. They can’t believe this is the son of the carpenter they know. “Where then did this man get all this?” (13:56) He could not do many deeds of power there “because of their unbelief” (13;58).

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 78-80 and Matthew 12

Psalm 78 – “O my people, listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us” (78:1-3).

“We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” (78:4). Another meditation on the history of the chosen people – “the mysteries of our past.” I love this. I think it acknowledges that the “stories” are parables that convey deeply spiritual insights, not simple history or literal fact.

“He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them . . . and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands” (78:5-7).

“Then they will not be like their ancestors—stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God” (78:8). There will be those too, unfortunately, but the dream will live on.

“[H]e divided the sea and led them through, making the water stand up like walls. In the daytime he led them by a cloud, and all night by a pillar of fire. He split open the rocks in the wilderness to give them water, as from a gushing spring. He made streams pour from the rock, making the waters flow down like a river!” (78:13-16).

Still the people “stubbornly tested God in their hearts” (78:18). They refused to believe God or to obey Him. And still “he rained down manna for them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven” (78:24).

He also raised His anger against them; but “in spite of this, the people kept sinning. Despite his wonders, they refused to trust him” (78:32). “So he ended their lives in failure, their years in terror. When God began killing them, they finally sought him. They repented and took God seriously. Then they remembered that God was their rock, that God Most High was their redeemer” (78:33-35).

There is no constancy to their faithfulness, however: “But though they outwardly flattered him and used their tongues to lie to him, in their hearts they were not true to him, they were unfaithful to his covenant” (78:36-37).

Compassionately “he remembered that they were merely mortal, gone like a breath of wind that never returns” (78:39).

Back and forth – faithfulness, unfaithfulness, enduring love of God, God’s wrath. The story is a long one, one that will go through all of history. Here the narrative goes through the time from Moses to David and retrospectively back to Jacob. One of the things the Jews had to accept was that even when they thought they understood the plan of the Most High, they were forced to see that his plan might change when confronted with the failures of his people.

Psalm 79 – Another cry to God for the suffering his people have endured and are enduring five hundred years or so after David’s time. “O God, pagan nations have conquered your land, your special possession. They have defiled your holy Temple and made Jerusalem a heap of ruins. They have left the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of heaven. The flesh of your godly ones has become food for the wild animals” (79:1-2).

“We are mocked by our neighbors, an object of scorn and derision to those around us. O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?” (79:4-5).

“Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you—on kingdoms that do not call upon your name. For they have devoured your people Israel, making the land a desolate wilderness” (79:6-7).

“Let your compassion quickly meet our needs, for we are on the brink of despair” (79:8). Why should the pagans [unbelievers of every stripe] be able to ask, “‘Where is their God’” (79:10).  He begs God to bring his wrath down on them and vindicate the people who are crying out to Him. “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation” (79:13).

Psalm 80 – “Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock” (80:1).

“Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved” (80:2-3).

“You have fed us with sorrow and made us drink tears by the bucketful. You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations. Our enemies treat us as a joke. Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us” (80:5-7).

“You cleared the ground for us, and we took root and filled the land . . . We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea; our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River” (80:9-11). But now we are in ruins. “Come back, we beg you . . . Look down from heaven and see our plight. Take care of this grapevine that you yourself have planted, this son you have raised for yourself” (80:14-15).

“Strengthen the man you love, the son of your choice. Then we will never abandon you again. Revive us so we can call on your name once more” (80:17-18).

Matthew 12 - Jesus permits his hungry disciples to pick corn on the Sabbath. When some Pharisees complain about it, he reminds them about the time when David and his companions ate the bread of the Presence, loaves only the priests were allowed to eat.

“I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (12:6). “[Y]ou would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (12:7-8).

When Jesus goes to the synagogue, he notices a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees ask Jesus if it is permitted to heal on the Sabbath. They want him to say “yes” so they could “bring charges against him” (12:10). Jesus compares it to rescuing a sheep from your sheepfold on the Sabbath.  “’Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath’” (12:12).

When Jesus heals the man, the Pharisees are furious; they meet to plot a way to kill him (12:13).  Jesus leaves. 

He cures many and tells them not to tell.  Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42: “’Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world’” (12:18-21).

A “demon-possessed” man who is mute and blind is brought to Jesus to be healed.  The Pharisees think his power to cast out evil comes from the Evil One.  Jesus knows they are thinking this and says, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed . . . and if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive” (12:25-26).  This “demon” is being cast out by the Spirit of God” for only “someone . . . stronger” than Satan could “tie him up and . . . plunder his house” (12:29). And sins against this Holy Spirit are the only sins that “sill never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come” (12:32).

’A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad’” (12:33).

The scribes and Pharisees want to see a sign to prove that Jesus teaches with authority. Mark has this but ends with saying no sign will be given “to this generation.” Jesus says, “’Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights’” (12:39).

The nuanced difference between Luke’s and Matthew’s allusion to Jonah is in the fact that Matthew also uses Jonah’s time inside the great fish as a “type” representing Jesus’ time in the tomb.  Luke simply uses Jonah to bring to everyone’s attention the fact that the people of Nineveh responded more faithfully to God’s word than the people of this generation are.  Luke does not refer to Jonah’s time in the “heart of earth.”

Unclean or evil spirits “cast out” sometimes come and find the place empty and swept clean so they get a bunch of other unclean spirits to come and move in, so that the “last state of that person is worse than the first” (12:43). This may relate to the saying above where Jesus, speaking of whose power he is exercising in casting out Satan, says that before a house can be robbed the strong man in it must first be restrained.  If the house is cleared out, there is an emptiness there that is vulnerable. He says it will be the same with this generation.

Jesus’ mother and brethren seek him, and Jesus questions their true relationship with him. “’Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’” (12:48). Then Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!’” (12:49-50).

Reflection: I hear here the call to be of one, undivided heart and will, to plant oneself in the will of God and be single-hearted there, allowing God to bring forth the fruit.  The people of Nineveh allowed themselves to be won over to the Word of God, and now they stand to judge us though they were not part of the holy community of Israel.  Their will and their faithfulness brought forth fruit that identified them as responders to God’s voice.  Listen and do – these are the keys of belonging.  Mary did these things and as we do them too, we become like her – the temples of our Lord in the world.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 74-77 and Matthew 10-11

Psalm 73 – Psalms 73 to 83 (and 50) are twelve ascribed to Asaph. Asaphites were “temple singers” (Wikipedia). He might have been an individual though. Chronicles notes that Asaph was a descendant of Gershom the son of Levi. In 1 Chronicles 6:39, David appoints a man named Heman as the main musician or cantor and Asaph is named his assistant.

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people” (73:1-5). These guys have ALWAYS been around.

“Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?” (73:13)

“I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction” (73:16-18). Interesting reading this just after finishing Matthew 8 where the demoniacs’ demons are cast into swine and those swine slide over a cliff to drown in the sea.

“Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant—I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth” (73:22-25).

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever” (73:26).

Psalm 74 – “O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture? Remember that we are the people you chose long ago, the tribe you redeemed as your own special possession! And remember Jerusalem, your home here on earth” (74:1-2).

The enemy has destroyed the city and God’s enemies have been victorious. “[T]hey burned down all the places where God was worshiped. We no longer see your miraculous signs. All the prophets are gone, and no one can tell us when it will end” (74:7-8).

“Why do you hold back your strong right hand? Unleash your powerful fist and destroy them! You, O God, are my king from ages past, bringing salvation to the earth. You split the sea by your strength and smashed the heads of the sea monsters” (74:11-13).

“Both day and night belong to you; you made the starlight and the sun” (74:16).

“Remember your covenant promises, for the land is full of darkness and violence! Don’t let the downtrodden be humiliated again. Instead, let the poor and needy praise your name” (74:20-21).

Psalm 75 – “We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near. People everywhere tell of your wonderful deeds. God says, ‘At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked. When the earth quakes and its people live in turmoil, I am the one who keeps its foundations firm’” (75:1-3).

Psalm 76 – Written in celebration of a victory over Sennacherib in 701 BC, the Assyrian son of Sargon II:

“God is honored in Judah; his name is great in Israel. Jerusalem is where he lives; Mount Zion is his home” (76:1-2).

“You are glorious and more majestic than the everlasting mountains. Our boldest enemies have been plundered. They lie before us in the sleep of death” (76:4-5).

“At the blast of your breath, O God of Jacob, their horses and chariots law still” (76:6).

“Human defiance only enhances your glory, for you use it as a weapon. . . Let everyone bring tribute to the Awesome One. For he breaks the pride of princes, and the kings of the earth fear him” (76:10-12).

Psalm 77 – We are people of the story – the story it is our comfort and our hope. Like us today, the writer here is almost inconsolable, trying to find God’s presence with the power he has heard of.

“I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help” (77:1-3).

“I think of the good old days, long since ended, when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?” (77:5-7).

“[T]hen I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people” (77:11-15).

“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there! You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds” (77:19-20).

Matthew 10 – Jesus summons his twelve disciples and sends them out with authority over unclean spirits to cast them out and to cure illnesses.  They are Simon, Andrew, James and John (sons of Zebedee), Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector, James (son of Alphaeus) and Thaddaeus, Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot.  Matthew’s list is the same as Mark’s—only with the order of Matthew, the tax collector and Thomas reversed.  Also Matthew (the gospel writer) identifies himself as the tax collector. Luke adds a Judas, son (or brother) of James and lists Andrew after the brothers Zebedee. 

He orders them to stay away from the Gentiles and Samaritans but go “rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). Neither Luke nor Mark have Jesus specifically instructing his disciples to stay away from the Gentiles or Samaritans at this point.  But that is not to say that there are not passages in all of them that suggest he was supposed to be ministering only to Israel.  See Mark 7:27 or Luke’s parable of the banquet in 14: 21.  

They are to take nothing of value, and not ask for pay. They may ask for hospitality “because those who work deserve to be fed” (10:10). Meet whoever is worthy. If people won’t listen “shake off the dust from your feet as you leave” (10:14). It will go better for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (10:15).

“I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (10:16) You will suffer because of me, but do not worry what you will say “for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (10:20). Brother will betray brother and you will be hated because of Jesus.  But endure to the end—“truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (10:23). Mark says some will not taste death (9:1) and Luke says the same in 9:27. Jesus certainly did give his followers reason to believe that the “Second Coming” or the end times would come pretty quickly. It is easy to see this expectation in the early church letters. They either misunderstood or he meant it to be “seen” (interpreted) differently – maybe spiritually or metaphorically.

A disciple is not above his teacher. If they call God Beelzebub, they will call you worse. Have no fear. Nothing is now covered that will not be uncovered or revealed – “all that is secret will be made known to all (10:26). What I tell you in the dark, proclaim in the light. Do not fear those who can kill the body, but rather him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge. You are of more value than sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before other, I will acknowledge before God in heaven; whoever denies me I will deny (10:32).

Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (10:34-35).  

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (10:38). Those who lose their lives for my sake will find them. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and the one who sent me (10:40).

Matthew 11 – “John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing” (11:2). So he sends his disciples to ask if Jesus is the one they’ve been expecting (11:2).

Jesus tells them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (11:5). A Jerusalem Bible note says John is confused because of the way Jesus is—he expected the messiah to be different.

Jesus talks to the crowds about John and himself—what the people are hoping for from them both.  He suggests that they are more than prophets but rather a fulfillment of the scripture that says, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you” (11:10). John is the greatest so far born of woman; but “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (11:11).

From the days of John until now “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (11:12) I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. A note lists various ideas that have been put forward to explain this line: that he is referring to those who are trying to “enter the kingdom” by austere self-deprivation; those who see the kingdom as something to be established by force—the zealots; those who are resisting the kingdom by persecuting the righteous; or that perhaps the kingdom will forcefully advance despite every effort the unrighteous exert to prevent it. Jesus refers to John as the Elijah to whom Malachi was referring (in Mal 3:2).

Jesus speaks of his frustration with this generation.  It is like children sitting in the market calling, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn” (11:17). A note suggests that this refers to Jesus’ frustration at the way the Jews have rejected all God’s approaches—“the stern penance of John or through the gentle courtesy of Jesus.”

My own thought here is that from the very earliest days of God’s work with Israel, he has approached the people in two ways—through the blessing and through the curse.  The word of God is brought forth from the two mountains – Mt Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (the mount of blessing and the mount of curse).  Moses addresses the people with blessing and curse in Deuteronomy.  Even Luke keeps this tension in his version of Jesus’ sermon.  Despite their (and our) inability to respond consistently to either approach, God will still bring his cause to fruition.

Jesus upbraids Chorain [Korazin] and Bethsaida (and Capernaum) for their failure to repent, for his presence unto them leaves them no excuse.  He warns them of a stern judgment to come.  The leaders and smart people of the society may reject him, but the “infants” who follow him have responded. 

Then he says, “’My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’” (11:27). This is a very Johannine sounding passage.  John could easily have taken lines like this and expanded them into the long exhortations Jesus delivers in his gospel.

But to the lame, the lowly, the burdened individuals he says, “Come unto me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (11:28-30).