Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 31, 2014
O Lord, you know. Remember me and take thought of me. Avenge me on those who persecute me. Do not yield to your patience, do not do not let me perish! Consider how I have borne insult on your account. When your words were offered, I devoured them. Your word brought me the delight and joy of knowing that your name is attached to me, O Lord, God of hosts. I have not sat in the company of revelers and made merry! I have sat lonely because of your hand upon me, for you have filled me with gloom. Why must my pain be endless, my wound incurable, resistant to healing? You have been to me like a spring that fails, like waters that cannot be relied on.
Assuredly, thus said the Lord: If you turn back, I shall take you back and you shall stand before me. If you produce what is noble out of the worthless, you shall be my spokesman. They shall come back to you, not you to them. Against this people I will make you as a fortified wall of bronze: they will attack you but they shall not overcome you. For I am with you to deliver and save you—declares the Lord. I will save you from the hands of the wicked and rescue you from the clutches of the violent.
Jeremiah’s lot as a prophet of Israel isn’t a happy one. He is persecuted, ridiculed, and shunned by the Israelites for telling the truth, a truth they didn’t want to hear. In addition, God frequently used the prophets, themselves, as metaphors for Israel and Judah.
Jeremiah sees himself and righteous before God and therefore suffering unjustly. However sinful and wrongsighted, so does the entire kingdom of Israel. When God addresses Jeremiah, saying “If you turn back…” God is addressing the whole kingdom, not merely Jeremiah.
We, believers, can really appreciate Jeremiah’s lament. We go through very difficult times in life, wondering where God is and why we cannot feel God’s comforting presence. “My God, Why are You Silent?!” is a hymn in the ELW which gives voice to these very cries. It is of great comfort to see role models of faith in both Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament who give voice to these same struggles.
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked without blame; I have trusted in the Lord, I have not faltered. Probe me, O Lord, and try to me, test my heart and mind, for my eyes are on Your steadfast love; I have set my course by it. I do not consort with scoundrels, or mix with hypocrites; I detest the company of evil men, and do not consort with the wicked; I wash my hands in innocence, and walk around your alter, O Lord, raising my voice in thanksgiving and telling all your wonders. O Lord, I love your temple abode, the dwelling of your glory.
Here is the cry of an innocent person to God. It sounds like the Psalmist is crying, “What have I done to deserve this?!” As Lutherans, we can sure understand these feelings and this cry, but we also believe that justice does not come just because you are innocent or good. Jesus teaches, “God makes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” In addition, we take seriously St. Paul’s words that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore, to demand action from God because we have earned it or deserve it is shocking hubris! Instead, we are to humbly ask God to care for us because we are God’s own, humble servants.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.*12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;* do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As I read Paul’s exhortations, I am reminded of Luther’s explanation to the 8th Commandment, where he states, “Put the best possible construct on all your neighbor’s actions.” I think this is what is meant in “Outdo one another in showing honor.” This is not to be flowery or gushy but rather to cut others the breaks that we tend to cut ourselves.
Paul gives us a great list of Jesus maxims, if you will. Actually, they sound rather Buddhist as well. His rapid fire of them in these verses lends to reading them as a skipping stone across deep water. Each one taken individually is worth meditation. The treatment of enemies is remarkable, with the result being that they burn with guilt for their treatment of us. I wonder if Gandhi had these verses in mind as he developed his non-violent approach to abuse, racism and classism.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
Talk about “Good News – Bad News”! The disciples must have gotten whiplash from Jesus. First the affirmed declaration that Jesus is Messiah, the centuries awaited hero who would restore the kingdom of God on earth! But leaving no time for awe or celebration, Jesus immediately declares that he must be betrayed by the Jewish authorities and executed by the Romans, but then raised from the dead. Wait, what?! No wonder Peter tries to talk Jesus out of it. If Jesus is Messiah, then the whole betrayal execution thing doesn’t make any sense, not at all!
But Jesus is teaching that while he is Messiah, he is also denying himself, that is, he is rejecting all of the comfort and adulation and power that is his as Messiah. Instead, he is obeying God, giving all that up, and sacrificing himself.
When Peter objects to this kind of Messiah, Jesus gets pretty upset. How difficult it must have been for Jesus to “set his face toward Jerusalem” much less have the disciples try to hinder him with their own ideas of Messiah behavior.
So Jesus sets them straight. “I am God’s anointed, the Messiah, and I must sacrifice myself and die. So what do you think your lives will be like? I know you are dreaming about who will surround me and hold cabinet posts and cushy jobs. But if I have to sacrifice, don’t you think you will also?!”
While this exchange between Jesus and his disciples is in all four gospels, verse 27-28 is only in Matthew. And frankly, I don’t know what to make of it. I remember asking about this passage in New Testament Methods class in seminary and the prof was quite open that biblical scholars really don’t have any solid thoughts on what Jesus means by this. If it is taken very literally, then one would think there were followers of Jesus alive right then who saw Jesus in some kind of heavenly manifestation. The gospel of Matthew has been trying to define “the kingdom” all throughout the book with puzzling parables and word pictures. This saying of Jesus doesn’t add any clarity to that confusion.