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Bible Tuesday for October 5th

As a "heads up," I will not be sending Bible Tuesday on October 7th as I will be on vacation. God bless and keep you all!

Bible Tuesday for October 5, 2014

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved a song of my lover about his vineyard.

My beloved had a vineyard on a fruitful hill. He broke the ground, cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines. He built a watchtower inside it, he even hewed a winepress in it; for he hoped it would yield grapes. Instead, it yielded wild grapes.

“Now then, dwellers of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, you be the judges between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard that I failed to do in it? Why, when I hoped it would yield grapes, did it yield wild grapes? Now I am going to tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, that it may be ravaged. I will break down its wall, that it may be trampled. And I will make it a desolation. It shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thistles. And I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it.”

For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel, and the seedlings He lovingly tended are the people of Judah. And He hoped for justice but behold, injustice; for equity, but behold, iniquity!

Here is a poem which is also a prophecy and a rebuke of the Israelites. The prophet starts out subtly, describing the activities of a dedicated landowner who goes all out when he gets into wine production, but then the plot thickens: the grape vines won’t cooperate. The pleasant story turns into a chastisement of Israel!

We had wild grapes that grew on the cyclone fencing that divided our old neighborhood from Hwy 11. We tasted them out of curiosity. Wow! Was that a mistake! I couldn’t get that incredibly sour taste out of my mouth for a couple days!

How painful and heartbreaking for God to keep the covenants, guide the patriarchs, bless them with offspring, rescue Israel from Egypt, hand feed them in the wilderness, clear Canaan for the twelve tribes, plant them in the middle of everything so that they would give up sweet fruit to woo the nations of the world to God, and instead they act just like any other stubborn weed and give off fruit only ants and desperate birds would eat.

For textual notes: There are many phrases and words in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament which are not found anywhere else in the Bible or in any other ancient Hebrew manuscripts, whether secular or sacred, so actual translation is very difficult. Two such phrases appear in this passage of Isaiah: “on a fruitful hill”, and “make it a desolation”. In other words, these English phrases are the translators’ best guesses on what our spiritual forefather and mothers were trying to tell us when they wrote their gifts to all future generations.

Psalm 80:7-15

You set us at strife with our neighbors; our enemies mock us at will. O God of hosts, restore us; show Your favor that we may be delivered. You plucked up a vine from Egypt; You expelled nations and planted it. You cleared a place for it; it too deep root and filled that land. The mountains were covered by its shade, mighty cedars by its boughs. Its branches reached the sea, its shoots, the river. Why did You breach its walls so that every passerby plucks its fruit, wild boards gnaw at it, and creatures of the tfield feed on it? O God of hosts, turn again, look down from heaven and see; take not of that vine, the stock planted by Your right hand, the stem You have taken as Your own.

Psalm 80 tells the Isaiah story of the vineyard from Israel’s point of view. And what a different view it is! This psalm is written in the form of legal charges that would be recited at the beginning of a legal proceeding. Israel is suing God!!!!! The charge against God is that God himself broke down the walls and the hedges that protect the vineyard so that it can be ravaged.

This passage and psalm are but two places where the Israelites are spoken about metaphorically as a vineyard. The above lament is thought to have been written at the siege of Jerusalem when the city walls were breached and it’s citizens were either killed or taken into captivity. The victims of this military hostility do not see their enemy as God’s tool of punishment, but rather a force which God failed to repel.

Philippians 3:4-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul’s credentials as a Jew are pretty impressive. What he is telling his readers is that his life heretofore followed the Law perfectly, but it didn’t get him what it was promised to earn. Instead, righteousness has been given him through Jesus Christ. Paul considers relationship with Christ to be the “pearl of great price” and he does “sell all he has”, his whole blameless reputation as a Jew and his livelihood as a Pharisee, in order to obtain Christ. Paul says here, and throughout his letters, that Christ is worth it!

Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir! Come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” [The Pharisees, scribes, and
Temple authorities] answered him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

It is very difficult to know if the Pharisees, scribes, and Jewish Authorities recognized the beginning of this parable as a quote of an indictment against Israel from Isaiah, as an indictment against God in Psalm 80, or as standard operating procedure for starting up a vineyard. Jesus is definitely utilizing the vineyard metaphor to address the Jewish authorities and teach the crowds. In this parable, the problem is not the fruit grown, but the tenants who work the vineyard. Some scholars have said that it takes five years from the time a vineyard was planted until it would reap its first crop. It is unclear if the owner sends his slaves to collect the whole crop and then pays the tenants later or if a partial crop is collected and the tenants keep for sale a partial crop. No matter what the conditions, these tenants are having nothing to do with the owner!

The whole metaphor/parable was to address the unfaithfulness of the Jewish authorities in the Kingdom of God. In this case, the Kingdom of God appears to be the realm in which the Jewish Authorities were to have taught, loved, prayed, lead worship, given thanks, and all other activities of adoration and service to God. But Jesus tells them that they have tried to buck their role in the Kingdom and take on the role of the Heir, Jesus himself. So what will happen, by their own words, the Jewish Authorities will be thrown out and new tenants will be hired. That is in fact what happens: those Jews who believe into Jesus leave the Jewish authorities and follow the disciples after Jesus’ ascension. Even for Jews who stay Jewish, once the Temple is destroyed in 70AD, the whole system of worshiping God which required the Pharisees, Sadducees, the scribes, etc., is ruined and over the course of a couple hundred years, the new rabbinical system takes its place. Indeed, the tenants are thrown out and new ones take their place.

The Jewish authorities hearing Jesus proclaim this are absolutely indignant! How could some itinerate preacher come along and unseat the whole Temple system?! That is quite the rejected cornerstone.

Bible Tuesday

Bible Tuesday for September 28, 2014

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

The word of the Lord came to me: 2What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? 3As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. 25Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?26When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Ezekiel is prophesying to the people of Israel during the Babylonian captivity. Several prophets, including Ezekiel, have prophesied to the Israelites that Babylon would lay siege to them and conquer them because they had forsaken God; these are the consequences of their actions. Now, the people in captivity are complaining against God using this idiom, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. In other words, the offspring are suffering from the actions of the parents. But God sees this very differently. God sees that all are guilty of abandoning the covenant God made with them. Through Ezekiel, God is urging all, adults and parents, to confess and repent, that they might live in the love of God.

Psalm 25:1-9

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees

This is another acrostic psalm, with each stanza beginning with one letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Notice the almost Buddhist humble seeking of the right path. Unlike Buddhism, though, the path is made and giving by Yahweh. The psalmist implores God to act faithfully to the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to overlook his childish impetuousness in the name of this covenant.

A way of translating the last line in this pericope is “All the ways of the Lord are adherence to the covenant for those who keep it, and God’s decrees.” “Steadfast Love and faithfulness” are both English translations of legal language “hesed” and “emet”. The translations “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” sound like valentines and marriage cooing but are far more devoid of feeling than that. These are words that refer to keeping a contract in good faith, as opposed to love. God is always faithful to the covenant, but the Israelites almost never are.

. Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul admonishes the church in Philippi to amazing behavior, complete selflessness. While Paul does set himself up as an example to the churches with which he corresponds, not so in this letter, wisely, not so. Instead Paul uses an ancient Christian hymn to conjure the only example for complete selflessness, Jesus.

As Lutherans, Paul’s line, “work out your own salvation” smacks of works righteousness. But I think “work out” is not to be understood in works righteousness terms but rather, “Daddy is too busy to settle your fights. You guys work out your own problems.” I understand Paul to be admonishing the Philippian church to humbly sort out their issues, looking to God for guidance and ability.

Matthew 21:23-32

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

This text occurs on the morning after Palm Sunday. During the parade, when Jesus is seated on the donkeys (in Matthew Jesus rides both the mother and her colt), the Jewish authorities confront Jesus and tell him to silence the crowds. Jesus Christ Superstar portrays this very well, “if every tongue were stilled, the noise would still continue. The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing.” The crowd’s actions and Jesus retort set the entrapment and murder plot spinning against Jesus. Palm Sunday evening Jesus and the disciples went to stay with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. The next morning, Jesus and the disciples all head back into Jerusalem to the temple. The Jewish authorities are waiting for him. They want to check his credentials. However, Jesus answers them cryptically, pensively. He knows they are plotting against him and seems to be eager to expose their false teachings and bad leadership to the crowds and the disciples. Jesus poses to the Jewish leaders a question of authority.

Daniel Patte (The Gospel According to Matthew) makes this observation:

Even though the chief priests and the elders correctly view authority as something given to someone and not as an intrinsic part of someone’s being, for them once it has been received this authority characterizes that person. For them, Jesus has an authority, and with it he does certain things. By contrast, Jesus does not speak of John’s authority but rather of the authority of his baptism: "The baptism of John, whence was it"? (21:25a). In other words, authority, for Jesus, is attached to an act, to what a person does, rather than to the person. The person does not have authority; what a person does, such as the baptism performed by John, is authoritative. [p. 294]

Brian Stoffregen follows up the above quote with his own comment in his textual commentary. “What Jesus has done in the preceding paragraphs was to ride into Jerusalem as a humble, conquering king. He has rejected the temple activities of buying and selling with his own activity of healing — restoring people to wholeness.”

Jesus follows up his challenge to the Jewish authorities with a parable. The father approaches his first son, (the one who has inherited the authority of the family which he will assume once his father dies) and asks him to work. The older son says, “yes” but doesn’t. The second son, (who inherits no authority and only a small portion of his father’s estate) is also approach by the father, declines to work, but then goes and does it. Who actually does the father’s will? The second son, not because of title or inheritance, but because of action. Since the Jewish leaders ignored and condemned John they have failed to do the will of God, but those lesser in the family, prostitutes and tax collectors, did receive John’s testimony, were baptized, and now follow Jesus. They are doing the will of the father, despite they lower status in life.

Bible Tuesday for September 21, 2014

Bible Tuesday for September 21, 2014

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ 4And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ 5Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

6 The Lord God appointed a bush,* and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’

9 But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ 10Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

The prophecy of Jonah is unique in all of the Old Testament in that it is to goyim in Hebrew or ethnos in Greek; it is to non-Jews. God calls Jonah and sends him to the metropolis of his enemies, for the Ninevites had made war against the Israelites and the Israelites lost. The reasons then, that Jonah tries to run away from this prophetic assignment are numerous: fear of the people of Nineveh, hatred for the people of Nineveh, doubt in God that God will actually punish the Ninevites, and wanting to do his own thing instead of God’s.

After some quiet time for reflection, (three days in the belly of a whale to be precise) Jonah decides to follow God’s command and proclaim destruction to the people of Nineveh. But the people of Nineveh are not like the typical Israelites. The Ninevites take the prophet seriously and with fear and sorrow. The whole of Nineveh proclaims a fast, wearing sack cloth and ashes. This is for all people and domestic animals! This severe act of contrition and repentance gains God’s favor and God relents from destroying this powerful enemy of Israel.

Jonah is fit to be tied. How could God disgrace and humiliate Jonah by sending him, a Jew, into the city of this great enemy of Israel to proclaim God’s disfavor and then relent?! It is bad enough that God allowed Nineveh to defeat Israel, but now God is going to be merciful to them instead of punishing them?! Jonah wants to die.

The whole of chapter 4 is meant to teach Jonah some compassion for God’s position with Nineveh by giving, and taking away, a sheltering vine to Jonah. Despite the fact that the Ninevites are Israel’s enemy, God sees them as “sheep without a shepherd”, a people who “do not know their right hand from their left”, in other words, infants and toddlers, not knowing good from evil.

Psalm 145[a]

A psalm of praise. Of David.

1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b] 6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.

This is an acrostic psalm, with one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. We only have the first eight letters represented in our pericope.

The Hebrew people never supposed to have a king over them. God intended to always be their king, with prophets representing Him among the people and speaking His word to the people. However, after existing for several hundred years from Abraham (c1800-1600BC) through to Saul (c1050BC), the people demanded they have a king like the other peoples around them so God has Samuel, the prophet, anoint the first king, Saul.

This psalm hearkens to the idea of God as king of the Israelites.

Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Is it just me or does the apostle, Paul, sound like a egotist some times? The phrase “but to remain in the flesh is necessary for you,” just really rubs me the wrong way. But, perhaps this image will help us understand where Paul is coming from.

I have attended the bedsides of dying people who absolutely want to die because they are physically completely worn out and fatigued, but they look at their kids or their grandkids who really do need them for direction and those dying people keep trying to hold on for another day, another hour.

Now this analogy has its shortcomings because Paul is not dying, so far as we know, but he is trying to explain to the Philippians that there is nothing to fear in death because God’s salvation is immediate and fabulous beyond our imagining. So, to live is to continue serving Jesus and to die is to be with Jesus. Both are wonderful.

The next challenge with this text is Paul’s use of the term “boast”. In English “boasting” never has a positive connotation so it is hard to understand why Paul would use it. However, we have a Greek/English translational issue as well as a cultural issue here. In this context, I think “boasting” could be equated with “giving testimony”. When folks give their Christian “witness” or “testimony”, they tell what God has done for them. I think that is what Paul is talking about in this context.

I also struggle with the concept Paul describes in vs. 29, that God grants us the “privilege” of suffering for Christ. I don’t know if Martin Luther would call it a privilege to suffer as Christ suffered or not. I don’t see how that would figure into Luther’s Theology of the Cross, which is that in suffering we meet Jesus most easily because we are most vulnerable and Jesus is most available, empathetic, and the only one who can suffer with us and save us. I don’t believe that Theology of the Cross teaches that suffering is a privilege but rather an opportunity not only for misery, but also for growth in relation with God.

Matthew 20:1-17

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

As Matthew writes this parable of Jesus, he begins with “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” While we read these parables in all the gospels, the gospel of Matthew stresses these parables as descriptions of “the Kingdom of Heaven”. As Jesus teaches it, the Kingdom of Heaven is a nebulous concept and requires lots of parables. Whether mustard seed or lost coin now found, children whining in the market place or workers in a vineyard, each of these parables is meant to help believers come to terms with something that is completely beyond them yet still encompasses them, the Kingdom of God.

The hiring practices of Israelites would be that day laborers would hang around the city square/market place first thing in the morning, hoping to be hired for the day. This practice was most common at planting and harvesting time. It would have been odd for laborers to be hired throughout the day and not just first thing in the morning for a full day of labor.

Such a difficult parable and one that is such a stumbling block for many life long Christians. My uncle, who is a former Wisconsin Synod pastor, and has maintained his Greek and Hebrew skills, teaches that an alternative translation to the last line of this pericope is “So the last will be next and the first will be next.” In other words, God’s generosity is not a punishment for the first and a bonus for the last but rather that all will be taken care of at the same time, since whether first, or last, all are next in line.

Bible Tuesday for Holy Cross Day

Bible Tuesday for Holy Cross Day, September 14th, 2014

Numbers 21:4-9

4From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

When Esau and Jacob had their feuds over birthright and blessing, they parted company with the family. Jacob went to live with Laban, his uncle on his mother’s side in the land of Nahor in Mesopotamia while Esau went to Edom. As Biblical writers recount these stories of their forefathers and mothers, they pay attention to setting, and so should we. In the land which is gifted to Abraham and his descendants, the Israelites tend to behave better than in foreign lands. Also, in Canaan/Israel, the Israelites things tend to go better for the Israelites.

In this text, the Israelites are in the wilderness between their escape from Egypt and their taking possession of the promised land, Canaan/Israel. They are in the land Esau, the unfavored, and they act as if they are not favored either. Once again they complain that life in slavery was worse than life liven freely with God.

I really struggle with the idea of God sending poisonous snakes among the people to bite them and kill them. While there are many accounts of such interactions between God and people along these lines in the Hebrew Scriptures, I don’t believe that God tortures us like this. So then, if I don’t trust the biblical writer’s account of this story, when would I bother to read it, to contemplate it? This is Holy scripture, given to humanity through humanity by God. What is more worthy of contemplation?

While I find God to be the source of the snakes problematic, I get excited about the remedy God gives. “Put a hand fashioned snake on a pole in the midst of the people so that when they are bit, they can turn to look at it. Through this act of trust to turn and look at the vary thing that bit them, I will bring healing.” The snake becomes a sign of the sin of lack of trust, and through facing their sin, God brings healing to the Israelites.

Psalm 98:1-4

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
2 The Lord has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;

The psalmist proclaims that God has done new, wondrous things so a new song of praise is in order! “This kingship psalm highlights the military victory of God,” says The Jewish Study Bible.

As discussed with previous psalms, the right hand of the king is his symbolic seat of power and is mentioned as such in this psalm. While we may lend more sentimental views to God’s “love and faithfulness to Israel”, in fact this is a covenantal obligation. God promised to be steadfast and faithful to Israel, protecting and leading it, while Israel was in turn to follow God’s laws, worshiping and trusting only Yahweh.

While we, Christians tend to read “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” terms of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in this psalm it refers to God’s salvation of the Israelites through a victorious battle. The military prowess of the Israelites is attributed to their God, a reputation that would spread among the nations.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

On occasion I have tried to look at Christianity from the perspective of someone who had never heard of it before. As an adult, I have learned about other religions for the first time and evaluated them as I might evaluate a house or a car when I am shopping for one. I have tried to look at Christianity from that same, very objective, cerebral point of view. I have even tried to describe Christianity to non-Christians on our congregation’s website (smotmascoutah.org tab: Christianity Basics – Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit.) When looked at from that vantage point, Christianity is a foolish religion.

St. Paul sees that too. It is much easier for Paul to see Christianity from this view point because it is the dominant view of his time. It is hard to imagine a world where there are no cathedrals, nuns, monks, or popes. There aren’t even any Bibles! Just scrolls of various books in the Hebrew scriptures but almost no one except the Temple in Jerusalem has the whole collection of scrolls! So Paul Is able to write that yeah, faith in a guy who said he was completely God and completely human who was publicly executed and vilified, then forgotten, but rose from the dead, that faith sounds really foolish. But only for those who don’t have time for that kind of god. For people who have known love and mercy and forgiveness from that God, Jesus’ rejection and abandonment, torture and horrific execution is the power and wisdom of God. It is the way that God has turned our human world upside down to reveal His logic and His way of love.

John 3:13-17

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.* 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.*

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The origin of Jesus is a major theme in John’s gospel. In the first chapter, John tells the reader that Jesus comes from God and is God. The rest of the book is the story of how some believe and some don’t believe this fact.

This pericope (selection of verses) comes from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a conversation that is an example of faithful Jews trying to wrap their minds around Jesus’ claims. Nicodemus wants to know who Jesus really is: Joseph and Mary’s boy? carpenter, therefore member of the very low trade class? prophet? hero of the people?

Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’ question is a Gospel of John style admission that he is from God and will return to God but before that, will save from dying eternally all those who believe into him. Why? Because God loves the world so much that saving it is the only option. If that means sending his only offspring, the only one who will carry his name and his right hand of power, to do the job, then that’s what God has done.

Note that Jesus did not come to rail condemnation with a microphone on the crowds that pass his streetcorner. No, Jesus came to save the world God style. So that all people may look on the cross with the eyes of faith and live.