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Bible Tuesday for Advent I, 2014

Bible Tuesday for Advent I, 2014

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any god besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. No consider, we are all your people.

About these verses the Jewish Study Bible says, “these verses are remarkable and rather daring for their assertion that God, too, must accept some responsibility for the Judeans’ sins. Their continuing hardships have worn away their hope. If the Lord would intervene more quickly on their behalf, they would have clear reason to abandon their misdeeds and adopt a firm belief in God’s authority. God’s response to the nation’s sins has created a cycle: Crime leads to punishment, punishment to disbelief, disbelief to more crime. “

Of course, most Jewish and Christian scholars reject the above theory but the author of this section of Isaiah is definitely griping at God for what he sees a vicious cycle.

This passage of Isaiah was written after the exiles have returned from Babylon. They returned to a ruined Jerusalem and a severely dilapidated Temple which had been desecrated. The people have been at the hard work of rebuilding for some time now and have made little progress. They feel neglected and abandoned by God.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we may be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine that we may be saved. But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

The four tribes mentioned in this psalm, Joseph, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh make up what is called The Northern Kingdom (excluding Dan) and may have originally been written for fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria.

The Hebrew which is here translated as “Let your face shine” is literally translated ‘light up your face” as in “smile with excitement, joy, pride, compassion.”

“Let your hand be upon the one at your right hand” refers to the king of Israel/Judah. The prayer is that God would rest the power of his right hand on the king who is said to be his “right hand man.”

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The books of 1 & 11 Corinthians are thought to be a series of letters from Paul to the church in Corinth. While they are divided into two “books”, that is not an indication of two letters, but rather that the compilation of the pieces of several letters have been written on scrolls, filling one whole scroll and going onto a second scroll. A careful read of these letters to the church in Corinth indicates that in many cases, Paul is trying to answer questions and issues in the congregation that have come to his attention through letter and messenger.

The above verses from the first chapter of the first letter are Paul’s salutations and immediately follow his initial greeting. Paul greets this congregation in the name of God and Jesus, but not the Holy Spirit. Paul does include in this salutation a mention of spiritual gifts, but not specifically the Holy Spirit. This is a clear indication that the “doctrine of the Trinity” was not formed or thought of in the first and second generations of the church as we think of it now. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity was formed over a couple hundred years and through many church councils starting with the Council of Nicaea in 325AD.

This salutation emphasizes the grace, enrichment, spiritual gifts, and strength that God has given this congregation. Paul will build on this foundation of God’s gifts as he encourages and chides and admonishes the congregation throughout the rest of his first letter to them.

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson; as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Trustly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!”

As we begin this year of the gospel of Mark, let me give a very brief introduction to the book. Despite its placement as second of the four gospels, Mark was most likely written first, somewhere between 60 and 70AD to a predominantly Jewish community. Scholars think that Mark was likely written at the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70AD) during which many false prophets where crying out that the end of the world was at hand. There were also several folks claiming to be the messiah and gathering folks to form an army and attack Rome. At least one goal of Mark’s gospel is to warn folks that the real Messiah already came, ascended, and has not yet returned. While the other three gospels use sources, Mark appears to use nothing other than eye witness accounts and orally relayed stories. Mark has neither birth nor post Easter stories so the year of Mark is usually sprinkled with stories from the gospel of John.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and then leaves for Bethany in chapter 11. Chapters 12 and 13 recount Jesus’ and his disciples’ return to Jerusalem the following day. They make a trip to the Temple where Jesus drives out the money changers and watches the widow as she gives her last mite. Next Jesus is challenged by various Temple authorities and he recounts many parables. Finally the disciples admire the massive stones of the outer courtyard walls and Jesus launches into a series of apocalyptic teachings. They are scary as all get out and have been used by rapturists to aid in their predictions of the last days. As Lutherans living more than 2.000 years after Jesus, it is hard to know how to interpret these teachings.

One of the things about the gospel of Mark that I really appreciate is that Jesus is very human. In the gospel of John, Jesus knows all, even before people say a word. In Mark, Jesus is the opposite. Jesus says, “about that day an hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” While it is hard to reconcile Jesus being God and Jesus not knowing something, it does give us the comfort that Jesus really was totally human.

In regard to vs. 30, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” scholars debate the meaning. This prophecy of Jesus’ starts with the Temple being destroyed and people fleeing for their lives. That is exactly what happens in 70AD when the Jewish revolt is squashed by the Romans. The Temple in Jerusalem was utterly destroyed except for a bit of that outer wall the disciples about which the disciples commented. There were Jews crucified by the thousands: men, women, and children. Before the Romans destroyed the Temple, they desecrated the altar and worshiped their gods in that most holy place. Many of the people of to whom Jesus preached were alive to see these horrors take place.

Bible Tuesday for Christ the King Sunday, 2014

Bible Tuesday for Christ the King Sunday, 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-24

1For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Israelite kings were frequently referred to by God as shepherds; not flock owners, but shepherds. The beginning of this 34th chapter of Ezekiel is a repudiation of the king, courtiers, high priest, and Temple leaders of Israel. God accuses and convicts them of not shepherding but rather taking advantage of Israel, causing them to sin and fall into captivity of Babylon.

When the nation of Israel was first formed from the descendants of Abraham, God spoke through prophets saying that God, alone, is the leader of Israel and that the people needed neither prince nor king, as God was their head. But the people showed great fear at receiving God as their leader and always asked for an intermediary. The judges, and later the kings, of Israel filled that role, assisted by the Temple clergy. However, most of the leadership of Israel succumb to their own greed and/or power mongering and failed to fulfill the role to which God called them.

In this section of Ezekiel, God reclaims the role of sole leader of Israel that God had saved for Himself. God promises to gather together all the sheep that have been scattered during the fall of Israel to Assyria and Judah to Babylon.

Throughout history there have been organizations/companies that have profited from war. By this text, we can assume this is also the case in exilic Israel. The second half of the above text castigates the monarchy and religious leadership of Israel for building bigger thrones and lining their own pockets in this crisis.

Psalm 95:1-7

A Call to Worship and Obedience

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

In reading texts like the above, it is important to recognize that while Judaism was from its inception monotheistic, nevertheless, the Jews from Abraham though Babylonian Exile did believe in other gods and goddesses, they just didn’t worship them. The curriculum vitae and credentials of Yahweh is that He was THE CREATOR of all that exists! The other gods and goddesses were part of the creation Yahweh made. This concept of Yahweh is exemplified in this psalm.

Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love* towards all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God* put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Paul has greeted the congregation in Ephesus in his letter to them immediately preceding the pericope above. Then Paul goes on to pat them on the back for their reputation of faith and charitable acts. Paul asks God for the gift of wisdom for this congregation, that they might discern God’s will and the life to which God has called them.

In this passage, Paul appears to believe that Jesus became more than just the average person when God worked power through Jesus by raising him from the dead. That is very different than believing that Jesus was, and always has been God, as the gospel of John tells us. (“In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God…”)

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

To clarify terminology, sheep and goats were grazed together and equally edible for ancient Israelites. Both were raised for hides (and wool), as well as milk and meat. However, goats were, and are, much smarter than sheep, and were frequently used as leaders in the flocks. That sheering time, goat would lead the flock to the sheerer, but then be separated from the sheep, while the sheep were sheered.

In this parable, all nations, which is synonymous for all peoples, are gathered for judgment before Jesus. At the beginning, Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man” and then two sentences later as “the King.” In some ancient texts, “Son of Man” merely means “a human” while in others it means “a human hero” or “messiah”. Jesus may well be utilizing both meanings in this text.

Normal qualities for sheep vs. goats in Israelite lore were that Israelites were sheep and all other “goyim” were goats. Israelites were God’s chosen people while everyone else was a sort of mission field, if the Israelites felt inclines to evangelizing. However, in this parable, the Son of Man/King judges the peoples not by their religion or ethnicity, but by their actions. If the people were humble and charitable, then they were sheep, if not then they were goats. Dr. Martin Luther would call this judgment the search for the fruits of baptism. It is not works righteousness, but rather works being evidence of one’s inculcation of the gospel of God.

Bible Tuesday for Thanksgiving Day 2014

Bible Tuesday for Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous* snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.17Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

The scene of the book of Deuteronomy is that, after 40 years of wilderness wandering, the Israelites were camped outside Canaan where Moses gave a final sermon which summarized all that God had commanded thus far. After this sermon and Moses’ death, the Israelites were to conquer all of the peoples of Canaan and move right into their homes and gardens (what was left of them after the battles to take them!).

The longer the Israelites wandered the wilderness, the easier it became to look to God for all things. The Israelites had truly nothing without manna, quail, and water which God miraculously provided. But Moses admonishes that it will be very easy to forget God when homes are warm and dry and gardens and mines are flourishing.

Psalm 65

Thanksgiving for Earth’s Bounty

To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.

1 Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
2 O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
3 When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
4 Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.

5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
6 By your[a] strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
7 You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
8 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

9 You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

This lovely psalm recites many of the ways that God takes care of Israel, all humanity, and creation. The offerings the psalmist brings to the temple are merely a sample of the bounty God brings about through plenty of water and abundance in the fields and wilds.

II Corinthians 9:6-15

6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

St. Paul writes this passage about giving and sharing to a congregation where the wealthy wanted to stay wealthy and the poor were in dire straights. But note that Paul does not say, “I am only talking to the rich in the congregation now.” Rather, Paul speaks about sowing and reaping all the blessings of God, not just monetary. As a matter of fact, I really think Paul is focused more on spiritual blessings and good works more than on monetary wealth in this passage.

However, passages like “He is sews bountifully will also reap bountifully” and “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity” have been used by many Christian preachers as foundational for “the gospel of prosperity.” This is a dogma that encourages the faithful to give generously so that God will give them back even more. Also in this teaching is that God wants all the faithful to bask in every creature comfort so if you are not basking, then it is because you are not doing everything in God’s plan so God is testing or punishing you for your lack of faith.

While some of Paul’s writings and some of Jesus’ teachings (“To him who has, more will be given and to he who has not, even the little he has will be taken away.”) can be twisted to support the gospel of prosperity, this is absolutely not what Jesus teaches when one reads the four biblical gospels in their entirety.

Rather, “cheerful giving” is giving out of gratitude for what ones does have, not manipulation for more.

Luke 17:11-17

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their distance,13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[c] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

While Israelite priests did not have the power to heal, they did have the authority to declare one clean or not. “Clean” meant in a physical and mental state that was beneficial to society. If you were clean, you were a part of society, from the topmost to the bottom most rungs. If you were unclean, you were unfit for society and cast out.

Leprosy as our contemporary world knows it (aka Hansen’s Disease) was likely not the disease referred to in the Bible. Leviticus describes a disease which is labeled “leprosy” but it does not fit Hansen’s Disease. I say this only to point out that in Biblical times, it didn’t take losing a finger to a horrific disease to be thrown out of Jewish society. Impetigo or eczema could do the trick. The priests would give you the accursed title “unclean” and you were banished until such time as you could prove to the priests that you were clean again.

This miracle does not follow the pattern of the other of Jesus’ miracles in scriptures. Usually Jesus is present when the sufferers are healed, but unique to this story is the healing on the way to priests. Jesus sends the ten lepers and off they go, appearing to display some kind of trust that today things were going to be different. The healing is not just physical, but restoration of the sufferers’ whole lives. They are now physically well, can reenter society, and resume relationships with family, friends, and faith community.

Bible Tuesday for Sunday November 9, 2014

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, November 9, 2014

Amos 5:18-24

18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

In this prophecy of Amos, God commands that Amos proclaim God’s word using the form of a funeral lament. Previously in the book of Amos, God has proclaimed that Israel will receive judgment in the form of Assyria’s or Babylon’s attack and victory, but they ignored Amos and the other prophets proclaiming this word of the Lord. Here Amos laments Israel’s failure to heed and ultimate demise.

Day of the Lord: The Day of the Lord is a concept first presented here in scriptures but was an idea popular at least among the Israelites to which Amos prophesied. It was thought of as the day when God will judge the people and give the “righteous” Israelites their proper place of favor and luxury. The people to whom Amos peached wanted the Day of the Lord to come to which Amos replies, “Are you crazy!?”

The Israelites assumed they would find favor with God on the Day of the Lord, but Amos assures them they would not. In verses 21-24 God, God’s self, addresses the people, telling them that their cultic practices repelled him. However, their cultic practices are those very things required of them in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. God does not reject the offerings and rituals themselves, but rather the complete disharmony between what is done in worship of God and what is done the whole rest of the week. How can the Israelites expect to benefit from God’s justice when they don’t practice justice with each other or the alien among them?

Psalm 70

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion
who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
turn back because of their shame.

4 Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, “God is great!”
5 But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!

In Israelite society, the poor have no protector, no family, government or social organization who will act on their behalf. (I wonder if the poor in the US prior to FDR’s administration would have thought they were in the same boat.) For this reason, God states many times in the Hebrew scriptures that God is the protector of the orphaned and the widowed and that God’s agent will “proclaim good news to the poor.”

The psalmist sees that the shame of those who “desire to hurt me” is proof that God is acting and is just.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[g] about those who have died,[h] so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.[i] 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.[j] 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Paul and many of the followers of Jesus alive in those first years after Jesus’ ascension believed that Jesus would return imminently. But, when those early believers succumbed to age and disease, there was real concern and confusion among the survivors. If we die before Jesus returns, what happens to us? Obviously this is not a question bothering us, but it was bothering the Thessalonians and others to whom Paul wrote.

Notice the doctrine and dogma Paul lays out for his audience. We believe in Jesus death and resurrection, and through those very acts God will resurrect us and draw us to Himself. (doctrine) Upon the coming of the Lord, those who are dead will be raised, then we who are still alive will all be united with them and we will be “caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (dogma)

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.[b] 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids[c] got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids[d] came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

This is the second of four parables that deal with “that day” when there is a sorting of faithful and unfaithful. “That Day” is Jesus’ version of The Day of the Lord.

First, a little work on the Greek. In English “wise” and “foolish” denote good and bad and are opposites but the Greek words used are more like “wise” and “unwise”. We may see children do unwise things and we would not label them “stupid” but rather unschooled or naive. So it is with these virgins or bridesmaids ( in this context, almost synonymous terms). The Greek word “lamp” shares it root with “shine” and “gives light”.

Knowing what the oil symbolizes is key to understanding and applying this parable. Some scholars think the oil represents good works. Luther wrote that the oil was symbolic of faith, but how can faith run short or be bought? Brian Stoffregen suggests that the oil represents relationship with God, faithfulness to God. One cannot share a relationship with one to another. But neither can one go buy more relationship with that one.

Interpretation of the parable is further complicated by the use of those things which are condemned elsewhere but not here. The virgin bridesmaids fall asleep but that is not a problem here, where it is in every other admonition of Jesus, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, the point of this parable is to “be prepared” and even the prepared ones need to sleep!