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Bible Tuesday for Lent II, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Lent II, 2015

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

God comes to Abra(ha)m three different times to make a covenant. One of those times is in response to Abraham’s complaint that he and Sarah are both getting really old and the covenant has not come to pass yet. But in the other two, God initiates the contact and seems to say essentially the same thing. In the first covenant conversation, in Genesis 12, God speaks a three fold covenant with Abram; God will grant to Abram offspring, land, and “All the nations of the world will be blessed through you.” This second covenant omits the promises of land and to be a blessing to all the nations of the world, but it does restate the paternalistic relationship between God and Abram and Sarah’s progeny.

Why is this “cutting” of this covenant repeated? One explanation is usually called “J E P D Biblical Criticism) which theorizes that there were multiple oral traditions for these first five books of the Bible and that when they were compiled into these books as we know them, they were spliced into each other to make a fairly linear narrative. The two stories come from different sources: the first from the writer who always refers to God as Yahweh (also spelled Jahweh in German, where this theory developed), and the second is from the Priestly source.

This restatement of the covenant from Genesis 12 is done by God after Ishmael is born. It is the laughing story where both Abraham and Sarah laugh at what God prophecies to them. The covenant appears to need repeating to Abraham and Sarah because they are ready to make Ishmael their heir but God says of Sarah, “I will give you a son by her.”

Psalm 22:23-31

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[a] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

This is the psalm read in its entirety during the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, which starts, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” The first section of the psalm focuses on the cry in vs. 3, “I cry by day—you do not answer…” and the section for this Sunday focuses on vs, 22, “save me” or “answer me”. The psalmist extols God’s capability and willingness to answer and save., then exhorts all humanity to praise and give thanks to God.

Romans 4:13-25

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

This is part of Paul’s discourse on righteousness. Paul defines righteousness as being in perfect, right relationship with God; no sin stands between a person and God. Paul makes it clear that such a relationship is not possible without Law and then Grace. The law defines right relationship with God, and demarks what is outside that relationship. Humans receive the law as a check list to achieve perfection, but Paul says the law is merely the tutor that sees the student to the teacher, in this case, Jesus. Paul goes on to say that since humans kept breaking and ignoring the law, God sent Jesus to live the law perfectly to its fullest intent. After accomplishing this, Jesus promised that through the Holy Spirit and baptism, all humanity could be declared righteous through faith in Him. In the above discourse, Paul lays out that such faith was first seen in Abraham.

Paul describes Abraham’s faith as complete and unquestioning. That is not quite what Genesis says, considering the whole Hagar and Ishmael thing. However, if Abraham and Sarah are still looked upon as righteous after their floundering, manipulation, lying, etc., there is great comfort for us as well.

Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

I have long pondered the term, Son of Man and its relationship with Christ/Messiah. Son of Man is a cultural, perhaps even colloquial, term that Jesus uses for himself. In the gospel of Mark, other people call Jesus the messiah. Jesus always uses the term, Son of Man. If they were synonymous, I would think all parties in the gospel would use both terms , but they definitely do not. Messiah/Christ are the Greek and Hebrew words for “anointed one” and are used the Bible to refer to someone who has been anointed by other, usually with oil and laying on of hands, for a specific role: king, prophet, judge, etc. Through reading the Bible, Josephus, and Jewish literature dating before the time of Jesus, scholars have learned that The Messiah/Christ is to be a king from King David’s line who will expel Rome and all other powers from the land of Canaan/Israel, and rebuild the kingdom to the state of size of Solomon’s kingdom.

In Daniel 7, a being who is “like a son of man” is presented before God on his throne and this “son of man” is given all dominion, glory, kingship on earth, that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away and his kingship is one that shall ever be destroyed.”

Defining Son of Man and Messiah/Christ thusly, one can understand how these may have been conflated, perhaps even synonymous, but they are also different. The Messiah/Christ is supposed to march and conquer, expel enemies, and claim the throne of Israel. Daniel writes that The Son of Man is granted this authority by God. Messiah/Christ musters an army and battles. But, as told through Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, the Son of Man uses quite a different method.

“ This little Babe

This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satans fold.
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes;
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble Flesh his warriors steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little Babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.
Robert Southwell

Jesus’ reverse approach to claiming power and the kingdom is greatly offensive and just plain asinine to Peter and the other disciples and followers so Jesus has to lay it on the line. “Either lay aside your own agendas and follow me, or walk away and die now. If you follow me, sure you may die at the hands of the authorities, but you will have life forever with God. If you walk away from me now, you may live for a while, but you will surely die.”

Bible Tuesday for the first Sunday of Lent 2015

Bible Tuesday for the First Sunday of Lent, 2015

Genesis 9:8-17

And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on the earth. That, “ God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.”

This is the first covenant God made with creation. It is unique in that God makes it with all creatures, human, bird and animal. It has a sign, which God makes, the rainbow. God’s covenant with Abraham has a sign that men make, circumcision. Jewish law in the Talmud teaches that God’s end of this covenant is that God will not destroy all creation with a floor every again. The descendants of Noah, that is, all humanity, are to establish courts of justice, refrain from blaspheming Yahweh, refrain from idolatry, sexual perversion, bloodshed and robbery, and to not eat meat cut from living animals. The Talmud teaches that Gentiles who observe the 7 Commandments of Noah meet with God’s full approval.

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 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.
5 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.
7 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.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Psalm 25 is another acrostic psalm, though we only have the first ten verses. The psalmist writes in traditional Jewish form, saying the same thing twice in two different ways in most verses. “To you, O Lord, I lift my whole being. O my God, I put my trust in you.” In both sentences the psalmist is proclaiming complete trust in God.

1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered* for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you* to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for* a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Here is the crux of the author’s atonement theory, Jesus suffered to death for all sins once so that all who sin might be granted forgiveness. “The Righteous for the unrighteous.” Biblically, righteous means “in right relationship with God.” “Sin”, or “hamartia” in Greek, means “to miss the target.” The target for which we are aiming is a right relationship with God, but we always miss. So, Jesus who is righteous dies for those who are not and grants his righteousness to them, us.

The “spirits in prison” referred to in vs. 19-20 are not understood by published biblical scholars. After consulting several commentaries on these verses, the best explanation I could find is that these verses refer to some thought process understanding that was culturally familiar to the author of 1 Peter but not to us.

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news* of God,* 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;* repent, and believe in the good news.’*

The “those days” to which the author refers in the first verse of our text are the days in which John the Baptist was standing in the Jordan doing ministry. Jesus goes to him for ministering, goes down into the water to John. John’s method of baptism, dunking, sprinkling, or something in between, is not described by any of the gospel writers. Notice that as Jesus comes up out of the water, only he sees the skies ripped apart and only he sees the Holy Spirit descend down on him looking something like a dove. The text does not make clear whether only Jesus hears the voice or if everyone around Jesus could hear it also.

The writer of Mark says that immediately after Jesus hears this voice of love and confirmation, Jesus is driven into the wilderness. The other three gospels tell us that the skies opened up for Jesus as the Holy Spirit descended and that Jesus was led into the wilderness. Why did the other three gospel writers soften Mark’s language here?

Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days, just as many as Moses was up on Mt. Sinai. Moses was receiving the law, the method whereby Israelites would live in harmony with one another and God. Jesus is in the wilderness strategizing how to live perfect righteousness with God and woo people to it. Many places in Hebrew Scriptures we read that the prophets, the patriarchs, and King David were “with the wild beasts” which became a euphemism for being in no-man’s land. By doing this, Jesus walks in good company of his faithful ancestors. Notice that in Mark there is no “fasting and praying”, but there are angels waiting on Jesus. Please don’t read this as flowing robed Favios are wiping Jesus’ brow and feeding him figs and grapes. “Angel” means “messenger”. This gospel does not say “Angle of the Lord” or “the angel, Gabriel” so there is no reason to impose on these angels anything other than people sharing food and water with Jesus.

After this time in the wilderness, Jesus has his message honed and is reading to begin ministry. He heads away from Jerusalem into the back country of Israel to preach to the country folks first. “The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. Repent and believe in the good news!”

Bible Tuesday for Transfiguration Sunday, 2015

Bible Tuesday for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, 2015

2 Kings 2:1-12

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha had set out from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me on to Bethel.” “As the Lord lives and as you live,” said Elisha, “I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. Disciples of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take your master from your head today?” He replied, “I know it too. Be silent.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, for the Lord has sent me on to Jericho.” “As the Lord lives and as you live,” said Elisha, “I will not leave you.” So they went on to Jericho. The disciples of the prophets who were at Jericho came over to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take your master from your head today?” He replied, “I know it too. Be silent.”

Elijah said to him, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me on to the Jordan.” “As the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you,” he said, and the two of them went on. Fifty men of the disciples of the prophets followed and stood by at a distance from them as the two of them stopped at the Jordan. Thereupon Elijah took his mantle and, rolling it up, he struck the water; it divided to the right and left, so that the two of them crossed over on dry land. As they were crossing, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha answered, “Let two thirds of your spirit be passed on to me.” “You have asked a difficult thing,” he said. “If you see me as I am being taken from you, this will be granted to you; if not, it will not.” As they kept on walking and talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses suddenly appeared and separated one from the other; and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “Oh, father, father! Israel’s chariots and horsemen!” When he could no longer see him, he grasped his garments and rent them in two.”

The stories of Elijah appear in the books of Kings and Chronicles only. Particularly in Kings, the stories are written in a formulaic style. This is especially true in the writing above. Three times does Elijah tell Elisha that he is being called away by God. Three times do the disciples of the prophets show up, twice to warn Elisha and once to watch. Then a wish is granted by the master to the student, but conditions are placed upon it.

Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan east of Jericho, which is near Mt. Nebo, the sight of Moses’ death and burial by God. Elijah has been written about in the books of Kings and Chronicles as a new Moses. Here Elijah’s earthly life ends in the same general area as Moses’. Because Elijah is taken to God without dying, many Jewish traditions surround him as the harbinger of the messiah. The was true is Jesus’ day also, illustrated by bystanders wondering if, as Jesus cried, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabbachthani!” was he in fact calling to Elijah.

This story also depicts how closely a disciple was to his master. As Elijah is caught up in the whirlwind, Elisha cries out, “Father! Father!” and rends his clothes in grief and loss.

Psalm 50:1-6

1 The mighty one, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.

3 Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 ‘Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.

The psalmist depicts God as supreme ruler of all that is, summoning the elements of creation to swirl about Him as He gathers the faithful to Himself. No beings need bear witness to God, giving credence to His declarations of godliness to be adjudicated, because God is the judge!

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

In chapter 3 of II Corinthians, Paul addresses how it is that some Jews and some Gentiles are not agog with the gospel of Jesus as soon as they hear it. Paul says one reason is that it is veiled from them. He ties this to the ways that the Israelites were afraid to speak to God directly for fear that God’s might/purity/perfection would kill them as it drew near to their imperfection. So, they sent Moses to talk to God and when Moses did, his face would get all shiny so that the Israelites would stare at him and he would get embarrassed. So, Moses would draw his headdress across his face to veil it when it was shiny. Paul says that in the same way, the truth of the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures being fulfilled in Jesus has been veiled to the Jews. That veil is only unveiled when the Jews are willing to look at Jesus as someone more than an insurrectionist.

Then Paul moves on to this text. Here the veil is the idolatry of “those who are perishing.” When folks look to their own accomplishments, reputation, wealth, status, etc., for their place and worth in life, the truth of Jesus is veiled to them. When folks turn to the rules of their religion, and strict adherence to those rules, as the way of salvation, then the radical acts of God/Jesus dying and rising, thereby forgiving and saving, are veiled to them.

Mark 9:2-9

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Six days prior to our text, Jesus told the disciples that he needed to go to Jerusalem to be betrayed, Peter objected, and Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,*will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words* in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

So, six days after that painful revelation to the disciples, and even more painful and enigmatic teaching, Peter, and the sons of Thunder, James and John, are taken on a hike by Jesus. Up they climbed, high enough to escape everyone else, “a high mountain”. The disciples turn to Jesus and see that he is talking to two other men: Moses and Elijah. How the disciples knew who they were, we are not told. Jesus’ clothes are brilliantly white during this truly wonder-full conversation. The disciples thought they had arrived. “This is the time, the place, the people we and our ancestors have been waiting for all these many ages, and now we have arrived. Let’s set up some tents and LIVE here!” So Peter, awestruck and fumbling, opens his mouth and the whole scene vanishes. God interjects, “This is my BELOVED SON!!! LISTEN to him!!!” And then it was over and back down the mountain they went.

Once when Jesus was being grilled about the resurrection of the dead by the Temple leaders, he answered that God said to Moses at the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” not “I was” but “I am”. Jesus goes on to argue that God speaks of these patriarch as if they are alive, therefore there is resurrection and eternal life. Here, at this transfiguration, Peter, James, and John get to witness exactly what Jesus was talking about, Moses and Elijah are alive!

Why did this scene happen? Did Jesus need to have a powwow with these legendary Jewish leaders before he went up to Jerusalem to be executed? Did Jesus/God miss his heavenly friends or did they need him? Certainly the disciples were greatly encouraged by seeing Jesus talking to these two heroes of old. Silencing a thunderstorm, giving sight to the bind, hearing to the deaf, forgiving sins, raising folks from the dead, and now a conversation with Moses and Elijah!

Then cloud covers the scene and from the cloud the disciples are admonished, “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!” When God gave the law to Moses, God appeared and spoke in just this way, in the fog. Now the disciples are in the fog, figuratively and literally and God speaks words of clarity, stating Jesus identity and telling the disciples what they should do. Neither one sinks in until after Jesus’ resurrection, if then. For them and us.

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Have you not been told from the very first? Have you not discerned how the earth was founded? It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth, so that its inhabitants seem as grasshoppers; Who spread out the skies like gauze, stretch them out like a tent to dwell in. He brings potentates to naught, makes rulers of the earth as nothing. Hardly are they planted, hardly are they sown, hardly has their stem taken root in earth, when He blows upon them and they dry up, and the storm bears them off like straw.

To whom, then, can you liken Me, to whom can I be compared? asks the Lord.

Lift high your eyes and see: who created these? He who sends out their host by count, Who calls them each by name. Because of His great might and vast power, not one fails to appear. Why do you say, O Jacob, why declare, O Israel, “My way is hid from the Lord, my cause is ignored by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is God from of old, creator of the earth from end to end. He never grows faint or weary. His wisdom cannot be fathomed. He gives strength to the weary, fresh vigor to the spent. Youths may grow faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but they who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength just as eagles grow new plumes. They shall run and not grow weary, they shall march and not grow faint.

Just two months ago we heard, in worship, the beginning of this chapter of Isaiah. “Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…” This is the chapter of Isaiah where the prophecy turns from chiding and warning to good news. The punishment for idolatry and unfaithfulness is over. God is bringing the Israelites home from Babylon. But the Israelites have been struggling with trust in God’s authority. Many Israelites saw their captivity to a foreign land as evidence that God is not as strong as they thought. To them, it looked like God was defeated by the gods of Babylon. In the above section of Isaiah, the prophet responds. As in the book of Job, all of nature is viewed as testimony of God’s might.

Usually, the last verse of this chapter is translated in English, “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles…” A word for word translation of the Hebrew does not mention “mounting with wings” but rather “growing new plumage.” In this time period, it was thought that when birds were worn out, exhausted, they would molt. Their strength was restored to them as they grew new plumage. This makes clearer the authors intent when using this metaphor. The Israelites were worn out from losing a war to and being oppressed by Babylon for two generations. They want restoration and explanation from God immediately! But the prophet tells them to “wait in the Lord. Be patient a while longer while God regrows your wings.”

Psalm 147:1-11, 20

Hallelujah! It is good to chant hymns to our God; it is pleasant to sing glorious praise. The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; He gathers in the exiles of Israel. He heals their broken hearts, and binds up their wounds. He reckoned the number of the stars; to each He gave its name. Great is our Lord and full of power; Hi wisdom is beyond reckoning. The Lord gives courage to the lowly and brings the wicked down to the dust. Sing to the Lord a song of praise, chant a hymn with a lyre to our God, who covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, makes mountains put forth grass; who gives the beasts their food, to the raven’s brood what they cry for. He does not prize the strength of horses, nor value the fleetness of men; but the Lord values those who fear Him, those who depend on His faithful care. Hallelujah!

In this psalm, God’s glory/reputation/credibility is again found in creation, but also in compassion. Healing emotional, physical, and psychological wounds is here recounted as God’s credentials just as much as creating and naming the stars.

In this psalm, granting attention to the lowly and punishing the wicked are reference to Israel and her enemies. In exile, Israel was lowly and her oppressors were wicked. The Israelite enemies has strong horses and fleet footed armies, but God has defeated them. When Israel goes to war with those same assets, they are understood as gifts from God.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Paul is addressing a few things in this 9th chapter of 1st Corinthians. First, Paul and Apollos should have been given a place to stay, food and drink, and water and soap for cleaning self and clothes, when they stayed in Corinth. If people in the congregation were not willing or able to provide accommodations for the several month stay, then Paul would use money given to them for the church in Jerusalem for this purpose. Apparently the church in Corinth gave him grief about this in a letter to which Paul is here responding. When Paul was in Rome, Paul worked as a tentmaker to support himself, but that, too, was greeted with scorn by some in the congregation. It seems that Paul, like most church leaders, can’t win.

Paul’s response to this charge of money misappropriation is “Look, I am an apostle sent by Jesus, himself, to proclaim his gospel to the Gentiles. I try very hard to be as inoffensive and unobtrusive as possible for these folks so that what they receive from me is only Jesus’ good news. If you have a problem with how I am, please understand that I am what I am for the sake to those who do not Jesus. So please, cut me some slack and drop this.”

Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they* left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Why is it that a nice guy, a wise teacher, a compassionate healer, as Jesus was, raised the dander of the Jewish authorities so much that they would put a price on his head? Because he was cheeky? Well, if that was the only criterion, then a price would have been on better than half the male Jewish population! Herod was an extremely unpopular king and his administration received very little respect but an awful lot of fear. Jesus had to be a pretty serious threat to a lot more than the snake oils salesmen of the day to get the negative attention he did.

Ben Witherington III (The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary) notes some of the offensiveness of Jesus’ actions:

Though there are later stories of rabbis taking the hand of another man and healing him, there are no such stories of rabbis doing so for a woman, and especially not for a woman who was not a member of the healer’s family (b.Ber. 5b). In addition, there is the fact that Jesus performed this act on the Sabbath. Thus, while touching a nonrelated woman was in itself an offense, and touching one that was sick and therefore unclean was doubly so, performing this act on the Sabbath only compounds the social offense. But this is not all. The service of Peter’s mother-in-law to Jesus (and the others) itself could have constituted work on the Sabbath, depending on what was done (.e.g., preparing food). In any case, later Jewish traditions suggest that women should not serve meals to male strangers. The important point about Jesus, however, is that he does not see the touch of a woman, even a sick woman, as any more defiling than the touch of the man with the skin disease. Jesus’ attitudes about ritual purity differed from those of many of his fellow Jews. [p. 98]

So Jesus, while acting compassionately, was functioning outside of social mores. That always feels like a threat to those who enforce such mores. Sure, we know Jesus taught and healed any and all comers, Pharisees, peasants, widows and orphans, children, non-Jews, etc. We love that about Jesus because it means Jesus heals and teaches us. However, it overturns and undermines the laws and cultural norms that keep the Jews Jewish and elevate them, at least in their own eyes, above the Romans and all the other conquered peoples. Also, when Jesus taught, healed, and touched women, children, lepers, etc., he was violating the class system of that day; not only violating it, but negating it, treating each person with the same respect. In a culture where you don’t look at, greet, sit near, eat with, or acknowledge, much less touch any non-Jew, woman other than close relatives, or child who is not your immediate family, going around touching women and dining with sick people is obscene, and abhorrent.

An example of this is in both this story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law and the story immediately preceding this, which we heard this past Sunday, where Jesus healed a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue on the sabboth.

Brian Stoffregen, in his notes on these texts points, out that in the first story, the sufferer is a man, in the second, a woman. In the first story, the healing happens in the sacred space of the synagogue, in the second it happens in the common place of a house. In the first story the illness is supernatural (unclean spirit), and in the second the illness is a fever. Jesus weaves himself through all these levels and locations of society extending equal love and grace for sufferer and those around him/her.

As I have written in the past, the word translated “heal” in English is the Greek “sozo”. “Sozo” means to restore, to be made whole, and oh so much more than just “to get better.” Peter’s mother-in-law lives with her daughter and her family, which includes Peter’s brother, Andrew, and his family which may well include wife, children, and members of the wife’s family. This mother-in-law may well be the senior woman in the family which affords her some dignity, especially when guests come see her well kept home and taste the fruits of her kitchen. To be sick means to be suffering the punishment and shame of some sin. To be sick when there are guests to host is complete humiliation. When Jesus touches her hand and raises her from her sick bed, Jesus is living the fact that there is no punishment or shame in illness, nor in being female. For Jesus to do this on the sabboth, right after leaving worship, is to act as God created us to act, in compassion and service, no matter what the day.

Peter’s mother-in-law, now freed from her fever, is helped up by Jesus and goes straight to work hosting these guests. Jesus did not raise her to wait on him, as some feminist theologians have decried, but rather he has restored her to the vary station and activities in which she can serve God and through which she receives status, safety, and dignity. When her fever left her and she went to the kitchen, Peter’s mother-in-law was “restored”.