Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 5th, 2015
2He said to me: O mortal,* stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation* of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
Many of the books of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) have stories of the prophet’s calling. Here is one of Ezekiel’s.
The name, Ezekiel, means “God strengthens”. “El” means “God” in Hebrew so anytime a name has “El” in the beginning, middle, or end, it is a name that includes God. In this case, the prophet is sent to help the Israelites strengthen their relationship with God and their faith in God. However, in this call, God makes it pretty clear God isn’t expecting much strengthening to be going on with the Israelites.
As God instructs Ezekiel to act prophetically, God says, “and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” In other words, God is going to give Ezekiel the words to say and indicate the occasions during which to say them, and the proclamation will start with, “Thus says the Lord God…”
If this were my bishop, and I was being told, “I am sending you to a stubborn, impudent people and you shall proclaim God’s word to them thusly…” I would be very reluctant to accept the call. I don’t think Ezekiel had such a choice.
A Song of Ascents.
1 To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than its fill
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.
This psalm would serve rather like a “Gathering Hymn” in Temple and synagogue worship. As folks were traveling to a worship service, or at the beginning of the worship service, this or other “hymns of ascent” were sung.
While we pluck produce from displays and place them in our shopping carts, looking to God’s hand to provide for our every need is far from our minds. When we think of giving thanks to God, we tend to wax romantic and “count our blessings”, but this psalm presents a much more austere and immediate view. We look to God to provide everything, even more than a master provides for a slave. We even look to God for air to breathe and life to live.
It is in the last lines of this psalm that we hear the fuller context of the psalmist. This is a person who has been bullies, scorned, abused and looks to God for life, yes, and sanctuary.
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.5On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
While this passage starts out strangely, it ends with very important theology. Most scholars think that Paul is actually referring to himself when he says, “I know a person…” The whole concept of “third heaven” is foreign to Jews and Christians alike, so understanding Paul in these first verses is beyond modern scholarship.
Paul states emphatically that no visions or miraculous events, even if given by God, are to be used for anything other than growing in relationship with God. One does not use anything to glorify self, but only to present Christ. In this case, Paul presents God’s grace through his own suffering,. What a concept, instead of bragging about the healing that God has brought about, Paul presents his suffering as a vehicle through which God presents his abundant grace.
He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him.4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
“You’re getting a little big for your britches there, aren’t you, son?!” a contemporary version of what the folks of Nazareth said to Jesus.
I am aware of the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that mentioned in this text are Jesus mother, and his cousins, not brothers who are named and sisters who are unnamed. However, there is no precedent in Greek for translating this text in that way. We read Jesus mother and siblings, but Joseph is not mentioned, not at all in Mark, the first gospel written. Mark also tells us that Jesus is the carpenter, not as Matthew puts it, the carpenter’s son.
The fact that Jesus “could do no deeds of power there, except that he laid hands on a few sick people and cured them” intimates that belief in Jesus on the part of the crowd is somehow necessary to facilitate miracles, at least as the gospel writer, Mark, relays it.
Although Jesus is not able to do the work at hand because of his reputation among the home crowd, Jesus does not sit and sulk or curse them,(though he does give them a piece of his mind about prophets and hometowns). Instead, Jesus sends out the disciples. The kingdom of God is at hand! This needs to be proclaimed! If not by teacher, then by the students! But there are conditions under which Jesus sends out these six teams of two. They are to take no money, and no luggage of spare clothes or food. Why? Because the Israelites should be expecting them and should provide for them, as per the tradition stated in the Torah and the Talmud. If their fellow Israelites do not recognize them, honor them, and host them, then a warning is proclaimed and the disciples move on.
Wow! Are we allowed to do that?