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Month: March 2016

Bible Tuesday for Easter Sunday 2016

Bible Tuesday for Easter Sunday, 2016

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;[a] for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

The above passage is God’s response to Israel’s complaint of abandonment and excessive punishment. The Israelites interpreted their defeat by Babylon as God’s judgment and punishment for their almost constant worship of other gods. Some Israelites kings even set up altars to other gods in the Temple!

The beginning of chapter 65 contains God’s lament of poor treatment at the hands of the Israelites. God speaks as a spurned parent, whose children want money and car keys only, but distain the person who is their caretaker and provider. God describes Israel as, ”a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks (acts of worshiping Canaanite gods); who sit inside tombs and spend the night in secret places (necromancy with gods of the underworld); who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels…” God goes on to acknowledge that defeat and captivity at the hands of the Babylonians has been miserable, but “when I called, you did not answer, when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my sight…”

Even so, “your warfare is accomplished and your iniquity is pardoned.” God is calling the Israelites home. They have been released by Babylon’s conqueror, Persia. However, when Babylon defeated Israel, they leveled Jerusalem, burned farm fields, destroyed cities and villages. The Israelites are released to go home, but they have no home to go to.

For this reason, God states in the above passage that, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…” The sin of the Israelites, their abandonment of God, God’s law, God love, has been so complete that the Israelites and God cannot merely pick up where they left off. God and this faithful remnant will start over in a whole new earth and heaven.

Yet, this promise of God’s is not completed during the time of the prophet Isaiah, nor will it be until all things are made new in paradise.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!

Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’

The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.*

This psalm of military victory for Israel is a “cover” of Miriam’s song which she sings after God led the Israelites fleeing Egypt safely through the Sea of Reeds. Miriam’s song is thought to be the oldest part of the Bible. Here the psalmist adds to Miriam’s song with exhortations of God and the military might God has shown on behalf of Israel. “The stone which the builders rejected” may refer to derision the Israelite army suffered due to size or lack of the latest weaponry.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.* For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end,* when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

In this passage of his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul addresses frustrations and doubts of the congregation. From the very beginning of Christianity, resurrection from the dead has been the source of doubt. Sure, Jesus raised from the dead, and the early Christians knew this because there were many people who saw him after he resurrected, complete with crucifixion scars. But what about the believers who die before Jesus returns? If you go to their graves, their bodies are still in them, decomposing. And when will Jesus return? When will the end time come?

The fact is that the gospels never answer these questions. When the disciples ask Jesus “When?” he answers, “Of that, no one knows except the Father.” So then, how do people believe in Jesus with such basic questions unanswered? That is what Paul is trying to address. Paul looks at what he does know about God, based on the Hebrew Scriptures and on his brief encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and attempts to answer. Sin came through a man, Adam, so salvation needs to come through a man, Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead first to make a way for all others to also rise. When will Jesus return and the end come? When Jesus is done doing everything he has to do.

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.* 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women* were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men* said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.*6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.*

We know the Easter story so it is hard to read just these words written in the gospel of Luke without reading into this story all the other gospels. But, in order to really receive what Luke has to tell us, we must try to read this gospel as if we did not know this story.

First, who went to the tomb and why did they go there?

Verse 10 tells us that the named women are two of the underwriters of the ministry: Mary of Magdala, and Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s steward, Chuza, and Apostles James and John’s mom, Mary, and the other women. It is important to note this because throughout Luke’s gospel, he names female disciples of Jesus, and recounts their activities, which are omitted from the other three gospels.

The women went to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. Jews bury bodies within 24 hours of death. A body is unclean after 24 hours so all who would come to view the body and comfort the family and friends would be unclean. Since Jesus died during the Passover celebration, being unclean would mean not being able to continue the Temple and familial activities of the seven days of Passover, so Jesus’ body was hastily washed, wrapped in the traditional linen shroud and laid in a tomb without all of the normal dressing and anointing a person of respect would normally receive. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the spices, could be as extravagant as pure nard ointment costing three months’ wages. Frankincense and myrrh were also regularly used. Since Jesus’ body has been in the tomb for more than 24 hours, unembalmed, these women face a gruesome task.

Luke is the only evangelist to tell that two angels met the women in the tomb. Why is it important that two angels are there? The angels remind the women of what Jesus foretold. Here these women are, grieving and steeling themselves for the task ahead, attempting to mask the sight and smell of death with aromas. Then all that is shattered by an angelic invitation to remember and proclaim.

The women ran and told the eleven apostles and all the rest. Who are the rest? Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts that there are about 120 people, including apostles, who stay together after Jesus’ crucifixion and who are still together on the day of Pentecost. These included Jesus’ mother and siblings, and the two men who are considered for Judas’ replacement. It is to these giants in the founding of Christianity that the glorious news of Jesus’ resurrection is told…but they judge it an idle tale.

Bible Tuesday for Palm Sunday 2016

Bible Tuesday for Palm Sunday, 2016

The Processional Gospel for Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

As this passage begins, “After he had said this…” one needs to read the passage preceding this one, as this one leans and is in reaction to or precedes from what happened in the previous passage. The beginning of Luke 19 is the story of Zacchaeus, the story of a man completely changed, freed, through his encounter with Jesus. The Zacchaeus story closes with Jesus saying, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Then comes the “Parable of the Ten Pounds”.

The context of this parable is that Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem and comes near. Because Jesus is now very near Jerusalem, the crowds and disciples, “supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” In response to this heightened anticipation, Jesus tells this parable about a man who “went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return…But the citizens of his country hated him and sent out a delegation after him saying, ‘We do not want you to rule over us.’” When the man returns with royal power, he asks his slaves to report on how the have invested the money he gave them as he left. Some did well while one buried the money in the ground. The ones who invested are rewarded while the one who buried the money. Then those who sent the delegation stating their displeasure are brought before the man and slaughtered.

So what does the Palm Sunday story have to do with Zacchaeus and this parable? It was Jewish tradition as stated in Zechariah 14 that God would appear at the Mount of Olives on The Day of the Lord and become king over all the earth. When Jesus instructs the two disciples to get the unridden colt, they are to use the royal prerogative, “The Master has need of it.” Zechariah 9 describes the tradition of victorious Israelite kings riding into Jerusalem on male donkeys. While Luke does not mention the palm branches being cut and waved, he does mention the cloaks laid on the ground for the donkey to tread on, again following royal tradition. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” is the chant that accompanies a new king as he is entering the city to be crowned. Herod is king of the Jews and rules Jerusalem under Roman authority. Yet Jesus is being proclaimed king! “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” These are the vary words the angels sang to the shepherds when they announced Jesus’ birth. But the Pharisees, the Jewish religion/political party who share many of Jesus’ teachings and beliefs, scold and admonish Jesus to stop this royal acclamation. The Pharisees do not recognized God riding into Jerusalem to take the throne and reign forever.

The parable that Jesus tells right before Palm Sunday foretells exactly what will happen on Palm Sunday and throughout Passion Week. The Israelites see God as absent while they suffer under Roman rule. God/Jesus returns with kingly authority and there are those Jewish leaders who did lead people with mercy and justice and they will be in charge of much after Jesus is crowned (with thorns, albeit) but there are Jewish leaders who ignore the treasure God has laid in their hands and lead with their own egos and laws, not God’s love. From them, they responsibility and authority will be taken and given to others, like Zacchaeus, who prove faithful to God’s way of ruling.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem really is exactly what the Old Testament prophets foretold. It is all coming to fulfillment in this moment. All heaven rejoices and a little bit of earth too. For this reason, if the crowds would stop singing, the stones would start up. God’s promises are being fulfilled in this long awaited act!

Bible Tuesday for Lent V 2016

Bible Tuesday for Lent V 2016

Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

This portion of Isaiah is a message of encouragement and hope for the Israelites who will soon be leaving captivity in Babylonia and returning to Canaan, the promised land. God reminds the Israelites that once before, God brought them home despite their humiliated, enslaved state, and their doubt in God, a god they had all but forgotten. God says, “You thought your escape from Egypt was something?! I tell you, that was nothing compared to what I will do for you now!” The road from Babylonia to Canaan/Israel is a dry and barren one but God promises blooming deserts and wadis flowing with water!

Psalm 126

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,*
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

When the southern portion of Israel, referred to in the Bible as Judah, was conquered by Babylonia, the educated and ruling classes of Israelites were hauled away into captivity. For the Israelites to be defeated by a foreign power meant that God/Yahweh was either not as strong as the Babylonian idols, or that Yahwah had abandoned Israel due to sin. The Israelites wrote a psalm to remember their broken hearted and debased defeat.

“Psalm 137 – By the rivers of Babylon, there was sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion [the hill on which God’s temple was
built, which the Babylonian army had razed]. There on the poplars we hung up our lyres, for our captors asked us there for sons, and our tormentors, for amusement, saying ‘Sing us one of those songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord on alien soil?!”

The Israelites believed that God/Yahweh had abandoned them. They reasoned that since they had abandoned the worship of Yahweh and put up pagan altars in God’s temple and had offered sacrifices and incense on the tops of hills and under tall trees (aka: the high places) to Baal and Ashura, God is punishing us. When the people of Jerusalem saw God temple on Mount Zion leveled, they were sure that God had left them. So they state in Psalm 137.

But now in 126 the Israelites are singing with overflowing joy! God is restoring them to their homes in Canaan (aka: Israel, the Promised Land). Their captivity is over! Their punishment is ended!

Philippians 3:4-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:5circumcised 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;6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More 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 9and 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. 10I want to know Christ* and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;* but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved,* I do not consider that I have made it my own;*but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly* call of God in Christ Jesus.

While a couple of ancient books outside of the Bible (aka: extracanonical) give descriptions of Paul ( “The Acts of Paul and Thekla”), the first verses of this passage give us the best Biblical description of him. Paul tells his readers that he is as Jewish as they come! Paul describes himself as a natural born Jew who has followed the law from birth. He even tells us that he is a Pharisee, a political/religious position for which he underwent many years of education and scrutiny. In that position as Pharisee, Paul at first arrested and persecuted the followers of Jesus, believing them to be heretics. All of this gained him respect from most of his fellow Jews, prestige among Jewish leaders, and a “closer relationship of honor with God”.

However, through Paul’s encounter with Jesus and his training and experience with Barnabas and other early Christians, Paul’s heart and mind were completely transformed. Paul came to realize that nothing generated by humans can earn them anything from God. Rather, through Jesus, God grants his full grace, favor, faithfulness, and love, to all humanity, and redeems all of creation.

Paul’s Jewish credentials count for nothing before God, because they don’t need to, indeed, they cannot because they are not perfect. Not Paul, nor anyone in all human history has ever kept God’s Law perfectly except Jesus, and even kept the spirit of the law but not necessary the exact letter of the law. (ie. Not washing hands before eating, picking grains on the sabboth, healing on the sabboth, etc.) Therefore, Paul proclaims that what is needed is faith in/relationship with Christ Jesus. “Making it my own” I interpret to mean believing in, trusting in, putting all his weight on who Jesus said he is and what he said he did.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them* with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii* and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it* so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

This story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiping them with her hair appears in all four gospels. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the woman is not identified. In Matthew and Mark, the woman is not described and it is Jesus head which is anointed. In Luke, the woman is described as pornea or somehow living an unclean lifestyle. In English, the word is commonly translated in “of bad reputation.” In the gospel of John, the woman is described is Lazarus’ sister, Mary; the same sister that appears in the “Mary and Martha” story, and in the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection.

But, somehow in the machinations of church tradition and myth making, this anointing woman whom Jesus defends, is frequently assumed to be Mary Magdalene, not Mary, Lazarus’ sister, or another woman entirely. Now, all of the gospels mention Mary Magdalene as one of Jesus’ disciples who was at the cross as he died and at the tomb on Easter morning. Luke describes Mary Magdalene as “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and…many others, who provided for them [Jesus and the apostles] out of their own resources.” In other words, while church tradition from the second century onward, even showing up in “Jesus Christ Super Star”, says that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and that in an act of humility, gratitude, and contrition, she lavished perfume on Jesus and wiped it off with her hair, the Bible says that a) Mary of Magdala wasn’t a woman of any kind of bad reputation, and b) she had nothing to do with this perfume incident. (Magdalene means “of Magdala”. Magdala was a town on the Sea of Galilee which was famous throughout the Roman Empire for its fish sauce.)

The pound in Roman measurements was only equal to about 12 ounces. Nard was a perfumed ointment imported from the Himalayas and would cost a peasant a year’s wages. So this is a Coke can full of petroleum jelly type stuff slathered all over Jesus’ feet and worked in the Mary’s hair. No matter how you slice it, this is an extravagant act one would only do for the most loved, most adored, most revered person. How difficult it would be on the receiving end of such an act! And chapters later, Jesus will perform this same act, minus the perfume and hair parts, on his disciples and apostles. Just as Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, so Jesus will wipe the feet of his followers.

“So that she might keep it for my burial.” It was Jewish tradition to wash and anoint the dead before burial within 24 hours of death. A pound of more of perfumed ointment was customary.

The New Interpreter’s Bible “The expression ‘not because he cared about the poor’ echoes the description of the hired hand’s lack of care for the sheep in John 10:13. The use of these words suggests that the description of Judas is intended to point the reader toward the proper context in which to place Judas’ actions. When Judas betrays Jesus, he also betrays the sheep.”

“You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me.” This is a hard saying for us to understand. It is repeated in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7. To lavish extravagantly on Jesus appears to fly in the face of, “If you have two coats, give one away.” However, the gospel writer of John is using this story to emphasize that response to Jesus is an urgent thing. Face to face contact with Jesus for people is very limited and time specific.

In addition, this story shows the extremes that are developing among Jesus’ followers as the gospel moves toward Jesus’s passion. While Judas is preparing to betray Jesus, Mary is lavishing him with very aromatic ointment. Soon both acts with culminate: Jesus will be arrested and executed, and will be laid hastily in a tomb.

Bible Tuesday for Lent IV, 2016

Bible Tuesdays for Lent IV, 2016

Joshua 5:9-12

9The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

10While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

The Israelites were led out of Egypt by Moses, but once it was time to enter Canaan (aka: the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, the land of the Hittites, Jebusites, Hivites, Amorites and Canaanites), then Joshua was in charge. First, God told Joshua and all Israel that they must expel all these other tribes from Canaan, and occupy the land they formerly held. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel were assigned certain sections of Canaan. When the people of one section were defeated, then the assigned Israelite tribe would occupy that land. The Israelites would start to farm their new home, planting crops.

Finally, when the whole of Canaan was defeated and the tribes were settled in their lands, then God said to Joshua, “All the men of Israel should be circumcised.” God first commanded circumcision as the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham when God made the covenant of land/offspring/blessing with him. Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and all of Jacob’s sons and their sons and their sons and so on were all circumcised until the Israelites became slaves of the Egyptians. Under Egypt, Jews were not allowed to worship Yahweh, and not allowed to perform any rituals in the name of Yahweh, including circumcision.

Why was circumcision such a big thing with the Israelites/Jews? In American culture, circumcision is common because it is seen as sanitary, but it is far less common in European society. Ancient Roman and Greek cultures carried on the even more ancient belief that if a man was completely undressed but uncircumcised, he was not naked. His intact foreskin provided modesty. The Israelites interpretation of God’s command of circumcision, then, is that by being circumcised, Israelites men are completely exposed to and dependent on God.

Why do I digress on circumcision? Because the above passage takes place when all of the Israelites have finally occupied Canaan, and are about the harvest their spring crops, which also means that they are about to celebrate Passover with the Seder meal. But none of the Israelite men are ready for this very high holy celebration because they were all born while the Israelites wandered the wilderness and were not circumcising their baby boys. (Israelites have never performed or sanctioned “female circumcision”.) In order to celebrate Passover, the Israelites have to be ritually clean and in compliance with the Law God gave Moses. So, Joshua declares seventeen days before the first Passover meal is to be eaten, that all the men should be circumcised. This time line gives the men three days to recover before they have to sort sheep to get the Passover lamb set apart. It give them recovery days before they had to get into the fields to harvest and thresh grain which the women will grind and make into matzah/unleavened bread to eat with their roasted lamb as their Passover meal.

The first verse of the above pericope states that God has removed from the Israelites their disgrace. This “disgrace” is the shameful act of being covered before God/Yahweh, and therefore untrusting of God and out of compliance with God’s law given to Moses. Since all the men are now circumcised, the disgrace is removed, and all can eat the Seder meal and celebrate the Passover, the mighty acts whereby God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

Because the Israelites are now in the land God promised to them through Abraham, and have successfully brought in their first spring grain crop, they no longer need the manna and quail with which God fed them all those years wandering in the wilderness, so it stops. The Israelites must now rely on God’s gifts of rain, sun, good seeds, and good soil.

Psalm 32

1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

2Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

6Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.

7You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

10Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.

11Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

The title of this psalm is “Of David. A Maskil”. In Hebrew, maskil appears to be a play on the word, askikha, which means “Let me enlighten you.”

The psalmist holds silence in that he/she is not confessing the sin to God. Fear, guilt, shame caused haunting anguish and dread. Finally confession is made and God’s forgiveness is found. Instead of drowning in punishment, God’s forgiveness is deliverance.

The term “without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you” is not translatable. The Hebrew is strange and does not appear in any other ancient Hebrew writings for translation aid. The Jewish Study Bible translates it, “whose movement must be curbed by bit and bridle. Far be that from you!” Very different than the above New Revised Standard Version.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This text picks up an argument being made by St. Paul in its middle, as “From now on…” indicates. Previous to this text, Paul has been talking about the temporariness and imperfection of human life which is redeemed and made new in Christ. In the above passage, Paul urges the congregation in Corinth, and all who read this letter, including us, to a higher life. In this new life, we see each other as God sees us through Christ: new, clean, redeemed. Just as we are reconciled to God through Jesus, we must allow ourselves to be reconciled to each other through Jesus also.

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

This parable is the third of a set of three describing God’s diligent, unflagging, unfailing love for God’s children. The other two parables are saved for later in the church year but here we are with this one during Lent.

Mosaic Law as spelled out in Leviticus states that the oldest son inherits double what his younger brothers inherit. The oldest son is also responsible for the parents as they age. The concept of wills did exist at the time of Jesus, even in Israelite communities, but the teachings and tradition on a will put the inheritance into a trust of sorts. Neither the son nor the father could sell or otherwise dispose of the inheritance until the death of the father, when the inheritance became the son’s property.

For the younger son to ask for his father to divide the estate and give him his portion of the inheritance meant the same thing in that culture as in ours, “I don’t care if you need your land to support yourself, and your house to shelter you and Mom. It will be mine someday. That someday should be now. Hand it over, old man!” For the younger son to liquidate that inheritance was completely illegal as well as insulting beyond words. The younger son’s dissolute living is icing on the cake. The oldest son was expected to join forces with and support his father, which is not described in this parable.

Pigs are considered unclean animals for Jews because pigs are odd, and odd animals are almost always unclean. Pigs have cloven hooves but they do not ruminate (chew cud) as cattle and deer do. In addition, pigs are omnivores and eat carrion. Carrion eaters are unclean. For a Jew to work feeding pigs and desire to eat pig feed adds even more insult to injury in his family relations and indicates just how desperate this young man was.

The son comes to realize that Dad was a good boss, even treating the hired hands better than he was fairing. So, the son resolves to go home and confess to his father, hoping to get hired on there, and leave his pig days behind him. I have contemplated this confession both from an honest but flawed point of view, and from a manipulative point of view. In this story, no matter how the motivation or delivery of the son’s confession, the father’s reaction is the same. Rejoicing and celebration!

Now the oldest son has a serious concern. Does his ne’er-do-well brother’s return mean the estate will be split again? The father says no, “all that is mine is yours.” The older son’s inheritance is also in a trust in the older brother’s name, which remains in the father’s control until the father dies. But the older brother fears more than an inheritance split. He resents the fuss and celebration being made over an disgraceful ingrate.

So why didn’t the older son ever take a goat from the herd himself and have a meal with his friends? Why does the older brother feel so threatened by the returning younger brother? The father seems so magnanimous and loving to both sons, but neither one of them seems secure in their love and trust of their dad.