Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 20, 2016
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment emerges deformed.
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
The prophecy of Habakkuk is primarily one of a conversation between God and the prophet. The conversation is about Israel and the impending doom of being conquered by Babylon. Note that while scholars date this section of the book to 600’s BCE, there is nothing in this passage to anchor it to a particular time. It has been and continues to be used in prayer and liturgy by peoples who are oppressed.
The second part of the passage is from the beginning verses of chapter 2. Here the prophet begins to proclaim not only lament, but faith that God will act. “The righteous (those who are in right relationship with God) live by their faith.”
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
2for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
3Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
6He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
7Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
8Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
One way of interpreting proverbs like the ones included in this psalm is to say, “Obey God and God will reward you with lots of cool stuff.” Most of the TV evangelists preach that interpretation of scriptures. Frequently those evangelists also ask for donations as a sign of the viewers’ faith in God and teach that those donations will be multiplied many times over as God rewards the donators.
Another way to interpret such proverbs is this: When believers “take delight in the Lord,” then their hearts become full of that which they desire, God. Prayer, scripture reading, worship, and humility before God bring about change in people. Their longings morph from luxuries to comfort for neighbor and justice for all. Therefore, donating is not a down payment on a bigger blessing from God, but an effort to help the world with the means that we have.
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
The beginning of second Timothy starts in classic Roman-Greco correspondence style: Greeting with identification/authority, and salutation to addressee, then blessing, which proceeds into thanksgiving.
In this greeting, Paul again identifies himself as an apostle. This is key to Paul’s understanding of who he is and why he is writing to these congregations and individuals. Because of Paul’s road to Damascus experience with Jesus, Paul counts himself as the 13th apostle right in there with Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Thaddaeus, James son of Alpheus, Simon, and Matthias. Paul’s status as an apostle was questioned and disputed among early believers so it was very important to Paul to make this claim at the very beginning of his correspondence.
Paul mentions that Timothy should not be ashamed of Paul or the gospel. How difficult it must have been to believe in salvation through Jesus when your fellow Jews, as well as the Romans, thought you were crazy, and you had no Bible to back you up, just interpretations of the Hebrew scriptures. You believed that a convicted insurrectionist who had been publicly executed was actually God and rose from the dead, and the guy who taught all this to you is now in prison in Rome (Paul) awaiting his day in front of Caesar who will likely make your hero into lion food.
So your hero writes to you, admonishing you to hold fast to the gospel, that Jesus is real and so is resurrection, grace, and eternal life.
5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Once again, let’s look at what immediately precedes this text to get some context for what Jesus is saying. Jesus just finished his many parables regarding wealth and the idolatry of it, culminating in “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Realizing that what he has just taught is very hard to understand, much less live by, Jesus then says in chapter 17:1, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come,” but then continues sternly to his disciples “but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Jesus continues to his disciples, “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent’, you must forgive.” It is to these very hard teachings and the demand for forgiveness each and every time a person repents that the apostles (the twelve) exclaim, “Increase our faith!”
The hyperbole that Jesus uses when discussing mulberry trees and mustard seeds is meant to alarm the disciples, not describe Monty Python-esque antics those with faith should undertake. No, the faithful should be about the business of forgiveness as if it were the mundane tasks undertaken by a slave for his owner. No fanfare or gratitude is expected or given. Forgiveness is merely granted because it is the correct course of things. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We sin at least seven times a day and God forgives us each and every time. Extending that to those who sin against us is the least that we can do.