Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 5, 2017
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.
3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
The above passage is from Third Isaiah, or the portion of Isaiah written after all the exiles have returned from Babylonia to Israel. Second Isaiah was full or wonderful imagery of God’s loving care of Israel after they would be released from captivity. But not all of the prophecies came true once Babylonian occupation ended and the exiles returned. “Why not?!” the Israelites demanded to know. The above prophecy was given to answer that question.
The short answer is, “Because you are still blowing off Me and neighbor and putting yourself and your false gods before Me.” In Isaiah chapter 57, God declares that the Israelites are still worshiping other gods, making pilgrimages to the tallest trees and the highest hills to offer sacrifices at pagan altars. In this chapter, God declares that the Jewish religious practices that these folks do are also profane because they are done in great hypocrisy. In verses 3-7, fasting is not done out of devotion to God and care for neighbor, but rather to earn God’s favor. The prophecy promises that when fasting and prayer are done for the benefit of the poor, the naked, and one’s own kin, then God’s presence will be manifest.
1Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.
2Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
4They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
6For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.
7They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
8Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
10The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
This psalm spells out the blessings which come to those who “fear the Lord” and the suffering that results for those who don’t. It is in acrostic form, meaning that each line begins with a letter of the alphabet in alphabetical order. Note that the sign of “fearing the Lord” is doing justice and giving generously, v. 9.
Fear the Lord-Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, the phrase “Fear the Lord” or “Fear of the Lord” is used. Exactly what is meant? Are we actually to be afraid of God?
The fear that the Bible is talking about is better expressed are great respect. When one stands at the edge of the Grand Canyon, despite the fact that the metal pipe guard rail is set in concrete, when one’s eyes look all the long way down into that canyon, one’s knees get a little jelly feel to them and one’s heart tends to race. Is this the fear that somehow the canyon will come up and swallow a person? Is this the fear that gravity will pull extra hard and suck a person into the canyon? No, it is the fear that comes from communing with great power and beauty that is completely beyond one’s control. This is the kind of fear which the faithful are to have in God.
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
6Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.14Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.16“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
First, a word on “wisdom”. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Wisdom is personified as the right hand woman of God (Proverbs 8 and 9). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom,” says Proverbs 9:10. In other words, wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures is defined as being faithful to God, tending to God’s relationship with you, acting in accordance with God’s vision of life on earth: do justice, love kindness, forgive, serve the poor and neglected, walk humbly with God. That is the kind of wisdom Paul subscribes to in the above passage. Paul would define wisdom in the same way Proverbs 8-9 does, save Paul would add that to be wise is to believe in Christ crucified and risen, son of God.
The general population of Paul’s day did not subscribe to this definition of wisdom. There was a strong strain of Gnosticism that had made its way into Judaism in Paul’s day. Gnosticism is the belief that certain, special knowledge gives one power. It is kind of like a mixture of Star Wars’ “The Force” and alchemy. (Alchemy- the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.) Many religions in the time of Jesus and Paul, including Roman and Greek religions, and Judaism, had gnostic components. Gnosticism is the opposite of faith in that Gnosticism affords the believers special knowledge which controls the powers of the universe and affords believers in-the-know status beyond that of plebian believers.
The last verse of the above passage reveals to what knowledge Paul is pointing. Paul states God’s wisdom succinctly in his letter to the church in Corinth: “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the wisdom of God and the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Salt commonly used by peasants in Jesus’ time came from minerals which, when exposed to air or moisture for a certain length of time would actually not taste salty anymore. When that happened, it was like sand, no longer good for anything. Once Rome expanded into Europe and discovered salt mines, the wealthy had actual mineral salt, but the poor peasants still had the gritty mineral to which Jesus refers in this teaching.
The teachings of salt and light are lessons on how public Jesus’ disciples were to be with their faith in him and their service to him.
“Not one letter, not one stroke of a letter” has traditionally been translated, “Not one jot or tittle”. Jots and tittles are very small marks made in writing Hebrew, rather like dotting an “i”.
“I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” – Because Jesus wasn’t a strict law observer, (allowing his disciples to glean grain and eat it on the Sabbath, allowing his disciples to eat without washing their hands, decrying the practice of charbon, reinterpreting scritpures, etc) one of the criticisms against Jesus was that he was setting aside God’s Law, the Law of Moses, in favor of his own religion. This appears to be a point of discussion within the community to which Matthew writes his gospel. Jesus states clearly that he did not come to set aside Judaism as prescribed by the Law, but instead to fulfill all that the Law commanded of humanity.