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Month: February 2017

Bible Tuesday for Lent I, 2017

Bible Tuesday for the first Sunday of Lent, 2017

Genesis 2:15-3:7

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

[Then the Lord God
said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as
his partner.” 
19So out of
the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field
and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would
call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its
20The man
gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of
the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon
the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place
with flesh.
22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made
into a woman and brought her to the man. 
23Then the
man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one
shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 
a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become
one flesh. 
25And the
man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.]

3Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

The bold bracketed verses are not part of this Sunday’s pericope but are necessary to understand the pericope so I included them in this reading.

Note that Eve is not created when God gives the prohibition against eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil but she is certainly aware by the time the serpent approaches her. Eve’s repetition the prohibition is even more severe than God’s original statement, in that Eve tells the serpent that she and Adam may not even touch the fruit of the “tree in the middle of the garden.”

Humans are from the beginning social creatures; the ultimate expression of this being a happy marriage where two people can completely share themselves and each other. Ancient rabbis understood the story of the creation of Eve to mean that a man is not complete without a wife with whom he is totally intimate. The Hebrew word translated here as “helper” or the more traditional “helpmate” does not have any connotation of inferiority. In both creation stories found in Genesis, man and woman, Adam and Eve, are equal partners. This equality is damaged by the fall and the cruses that follow.

Why “Serpent” and not “Snake”? – In common vernacular, “The snake tempted Eve”, but in fact, the Hebrew word here does not translate into snake but instead more like a mythical long bodied, legged creature, like a Chinese or Japanese dragon. Genesis does not ever say that this creature is the devil or an agent of the devil or anything of the sort. A careful reading of the third and fourth chapters of Genesis make clear that the serpent is just a “crafty” or shrewd or wily creature.

Notice how the snake, when disagreeing with Eve, says that God’s prohibition was made out of jealousy. This invokes in Eve a desire to have what will make God jealous. But how can He who Is, creator of all that is, be jealous of anything?

While the English translation above includes the phrase describing Adam, “who was with her”, this is not in most translations and yet it is implied. In medieval Christianity, this story was frequently understood as the hoodwinking of Adam by Eve and gave rise to all sorts of beliefs about women being the sources of evil bent on witchcraft. Only marriage could restrain them. But early and modern scholars, from Clement to Tillich, see this story as illustrating the tragedy brought about by the deliberate disobedience of God.

Psalm 32

Happy 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.

Here is a psalm that extols the merits of confessing. While the psalmist tried to keep his sinful act under wraps, perhaps even fighting to justify his bad behavior, “…my body wasted away through groaning…” It takes a tremendous amount of energy, emotional and otherwise, to keep sins secret. “Your hand was heavy upon me” is a euphemism for the force of guilt attributed to God.

“I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord,’ and you forgave me the guilt of my sin.” No penance, no making amends, no punishment. God forgave the guilt of the psalmist’s sin. While the ramifications of sin are still present, the guilt before God is removed.

The remainder of the psalm vacillates between singing God’s praise and admonishing others to open up to God about their secret sins and receives the absolution and peace that the psalmist has found.

Romans 5:12-19

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Jesus tells us in the gospel that his must suffer and die and on the third day rise again, and that through this, he gives life abundantly; even eternal life. Because that is non-sequitur from a purely human perspective, humans, such as the writers of the New Testament, ancient and more modern biblical scholars, try to tie together the threads of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament to make a logical argument for why Jesus’ death and resurrection means life for us and all the baptized believers. Here is one such argument from St. Paul.

Paul starts out by defining sin. Sin is evil which existed before the Law and is pointed out by God’s Law, and is the cause of death. Undergirding this argument is Paul’s belief that humans would live eternally in the presence of God, like of Adam and Eve in the garden before they sinned, if it were not for sin. Humans would not know what is allowed and what is prohibited without God’s Law stating so. Even before God gave the Law to Moses, people sinned.

Paul is setting aside Eve here for a moment and using Adam as a sort of metaphor. Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world. Through one man, Jesus, grace, mercy, and forgiveness enter the world, and all of these are stronger than sin. Adam’s sin is compounded daily by the many acts of sin committed by humans every moment, but Jesus’ grace and forgiveness overpower and defeat the sins multiplying exponentially.

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The main theme of the gospel of Matthew is the conflict between God and evil; whose will is to be done?! Whether Jesus is being opposed by the Jewish authorities, Peter, demons, or Satan himself, Jesus almost always responds by quoting Deuteronomy, which is Moses’ exposition on God’s Law.

The book of Exodus recounts the story of the Israelites being called, by God, out of slavery in Egypt. The gospel is Matthew is the only gospel that recounts the story of Mary and Joseph fleeing with Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod the Great’s jealousy induced slaughter of infants in Bethlehem. God called Israel out of Egypt in the Hebrew Scriptures, and God called Jesus out of Egypt in the New Testament. “Out of Egypt have I called my son!”

Just as the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years, this story tells of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days. The Israelites wandered for 40 years so that the generation of people who lived under slavery in Egypt and rebelled against God with the golden calf would all die off. So, for those Israelites, the wilderness meant death. But these 40 days for Jesus mean an epoch battle against evil which Jesus will win, thus redeeming the wilderness and making it a place of life.

Bible Tuesday for Transfiguration Sunday, 2017

Bible Tuesday for the Feast Day of the Transfiguration, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

This passage takes place after Moses received the Ten Commandments and all the Law on stone tablets but threw those down when he saw the Israelites and Aaron worshiping the golden calf. That whole incident culminated with the Israelites entering into a covenant with God to abide by the Law which includes the Ten Commandments.

It was common for very important covenants, including border agreements and treaties between countries, to be “written in stone” with copies made for each party of the covenant. Some of these stele of the ancient world are still in existence, with new ones periodically being unearthed. What these steles given to Moses unique is that only Israel receives a copy of the Law, a copy which God himself makes. While artistically the Ten Commandments are rendered as two dome topped tablets, such stele shape was developed in Roman times. Among Syria, Babylonia, and more ancient peoples, covenant tablets would have been rectangular or square in shape.

Note that the sign of the presence of God is both cloud and fire. While Joshua accompanies Moses up the mountain, only Moses is called into the presence of God. All Israel can see the presence of God symbolized by the cloud and fire both on the mountain, and as pillars leading them throughout their wilderness journey, but Moses along is called into the cloud and speaks with God.

Psalm 2

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,

“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling

kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.

The covenant that God made with Abraham stated, in part, that God would bless all peoples of the world through Abraham and Sarah and their offspring. This belief also takes on the dimension of Israel being God’s chosen people, and indeed, they were/are, chosen to be God’s instrument of evangelism throughout the world. In this psalm, the primacy of Israel is affirmed as God scolds those who would rise against the “bonds” and “chords” Israel has on them.

But instead of establishing Israel as the bully of the middle east, the psalm calls kings and rulers of the world to stand alongside Israel and serve the Lord and happily take refuge in God.

“You are my son. Today I have begotten you.” – This statement follows an Israelite teaching stated in several prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures which can refer to both the nation of Israel and to a favored king, like that of David. The original Hebrew uses language which echoes used among nobles and royal families who legally adopted protégés as their heirs.

2 Peter 1:16-21

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

It was common practice in the Roman world to write a testament in the name of a figure recently died in order to honor that person and further the cause to which he/she devoted his/her life and work. Scholars do not agree on whether 2 Peter is such a posthumous pseudoraphe or it was writer by Peter shortly before his death in Rome in 64 or 65 AD.

The letter is a summary of Peter’s proclamation of the gospel of Jesus. The letter focuses on great issues at hand. The pagan culture in Roman society rejected some of the basic tenets of Christianity. Defending those tenets and the belief that Jesus would return to judge the world are main themes in this letter.

This passage of the letter draws on the Exodus story treated above and describes the cloud on the mountain and further adds the voice of “Majestic Glory”. This passage also quotes the above treated psalm and the below treated transfiguration story to authenticate Jesus’ God given divinity as foretold by the prophets and proclaimed by God, himself. The author uses his eye witness account to lend credence to his proclamation.

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Six days after what? The end of Matthew 16 presents Jesus telling his disciples to deny themselves, pick up their crosses, and follow him. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

Why six days? It could be a reference to the above treated Exodus passage where Moses waited with the cloud for six days before he was called into it by God on the seventh. It could also be a reference by the author to the partial glory of Jesus that the disciples witnessed on this, the almost Sabbath.

This story of the transfiguration serves many purposes in the gospel narratives. In the gospel of Matthew, this is yet another event where Jesus fulfills the prophecies of old. Jesus meets with Moses, the greatest leader of the Hebrew people, and Elijah, the greatest prophet. But only Jesus is dazzling white, indicating his greater glory and divinity. God descends upon this scene in the now familiar cloud and speaks the promised proclamation, adding, “LISTEN TO HIM!”

The Transfiguration story has been interpreted as a “passing of the torch.” Moses and Elijah faithfully did their parts. Now they pass the roles of greatest prophet and Lawgiver onto Jesus, who does all that and so very much more.

A major difference between the religious/political parties of the Sadducees and the Pharisees was that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead or any kind of afterlife, whereas the Pharisees did. In this story, Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah, who are somehow recognized by Peter, James, and John. Obviously, there is an afterlife because Moses and Elijah are living it. The early Christians struggled to make this point with the Sadducees and their followers.

In the gospels, this story comes right after Peter declares, “You are the Christ! The son of the Living God!” Jesus responds to Peter’s statement by explaining how and why he had to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of the high priest. This 180 flip between being the son of God and being executed by the high priest greatly alarmed the disciples and the early gospel hearers. This transfiguration story gives a glimmer of hope that even if Jesus is executed, maybe he will still be around like Moses and Elijah, or maybe even more present, as his dazzling white foreshadows.

Peter makes a strange offer. An actual translation of the word here stated as “dwellings” and sometimes as “booths” would be “tent”. Why would Peter offer that? The gospel of Luke adds to Peter’s offer, “not knowing what he said.” There is no tradition in the Jewish religion of building a synagogue on the site of some amazing event. When Jacob has his dream of angels ascending and descending to and from heaven, he wakes up and erects a large stone to mark the place and then gives it a new name. That happens several times in the Hebrew scriptures. It is only under Emperor Constantine that churches start being built on the supposed sites of Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, burial, etc.

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 7, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 7, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2 and 9-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

11You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

The book of Leviticus describe the penal code, moral code, and ethical code of Israel. All of these commandments given by God are understood as of equal importance.

“Only through faithful observance of God’s commands can the Israelite fulfill the sacred charge of being holy…Through this miscellany of laws, [the writer] expresses the idea that through performance of all prohibited actions, all Israelites are able to absorb the effusion of the divine Presence in their midst, and be holy.” The Jewish Study Bible

Verses 9-10: Note how God builds into this commandment the care for the poor. If this command was followed, the poor could go into the fields daily during harvesting and get enough to feed themselves and their families. It was exactly this that Ruth was doing in Boaz’s field, so that she and Naomi could eat.

Verse 13: In planting and harvesting time, just as today, day laborers were greatly needed. This command makes clear that it is sinful to withhold wages, , whether to keep the laborer on the property for another partial day’s work, or any other reason.

Verse 14: This can be understood to command that God’s people are to preserve the dignity of all people, whether disabled, or poor, as the verses 9-13 address.

Verses 15-16: Justice means dealing fairly no matter who brings the suit and who the defendant is. Verse 16 could be translated, “Do not spread false rumors among your countrymen to bring about unjust charges against that person; do not ignore the bloodshed of your fellow, thus preventing charges from being brought against the perpetrator.” The Jewish Study Bible

Verses 17-18: This commandment prohibits grudge holding against family. If you have a gripe with a family member, go identify the fault and work it out with that person instead of receiving God’s judgment against you for holding a grudge. All of that applies to all of Israel as well.

The repetition of “I am the Lord” at the beginnings and/or endings of these commands is the equivalent of “I am God. Do this because I said so!”

Psalm 119:33-40

3Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.

34Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

35Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.

36Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.

37Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.

38Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.

39Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.

40See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.

We have a continuation of last week’s psalm, for today. To accompany the above Leviticus periscope, this section of the psalm sings praises to the Law of God and declares devotion to it. One can detect in this psalm the beginnings of replacing adoration of God with adoration of the Law, a problem that begat legalism and the belief that one could make one’s self holy, apart from God, by adhering to the Law.

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.

11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

16Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

18Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

21So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Last week’s pericope of Paul’s letter to the congregation in Corinth began his refute against folks evaluating the validity and strength of their baptisms by whom they were baptized. Paul continues his argument against such thinking in this week’s pericope.

Paul argues by first describing what it is that he actually did through baptizing, “I laid a foundation.” Paul proclaimed the gospel of God in Jesus Christ and baptized thes folks into it. Paul goes on to state that folks can build on this foundation with all matter of materials, but the quality of the building will be revealed “by fire”, that is, when the faith is tried by the circumstances of life.

“For in fact,” Paul continues, “the foundation I laid, the building that you and others do, is all work on what already belongs to God…YOU! You are HOLY!” Here Paul builds on and differs from the Leviticus reading for this week. Paul agrees that through relationship with God, God makes the believer holy. But, that relationship is not initiated by or defined by the law, but rather by Jesus Christ, through evangelism and baptism.

Matthew 5:38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Now we come to the meat of being baptized. The Sunday afternoon joy ride of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount hit some pot holes last week, but this week it just slammed on the breaks and threw all hearers/readers into their seatbelts! “Do not resist evil doers?!!!!!”

Faithful reading and true meditation on this text gives glimpses of who Jesus truly is and who he calls all the baptized to be.

First, passive aggressive justice: “An eye for an eye,” verses “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also.” Jews and all other occupied peoples were on the bottom two rungs of the Roman societal ladder. The religious leaders, wealthy merchants, and those who cooperated with the Romans (ie: tax collectors) are on the second to the bottom rung. Peasants, tradesmen, foreign slaves like Jews, and the poor occupy the very bottom rung. When someone of higher status wanted to punish and/or disgrace you, they would back hand slap you with their right hand on your right cheek. By turning the other cheek, you are insisting that they slap you as an equal, with the palm of their hand to your left cheek. You still would receive their wrath but it would not be shaming. You both would be treating each other as social equals.

“If anyone wants to sue you for your coat, give them your cloak as well.” To sue someone with the goal of disgracing him, one would sue for his coat. Whereas, if you would stand in court and strip off not only your coat, but your cloak (tunic worn against the skin) as well, you would literally be stripping naked and handing over to your accuser the clothes off your back. In so doing, the disgrace would no longer be on you but on your accuser, because it was a great offense to expose someone else’s nakedness.

“If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go also the second mile.” This refers to the right that Roman soldiers and citizens had over any non-citizen. Romans could conscript peasants to carry their armor, luggage, or provisions, but for no further length than one mile. By offering to go a second mile, once again, you are turning an insult into a gracious act. Giving to all who beg and lending to all who ask to borrow is putting one’s self on equal footing with the one making the request.

“He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good…” God treats each human with the same amount of love, mercy, dignity, and compassion. In so doing, God shows all creation completeness, perfection. God expects the faithful to do the same. God does not debase us, demanding that humans kneel before him, hat in hand. Rather, God runs down the lane to meet our errant selves, lavishing upon us love, joy, a kiss, and a signet ring. So are we granted dignity and expected to grant dignity. We are to view ourselves as equals with all, no matter how they view themselves or us. Our status in life is all the same: horribly sinful, and created and loved by God.

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 6, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 6, 2017

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

The book of Deuteronomy consists almost entirely of Moses’ last sermon to the Israelites as they stand on the precipice of Canaan, the long promised homeland. The above passage is very close to the end of the sermon. The author closes the book with this concise statement of choice: strive to abide in relationship with God or walk away. The author adds a clear bias stating the covenant relationship with God is life, whereas walking away is death, but each Israelite still has that choice to make.

In covenant language, which is the legalese of ancient times, to love means to be loyal to the covenant. Love, in this context and throughout the Bible, is not an emotion but rather a posture and an action of loyalty and faithfulness.

Psalm 119:1-8

1Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.

2Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,

3who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.

4You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

5O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

6Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

7I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.

8I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119 is far and away the longest psalm in the psalter, written in acrostic form. Whereas all other acrostic psalms have one line per alphabetical letter, psalm 119 has one paragraph per letter. The selection of verses for today equals only one letter’s worth of psalm!

Psalm 119 focuses on God’s law, using 8 different synonyms to refer to and describe God’s law. The word “law” is a translation of “Torah”. “Torah” is the Hebrew used to name the first five books of the Bible as a whole: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. While these books do contain law in the form of the 10 Commandments and the whole behavioral and penal codes in Leviticus, they also contain the creation stories, the whole narrative of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the exodus story, all of which closes with Moses’ final sermon, the final portion of which is our Hebrew Scriptures periscope discussed above. No wonder biblical scholars have a hard time translating the word “Torah”! “Word”, “commandment”, “decree”, “rule”, “precept”, “teaching”, and all used when translating “Torah” in this psalm.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

The chapter of 1 Corinthians immediately preceding the one above, a portion of which was discussed in last week’s Bible Tuesday, described the mature Christian. What stark contrast Paul draws when, iun this chapter, he describes the congregation members in Corinth! “Babies in Christ”, whose focus is “on the flesh.” So dedicated are the Corinthians to the person who baptized them, in an effort to one-up fellow parishioners, that the congregation members have completely missed the gospel! In focusing on Paul and Apollos, the congregation has missed Jesus! It would be as if members of St. Martin of Tours congregation baptized by Pastor Clark boasted of themselves as superior to all other congregation members baptized by other ministers. Suddenly, it is Pastor Clark who becomes important, not the Holy Spirit who is received through baptism, nor Jesus into whom we are all baptized!

Matthew 5:21-37

21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discusses righteousness. In last week’s gospel, Jesus said, “If your righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In this week’s periscope, a description of righteousness is given by way of several antitheses. Heretofore, the authority of God has been received and conveyed through the Torah, the written and read word, which must be interpreted by scriptural authorities. But now, Jesus takes the voice of interpretation away from the Jewish authorities and makes God’s proclamation his own. “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” While it was and is traditional for Jewish rabbis to cite one another saying, “You have heard Rabbi ____ say… but I say to you…”, never would a rabbi dare to do this directly with scripture, only another’s interpretation of scripture.

Jesus states clearly, he has not come to eradicate or even rewrite the Law, but to fulfill it, which also means to correctly interpret and apply what has been written in the Law on God’s behalf.