Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 15, 2016
Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
or stand in the place of nobles;
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
than to be degraded in the presence of the great.
The book of Proverbs is intended as the “Emily Post’s guide to the prim, proper, and pious Jewish life around 900 BC.” This passage reflects the social structure of humility. One should never toot one’s own horn or suggest one’s self for promotion, especially religious or governmental situations. One should wait for others to notice one’s acumen and accomplishments and speak on one’s behalf. This is obviously not the culture of self-assessment and self-promotion.
Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
Here is a great example of a strong strain of thought that runs through the Bible: those who obey God have all kinds of good things happen for them such as wealth, lots of kids, good reputation, etc. And, of course, those who are not so faithful to the Jewish religion, here referred to as “the wicked” are in trouble. Of course, this is not the only strain in the Bible.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament there is the strain that says: rain falls on the crops of the good and the bad. At some point in the future God will separate wheat from chaff or sheep from goats.
Note also in this passage how the righteous are described: well founded, not afraid, secure, sharing freely. One might also describe these attributes as “fruits of the spirit” as describe in the apostle Paul’s writings.
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
This passage begins with the phrase “mutual love”. The remainder of the passage can be understood as the author’s descriptors of “mutual love”.
Mutual love is hospitable to all, even strangers. This word, “strangers”, can be understood to mean all who are not of the same Christian/Jewish community as you. In other words, “stranger” is everyone outside your family and church. The audience to whom the book of Hebrews was written lived in a very diverse culture, with Romans and people of all lands who traded with Rome or whom Rome conquered. This community was not to exclude anyone, whether different religion or language or dress or skin color or political thought. All were to be entertained as if messengers of God, angels.
Mutual love views all with compassion and genuine empathy, even those who are in prison and guilty, those who are being tortured because they have information necessary for the government to protect its people.
Mutual love is guided by gratitude: to God for what God has given, to others for what they share, to self for who you are and what you are striving to do for others.
Mutual love, when shared in marriage, is faithfulness to the spouse which rejects all others, whether fantasy or reality, as love making partners.
Mutual love does not use money as a score care for success, or a means of overlording, but merely a tool for showing love and mercy.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
In this passage, Jesus puts his finger on the pulse of social interaction in his culture, and ours, and finds it lacking. What remedy does Jesus suggest? Social discourse which sets everyone’s teeth on edge. The context of this lesson given by Jesus is that Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house for the equivalent of Sunday Afternoon Dinner, but not as a guest as much as entertainment. So here is Jesus, God in the flesh, being seated at the kids’ table and pummeled with questions meant to stump for amusement.
First, Jesus teaches humility, even when eating dinner at a friend’s house. Certainly, when we eat at a friend’s, we ask, “Which seat at the table do you want me to take?” but how often have we been out to lunch or dinner for work, or at a wedding reception, and felt slighted, disrespected, even humiliated by our hosts? Jesus is suggesting to ignore what others do to you and focus the posture you adopt in social situations. “How highly do you rate yourself?” Jesus asks.
Second, Jesus teaches generosity which will never be repaid. The practical issues are not address: how do you find blind or poor or lame people who want to come to your house to dine? How do you get them to your house? What happens if they reject your invitation? The point is that generosity is not generosity when repayment is expected.