It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Reflection on readings from February 1

O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell,
and the place where your glory abides.
Redeem me, and be g racious to me.
(from Psalm 26)

Exodus 13:17-15:18

Pharaoh had let them go then changed his mind. He led his army with more than 600 chariots to go get the Israelites and bring them back. The people complained to Moses. Moses reassured them that the Lord would once more deliver them, and the Lord reassured Moses (14:1-18).

They know which way to go because God sends a pillar of cloud to lead them. the Lord shields them by sending the pillar behind them to block them from the pursuing army. When they get to the sea, Moses stretches out his hand, and a strong wind divides the water so they can walk across on dry land.

The people cannot see the Lord, but they can see the pillar of cloud. They can see Moses. They can see the water dividing. 

William Goldingay asks: Why does the Lord use Moses, a human leader, to bring them out of Egypt? God could have done it alone but chose to use Moses. Why does God continue to use humans to accomplish significant goals? Using human beings to accomplish divine purposes introduces complication and vulnerability.

Goldingay also points out that Moses' story reminds us that leadership is not fun. People complain, question, express resentment, lose their belief that things can get better. (Old Testament Theology, Volume One, Israel's Gospel, 425-430)

The Israelites, on foot, were able to walk across the river bed. But, the wheels of the army's chariots were mired in the mud. Sometimes, what we thought was protection turns out to be hindrance.

Moses stretches out his hand again, and the sea returns to its normal depth. Pharaoh's entire army is destroyed.

When the Israelites saw that they themselves were alive and safe and that the Egyptians were dead, they feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and the Lord's servant Moses.

The notes in the New Interpreters Bible point out that there's a play on words in verse 31. The Hebrew word that we translate as "see" (ra'ah) sounds like the word for "fear" (yare').

As we read ahead in the story of the trek through the wilderness, we'll hear how when they saw something else--like their thirst or hunger--they would lose their trust in Moses and in the Lord's protection, and they will complain. If seeing is believing, what happens when we see something else?

Matthew 21:23-46
The question underlying the confrontation in today's reading is "Who is in charge of me?" They don't ask it that way. The chief priests and elders ask Jesus who is in charge of him. Jesus, this guy who has demonstrated a willingness to shake things up (see 21:12-13) and an ability to attract crowds (see 21:8-11).

Put yourself into the position of those chief priests and elders. You have an important role in the religious life of your people. You work in the temple, the most important and most visible site of that religion, the place where the people can gain access to God and to God's forgiveness. But, you owe your job security to the secular authority. The Romans are in charge of their empire and you live in a small and weak part of it. To maintain your own security, you have to appease the ones in charge.

Here's what they did way back then. They confronted this problem head on. They asked him to provide his credentials. In response, he turned the tables on them. Because they were insecure, they waffled.

Think about the answer underlying the answer Jesus gave them when they questioned the source of his authority. What is his authority? Who gave him this authority? Do you live as if you agree with what you believe?

One thing this parable is about: Doing, not just saying you will

In the September/October 2008 issue of Alive Now, Andrea Woods writes about Mr. Pritchett. Although he doesn't have much education himself, he is one of the best teachers the young folks have. What he says: "I don't care where you go to church on Sunday morning or how you sing your songs. What I care about is what you do with Sunday when Monday rolls around."

They heard him say this, and they saw him live it. He fixed broken windows. He drove sick people to the doctor. When they were unable to take care of something in their daily lives, he would step in to help. He remained even-tempered. He was able to listen to other people's troubles. The Monday man at work was exactly the same as the Sunday man at worship.

Being a Christian inside the church during the worship service is one thing. Being a Christian in the world during the week confirms that thing.

Another thing this parable is about: Who can get into heaven
Jesus attacked the religious leaders by telling them that the tax collectors and prostitutes were going to get into the kingdom of God ahead of them because they believed. It's not just that the leaders are dependent on the good will of Rome, so are the tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus says "ahead of you" not "instead of you." (thanks to Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospel for this phrase).

Isaiah had told what would happen when God was disappointed in Israel's behavior. Jesus is asking his listeners to reflect on their own stewardship of God's gifts. "What should the owner of a vineyard do when the tenants have abused their responsibilities?"

The tenants were put in charge. They failed their duties. The owner will eliminate them.

The chief priests and Pharisees, hearing this condemnation of those in charge, knew that Jesus was talking about them.

What do we Christians know when we hear this parable? What do we think when we reflect on our own stewardship of the gifts that God has entrusted to our care?

Psalm 26
The first eight verses of Psalm 26 are ones that not all us can pray honestly, "I have walked without blame, I haven't consorted with scoundrels, I come to your altar with thanksgiving." 

That is, "I've done what I was supposed to do."

This psalm follows the reminders with a plea for help, a plea that is based on the psalmist's innocence: Don't give me the punishment that sinners deserve, those who murder, scheme, or defraud. I don't deserve that punishment because I am blameless.

But, even those of us who would have a pretty tough time praying those verses expressing innocence as honestly can be sincere asking for protection and mercy.

The psalmist was pretty certain that God was going to make things right. The last verse is "My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord."

Back to us: if we do get protected, if we do benefit from God's mercy, do we remember to give thanks?

Prayer for Today: Keep my attention and my intention focused on the light you give me for following the path toward you. Amen.

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