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.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 20

O God, you are my God,
I seek you,
my soul thirst for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
    where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
(Psalm 63:1-12)

Numbers 30:1-31:54
Vows: When a man makes a vow, he shall not break it. The rules for women's vows are different. Different  because their status in their society is different. Distinguish the deeper principle--the overriding concern is that humans be faithful in the obligations they take open themselves in service to God.

War: Three historic Christian positions toward war: pacifism, crusade, and just war. Of these three, the book of Numbers is closest to the crusade although there is some support for pacifism (20:14-21; 6:22-27; 31:1; 14:39-45). Throughout the Bible is a strain that asserts divine judgment against nations that worship false gods. Holding this view would mean that fearing to invade would imply a lack of faith in God. Also in the Bible is a strain that interprets war as a necessary evil, a way of maintaining the community.

Tension--allowing enemy women to be kept alive but needing to maintain separation.

Luke 4:1-30
I'm reading Sharon Ringe's commentary on Luke and recommend it. An insight I got because of my predilection to watching a certain kind of TV show is the image that Jesus is on trial and the devil is the prosecuting attorney. (This metaphor may work for me ). As Ringe puts it, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the situation in which the devil questions him. The questions and Jesus' answers are "all drawn from biblical models and responses."

More from Ringe: What could be wrong with turning stones into bread? Nothing really is wrong with it, Jesus rejects the challenge not because it is wrong, but because it is inadequate: "One does not live by bread alone.".... and Why not accept political authority? The tradition links political compromise with betrayal of the commandment to worship only God.

Allen & Williamson, on the other hand, see the devil not as a prosecuting attorney but as the embodiment of temptation to resistance to God, that is, the temptation to give up on God's being able to restore things. They interpret Jesus' response to the first test as resisting the temptation to turn to things necessary for life rather than to God.

The Holy Spirit had descended upon him when he was baptized (3:23). He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he was tested by the devil. Having overcome each of the temptations set before him, Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit returned to Galilee (4:1-14).

When he was in his hometown, he went to the synagogue as he was accustomed to do. There, he read passages from the scroll.

Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor," an echo of Isaiah 61:1.

Luke tells us that Jesus said that the Lord had sent him to proclaim release to the captives and to let the oppressed go free. This call echoes Isaiah's reminder that the Lord is not that impressed with acts of piety but prefers that the nation would loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free...(58:6).

He returned the scroll to the attendant and sat down. Everybody stared at him.

The people in the synagogue that day had heard the prophecies of Isaiah many times. They would also have been aware of the times that they had failed to care for the poor and the oppressed. And, there in Nazareth, at the time they were living, they themselves would have thought of themselves as oppressed, captive to the powerful Rome.

And he said to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Think about the terms "today" and "fulfilled."

He had read to them from the prophet Isaiah, "The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free." Then said to them, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your presence."

Their first reaction is a mixed one. Although they like what he says, they aren't sure why he has said them. They seem to be reluctant to accept that someone that they know could accomplish great things.

Jesus responds by saying that no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

He then reminds them that both Elijah and Elisha had gone far from home to accomplish miracles. "Many widows in Israel were hungry yet Elijah helped a foreigner. Many lepers were in Israel, but Elisha healed a foreigner." Note they weren't just foreigners, they were not of the same religion as Elijah and Elisha.

We're left to ponder whether the people in Nazareth were blocking Jesus' work among them by their own refusal to accept him as anointed by the Lord--or, whether, Luke is reminding us that God is not restricted to helping hometown folks, that God's power extends beyond the circle of believers.

Religious people gathered in religious place. When they heard that God directed help to be given to people of a different religion, they got furious, even violent.

In Luke's gospel Jesus will continue to face criticism from insiders when he helps outsiders. How much have attitudes changed? How do we react in similar circumstances?

Note that although Jesus escaped from the violence intended against him that day, his way did lead to the cross. Also note that the cross was not the final end of his work.

Psalm 63:1-11
The psalmist says "my flesh faints for you." Someone who likes to eat when hungry or not and drink when thirsty or not can surely understand how important seeking God when put into these terms.

Continuing the metaphor--just as I have enjoyed those feasts, I have received great joy from feasting on the presence of the Lord in the sanctuary. Or, at least, I can recognize what it would be like.

And I can recognize what follows from receiving something really good--saying thank you to the provider.

Proverbs 11:20-21

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms

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