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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

God's work, a reflection on Psalm 103:1-5

The psalm begins "Bless the Lord, O my soul." The psalmist would not have been aware of our attempts to separate body and soul--the Hebrew word connotes the entire self. We might give ourselves the reminder, "Pay attention, devote your thinking and doing and feeling, recognize and be grateful to the giver of all that you have and will need."

The psalmist lists specific benefits given by the Lord: forgiveness, healing, redemption.

We need to remember these gifts. And we need to remember that the Lord will continue to satisfy our needs and to restore our strength.

Another Healing, Reflection on Mark 1:40-45

Jesus had healed a man in the synagogue and Simon's mother-in-law in their home. Relatively private places--but the word has spread. Crowds gather. The next morning while it was still dark, Jesus went off by himself to pray. His disciples went to get him.

.A leper approaches Jesus asking for help. The word has spread. Jesus tells him not to tell, but he does anyway.

Watch the pattern:
Word spreads.
Jesus retreats to a private place.
People find him where he is.

Off on a another tangent: Jesus told the healed man to go to a priest as Moses had commanded. The original intent was to make sure that a contagious person would no longer infect the others. So, the inspection was to help the formerly ill person to be able to rejoin the community, and it was to make sure that a still-ill person did not endanger the community. By the time Mark wrote his gospel, the temple was gone, and this Mosaic procedure could not be enforced. What replaced (replaces) it? How to we ensure that we welcome into our midst persons that we fear?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Still Healing, Reflection on Mark 1:29-34

Right after healing a man in the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples went to Simon and Andrew's house. As soon as he heard that Simon's mother-in-law was ill, he healed her, too.

I find interesting several things. One is we are given no indication that those needing healing asked Jesus to do so. Another is that we are not told that Simon's m-i-l had faith in Jesus' power to heal her. Also, interesting to me is her response. As soon as she is healed, she gets up and serves them a meal (my interpretation of "waited on them").

The word spreads. The whole town shows up including all who are ill or possessed.

Once again, Jesus won't let the demons speak because they know who he is.

Questions that linger: Do they have faith or knowledge in Jesus other than his ability to heal?

Application for our time:
The Global Health Initiative is a major area of focus for the ministry of The United Methodist Church,which aims to combat diseases of poverty such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis as well as provide health education, advocacy and infrastructure. We have long been a key player in the fight against malaria through the hospitals, clinics and missions centers we have operated across Africa for more than 160 years.

To read more about the history of Methodist efforts to promote healing and a current example of what the church is doing now see UMC: How We Serve Global Health

Monday, December 28, 2015

Questions about the visitor, Reflection on Mark 1:21-28

I'm thinking about how differently we do worship than the way that Jesus would have been used to. Mark 1:21 says that he went to a synagogue and taught. Priests served at the temple. Teaching took place at the synagogues. 

Are our churches more like the temple or more like synagogues? Is what today we call preaching what Mark meant by teaching? Or, was teaching then like what we mean by teaching now?

How come it was an unclean man who first recognized Jesus? BTW, how common was it for people with unclean spirits to attend the synagogue?

We are told that the people were amazed by his evidencing authority and by his ability to get unclean spirits to obey him. What amazes us today?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rachel Weeping for Her Children, Dream Act, a Reflection on Matthew 2:13-23

A repeat from an earlier date:
Long ago, parents carried their child to a foreign country hoping to protect his safety. When the imminent threat passed they were able to return home.

Today, many parents are still taking their children to places that seem safer for them than their birthplace.

In their new homes, the children grow up, go to school, volunteer for the military. And, in the U.S., some think that they should be given the opportunity to be citizens.

Dream Act


Dream Act fails

A more recent news story: What U. S. voters think about Syrian refugees

and an even more recent one: US plans raids to deport families with children.

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

Friday, December 25, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Checklist for the Church, a Reflection on Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
We are to praise God, the psalmist tells us, because God is trustworthy and eternal.

Then the psalmist reminds us that God gives care to the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, the burdened, immigrants, those without financial resources.

And when you hear somebody say something derogatory about the Old Testament God, remember that this is the Old Testament God.

And this is what followers of God are called to do. God acts on earth through the people who are gathered to worship and to demonstrate God's power and love.

Psalm 146 provides a checklist for each church congregation: 

   What have we done to ensure that prisoners can be released? 

   What have we done to prevent blindness--have we opened a eye-clinic in a poor community, have we helped to distribute glasses to people who can't afford them? 

   What are we doing about immigrants? 

   What attention are we paying to people whose families are able to care for them, or to people without family?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Messengers, Reflection on Luke 2:1-20

In that region,” this text for Christmas Eve begins. The region that Luke is referring to is the portion of the Roman Empire. Look back at verses 1-7. Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is governor. The emperor decrees that all persons be registered; that is, the emperor is going to make sure that he gets taxes from everybody under his control.

Then there are some folks who can’t issue decrees. The only things they control are somebody else’s sheep. And it is to this kind of person that the angels go with their news. Not the emperor, not the governor, but the shepherds.

Although they had a positive image in the Old Testament--think of the 23rd Psalm, for example--shepherds living and working at the time of Jesus’ birth were not viewed positively. Rather, they were regarded as lower class, untrustworthy, migrant workers who used other people’s grass to feed their sheep.

The shepherds were not expecting the news. They were at work, and to their society at the time, not very well-thought-of work. Yet, the Lord sent a messenger to them with the good news.

Their response was immediate. They went to Bethlehem immediately to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

Questions: Who is trusted by God to receive and carry messages? Try to imagine a modern-day counterpart to first century shepherds. Would you be interested in anything such people had to say to you? Is it hard for you to imagine God’s telling them something before letting you know?

Source: Mississippi Advocate

Monday, December 21, 2015

Assurances and Cautions, a Reflection on Luke 1:46-55

Mary responds to Elizabeth's good news and her own with a song of praise. Like Hannah before her (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary begins by praising God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me."

God chose Mary to bear the savior. Why didn't God pick a woman from one of the more powerful, prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the empire to be the birthplace of the savior, instead of, for example, Rome? For those of us who live in a powerful country, how willing are we to consider that God may continue to choose other venues for gifts?

Reread verses 51 through 53. Are your expectations and hopes consistent with the prospects of the lowly being lifted and the hungry filled? How about the powerful being pulled down from their high status and the rich being sent away empty-handed?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Praise the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 113

The psalm begins with a call to praise, a call for all the servants of the Lord -- that means all of us, surely?-- to praise the name of the Lord.

All to praise and for all time.

For all time and all day long.

The psalm recognizes that the Lord is supreme, high above all nations, with glory above the heavens. When we pray this psalm, we are saying, "Our Lord, you are so high you have to stoop down to look at the heavens."

The time we are to spend praising the Lord can't be measured any more than the Lord's glory can be measured.

Our Lord is unique, says this psalm. Then, what might seem like a surprising reason is given--This Lord is willing to come down from a high throne to lift up the weak and the poor.

I'm thinking about the content of my usual prayers and wondering how much gratitude I express that God cares so much for the poor and the lowly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Roadbeds, a Reflection on Luke 1:57-80

Zechariah was a priest serving in the temple in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is ruled by the Roman government and its army. And the army had been there a long time.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had lived a righteous and blameless life, but not one like they would have chosen for they had no children. They had been waiting for a long time. Then the Lord sent a messenger, Gabriel, to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth was going to have child.

Zechariah disputed the possibility of getting something that he had longed for so long. Gabriel responded, "Because you didn't believe these words, you are not going to be able to speak until the things I have promised you occur."

Eight days after the birth of his son, when neighbors and friends had gathered for the circumcision, he was able to speak.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied that a savior was to come and that a messenger had been sent to announce that news.

He expressed gratitude to the Lord that the promises made to Israel were going to be realized, promises of rescue from enemies. Zechariah then reminded them what forgiven, rescued people were supposed to do with their freedom: serve God in every way on every day.

Try making Zechariah's Benedictus part of your morning prayer each day:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed us.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of your servant David.
You have spoken through prophets that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
You have shown mercy to our ancestors and remembered your holy covenant,
the oath you swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us rescue from our enemies
so that we might serve you without fear
in holiness and righteousness all our days.

Zechariah then speaks to the child, "You will be the prophet. You will prepare the way."

Think about way of preparation. I mean how highways are actually built. Consider how existing barriers must be destroyed--buildings, ones that should have been torn down anyway and ones that were in excellent shape, even beautiful, much-loved homes. Hillsides have to be cut through or mounted. Trees and brush are dragged away. All this before any actual road building is done.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Good News for Whom? a reflection on Luke 1:47-55

Mary responds to Elizabeth's good news and her own with a song of praise. Like Hannah before her (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary begins by praising God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me."

God chose Mary to bear the savior. Why didn't God pick a woman from one of the more powerful, prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the empire to be the birthplace of the savior, Rome, for example? For those of us who live in a powerful country, how willing are we to consider that God may continue to choose other venues for gifts?

In her song again echoing Hannah's, Mary describes what God has already done. Notice how her song emphasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Who should be reassured by this song? Who should start worrying?

In verses 54-55, Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors.God's promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever. How do these words sound to us Christians when we realize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor as well?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Unexpected news, a reflection on Luke1:1-13

Jane D. Schaberg and Sharon Ringe warn that the Gospel of Luke is an extremely dangerous text. Many readers insist that because it contains a great deal of material about women that is found nowhere else in the Gospels that it must be promoting the status of women. But, this Gospel portrays women as models of subordinate service, excluded from the power center of the Christian movement and from significant responsibilities. Female characters are not leaders or prophets; they are prayerful, quiet, grateful, supportive of male leadership (Women's Bible Commentary).

The prologue states that the Gospel is an orderly account of the events of Jesus' life and its results. It is written to Theophilus, that is, a friend of God.

The first event described is about an elderly couple, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who is barren. One day when Zechariah is serving as priest in a temple, the angel Gabriel appears to him telling him that Elizabeth will bear a son.  Zechariah's reaction is fear and disbelief. Gabriel tells him "Since you didn't believe me, you won't be able to speak until after your son is born."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Conforming to the Law, Led by the Spirit, a reflection on Luke 2:22-25

Notice how Luke blends into his account both law and the Spirit. The family are religiously scrupulous--in ways that may no longer be applicable in their specifics but are admirable in their attentiveness. They come to the temple because their religious practices require it. Simeon comes to the temple because he has been led by the Spirit.

Look around you at church Sunday. The people you will see there have come because they think it is the right thing to do, the expected thing. And you will see people who have been led there by the Spirit. And for some, both apply.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

After their return, a reflection on Ezra 3:1-4:23

They have returned but not to a perfect world. They can worship at the site of the destroyed temple but they are still in fear of the neighboring people. Rebuilding the temple meets with some resistance. After reading some of the history of Judah, King Artaxerxes concludes that they can be be dangerous so he forbids them to rebuild the temple.

In our own times, people in a community have felt threatened by the prospect of people of some other religion building a house of worship.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Recovery, a reflection by Ezra 1:1-2:70

Their land had been devastated by the powerful Babylon. Many of the people had been taken from their homes and transported to that foreign country. With no army, with no wealth, they did not have the power to resist. 

Yet, God has not abandoned them. The powerful Persia defeats Babylon. King Cyrus, stirred by the Lord (assisted by Jeremiah), sends the exiles home, directing them to rebuild the temple. Their neighbors donated valuable items to assist in the project.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Beginning of the Good News, Reflection on Mark 1:1-4

Isaiah had told them centuries before that God would be sending a messenger, one who would call from the wilderness for them to prepare for God's presence. Now John the baptizer is echoing this call. (Note that the quote in verses 2-3 are a conflation of sources: Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 as well as Isaiah 40:3, Preaching the Gospels by Allen & Williamson).

Mark's audience was living under domination by Rome. According to Allen & Williamson,
Isaiah was especially popular among the apocalyptists because they used the Babylonian oppressors and the exile to interpret Rome as a latter-day idolatrous and unjust Babylon and their situation of exile as they awaited the apocalypse. Isaiah 40:30 reinforces the theme from Malachi: John prepared the community for the eschatological invasion of the present, broken world by Jesus.

What does Mark mean by "beginning"? Is John the beginning of the good news? Or, is Mark's gospel the beginning of the story that continues to this day? (NT Commentary by Boring & Craddock)

For us, what is wilderness? What is our Babylon? Is it time for us to return from exile? How does the call for repentance relate to our lives?

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:2-4

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Objection and Reassurance, Reflection on Isaiah 40:6-11

God tells the prophet to speak, but the prophet doesn't know what to say. People are weak compared to the strength of God.

Note that it is not just the prophet who is supposed to be telling about the advent of God's presence. Zion and Jerusalem, that is all the faithful, are called to proclaim, and to do so loudly and visibly.

God is coming, mighty as an army, but not to destroy. God is coming to be our shepherd, to feed us, to carry us, to lead us.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 40:10-11

Monday, November 30, 2015

Words to Sinners, Reflection on Isaiah 40:1-5

God has instructed the prophet Isaiah to speak tenderly to the people, to tell them that they have suffered long enough. 

You may be living in the wilderness. Prepare for God to come to you there. You may be living in a desert. Prepare for God to come to you there. There are low places in your lives. Fill them in. There are obstacles. Knock them down. When something gets in your way or trips you up, move it out of your way.

God is coming into your life.

And this is good news.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Communion and Commission, a reflection on Luke 24:30-32

It was almost night when they got to Emmaus so they invited the stranger in.

And at the table, when he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with them, they recognized him.

Loss, disappointment, and frustration did not end with those first Christians.

And, as we celebrate Holy Communion, we can recognize him.

As soon as they recognize him, they can understand something that has already happened, something that they hadn't noticed at the time but now makes sense to them--"Were not our hearts burning within while he was talking to us about the Bible?"

It's night, they've had a long walk, it's after supper, and they decide to go back to Jerusalem right then, not the next day.

The recognition of the Lord has to be shared, and shared immediately.

In Jerusalem, they learned that the Lord had also appeared to Simon.

Note the repeat about how he had been made know to them in the breaking of the bread. We usually interpret this to be related to Holy Communion, but we may also want to think about we recognize Christ in our midst when we share those ordinary meals as well.

The other gospels don't tell us about Ascension; so, every year we turn to Luke: And then to this group of disciples who have been huddled together in fear and, even in the joy of recognition, have been disbelieving, he now commissions them, "You are witnesses that the Scriptures have been fulfilled."
Commission--I am sending upon you what my Father promised. Stay here in this city until that power comes.

While they are waiting, they gather in the temple.

I'm thinking that many of us Christians have gotten stuck in that period between Ascension and Pentecost. We have known the presence of Christ. We have heard and believed the promised made to us. We're expecting something great to come among us. We are gathered together in great joy to continue our worship of the Lord. We love church and we love the Lord and we love each other. But....

He reminds them that the part of our Bible we call the Old Testament is valid--and necessary for their understanding. We aren't supposed to cut off a large part of the Bible and we aren't supposed to cut off a large part of our neighbors--The risen Christ said to them that they were to include in their witness all nations. Does "all nations" include the people who live on my block that I have never even spoken to? Does "all nations" include people who are of a different socio-economic level?

Friday, November 27, 2015

On the road to Emmaus, a reflection on Luke 24:1-29

Not everyone catches on right away. Jesus was right there with them. And they didn't recognize him. They knew about the resurrection. They were even surprised that their travel companion didn't seem to.

They may not have been able to recognize Jesus right away, but they are ready to talk about him to strangers who show interest.

They tell of what they had been expecting and what they had been told.

They tell this stranger about Jesus, how he was a prophet and the one who had been sent to redeem them; yet he had been handed over by the religious authorities to the Romans who had consequently condemned him to death and crucified him.

The story got stranger. Some of the women in their group had told them that when they had gone to visit his tomb, a vision of angels had said he was still alive. Hearing this, some in the group went to the tomb and confirmed that the body was missing, but they didn't see Jesus.

And, on the road to Emmaus, they don't recognize him yet.

Although the one that they had hoped would rescue them had himself been executed, although they had not been able to see for themselves the angels that some of the women had said had told them that he was not alive, they still allow a stranger to walk along with them, to talk with them. They even listen to a sermon from him. Then, since the day is almost over, they invite him to stay with them.

Loss. Disappointment. Frustration. Yet, an offer of hospitality.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reflection on 2 Kings 22:11-23:3

Back to Josiah. He realized that Judah had been ignoring the will of the Lord for a long time; so much,  that they deserved the troubles they had had. They consulted the prophetess Huldah who warned them that they had provoked the anger of the Lord, but that because Josiah had been penitent, disaster would not be immediate.

Josiah directed a public reading of the law then directed that the law be carried out. The temple was cleared of the inappropriate (and some really inappropriate things were going on in there.) He also directed that the alternative worship sites be destroyed.

They kept passover for the first time since the days of the judges.

God had warned them against having a king. Let us consider who is in charge of our lives, our decisions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Instructions from the Lord, a reflection on 2 Kings 22:3-10

Eighteen years into Josiah's reign, he sent auditors to oversee the funds collected from the people and directed that the money be spent repairing the temple. In examining the temple, they found the book of the law. [For the contents of this instruction scroll, read Deuteronomy 32].

As I read this, I had two thoughts. First, I wondered if the US would ever get around to repairing the bridges. Second, why had I not noticed that they didn't have a Bible to look at all this time.

I'm adding a third--what does it take for us to notice that we haven't been looking at a Bible for a long, long time.

Now, a fourth thought, shouldn't we figure out how to fund the necessary repair to our infrastructure? Wouldn't that fit into caring for others?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reflection on 2 Kings 21

A very bad king, Manasseh, followed. So bad that the Lord told them that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. Amon was the next king, and he also did evil--worshipping idols, abandoning the Lord. His servants killed him substituting his son Josiah as king.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Limit on Concern, a Reflection on 2 Kings 20

When he was about to die from the effects of a boil, King Hezekiah called on the prophet Isaiah. This interaction including the cure for the boil can also be found in Isaiah 38. Although King Hezekiah almost died, the Lord decided to let him live another fifteen years--and prevent the Assyrians from taking over Judah. 

The king of Babylon came to visit and Hezekiah showed him all his treasures. Isaiah said the day will come when Babylon takes over all that you and your ancestors have stored up.  Hezekiah appeared unconcerned about what would happen to his country or his children after he himself was dead.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Reflection on Isaiah 55:1-7 (posting although not in this week's Narrative Lectionary)

A country church on a state highway was trying to raise enough money to pay off the mortgage on its new Family Life Center.  One of the favorite ways was selling tickets for catfish suppers, grilled hamburgers, even chitlins, once. On the weeks of the suppers, the preacher would post on the sign out front:

Catfish Supper

June 27, 5-7 p.m

Cost $8

Isaiah 55:2 

She was a little disappointed that no one ever told her they thought the sign was funny or appropriate.

Isaiah is writing to exiles in Babylon describing for them what their new life in an old place will be. Water for the thirsty. Food for the hungry. God promises to make with them an everlasting covenant. And because God has done so much for them, they are to reach out to strangers, to foreign strangers.... 

Sometimes when I read this passage from Isaiah, I focus on the everlasting covenant part, but, this week I'm looking harder at the repentance part. "Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them...."

Remembering the parable of the fig tree that despite its three-year span of unfruitfulness has been given one more chance, I'm reading Isaiah's plea, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near."

Is there a time limit for us? Well, even if there isn't, shouldn't we start seeking? If we haven't been calling, wouldn't this be a good time to?

Abundant pardon is available. Today is a good time to ask for it, to live for it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Not Living up to Responsibilities, a reflection on Mark 12:1-3

"What makes you think you should tell us anything?" the temple authorities had asked Jesus. He toyed with them some by asking questions they weren't willing to answer. Consequently, he didn't make a flat declaration of his source of authority. (Mark 11:28-33).  Instead, he spoke to them in parables.

For example, he told the parable of a man who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, and dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. He didn't oversee the operations of the vineyard himself. Instead, he took a trip and hired some workers to take care of it. They didn't do the job the way that had been intended. When the owner sent a steward to collect from the tenants his share, instead of complying with their agreement, they beat up the steward and sent him away empty handed.

Remember Jesus is talking to the persons who were responsible for the operations of the temple. Is he reminding them whose temple it is? Of whether they are discharging their responsibilities to the Lord as they should? Look back at Isaiah 11: Have they cared for the needy with righteousness? Have they shown righteousness and faithfulness to the will of the Lord?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Ideal King, a Reflection on Isaiah 11:1-5

Isaiah was speaking to people who were aware of the devastation that the powerful Assyria had deployed. Israel had been overtaken. Judah was under threat. Yet, the prophet speaks a message of hope (Read chapters 9 and 10).

Isaiah promised them a new king. 

This king would be supported by the Lord:The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,the spirit of wisdom and understanding,the spirit of counsel and might,the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
The promised king would be an ideal king. A king who would be what kings should be. With his wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and fear of the Lord, this king would be a good judge. 

He would be fair to the poor and the meek. He would overcome the wicked.

Christians have long appropriated this vision of the ideal king to the messiah, Christ. 

Do we need a powerful monarch to enforce peace? 

In what ways does this passage describe the church (after all, we think of the church as the body of Christ)?

 Isaiah described the ideal king as caring for the poor and vulnerable. Do we see this as a necessary role for a ruler? for Christ? for the church?

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Unfruitful Vineyard, a reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah tells the people of Israel this parable: The owner of the land, with great effort, plants vines on a very fertile hill. He got grapes, but not the kind of grapes he had worked for. He vows to make a new start, to tear down the wall that protects the vines, to quit tending them, not to prune or hoe, and he will quit watering them. 

Isaiah is trying to get them to think about how much sense the landowner's reaction makes. "Apply this parable to your own lives. God gave you this land and cared for your needs. God expected great things from you. God expected to you to yield justice and righteousness. That's not what you did."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Request of James and John, a Reflection on Mark 10:35-45

James and John went to Jesus and asked him to do something for them.

I'm pausing here to think about what usually prompts me to pray. 

Let's go back to James and John. They asked Jesus for glory, to sit next to him. Jesus informed them they had no idea what they were asking. "Do you really want to be next to me? Are you prepared to do what I am going to have to do? Besides, it's not my choice anyway."

The other disciples were upset when they heard that James and John had sought preferential status. Jesus called them together and informed them of what it took to be great. "Greatness is not lording over everybody; for us, greatness takes a different approach. To be great, you have to be the servant. Take me for example. What I came for is not to have everybody take care of me, but, instead, to serve, even to give up my life."

Then, and even now, we have church leaders who display similar attitudes to James and John. They want to be in charge, and they want everybody to know who is in charge. They display little appetite for slavery to the needs of others.

I'm trying to imagine an advertising campaign for a church that would use some of the language that Jesus used with his disciples--that drinking the cup that he was going to drink or being baptized what he was going to be baptized. He had already told them three times about his upcoming death.

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tests that we would rather explain away, a Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

Several years ago, three long-divided denominations, Methodists, Catholics, and Lutherans, made a public commitment to unity. Their agreement "on justification by faith, or how individuals are forgiven and brought into a right relationship with God, began with a colorful opening procession in which robed leaders of the three historic Christian traditions walked side by side."

I'm going to have to say that this doctrine is important and has been divisive. But, I wonder what joint statement they could issue on their understanding of selling all (17-22). Or, what joint statement could they possibly issue about Christianity requiring someone to desert work, home, and family (29-31)?

Yes, I know that Mark's community thought the end of the world was near and that they wouldn't have to live long without assets. But, still. What is the source of our happiness? How closely are we willing to live to Jesus' test of who would get eternal life?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Questions that Test, a Reflection on Mark 10:2-16

Is there any reason to believe that the Pharisees had any sincere concern about women who were being divorced by their husbands, women who would have been left destitute?

They were asking a hard question hoping to catch Jesus in an embarassing answer. Would he stick to Scripture?

In that particular confrontation, he did, and even quoted some additional verses.

And, we're left with a disconcerting lesson. Matthew modified it some. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians did, too.

We continue to struggle with the need to obey God's will in troubling situations.

And we continue to see instances of modern-day Pharisees trying to embarass other Christians.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

God's Compassion on the Undeserving, a Reflection on Hosea 11:1-9

Hosea speaks the words he heard from the Lord. God is visualized as a loving parent of a stubbornly disobedient child. "The more I did for him, the worse he behaved. I taught him how to walk but he walked to places he shouldn't have gone. I loved him, fed him, cradled him in my arms, and now he would rather be with someone else."

Yet, God does not give up this rebellious, ungrateful child. Although the child deserves punishment, God continues to offer compassion.

"They will give up their sins. They will return home."

The first hearers of this message were living at the time that the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah were in conflict and the powerful Assyria had successfully attacked Israel taking many of its citizens into exile. Hosea reminded his listeners that the people of Israel had received much from God but had not been appreciative, that their own behavior had been part of the cause of their downfall. He used the image of Egypt to remind them that their actions before had taken them into exile. The reference to Egypt also would remind them that God did not abandon them there but led them home again. But, in that home, they had not behaved very well.

It's an old story but still is a relevant one. We, their descendants, know of the gifts granted to us and also know how we have treated them. We can base our hope on the God that spoke through Hosea, the God of warm and tender compassion, the God who will not come in the wrath we deserve but will welcome us back home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Real Religion or Empty Worship, Reflections on Hosea 5, reading toward Hosea 11:1-9

What sins are the people being accused of? 

Is there any hope for them now? How lasting is our love of God? 

Is it any longer than that of Israel and Judah? 

What is it that God wants from them? from us? 

What are modern-day parallels to steadfast love, sacrifice, knowledge of God, and burnt offerings?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Unfaithfulness, a Reflection on Hosea 1:2-10 , reading toward Hosea 11:1-9

Hosea was speaking at a time of calamities--dangers from outside and disobedience and disloyalty within. 

The Lord tells him to marry a prostitute. The Lord tells him what to name the children born to them. We are struck by the names that the Lord deems appropriate: Jezreel--God sows; Lo-ruhamah--Not pitied; Lo-ammi--I am not yours.

If we choose to read this chapter metaphorically (as many commentators do), we can see the history of Israel lived out through the life of Hosea. Israel has been unfaithful. The Lord has punished Israel. Israel feels abandoned.

Yet, disobedience and punishment are not the end of the story of the Lord and Israel. Pity, compassion, and love are continuing characteristics of the Lord. God tells Hosea, "When people say that you are not my people, just tell them you are the children of the living God."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Transformation, a reflection on Mark 9:2-4

Peter, James, and John were helped in their understanding of who Jesus was by the events on the mountaintop. They witnessed a change in Jesus' body. They saw him clothed in white as was the Divine One described by Daniel (7:9). And they saw Moses and Elijah, great figures in the history of their people, both who had spoken the word of the Lord.

If you keep reading Mark 9:
Then a cloud overshadowed them. And from the cloud came a voice.
What Jesus has known (1:11) is now told to these disciples: The voice tells them, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" 

And what he first tells them is not to tell anybody else until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year B, explains this command: They may have heard that Jesus is the Son, the Beloved, but they haven't yet heard everything they need to know to be effective disciples. They are not yet ready to be witnesses nor are their audiences yet read to hear it.

Off on a tangent: Look back at Exodus 19:16-20 that tells of the appearance of a thick cloud on a mountain and the voice of the Lord; also Exodus 24:12-18, Moses and Aaron go up the mountain, the glory of the Lord appears in the cloud, then Moses enters the cloud. Other references to the cloud as a symbol of the divine presence include Numbers 14:10; Ezekiel 1:4; Daniel 7:13-14; Mark 13:26; 14:2. (Thank you once more, Allen & Williamson, for your Preaching the Gospels.)

All the elements of Mark's account are there: the six days of waiting, the cloud, the glory, the voice, the descent from the mountain. Moses' face shone due to his experience in the presence of God. Exodus also describes the making of the tent of meeting. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reflection on 1 Kings 18-20-39

Elijah sets up a test to prove that the Lord is God, not Baal. 450 prophets will call on the storm god to provide lightning to set fire to their sacrifice. They call on their god all morning and all afternoon. They hear no voice, no answer.

Who are we more likely to trust in times of danger, deprivation? Where do we turn for help? When we don't get an immediate positive solution, what do we do next?

The followers of Baal had been unable to evoke a miracle. Yet, when Elijah prayed to the Lord to do something to impress the people, the Lord responded with a fire that "consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench."

Israel has been convinced.

Allen and Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament point out that far more than a miracle story, our text raises questions of how we think and speak of God. Baal provides no voice and no answer. God is companion, vulnerable, affected by prayer, interacts with God's people and God's world.

But what do we think when our droughts continue? When someone else gets all the rain they need?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Testing God, a reflection on 1 Kings 18:1-19, Background to this week's reading

Ahab is king.  After marrying Jezebel, he worshipped Baal (the rain god), built an altar in the house of Baal he built and also a sacred pole." Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel  who were before him" (1 Kings 16:29-34).

The prophet Elijah, whose name means Yahweh is God, tells Ahab what he has been told by the Lord, that a drought is coming (17:1-7).

Where does power lie? King Ahab lives in royal court, and has control over an army.

Elijah, a prophet, was first fed by ravens then stayed in the home of a widow who was so poor that she had only a handful of meal and a little oil in a jug. The Lord saw to it that she wouldn't run out of food. When her son became very ill, Elijah prayed to the Lord who listened, and the son revived (1 Kings 17:8-24).

After three years of drought, the Lord tells Elijah to go to Ahab. Risky because Jezebel has been killing the prophets of the Lord.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Seeking Substitute for Loss of Temple, 1 Kings 12:25-29

Jeroboam was in residence in Israel, but didn't feel safe. The place of worship for them was still in Jerusalem. If the Israelites continued to travel to Jerusalem, they might transfer their loyalty to Rehoboam.

He felt his own rule and life were in danger. On advice, he had two gold calves constructed. He said, "Now you don't have to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship. Look, here are your gods that brought you out of Israel." Read Exodus 32:1-8 for background of how this was really a bad idea.

When any of us feel the loss of God, do we seek tangible substitutes?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Split, a reflection on 1 Kings 12:18-24

When all Israel (that is, the northern tribes) saw that Rehoboam wasn't going to listen to their request to moderate work demands, the response was, "Why should we care about David? We have no stake in Jesse's son!" The workers then stoned the work gang leader to death. King Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem.

Israel sent for Jeroboam and crowned him king of all Israel. Rehoboam assembled the house of Judah and Benjamin (the southern tribes) to fight against the north in order to restore his right to rule the whole kingdom.

However, a prophet was told by God to tell Rehoboam and the rest of his people not to make war against the Israelites, "Go home every one of you, because this is my plan." They went home.

These verses are omitted from the lectionary, but I think they help understand the ones that are included. Further, they raise a question of how we decide (realize?) to attribute events to the plan of God.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rehoboam's first decision as king a reflection on 1 Kings 12:1-17

When Jeroboam heard that King Solomon was dead, he left Egypt and returned to Israel. The people reminded Rehoboam that his father had imposed heavy workloads on them and asked if he would lighten what was demanded of them. Rehoboam asked for three days to think over their request. When he asked his advisors how he should respond to the demand, they told him that if gave in on this, the people would support him forever.

[The former leader made great achievements and imposed great demands of others. How does a successor duplicate success without duplicating the demands? How does a new leader choose which of the predecessors ways to repeat and which to modify? How should achievement be measured, anyway?]

On the other hand, his younger advisors told him to say he would make their workloads even heavier. He ignored the advice of the elders and went with the younger people. He told the workers, "My father made your workload heavy, but I'll make it even heavier! My father disciplined you with whips, but I'll do it with scorpions!" [Scorpions? Is that a metaphor?]

Rebellion followed. Rehoboam had to flee to Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Background to this week's reading, a reflection on 1 Kings 11

Jeroboam's repair work of the wall in Jerusalem impressed King Solomon so much that he sent him to oversee another job. On his way, Jeroboam met a prophet who told him that after Solomon died, God was going to split the kingdom. Solomon's son would be given only one tribe's portion of land but that tribe would always rule over Jerusalem. Note, Jerusalem is where the temple is. Further note, the temple was necessary for worship. The rest of Israel would be ruled by Jeroboam on the condition that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

Solomon's mood changed. He tried to kill Jeroboam who fled to Egypt. After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Promotion, a reflection on Mark 10:42-45

James and John went to Jesus and asked him to do something for them.

I'm pausing here to think about what usually prompts me to pray. 

Let's go back to James and John. They asked Jesus for glory, to sit next to him. Jesus informed them they had no idea what they were asking. "Do you really want to be next to me? Are you prepared to do what I am going to have to do? Besides, it's not my choice anyway."

The other disciples were upset when they heard that James and John had sought preferential status. Jesus called them together and informed them of what it took to be great. 

"Greatness is not lording over everybody; for us, greatness takes a different approach. To be great, you have to be the servant. Take me for example. What I came for is not to have everybody take care of me, but, instead, to serve, even to give up my life."

Then, and even now, we have church leaders who display similar attitudes to James and John. They want to be in charge, and they want everybody to know who is in charge. They display little appetite for devoting their efforts to the needs of others.

I'm trying to imagine an advertising campaign for a church that would use some of the language that Jesus used with his disciples--that drinking the cup that he was going to drink or being baptized what he was going to be baptized. He had already told them three times about his upcoming death.

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Whom the people want as king, a reflection on 2 Samuel 5:1-5

Saul is dead. His son Jonathon is dead. Although he was initially kept from battle, David turned a defeat into a victory. 

Eventually, the tribes of Israel conclude that David should be their king.

Or, am I supposed to be reading this as finally the people of Israel catch on to what the Lord has long planned?

Back to the king part. When the people had first wanted a king, the Lord had forecast for them what life with a human king would be like (see 1 Samuel 8), but they wanted one anyway. They just weren't able to trust the rule of the Lord unmediated by a human king.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Welcoming a new leader, Mark 11:8-10

Imagine living in a land that once had been yours but now is under the control of a powerful overseer; imagine that your own political and religious leaders answer to this other force. This was life for the Jews in the time of Jesus.

They looked backwards to help them see forwards.

When Mark told of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he quoted from Psalms and from the prophets who had spoken to the people as they envisioned return from exile.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
Mark's readers have known what came next: He will defeat the enemy and the prisoners will be set free (Read Zechariah 9:10-17).

We still are reading the Gospel of Mark. And we still are being held captive. For some Christians, the captors are actual human overseers. For others, they are powerful forces. As individuals, we may be worried about loss of health or loss of a specific loved one. Or, as a community, we have shared concerns.

And today, we can think of the economic strictures around the globe.
How much have we lost?
How much do we fear?
What will tomorrow bring?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bitter and yet not bitter, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 18

The author addresses the Israelite children directly:

Obey the law. Exercise piety in everything. Remember the example of the family that sacrificed themselves for religion, and when the tyrant saw that he wasn't able to compel the Israelites to become pagans, he left Jerusalem.

The mother spoke to her sons, reminded them of her virtue and the examples from scripture that her husband had recounted to their sons.

The author describes the day that her sons were sacrificed as bitter--and yet not bitter: For these crimes divine justice pursued and will pursue the accursed tyrant, but the sons and their victorious mother have received immortal souls from God.

Does it make a difference if we read these words as being written to people suffering from a foreign tyrant? Do they help readers who are living in peace and in charge?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lesson Learned, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 17

When she was about to be seized by the guards, she threw herself into the fire. The writer of 4 Maccabees writes an enconium lauding her for, with her sons, frustrating the evil plan of the tyrant to destroy their faith.  

Ironic outcome: After the lack of success in converting this family, the tyrant was so impressed with their courage, virtue, and endurance, he proclaimed them as examples for his troops. However, eventually Israel became independent from their Seleucid overlords.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Maternal advice, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 16

We are told what the mother said to her sons as they were watching the agonizing death of Eleazar, "It would be shameful if while this elderly endures such agonies for the sake of religion, you were to be afraid of such tortures. Remember that is through God that you have had a life in this world, and therefore you ought to endure any suffering for the sake of God."

They complied with her teachings.

Can you come up with an hypothetical situation in which you would concur with this maternal advice?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

How high a price is paid for religion, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 15

The mother had to choose between religion or her sons' lives. She chose religion. The writer of 4 Maccabees agrees with this choice, "O more noble than males in steadfastness, and more courageous than men in endurance are you. O guardian of the law, overwhelmed from every side by the flood of your emotions and the violent winds, the torture of your sons, endured nobly and withstood the wintry storms that assail religion."

Reading this, I can't imagine having to choose between my children or my religion. Then I wonder what I do sacrifice to protect religion.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Example of Abraham and Isaac, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 14

Continuing the thesis that reason enabled them to face torture: The mother of the seven sons bore up under the rackings of each of her children. Sympathy for her children did not sway her; she was of the same mind as Abraham (Genesis 22).

I don't have a comment on this.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Reason conquering emotion, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 13

The writer of 4 Maccabees used the example of the seven brothers' choosing painful death as proof that reason is sovereign over emotion. He used a metaphor: Just as tall towers in harbors can hold back threatening waves, so did right reason in the youths fortify the harbor of religion and conquer the tempest of emotion.

Quote from one of the brothers: Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God. Therefore let us put on the full armor of self-control, which is divine reason. For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us."

Is 4 Maccabees equating reason with being afraid of the afterlife?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The youngest brother, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 12

When the seventh and youngest brother was brought in, the tyrant felt compassion for him. "You see the results of your brothers' stupidity, dying in torment because of their disobedience. You have the choice of being tortured or of being my friend and a leader in the government of the kingdom."

Thinking she would persuade the boy to obey and save himself, the tyrant then sent for the mother.

She spoke to her son, her last remaining son, in Hebrew (see chapter 16 if you can't wait). The boy asked to be freed. Since they thought that he was going to do what they wanted, they freed him immediately. Instead of doing what they wanted, he said, "My brothers died nobly but you will suffer for killing them. God will take vengeance both in this present life and when you are dead."

He threw himself into the fire.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Holding out against repression, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 11

The fifth brother leaped up, "I  have come on my own accord so that by murdering me, you will be punished by heaven,"

He then asked them a question, "Why are you destroying us? Is it because we worship the Creator of all things and live according to his law?"

As he was tortured cruelly, gasping for breath, he said, "Tyrant, you're doing us a favor letting us show our endurance for the law."

When he had died, the sixth brother was led in. He too chose dying over eating the forbidden food.
While being tortured, he said to the tyrant, "We six boys have paralyzed your tyranny. Since you have not been able to persuade us or force us to eat defiling foods, is this not your own downfall? Your violence is powerless. The law is unconquered. We hold fast to reason."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Holding fast, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 10

After the second brother died, the third was led in. Many urged him to save himself by eating meat. He answered them, "I have the same father they did and the same mother, I was brought up on the same teachings."

They tortured him but could not break his spirit. When he was about to die, he said, "We are suffering now, but you, because of your bloodthirstiness, will undergo unceasing torments."

When he died, the fourth brother was brought in and given the same choice. He responded, "You do not have a fire hot enough to make me play the coward."

The king got tired of hearing this kind of talk and ordered that his tongue be cut out. The brother responded, "Even if you remove my organ of speech, God hears also those who are mute; therefore, you will not make our reason speechless."

Do holders of the majority religion feel that holders of minority religion are heretics? How is heresy a threat to the nation?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The first two brothers face a choice, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 9

The brothers assert, "We'll die before we would transgress our ancestors' commandments. You're threatening us with death. Didn't you learn anything from Eleazar? Put us to the test. And remember, if you take our lives because we won't reject our religion, we'll have the prize of being with God. You, because of your treatment of us, will undergo the divine justice of eternal torment by fire."

When the eldest was tortured, he called out, "Imitate me. Fight the battle for religion."

After he died, the second brother was tortured. He exclaimed, "How sweet is any kind of death for the religion of our ancestors," then added, to the tyrant, "You will not escape the divine wrath."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Choice of peace or faithfulness, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 8

When the tyrant finally gave up on forcing the old man to eat forbidden food, he angrily demanded that other Hebrew captives be given the choice either to eat defiling food and be freed or to be tortured.

Seven brothers, along with their mother, were brought before the tyrant. He said to them, "I advise you to make a different choice from the one that old man did. Renounce your religion and I'll give you a position of authority in my government. Adopt the Greek life or be tortured."

When they saw the dreadful torture instruments, they were not afraid. Relying on their own philosophy and by right reasoning, they rejected the tyrant's offer. They never considered accepting the king's offer.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Only the wise, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 7

Arguing that reason enabled Eleazar to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue, the author of 4 Maccabees  concludes, "Only the wise and courageous are masters of their emotions."

Friday, October 9, 2015

A life offered in exchange for others', a reflection on 4 Maccabees 6

After refusing the king's insistence to break Jewish law, Eleazar was tortured. He bore the pain showing a courageous spirit. Partly out of pity for his old age, partly out of admiration for his endurance, one of the king's men asked him why was he letting this happen and offered him a way to escape further punishment: "We'll cook you some meat and pretend that it is pork so you can satisfy the king and your conscience."

Eleazar refused the offer. They burned him. As he was dying, he prayed to God, "Be merciful to your people and take my life in exchange for theirs."

The writer of 4 Maccabees uses this example to prove that reason prevailed over emotion.

Questions raised: How do we decide which religious laws to obey and under what circumstances?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Refusal to disobey religious requirements, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 5

King Antiochus increased pressure on the Hebrews. If they weren't willing to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols, they would be tortured and killed. An elderly man of a priestly family, Eleazar, was brought before the king, who tried to reason with him to eat pork, "Why are you rejecting the excellent gift that Nature has given us. Consider this: if there is some power watching over this religion of yours, it will excuse you from any transgression that arises out of compulsion."

Eleazar refused to transgress the law that his religion held. "Get your torture wheels ready and fan the fire!" I will not renounce the law. You shall not dominate my religious principles either by words or through deeds."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An attempt to destroy Judaism, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 4:15-26

King Seleucus died and was succeeded by his son Antiochus, an arrogant and terrible man, who, in turn, replaced the noble and good man, Onias, as high priest with Onias' brother, Jason, who agreed to pay the king a large sum every year.

Note: a foreign king had decided who would be the high priest for the Jews.

Jason violated Jewish law; e.g., he allowed a gymnasium to be constructed. issued a decree that any  Jews found observing the Jewish law would be executed. Even so, the Jews disregarded his command and kept being Jews. In response, he had women who had circumcised their sons executed along with their infant sons. He instituted torture so as to compel everyone to eat foods they considered defiling and to renounce Judaism.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Saving the Treasury, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 4:1-14

Simon was a political opponent of the high priest Onias. When his attempts to slander Onias failed, Simon went to Apollonius, governor of Syria, Phoenicia, and Cilicia, to get help in overturning Onias.

Simon told the governor that the Jerusalem treasure had huge deposits that belonged to King Seleucus. When he was informed of this, the king authorized Simon to seize those funds.

The people protested the raid of what they considered a sacred treasury. Apollonius persisted. The priests together with women and children prayed to God to shield the holy place. Angels on horseback sent lightning bolts, knocking him half-dead. He stretched out his hands toward heaven and begged the Hebrews to pray for him that the heavenly army would leave him alone. In his prayer, he admitted his sin but said that if he were spared, he would protect the temple.

Moved by these words, Onias, with some doubts, also prayed that Apollonius be spared.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reason, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 3

Reason can provide a way to keep us from being enslaved by desire and can help us deal with anger. Reason doesn't eliminate our emotions but does fight against them.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Law and Reason, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 2

Reason can rule over every desire; e.g, by reason, a habitual glutton or drunkard can learn a better way. A lover of money can learn to lend without interest to the needy and to cancel debts after seven years.

Reason rules the emotions for the law prevails in relationship with parents, one's wife, children, and friends. The law can prevail even over treatment of enemies and violent emotions; e.g., lust for power, arrogance, malice, and even anger.

In summary, "Now when God fashioned human beings, he planted in them emotions and inclinations, but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over all" (21-22).

The NISB cites Biblical references for the examples of law in this passage, including Gen 39:7-12; Ex 20:17; Ex 22:25; Lev 25:35-37; Deut 23:19-20; Det 15:1-3; Lev 19:9-10: Dt 20:19)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Thesis: Devout wisdom is sovereign over emotions, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 1

The intention of 4 Maccabees is to discuss whether devout wisdom is sovereign over emotions. Assumption: the highest virtue is rational judgment. Thus, if reason rules over over those emotions that hinder self-control; e.g., gluttony and lust. it can also master the emotions that hinder justice and courage; e.g., malice, anger, fear, and pain.

Definitions: Reason is the mind that with sound logic prefers the life of wisdom. Wisdom is the knowledge of divine and human matters and the causes of these. The kinds of wisdom: national judgment, justice, courage, and self-control. Rational judgment is supreme over all of these kinds of wisdom, since by means of it, reason rules over the emotions.

The two most comprehensive types of the emotions are pleasure and pain. Desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it. Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after. Anger is an emotion that embraces both pleasure and pain.

Pleasure is complicated because in it is a malevolent tendency; e.g., in the soul: boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice, and in the body, gluttony.

Reason is the guide of virtues, but over emotions, it is sovereign. Self-control is dominance over desires. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Promise of Deliverance (with a caveat), a reflection on 2 Esdras 16:68-78

This passage begins with the warning that "The burning wrath of a great multitude is kindled over you. There will be a great uprising against those who fear the Lord." and continues,  "They shall be like maniacs, sparing no one, but blundering and destroying."

"The Lord says, 'Listen, my elect ones, the days of tribulation are at hand, but I will deliver you. Do not let your iniquities prevail over you."

The New Interpreter's Study Bible commentary points out that the description of destruction may well reflect real events in the 3rd century CE. Even so, we can reflect on the inevitable consequences of our sinning and the opportunity to be forgiven.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Listen! a reflection on 2 Esdras 16:35-67

Listen, understand. Calamities are drawing near. They will not be delayed.

Do not be like sinners. In a short time, iniquity will be removed from the earth, and righteousness will reign over us.

Sinners must admit their sins. The Lord knows everything that people do their imaginations and their thoughts and their hearts.

God is the judge. Be afraid.

Cease sinning so God will lead you forth and deliver you from all tribulation.

Are we frightened or relieved to hear the prophecy that we can be saved if we would just stop sinning?