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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

God Looks Favorably, a Reflection on Luke 7:11-15

Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Gospels list many scriptures that underlie the Jewish tradition of providing for widows and others on the margins of life:
Leviticus 22:13; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:17-22; 25:5-10; 26:12; 27:19; Psalm 68:5; 94:1-7; 146;7; Isaiah 1:16-17, 21025; 10:2; Jeremiah 49:1
They also remind us that Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 and Elisha in 2 Kings 4:18-3 compassionately raise the sons of widows.

Jesus continues this tradition. He restores a widow's son. Allen & Williamson read this passage as indicating that the members of the church are also supposed to care for widows and others on the margin.

Through the church, God can continue to look favorably on the people. Through the church, those who need sustenance and support can receive it.

Read some of the passages that A&W have suggested. For example, "You shall love the aliens and provide food and clothing for them."  And, "Set aside some of your earnings to feed aliens, orphans, and widows." Over and over, we are told what to do, and over and over, we often act as if what we have worked for is ours to keep solely for ourselves.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Healing the Centurion's Slave, a Reflection on Luke 7:1-10

Background (4:14-40): In Luke, after leaving the wilderness, then being rejected in his hometown Nazareth, Jesus went to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. There he taught in the synagogue where he also healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon. Jesus then went to Simon's house and healed his mother-in-law. By the end of that day, many persons with various kinds of diseases were brought to Jesus. He healed them. When the expelled demons shouted, "You are the Son of God!" Jesus rebuked them and told than to to say anything else. Yet, he continued to heal and preach publicly.

A Roman official, a centurion, in Capernaum has a highly valued slave who is dying. Having heard of the healings already done by Jesus, the centurion asks some of the synagogue authorities to ask Jesus to come to heal his slave.

The elders go to Jesus with an earnest appeal, "You should help the centurion because he has been a help to us."

Questions that arise for me: Why would a centurion want to build a synagogue? Why did the elders think that particular argument would win Jesus' acceptance? In our own time, who are the non-Christians that desire Christ's help and who would they think to ask for intercession?

When he heard that Jesus was coming, the centurion sent a message through friends (I don't know whether they were also Jews), "You don't have to come all the way to my house. I don't deserve that much effort. Besides, you have the power to heal my servant from a distance. You just have to say the word. I know about authority because I have it. If I tell a slave to go, he goes, if I say to come, he comes, and if I say to do this, he does."

Although I wonder if there something subtle in his reminder that he has a lot of power, Jesus offers the interpretation to his remarks as evidence of great faith.

When the Jewish elders returned to the centurion's house, they found the slave in good health.

Question: How is Christ working through the church to heal?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Always green, a Reflection on Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

How often does a typical Christian offer thanks and recognition to the Lord--every day or twice a day or at meals or not on some predetermined schedule?

Why do we give thanks? Do we, like the psalmist here, get something good out of praising the Lord? Do we notice what God has done? Does our joy about what God has done impel us to praise?

Look at verses 12-15. The metaphor of crops is used to describe the righteous. As visible as trees, they stand and flourish. Even in old age, they continue to produce fruit. Like old trees, old worshipers continue to be growing and productive. These righteous people don't plant themselves.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Reminder to Religious Leaders, a reflection on Luke 6:14-16

Jesus than turns to the Pharisees. Religious leaders need to be religious not just act like it when someone is looking. God knows what you are doing. God knows what you are thinking.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Faithful (really?) Manager, a Reflection on Luke 6:1-13

Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees but now turns to his disciples. He tells them a parable about a man whose employment has been threatened. He has been managing the assets of an absentee landlord--and not managing them well in the opinion of the owner. Faced with losing his job, the manager devises a plan. He reduces the amount each tenant owes in hopes of assuring that they will help take care of him after he is fired.

The owner response when he hears about this tactic is surprising. He commends the manager for his cleverness.

What would the disciples have thought at this point? Who would they thought was the owner and the manager? Would they have pictured themselves as the manager responsible for taking care of the Lord's assets? Or did they take it more literally and suppose Jesus was describing how employees should behave or how owners should evaluate those employees' behavior? Surely, he wasn't telling them to be dishonest, was he?

Jesus then says to the disciples, "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in very much. If you have been unfaithful, who will trust you?" He goes on to warn them that anybody who isn't faithful with worldly wealth will not be trusted with true riches (which we usually consider to be heaven). "No one can serve two masters--it's impossible". Then, he sums it up, "You cannot serve God and wealth."

This lesson seems to fit Jesus' teachings a lot better than praising a dishonest employee. One way of interpreting the parable is to picture ourselves as managers of property that belongs to God. God cares about how we make decisions about our wealth. Do we use it to the benefit of people who are not at our economic level? Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke suggests that the parable is criticizing the economy that permits some people to have a lot and a lot of people not having much at all. She says, "As a good manager, then, he has used the very fruits of injustice in the forging of that new community of accountability based on justice that already participates in God's project or reign".

Sunday, January 22, 2017

We have had different reactions to the Presidential Inauguration and the Women's March the next day. Here are some Bible verses that are helping me face my own attitude and to live in contentment with anyone around me who may have a completely different opinion:
Psalm 119:28-32 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law. I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your ordinances before me.I cling to your decrees, O Lord; let me not be put to shame. I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding. 
Isaiah 9:2-3 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What I'm Reading Today

Existentialists have often identified those two basic anxieties we have: first, of not becoming our true self and, second, of indeed becoming our true self. 
Jesus found faith where least expected (in foreigners, sinners and the unclean, for instance) and found it absent where it should have been flourishing (religious professionals and his disciples). 
All in all, I have now come to terms with the fact that my Christian faith will not so much answer all my questions as question all my answers.
(from The Splash of Words, Mark Oakley)

Response to success, a Reflection on Luke 5:6-11

Simon obeyed Jesus. He took Jesus out in his boat so he could preach. Despite his disbelief that it would do any good, he tried fishing.

They caught so many fish that their nets almost broke. They caught so many fish that their boats began to sink.

The great result when he had expected nothing frightens Simon. He begs Jesus to leave him alone, that he is not worthy to be with him.

Jesus disagrees.

He can provide fish where professional fishermen can't find them. He tells Simon and his partners, James and John, that now they will be fishing not for fish but for people.

They walk away from their boats--their livelihood, their regular lives, and follow Jesus.

Further note: the first hearers of Luke's gospel may have been familiar with Ezekiel 47:1-10. We should be, too.
A steam of water from the temple gushes like a river, like deep water. In this sea, the water will become wholesome. Every living creature will be able to live wherever this stream goes. The fish will be abundant.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Obedience of Simon, a Reflection on Luke 5:1-6

In Luke 4, we read about the negative reaction by the religious leadership to Jesus' sermon reminding them of God's care for outsiders. But, after his escape in Nazareth, he traveled, healing and, despite the earlier negative reaction, preaching in synagogues.

Response was positive. Many people came out to see him.

So many people that he needed help in order to continue to carry out his work.

He asked Simon, (whose mother-in-law had been one of the persons he had healed) to take him out in the boat a little way from shore so he could speak to that crowd that had gathered.

One lesson--Jesus needs us to help him do his work.

After he had finished speaking, and they were still in the boat out in the lake, Jesus told Simon, "Take the boat out to the deep water so you can go back to fishing"

Peter said that he could and would move the boat but that the fish weren't biting that day.

Another lesson--even people who have witnessed miracles up close don't always believe that Jesus can help them with their current need.

Related lesson--even people who don't believe at a particular moment can still follow the commands of Jesus.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Treatment of the Other

Openings by Larry Peacock is a daybook of saints, psalms, and prayers. 

The entry for December 17 asks us to remember Dom Bede Griffiths (1906-1994), an English monk who spent most of his life in India living in the style of an Indian holy man. He felt that Hindus had much to teach Christians about the inner life, and he wished to share with Hindus the Christian understanding of God who "executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry...sets the prisoners free...lifts up those who are bowed over the strangers...upholds the orphan and the widow"

Imagine living out your Christian faith as way to show non-Christians that you truly believe this about God.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Angry Reaction, a Reflection on Luke 4:28-30

Religious people were gathered in a 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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Leaving Home, a Reflection on Luke 4:21-27

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 it to 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.

Monday, January 9, 2017

This Scripture Has Been Fulfilled, a Reflection on Luke 4:14-21

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."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Finding God in the Dark

The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart once said that God is like a person hiding in the dark who occasionally coughs and gives himself away. There's a lot of darkness we're trying to grope though at the moment, both outside and inside the Church ... and we long for a cough, just a little ought, to keep trust part o our faith in God, rather than just argument, ritual, and politics (Mark Oakley in The Splash of Words).

Saturday, January 7, 2017


The God to whom we relate may not be fully understood. In fact, at times we want to take him on and shout at him. God is not fully understood but is always present, always in relationship no matter how shadowed....(A)s Christians we should learn to question more, to question as ritual, as an exploration of grace rather than as a search for certainty. (Quote from The Splash of Words, by Mark Oakley)

Friday, January 6, 2017

When we've done wrong, a Reflection on Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is one of seven penitential psalms. I'm wondering why only seven. How often do we need words to express our recognition that we need to be forgiven?

The first seven verses ask for forgiveness. Sometimes, we need reminders that we are sinning. And, sometimes, we are so burdened by our sins that we need reminders that God is compassionate.

We can pray Psalm 51 when we recognize that we need forgiveness, that we want forgiveness. And we can pray Psalm 51 when we want what forgiven people have--restoration.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The beloved son, a reflection on Luke 3:21-22

Among the people being baptized that day was Jesus. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

Does that mean that everyone around could actually see the Holy Spirit?

God spoke to Jesus, saying "You are my Son....," an allusion to God's promise to the king in Psalm 2:7. As God's son, Jesus is invested with and will act in accordance with God's power.

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, add:
The words "my beloved in whom I am well pleased" allude to Isaiah 42:1, which describes the servant of Israel witnessing to God's faithfulness and justice. Other resist that witness and cause the servant to suffer. Luke thus shows that Jesus will bring about justice (especially after the apocalypse) by following the path of suffering love.
In Matthew's gospel the voice spoke to the crowd. Is Luke telling us that only Jesus could hear? If the crowds could see the Holy Spirit but not hear the voice, what would did they think? After all, we weren't there but the message conveyed by the voice and the image of the Holy Spirit still affects us.

And our baptism includes us in Christ's community.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Quote from Splash of Words, Believing in Poetry, by Mark Oakley

Prayers that are fashioned out of conviction that God agrees with our take on things are pale imitations of what prayer is.

Baptism of fire, a Reflection on Luke 3:15-17

Crowds had gone to wilderness to be baptized by John. They were expecting a messiah and many thought John was the one. John cleared up that misconception for them. It occurs to me that we moderns still may be confused about the source of our salvation--financial security, a fence with a locked gate, a more youthful visage, etc.

John told them that the Messiah was going to make judgments.

It might be instructive for us to reread verses 7-14. The crowds fearful of the coming judgment have asked John what they should do to escape the wrath to come. John tells them to share, to be fair, to be honest, and not to be greedy.

As I read verse 17 and picture the Messiah coming with a winnowing fork, I fear the possibility of being one of the chaff that gets blown into the unquenchable fire. What I hope John means is that the Messiah can blow away those parts of me that are not generous or fair so that what is left is a person whose baptism has made a difference to her and to the world she lives in.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Baptism rules, a reflection on Luke 3:7-14

John describes what is expected of the baptized:
    Share with those who have less than you do.
    Don't use the authority you have to hurt those who are weaker than you.
    Don't cheat.
    Don't harass.

Is this the message we offer to the newly baptized? Is this the way we oldly baptized behave?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Who's in Charge Here? What are supposed to be doing? a Reflection on Luke 3:1-6

They were still living in the land promised to them at the time of Abraham, a place abandoned during a time of need, then, after a long exodus, a place to which they had returned. A place that they had once more lost and to where they had been able to return. They are there in that place, but they are ruled by the Romans, a people who held no allegiance to the Lord of the Jews.

Luke makes this specific. He names the emperor, the governor, and the Jewish accomodators and the priests.

God has not forgotten them nor abandoned them.

The word of God comes to a prophet in the wilderness.

Who's in charge of your life? Whose presence in your life governs the decisions you make?

Important powerful people are listed in verses 1 and 2. Yet, the word of God came not to them but to John, a priest's son (Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80).

Rather than begin his work by going to any of these powerful people or the people around them, John, like Moses and like Isaiah, whose words he quotes, goes into the wilderness to speak.

John calls for a baptism of repentance. Isaiah, in speaking out against the wickedness of Judah, had called upon them to "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (1:16-17).

Jerusalem in John's time would have had evil, injustice, oppression, and many people who needed financial help. He was calling his listeners to repent--to change their ways.

John also specifically includes Isaiah's prophecy that all people are included in the promise of salvation (Luke 3:6; Isaiah 40:5).