Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Old Testament Passage – Knowing who the Messiah is and what the Sent Servant is all about

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isaiah 49:1 – 3)

I have real problems with some portions of Isaiah; or more accurately how commentators interpret and explain portions of Isaiah. Every where I turn, seeking illumination of these passages, what I find are theories and redirection that applies what the writer of the book of Isaiah wrote to what the Messiah might say, and then try to explain why it sounds so strange – that is, why it does not sound like the Messiah that is talked about in the New Testament.

“But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”(Verse 4)

Such as this verse, where it seems that Jesus is bemoaning the fact that he had so little luck persuading the Jews that he was the chosen Messiah. The commentators on mass seem to have contrived to create a rationale for why the writer of the book of Isaiah is accurate in the words he puts into the Sent Servant of the Divine:

“This is to be regarded as the language of the Messiah when his ministry would be attended with comparatively little success; and when in view of that fact, he would commit himself to God, and resolve to extend his gospel to other nations. The expression used here is not to be taken absolutely, as if he had no success in his work, but it means that he had comparatively no success; he was not received and welcomed by the united people; he was rejected and despised by them as a whole.”

It just grates on me, beloved reader. It just grates on me! I think what grates the most is that so many of the prophecies of the Messiah come with a perceptive and bias that is part of the writer’s/prophet’s own life and experience. When the Divine says the Godself will do a new thing, you cannot base that on anything that anyone has experienced thus far.

“And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength – he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Verses 5 – 6)

And yet there seems to be a logic to it; either it is concerning the Messiah as he was revealed to the Jews in and about Galilee/Nazareth, or the writer of the book of Isaiah is speaking of someone whose life and career will be likened to a savior and redeemer. It is said that the book of Isaiah had great importance amongst the Jews (who started out as Israelites) and that they pointed to it as informative of their faith. If that is so, why did they (who the writer of the book of Isaiah said who would ignore the Messiah) end up ignoring the Messiah after all? Surely if in the time of Jesus they had heeded what the collection of Isaiah’s writings said they would would have said to one another, “this fellow Jesus reminds me of what good old Isaiah wrote about!”

“Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Verse 7)

I dearly wish I could talk to the prophets both major and minor, and find out what it was like writing the books that we find in the Holy Bible. I am talking about everyone from the writer of Genesis up to and including the writer of the book of Revelation. I know though that time is far off. And until that time/day I struggle with unraveling the mysterious of scripture; not only what is in the book we call the Bible but all that was written about the monotheistic faith that centers on the Deity we call the Lord God. I wonder too about other Deities of other faith traditions, but it occurs to me that in my life I will only have the time, energy, and ability to study One. Shalom & Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A final story that talks about the end . . . before we start at the beginning again

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:33)

My mind thinks back to some of Jesus’ disciples who said they wanted the places of honor on his right hand and left hand. Jesus said, to paraphrase, you don’t know what you are asking for and you could not bear it. I have read what people who are knowledgeable about such things have said what the experience of crucifixion would be like, and I am pretty sure I could not bear it physically either. But Jesus did bear it, and in a way that shows the grace and endurance that he had – imbued to him through the Lord God.

“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.” (Verses 34)

It was not just the physically suffering; it was the emotional and psychological torture as well.

“And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Verses 35 – 38)

Each of us, beloved reader, have our weak points. Aspects or traits that are vulnerable to scorn, ridicule or suffering. Being human Jesus might have had his own vulnerable points. But being Divine, maybe he did not. I would like to believe that he did. Not because I believe or want Jesus to be weak; it would comfort me, however, to know that Jesus understands when I feel weak and vulnerable. This might be something I come back to in the coming Lectionary Year. For now let us bookmark this pondering and move on in the story.

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Verses 39 – 43)

Today, Jesus said; that very day this thief and criminal would be in heaven. Does that mean that Jesus went there before his resurrection? Possibly. But I think the point and understanding of this is that the criminal would be forgiven of his sins simply on the confession of belief in Jesus. Death, at least human death, was coming to all three of them within hours. Jesus had faith as to what would happen to him. He said as much to the criminal who asked to be remembered. And the criminal also had hope for his future beyond this life.

When you, beloved reader, are pressed beyond what you feel you can endure (and remember the professing criminal was suffering physically as much as Jesus), do you have hope for what the outcome will be?

We are coming soon to the season of Advent. A season that is typified by waiting in anticipation. There is “good” waiting, like waiting for Christmas. And “bad” waiting, like waiting for death. A lot depends on what is on the other side of the waiting. Think about that as you think about the men hanging on the left and right side of Jesus. Think too about where your hopes lie. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Declaring unshakable truths and debunking alarming rumors

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.” (II Thessalonians 2:1-2)

How many times I talked about the end times and what portent there will be of it, beloved reader? I have lost count. I have approached it from all sides it feels like; that the Divine alone knows when it will come. That there have been no reliable signs in the past, and nothing that we can see in the future that points to it. And that with all that the world and humanity has gone through, all the times when generations have said “It cannot get any worse – surely the end is near!” it has gotten worse. And then better enough in some places that life goes on. Paul says what ever the Thessalonians hear about things in other places, that does not signify the end times. Paul says further,

“Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?” (Verses 3 – 5)

Again, while it may seem in times gone by (and may be in current times?) that one such as this has arisen, it has not been the stuff of “end times.” Makes one wonder though, what sort of person or event that Paul had in mind. Really, when you think about it too much, it is scary!

But in a way it is also comforting. That what has happened in the past, all the powers and authorities that have arisen, have been human. Not some demonic force, but human greed, avarice, and insensitivity. And the Divine has said that such people are like grass – they spring up, have their time, and then die out & fade away. That is the comfort. That whatever we are going through right now will not last forever, and is not a harbinger of demonic suffering.

The Revised Common Lectionary skips some verses and pick up the citation later on in Paul’s discourse. May they (the gatherers of the scripture for the RCL) knew that it does not one any good to dwell on the end of all things too much. And that there is comfort and words of encouragement to be heard and read.

“But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” (Verses 13 – 15)

If, beloved reader, one is firm in their faith and belief and can claim salvation – then the coming of the judgment day (yes, I know that Judgment Day and end times are often/can be considered as two distinct events – but I consider them together) should hold no fear. That is, if your salvation and sanctification is set. One the other hand, if it is not, you best not wait until the last minute! Your life’s end and the end of this age may not coincide! They did not for all the people that Paul wrote to.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” (Verses 16 – 17)

Twice in my lifetime (or possibly more) there has been great fervor that end times were coming. Those periods of concern were perpetuated by end time literature being published, or declarations from some religious authority that claimed knowledge. Well, I’m still here and so are you beloved. Be comforted by Paul’s words. Rest in the care of the Divine. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern what is true and false. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Listening when it is hard to understand and is beyond your theological intellect

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5 – 6)

I read this passage a day or two before it was time to sit and ponder on it, and then comment on my pondering. But it left me scrambling to consult the “commentators” as to what was meant here! The key, I keep telling myself, to understand this is to keep in mind the context. Jesus was telling them to be ready to forgive over and over again when someone who has sinned against you asks for forgiveness. We are not talking about doing landscaping by the power of one’s mind! (I tend to, when I ponder, take things/passages such as this literally.) What I take from this is that the apostles were asking for abilities that one has to grow and mature into. It cannot be given immediately and through a simple request. Having that understanding in mind, the rest of this passage is easier for me to understand – although it took many hours of pondering to come to this understanding.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?” (Verses 7 – 8)

People cannot do or perform tasks beyond what their abilities equip them with. You would not ask someone to be able to function in a setting they had no knowledge of. Jesus used the image of a common field slave who would have no concept or preparation to sit down to a elaborate dinner and know what to do. Now the example/image may be a harsh one, but it is what the gospel writer gave us. Jesus is saying that you would tell a slave to do what was expected and then to tend to one’s self in a manner they are accustomed to. It does not do the unlearned one any favors to force them into a situation they are not ready for – such as being able to handle a depth of faith they do not have the temperament for.

“Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'” (Verses 9 – 10)

Relating back to forgiving one who has grieved you greatly -and I thought of this just now – do not worry about the theology of why you must forgive; just do it! Practicing forgiveness daily and often throughout the day will teach you the value. So too will living a Christian life. You live out faith as you are commanded to, not after you have parsed out the theology of it.

I have to think back to my early adulthood, and more embarrassingly, my early days of seminary. I did not have the understanding then that I have now, and I stumbled on some things. Now, I did not call myself “worthless” but the part of doing only what I “ought to have done” was kind of right on. I later understood why, but at the time I just did it!

I don’t know, beloved reader, if I am getting across my meaning and thoughts so that you can understand what I mean. And maybe that is the point! The plea to the Divine “increase my faith” is answered by “increase your faithful actions!” We all long to have theological understandings and confirm our lives to the example of the Divine. That does not happen overnight, nor in the days following our conversion to faith. It happens in small increments, and through trial and error. We start out as a “field slave” who knows nothing more than working as instructed. Over time we come to understand, and in the Lord God’s time experience deeper faith. Salvation, forgiveness, and redemption are the gifts. Depth of belief and faith come from doing what we are called to do.

I don’t often take such a harsh line. But it is not often that scripture, and more accurately the Revised Common Lectionary, present harsh theologies. If I have not provided you with fodder for thought, just set aside this commentary and check back in with me tomorrow! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When the Lord complains . . . about the called and chosen people

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 2:4)

Sometimes I have to be very loud and insistent with my family. I suppose that is a common experience with parents/spouses – that you have repeat yourself in no-uncertain terms and volume. Important messages and understandings can be lost if you cannot get and hold their attention.

“Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” (Verses 5 – 6)

It may be worthy of noting, beloved reader, that the biblical commentators are no help in discerning these beginning verses. Maybe the meaning of these verses is so self-evident that they did not feel much explanation was needed. Different paraphrases and translations make it clear that the Lord God the Divine is complaining about these stubborn people!

“I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

The bad times and the rough journey had come to an end. The people were back in the land that had been promised to them so long ago. But did they give thanks? No! Did they seek out the Lord who had brought them there? NO! Did they worship the Lord and follow in the worship practices that were taught to them? NO!! What is a Parent and Lord God to do with such children!!

“Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Verses 9 – 13)

To the Divine it is an unimaginable thing that they would trade in the Living God who has given them so much for false gods that have given them nothing. And we could and would stand in equal surprise and shock . . . . if we had not done the same thing.

I tell my family time and time again the same thing, teach the same lessons, and model the same actions and attitudes – but they do not listen and learn. Now, I do not mean I am so perfect. And I am not talking about life lessons; I am trying to teach them how to clean up after themselves and take care of their own needs. But it is like talking to a pile of stones. Which, coincidentally, is just what the “house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” were accused of worshiping! (Not the same rocks though.)

My point is, it can take a lot to get through to a person or group of people. The things that should be obvious – wash the plate and pot, put away leftover food, pick up after yourselves – and – worship the Lord who brought you into abundance, remember the lessons learned in the desert, show gratitude and awe that you have been brought into a good life – are missed, glossed over, or forgotten.

People like Jeremiah were called to give testimony and prophesy to the people who had gone astray. Now granted, this is a straying that took place over many generations. It did not happen as soon as the people passed over into the promised land. Does that make it more acceptable and understandable that they drifted from the Lord God? Should it? Part of the cycle of the lectionary year is calling people back to faithfulness. In years past I have made note of the themes of the three lectionary years – A, B, and C. These themes are especially emphasized during the high seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Divine can and does call us back to faithfulness at any and all times of the year. Is perhaps the Divine calling to you? Maybe complaining about you? Oh beloved reader! Do not let it be so! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Hope springs . . . through Sabbath observances?

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9b – 10)

The other Old Testament passage, beloved reader, is where Jeremiah is called out by the Lord and sanctified to speak the Lord God’s words – Jeremiah 1:4-10. I think I have written about Jeremiah’s calling before – considering this is the second time through Year C. And I am sure the passage has come up other times in other writings. But I digress.

The last few weeks have seen a theme of Israel and Judah being critiqued, scolded, and disciplined by the prophets. It is interesting to see, in the privacy of our own thoughts and reflects, if the exhortations of then apply to us now. Do they beloved reader? There is hope though in this passage, that if the exhortation is heeded and applied that darkness will give way to light. We could apply that to ourselves as well.

“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Not only will darkness give way to light but, theses verses promise, light will come to others. Considering the dire situation that some of the Old Testament prophets describe, it seems pretty wondrous that this could happen. It also seems rather contrary and paradoxical in light of some New Testament understandings, that each person needs to make their own petition to the Divine and follow the example of Jesus Christ.

“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Verses 13 – 14)

The Sabbath is very important, so it seems, in this passage and to the writer of Isaiah. He starts out by speaking generally about being in good relationship with others – speaking well and offering compassion. But as he continues of instruction, he narrows down to the keeping of the Sabbath. It is interesting to think about this, contrasting what should be done on the Sabbath versus what is allowed on other days. And I have to wonder if this emphasis on the Sabbath made way for ever larger inconsistency between Sabbath living and the other days of the week.

I will have to think about this as the week moves forward; what the Epistles might say and what Jesus Christ himself might say – according to the verses and passages that comprise the RCL this week. You think too, beloved reader, and ponder. Shalom!