Category Archives: Lectionary

I Wish I Were Dead

Photo credit: evanse1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

 

Jonah is a prophet we can identify with. Elijah hardly seems like a man, living in a cave and being fed by birds. Moses used a stick to bring water from a rock. Even John could have been better dressed if he had gone to a thrift store. But, none of that for Jonah. He did it his way, even choosing to be grumpy, thank you.

Jonah told God, “No, I don’t want to go. My life here is comfortable and who cares about Nineveh?” He dragged his feet all the way and reluctantly delivered the message, possibly adding, “That’s what God says. I personally don’t care if you repent or not. In fact, since I’ve traveled so far, I’d just as soon see a fireworks display.”

It did not happen, of course, because God is the God of Mercy.

There was Jonah sitting outside the city walls, waiting for the big show. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatenedNIV

Jonah was mad. “God, you dragged me all this way, and then you changed your mind? Why? I thought you were going to punish them. I would rather be dead than have this happen.”

God asked The Question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

How often we humans are angry when things don’t go our way. Jonah preached God’s message of repentance, but when they did repent, he was angry with God. He sat outside the city and pouted.

God gave him an object lesson with the shade plant. The plant was obviously a gift from God since it grew to shade height in a couple of hours, and Jonah was happy. But the next day the plant died, and Jonah became angry again.

Jonah took pleasure in himself, not in God. He could not accept that God did not kill the evil people. He asked God to kill him rather than force him to live with the evil ones.

We American Christians have our lists of evil ones. Islāmic terrorists. Politicians of the ‘other’ party. LGBT. Anyone who disagrees with my understanding of Scripture.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus blessed ‘those’ people, forgave them, healed them, fed them, even went to their houses to eat.

With Jonah, we must be able to say, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in loveNIV

I am glad I am alive to know your love.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Right Hand of Pharaoh

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

 

The last chapter of Genesis contains many lessons for us. It opens just after the death of Jacob, called Israel. In verse 1, we read, At this Joseph threw himself on his father’s face, covering it with tears and kissesNJB There is no doubt of the love Joseph had for his father.

Next, Joseph ordered the Egyptian doctors to embalm his father, an expensive and time-consuming process reserved for the elite in Egypt. We learn from this that the children of Israel were not slaves in the days of Joseph.

Further, the Egyptians also mourned for Israel, indicating that Jacob held a place of status in their society.

Joseph requested that Pharaoh allow him to carry Israel to Canaan for burial. When the text reads, and with him went all Pharaoh’s officials, the dignitaries of his palace and all the dignitaries of EgyptNJB we should not overstate the case. The round trip would have been at least six months, and Pharaoh could not have run the country by himself. Read it as “Many.” None-the-less, to have Pharaoh’s household go on such a journey for a non-Egyptian is incredible.

That brings us to today’s reading. Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph intends to treat us as enemies and pay us back for all the wrong we did him?’ NJB Decades had passed since the ten older brothers sold Joseph into slavery, decades in which Joseph welcomed them, fed them, and raised them to the highest levels of society. But their sin lurked in their memories.

Today’s lesson is on forgiveness. We see the brothers making an almost desperate move to make sure they are safe from their more powerful younger brother. Before your father died, he gave us this orderNJB In their desperation, they banded together to lie. Notice the extra touch, your father.

They did not understand. They were much like the Twelve Disciples who sort of knew what Jesus was teaching, but not fully.

What kind of forgiveness did they receive? One they did not deserve.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Son of Man

Photo credit: jean louis mazieres via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

 

The reading in Ezekiel begins with, Son of Man. That title occurs 94 times in Ezekiel, once in Psalms, and twice in Daniel. We should recognize it as Jesus’ favorite name for himself, often used in the Gospels. It is also helpful to know that several writings were done in the fourth through first centuries BC using the Son of Man frequently to refer to the coming Messiah, especially the Book of Enoch.

Babylon conquered Judah, the Southern Kingdom, about 597 BC. Ezekiel was part of the first group of Judahites forced to march north to Babylonia, along with King Jehoiachin. Ezekiel was a priest of the Temple who remained faithful to God.

Note first that his faithfulness did not save him from captivity. He suffered along with those who sinned. He lived for nine years in the Babylonian Empire before they destroyed the Temple, but God gave him a vision of that destruction which he shared with his people.

Even in hard times, Ezekiel chose to stay with God and to encourage his people to do the same. Before his captivity, he served God in the Temple, but in Babylon God gave him a new responsibility, that of a prophet.

His prophecy was hard-nosed, giving no quarter to the Judahites. “Repent or Die!” Remember that the people had been given many, many, many chances to repent in the preceding five centuries and chose to ignore those chances most of the time. It is little wonder Ezekiel was so blunt.

Contrast his message with that of John the Baptist. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” With Jesus walking the earth, the Son of Man had arrived, the Kingdom is present. The urgency is just as great, but the tone is gentle, as was Jesus.

Buried in this passage is this Word of God:  Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? ESV

This is more like the message of John and Jesus. God wants every person alive today to continue to live in His Kingdom.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Do Not Be Overcome by Evil

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

 

Human cultures have different ways of dealing with honor, shame, weakness, strength, and many other aberrations. In WWII, Americans captured by the Japanese were treated (or mistreated) horribly because of the Japanese belief that no soldier should ever give up. They considered those who surrendered to be worse than animals.

Nazis believed that honor only came from force. Torture was used to gain information because brute force was the only way to accomplish one’s goals.

Christians have a whole new set of definitions for every world culture. Honor is gained by loving. Strength is gained by being weak. The only shame is not repenting when we realize we are not following God.

Commenting on the Jeremiah reading, Origen wrote (c. 200): If the athlete avoids what is troublesome about the contest, the sweetness of the crown will never be hisACCS If we are loyal to God, if we are doing what He asks of us, if His Kingdom is our only concern, then we will be considered by the world to be weak and shameful.

With Jeremiah, we must pray that God will say to us,

If you repent, I shall restore you

To plead before me.

If you distinguish between the precious and the base,

You shall be as my own mouthNJB

 

Sadly, in the past seventy years, Americans have become more willing to mistreat prisoners and to depend on brute force to accomplish our goals. As a culture, we have little concern for other nations as long as the US gets its way.

That plays out in our individual lives as well. We seek jobs that come with the status we believe we are entitled to have. We are unwilling to associate with people who cannot help us get what we want. We will always have the poor with us. Besides, they are poor through their own choices. We are not giving up what we have to help them.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Bedrock

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

 

This passage in Matthew is one of the most contested passages in the New Testament. One issue surrounds Peter and the other deals with bind and loose. The Roman Catholic contention is that Jesus gave Peter the rank of Leader of the Church. Most others argue that Jesus was praising Peter for his statement of faith.

Let’s look at the literal translation of the Greek, starting at verse 17. And having answered Jesus said to him, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood did not reveal to you but the father of me the one in the Heavens. And I also say to you that you are Petros and upon this Petra I will build of me the church and gates of Hades will not overcome it. United Bible Society Interlinear Translation

The two key words are Petros and Petra in Greek, and I left them in the Greek transliteration for emphasis. Petros refers to a large rock, larger than a stone; larger even than the stones used to build the walls of the Temple. The Greeks used it as a name. In English, we say, The Rock and Rocky.

Petra is the feminine form of Petros and is used to mean rock, any kind, any size. It was even used to mean bedrock.

That may have been what Jesus had in mind when he said, on this rock I will build my churchESV

That brings us back to Peter, Rocky, for the whole quote is, Shim‘on Kefa answered, “You are the Mashiach, the Son of the living God.” “Shim‘on Bar-Yochanan,” Yeshua said to him, “how blessed you are! For no human being revealed this to you, no, it was my Father in heaven. I also tell you this: you are Kefa,” [which means ‘Rock,’] “and on this rock I will build my Community, and the gates of Sh’ol will not overcome it. CJB

It is good to look at this translation to get a sense of the actual words Jesus would have used. We know that he spoke Aramaic and Hebrew most of the time. His words were translated into Greek years later because that was the common language of the early church. That means that Jesus did not use the word Petros, but rather Kefa.

Note the word community instead of church. It is a more accurate translation of the Greek ekklesia which means congregation.

Note that Jesus named Simon the Rock early in the ministry, so this passage simply builds on that already existing name.

Also note that Jesus withdrew from home territory to Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city famous for rock quarries used to build many Roman temples. So, picture this exchange taking place in the Greek-Roman world where the church would soon take root. Jesus is sending us a message that the Good News is intended for every human on earth.

As to, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, NIV remember that Jesus came from Heaven to earth with Good News. To Peter and the other apostles as well, Jesus gave the keys to understanding and witnessing to the Good News. Down the ages, millions of people have shared the keys.

Each of us has a share in spreading the Good News. It is up to us to accept on the faith of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah and act on that faith in whatever way God leads us.

Read my comments on the passage of Romans here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence