Showing posts from July, 2017

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 54

Jesus was brought before Pilate the governor, who asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' 'Those are your words!' Jesus answered.” Matthew 27:11
The cycle repeats itself day in and day out. We want to place people into nice, neat categories with which we are comfortable. We want to order and structure our world around issues and concepts that we believe make sense.
It's about meeting our own needs for maintaining a grasp on the world around us. It is about keeping stock of the way we understand the world and divide it into friends, enemies, love ones, and people who don't matter. The problem is that it just does not work. It does not do justice to the realities of life. While we want the issues to be simple, the categories neat, and uncertainties brushed aside as irrelevant, life just does not cooperate.
Pilate had a list of priorities before him. He was a servant to the interests of Caesar and Rome. He was tasked with keeping order in the territory surroundin…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 53

His commands aren’t in heaven, so you can’t excuse yourselves by saying, 'How can we obey the LORD’s commands? They are in heaven, and no one can go up to get them, then bring them down and explain them to us.'” Deuteronomy 30:12
Access to God's plans, values, and purposes is not an issue. It never has been an issue since the days of Abraham and Moses. The issue has been that we simply do not want to live according to those dictates, values, and purposes. It is a question of human will that runs counter to what we understand to be a higher ethic and morality. It is a question of distrust, anxiety, and the fear that by living according to God's principles we might miss out on something.
We like to make following God difficult, but it really isn't. The same call to a higher moral and ethic was obvious for many peoples around Palestine in Moses' day. It was a common enough theme that treating strangers with hospitality was a sign of one being just. It was common to…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 52

The chief priests picked up the money and said, 'This money was paid to have a man killed. We can’t put it in the temple treasury.'” Matthew 27:6
We are really good at justifying our actions or trying to, anyway. We look for ways to ignore our failings or missteps as irrelevant, unimportant, or excusable. Then we act as though the actions of others are anything but irrelevant, unimportant, or excusable. It has been that way for a long time. Perhaps the biggest problem is that this way of doing and living affects us all.
It is easy to look at the next guy and call him a hypocrite. It is easy to pass that buck down the line to condemn others. It is a much harder issue to look at ourselves and recognize just how similar our own actions are to the hypocrisy we find in those who are somehow different from ourselves.
We categorize people as worthy and unworthy. We class them according to how easily we might point out their failures as worse than our own. We define those we can blast i…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 51

If Yahweh makes you wealthy, but you don’t joyfully worship and honor him, he will send enemies to attack you and make you their slaves. Then you will live in poverty with nothing to eat, drink, or wear, and your owners will work you to death.” Deuteronomy 28:47-48
I grew up with texts like this one sounding an awful lot like either a prosperity theology or a theology of retribution. My tradition did not know very well what to do with verses like this as the book of Job is so clear that God does not pay people to behave. The life and ministry of Jesus show us clearly that being good, moral, and ethical does not mean that one will be wealthy and comfortable. All too often the Bible displays for us examples of the faithful who were anything but comfortable.
What then, to do with passages like this one in Deuteronomy? For starters, we should recognize that what this text is teaching is something different from prosperity theology. It equates Yahweh's potential blessings as including w…

Jonah Runs Away

All too often, I have heard questions and comments about the Jonah story, the Biblical text, and even the character, most of them simply missing the entire point. If we determine to focus our attention on the Biblical text in a manner that presses for a literal interpretation, we are likely to completely miss out on the message God has for us in this short prophetic text.
We could get into all sorts of calisthenics regarding how Jonah got from being thrown overboard in the ocean back to the shore. That would be an adventure in missing the point. If we assume he was taken to the shore near Nineveh, we are looking at circumnavigating the African continent, as there is no other water route from the Mediterranean to Nineveh. If we worry over what kind of creature could have swallowed him, we would do better to concern ourselves with how he managed to breathe under water for three days.
Those were not the concerns of the writer of the text. He did not really care about how Jonah got to Ni…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 50

But Jesus told him, 'Put your sword away. Anyone who lives by fighting will die by fighting. Don’t you know that I could ask my Father, and right away he would send me more than twelve armies of angels?'” Matthew 26:52-53
Peter had not really understood Jesus. None of the disciples had. They had heard Jesus speak of love, grace, and forgiveness, but the message of turning the other cheek had not really impacted them as it should have. A short time before these words in Matthew 26, Jesus had spoken about buying swords, but this response to Peter pulling one out seems to speak once more of just how little they continued to understand Jesus.
In a sense, it is impossible to understand Jesus the first time around. It is at minimum very hard to grasp either the intent of his words or how he expected them to be applied to the daily processes of living. Some of my friends want to apply the Sermon on the Mount, for example, only to life in the heavenly realm. Others would say that the i…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 49

If you forget to bring in a stack of harvested grain, don’t go back in the field to get it. Leave it for the poor, including foreigners, orphans, and widows, and the LORD will make you successful in everything you do.” Deuteronomy 24:19
Justice is not about retribution, punishment, and making people suffer. Justice is about making things right and doing what is right for others. It is about caring and living in real community with those around us. Instead of an individualistic focus on life that excludes the realities others face, justice calls us to pay more attention to the circumstances and needs of those around us. It calls us to trust God for the abundance necessary to be generous, loving, and kind.
Widows, orphans, poor, and foreigners are listed here in this passage as representation of all those who find themselves struggling against the establishment of society. These are those who do not hold the keys to wealth, abundance, and economic production. These are the ones the law m…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 48

Jesus told them to go to a certain man in the city and tell him, 'Our teacher says, “My time has come! I want to eat the Passover meal with my disciples in your home.”’” Matthew 26:18
As Passover was a special celebration in the Old Testament texts, so it was a special celebration in Jesus' own day. Historians tell us that for Passover, Jerusalem's population swelled in the First Century from 200,000 to 1,000,000. There was a huge influx of Jews from throughout the Roman Empire who strove to be present in Jerusalem if at all possible. Some would make the journey in order to spend their last days in Jerusalem in order to have the opportunity to participate in the expected Messianic banquet upon the coming of Messiah.
This was a full dinner celebration that included a host of rites of significance pointing back to the origins of the nation in the Exodus from bondage in Egypt. Passover was the defining moment of their identity as the people of Yahweh. Still today, in many circ…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 47

Make sure that orphans and foreigners are treated fairly. And if you lend money to a widow and want to keep something of hers to guarantee that she will pay you back, don’t take any of her clothes.” Deuteronomy 24:6
Clothing was a visible expression of wealth in those days. The vast majority of people had one or two changes of clothes. The availability of clothing was nothing like looking into our closets of unused articles for something to wear. A cloak was used as a blanket at night, as blankets, quilts, and the like were non-existent luxuries for a much more developed period of time.
Akin to the law we looked at regarding exempting the tools of one's trade as barred from being taken as collateral, clothing here enters the picture in a similar way. The point is the protection of the poor. The point is that oppression is not godly. The point is that Israel was to act in accord with Yahweh's care of the poor and oppressed. A winner take all, anything goes approach to the creati…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 46

The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” Matthew 25:40
Whether referring to good or bad, we have difficulty understanding the scope and application of these words of Jesus. In fact, Jesus uses these same words in opposite scenarios in the passage. The king utters them in reference to ministering to someone deemed insignificant and failing to do the same. He treats both as ministering to or refusing to minister to Jesus.
The issue here is integral to the pattern of the incarnation. God came to earth precisely to identify with humanity, beginning with the least considered of all. As we already noted, Jesus birth is described in Matthew as part of a lineage of foreigners within Israel. He was born to an unwed mother, hailed by idolatrous star worshippers from a land far away, and forced to flee as a refugee into exile to Egypt. He spoke with foreigners, healed lepers, and lived the life of the common man, n…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 45

When you lend money to people, you are allowed to keep something of theirs as a guarantee that they will pay back the loan. But don’t take one or both of their millstones, or else they may starve. They need these stones for grinding grain into flour to make bread.” Deuteronomy 24:6
There is much more to the economic instructions in the Bible than we tend to believe. The various principles speak to all sorts of applications, but the general sense is very simple. God desired to protect the weak and poor from oppression by those with power and wealth. God wanted all people to have appropriate access to the resources of the land and the production of wealth.
Specifically here, we see the question of lending addressed. Surety or collateral was deemed as an option to guarantee repayment of a loan, but here we find restrictions. One loaning money could not take as collateral something that would impede the person in need from using the tools of their trade. A millstone could not be taken, as …

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 44

Servants are fortunate if their master comes and finds them doing their job. You may be sure that a servant who is always faithful will be put in charge of everything the master owns.” Matthew 24:46-47
Faithfulness is what we are called to. God establishes responsibilities for us to fulfill and expects us to do more than simply sing praise songs and call Jesus “Lord.” We are to live up to the responsibilities set before us as emissaries of God's justice, love, and grace.
Jesus' words here come on the heels of a discussion about no one knowing the day or time of Jesus' return. Rather than predicting the future, Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on the mission set before them, a mission of sharing the good news of redemption and reconciliation through God's grace and love. Jesus was not concerned with so many ritualistic aspects of Jewish religious tradition. He was concerned rather with extending the message that God was ready to accept all people simply by grace.
The S…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 43

When runaway slaves from other countries come to Israel and ask for protection, you must not hand them back to their owners. Instead, you must let them choose which one of your towns they want to live in. Don’t be cruel to runaway slaves.” Deuteronomy 23:15-16
There is so much to unpack in these two verses. While the text does not rule out slavery as we might want it to do, it deals with issues of justice, mercy, and redemption in the midst of economic structures that include slavery. It also registers that Yahweh did not want Israel to treat runaway slaves according to the societal norms of the day. They were to be accepted into the nation alongside the descendants of Abraham and apparently on equal footing.
We think of Israelite religion as exclusionist. Indeed it was under the influence of Ezra and Nehemiah. It was so in Jesus' day. The Torah is much more accepting of outsiders, however, even as Jesus and the early church were. We find that not only escaped foreign slaves were t…