Saturday, March 30, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 22

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:1-28 (NRSV)

As Jesus moves us toward inclusion of the Gentiles in the previous chapter, we see the Pharisees and the Sadducees asking Jesus for a sign.  Because of the placement (and the reply), I think it is likely that within the religious dialogue that rabbis engaged, they were asking for a sign from heaven justifying this teaching.

If Gentiles are to be included, where is the sign that this is so?

Jesus indicates the sign of Jonah.  He doesn't need to say anything else.

This may be the sign indicating where the 
yeast of the Pharisees will lead us.
Jonah was, of course, the reluctant prophet sent to the Gentiles.  Not just any Gentiles, but the hated Gentiles of Nineveh.  This was the capital of the Assyrian empire - the same empire that had conquered and scattered the northern kingdom of Israel.  At the end of Jonah, we see him sulking at his success.  He would rather have had God smite them!

The Pharisees were the group that would have been against Roman assimilation in the time of Jesus.  They doubled down on the cleanliness laws to fight against the creeping Gentile culture that sought to weaken their identity.  Thus, they would have greatly opposed any teaching that sought to include them in God's kingdom.

Jesus reminds them about Jonah.  This book ends in a question from God to Jonah saying, "Should I not be concerned about Nineveh?"

It would have been infuriating to the Pharisees to say the least.

Interestingly enough, we see Jesus refer to Peter as "Simon, son of Jonah".  This could be his father's name (Jesus calls him this in John's Gospel as well) or Jesus could be referring to the Jonah he just mentioned.  This would mean that Peter has similar characteristics to Jonah.  He has good intentions but sometimes gets it wrong.

We see this before the chapter is even finished as Jesus tells Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!"

Peter will also later fail in doing the right thing when he denies knowing Jesus.  Yet Peter eventually gets his message across or we wouldn't be reading this today!

Maybe we all need the sign of Jonah.  We are reluctant to offer grace.  Then when we do, we may not be happy with the results!

And we remember Jesus telling us today, "If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

I would like to give over my anger and wrath and malice.  These are sometimes hard to drop - they get ingrained in us.  Maybe this is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of the yeast of the Pharisees.

Oh, no.

Prayer for the day:

God, we seek to follow your will.
We lift you up in praise because we know you are ultimately good.
But we also have our own ideas about how we would like the world to operate.
Sometimes our two wills do not coincide.
We have a bad habit of interpreting your will until it fits nicely within our own.
Help us to know in these moments what it means to deny the self.
Let us see how blessing might arise from it.

Photo by Scott Ableman via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

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