Sunday, April 21, 2019

Daily Devotion to finish Lent 2019 - Easter Sunday

Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-20 (NRSV)

Matthew in more closely dealing with the Jewish community includes the details about the guards.  It is interesting that they "became like dead men" showing that fear saps us of life.  I like the irony that they became "dead" while guarding that which was dead but now is alive in Jesus Christ.  The juxtaposition of the empire's forces and God's reality is subtle but apparent.

I wonder if going back to the mountain
reminded the disciples of the Transfiguration?
The women were the first to be greeted by the risen Lord and they worship him.  In Matthew's Gospel, the disciples worshiped Jesus in the boat after he walked on water and stilled the storm.  We see the disciples worshiping Jesus once again at the end of this chapter.  It is interesting to note that Matthew relates that "some doubted" in verse 17.  This does reflect back to the incident on the boat when he told them, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" in 14:31.  I think this shows how real death is for people.  Even when shown evidence with our own eyes, when our belief in a world-view is so ingrained, it makes it difficult to accept.

Jesus gives us the Great Commission in verses 19-20 which reminds us of God telling us in Genesis 1:28 to "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it".  So as Matthew did not know about the book of Revelation as it hadn't been written yet, we have a new capstone for the biblical narrative.

We once again have our marching orders but they include "all nations" which is how we see the Gospel unfold.  Jesus was told that his name was Emmanuel which means "God is with us" in 1:23.  Now we see that he is going to remain with us to the end of the age.

As a Christian, what does this mean to celebrate resurrection as a constant companion?

How do you see yourself being both part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission and also responsible to fulfill it?

Where do your own gifts and graces move you to teach the message of Jesus to someone who may not share the faith?  And just in case this makes some (undoubtedly) blanch, teaching often happens most efficiently by our example.

Thanks for sharing in Matthew's Gospel.  I found it enriching to see Matthew as a master narrator weaving together the stories of Jesus in a work that moves us forward in a remarkable way.  It has been life-giving to me and I hope to you as well.

In Christ,

Sam Powers

Prayer for the day:

God, you are the author and the giver of life.
You never leave us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
You suffer with us in our times of trial.
You constantly surprise us with blessing.
You renew us with resurrection.
May we cast aside our doubts and worship you this day!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 40

Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:57-66 (NRSV)

I like the image of the road going right
by the empty tomb - lots to stir the imagination!
As we prepare for Easter, today's reading in Matthew reminds me of a pot that is boiling when the lid starts shaking.

You know that something is coming and you are going to be forced to respond.

We see Jesus placed in a tomb and the women observing where his body was buried.  They are making a note so as to know where to go the next day.

The chief priests and the Pharisees continue to conspire against Jesus with the Roman authorities.  They have the tomb sealed and guards placed so that the body cannot be stolen and stories circulated about his resurrection.

They tried to silence Jesus though the entire Gospel and even though they had him killed, they may realize that it is not over yet.

There is usually a finality about death that would leave us saying, "Why bother?"  But in this case, we are anticipating (even alongside our enemies) that the story has another chapter.

The calm of the rock tomb will soon be shaken.

The lives of the women watching and their male counterparts will soon be changed.

The cosmic order of things shifts from mortality to something more beautiful.

May it be so for you as well.

Prayer for the day:

God, we give thanks for the still times.
We give thanks for quiet and rest.
We give thanks for places of healing.
In our gratitude, through our gratitude, may we still experience joyous surprise!

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 39 (Good Friday)

Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:1-56 (NRSV)

What do we make of the death of Jesus?

Matthew's Gospel reminds us that this death is significant and that it moves us beyond Judaism and into something new.

Here we have the only Gospel account of what happens to Judas.  Acts tells a different account with both coming to a grisly end.  In Matthew, Judas, like Peter, is repentant of his disobedience.  Judas however seeks to find his forgiveness in the Temple.  The Christian reader in the day of Matthew knows that the Temple has been destroyed.  We now look in another direction for forgiveness.  Another interesting note is that this blood money was used to buy a cemetery for foreigners.  The unclean money was used to buy a field that would be permanently unclean.  And yet, also fitting in that the ministry of Jesus reaches beyond Judaism to Gentiles.  We see this throughout the chapter.

We see that Rome is in charge of the crucifixion.  There are other offenders who are awaiting their fate.  Jesus Barabbas is only given this first name in Matthew.  His surname means "son of the father" which may also refer to Jerusalem.  They later chose to pick up the sword as Barabbas did rather than choose the way of peace and Rome reacted with extreme prejudice in reclaiming the territory in the year 70.

The people as a whole are united against Jesus in verse 25.  This is a reversal in a way of 4:25 when Jesus started his ministry of healing: "And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan."   (NRSV)  Here we see the crowds come from beyond Judaism indicating a broader ministry to the available world at large.

Jesus is mocked and rejected by his own people but also the occupying soldiers.  With the sign, "King of the Jews" he was executed as the leader of an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman Empire.  The two "bandits" on his left and right were likely also killed as examples of treason against Rome.  Many Zealots in that day were stirring up rebellion against occupation - some openly and others more surreptitiously.  Even these rebel leaders are shown to deride Jesus.

When Jesus dies, the Temple curtain is torn in two.  The barrier between God and the world is destroyed.  The dead are raised but not immediately - this happens after Easter foreshadowing the next chapter.  The world starts to believe.  Note that it is a Gentile centurion who makes the declaration that this is God's Son.  

The women who will be the first witnesses to the resurrection are present to witness to his death.  This is a beginning of a changing of the order of the world as men would have been valid witnesses in that culture.   Christianity begins to move past its roots and into a new thing.

On this Good Friday, how does the death of Jesus move you into compassion for people that may seem beyond redemption?

How do we witness the suffering of Jesus and relate it to the suffering of the world today?

While it can seem overwhelming, maybe our response is to notice it in our locale.  It is normal that we would not want to look at those hurting - Good Friday services are never as full as Easter's.  People can almost become invisible to us.  Take a moment to reflect who may be unseen around us who may be crossing our path.  

How does the death of Jesus spiritualize who we see in the world?

Prayer for the day:

God, we would repent of ways in which we have turned away from our Lord.
We know that forgiveness comes in Christ.
Be with us on this day.
If we are unsettled, do not move us too quickly to comfort.
May our grief be a tangible reminder of who you call us to be.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 38

Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:36-75 (NRSV)

It must have been a difficult time for Jesus to endure.

Sometimes we sleep even though
we know we shouldn't.
Surrounding his arrest, the characters through which we see the story are his disciples.  Their behavior even though predicted seems to be lacking in perseverance.

We find them sleeping and Jesus implores them to stay awake and pray with him.  They fall asleep two more times, awakened when one of their own number comes with a mob bent on taking Jesus in for questioning.  This reminds us that Jesus has instructed us to keep awake two times before in the preceding two chapters.

Even as Jesus is being arrested, we see his followers seek to intervene with violence and Jesus continues to instruct.  With his declaration of the angels, we understand that Jesus is really in charge of the situation but allows it to continue.

Notice that he refuses to speak under oath as we are reminded that Jesus has told us to avoid doing that - Peter by contrast denies Jesus by oath.

The treatment of Jesus in being struck, slapped and spit upon reminds us of the suffering servant from Isaiah 50:6:

I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.    (NRSV)

Just as we begin our reading with the disciples falling asleep three times, we then end it with Peter's thrice denial of his Lord.  It would be hard to criticize Peter as he would have feared for his own life.  It would have been terribly traumatic.  Maybe he would have justified his own inaction by agreeing with Jesus that God could send angels to do the work of freeing him.  Placing his own life in jeopardy would not make Jesus any less captive.

What is impressive is that this is the church's account of what happened.  We could have easily brushed some of the less charitable moments by its founders under the rug and yet they are exposed in the light of day.  This is because we must always remember that we are founded on grace.

There are times in our own lives that we may have rather had God send an angel to do the work we were called to do.  After all, we can justify with the best of them!  But maybe we are called to be numbered in the twelve legions of angels at God's disposal.  This story reminds us that just because God is on our side, it doesn't mean we won't suffer for the cause.

Prayer for the day:

God, we are not betrayers.
We would never desert you.  
We are not deniers of our faith.
But if we examine our actions,
and if we are honest with ourselves,
we know that we also have moments that might cause us to weep.
Give us the courage to be the Church anyway.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 37

Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:1-35 (NRSV)

What is our response to Jesus?

Matthew shares a whole variety of people interacting with Jesus at the end of his life.

It is time for the Passover in Jerusalem.  This was a time when pilgrims flooded the holy city so that they could break bread together and worship at the Temple.  The chief priests and the elders of the people want to remove Jesus from the scene but they feared the crowds' response.  A riot would cost many Jews their lives and they don't seem to want this kind of chaos.  They just want things to go on as they had.

Don't we all.

Something about sharing a meal
defines us as a family.  We see this in 
the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Matthew identifies the anointing by Mary as happening at Simon the leper's home.  This is a fascinating context and we can assume that he had been made well by Jesus.  His willingness to be in Simon's home indicates the importance Jesus would have stressed at mainstreaming this man back into the community.  There would be no question that he would host the Rabbi Jesus as this would be a great honor.  Note also that a woman prepares him for his burial.  Women will also seek to tend to his body following the Sabbath just days away.

Judas must have heard that a bounty was being offered for Jesus.  With all the throng of people, it would have been difficult to identify a single man and so you would need someone who knew where he would be and how long he would be there.  As we imagine Jesus transforming so many lives and Judas being a witness to it all, we have pause that he would seek to gain from his destruction.

But just as the religious leaders sought to silence Jesus, maybe Judas did not agree with all of what Jesus taught.  Grace is hard to wrap our heads around and maybe it was all too much too soon for Judas to handle.

How will Jesus respond to this?  Notice that the betrayal of Judas and the prediction of the denial of Peter and desertion of the disciples bookend the Last Supper.  It is done for the forgiveness of sins.

As current disciples, we might with Peter speak out that we will never deny Jesus.  But in Matthew's day, there may have been persecutions of Christians that did deny Jesus to save their own lives.  This important story points to a Savior that not only understands our plight but knows that the very Church is founded upon people that gave in to their fears.

This speaks to the power of Jesus to define us through our holy meal together rather than by the sins we may commit.  Note that he redefines Simon the leper at the beginning by meeting in his home.  He continues to see us as he will see us - not at our worst but at our greatest potential.

Where are those places in your life that your Christian faith or walk has struggled?

If we find that grace comes to us, why do we continue to look at our neighbor with a wary eye?

Prayer for the day:

God, we know that you make all things new.
We see that this includes a multitude of people.
It may even include us.
Move us beyond our order so that we do not cling to it like the chief priests and elders.
Move us beyond our fears so that we do not feel the need to posture.
Help us to reach our potential as you see it.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 36

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV)

Today we see the hospitality of Abraham combined with the witness of Isaiah.  Abraham and Sarah provide extravagant hospitality to the three strangers that come to their home in which we earlier spoke as the rationale for the disciples only going to Jewish homes.

We see this in our sharing with the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger.

Isaiah speaks of how we will provide freedom to the prisoner in 61:1:

          The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
             because the Lord has anointed me;
          he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
             to bind up the brokenhearted,
          to proclaim liberty to the captives,
             and release to the prisoners;  (NRSV)

Jesus combines these identities of hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, sick and imprisoned into characteristics of how we are to distinguish our walk with God.  The poor and the oppressed almost become incarnational for Jesus as we equate the two.  Matthew does something similar with children in 18:5 when he states,  "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."  (NRSV)  Of course, children were socially invisible in this day.

What if we replaced the portraits of Jesus
in our churches with pictures like this?
I think this reminds us of our human nature that categorizes so readily.  These are not the people of distinction.  They are not those we would normally trust to improve our social standing.  They are not elevating us among our peers.  By relating to them Christologically, we begin to look at them with greater value.  We see them as God sees them.

We continue to need this passage today.  Our world still values people differently.  We pretend that all are equal under the law but the power of economics elevates some as more equal than others.

We still need to be reminded to hold some people with respect and dignity.

Jesus knew it was a problem then and still knows we struggle with it today.  This is why the passage remains so relevant for us.

What if we really begin to see these not as nuisances in our way or as problems to solve but rather as people whose lives have turned in a direction that is less than ideal?  What if we took this a step further and looked at them through the lens of this passage?  

What if the least of these became the greatest of these?  

What if the last became first?

Prayer for the day:

God, today we pray for:

The hungry
The thirsty
The stranger
The naked
The sick
The imprisoned

May our future encounters with them hold them in high esteem.  May this be because you have reminded us that we are really encountering our Lord.  Amen.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 35

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

This parable would have been difficult for people in the ancient near East to understand.  The owner entrusting this kind of money to slaves may have been done but it would have shown a movement toward a commercial understanding of the assets rather than a familial one.  Slaves over sons would not be a rural Jewish way of doing things.

Another problem would be the difficulty the owner had with burying the money.  Burial in this ancient time was thought to be the safest storage for your wealth.  Jews did not see profiting off one another as honorable or even lawful as Deuteronomy 23:19-20 states:

You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent.  On loans to a foreigner you may charge interest, but on loans to another Israelite you may not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings in the land that you are about to enter and possess.  (NRSV)
So we see this parable turning around what would have been a normative way of thinking for the people of that day.  Jesus seems to remind us that God's economy is different than a human one.  God may emphasize thinking that we don't see at first glance.
The problem with burying our resources
is that sometimes we forget where we put them.

Notice that the slave at fault it afraid of the master.  This would have also been a norm for what people of that day thought about God.  What if this fear is ultimately his undoing?  What if we were to see God working with us so that we could adopt more of the attitude of the first two slaves who took great risks and doubled their money?

How do we play it safe with our faith?

Where might God be calling us to take risks?

Prayer for the day:

God, we would all like to be the ones that doubled your resources.
We would take risks for you that paid dividends for the kingdom.
But we recognize that our actions more often seem to resemble the burial of your talents.
Help us to see more clearly what we could be in the moment.
And may we this lead to decisions that create abundance.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Palm Sunday

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)

The parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is a continuance of the theme of the end times.

Rather than grace, we see the foolish bridesmaids turned away when they go to find oil for their lamps.

In the first century Middle East, a wedding was a grand affair you did not miss.  To snub a wedding would dishonor the groom in the standing of the community.  His dismissal of the foolish bridesmaids would be a typical response of someone who has had his honor smudged in such a way.

Jesus relates this situation to the kingdom of heaven as a warning not to dishonor him in this lifetime.

We all know the stress of being late
and trying to get where we need to be.
In Matthew's time, there would have been persecutions against Christians leaving them plenty of opportunity to fade away (becoming foolish).

In our time, there is not persecution in the United States as much as ambivalence.  Christianity is not en vogue within younger culture.  Many are turning away because it just does not speak to them.  What will the faithful do?

To be honest, I always felt as if the foolish bridesmaids could have been offered forgiveness and grace.  Maybe to be a wise one, you could also offer to share even if it means there will not be enough to go 'round.

What if compassion for those on the outside is the "oil" we need to cultivate for our lamps?

This outcome would fit more with the "workers in the vineyard" or the "lost sheep" or what Jesus tells Peter about forgiveness.  It also fits with the Beatitudes, namely, "Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy."

Maybe I need to think about filling my own lamp so much that I will have oil to spare.  Then no one will need to go without the light.

Prayer for the day:

God, we give thanks for Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
We remember that he tells us that we are the light of the world as well.
Give us the oil we need to always be ready to shine.
May our lamps burn so brightly that others may walk alongside us in the darkness.
In this may we never be late to the party.

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 34

Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:29-51 (NRSV)

I remember watching a video at a Wednesday night church meeting (Assembly of God) when I was a child.  I was likely in preschool and it was about the rapture.  People kept disappearing and others they knew were left behind.  It left quite an impression and soon after when I was in the backyard playing, I entered the house and couldn't find my mother.  She was in the front yard watering the flowers.  I assumed that the rapture had come and I had been left behind.

It turns out that my mother had a similar experience with my father when they were first married.  He had hidden in a trundle bed in their apartment as a joke and she was frightened that he had gone up to heaven.

Maybe a better image of being "left behind"
is one pictured above.  We run to catch up
because of the joy of walking with God!
These are based on interpretations of verses 40-42 in today's reading.  When we are faced with crisis, we often seek to keep people safe from danger.  The realities of staying true to the faith during times of trouble in Matthew's day were difficult.  Many turned away and these passages about the end times sought to keep people on the right track.

When we focus too much on these, however, we may tend to judge the faith of others.  Jesus has already told us not to do that in the Sermon on the Mount but it is too tempting.  Christians I have known that have let this chapter become the lens of their faith have missed out on the much more important preceding chapters.

That being said, watchfulness is merely what we do during Lent.  The very fact that you are reading this blog now means that you are engaging in watchfulness for your own spiritual state of being.  You are willing to ask the difficult questions of yourself.  Any anxiety over "readiness" can be set aside.

It is helpful for us to examine ourselves and ask difficult questions.  It is not often helpful to second-guess ourselves and to become anxious over our own walk with God.  The fruit produced by anxiety does not taste very good.

Prayer for the day:

God, we know that we have a limited amount of time in this life.
We know that there are times we see suffering and injustice.
There are times when these things visit us personally.
Keep us in the faith when life becomes hard.
Let us remember that without our faith, life is even harder.
May this lessen any fearfulness or doubt that seeks to enter our minds.
And may this make us ready for whatever may come.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 33

Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:1-28 (NRSV)

This material delves into eschatological as well as apocalyptic themes.  In writing following the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew may have been trying to encourage people to keep the faith.

In living beyond that immediate history, we can see that the world did not end anytime soon after it was written.  I sometimes have the impulse or temptation to skip over these writings as if they only addressed specifics of that time.
It is good to remind ourselves
what we are about even when
things are falling down around us!

And yet, they do speak to us today.

We still have wars going on in the world.

There is still famine.

Natural disasters are still happening.

People do follow after teachings that may seem attractive but do not ultimately lead to life and joy and wholeness.

Jesus reminds us that "because of the increase in lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold."  This verse stands out to me as an important indicator of where I should be paying attention.

I think that people like order and structure - these things lead to security.  If they are disrupted, it may be difficult to love to our fullest capacity.  If you are hungry, it is difficult to feel inspired to share what you have with someone else who may be even hungrier.  

And so what if chaos becomes the norm?  Can I use constant change as an excuse to allow my love to grow cold?  

Jesus mentions that the end of the world will not occur until the good news is preached to the ends of the earth.  In Matthew's day, this had yet to occur.  In today's world, Christianity may not be practiced in every corner but there is certainly exposure to it. 

And so, in Matthew's view, we remember that actions (fruits) speak louder than words.  Maybe the good news of the kingdom that Jesus is referring to is the practice of humility and respect and love for all people.

When this occurs, the world (as we know it) will end.

A new age will begin.  

Let it begin with me.

Prayer for the day:

God, we would like for things to stay the same for just a while.
It seems that the change that comes wears on us.
We confess that there are times when our love for one another does grow cold.
We pray that you would keep us on task - even through the changes.
Let your love flow through us so that we might be willing to engage with a hurting world.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 32

Scripture Reading: Matthew 23:1-39 (NRSV)

How much conflict do you imagine continued in Matthew's day between Jewish Christians and Jewish people that didn't have faith in Jesus?

I think we can see from today's reading that there would have continued to be a chasm between the two.  Matthew looks back to the original difficulties of Jesus to make his current point.

Much of what Jesus critiques, he has espoused the opposite throughout the Gospel thus far.

When he speaks of the heavy burdens of the Pharisees, we remember that Jesus spoke of lightening them.
Grammar aside, this attitude
is one of the biggest
contributors to hypocrisy.

When he states that "They do all their deeds to be seen by others" we remember in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus states, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them" in 6:1.

When he speaks of the oaths made by the Pharisees, we are reminded that Jesus earlier told us not to swear oaths at all, rather "Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one" (5:37).

Hypocrisy is so emphasized here that I wonder if it is not ingrained in the religious.

The book Unchristian utilized research from the Barna Group that asked why young people were staying away from the church.  The first reason given in the book was that Christians were hypocritical.  It has not gone away and as Matthew spends so much of the sermon material of Jesus on this issue, it must have remained important in his day as well.

As a gut check, we need to allow Jesus to preach this message to us.

Where are we saying one thing and doing another?

Who are we locking out of the kingdom of heaven?

When have I exalted myself rather than taken a more humble approach?

These are not questions of which we should be afraid but rather, we should be strong enough in our faith to ask them of ourselves regularly.

Prayer for the day:

God, we find ourselves siding with Jesus.
There are people we imagine him preaching this message to today.
We delight in their shock as they realize their folly.
It is difficult to remember that the whole nature of this passage
makes this stance very ironic.
Let us take this message at face-value.
Help us to repent where repentance is needed.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 31

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:23-46 (NRSV)

Things are not always as they seem...

Jesus gets some pushback from the Sadducees today.  They were a sect that did not believe in any type of afterlife.  They push the Levitical law to its limits regarding the idea that the brother has the responsibility for raising a child for his deceased sibling.  The child would inherit the land of the deceased as if he was the natural heir (rather than a biological nephew).  Of course, if you push this to the limits as in the example given, it gets a bit ridiculous.  Kudos to the sixth and seventh brothers for sticking to their faithfulness and marrying her - I would be a little suspicious at this point myself!
Jesus tells us that the afterlife will be very different from the life we know on earth.  This shows us that it is difficult for us to imagine something other than the material world.  The Sadducees didn't look at the scriptures literally, but they were making some assumptions that all others would.

Sometimes people use the Bible in ways
where it is hard to see the love.
It reminds me of today's militant atheists who attack Christianity based on fundamentalist interpretations.  We know that there are many more sophisticated looks at scripture and yet this is likely the easiest to attack.  When I see these Christians going against them, I don't feel as if we are putting our best foot forward but I recognize I am biased toward my own view!

The Pharisees were often at odds with the Sadducees and seem impressed with how Jesus handled them enough to set down their own vitriol and ask a legitimate question.  Jesus combines the well-known Shema on loving God with a more obscure verse from Leviticus on loving our neighbors.

Jesus then presses the advantage by asking them a question about the Messiah.  It may be that just as he prescribed that the Sadducees look differently at the afterlife, he wanted the Pharisees to look differently at the Messiah.  Would he be a revolutionary leader that would bring warfare to God's people or would the Messiah lead us to love God and neighbor more fully?

Which is more transformative in the long run?

Prayer for the day:

God, there are times when the Bible confuses us.
It was written in a different language for a different people in a different time.
And yet, we take it seriously as your message for us today.
Help us to remember to interpret scripture through the lens of love.
Help us to love you more fully.
And help us to look at our neighbors through this same lens.
May we remember that Jesus instructs us that all other scripture hangs on these two ideals.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 30

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:1-22 (NRSV)

Wow!  There is a lot to unpack in this passage today.  To miss a wedding banquet in that ancient culture was the height of disrespect.  My friends of Middle Eastern descent are still basically "required" by their family to attend weddings of their first, second and even third cousins.  Family is important and the ties are kept.

For the parable of Jesus, those invited are the family of God.  Once again, it is difficult not to read "He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city" outside of the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred about a decade prior to Matthew writing his Gospel.  

It is interesting how the good and the bad are invited into the wedding feast.  This would be indicative of Jesus referring to the tax collectors and the prostitutes going ahead of the Pharisees in the previous chapter.  It also reminds us of the parable of the weeds and the wheat from earlier in Matthew. 

This parable definitely has an eschatological or "end times" feel to it.  It is first collective and social as we see large groups of people but then it turns individualistic as one man is singled out for not wearing the correct garments.  We are reminded that while parables can deal in the everyday such as with plants and weddings, they can also be kind of surreal.  After all, this man was just plucked off the street - how could he be expected to be wearing the right clothes?  And didn't Jesus tell us not to worry about what to wear from the Sermon on the Mount?

A wedding should be a happy occasion
where all contribute to the joy!
This makes us nervous because it seems ambiguous.  We don't want to be the one wearing the wrong thing and to be cast out of God's presence.  I've seen lots of interpretations for what this wedding robe might be, such as the baptismal robes symbolizing the Christian commitment or possibly the good works accompanying repentance or maybe the festal attitude that we must adopt in accepting God's grace.

Matthew's Gospel has focused a lot on social categories and the humility we need in addressing one another.  He was clearly trying to break down these barriers that crop up in society so easily.  And so I would guess that the man not wearing the right robes may have not assumed the egalitarian posture of the Christian community.  He may have placed himself above the other guests and is tossed out for his impertinence.  This would align with the passage from the Sermon on the Mount which states, "the measure you give will be the measure you get." 

We then turn to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees on display as they try to trap Jesus by asking him about paying taxes.  When he asks them to show him a coin and we see the emperor's face on it, they become exposed.  This was why there were money changers in the Temple.  A good Jew would be carrying their own money rather than Roman coin.  Thus, they cast themselves out as they do not allow the same mercy for others that they allow for themselves!

This may be one of the difficult pieces of the Christian walk.  We try not to place ourselves above others but our natural tendencies to rank things spills over into our relationships.  We want to do well and be perceived well.  The lazy way is to tear others down rather than build ourselves up!

Prayer for the day:

God, we don't want to miss the wedding feast.
We don't want to misplace the invitation or dismiss it 
because something else got in the way.
We want to prioritize our Christian walk over all else.
The difficult thing is when we see others walking differently than we do.
Can I be comfortable with their gait and mine if we don't travel at the same pace?
We like things to be orderly.
Help us to look more often with your eyes and see the larger order.

Photo by Armistead Booker via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Daily Devotion for Lent 2019 - Day 29

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:23-46 (NRSV)

This section definitely foreshadows the crucifixion.  Matthew even identifies the targets of the parables at the end as the chief priests and the Pharisees.  These would be the dominant religious leaders in Jerusalem at the time.

As unpopular as taxes are today, imagine
if they were being collected to be sent away
to a foreign government?
We see at the outset that they did not appreciate the ministry of John the Baptist either.  He was valued by the people but would have been upsetting to the priests as he may have pulled people away from the Temple for a time out to the Jordan River.  Matthew tells us that many of the Pharisees even went out to see him but they didn't receive a warm reception!

We see once again a reversal of the social order with tax collectors and prostitutes being valued ahead of the keepers of the Law.

The parable of the Wicked Tenants foreshadows the Christian movement beyond Jerusalem which would have been present in Matthew's day.  The crowd listens to the parable about the death of the son of the landowner (Jesus as Son of God) and interpret that the owner will put the tenants to a miserable death as a result.  Then Jesus later speaks of the cornerstone crushing anyone on which it falls.  Of course, this is written after the violent repression by Rome of the revolt that ended in the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.  Many of the Jewish people were killed in this time and this passage would almost mark this event as if they had it coming.

Later generations may have adopted an anti-Semitic attitude from this particular interpretation and so we must remember that when it was written, it was done so by a minority off-shoot of the main branch of Judaism.  It would have been seen by outsiders as an intra-religious dialogue rather than a sharp critique of a different faith.

Ironically, when Christians assume the dominant role and set others as the outsiders, we inherit the role of the wicked tenants.

During Lent, I want to examine my own sense of faith and self to make sure that I have not entered into dangerous territory regarding others who may need access to God.

Who today might be going into the kingdom ahead of us?

Prayer for the day:

God, as we begin to move to Jerusalem with Jesus,
we are reminded that we are moving toward the cross.
Help us to recognize the systems and the human nature 
that seem to relegate others to this road of suffering.
May we seek to alleviate the painful conditions of this world.
May we be faithful tenants of the world God has given.

Photo by Pictures of Money via  Used under the Creative Commons license.