Abrupt beginnings

December 7th, 2017

10 December 2017
Second Sunday of Advent
Advent IIB (RCL)

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

It is well know that Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly. Mark 16:8 ends “ephobounto gar“, for they were afraid. The trouble is, gar is a post-positive conjunction, which can never, but never be the last word in a phrase, let alone a sentence or a book. This was so troubling so early in the transmission of the Gospel that several authors have composed alternative endings to the Gospel. Read the rest of this entry »

Apocalypse now

November 30th, 2017

3 December 2017
First Sunday of Advent
Advent 1B (RCL)

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 24-37
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Well, it’s Advent 1, Year B, and so we begin the new year with Mark’s urgent apocalypse. It is a bit hard to find good news in Mark’s vision of the near future. Stars will be falling from the skies, the sun and moon will not give their light. The only glimmer of hope here is that the Son of Man will gather his elect from the four winds. And the passage from Isaiah doesn’t help much: God has turned God’s face, and so we sinned. The prophet ends up asking God to reform God’s people, and not to be angry forever. Read the rest of this entry »

God’s economy

November 16th, 2017

19 November 2017
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 28A (RCL)

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-7
Matthew 25:14-30

This parable sticks uncomfortably in our craw. If we are to read it as an allegory, with the man going on the journey as God, we get a picture of God as judgmental and even vengeful: take the talent away from him who has one and give it to him who has ten. We react strongly against this image of God. Read the rest of this entry »

Subversive saints

November 2nd, 2017

5 November 2017
All Saints’ Day, Observed (RCL)
Revelation 7:9-17

Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

First, a translation issue. The word the NRSV (following right from the KJV) translates ‘Blessed’ in the Beatitudes (from which they get their name) doesn’t really mean blessed in either of the sense of that word in English, either ‘well spoken of’ or ‘fortunate.’ The word ‘makarios‘ means something like ‘How honorable!’ The Beatitudes are not telling us about the future state of those mentioned, but instead, holding them up for emulation. If you want to be invited to anybody’s party, its these folks’! Read the rest of this entry »

What’s love got to do with it?

October 26th, 2017

29 October 2017
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 25A (RCL)

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

I find it odd that Matthew ends his report of Jesus’ disputes with the religious authorities with something as uncontroversial as the question concerning the greatest commandment. This would have been standard fare among rabbinic Jews, and we have record of other rabbis addressing the question (granted, after the time of Jesus, but them Matthew is writing after Jesus, also), and coming up with the same answers. So, why would Matthew sum up these disputes with something so uncontroversial as the shema (Hear, O Israel), and the commandment to love neighbor as self? Read the rest of this entry »

What do we owe?

October 19th, 2017

22 October 2017
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 24A (RCL)

Exodus 33:13-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

So Israel, who had been no people when slaves in Egypt, and had become God’s people in the wilderness, messed up badly with the golden calf. At the opening of Chapter 33 of Exodus, God says that God will send an angel before the people as the ‘go up’ to land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the divine self will not go up with them, because they are a stiff necked people. This presents the ultimate crisis for Israel’s existence — without God’s presence, they are no people. Read the rest of this entry »

What place vengeance?

October 12th, 2017

15 October 2017
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 23A (RCL)

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

For all his effort to find a way for Gentiles to live by the spirit of the law as they join the Christian community, and his assurance that the spirit of the law will stand unaltered, Matthew has a harsh attitude toward his fellow religionists, the Jews. This parable, read as an allegory, clearly suggests that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the failure of the Jews (those first invited, a word very similar in Greek to “chosen” or “elect”) to come to the wedding feast of the Son. In line with the parable of the vineyard, we might call this Matthew’s sour grapes. Read the rest of this entry »

Whose vineyard?

October 5th, 2017

8 October 2017
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22A (RCL)
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Urrrf. This ‘parable’ clearly promotes a supercessionist understanding of the relationship of Christianity to Judaism. For Israel’s failure to render the fruit of the vineyard to God, God will give the vineyard to other tenants. The vineyard, of course, refers to Isaiah 5:1-7, and the fruit of the vineyard is to be justice and peace. The stream of servants who come to ask for the fruit lines up with the prophets in the Wisdom myth. Israel persecuted the prophets (cf. the Jerusalem, Jerusalem saying in Matthew’s Gospel). Read the rest of this entry »

By what authority?

September 28th, 2017

1 October 2017
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 21A (RCL)
Exodus17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The religious authorities ask Jesus by what authority he does “these things.” In our lectionary, we have skipped over “these things” in question; Jesus had ‘cleansed’ the Temple – overturned the tables of the money changers and chased out those selling the animals of sacrifice, and healed the blind and the lame. At the time of the feast (Passover) with so many many pilgrims in the city, “these things” would have created quite a stir. Read the rest of this entry »

Whatever is just

September 21st, 2017

24 September 2017
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20A (RCL)
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

We often read this parable as an assessment of the reaction of Jewish Christians to the admission of Gentiles into their fellowship. Much like the story of the prodigal in Luke, which aligns Jewish Christians with the older brother who has observed the father’s commandments, we align the Jewish Christians with those hired first in this parable, who have born the heat and burden of the day. These late comers receive the same reward, and the first are justifiable perturbed. In my evangelical days, we read this as a comment on death-bed conversions. This interpretation did not make the bulk of Christians very happy. Why not play around until the last minute? Read the rest of this entry »