2011-02-22 by Stephen Schuette
I had always thought of Luke as the gospel preeminently concerned with the poor, and certainly concerned with a new economic life as the story moves forward in the two-volume set of Luke-Acts. But perhaps that assumption has blinded me to Matthew’s deeper understanding, or at least that this is not a uniquely Lukan theme but fundamental to the gospel itself.
In this Matthew passage we get a glimpse into a different economic view. The preface (really belonging to these verses) is offered in vs. 19-21… “Don’t store up…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Later are stories about the feeding of 4,000 and 5,000, affirming that scarcity is a myth and our anxiousness about it not based in actual community experience with Jesus. Others will, with a degree of anxiousness, ask Jesus about taxes to which Jesus doesn’t hesitate to bring forward the actual object around which the anxiety centers. It may seem so weighted with energy involving devotion to it and unavoidable loyalties, and yet it’s really so small! Jesus’ answer, in so many words, it seems to me, is a repetition of his advice here: don’t be anxious! Give it to Caesar, but give to God what is God’s. And near the end of the gospel when the judgment is given it is based on whether the economics of the new community were practiced (Mat. 25:31-46, I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…I was naked and you gave me clothing…”), paralleling vs. 31 here.
Somewhere I’ve read about the number of economic allusions in the gospels. The exact number escapes me. But the emphasis parallels our own interests, doesn’t it? Don’t we tend to boil down many questions to fundamentally economic questions? The justification for recent wars has been summed up in a short phrase: “American interests.” To repeat that these are economic interests would be redundant, piling economically laden words on top of each other.
I’m sure a good economist could make the case that addressing anxiousness requires economic security. Even a personal sense of self worth could be interpreted economically. And we foist this interpretation upon ourselves and others regularly. An economic linguist might trace the roots of language itself to economic categories, arguing that the need to communicate arose from the need for “transaction.” That’s how pervasive and deep-seated the perspective. (H.R. Niebhur said that we aren’t sure who discovered water but we can be confident it wasn’t a fish!)
Jesus doesn’t deny that these assumptions affect the human heart. But he does upend them and invites us to move outside them. Our value and worth is based on something that no one can take away from us, something that cannot be stolen. It’s not inherent within us, but it is widely and graciously bestowed. This is not a 19th Century romanticism, but a spiritual reality Jesus wants us to know is even more pervasive than our economic assumptions and loyalties.
Big Vision from GoodPreacher.com
2011-02-21 by David Howell
Exegesis Matthew 6:24-34
This passage, as part of the main body (Mt 5:17-7:12) of the Sermon on the Mount, is a collection of paraenetic charges for the followers of Jesus not to worry about earthly matters. As is the case with the Sermon on the Mount in general, this passage comes from the Q source, but it has many significant differences from its Lukan parallel (Lk 12:22-32). Especially striking is the contrast between their respective conclusions (Mt 6:34 & Lk 12:32). These discrepancies between Matthew and Luke may be accounted for either by the hypothetical existence of two versions of Q (Qmt & Qlk) or by redactional changes on the part of each evangelist.
Verse 24 is only loosely connected to what precedes or what follows. As the different literary location of its Lukan parallel (Lk 16:13) indicates, this Q saying may have been a free standing logion or associated with another passage which can no longer be identified. The etymology of the Aramaic word mammon, for which the Greek mammona is a transliteration, is disputed. It is most probably derived from amn and as such its root meaning is "that in which one trusts." It commonly refers to "wealth" or "riches," not necessarily in a negative sense. However, this Q saying juxtaposes God and mammon as mutually exclusive, which sets the tone for the following passage in such a way that worrying about worldly matters amounts to serving mammon rather than serving God.
The words psyche and soma in verse 25 are not to be distinguished from each other in the Platonic dualistic sense. Rather, they reflect the Hebrew notion of human life as a holistic entity. By exhorting not to worry about life represented by psyche and soma, Jesus does not denigrate earthly life per se but elevates the life of his followers as standing beyond the level of procuring basic human necessities. The logion of Jesus not to worry about food or clothing finds a close parallel in the Gospel of Thomas 36, for which the Oxyrhynchus Papyri text has a longer version than that of the Nag Hammadi codex.
Verses 26 and 28 run parallel to each other as examples of lives that are well provided by God. The intervening verse 27 talks about the impossibility of adding one pechys (distance between the elbow and the tip of the longest finger) to one’s helikia, i.e., stature, if taken literally, or life span, if taken metaphorically, by worrying. In all three cases the rhetoric of hyperbole is evident and the analogy is more poetic than logical. Should that be the case, these examples are used as a basis for the inference a minori ad maius, which is typical of rabbinic exegesis. One may say that this passage, especially verse 26, inescapably reveals an anthropocentric perspective on God’s dealings with the creatures with human beings at the center. However, the point of the analogies is not a more privileged status of human beings in general vis-à-vis animals, but that the followers of Jesus can trust special care from God.
The expression oligopistoi in verse 30 is taken from Q (Lk 12:28), and Matthew develops it further in the rest of the gospel as a critique against insiders, including the twelve disciples, for their lack of faith (pistis). In verse 32 the oligopistoi, who worry about earthly matters, are likened to Gentiles, as if Gentiles were seeking (epizetousin) only mundane things. Such anti-gentile perspective in the Matthean text is as problematic as anti-Judaism in the history of interpretation of Matthew’s gospel and other parts of the New Testament. This hermeneutical issue aside, the point of the present saying is again the faith/trust that the followers of Jesus should have in God’s provision, which will allow room for a bigger vision in their mind, that is, the desire for the kingdom/reign (basileia) of God and its justice/righteousness (dikaiosyne).1 This verse echoes with the fourth beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (dikaiosyne), for they shall be satisfied (Mt 5:6)."
It is interesting to notice that the petition for daily bread (artos epiousios) features prominently in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:11) and that this petition is preceded by the petition for God’s kingdom/reign (basileia). The present passage seems to hark back to it, as if saying "You may have to pray for food but do not worry about it and always pray for the kingdom of God first." These sayings of Jesus for his followers not to worry about what to eat and what to wear become all the more poignant because they belong to the class of Galilean peasants who live at the subsistence level and therefore have to pray for their livelihood to survive.2 The passage is not about naïve optimism for life that is somehow going to take care of itself. It is about a big vision for the kingdom of God and its justice that is the ultimate will of God, and all the followers of Jesus are invited to share in this vision in spite of the reality of having to worry about food and clothing.
The last verse (v. 34), just like the first (v. 24), may or may not have belonged together with the main portion of the passage. It does connect with what precedes it by the motif of worrying, but the idea of "tomorrow worrying about itself" and that of "today’s evil being sufficient for the day" do not flow naturally from the previous exhortations. It seems to acknowledge the harsh reality of today’s hardship and the prospect of its continuation. In an ironic way, however, such a reality serves as an impetus for the little people to dream big dreams of God’s kingdom and its justice.
Eugene Eung-Chun Park
1. The personal pronoun autou after dikaiosyne can be taken either as masculine or neuter.
2. The adjective epiousios could mean "necessary for survival."
Sermon Ideas for Sunday, February 20, 2011
2011-02-18 by David von Schlichten
I don't know what I'm preaching on. Here are some topics I'm considering.
Being Perfect: Jesus calls us to be perfect, but here, "perfect" means something like "mature" or "complete." Does this mean that one can both sin and be perfect?
The Temple of the Holy Spirit: What does it mean to be this temple?
Leaving Grapes and Gleanings for the Poor and Alien: Invite people to consider what it means not to gather up everything for oneself but to leave behind some items for people one does not even know or even may be wary of.
Challenge people to love their enemies. What does it mean to love one's enemies? How does one do that without putting oneself in danger of being killed by one's enemies?
What are you thinking of preaching on?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2011-02-16 by Stephen Schuette
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
From Hebrew scripture we’re familiar with an active word of God that brings creation into being, that speaks from the burning bush and from Sinai. It’s effective, declarative, defining. And that powerful Word speaks here, in covenantal form, “You shall be…for I am…” This is not negotiable. This is the way it is, and this is who you are.
And the refrain repeats, echoing the call of Moses, “I am the ‘I Am.’” And how is this holiness which God declares expressed among human beings? Just as the relationship with God is defining so our moral relationship with each other is defining. Holiness is not just an inner identity. It is lived. It is lived in justice and care for others, in honoring holiness in them as God honors you as holy.
Why? Because “I Am” is the Lord. Reality is not otherwise, anymore than creation is otherwise. There’s no bridge of an interim ethic. There’s no equivocation. “You shall be…for I am…” begins this passage. And it is framed at the end by, in so many words, “You shall love your neighbor because I made you and your neighbor who you are.” And in between, in case you missed it, the steady refrain, “I am the Lord.”
Paul makes the same links connecting us with each other and all creation, since we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.
Still, there’s no denying the leap of faith this all requires. For we seem pre-set to see it otherwise, to judge by appearance, to deny our own identity and the identity of others. But what we are really denying in all this is the identity of God.
Experientially, faith is required. Faith enables us to live past this appearance, to live in the world as it really is rather than with what appears to be. Through faith we are able to live as if this is already fulfilled and that holiness is our true identity. Imagine, needing to fool ourselves into reality! So it always appears as risk to us. But it is risk-taking only for what is true.
“Strong and marvelous is that love which may not, nor will not, be broken for trespass…His goodness suffereth us never to be alone, but lastingly he is with us, and tenderly he excuseth us, and ever shieldeth us from blame in his sight…But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” -Juliana of Norwich
From GoodPreacher.com this week...
2011-02-14 by David Howell
Pastoral Implications of Matthew 5:38-48
Revenge is as natural as any human impulse. When we are hurt, we tend to want to hurt back. When we have been insulted or criticized, we tend to want to insult or criticize back. When attacked, we attack back. The problem with revenge is that it creates more hurt and more revenge. The world is filled with cycles of revenge in all of the major war torn lands.
We should not think that we modern westernized nations are any more immune from the cycle of revenge. Yes, perhaps we are not as lawless or violent, but watch any court of law, watch any divorce proceeding, watch any dysfunctional couple argue, watch children on a playground after school, watch the evening news that describes gang warfare, or watch how professional athletes respond to a humiliating loss. The instinct for revenge runs deep in the human psyche. It takes a variety of forms and expressions besides the more obvious forms of violence that fill the news.
These verses embody Jesus’ approach to the problem of revenge and his nonviolent ethic. Jesus’ solution is to turn the other cheek. He tells us to be like a sponge, to absorb hurt and evil. Do not return evil for evil, hurt for hurt, insult for insult, blow for blow, even an eye for an eye. Rather, respond with mercy, not justice. Respond with forgiveness, not revenge. This is a tall order! This is a great ideal, but difficult to put into practice in real life situations filled with hurt, anger, and even evil. It is hard work.
Generally, there are four categories of response to violence or human generated evil.
1. There is overkill. This is unregulated revenge. This is the ethic of gangs and terrorists. You insult me and I kill you…all of you.
2. There is a measured in-kind response, captured in the Law’s "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Upon this principle most of the modern justice system is built.
3. There is passive resistance or nonviolent response, captured in the verse, "do not return evil for evil." Protect yourself, but do not take aggressive action toward the offender.
4. There is a proactive loving response captured in Jesus’ commandment to "love your enemies." Overcome evil with good. Actively seek out and understand the other, eventually securing reconciliation.
Our ability to respond to evil in these increasingly more difficult steps depends on our personal resources and on the intensityof the situation we are encountering. There are some people who seem to respond only with overkill, and it is all we can do as a civilized people to control such persons with laws and prisons. There are some people who are naturally easy going, forgiving, and accommodating. For still others, there are situations where the hurt is so deep that to "return evil for evil" is the automatic response. Hopefully, Christ does not demand perfection from us every time, but does expect us to push "our response level" up one step on the ethical ladder.
As we try to be helpful to our congregants may I suggest a few more guidelines? First, try to see the humanity of the offender. Try to see their anger and offensive behavior as a sign of their weakness, their immaturity, and their desperation. Secondly, try to gather information and understand what causes the offender to do evil. What drives or drove him or her to it? Thirdly, try to avoid taking the evil personally. Most of the time, we are not unique as victims. Similar unjust and hurtful events have happened to a wide variety of people, not just to us. Finally, make a distinction in your mind between the primary emotional reaction we have and our secondary emotional reactions. For example, the primary or first emotional reaction is usually hurt or fear, but it is quickly followed by a secondary emotion, anger and a desire to take revenge. When evil strikes, encourage your parishioners to pause, count to ten, try to get in touch with and stay in touch with their primary feelings whatever they are. Sharing one’s tears is often better at breaking the cycle of revenge than expressing anger.
Resisting our initial instinct to take revenge or even showing love toward our enemies is hard work! It is not easy. It is not natural. You and I and our parishioners cannot fulfill these commandments alone. We need a community of faith. We Christians literally cannot be "like Christ" without the support and encouragement of one another. Our congregations must be places where peace and forgiveness are fostered, practiced, and encouraged.
Further, we must stay connected with the one who is also "slow to anger." By staying connected to Christ, and through Christ to God, we will be transformed. Then and only then can we become transforming. In the end if we truly come to love our enemies it will not be due to our own efforts, but God’s grace acting through us.
R. Scott Sullender
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