Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, January 28th, 2018

We have quite the set of readings this week.  We hear promises of a prophet to lead the people after the death of Moses.  We hear Jesus identified as "the Holy One of God" very early in his ministry.  And we hear Paul begin his discourse on eating food that was prepared as part of a sacrifice to an idol.  Each topic could be its own sermon.  We will see where the Holy Spirit leads this week.

What questions are you left with as you finish each reading?  What seems like an important detail in the story (even if you do not fully understand why)?  What else do you notice in these readings?  I share some of my thoughts in italics.  I invite you to let me know in the comments down below.

Deuteronomy 18:15 - 20

[Moses said:] 15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the Lordreplied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

Who is this prophet that Moses promises?  Joshua?  Jesus?  Both?  Someone else?  Depends on your point of view.  (Note: “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.”)

Beyond the identity of the promised prophet, today the question is how we can recognize a false prophet.  Verses 21 and 22 proclaim that we can test a prophet by testing their words; if their prophecies do not come true, then the prophet did not speak on the Lord’s behalf, but “has spoken it presumptuously.”  Whom might we identify as false prophets in our world today?  My first thought points to those who proclaim a “prosperity gospel,” promising us that the Lord desires to make all of us rich and that we will become rich if we both believe enough that the Lord will do so and donate enough money to this person’s ministry.  But there are many others who act as false prophets, claiming to speak on the Lord’s behalf.

Psalm 111

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
 2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
 3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
 4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
 6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
 7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
 8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
 9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.
 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Traditionally, the lectionary creators choose psalms that serve as “responses” to the first reading for that Sunday.  From this point of view, the lectionary creators believe that the Lord will (does?) serve as the prophet whom Moses promises to the people.  Jesus, the one sent into the world, becomes that prophet.  The beginning of wisdom, then, is to follow Jesus, the promised prophet.

1 Corinthians 8:1 - 13

1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
  4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
  7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

How do you give scandal or not give scandal?  When do we pull back, and when do we challenge formal and informal restrictions?  When do we brazenly crash the barrier?

One of the themes of 1 Corinthians is the debate between freedom to do something and the wisdom of doing something.  Yes, you are free to do it and you have the ability to do it.  But would carrying out that action truly be good for you?  Would it be good for others, or would it harm them?  Paul’s point here is that we may be free to do something, but if it undercuts our goal of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we should refrain from it.

Mark 1:21 - 28

21[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The people in Mark 1 hear the identification of Jesus as “the Holy One of God,” but they are caught up in Jesus’ display of power and authority.  Is modern society much different?  Do we follow a person, or do we follow the power and authority a person holds?

One of the themes of Mark is the “Messianic Secret,” the identity of Jesus as the Messiah.  Who can identify Jesus as “the Holy One of God?”  Typically, only those from outside of Israel can make that connection.  Here, it is an unclean spirit that identifies Jesus.  We have to ask why this spirit challenged Jesus so publicly.  The common belief at the time was that one could control a spirit or other supernatural entity if one could call it by name; perhaps the unclean spirit was attempting to control Jesus by clearly naming him and proclaiming his identity as “the Holy One of God.”  But Jesus reverses the challenge, pulling the unclean spirit out of the man it had possessed.

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