All three readings for today, filled with the emotions and drama of human life, witness to the concrete reality of our relationship with God.
In the reading from Micah, God asks, “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” (Micah 6:3). And the people, for their part, ask, “With what shall I come before the Lord?” (v. 6). What God desires is not an empty gift, but the knowledge that we will do God’s own work in our world, the work of mending a broken, but beloved Earth: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (v. 8). Psalm 122 is a love song to Jerusalem, the holy city of the Lord’s house, the temple. And at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus promises that he will be with us always.
But to ask the question raised by Micah, what does the risen Lord require of us? One of the interesting aspects of Matthew 28 is the way in which the women and the other eleven disciples are described as having very mixed reactions to the resurrection of their beloved Christ. The women have a mixture of “fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8), enough fear that when they meet Jesus on the road, he tells them not to be afraid. The eleven, likewise, recognize and bow down before their risen Lord, while at the same time, some are hesitant. None of these reactions seem to bother Jesus. He commissions all the eleven, no matter their level of faith. Even faith worn thin and ragged by fear or hesitation may, by the grace of God, be a means of God’s power.
Jesus commissions the eleven to “disciple the nations” (Matthew 28:19)—in other words, to pass on the teachings of Jesus concerning how to live in right relationship with God and with our neighbor. And they are to baptize people of all nations “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In doing so, the disciples will help to create a new Israel, not bounded by national borders, but everywhere that people walk in God’s paths. The Holy Spirit was God’s agent in the conception of Jesus (Matthew 1:18, 20), and is the vehicle of God’s empowerment for those who are baptized into Jesus (Matthew 3:11). The Holy Spirit is perhaps the most internal way in which Jesus is with us always, empowering us to be God’s hands and feet in the world, even “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Think of the patterns of your life. How might God use you to disciple others, to teach them how God’s ways look in an ordinary human life?
How do you treat others? How do you honor God’s presence in your life? Who is learning about Jesus from watching you?
Most gracious God: I am humbled that you have commissioned me not only to be a disciple, but to disciple others in your ways. Grant me wisdom, courage, and above all, the gift of your Holy Spirit, that I may carry out your commission to all whom you are drawing to yourself. I pray this in the Name of Jesus, your Son and my Lord. Amen
If we imagine a golden thread running through today’s readings, it might be the assurance from Psalm 121, “The Lord is your keeper. …The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life” (vv. 5, 7).
The reading from Micah, addressed to the Israelites in exile, calls for their trust in the Lord’s keeping. Micah 5:2-5 is a poem that may have been familiar to early Christians, expressed in their proclamation of Jesus as the one who came forth from Bethlehem to rule for God in Israel. No matter who or what appears to have power and authority in our world, for good or for ill, it is truly God who keeps us in life.
Remembering this fact as we read Matthew 27 gives us a window into how some of the characters lose their way. In one of the most poignant scenes in the gospel, Judas repents of betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, but his repentance is too late. What he has done cannot be undone, and he cannot live with his guilt. The chief priests and elders seem to think that if they help to do away with Jesus, then their positions will be secure. They incite the crowd to turn against Jesus, to the point that the people call out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). In all of these attempts to place their security in money or public position or violence, each of these people illustrates Jesus’ earlier teaching: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
Only Jesus holds the golden thread of perfect trust in God as his ultimate keeper. As you read Matthew 27:27-50, pay attention to the ways in which Jesus shows us how to live out each of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11), even at the extreme edge of human endurance. Throughout his suffering and crucifixion, Jesus courageously retains his poverty of spirit and offers himself in mourning, in gentleness, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, persecuted for righteousness’ sake, subject to slander.
Matthew invites us to see the crucifixion of the wholly innocent Jesus, not from the point of view of the soldiers or the taunting crowds, but through the eyes of God, who alone sees through to the heart.
Those who have been truly absorbing the teachings of Jesus will be able to see through the cruel posturing of the people around him and have confidence that his faithfulness will result in all the blessings of the Beatitudes: this Jesus who is being treated as a criminal is actually the one who will be filled with righteousness and mercy, who will see God, who will inherit the earth, who will receive the kingdom of God, who will be called Son of God. As you read, receive his final teaching, his example of how to live the Beatitudes with unwavering trust in God as his keeper.
Imagine that you are among the women “looking on from a distance,” who had come all the long way with Jesus from Galilee. What detail in the story is especially vivid to you today?
Is there something in your life that is stretching your faith that God is truly your keeper?
We lift our eyes to you, O God, our Creator and Helper, our Keeper and Redeemer: teach us through the trials of our lives how to keep our eyes always on you, and where our faith fails, multiply our efforts by your grace, for the love of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
In the turmoil of day-to-day events—both in our personal lives and in global struggles— it can be hard to find the larger purposes of God. Today’s readings give us a glimpse of the larger framework of God’s purposes, so that we may grasp the challenge of being God’s faithful people in our own time and place.
Chapter 4 of Micah begins by repeating an oracle of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (v. 3), a vision that seems to echo a response to the wistful ending of Psalm 120, “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (v. 7). This fourth chapter of Micah is the first of two that express hope in the midst of exile and domination by a foreign power.
Psalm 120 is the first of the Songs of Ascents, perhaps songs that were sung when going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Meshech is a place far to the north of Jerusalem, while Kedar is far to the south. Perhaps these two places of exile are speaking of a spiritual exile, far from God’s dwelling place. From that distance, God’s ways may be hard to discern.
In Matthew 26, we enter into both the tenderness of Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples and the trauma of his arrest and abuse at the hands of his captors. Remembering the Passover is key to seeing God’s hand in these events. In this Passover, it is Jesus’ blood that will be spilled, his life poured out in a way that will prove to be the gateway to freedom for his followers. It is Jesus alone who seems to grasp both the pathos of what he must endure and also the power of God that is on the move in these serious events.
Every week, at the celebration of the eucharist, we recall and proclaim the Passover of the Lord. No matter what is going on in the world about us, the eucharist draws us into God’s larger vision for all people: the peace that comes from being at last in right relationship with God and our neighbor.
What issues in the world are hard for you to bear? How do you think God is calling you in the midst of these events?
What issues in your life seem to be farthest from God’s goodness? Is it possible, in light of today’s readings, to see a larger framework of God’s purposes for you?
God of peace, show me how to find you in the midst of all that troubles me and give me the courage to follow your path into a freedom I can hardly imagine. This I ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
“What are the goals, actions, and measurements?” “Does income exceed expenditures?” “Were the objectives met?” These are words about measurement we use every day. And they are appropriate when a group, an institution, or a congregation points its resources in a specific direction.
In the parable of the talents found in chapter 25 of Matthew, the measurement is different. It is assumed by the landowner that the stewards and slaves will care for the resources entrusted to them. The amount the first two stewards make at first appears to be what the landowner values most. They have increased his wealth. But when the third steward returns in full exactly what he was given, we learn that the landowner values taking risks. At the very least, he says, you could have taken one action and invested the money. His praise for the first two stewards is based on the risk they took to use the resources they had.
I wonder what the landowner would have said if the parable included a fourth steward who came and said, “I am returning less than what you have given me. I took a risk on rehabbing an old school building in the city. I am looking for a tenant to pay the rent.”
How would you end this hypothetical story of a fourth steward?
What risks have you taken with your talents?
God, help us to measure our lives by your standards—not the world’s—and make us good stewards of all that you have given us. Amen.
If one takes a broad and long view, today’s Scripture texts look to a future of downfall and destruction. Matthew is particularly familiar as an apocalyptic text, the Advent God reordering creation.
There is another closer and more intimate view of these passages. They entreat us to be sensitive—not sensitive in that we put forth our raw and hurt places and see our life with God through that lens, but rather sensitive to our physical state of being, attuned to the stimuli around us—sensitive beings in a world filled with distractions and with delights. Psalm 119:120, 123: “My flesh trembles for fear of you and I am afraid of your judgment”; “My eyes fail from watching your salvation.” Our muscles feel the tension of anticipation. Our eyes strain to look past the smoldering horizon to the yet unseen.
A beloved mentor once said to me, “You are too sensitive. You need to toughen up.” He meant that I was overly attuned to the stimuli around me. In Myers-Briggs terms, I was living too fully out of one side of my personality while neglecting the other. I am grateful that I took his advice, for the most part.
However, I realized that I could not toughen up every part of my awareness because doing so would cut me off from a delicate, intricate, and essential sensitivity to God’s presence working through my body, in the people around me, and in my physical environment. I have paid a price for this vulnerability. I have also been deeply aware of God’s enduring love, no matter how the world around me feels.
What are the sensitive places within you that bring you closer to God?
Where are the places that are too raw and sensitive? Where are the places that are too hard and crusty?
God, help me to serve you faithfully, through both sensitivity and strength. Amen.
The pattern of these Scripture passages is disconnect, connect, disconnect. The prophet Micah speaks not only to God’s people, but from his world view, to all people. God will continue to be God and bring his power of judgment and restoration to the earth. God will undo all the places that are disconnected from him. God will lament for the people who have disconnected from God’s life.
Psalm 119 is a long acrostic that was likely used in public worship and intended as a guide for staying in God’s way of life. The source of that way is the connection God created within humankind from the beginning. Our desire to be in God’s way is as intimate as our deepest longing, and the separation from God’s way is as painful as our deepest grief.
Jesus condemns those who have disconnected themselves from God’s source of life. In this reading from Matthew, he points to those who are the most learned of the community but are disconnected from living. The acts of study, prayer, or sacrifice stand alone. These actions are more important than the source from which they come.
How often do we turn to others to solve our struggles with living instead of exploring the depths of our relationship with God?
How often do we turn to self-help books when instead we could ask for God’s help?
Gracious God, we give you thanks that you are always connected to us, even when we feel disconnected from you. Make us aware of your presence in all we do. Amen.
Today as we conclude the story of Jonah, we learn, as he did, something of the infinite scope of divine compassion. Jonah is sulking because he feels that God has made a fool of him: what he has prophesied has not come to pass. His vocation as a prophet has been undermined; his life is not worth living. But he waits, hoping that, after all, Nineveh will feel God’s wrath. Jonah has not yet learned his lesson.
When the plant that is sheltering him from the blazing sun shrivels, Jonah again curses his lot and asks to die. His concern is self-centred and petulant. He is not on God’s wavelength. We recall some words from the parable of the vineyard: “Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15).
God’s concern is with the vast population of the city, who are not believers, and also (surprisingly, perhaps) with their livestock. God does not want them to perish. God’s compassion and care are universal; God’s concerns and purposes are broader than ours. No one is outside of God’s love and care. “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea” (The Hymnal 1982, #469).
The gospel reading begins with the parable of the wedding banquet: do we or do we not heed God’s call and accept God’s invitation in the gospel message? Those initially invited violently abuse the king’s hospitality, so he turns to others who did not expect to attend. Are they the socially excluded or the Gentiles, both of whom were mentioned in yesterday’s reading?
Matthew 22, from verse 15 to the end, recounts a series of four rabbinic disputations in which Jesus confounds his opponents and teaches an important theological truth. In each case, he speaks with divine authority as an interpreter of the Scriptures.
Can you identify the punch line in the four rabbinic disputations (Matthew 22:15-46)?
Lord, teach us to think in tune with your will and purpose and not in a petty, human way. Be our teacher and renew our minds by your truth; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
In today’s readings we place ourselves, with the biblical authors, in the light of God’s truth, which judges and reshapes our lives.
Jonah’s message of judgment on the wicked city of Nineveh has the opposite effect to what he expects. In the Bible, God’s word, spoken by prophets, affects what it foretells. But here the unlooked for effect is profound and sincere repentance, so that God— depicted in very human terms—changes his mind and withdraws the threat of judgment. In the gospel reading, Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem as its rightful “owner” and passes judgment on its corrupt practices. He comes as king, yet in humility and peace, on a donkey, not a warhorse. He also passes judgment on a fig tree, a symbol of Israel. These two acts prefigure the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Romans in 70 c.e. The same truth of judgment is contained in the parable of the vineyard, another biblical symbol of Israel.
Between these two sections of the chapter, we have the parable of the two sons, with its judgment on the “official” religious institutions that failed to respond to Jesus’ mission, and its punch line that instead, social outcasts are embracing the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus.
This is the first hint that the kingdom will be offered to others—those currently excluded—who will welcome it. The second hint is in verse 43: this is a rare intimation in the gospels that the Gentiles— non-Jews, the rest of the world—will receive the gospel and enter the kingdom.
Psalm 119 is a prolonged meditation on the truth of God and its power to purify and reshape our lives. The psalmist dwells on God’s law, that part of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) known as the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. As you reflect on this psalm, make it your prayer for the light and truth of the Scriptures to refresh and renew your life.
Why are we so reluctant to allow God’s truth in the Scriptures to shine a searchlight on our lives and to transform us into the people God wants us to be?
Open our eyes, O Lord, that we may behold wondrous things coming out of your word and be changed by them; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.