The Bible Challenge 2015 – Day 68

Deuteronomy 13-15, Psalm 57, Luke 15
Loving when others would have given up!

Deuteronomy 13-15
Psalm 57
Luke 15
Key Verses
Questions
Prayer

Deuteronomy 13 – 15

Pete Enns, a wonderful Old Testament scholar, whom we commissioned to write introductions to each book of the Bible on the Center for Biblical Studies website wrote:

Much of the rest of Deuteronomy contains laws, many of them having to do with Israel and its leaders being righteous (chapters 12-26). Many of the stipulations here are the basis upon which Israel’s kings are judged in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. In fact, those books are so similar in style and content to Deuteronomy that most biblical scholars think that Deuteronomy through 2 Kings forms a large unit, typically referred to as the “Deuteronomistic History.”  

In using this title, scholars are referencing the common academic consensus that these books are the work of a group of people living in the century or two leading up to the time of the exile in Babylon (around 600 BC). It is argued that it was this group of people who wrote a history of their nation to explain why they went into exile and suffered at the hands of their enemies. The theological reason given for this sad turn in Israel’s history is that Israel had failed to follow Deuteronomy’s model for a righteous nation, and hence taken upon herself the curses of Deuteronomy 27-29.

There is much historical background that Bible readers can pursue in order to glean a deeper meaning of these texts. Of course, you can devote your whole life to doing so and still have more to learn. I am a parish priest, and my understanding is far short of a biblical scholar. The one piece that I would urge you to focus on in these readings is the stress on generosity.

We are told, “Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.” (Deut. 14:22) John Claypool used to refer to this as our “seed corn.” If you ate all of your seed corn, there would be no future harvest. The harvest, however, was always meant to be shared with God. As we move away from an agrarian world, it is easier to think that what we glean, we glean from our own efforts. It’s not God’s sun and rain that assist us.

The Bible’s wisdom of tithing and setting aside our seed corn, however, is eternal. Many Americans are but a few paychecks away from standing in a food line. If we are wise, we will save and also share. God blesses those who bless and share with others. The more generous we are with God the more generous God is with us. There are a lot of texts that we can argue with, debate about or outright dismiss in the Bible. There are others that are simple, straight-forward and true. They often make good, honest demands of us. Two of these are found in Deuteronomy 15.

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving to you, do not be hard-fisted toward your needy neighbor. (Deut. 15:7)

Give liberally and ungrudgingly when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” (Deut. 15:10-11)

These texts never grow old. Their truth abides today. We are developing a culture of the mega rich and the extremely poor. The differences are becoming scandalous. It is healthy and good for all of us to care for those with less. All of us have something we can share with others.

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Psalm 57

If your faith moves up and down like a volatile stock, you might simplify and focus on two things. Keep your heart in the right place as you stand steadfast with God and trust that God stands steadfast with you. The word steadfast comes from the Hebrew word hesed, which is the kind of love that is needed to keep a covenant. Everyone has moments in their marriage, relationships or business practice, when they feel like they are doing too much and the other(s) is not doing enough. Hang in, and be steadfast.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast. (Ps. 57:7)

The second thing to remember is that God will be steadfast forever. God will never give up on us. It is easier to hang on when you know that your partner, your God, will always be there for you.

For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness extends to the clouds. (Ps. 57:10)

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Luke 15

Only Luke gives us the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. St. Benedict of Norcia based his “small rule for beginners,” which today is simply known as The Rule of St. Benedict, upon the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Benedict knew that we are all prodigals in need of “coming to ourselves” and realizing our need to repent and return to the Lord, our Father.

A parable is almost always about the first person mentioned in the story. He we read, “There was a man who had two sons.” (Luke 15:11) Hence the parable is not first and foremost about either of the sons, but about the father, who proved generous beyond belief in forgiving and welcoming his son home.

The youngest son essentially says to his father, “Drop dead.” He wants his inheritance while his father is still alive. This was callous! But the father allowed him to have it. The young man left with a large portion of his father’s wealth and reportedly “squandered his property in dissolute living.” (Luke 15:13)

Then we read one of the most touching lines in the Bible, “But when he came to himself…” (Luke 15:17) This is the key. When we come to ourselves and realize how fortunate we are to have our marriage, our children, our work, our health and not be looking for what we do not have, good things can occur. We realize how blessed we are and that our cup runneth over.

The young man rehearses a speech and heads home. Before arriving, his father, full of compassion, runs to greet him. He shouts, “Quick, bring out a robe – the best one – and put in on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” The ring was equivalent to the father’s credit card. The sandals implied that he was family. Only slaves went barefoot. It is a moment of forgiveness, acceptance and healing.

We all know how his older brother reacted when he heard of his father’s overflowing forgiveness and generosity. The key to focus on is this closing line, “…this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32) God is looking right now for each one of us to come home. The lamp is lit. The Holy One is waiting on the porch to see if we are trudging home. We are all wayward. Come, it’s time to come to ourselves, repent and turn around and head on home.

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Key Verses

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving to you, do not be hard-fisted toward your needy neighbor. (Deut. 15:7)

Give liberally and ungrudgingly when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land. (Deut. 15:10-11)

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Questions

How close do you come to tithing? Are you giving at least 1 or 2% of your annual wealth back to God? If not, that’s where you need to start. How volatile is your faith? Are you steadfast with God? Do you trust God to be steadfast with you? How do you relate to your siblings? Is there jealously and envy? Is there a prodigal in your family? How do you treat him or her? How is God inviting you to “come to yourself,” repent, turn around and head home to God?

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Prayer

Gracious God, you never give up on any one of us. You love each of us as if there were only one of us. Help us to turn around today and to return to you, seeking your compassionate embrace, your full forgiveness and as we strive to enter your house seeking recommitment and renewal so that we might carry on the work and the charges that you intend for us to shoulder. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

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© The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania