God’s covenant demands justice
- Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
- Psalm 119:137-144
- 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
- Luke 19:1-10
God’s covenant in both the Hebrew scriptures and Christian testament demands justice. Without justice, praise and sacrifice are empty acts that do not make God’s people righteous. Habakkuk describes the breakdown of Judah’s legal system, allowing for ruthless accumulation of wealth. He prophesies to the people that the righteous live by their faith, and God’s rule is reliable. Today’s Gospel has the memorable story of Zacchaeus. The chief tax collector in Jericho, he seeks out Jesus; his actions confirm that he too is heir to the promise of salvation.
Fred Craddock shares, “Zacchaeus’ offer of half of his possessions to the poor and a generous restitution to anyone he may have cheated can be seen as itself evidence of the radicality of grace and the power of Jesus’ good news to him. After all, Luke’s gospel of grace is joined to repentance, and repentance is not solely a transaction of the heart.”
Reflecting on all of today’s readings, what do they suggest to us about sin, repentance, and forgiveness? In the final verse of the Gospel, Jesus proclaims that he “came to seek out and to save the lost.” Who are the lost in our world today? How are we as individuals and as the Church called to take part in this ministry? As “sons of Abraham” (v. 9) all can be restored to the community and are entitled to inherit all God’s blessings. Continue reading
One’s prayer and faith in proclaiming the Gospel is remembered by God.
- Joel 2:23-32
- Psalm 65
- 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18
- Luke 18:9-14
Parables have a way of pointing to a deeper truth with very few words. Today’s parable speaks to the heart of human nature in relationship to God and to one another. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is unique to Luke, and provides further teaching on prayer and patterns of reversal. Jesus sets up a comparison between the spiritual pride of the Pharisee and the humility of the tax collector.
The failure of the Law alone to justify, the evil of pride, the mercy of God and the universality of salvation are exemplified. Jesus challenges us to place ourselves in this parable. Continue reading
We are to preach, teach, and live the faith.
- Jeremiah 31:27-34
- Psalm 119:97-104
- 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
- Luke 18:1-8
In today’s New Testament reading, Paul tells Timothy to remember from whom he learned the truths of faith, to proclaim the message, to use every gift at his command, and to teach with the necessary patience. He must keep calm, face the hardships, and work for the spread of the gospel. Perhaps in Timothy’s time there were a number of teachers who called themselves Christians but who represented their own versions of the faith. Timothy is urged to remain strong in what he has been taught and in the scriptures, which would have been the writings of the Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah.
I read the Torah as Jews have read it and loved it for centuries. For example, I can tell you what is the middle word in the Torah. I can tell you what is the middle letter in the Torah. Over the generations Jewish scholars have read the Torah not as a novel to see how it ends, but as a love letter. For instance, “Why did he use this word instead of that word?” “Why is there a space here?” “Why a comma here instead of a period?” That’s the way you read a love letter and wonder, “What did he or she mean by this word?” We Jews have seen the Torah as not just a book of stories or law codes, but as a love letter from God. Harold Kushner, Questions of Faith: Contemporary Thinkers Respond (1990: Trinity Press International).
God is faithful.
- Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
- Psalm 66:1-11
- 2 Timothy 2:8-15
- Luke 17:11-19
Jesus encounters all kinds of people on his journeys. Those who are outsiders, outcasts, and at the lowest end of the social structure receive special attention from him. Today’s healing of individuals with leprosy highlights the kind of relationship that God, through his Son, establishes in our lives. When one returns to offer his thanks, Jesus tells him his faith has made him well. This particular Samaritan is an example of one who did the extraordinary – he took the time to turn back, to complete his own healing process with evidence of true salvation.
Faith is about a relationship of trust in God and faithfulness to God. Marcus Borg says, “In the Bible, salvation is mostly concerned with something that happens in this life. Even in the New Testament, the primary meaning of the word ‘salvation’ is transformation in this life. One can see this in the roots of the English word salvation, which comes from ‘salve,’ which is a healing ointment. Salvation is about healing, We all grow up wounded, and salvation is about the healing of the roots of existence . . . The ancient meaning of the word ‘believe’ is ‘to commit oneself, to be loyal to.’ The Middle English word for ‘believe’ means to love or be loved. So faith is about loving God and loving that which God loves – which is the whole of creation.” Continue reading
Live in faith. Follow the teachings of God.
- Lamentations 1:1-6
- Psalm 137
- 2 Timothy 1:1-14
- Luke 17:5-10
Luke brings us two short sayings from Jesus: one about faith and the other about power. In both he confronts assumptions his disciples then and now bring to him.
Self-improvement is a mantra in our culture. Every day, we hear hundreds of offers from companies who want us to buy their product or service to improve our lives or our skills in some way, often by promising more of what we already think is a good thing. This is what many advertisements do, and the average American is exposed to hundreds of them across multiple media platforms every day. So for us, the disciples’ question “Lord, increase our faith,” (that is, “give us more”) may seem quite reasonable.
But Jesus doesn’t answer their request as they put it. It’s not more faith that they need. It’s a different kind of faith: Mustard weed faith. Continue reading
God judges those who neglect the poor and suffering
The parables of Jesus help us to see things more clearly, with the “eyes of faith.” Jesus wants us to see what is really going on in the world and not accept the same, old, easy answers.
Today’s gospel is Jesus’ story of a very rich man and a poor man (Lazarus) who was ill and lay hungry at the rich man’s gate. Think for a moment about what the rich man did not see. The following are typical “easy answers.” One possible response based on the gospel message is given. Now write your own! Continue reading
- Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
- Psalm 70:1-9
- 1 Timothy 2:1-7
- Luke 16:1-13
Intercessory prayer for the church and for the world must inform the life of the congregation. The church prays through its acts of healing and justice as well as through its words. Many of our readings on this day refer to the importance of prayer. Jeremiah tells of how God joins with the people and the earth in expressing vulnerability, pain, and grief over the invasion that will destroy life in the land of Jeremiah’s time. The psalmist reminds us that God stands with the poor and needy; Psalm 70 is a prayer for help. And as Paul writes to Timothy, he urges that prayers be offered for all persons and for all in high office. It is God’s will that all should find salvation and come to know the truth.
Prayer is both personal and corporate. Frank Griswold, in Praying Our Days: A Guide and Companion, states: Continue reading