This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 30th, 2016.
One of the most well-known stories of the New Testament, with accompanying soundtrack and all, is that of the rich tax collector, Zacchaeus. This makes the preacher’s task of finding something “new” much more difficult than at other times. Flipping or swiping back a few pages might offer some inspiration.
In chapter 18, immediately preceding the Gospel reading for this week, the reader will find two stories that further illustrate what Luke is offering the audience. The reference to a rich (young) ruler, who obeys all the commandments but can’t part with his wealth, presumably failing the first and greatest commandment. Compare this to the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector and the prayers they offer before God. Both are presumed to be wealthy, but only one is rich in spirit.
Swipe back a couple more pages to chapter 16, where we read of a rich man and his shrewd manager, followed by the important interpretive lens, “You cannot serve both God and money (mammon).” This transitions into another story some may have preached a few weeks earlier—that of the rich man and Lazarus on his front stoop.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 25th, 2016.
At first glance, this scene in Jeremiah seems ridiculous. Jeremiah is buying plots in his hometown of Anathoth in the middle of a Babylonian siege that will ultimately lead to the exile of King Zedekiah and the Israelite people. Remember, Jeremiah is in prison and has been labeled a traitor to his people because he told everyone to lay down arms and surrender in the middle of the siege. According to the law of the land, traitorous behavior like this warrants a prison cell.
Looking deeper into the story, this ridiculous moment unfolds a larger vision for God’s people. Yes, they will be conquered and exiled, driven away from their geographical identity as the Israelite nation. The old covenant will no longer exist. However, Jeremiah is proclaiming a new covenant to come, a time when the Israelite nation will become stronger in their faith and identity as God’s people. They will soon worship God outside of their institutional walls for the temple will be destroyed, but they will learn to worship their God no matter where they are living. The reshaping of identity is beginning in the fiery blaze of the conquering Babylonian army. The end of one nation is leading to a new beginning of a new nation that will emerge from the fire.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 31, 2016.
The Bible contains around 500 verses on prayer, 200 verses on faith, and about 2000 verses on money. This fact reveals the importance of money in our lives. Jesus had been teaching a crowd of thousands when a man approached him seeking money. Obviously money and the love of money was an issue in Jesus’ day as it is in our day. Jesus had been teaching and warning people about the coming tribulations when this man interrupted him. This man, like so many, was so distracted by money he did not pay attention to Jesus’ teaching. Obviously this man did not want to learn from Jesus, he only wanted Jesus to do something for him. Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to teach the crowd about what it means to be successful in life. This was a topic vital not only to the crowd but also to his own disciples. At first, Jesus basically told the man “Dude, what does this have to do with me?” Then Jesus used the moment to teach on the importance of making the right choices with money. Money can be as big a threat to faith as persecution.
Jesus addressed the issue of greed. The Greek word he used for greed means the desire to have more. He told the story of a rich man plagued with greed. The fact is a person can struggle with greed even if she does not have a lot of money. Jesus defined success by pointing out it is not achieved by one’s possessions. He emphasized this warning by using the phrases “Watch out” and “Be on your guard.” He did this to reveal the underlying danger of giving in to greed. The world measures a person’s worth by his wealth; God views a person’s worth differently. Jesus used this warning as a segue to a parable concerning a rich man. The big question would be if the man would see himself as the main character in the story or not. Jesus told parables not necessarily to make things easier but to invite the person into the story. Jesus did not tell parables just to illustrate a point; he used them to confront people with truth.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on November 8, 2015.
In my mind, I see a set of paintings hanging in a gallery. In the foreground of the picture on the left, there appear two distinguished Jewish rabbis with long beards and beautiful white prayer shawls covering their heads. These proud and confident men are engrossed in a conversation that is surely about deep matters of the law. Their absorption is so complete that they have failed to notice an old widow lying prostrate in front of a house begging for help.
The picture to the right is in many ways a counterpoint to the first image. This time the figures are reversed so that we see in the foreground an old widow bathed in a soft white light. She is walking out of a temple with the faintest glimmer of a smile on her wrinkled face. Off to the right in the background and bathed in shadow stand two Jewish rabbis again clothed in finery. This time, however, they appear with hunched shoulders as they slink off in shame through another gate.