Reading Ramblings – March 22, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2015

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:(32-34)35-45

Context: This is the last week of Lent as observed as such. The following Sunday, while still Lent, is more typically celebrated as Palm Sunday, with a corresponding emphasis on the joyful entry to Jerusalem as well as a preview of the fuller week’s events.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – The words of the prophet Jeremiah no doubt were included in Jesus’ teaching to the men on the road to Emaus, as He opened Scripture to them. The promise of the new covenant is inclusive of all God’s people – not just Judah, but even rebellious Israel, the northern kingdom. The nature of the new covenant consists of God’s law or word being written in his people’s heart, such that his people are now faithful to him, unlike their wandering forefathers. It is not a matter of head knowledge of the Law, some deeper understanding of God’s commandments. Rather, it is a transformed people who know hold God’s Word and Law as their life and heart, obedient to it by his covenant. This covenant is characterized by God’s forgiveness of the sins of the past. This is the new covenant that Jesus speaks of with his disciples at their last supper, a covenant inaugurated in his blood and entered into by faith.

Psalm 119:9-16 – The long, acrostic poem, Psalm 119, emphasizes in each stanza (each corresponding to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet) the blessing that is the Word of God. It is this word that protects the young man. His seeking after God’s word can help him not to stray away into impurity. Towards this end the young man has stored up God’s word, memorized it and meditates on it so that he can call it to mind in the moment of temptation or uncertainty. The young man stands ready to declare the Word of God as well as meditating on it personally. The goal is that the young man – metaphorical for Israel, perhaps, will not forget God’s Word, unlike those who have come before him.

Hebrews 5:1-10 – Paul begins his discussion of Jesus as our high priest at the close of chapter 14. In those closing verses Paul emphasizes the unique nature of Jesus as our high priest, who understands the temptations we face because He also faced them. As such we can be assured that Jesus as high priest and mediator on our behalf, stands ready to supply us with his mercy and grace to withstand temptation.

Verse 5 distinguishes Jesus in his role as high priest further. Truly, every high priest understands temptation, and in fact must offer sacrifice for his own inability to resist it. The role of high priest was special and should be (but was not always, particularly in the two centuries before Jesus) above the personal ambitions of men. Not even Jesus aspired to this role, but rather was designated to it by God the Father. Now embracing that role, Jesus who interceded often during his earthly ministry on behalf of others, continues to offer prayers for and power to those in need. His greatest blessing however is eternal life and salvation, something that human high priests could not convey in their role or through their intercessions.

Mark 10: (32-34)35-45 – Jesus is en route to Jerusalem for the final time. He shares with his disciples for a third and final time (in Mark’s gospel) the fate that awaits him. The first time He shared this with them, Peter sought to dissuade him from his appointed path (Mark 8:27-38). The second time He shared this with them, the disciples fell to discussing who among them would be accounted the greatest when Jesus came into his kingdom (Mark 9:30-37). After this final disclosure, specifically James and John seek their own glory by asking Jesus to seat them in the places of honor (closest to the host) at his victory banquet in glory. It is ironic that Jesus’ inner circle – Peter, James, and John – are each designated as fundamentally missing the point of Jesus’ prophecies regarding his future in Jerusalem.

Jesus engages with them, asking them the rhetorical question that they ought to answer ‘No’ to – can you suffer through what I will suffer through? James and John in their ignorance miss the nature of the question, and instead affirm their loyalty to Jesus. Just as Peter will after the Last Supper, they are essentially promising to stay with Jesus come what may, a promise that all of his disciples will break when they flee from the mob that comes to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus could be angry and frustrated at this third and final inability to hear what He was saying. Instead, He deals with them gently and lovingly, and tries to teach once again that what matters in the Kingdom of God is fundamentally different than what we think matters in our worldly ordering of things. While here we are obsessed about status and prestige, those in the Kingdom of God have learned and been gifted with the ability to set aside such personal ambitions, and to see that true glory lies in serving others, rather than ourselves.

God’s Word continues to call us to this truth today. As American Christianity reels in many respects from a culture that his cast itself off from Christianity and has become hostile, we should be careful that our zeal for evangelism is not really a subtle and subconscious (or conscious!) attempt to re-establish our personal glory, the glory of our congregations and churches in the larger culture. Our job is to love God and love our neighbor as the Holy Spirit provides us opportunities, and not for our own benefit or even the pre-conceived benefits of the Church. We are called to love and serve one another even when we are not thanked for it. Even when people don’t appreciate it. Even when people don’t reciprocate.

We can’t be fully free of our personal and collective pride in this life. Thanks be to God, who has promised to deliver us through his forgiveness and grace, so that in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, these deeply ingrained sinful thoughts and blindness will be removed from us, and we can truly see and worship our Lord even as we truly see and love our neighbor selflessly!

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