Reading Ramblings – August 23, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 29:11-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 5:22-33; Mark 7:1-13

Context: If last week’s readings gave us the grounds for our faith in Christ, and demonstrated that we are never satisfied with the evidence and proof He has given us, this week pushes us to confess our sinful tendency to remake God in our own image. We are always tempted and inclined to hear and see only what we want to, until even the very words of God and the God who gave them must be twisted to our preferences and ideas about things. Praise God that He forgives us over and over again, and gives us hope not through our own efforts but through the incarnation, death, resurrection, and promised return of his Son.

Isaiah 29:11-19 – This chapter begins with a prediction of the suffering and woe to come upon God’s people – the siege of Jerusalem itself. Yet it rapidly transitions in verse 5 to promises of ultimate delivery. God’s people might well be tempted to take this as an affirmation of their faithfulness, but this is not the case, as verses 11-19 make clear. God’s people will not remember these words when these events come to pass. They won’t recognize the prophecy for what it is.

God’s response is not their destruction, as we might expect. Rather, He recommits himself to them. Through his goodness and blessing, they will once again see his glory and righteousness rather than focusing on their own wisdom (wisdom that brings them to exile itself!). As such, those who think that they can hide or fool God are themselves foolish. Those that would remake God in their own image, according to their own desires – they too are foolish. But God will perform such wonders as to open their eyes (vs.17-19). Always the emphasis is on God and what He does for and to us, rather than what we do for ourselves or him.

Psalm 14 – It is foolish to deny that God exists, to assert our independence from him rather than acknowledging him as the source of all things. This inevitably leads us to dark and terrible deeds as we are lost in ourselves rather than finding ourselves in him. Nobody is immune from this – we all suffer from this willful rebellion to a greater or lesser degree. We might (and should) point our fingers at those who most egregiously violate God’s will, destroying others and exploiting them to their own selfish ends. But we do so knowing that we suffer the same lack of vision, even if we are not inclined (or capable) of using our blindness so willfully to our own advantage. However this condition will not continue indefinitely. We may forget or ignore God but this does not alter his reality and presence. So verses 5-7 can assert that God has not forgotten his faithful – his sinful faithful! – and that those who actively fight against him will ultimately be frustrated in their efforts. We look forward to that day when, as Christ returns, evil is finally banished from creation once and for all.

Ephesians 5:22-33 – This famous passage comes as part of Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians to holy living. Those who would discard these verses as anachronistic can only do so by rejecting the rest of Paul’s exhortations and admonitions – something that part of our culture has, in fact, already done.

Paul begins addressing relationships here, though truthfully he has already entered into this arena in chapter 4 in his call to unity. But what does unity look like in various specific relationships, such as marriage? It looks like wives who submit to their husbands and husbands who love their wives enough to lay down their lives for them. Wives are called to submit themselves – husbands are not called to demand their wives’ submission. Husbands are called to love their wives – wives are not called to dictate the terms for this.

Paul appeals to a larger order or hierarchy in his exhortation. Wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ. We should hardly be surprised that wives find it difficult to submit to their husbands when the Church is often so poor at submitting to Christ!  Likewise husbands fail to love their wives properly about as often as the Church fails to love Christ properly!  Husbands are to love their wives because Christ loves the Church. What we often interpret selfishly is grounded in the unselfishness of Christ. A healthy and strong marriage will see the wife submitting herself and the husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church. Respect and love. This is not anachronistic or archaic or somehow dishonoring of women or men. It is only our sinfulness that sees it as such and too often makes it as such.

Mark 7:1-13 – Jesus challenges the religious authorities, citing Isaiah 29:13 to condemn their misinterpretations and misapplications of the Law. Mark explains the source of this issue in vs. 3-4. The Pharisees are offended that Jesus and his disciples are ignoring certain cultic rituals. They are zealous for these regulations, and in their zeal they fail to demonstrate love, but rather judgment.

Is there something wrong with human traditions? Of course not – we are free in the grace of Christ to develop traditions that are helpful. The problem arises when those traditions begin to contradict and supplant the underlying laws of God. The law to love our neighbor as ourselves is contradicted and supplanted by an expectation of what someone else should do simply because that’s the accepted way of doing it.

Jesus goes on to illustrate an example of hypocritical pietism, how ultimately it is our selfishness rather than our zeal for God that so often expresses itself in our interactions with one another. Corban in Judaism refers broadly to any kind of sacrifice, but can also be more specifically a sacrifice related to a vow. The historian Josephus makes mention of the idea of funds dedicated for holy use (Wars 2.9.4). Funds could be designated for holy or Temple use, meaning that they could not be used for other purposes, including apparently the support of one’s own family. I’m not clear on whether or not the funds remained in the hands of the owner until a later time, or if they were conveyed immediately to the Temple treasury. But in either event, love of one’s family is neglected in favor of a potentially sincere – but still misguided – love for God. To claim to love God yet to ignore the fourth Commandment and therefore ultimately to violate the command to love your neighbor is problematic, to say the least!

There are many ways that we all seek to make the Bible say what we want it to say. Activists want to recast or reinterpret or ignore passages of Scripture that prohibit practices that are culturally acceptable, such as homosexuality to abortion. Likewise we are easily inclined to ignore the command to love our neighbors when they take these stances. We must acknowledge that we are always inclined to reshape God in our own image, supporting our preferred causes and practices. We must always be on guard from appropriating God to our own purposes, instead of conforming ourselves to his love and law and forgiveness.

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