Reading Ramblings – August 6, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 6, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; Romans 9:1-13; Matthew 14:13-21

Context: God provides body and soul for his people, desiring their good both now and eternally.

Isaiah 55:1-5 – The Lord extends his goodness to his people through is Word. In Chapter 54 the Lord extols the love that is now available to his people because of the guilt offering of his chosen one as detailed in Chapter 53. Chapter 55 has the Lord continuing to offer goodness to his people, before He begins extending that goodness to all peoples, which was his intent from the beginning. The short reading for this morning emphasizes the peace and prosperity that will come to the Lord’s people. While the language makes us think of food, throughout these verses the implication is that it is the Lord’s Word that is the food and drink. By listening (v.2), the hearer is able to receive what is good – rich food. By listening to God’s word (v.3), the hearer receives more than just physical sustenance but eternal, spiritual nourishment. As God raised up David from obscurity to make everlasting promises to him, so all those who are faithful in revering God’s Word will be lifted up from obscurity to honor and the glory that only God can bestow.

Psalm 136:1-9 (23-26) – This psalm is a call and response format – the leader chants the differing call, and the congregants respond by repeating for his steadfast love endures forever. The repetition is intended to focus attention, to give people time to really consider what is being said and what the appropriate response should be. God is to be given thanks (vs.1-3) because He alone is god, and because his steadfast love endures forever. What greater reason could there be to give thanks and praise to God? Verses 4-9 invite the congregation to give praise to God for his creative acts, with many of the verses echoing the days of creation in Genesis 1. Verses 10-22 are skipped in the assigned reading in the interest of brevity, but recount the Lord’s specific works of salvation and rescue throughout the Old Testament. Verses 23-26 conclude the hymn with more generic references to the Lord’s mercy and grace and his sustaining of his creation.

Romans 9:1-5 (6-13) – Paul takes a marked turn in his focus of the letter. Launching from his words of praise and thanksgiving at the end of Chapter 8, he addresses a terrible situation – many of God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham – refuse to accept Jesus the Christ as the ultimate expression of God’s love towards his creation (8:39). How can this be? Paul feels the need to deal with this issue now. Undoubtedly more than a few of the Roman Christians were Jewish, and likely disturbed that so many of their kinsmen refused to see what the Word of God plainly pointed towards in the person and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

It isn’t that God’s chosen people have lacked for any divine providence and guiding. Quite the opposite! Adoption, glory, covenants, the Law, worship and promises – the Jews of all people in creation have a unique relationship with and knowledge of God! They are the descendants of his chosen man, Abraham, and from their ranks God brought forth his messiah, the fulfillment of his promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 They of all peoples should have been the first to acclaim and welcome Jesus – certainly after his resurrection from the dead if not beforehand! Paul would be willing to sacrifice himself, to be eternally rejected if only it would mean that the fullness of God’s people would receive salvation in Jesus Christ!

Verses 6-13 begin to address the elephant in the room. If Paul is so confident of how God the Father is working through God the Holy Spirit to draw all people to salvation through God the Son, how is it that God’s chosen people are missing out? Is God somehow shortchanging them? Is He sneaking something by them? Does their rejection of the Messiah somehow reflect poorly on God himself? Not at all. He begins his analysis by noting that physical heredity is not the sole determinant of being recipients of God’s promises. In other words, throughout the Old Testament and particularly in the time of the patriarchs, God was very selective in who He included in his promises. Isaac was included but not Ishmael. Jacob was chosen but not Esau. All shared the proper lineage – they all descended from Abraham – but not all received the promise. His argument is that a similar thing is happening now – only some are open to the truth of Jesus Christ as the promised messiah. God who knows all things has foreseen this as well, and it continues his means of bringing glory to himself by determining who continues within his promises and who does not.

This is NOT the same as predestination. It is simply the recognition that God is God and does things how and as He pleases for his purposes. This does not remove our moral responsibility to obedience and faith (vs.19ff). But it is an unavoidable reality which helps to explain why many of God’s chosen people are rejecting the Christ.

Matthew 14:13-21 – Jesus seeks solitude to deal with his grief at hearing of his relative John the Baptist’s execution. However the crowds, likely unaware or John’s death, or perhaps not thinking of how it would impact Jesus, or perhaps simply overwhelmed by their own need and hunger for the words and ministry of Jesus, seek him out. Jesus responds with compassion (similar to his response in the Gospel from a few weeks back – 9:36). Instead of removing himself, He comes to shore again to heal their sick. We can imagine Jesus seeing person after person, speaking to them, laying his hands on them. We can imagine the joy and celebration among the people to have their loved ones restored. Who could leave when such amazing things were happening? Is anyone going to leave and not receive healing just because it’s getting dark? Hardly! So impressive was this day and evening that all four Gospels record it (Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6).

The disciples expect Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can get food, since the disciples clearly are not able to either provide or purchase food for them. Jesus gives compassion by healing, the disciples (perhaps?) exhibit compassion by saying it’s time for people to leave and eat (and so they themselves can eat as well?). It’s curious that all the Gospel writers except Luke specifically note that it was grassy (and green grass as well) where the people were to sit down to be fed.

John’s account tells us that this is near the Passover, and that along with how Jesus prays a blessing, breaks the food, and gives it to his disciples provide strong links to his later giving of the bread and wine at the Last Supper, instituting the Lord’s Supper. That the people are not close at hand to a town or a source of easy food might evoke memories of God’s people wandering in the wilderness in Exodus. In that wilderness God provided for the physical needs of his people through Moses. But here, one greater than Moses is at hand. Jesus provides the miraculous multiplication of the food – taking, breaking, handing to his disciples, who hand to the people, who eat until they are full. Unlike the wilderness, where the manna could not be saved, here there are 12 baskets of leftovers! Such abundance! Such provision! It might be easy to conceive of God as only concerned about our spiritual lives, but time and time again He demonstrates his love and care for his creation physically as well as spiritually. He takes the time to create, to heal, to feed, and ultimately to redeem us body and soul through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus. God is not only God at the time of our death, but at every moment from our conception to our entry into glory.

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