Reading Ramblings – August 2, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020 – COVID-19

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

Context: God cares for his creation. He cares specifically for you and I but we are a small part of creation rather than the sum of it we often feel ourselves to be, even if we wouldn’t state it as such. His care is demonstrated historically, always in the past tense but we are called to faith and trust in that care in the present and future tenses based on his track record. To those who would accuse Christians of blind faith we would respond this is inaccurate. Our view of God’s work is much better looking back than at the current moment, and only God knows the tangible specifics of the future. He has revealed some of these to us though, so we know what to expect, and contrary to people who reject his Word, we actually have far better vision.

Isaiah 55:1-5 – Blossoming from the Suffering Servant language of chapters 52 & 53, chapter 55 continues beautiful language of restoration and love and comfort and care from God for his people. These verses in particular are beautiful in evoking power, specific images and ideas about what the reign of God made possible by the Suffering Servant will allow for. An entire way of existing foreign to us, where work for payment and receiving the blessings of God’s creation at a financial cost are unheard of. They no longer exist, they are no longer necessary. There is more than enough for everyone and there is no scarcity, no monopolies, no fluctuating markets and no need for work in the sense we understand it now. The emphasis is not on achieving but rather on what God provides to and for us. And what God provides is always good and of the highest quality (v.2) and alone capable of sustaining life (v.3).

Psalm 136 – The assigned verses for this week exclude the middle section of historical remembrance (vs.10-22) but since I think history is important, I’m asking you to read them all the same! After all, our hopes of God’s goodness to us now and in the future are based in God’s goodness in the past. His reputation establishes his trustworthiness and it’s good to remember the past when looking forward to the future. We remember God for his mighty acts of creation He has revealed to us in his Word, but his Word is validated to us through his works in human lives and history, prophetically demonstrating that He is who He claims to be. All of which will come to a climax not in isolated victories over specific enemies but in his final deliverance of his people from our most ancient of foes, Satan, which I think is a very reasonable application of vs. 23-26. There is little reason to give thanks for a God whose love lasts forever unless we will be able to enjoy that love forever!

Romans 9:1-13 – Paul moves from his central message of faith in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected as the source of our salvation rather than obedience to the Law to deal with a possible objection or conundrum (v.6). If Jesus is the source of our salvation, the promised Messiah, then why in the world didn’t more Jews recognize this and receive this? Why weren’t more of the Jews of Paul’s day Christians? Paul begins with a moving lament in behalf of his Jewish brethren. How desperately he wishes they would open their eyes to the Word of God and see Jesus Christ there! How many of God’s gifts had been given specially to these people, only for them to remain blind! The emphasis in this section is not on the Jewish people but rather on the work of God. Those to whom God extends his promises can trust on his ability to deliver his promises. Abraham and Jacob were not special or different than all other people except in that God made promises to them and would keep them. They had only to trust in those promises. Likewise, as God extends his promises to all people through Jesus Christ, all can and should trust God is capable of delivering them. If He chooses to do so using the weak figure of a crucified Messiah, is this any different than God choosing the second-born Jacob instead of Esau? Or the much delayed Isaac rather than Ishmael? God works how He will and through whom He will but all are invited to trust his promises!

Matthew 14:13-21 – What can and can’t Jesus provide? Should we place our trust in God rather than ourselves? Should we simply receive the good gifts of God without at least demonstrating our deservedness of them? This passage should raise many questions in our minds, yet I can imagine many good Christians responding as the disciples did – let these people take care of themselves! They should have planned ahead for their meal and needs! This isn’t our concern – it’s more than we can possibly handle! And yet it wasn’t too much for Jesus to handle. Jesus is pointed in his rejection of the apostolic suggestion that Jesus send these people away. You give them something to eat. Make that your first goal and intention, and leave it to me to do what you can’t possibly envision being done! Don’t begin with the assumption this is none of your business, but don’t also assume that your business is somehow separate from my presence and power!

How easy for the Church to act in this way. How easy to dismiss the needs of the people around us with a clucking of the tongue and a prideful If you had made better decisions like me, you’d be better off! People God the Father created and God the Son was preparing to die for were in need, and He expected his followers to take that need seriously rather than presuming they had no part in it. Jesus had compassion on this great crowd and He gave them everything – first the Word, and then food and ultimately his death and resurrection. First the good news, and then evidence of just how very good the news was and why they should listen to him, then the creation of and validation of the good news He preached.

There’s no indication in this passage that Jesus only gave food to those who really needed it. There’s no indication that some of these people didn’t take advantage – ate free food from Jesus when they had a perfectly good picnic basket next to them. What mattered was not them in that regard, but Jesus. Jesus as the source of all good things. Of his willingness and ability to feed his people what they needed. Would they recognize this or not? That was secondary. And recognition would be fully predicated on the giving of Jesus first. As with God the Father’s mighty acts of redemption in the Old Testament, the Son of God called the New Testament people – first his disiciples and then others – to faith in him based on the mighty acts He performed.

His goodness was sufficient. More than sufficient it was abundant enough to fill the crowd completely and still have plenty left over. What is not possible with man is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). We as God’s people are called to trust his abundance today as well, not simply as a historical miracle.

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