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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Jesus insisted that word and deed corroborate each other. Disciples are credible witnesses when their loving actions mirror their words. Religious leaders have authority when their teaching takes form in their love toward God and neighbor. Disciples are called to be partners in service, learning and growing together as they love God and neighbour. Matthew 23:1–12 In this text, the scribes and Pharisees claim Moses as the authority for their teaching. In Jesus’ time, scribes served as religious lawyers, scholars, and teachers. The Pharisees were influential Jewish religious leaders who focused their lives on learning scripture and following religious practices. After the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 CE, the Pharisees exhorted the community – who included the first readers of the gospel of Matthew – to live as God’s holy people, distinct from the surrounding Roman society. This account of Jesus’ teaching speaks to how Matthew’s community experienced the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus noted the lack of congruence between the teaching and the practice of certain scribes and Pharisees. Their teaching was acceptable as it was grounded in the Law of Moses. Jesus was not critical of God’s law. However, the regulations about what would mark the Jews as “holy” or “separate” had become more than ordinary people could bear. Jesus preached that God’s love invites confession and assures forgiveness. This was how the law removed guilt and debt, putting people in a right relationship with God. Jesus speaks against religious leaders who would place barriers between God and God’s people. Jesus’ teaching about the law preserved God’s grace and compassion, the essence of God’s law. Jesus enacted this teaching each day, interpreting the law with compassion (Matthew 11:28). In their zeal for a holy people and holy nation, some Pharisees preferred the benefits of power to a reputation for godly compassion, enjoying the attention their garments and religious practices attracted. Jesus observed that the outward signs (phylacteries and prayer shawls) displayed by certain leaders to mark them as God’s holy people were not supported by their actions. They were not practicing what they taught about God’s way of justice and compassion. For Matthew’s church and our church today, such use of power can mislead, corrupt the reputation of God’s law, and cause oppression. Leadership practices evolve to suit situations and communities. Moses’ leadership identified him as a charismatic, servant leader. He was both prophet and priest. As noted in Joshua 3:7–17, Joshua appointed tribal councils and priests to share the work of leading the people of Israel. With the transition to Joshua, institutional leadership replaced charismatic leadership. Moses knew God’s presence on personal basis. Joshua knew God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant. In Psalm 107:1–7, 33–37, the psalmist declares that leaders find their authority by honouring God’s work. Paul knew that godly leadership empowers others. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9–13, Paul gives a clear account of how his use of power reveals congruence between word and deed. The Faith community – ordained leaders and laity alike – are called to learn and work together as partners in service of Christ. Honoring everyone’s contribution helps the community to grow in faith and deeds of love. To what extent does our church operate as a community of partners in service of Christ? In what ways does our church honor the contribution of each member?
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Extravagant, unrestricted compassion marks living in God’s way. What helps us to stay faithful to living in this way? Some rules promote growth, and energize positive relationships. Others limit, exclude, disempower, harm, and hurt. The gospel of Matthew reminds the emerging Christian community of Jesus’ rules: unconditional love for God and neighbour. Matthew 22:34–46 This scripture continues conversations about Jesus’ authority recorded in Matthew. The gospel of Matthew shows that Jesus was not critical of the temple or temple worship. Jesus did confront some religious leaders for their support of an elaborate system that required expensive purity rituals prior to entry into God’s presence in the temple. At the temple, people purchased and sacrificed animals. To do so, they often needed to exchange currency or take loans. This system could create economic, social, and spiritual debt. The people who could afford prescribed animal sacrifices benefited by being allowed to enter into temple worship. Others found the debts prohibitive, and some could no longer afford this prescribed way of coming into God’s presence. Jesus opposed this corrupted system. Jesus taught that God’s law intends to bring God and people into life-giving relationships. Living God’s way – loving neighbours with selfless compassion and justice – was of greatest importance to Jesus. The lawyer’s question in verse 36 seems genuine, though Matthew notes it is asked as a test. Jesus supported God’s law. It was the practices of some religious leaders to which he objected. Israelite prophets noted God’s desire for justice and compassion (feeling the pain of another as one’s own). Jesus sought to restore the law’s intended focus on the community’s relationship with God. In Jesus’ comment in verse 40, the gospel writer emphasizes that Jesus’ interpretation preserves the essence of the law. Jesus affirms that God’s law is not about regulations, rules, and punishments. It is about just relationships between God and people, and between neighbours. Love of God and love of neighbour are bound together. Jesus’ interpretation reinforces his identity as a prophet, a common image in Matthew. According to Jewish tradition, Jesus’ interpretation of the law required two witnesses to give it authority. Jesus offered his role as Messiah and David’s declaration of Jesus’ superiority. Neither witness convinces the sceptics among those listening to Jesus. The Pharisees made the connection, but limited their expectation of Messiah to a liberating political figure. Jesus probably was not what the Pharisees expected in the Messiah. Jesus was more than a political liberator. The Messiah is the resurrected Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, sharing God’s power. Jesus leads us by example to live according to the law of God’s compassion – loving God and loving our neighbours, even strangers. Moses experienced God’s compassion first-hand in a face-to-face encounter, as described in Deuteronomy 34:1–12. God’s steadfast love is the background for the communal lament in Psalm 90. The psalmist trusted God, knowing that God’s undeserved compassion would come in God’s time. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8, Paul’s gentle, compassionate approach shows his motivation is from Jesus Christ. His behaviour is evidence of God’s love in action. As the community of Jesus’ disciples, we are called to find ways to proclaim the love of God to our neighbours. Congruence between our words and our deeds may be the most convincing witness. Loving with unlimited compassion, as God loves us, is a compelling way to tell the good news of Christ. When have you extended compassionate love to others? What might happen as you and your church share the gospel with your whole being?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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