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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent 3A December 11, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The undercurrent of the entire text is the difference between people's expectations, even John's, and the reality of who Jesus was and the actual character of his ministry."

Commentary, Matthew 11:2-11, Advent 3A, Ben Witherington, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

"The challenge for us in Advent is to allow Jesus to restore our senses, to have him open our eyes and ears so that we can go and tell others what we hear and see."

"Hear and See," Blogging Toward Sunday, Erin Martin, Theolog: The Blog of The Christian Century, 2007.

"...tell John about change and transformation in people?s lives. That is what we are here for and that is what excites us. Spiritualities excited by anything else (like the magic of miracles, like overcoming the enemies of God by judgement, like getting all the rules right) miss the point."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Advent 3," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Give us strength for witnessing, that we may go and tell others what we see and hear. Give us patience for waiting, until the precious harvest of your kingdom, when the return of your Son will make your saving work complete. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 11:2-11
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We have skipped to the end of the second major section of the Gospel of Matthew in order to continue with the theme of John the Baptist and his relationship with Jesus. While our reading for today does not include the whole pericope it is important to note that Jesus has been offering his missiology, his missionary vision for the reign of God. The framework of Jesus’ teaching was to go to the “lost sheep of Israel.”(10:6) Jesus is giving instruction and continuing the overarching Gospel message that the Word and its proclamation include action. As we saw in last week’s reading the action was repentance: change of heart, mind, and place. Now in the preaching of the reign of God we see action as proclamation of the reign of God, healing, raising, cleansing, and casting out. Jesus has finished giving his orders and he has sent the disciples out to teach and preach – to act out the mission.

It is in this important framework of mission, the word is spreading from city to city, that we arrive at the first verse of today’s Gospel reading. John is in prison. He hears of the work being done. John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?” Most every scholar I read this week showed an interest in how out of sync this question seems to be with the proclamation made by John the Baptist. The pre-modern scholars too ask similar questions. The themes of doubt, disappointment, and disillusionment are present throughout the scholarly wrestling with the text. Perhaps it is a crisis of faith. Maybe it is the narrator’s desire to distance John from Jesus’ ministry. It seems to me though to go too far down this road of inquiry (while biblically fascinating) can lead us to miss Jesus’ answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus then continues teaching them and reminds them of the image of the prophet and the message of transformation. He says:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Our translation does something interesting here in verse 11. Perhaps you are using a bible that translates it differently too. In the translation by Daniel J. Harrington (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 157) he believes Jesus is saying, “Amen.”  John the Baptist is the greatest prophet of the past, but he remains in the past.

Harrington also writes:

The assessment of John is prefaced by “Amen” – an indicator of special solemnity on Jesus’ part. His saying assumes that John does not participate in the kingdom of heaven, that is, he belongs to a different stage in the history of salvation (see Luke 16:16 [The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until the time of John] for a similar schema). John may be the greatest figure of the past. But from Jesus’ perspective he belonged to another age.

As I meditated on this passage this week I wondered what age has passed for our church. I too think it is the age of prophecy. We have for many recent years spent our time prophetically calling the world to change. This era of prophecy was captured best when one political leader remarked the world had changed from the time when the Presiding Bishop was sitting in the Oval Office to a time when the Presiding Bishop was across on the lawn picketing the actions of the Oval Office. To everything there is a season. John’s question and Jesus’ answer tell us of a season of proclamation and prophetic work that prepared the way for the incarnation. Jesus is saying that season is over, this is the season of incarnation, of the reign of God. Perhaps the challenging message for our congregations today is the message that as communities that have received the prophetic Word, we are to be at work in the world.  
You and I are to be in the world and at work in the world incarnating Christ’s love, community, and transformation. It is time for action on behalf of God’s people. It is a time when the church must enter a new age, an age where it is known not for what it says but for what it does.
Some Thoughts on James 5:7-10


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

So...what is missing?  In James 5:4-5, just before this we are told that God opposes the arrogant, the oppressive rich, and is interested in the cries of the laborer.  What a great passage! Wow! One has to wonder why we don't read that part on Sunday morning.  

Yet it is important because we don't arrive at our passage today without knowing who it is addressed to and why.  The author is telling those who are poor and oppressed to be patient and faithful.  God is very  much the judge - and this is not an abstract judge either.  James believes that God will return as judge and this is out of a deep sense of hope and desire for justice.  God will oppose the wicked and reward the good.  

James says, not unlike the farmer who is patient so the poor and oppressed need to be patient.  He writes, "Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."  

Depend upon those who have come before you and their stories to understand the present age of oppression is where our text ends. So...what is missing?  Here at the end of the passage we are missing the last verse which helps to interpret vs 10.   Specifically, Luke Timothy Johnson and others, believe that this last little bit is a reference to Job from vs 11. (James, LTJ, 1995, p 324)  

Which prophet, which story? Specifically: Job.  Look to his endurance, his faithfulness, and his waiting.  "God rewarded the one who, despite his suffering, stayed loyal to God."  (IBID) So too you must wait and be faithful. 

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