Archive for the ‘Matthew 16’ Category

Of Faith and Rocks   1 comment

Above: Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebbel (1630)

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Numbers 20:1-13 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And the children of Israel, all the congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh.  And Miriam died there and was buried there.  And there was no water for the congregation, and they assembled against Moses and against Aaron.  And the people quarreled with Moses, and they said, saying,

If only we had expired in front of YHWH!  And why have you brought YHWH’s community to this wilderness to die there, we and our cattle?  And why did you bring us up from Egypt to bring us to this bad place?  It’s not a place of seed and fig and vine and pomegranate, and there’s no water to drink!

And Moses and Aaron came in front of the community to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they fell on their faces.  And YHWH’s glory appeared to them.  And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron, your brother.  And you shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give its water.  So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give a drink to the congregation and their cattle.

And Moses took the staff in front of YHWH as He commanded him.  And Moses and Aaron assembled the community opposite the rock.  And he said to them, “Listen, rebels, shall we bring water out of this rock for you?”  And Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock with his rock twice.  And much water came out!  And the congregation and their cattle drank.

And YHWH said to Moses and Aaron,

Because you did not trust in me, to make me holy before the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this community to the land that I have given them!

They are the waters of Meribah, over which the children of Israel quarreled with YHWH, and He was made holy among them.

Psalm 95:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving

and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

3 For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the caverns of the earth,

and the heights of the hills are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee,

and kneel before the LORD our Maker.

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

8 Harden not your hearts,

as your forebears did in the wilderness,

at Meribah, and on that day at Massah,

when they tempted me.

They put me to the test,

though they had seen my works.

Matthew 16:13-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

When Jesus reached the Caesarea-Philippi district he asked his disciples a question.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?

They told him,

Well, some say John the Baptist.  Some say Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

He said to them,

But what about you?  Who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered,

You?  You are Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Jesus said,

Simon, son of Jonah, you a fortunate man indeed!  For it was not your own nature but my Heavenly Father who revealed this truth to you!  Now I tell you that you are Peter the rock, and it is on this rock that I am going to found my Church, and the powers of death will never have the power to destroy it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in Heaven and whatever you permit on earth will be what is permitted in Heaven!

Then he impressed on his disciples that they should not tell anyone that he was Christ.

From that time onwards Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem, and endure much suffering from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and finally be killed; and be raised to life again on the third day.

Then Peter took him on one side and started to remonstrate with him over this.

God bless you, Master!  Nothing like this must happen to you!

Then Jesus turned round and said to Peter,

Out of my way, Satan!…you stand right in my path, Peter, when you think the thoughts of man and not those of God.

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The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Here is a link to a related post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/feast-of-the-confession-of-st-peter-the-apostle-january-18/

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Israelite grumbling continues, even after the episode from Numbers 13, which I covered in the previous day’s devotion.  Already God has informed the people that most of them will die before Canaan.  If they were humble before God, they would have moved toward repentance.  Rather, we have this incident, with more grumbling.  It is the same song, only another verse.  This took a toll on Moses.  (How could it not?)

God promised to provide water for the people and their cattle, and did so.  There is water in many desert rocks, so Moses received instructions to gather the people and cattle before a very big rock, stand with Aaron in front of them, hold Aaron’s staff, and speak to the rock.  Moses did all of this except speak to it.  He struck it instead.  Regardless of his motivation, he had called attention to himself and away from God.  The people and cattle drank water while Moses and Aaron learned that, for their lack of faith, which is to say, trust in God, they would not enter Canaan.  Perhaps Aaron’s sin leading to the penalty was not related to Moses striking the rock with his staff.  I propose that Aaron’s cumulative faithlessness caught up with him.  More than once he had plotted against Moses over the years.  And Aaron was deeply involved in the infamous Golden Calf incident.

So God was angry, announcing penalties for sin, but God had not forsaken either Moses, Aaron, or any of the Israelites.  All had the promised water to drink, but they still had to pay the price for failing to trust God.  So, once again, divine judgment and mercy intermingled.

Another kind of rock figures prominently in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  Simon Peter becomes the first Apostle to confess Jesus as the living Son of God.  This is a momentous event in Christian history; there is even a feast day (The Confession of St. Peter the Apostle, January 18) for it.  Yet Peter’s understanding was partial.  Out of good intentions, he protested against the coming torture, execution, and resurrection of Jesus.  As we say in the U.S. South, I say of Peter, “God bless him.”

“You are Peter,” Jesus says to him, “and upon this rock I will build my Church.”  What is “this rock”?  I have read what various commentators have said about this and pondered the germane ecclesiastical traditions.  William Barclay, the great Scottish Presbyterian Bible scholar, proposes the best answer.  The foundational rock of the Church is God, and Peter is the first stone.  In the Greek, Jesus says, “You are Petros, and upon this petra I will will build my Church.”  A petra is a rock mass, so Barclay’s interpretation makes sense.  Many stones have joined the rock mass sense then, and continue to do so.

Peter wavered after this incident.  He denied Jesus publicly three times shortly before the crucifixion.  And he hid shortly after his leader’s execution.  Yet he became a bold leader in the Acts of the Apostles, and, according to tradition, died of crucifixion.  Peter insisted that he was unworthy to die as Jesus had, so he was crucified upside-down.

Thus the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-26 take on added meaning:

If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all rights to himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his real life?  What could a man offer to buy back that life once he has lost it?  (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

Our “real life,” as J. B. Phillips translates the text, is in God.  More traditional renderings include “soul,” but “real life” gets to the point nicely.  Our real life is in God.  Do we realize this fact?  This is the God in whom we can trust, that is, have faith.  This is the God in whom judgment and mercy co-mingle.  This is the God in who was patient with Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, and Simon Peter.  This is the God who recognized the great potential within Simon Peter and never gave up on the impetuous Apostle.  This is the God who gives us water and manna in our spiritual deserts.  This is the God who is the rock upon which we are stones in the rock mass.

More Than Words, Revised Edition, is a 1958 Christian Education resource The Episcopal Church published for “Church School Teachers and for Students in Junior High School Classes.”  I quote part of the entry for “A Saint,” from page 167:

But the saints were not heroes all their lives.  When they started they were just like you and me.  James and John had fiery tempers.  Peter cursed and swore.  Matthew bled the people for money.  Peter disowned Jesus three times.  Yet Jesus made them into saints.  He can also do it with us.

How so we start?  By letting our Lord love us and forgive us.  If we start again, we must let Him forgive us again, even if He has to do it a million times.  For the joy of being forgiven is our first taste of heaven.

How we respond to God matters.  Will we be grateful?  Will we trust?  Will we accept forgiveness?  Will we accept transformation?  Or will we persist in slave mentalities, expecting nothing while grumbling?  The choice is ours to make.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 25, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/week-of-proper-13-thursday-year-1/

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True Life   1 comment

Above:  No Right Turn Sign (U.S.A.)

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Deuteronomy 4:32-40 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

Because ask of the earliest days that were before you, from the day that God created a human on the earth, and from one end of the skies to the other end of the skies:  has there been anything like this great thing?  or has anything like it been heard of?  Has a people heard God’s voice speaking from inside a fire the way you heard–and lived?  Or has God put it to the test, to come to take for Himself a people from among people with tests, with signs, and with wonders and with war and with a strong hand and with and outstretched arm and with great fears like everything that YHWH, your God, has done for you in Egypt before your eyes?  You have been shown in order to know that YHWH:  He is God.  There is no other outside of Him.  From the skies He had you hear His voice in order to discipline you, and on the earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words from inside the fire.  And because He loved your fathers He chose their seed after them, so He brought you out in front of Him from Egypt by His great power, to dispossess bigger and more powerful nations than you in front of you, to bring you, to give you their land as a legacy as it is today.  And you shall know today and store it in in your heart from YHWH:  He is God in the skies above and on earth below.  And you shall observe His laws and His commandments that I command you today so it will be good for you and for your children after you, and so that you’ll extend days on the land that YHWH, your God, is giving you forever.

Psalm 105:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,

and speak of all his marvelous works.

3 Glory in his holy Name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Search for the LORD and his strength;

continually seek his face.

Remember the marvels he has done,

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O children of Jacob his chosen.

Matthew 16:24-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his real life?  What could a man offer to buy back that life once he has lost it?

For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father and in the company of his angels and then he will repay every man for what he has done.  Believe me, there are some standing here today who will know nothing of death till they have seen the Son of Man coming as king.

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The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The proper direction in life comes from listening closely to God.  Living successfully is doing so in God, as God directs us.  For what has God called us, specifically?  Doing that is the road to success.  So what is popular, what others expect of us, what our culturally-defined roles might be, and what we want for ourselves might lead away from our proper destination.

Consider the words of Jesus.  A person who seeks to save his or her life will lose it, and one who loses it will gain it.  This runs contrary to conventional wisdom, does it not?  But consider the source.  Jesus was frequently on the outs with authority figures, and the Roman Empire executed him as an insurrectionist.  The Imperium subjected him to crucifixion, a method reserved for those it considered the worst of the worst.  But who would argue with a straight face that Jesus was a failure?  Are we not still speaking of him after nearly 2,000 years?

(An Aside:  What about the end of the excerpt from Matthew?  By the time of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew, probably circa 85 C.E., Christianity was a vital young religion.  Certainly many people had “seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” as William Barclay translates that verse.  That is, the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated, was spreading out across the world.  In the canonical gospels Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in the present tense.  Did it go away after the Ascension?  I think not.)

The passage from Deuteronomy is explicitly monotheistic.  If Professor Richard Elliott Friedman is correct in his insistence that this passage comes from the 600s B.C.E. at the latest, a strong monotheistic strain existed in Judaism prior to the return from Babylonian Exile (500s B.C.E.).  This is old news.  Here is some more old news:  Many Jews did not practice monotheism until after the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Archaeology and the witness of the Hebrew prophets affirm this statement.  Some ancient places of worship in Israel have survived, for archaeologists have excavated many of them.  At some of these sites the archaeologists found two altars–one for YHWH and the other for Astarte, his presumed wife.

Yet the reading from Deuteronomy stands as a defense of worshiping YHWH alone–without Astarte.  Atheism was extremely rare in that part of the world in the 600s-400s BCE, and monotheism was scarce, too.  Polytheism prevailed, so resisting it was difficult for many.  Yet that is what the Deuteronomist (or at least one Deuteronomist), inserting words into the mouth of Moses, says they must do.  This principle holds true today.  You might not be a polytheist, but what are your idols, those things distracting you from God?  Their identities might surprise you.

The rat race is bad for the rats, and keeping up with the Joneses is no good, either.  Seeking status is pursuing something shallow.  This day’s readings say that we must act contrary to all these standards.  Each of us needs to focus on the one God, take up our cross, and follow Jesus–perhaps at the cost of physical life itself.  Maybe the price will slightly less steep, but it will cost us something we value.  But what we receive in return will be of infinitely greater value.

Most of Christ’s Apostles died violently as martyrs.  St. Paul suffered greatly for the Christian faith after his conversion.  During the succeeding centuries countless numbers of Christians have suffered for their faith.  And martyrdom continues into the present day.  “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.  This is the path to life in God, whatever form the cross takes.  For Dietrich Bonhoeffer it was a noose.  For others it is a destroyed reputation or a prison sentence or both.  Members of an angry mob killed St. Josaphat Kuntsevych with bullets and an ax.  All these are terrible and unjust, but the Kingdom of God is still here, after nearly two thousand years.  It is spread out across the earth, and many of us do not see it.  But those who take up their crosses point to it, and no temporal power can overcome it.

May we follow and love the God who cares for us and guides us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 27, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, BISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 27, 2011 

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/week-of-proper-13-friday-year-1/

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