Proper 17, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: Rules of God vs. Rules of Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 17, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about his followers eating without following particular hand washing rituals. We know from previous passages that they aren’t asking this question casually but are no doubt trying to trap Jesus again. They are angry his followers aren’t following ancient tradition as they think it should be followed. (Am I the only one who wants to sing the “Tradition” song from Fiddler on the Roof every time I think of tradition?)

Jesus claps back as only Jesus can and calls them hypocrites and quotes Isaiah saying they only honor God with words and not in reality. He says they prefer man-made rules instead of God’s commands.

This reminds me of so many Christian leaders today who are vocal in our culture with rules that they think everyone should follow–such as rules regarding sexuality or gender. The hill they will choose to die on is whether or not homosexuality is a sin or whether or not women should be equal to men, rather than to care for the poor and to seek to correct injustice. They choose to follow narrow manmade rules that oppress rather than life-giving abundant rules to work for the good of all humanity.

Proper 25, Year A: Matthew 22: 34-46: Commanded to Love

Jesus Christ mosaic icon

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 25, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The Pharisees are questioning Jesus again. This time an expert in the Law of Moses asks Jesus this: “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”

If this was meant to be a trick question, Jesus answered it well. And I think it’s an important lesson for Christians today–such a succinct answer for how we should live. Love God and love others. Love in this case is not some mushy feeling but an unconditional love and an action. You have to choose to live that love–it’s not just the emotion of a moment. It takes work and practice. Love does not always come easily. We must make it a part of every aspect of our lives as much as possible.

Next, Jesus asks them a tricky question in return: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

They give the accepted answer: “The Messiah is the Son of David.”

So Jesus says,

“Then why did David call him ‘Lord’? David was speaking by the power of the Spirit. He said,

‘The Lord God said to my Lord:
Sit by me at my right side,
    and I will put your enemies under your control.’

David calls the Messiah ‘Lord.’ So how can he be David’s son?”

He is quoting from a Psalm here, and the Psalms are generally believed to be written by David. The Pharisees have no answer for his puzzling question, so they were not brave enough after that to ask him any more challenging questions.

 

I love how Jesus turns the tables on them and gives them their own theological challenge–except in their case they have no answer. He challenges them to contemplate the Messiah in a new way–as someone like David but also greater than David. They don’t know what to make of it.

Proper 24, Year A: Matthew 22:15-22: Trick Question

Jesus and the tax coin - lithography

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 24, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The Pharisees are again plotting against Jesus. They make a new plan to trap him into saying something wrong and send some men to question him–this time some are fellow Pharisees and some are Herodians. For background, the Pharisees were nationalists who resented the rule of Rome, but Herodians supported Herod, who was ruling in the name of Rome. So really these are two groups that don’t agree coming after Jesus together. Their planned trap seems to be to get Jesus to choose a side and alienate one or the other, perhaps enough to get him arrested.

Their question is, “Teacher, we know you are an honest man. We know you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what others think about you. All people are the same to you.So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22: 16b-17, Easy-to-Read Version). It’s such a sneaky, political move–starting with flattery and leading up to the gotcha question. If Jesus says you should pay taxes to Caesar, (agreeing with the Herodians), the Pharisees will denounce him to the people and probably say he’s a blasphemer, since part of the people’s horror of Caesar is that he’s set up as a god and even called divine on the coins. If Jesus says you should not pay taxes, the Herodians would be angry and report him to the governor to be tried for treason. Of course, he sees right through them to their motives. 

“You hypocrites! Why are you trying to catch me saying something wrong? Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” They showed Jesus a silver coin. Then he asked, “Whose picture is on the coin? And whose name is written on the coin?”

They answered, “It is Caesar’s picture and Caesar’s name.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

When they heard what Jesus said, they were amazed. They left him and went away.

(Matthew 22: 18b-22, Easy-to-Read Version)

I love this. Jesus is so brilliant. He doesn’t give them what he wants. He again first responds with another question, as he does so often in these exchanges. Then he refuses to give into the trick question and gives an amazing response. He’s not saying they shouldn’t pay taxes, but he avoids the pitfall of endorsing Caesar’s claim to divinity in his separation of Caesar from God. In my head I picture him coolly flipping the coin back at whoever handed it to him and leaving them with mouths hanging open.

Proper 15, Year A: Matthew 15: 10-20, 21-28: Inclusiveness of Jesus

Jesus and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), published in 1877

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 15, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today we hear more of Jesus’ teaching. He says,  “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” This is important because of the culture Jesus was within–a culture that had very detailed rules about cleanliness and purity. There were specific rules about what foods were eaten and how to prepare them, etc. 

So his disciples asked him about it, saying that the Pharisees were offended (Pharisees were huge on following those rules). He says they are blind leading the blind. Peter asks for further explanation. Jesus seems incredulous that they still don’t get it. He says that what goes into the mouth, goes to the stomach, and then out to the sewer,  but what comes out comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”  So what comes out of the heart, which reveals what’s within you, is more important than what goes in. Many Christians today are still obsessed with purity and following rules, usually of a sexual nature–but is it as important as what comes out of their mouths? Is it more important than the fact that these same Christians often condemn others rather than showing love?

In the second part of the reading, Jesus comes across a Canaanite woman (so, a foreigner, not Jewish), who calls out to him to have mercy because her daughter is tormented by a demon. His disciples want him to send her away and he does not answer at first. And then his first response seems harsh: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and when she continues to ask for help he answers, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She says that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. He then tells her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed. This seems like he is almost testing her, and teaching his disciples at the same time. We know that Jesus came for more than his own Jewish people. He often reaches out beyond them in other interactions (with the Roman centurion who has a sick servant, with the Samaritan woman at the well, for examples.) The Bible is continually about expanding the love of God; it is a story of inclusiveness–as God’s love reaches out to the whole world. Even in the Old Testament, when men try to hold their faith tight, God reaches out to the rest of the world–as with Ruth, as with the people of Nineveh Jonah doesn’t want to save, and in many other stories. Jesus’ love is meant for all. If your faith teaches you to be exclusive and reject others, it’s not really the faith Jesus taught–it’s more like the faith of the Pharisees.