Old Testament: Genesis 25:19-34 or Isaiah 55:10-13Psalter: Psalm 119:105-112 or Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13Epistle: Romans 8:1-11Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23___O God of mercy, in Jesus Christ you freed us from sin and death, and…
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I love the Book of Esther. I realize the climax of the story (9:1-17) is morally problematic, but I think the character of Esther generally is to be admired. Here was a young woman who had no say-so over her life, as most women in that time and place; and yet, for Esther it was even more so. Choices were made for her all her life and now she was faced, for the first time, with a monumental decision, one that was a matter of life and death for her. And yet, she realized that while she had a choice, honor and character demanded that once again there was no option before her. She must go to the king, and risk herself for others. There were no other options and she knew that as she uttered her last words to her uncle before going to see the king, “If I die, I die.”
The brave person knows the kind of fear the coward never will. Courage demands not options, not choices. Virtuous action, acting rightly, often does not increase our options, but restricts them. Esther acted courageously in doing what she had to do. She did what virtue required with no guarantee of success.
Alex Ozar reflects on the Book of Esther and its place in the canon. He writes,
Esther is a remarkable book in the context of Scripture, precisely because it hardly seems scriptural—there are no overtly religious themes, no miracles, sermons, or prayers. God’s name is not mentioned even once in all of Esther, the only book in the Bible of which this is true. And indeed, Esther’s status as part of the biblical canon was still being debated by the Talmudic rabbis as late as the 4th century a.d.—the better part of a millennium after its composition.
The story’s climax finds Queen Esther in a nervously indecisive state: She understands the necessity of interceding with the king, but fears doing so, because entering the king’s inner court without invitation was an offense punishable by death; securing only a mere chance at salvation meant subjecting her life to the roulette wheel of the king’s whim.
Mordechai does not offer a confident forecast or any assurance of success, but only the simple imperative of covenantal fidelity; Esther’s choice was between commitment to God and his people through thick and thin, or else allowing her and her family’s identity to dissipate quietly into the anonymous winds of history. Lacking the light of prophecy, all Mordechai could muster in regard the particulars was a cautious “who knows.” But of the basic reality of God’s enduring promise he was quite sure, and it was that faith which he communicated to Esther and which ultimately flowered into salvation.
The Book of Esther, then, is indeed exceptional in the context of Scripture, but exceptional in a way that proves the rule: In the waning twilight of the prophetic age, God’s presence and governance would no longer be transparent to the eye, but they are no less real for the wear. Readily apparent or not, the core import of the Hebrew Bible–God’s covenant with Israel–lives on uncompromised.
These are important words to ponder in our day and age when people question whether God’s presence and governance are indeed active. In faithfulness we move forward; for God’s covenant remains with us, whether or not we have a clear word from the Lord, whether or not our actions are deemed “successful.” In the end, obedience to God does not require that we achieve the ends we hope for, but that we act faithfully before God.
Had Esther been executed for visiting the king uninvited, she would have remained faithful. There is indeed good reason why believers hold their martyrs in such high esteem.
Scot McKnight’s book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, is a much needed corrective to much current understanding of the kingdom of God as it relates (or for all too many, doesn’t relate) to the church. In a post…
Human beings have two problems that are related. First, we are mortal. We will die…. as the adage goes, “Not one of us will get out of life alive.” Second, we are flesh and for Paul that does not mean physical flesh covering bones, but living life that is not in character with God’s will and desires for human beings. For Paul, life in the Spirit means that flesh and blood human beings can live a life that is not according to the flesh.
The first thing Paul wants to assert in this passage is that those who “are in Christ Jesus” are not condemned. The war within the unconverted soul in chapter 7 can be won, but by only divine intervention. Just who is it that can save us from this body of death (7:24). As Paul has already addressed justifying grace in chapters 4 and 5, and prevenient grace in chapter 7, here in chapter eight he speaks of sanctifying grace, the process by which the Holy Spirit molds and shapes our entire lives: body, mind, and spirit to conform to the ways and will of God. It is the process of the restoration of God’s cracked image in us.
In that transforming grace, we who are made of blood and bone are not resigned to live by that which is opposed to God. We walk “according to the Spirit.” In Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives life to our mortal bodies in the here and now. Eternity does not begin after we take our last breath, but right now in the present we begin our participation in that eternity. And that means a new way of life. We are not consigned to living for the flesh while in these mortal bodies. To believe so is to reject the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit and to remain in the pre-converted state of perpetual self-focus. But it is God’s Spirit that is capable of fixing our attention on the divine. As we do so, we lose our self-conscious concern and instead put our gaze on God– the only one who can deliver us. As Jesus says in another context, “What is impossible for mortals is not impossible for God” (Luke 18:17). Alan Brehm writes,
We all have the choice to close in on ourselves, on our own needs and wants and desires, or to open ourselves to the joy and love and life that is all around us. But it takes a leap of faith to open ourselves to life—we have to take the risk of letting go all our selfish pursuits and opening ourselves to the wonderful and unpredictable Spirit that is flowing so freely and so full of life all around us.
In these verses, we deal with more than individual acts or lone types of behavior, but an orientation toward life that only God can give. God can work his sanctifying grace in our lives only with the mindset of the Spirit; and it is that orientation that engenders behavior that is not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit that gives life to our mortal bodies in the present.
Just as the Spirit raised Jesus Christ from the dead in this present world, so that same Spirit gives life to those who follow Jesus in this present world.
We are in Christ. We have the Spirit. Let us now become what we are.
A better translation of the Greek word tapeinos is “gentle.” Meekness can imply a sheepish demeanor which is not the case with the 5:5. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus uses this word to refer to himself: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus was hardly meek in his criticisms of the religious leaders (see Matthew 23), but he displayed the quality of gentleness that he expected from his followers in this third beatitude. If the poor in spirit rely totally upon God, then so do the gentle. Clarence Jordan suggests that a good translation of tapeinos is “tamed,” that is the wills of Jesus’ followers have been “tamed by God’s will.”(1) Because they will not assert their own desires and become singularly focused on God’s will, they do not engage in the kind of power politics the pagans engage in to force others to bend to their wills– “wrath, anger, violence, acquisitiveness, rapaciousness, theft, violent takeovers, and brutal reclamations of property.”(2)
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 20:20-28)
The Old Testament context for this third beatitude is Psalm 37:7-11:
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight in abundant prosperity.
The gentle are also patient… waiting for God’s justice. Scot McKnight puts this third beatitude in context with the first two:
If we put these three beatitudes together, we find Jesus blessing the oppressed and the poor for their powerful trust in God, their willingness to wait on justice and the kingdom, and for their devotion that runs so deep they mourn over the condition of Israel and implicate themselves in the causes of that condition. These are the sorts of people, not the typical ones, that are (and will be) in the kingdom.(3)
When Jesus refers to the inheritance of the land, he is clearly referring to Israel specifically. The promise of the land to God’s people hearkens all the way back to Genesis 12 when God calls Abraham and Sarah to travel to the land God will show them that will be an inheritance for subsequent generations. But the larger point here is that God’s people will inherit what in this world is usually taken by violent force and other forms of power. The gentle simply endure because they trust in God to keep God’s promises. Those who do not resort to the methods of the “Gentiles and tyrants” will receive an inheritance that only God can give.
The next beatitude: hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
(1) Quoted in Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, p. 29.
(2) Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, p. 42.
(3)Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, p. 43.
Previous Posts in the Series
Old Testament: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 or Zechariah 9:9-12Psalter: Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or Psalm 145:8-14Epistle: Romans 7:15-25Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30___We rejoice, O Christ, f…
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Bear breaks in to house, hunts for food as owner sleeps
From Associated Press
July 05, 2017 7:04 PM EST
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A bear that broke in to a Colorado home and tore through the place looking for food as the owner slept upstairs has been killed by wildlife officers.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that the bear spent six hours trashing the kitchen. Surveillance video shows the bear standing up on its hind legs and opening the refrigerator door with ease.
An officer shot the animal after it left the property Tuesday and then charged back toward it.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say they believe it’s the same bear that ate ice cream and M&Ms it snatched from a home in June.
They also believe it’s the bear that trapped a woman inside her vehicle a few days later while it prowled around her garage.
Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com