Monday, August 19, 2019

September 8, 2019 - 13th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                               [621] 
Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33.  

God keeps bringing up choices – for nations engaged in evil, slave owners living the faith, and disciples on the journey of their lives.
Jeremiah 18:1-11.  
In the prophetic reading, God continues to require Jeremiah to bring an unpopular message to his people in a turbulent time – this time at the workshop of a potter in the lower part of town.  
The potter’s wheel, where the potter does his work, is a clever device.  Two flat stones are fastened, one at the top and one at a lower place on a vertical axle.  The lower stone is used to spin the axle by hand or foot while the upper stone is the work space where the trained hand of the potter shapes the spinning mound of clay.  As the prophet watches, a bowl or a jar begins to take shape on the upper stone.  At some point, the intended vessel gets out of shape or is marred and the potter wads the clay together and throws it back on the spinning stone to start over and make a new vessel as it suits him.  
Interpreters who like to penetrate to the personal experience of a prophet suggest that Jeremiah just happened to be watching the potter work when the insight hit him that Israel is in God’s hand as the clay is in the potter’s hand.  At that moment, Jeremiah realized that he was not there by accident; God had meant him to be there to get that message, and in fact God was sending a message to Israel by this everyday moment in the prophet’s life.  Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?’ says the Lord” (verse 6, NRSV).  
The first basic insight about God as potter leads to a broader generalization about God as judge of nations and kingdoms (verses 7-10).  Nations are always moving on their destined courses.  Some become corrupt and evil and are headed for disaster, a plucking up or breaking down (verse 7 – see Jeremiah 1:10), which is equivalent to the potter wadding up the clay to start over.  Other nations are humanitarian and just, and are destined to prosper, to be built up and planted (verse 9).  
However, the destiny of either nation may be reversed.  The rotten may actually reform (even the mighty tyrant Assyria, according to the Jonah story), and the benefactor may become a tyrant and an oppressor, in which case God will “repent” of his previous verdict and establish a new destiny for either nation.  
Jeremiah lived his entire life in a time when the destinies of many nations were rising and falling with dizzying speed.  The prophetic word made clear to him that this swirl of historical changes was still an arena in which God worked out ultimate justice for the peoples.  
But the final insight of the visit to the potter was a return to the present reality in Judah and Jerusalem.  Jeremiah realized that Judah’s present destiny was one of alienation and destruction.  The prophetic word is good news only if a great reversal can be made, a serious turning away from the present course.  God’s word to Judah, Jeremiah realized, is, “I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you.  Turn now, all of you from your evil way …” (verse 11).  
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18.  [Read all of verses 1-18.] 
The Psalm reading [as the Lectionary gives it] is two sections from that profound meditation on God’s knowing, Psalm 139.  
Very appropriate to Jeremiah is the confession that God’s scrutiny is inescapable. 
Even before a word is on my tongue, 
      O Lord, you know it completely. 
You hem me in, behind and before, 
      and lay your hand upon me.  
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, 
      it is so high that I cannon attain it.  (Verses 4-6, NRSV.) 
[The first stanza, verses 1-6, is God’s knowing me.  The second stanza, verses 7-12, insists there is nowhere to go to escape God’s knowledge.] 
The third stanza (verses 13-18) is depth analysis.  It speculates in awe on the mysteries of embryology and human birth.  Such thoughts are appropriate to a Jeremiah who heard that he was called to be a prophet before he was conceived, or before he was delivered at birth (Jeremiah 1:5).  
This psalm’s wonderment at the miracle in the womb is very personal.  It is the speaker’s own growth as embryo that expresses God’s incomprehensible art and mysterious power.  
As the destinies of the nations are known to God, so is the utterly personal being of this one who is born – and now speaks.  
Philemon 1-21.  
This Sunday is the one chance in the three-year cycle of the Lectionary for hearers to benefit from the little Letter to Philemon.  This is an entirely personal letter from the apostle Paul, and scarcely anyone questions that it is really his writing.  
Paul is writing to a well-to-do householder in the city of Colossae, a medium-sized city in the Lycus River valley a hundred miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  Paul apparently converted Philemon to faith in Jesus Christ, commenting that Philemon owes Paul “even your own self” (verse 19), and speaking of himself as being in a position to give commands to Philemon, if such were needed (verse 8).  
This letter also is about an either / or, a choice between two ways.  Here, however, Paul addresses a rather delicate situation, and Paul speaks somewhat obliquely and indirectly, not saying everything he has in mind.  Instead, he prompts Philemon to catch the drift and make the decisions Paul is hoping for.  
The letter goes to Philemon accompanying the slave Onesimus (the Greek name means “Useful,” see the word-play in verse 11).  Apparently Onesimus ran away from the Philemon household, and may have stolen enough money to make good his escape to a larger city.  (Paul, in verse 18, is perhaps offering to repay what was stolen.)  In that city – possibly Rome, more likely Ephesus – the fugitive slave ran into Paul and his circle and ended up being converted to faith in Jesus also, which has changed his life and made Paul his father in the faith (verse 10).  
Now the time has come to reconcile old grievances, to send Onesimus back to his master in Colossae, and trust to Philemon to do the right thing in relation to this new brother in the faith.  Paul emphasizes that how Philemon receives Onesimus is Philemon’s choice, but Paul is confident Philemon will make good decisions (verses 14 and 21).  Paul does not come out and say, Why don’t you both forgive Onesimus and make him a free man, but what Paul expected is pretty clear.  
The fact that this minor personal letter survived, and was preserved in Christian circles for some decades before Paul’s letters were collected, suggests that Philemon did the right thing, and was well remembered for it – perhaps especially by Onesimus himself!  
The Letter to Philemon suggests a meditation on self-interest related to faith-based action.  (Faith-based organizations are constantly asking people to take actions that may not seem to be in their own self-interest but are for the sake of a greater justice.)  
Onesimus, a useful man who escaped from slavery, is being asked – expected – to go back to his master with every likelihood that he will serve as a slave again, perhaps for the rest of his life.  Why is he willing to do that?  Philemon, who was probably wronged, not only by the loss of his slave but also by the loss of money stolen, is being asked to ignore the past losses, indulge in no punishment, but accept the fugitive as a brother in the faith – and probably to emancipate him also.  
In Philemon’s case, it may be that the way of grace and faith was also the way of enlightened self-interest.  The quality of life in the larger household of faith far exceeded what either Philemon or Onesimus had before.  That is the perspective Paul has on it.  
Luke 14:25-33.  
If Jeremiah had to speak words people didn’t want to hear, the Gospel reading presents an even worse case for Jesus.  
The reading begins with a “hard” saying about the cost of discipleship.  “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (verse 26, NRSV).  
So much for “family values”!  
Whether the saying is thought to be from Jesus himself or from later embattled and persecuted followers who were sure he would have said this, it anticipates violent domestic friction caused by the call to follow Jesus.  In the first and second generations, followers of Jesus encountered intense hostility in some situations, hostility that divided Judean families into bitter opponents.  Following Jesus was taking a course that could lead to death, represented by the cross.  
An indication that this “hate” language was unacceptable to some early Christians is seen in the parallel saying in Matthew, where the language is toned down.  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me …” (Matthew 10:37).  Even in Matthew, however, this hard saying is linked with the saying, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27 // Matthew 10:38), which is not that much easier than the “hate” statement.  
The rest of the passage urges that one be very clear about the cost of this choice.  Making the choice to become a Jesus disciple should be a deliberate thing.  Jesus illustrates from worldly wisdom.  The construction contractor will “first sit down and estimate the cost” (verse 28).  The king contemplating aggressive war will “sit down first and consider whether he is able …” (verse 31).  
The final punch line is put in terms of money.  “So therefore if you do not give up all your possessions, you cannot become my disciple” (verse 33, modified here to fit Greek word order, which has verse 33 parallel to verse 27).  
This hard saying of Jesus is a sobering and painful word to contemplate in a prosperous and possession-filled land.  In times or places where Jesus followers are (currently) excluded from privileges, denied livelihoods, and even outlawed, the cost of discipleship is not only a choice between good and bad but between life and death.  
The Lord of Israel and of Jesus can present us with real “crises” (Greek for “decision,” “judgment”), whether the promised land seems near or far off.  

Monday, August 12, 2019

September 1, 2019 - 12th Sunday after Pentecost

                 Biblical Words                         [620]

Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16;  Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14.
Chosen people betray the heritage of their God, while others journey on toward the etiquette of God’s banquet.
Jeremiah 2:4-13. 
This reading is God’s argument that the Israelites have betrayed their privileged status and turned away from the living God. 
The rhetorical question, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me…?” (verse 5, NRSV) is a challenge to give reasons why the ancestors might be justified in abandoning God and going after the Hebel (Hebrew for “vanity,” “nothing,”) and becoming nothings themselves.  Why didn’t the ancestors pray as they should have, asking “where is Yahweh” who had led them through great trials to the promised land? (verse 6).  This reproach speech uses old traditions about how the Israelites repeatedly turned against God, in spite of great blessings received, during the trials of exodus, wilderness, and even in the promised land (see the long treatment of this theme in Psalm 78). 
But if the past had no reasons to abandon Yahweh, what of the present? 
The speech next says “you” (no longer the ancestors) – you are the ones who received the abundant land, ate its fruits, but who also contaminated it with your unfaithfulness to the Lord.  The ancestors were spoken of as a single group, but the present generations are organized into a complex society, with offices and institutions.  Four groups are indicted (verse 8).  The priests did not pray properly, the law instructors paid no attention to Yahweh’s requirements, the political leaders (shepherds) violated God’s boundaries (“trans-gressed”), and the prophets spoke in the name of the Ba‘al. 
Given this conduct, the Lord now sues the straying people for breach of faith. 
The word “accuse” in verse 9 is the Hebrew verb rīb, “contend with,” “bring charges against” someone for violating a treaty.  For a people to abandon its God, who gathered it and established it, is unprecedented – just go ask everybody between the Cypriots in the west and the Arabs of Kedar in the east (verse 10).  Even when their gods are “no gods,” folks stay with them! 
But here is an incredible case – let the heavens themselves, who witness to great covenants on earth, be overwhelmed!  God’s people have done two evils; they have abandoned the true source of fresh, living water, and gone to dig out cisterns (which hold only still water) – cisterns which they have learned to their pain have cracks and keep no water for the time of need. 
This is a powerful speech, preparing the ground for some call to action.  What God wants now is not specified in this speech, but is clear from the historical situation.  This speech is an appeal to the people of the old northern kingdom (Jacob/Israel) with its strong traditions of the ancestors.  The ancestors did indeed stray from the Lord, and the recent generations reinforced that betrayal in their institutions. 
But such “unnatural” behavior can be reversed; Israel can still repent and reunite under their true Lord (in Jerusalem) who gave them their favorable heritage.  That is the message of this remarkable speech. 
Psalm 81:1, 10-16. 
The Psalm reading is a precise parallel to what God says through the prophet. 
After a summons to praise the God of Jacob, the psalm presents God lamenting over Israel’s unfaithfulness.  “My people did not listen to my voice; / Israel would not submit to me” (verse 11).  As is also heard in some Jeremiah passages, God yearns and longs for Israel to pay attention.  “O that my people would listen to me, / that Israel would walk in my ways!” (verse 13). 
In a more liturgical setting, this prophetic psalm also gives expression to the divine disappointment and sorrow at disobedience. 
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
The Epistle reading gives detailed guidelines for the conduct of Jesus pilgrims on earth.  
  • As is appropriate for travelers, hospitality is the first requirement mentioned.  Take in the sojourner in the land, whether his visa papers are correct or not – you never know when you may be entertaining angels unawares.  (The writer might have in mind stories about Abraham, Genesis 18:2-15, or Samson’s mother, Judges 13:3-23.) 
  • Besides travelers, act responsibly toward prisoners – put yourself in their place and do for them what you would want done for you! (verse 3).  (This is addressed to people subject to intermittent persecution.)
  • Pilgrims are also to honor and observe marriage vows (verse 4). 
  • In addition, greed is out of court for pilgrims – no capitalists on this journey (verse 5). 
  • Finally, this pilgrimage is not just a mass movement; there are leaders who bring the word of God and serve as models for pilgrim behavior.  Remember to support them (verse 7).
The persistent feature of this journey – the pillar of cloud and fire that leads it in the wilderness – is Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday and today and forever” (verse 8).  Through him a chorus of praise should be “continually” offered up (verse 15) – a reference to the “continual” burnt offering that was made twice a day in the old sanctuary, here to be replaced by prayer in the name of Jesus. 
Luke 14:1, 7-14. 
The Gospel reading is about banquets. 
The opening verse says that Jesus, invited to a dinner party by a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath, was being watched very carefully – presumably to see if he would violate their rules again.  We skip a passage about healing on the Sabbath (last week’s topic) and come to proper seating at a banquet. 
Jesus’ advice about proper seating is called a “parable” (verse 7).  This means the talk is really about the heavenly reign, though it appears to be about earthly things. 
On its earthly level, Jesus’ advice repeats the wisdom of Proverbs 25:6-7 – take the lower seat so you don’t get demoted.  But when this is applied to the banquet that inaugurates the reign of God, it leads to the next paragraph, verses 12-14.  Not only the guests should take the humble places at the table, but the host should prepare the guest list with God’s view in mind, not the chic of the current well-to-do. 
You should imitate God by inviting the poor, the disabled, and the visually challenged.  To do so is to bring blessing to these lost sheep of the Lord and thereby to gain true blessing for yourself – “for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (verse 14, NRSV). 
Jesus, like the Pharisees, believed in the resurrection.  There is decidedly a good time coming – and it will give the righteous (only they are included here) a chance for a completed life in God’s own way. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

August 25, 2019 - 11th Sunday after Pentecost


                                                            Biblical Words                                               [619]
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17. 

Prophets experience divine constraint, pilgrims pass through shaking times, and Jesus places compassion above divine law. 
From now to mid-October the Lectionary readings from the Hebrew scriptures will come from Jeremiah (including Lamentations). 
Jeremiah is the largest prophetic book in the Bible, covers a period of about forty years of the most decisive history at the end of the kingdom of Judah, and has the most personal and biographical presentations of any of the prophetic books.  (Only Ezekiel is comparable.)  Some recent hyper-critical scholarship has cast doubts on any knowledge of the “historical Jeremiah,” but the remarkable tradition is hard to explain without some remarkable figure as its origin. 
[I have a long essay on “The Background to Jeremiah,” which in previous years I have added to this week’s Lectionary studies.  I am in the process of moving that essay to my Study Bible Blog (www.JWStudyBibles.com).  The essay is both very long and specific to my own research on Jeremiah, which was first developed in 1961 to 1968.  It is thus less appropriate here than on the other blog.] 
Jeremiah 1:4-10. 
This week’s Prophetic reading is Jeremiah’s “Call,” or commission as a prophet. 
The prophet’s full commission is presented in the entire first chapter of the book, where the prophet is established as a main battle line in God’s warfare with God’s people.  Jeremiah the prophetic warrior is drafted (verses 4-10), given two signs that explain the current campaign (visions in verses 11-16), and garrisoned as an impregnable fortress against his own people (verses 17-19). 
The narrative of God’s drafting Jeremiah is in the first person:  “the word of the Lord came to me…”  It is the prophet’s account of how he came to be such an ominous and stubborn figure.  He has experienced a divine constraint so fundamental to his being that it must have been prenatal (verse 5).  He portrays a dialogue with God in which resistance or excuses are useless.  Youth and lack of education are beside the point.  When God has drafted a person, one takes orders, goes where one is told, brings the messages one is commanded, and generally stands fearlessly on duty as assigned (verses 6-8). 
The prophet’s induction into God’s service is not dialogue only.  There is a ritual action, whether this is only in a Jeremianic vision or it is the standard action of an ordination service in the temple.  God causes something (the object is unexpressed) to touch Jeremiah’s mouth (as Isaiah’s lips were touched with the live coal, Isaiah 6:7). 
The words accompanying this action are God’s speech.  “Now I have put my words in your mouth” (verse 9, NRSV).  The prophet is fully recruited to God’s side, is burdened and authorized by the awesome and deeply disturbing power of speaking God’s pronouncements to other humans. 
The continuation of the divine speech says such speaking will involve pronouncing the fates of nations and kingdoms, mainly for judgment and destruction, but perhaps also, between the cracks, for saving and rebuilding (verse 10). 
Psalm 71:1-6. 
The Psalm reading is exactly what a newly recruited servant of the Lord should learn.  It should be part of his equipment. 
It is a prayer that God be a “refuge” and “strong fortress” in the speaker’s struggle with the wicked and the unjust.  This speaker shares the Jeremiah experience of divine constraint since birth.  “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; / it was you who took me from my mother’s womb” (verse 6, NRSV).  

As would turn out to be the case for Jeremiah, this speaker foresees a long life of service (verse 9) filled with dangers and trials (verse 13), but the final word of this verbal equipment is, “My praise is continually of you” (verse 6, and verse 23). 
Hebrews 12:18-29.
The Epistle reading continues the instructions for those who pilgrimage toward the City of God as followers of Jesus. 
The pilgrimage has similarities with the Israelites going through the wilderness from Egypt to Sinai.  The goal of the Israelites’ journey was the mountain where God appeared in thunder, lightning, and fire, and where God spoke the divine commands directly to the people, terrifying them so that they made Moses the intermediary for any further such divine instruction (Exodus 19 and 20, referred to here in verses 18-19). 
The writer explains that while there are similarities to the Israelites’ journey, the present pilgrimage goes beyond Sinai.  It goes on toward Mount Zion, the true Mount Zion, which is the heavenly city of God. 
The pilgrimage toward Zion is visualized as a pilgrimage festival to Jerusalem.  There is a large festival crowd – here “angels” in their festival suits.  There is an assembly of “the firstborn,” meaning those faithful ones who died in earlier times and were recorded in the book of life.  The festival assembly also includes “the spirits of the righteous made perfect,” who are probably those who died as martyrs, before as well as since Jesus’ death. 
As the pilgrims approach the holy center they come to Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant.”  Moses was the mediator of the old covenant sealed at Sinai, but now at a new Zion that replaces Sinai there is a new covenant with its own mediator.  This new covenant was sealed by the sprinkling of blood – here, as in most of Hebrews, the model is probably the Day of Atonement – a blood that forgives all human sin since the blood of Abel was shed by Cain (all this in verse 24). 
The rest of our reading is an exhortation not to refuse “the one who is speaking” (verse 25).  This one is the heavenly Jesus, who speaks now the new covenant as the voice of God formerly spoke the old covenant. 
The warning is needed because it is still possible to fall away, to lose the heavenly “rest” (see 4:1-11) that Jesus made possible.  God “shook” Sinai in the great appearance to Israel, but the prophet Haggai promised that there is yet a second “shaking” to come, and any of us can fall away in that second shaking (verses 26-27).  

The writer exhorts the hearers to persist and be able “to offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe” as the completion of their earthly pilgrimage. 
Luke 13:10-17. 
The Gospel reading is about binding and loosing. 
A woman who was “bound by Satan” for eighteen years (verse 16) by being physically bent over is released (untied, loosened) by Jesus from her disability.  This may have been a regular healing story, like the one about the woman cured of the hemorrhage (Luke 8:42-48), but this one took place on a Sabbath and in a synagogue while Jesus was leading the service, creating a little tempest for the elders.  

Thus we have in fact a combination of a healing story and a controversy story.  The controversy, which comes up several times in the Gospels, is about what is permitted on the Sabbath. 
The President of the Congregation is discrete about the problem.  He does not address Jesus directly, but says to the crowd who are present, “There are six days on which work ought to be done, come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day” (verse 14, NRSV). 
The fault lies with the needy, not with the healer!  Don’t come on the wrong day!  

Jesus asserts that this is quite ridiculous, even hypocritical, and appeals to an example of what IS permitted on the sabbath.  It is permitted to untie (literally “loose”) a work animal to take it to water (verse 15); therefore, how much more appropriate to release a suffering human, sabbath or no. 
The early followers of Jesus labored with the issue of how much of Judean law and tradition applied to them (how much of the law was still “binding” on them, and how much had been “loosed” by Jesus’ authority).  They understood most of the Ten Commandments to be required of them, but by the second century Christians (as they were then called) no longer observed the sabbath (the fourth Commandment) but observed “the Lord’s Day” (Sunday) instead. 
For a couple of generations many decisions had to be made in detail about what law applied to Jesus followers and what did not.  These decisions were made step by step by those who were understood to have received authority from Jesus.  In Matthew Peter is given this authority.  “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).  In time Christians too had to make decisions about what was permitted and what was not. 
Our story, and others like it, stood as forceful reminders that compassion for human suffering must take precedent over all religious formalities among Jesus’ followers. 


Saturday, July 27, 2019

August 18, 2019 - 10th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                                        [618]
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2,9-19;  Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56.
God judges his own choice vineyard, and pilgrims struggle on their way to a better time. 
Isaiah 5:1-7.
The reading from the Prophets is the second passage from Isaiah of Jerusalem, a passage often called the Song of the Vineyard. 
The drama of this song should be appreciated:  it is an imitation of the complaint of a disappointed lover.  (In the lounges and inns of Jerusalem the “vineyard” would be understood as a sought-after woman.) 
It begins, “Let me tell you a love story.”  My friend planted his vineyard, a long-term investment with lots of infrastructure –  site selection, land-clearing, plantings that take years to yield well, a watchtower built in the center, and a wall and a hedge around the cultivated area.  My friend provided everything a first-rate vineyard needs.  But my friend was disappointed; the vineyard produced only sour grapes. 
The singer appeals to his audience, the people of Jerusalem and Judah, to judge the friend’s case.  He has done everything; why these sour grapes? 
The appeal is to the justice of his further action
It is only fair that he tear down the wall and the hedge and let the vineyard be overrun by animals and wanderers.  He will no longer cultivate and prune it; it will go to waste.  And he will – but here a new dimension is introduced – command the clouds that they no longer rain on this vineyard. 
This commanding the clouds breaks the convention of the song.  This is not an ordinary lover of vineyards; this is a God who shepherds the clouds of heaven. 
And with that the allegory is dropped and the indictment declared directly. 
The vineyard is the house of Israel, and the planting is the people of Judah.  These should have produced the good grapes of Justice and Righteousness, but instead they produced Bloodshed and a Scream.  The word translated “Bloodshed” occurs only here and is vague in meaning, but the “scream” or “outcry” is used to describe oppressed people, crying out to God and evoking a strong act of deliverance for them – Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 3:7 and 9) or Israelites oppressed by Philistines (I Samuel 9:16).  Here it is God’s people, the “poor,” who scream because they are oppressed by their leaders. 
The Lord enters into judgment
      with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
      the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
      by grinding the face of the poor?
      says the Lord God of hosts.  (Isaiah 3:14-15, NRSV
This other indictment of the leaders is the plain prose meaning embodied in the poetry of the Song of the Vineyard. 
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19. 
The Psalm reading sustains the image of the vine planted in a vineyard by God. 
Here the vine symbolizes Israel brought out of Egypt and planted in a good land.  However, in this song, the judgment that the prophetic song viewed as still in the future has already been carried out.  The vineyard has been overrun, the walls broken down, wild animals ravage it, the vine has been burnt and cut off (verses 12-16). 
Given this judgment, the purpose of the psalm is to appeal for a restoration.  The climax is a direct appeal for a strong king – “the one at [God’s] right hand” (verse 17, NRSV).  Such an Anointed One will not turn back in defeat (verse 18). 
All through the psalm a refrain has run like a drum beat, which in its fullest form is the concluding word of the communal lament:  “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; / let your face shine, that we may be saved” (verse 19).   
Hebrews 11:19-12:2
In the Epistle reading we continue to hear the names of the “cloud of witnesses” who lived by faith down through the ages of Israel’s prophets, kings, and martyrs. 
There are brief allusions to those who followed their faith through the Red Sea and then through all the ups and downs of Israel’s life in the promised land, down to the severe sufferings of the martyrs of the Maccabean times who were crushed by their opponents (the stories of II Maccabees 6-7 are alluded to in verses 36-37).  By faith Jericho fell and judges and kings conquered Israel’s enemies, but “Rahab the prostitute” is also remembered as a heroine of faith, as are the widows whose sons were raised from the dead by Elijah and Elisha (verse 35).  The pilgrimage of faith is peopled by many who were not native Israelites. 
The writer of the Letter sees present-day Christians in continuity with these past witnesses, except now the goal they all lived and died for has come into view. 
These past champions of faith did not receive their rewards in their own times, “since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (verse 40, NRSV).  It is the appearing of that Anointed One at God’s right hand that inaugurates the fulfillment of the promises to the past worthies.  Jesus became “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). 
That does not mean the pilgrimage to the city of God is yet complete.  The trip continues, but now all know where they came from and where they are going.  The trials and challenges of the pilgrimage can be met with joy and renewed faith in the final rest, which is now promised to us as well as to all the worthy ancestors of yore. 
Luke 12:49-56
Hardship and opposition for the pilgrims who follow Jesus is reinforced by the Gospel reading. 
Here there are three statements by Jesus about his own mission, statements that implicate the disciples in the strife and violence that Jesus himself faces. 
  • I came to bring [literally “cast, hurl”] fire to the earth … 
  • I have a baptism [= violent death, in this case] with which to be baptized …
  • Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division [the Matthew parallel reads “a sword”]!  (Verses 49-51, NRSV.) 
The “division” to come is illustrated by divided families, father against son, etc. (Luke 12:52-53, a wordier version of the saying given in Matthew 10:35-36).  
This picture of the families torn by conflict most likely comes from meditating on Micah’s prophecy of the last days before God’s final judgment.  Micah 7:1-7 portrays a literally God-forsaken society in which everyone consumes those near them and no one can be trusted. 
Put no trust in a friend,
      have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
      from her who lies in your embrace;
for the son treats the father with contempt,
      the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
      your enemies are members of your own household.  (Micah 7:5-6) 
This is followed in Micah by Zion’s expression of confidence that her Lord will deliver her, and then by prophecies of return from exile and rehabilitation of the holy city. 
The social chaos is followed by the urban utopia. 
The great dissolution of society is the darkness before the dawn.  It is standard procedure in apocalyptic writings that things must get worse before they can get better.  In later traditions this time of severe trial was called “the birth-pangs of the Messiah.” 
Thus Jesus’ announcement of coming conflict and enmity, right down to the family level, is part of the announcement that things are going to get worse before they get better. 

Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, a journey toward rejection, abuse, and death.  In that view the pilgrim’s journey by faith threatens the security one feels “at home,” and is weighted with sadness for those who will be lost.  However, the end they labor toward will be a transformed life and a new family of faith in that city whose architect and builder is God.  

Thursday, July 25, 2019

August 11, 2019 - 9th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

What does God really want?  Justice, mercy, and pilgrims who live by faith.  
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. 
Justice and Mercy – The eighth-century prophets declared these more important to God than sacrifice and religious ceremonies.  Especially in three famous passages in Amos, Micah, and this Sunday’s reading in Isaiah. 
·        Amos voiced God’s outburst, “I hate, I despise your festivals… But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24, NRSV). 
·        Micah of Moresheth gave instruction concerning proper service of God:  “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? … He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:7-8). 
In our Isaiah passage, the prophet proclaims the “teaching [torah] of our God” to the notorious sinners of Jerusalem and Judah (verse 10). 
A “torah” is an instruction by priests about what God requires of those seeking access to the holy place.  We hear the original life-situation of such a torah in the Micah passage referred to above. 
With what shall I come before the Lord,
      and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
      with calves a year old? (Micah 6:6) 
People need instruction about how to approach a God who is holy and powerful enough to bring better crops, to provide healthy offspring, and to keep away – or bring in judgment – the armies of a mighty Assyria.  “What must I do …?”  The business of the priest’s torah was to tell you what to do to be saved at this place at this time. 
The answer in this Isaiah passage, as in the Amos and Micah passages, is that God does not require abundant sacrifices and awesome religious ceremonials – God even hates such things.  At least, God hates them when they are the doings of a deceitful people. 
“I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity” (verse 13). 
The finest religious action, even personal prayer before God, becomes intolerable when the hands spread out in prayer have blood on them (verse 15)!  Whether visible to everyone or not, God sees the blood, and the presence of such a person is a desecration. 
However, there is more to God’s word:  God also says, it is not too late.  No matter how scarlet or crimson your hands are (verse 18), a complete renewal is possible. 
It is possible on the condition that you radically change. 
What must I do? 
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
… cease to do evil,
      learn to do good;
seek justice,
      rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
      plead for the widow (verses 16-17). 
With such a conversion of your habitual ways, you may still be able to “eat the good of the land” (verse 19). 
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23. 
The Psalm reading presents the coming of God to assemble the covenant partners for judgment. 
An awesome and glorious power out of Zion is this Lord with devouring fire and tempest (verses 1-2).  The “faithful ones” who made covenant with God by sacrifices are gathered to hear the righteous judgment of God witnessed by the heavens – that is, by infallible witnesses to all human deeds (verses 4-6). 
The divine declaration to those under judgment is that their sacrifices have been duly noted; these things “are continually before” God (verse 8).  Our reading skips over one declaration of God that prepares for the psalm’s conclusion.  Instead of the flesh of bulls and blood of goats, what God wants is “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (verse 14).  Then, the conclusion. 
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
      to those who go the right way
      I will show the salvation of God (verse 23). 
The psalm, too, delivers the torah concerning true religious service to God. 
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. 
One of the most famous passages about faith in all of scripture is from the Letter to the Hebrews, the opening of our reading. 
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (verse 1, NRSV). 
The rest of this chapter identifies and celebrates certain heroines and heroes of faith in the Hebrew scriptures, though our reading is confined to Abraham and his immediate family – after a brief comment on faith in the creation of the world by the word of God (verse 3). 
In our reading, the showcase example of faith is Abraham.  Abraham is the archetype of those who live in the world as pilgrims.  They live “in tents,” trusting in the promise that ultimately they will reach “the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (verse 10). 
There is a recognition that fulfillment of hope may be distant.  “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them…. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country…” (verses 13-16). 
This model of Christian life as a pilgrimage from a past degenerate world toward a future of God’s making in God’s time is steadily reinforced in the rest of this Letter.  This model also played a long role in later Christian life, particularly famous in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). 
Luke 12:32-40. 
The requirement of justice and mercy was what led ultimately to the pronouncement of God’s coming judgment.  Jesus, following the older prophets and his mentor John the Baptist, repeated that announcement. 
All Jesus’ preaching assumed that his hearers stand immediately before that judgment.  For some – the poor, the oppressed, the meek – the coming of God’s judgment was good news:  Relief at last!  For others (the many?), it was threatening news.  Their whole past was about to catch up with them.  
Our Gospel reading is about how people are supposed to live as they wait for the imminent judgment of God. 
First, they are told to give their goods to charity.  “Sell your possessions, and give alms” (verse 33, NRSV).  This instruction is straightforward and unqualified.  It is addressed, of course, to people who have just been told that theirs is the Kingdom of God
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (verse 32). 
Where one’s treasure is (verse 34) is the acid test for the faith of a disciple.  Put in the cruder language of later times, “Follow the money,” and you will know the secrets of the hearts, not only of the pilgrims following their Lord but of the land-owners and merchants of the settled land (see the parable in 12:16-21). 
The rest of the passage is not directly about possessions but about watchfulness for the Son of Man’s coming.  The transition is not strange, “for detachment from possessions and worries is an important part of preparation for the Lord’s coming” (Robert Tannehill, Luke, Abingdon, 1996, p. 210). 
The one who lives by faith is called (verses 35-40) not only to give up personal possessions, but also to live on the edge, with no long-range planning, no commitments that involve a long future.  (No life insurance payments for the disciple.)  Your Lord may return tonight.  That is the stance of the Jesus follower.  Live today as if it is your last day on earth.  No homeowner knows when the burglar has scheduled a break-in (verse 39); no disciple knows when the Lord’s return will be sounded by a knock on the door. 
On Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, these instructions seem to be for the committed band that has known for a while that Jesus is the Anointed One – and perhaps also known that the journey leads to death.  However, as part of the Gospel known to the churches of the second generation, they are also instructions for the band of witnesses who will eventually infiltrate lands far beyond Judea

Those churches had gradually evolved a new way of life, a life lived day by day in expectation of being visited by their heavenly Lord.  As more time passed, they realized that that Way of Life was, in fact, the “kingdom” which was being given to God’s “little flock”!  

Thursday, July 18, 2019

August 4, 2019 - 8th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                               [616]
Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43;  Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21.
God’s love may temper even God’s justice, but the new life excludes the idolatry of greed. 
Hosea 11:1-11. 
The second reading from the prophet Hosea is one of the most remarkable passages in scripture.  It interprets God in terms of human emotions carried to their most extreme. 
Most of Hosea 4-14 (quite separate from chapters 1-3) are words of denunciation and predicted destruction for the people and places of the northern kingdom.  But after that barrage of judgment has gone on some time (through chapter 10), our passage gives it a climax, and then a violent reversal. 
A comment on Hosea’s language and text.  The book of Hosea is only partly legible.  The historical Hosea spoke his poetry in a dialect of the northern kingdom, though his words have been preserved in Judean dialects.  The text also is one of the oldest in the Israelite scriptures, being recited and re-copied many times before becoming standardized.  These uncertainties affect the translations, and this is a particularly good place to compare other translations with the NRSV, such as the New Jerusalem Bible, the New Jewish Publication Society, and the Revised English Bible versions.  These others are translations of the same Hebrew text, but are independent of the English tradition continued by the NRSV.  Some rather different renderings, given by the ancient Greek translators, can be seen in the translation in The Orthodox Study Bible (Nelson, 2008) or A New Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (Oxford, 2007).
The human emotions by which God is interpreted are especially those of a father for his children, or for his one special son.  Favorite sons have been loved since birth. 
·        When Israel was a child, I loved him…
·        It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in my arms;…
·        I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love; … 
           (Verses 1-4, NRSV.)
But throughout this love the sons were ungrateful and disobedient. 
  • The more I called them, the more they went from me…
  • … they did not know [did not acknowledge] that I healed them…
  • I seemed to them as one who imposed a yoke on their jaws, 
                though I was offering them food [this line follows NJPS translation].
The punishment for such continued disloyalty is a reversal of the salvation.  If Israel was brought out of Egypt to be given good things, they will be sent back into slavery, not only in Egypt but under the new great power, Assyria (verses 5-6, especially in the NRSV). 
So far this is the expected word of God’s judgment through a prophet. 
Now however we get a personal outburst by God.  (Fortunately, the text and language are relatively clear here.) 
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
      How can I hand you over, O Israel? …
My heart recoils within me;
      my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
      I will not again destroy Ephraim; …” (verses 8-9a, NRSV
And now the encompassing declaration that shapes the cosmos: 
…for I am God [’El] and no mortal [’īsh],
      the Holy One in your midst,
      and I will not come in wrath (verse 9b, NRSV). 
The personal emotion of loss over the beloved son(s) becomes the dominant motive of the Almighty.

What is not possible for humans will nevertheless be done by God.  A way will be found to both execute judgment and to continue in caring love for the disobedient and judged beloved children. 
Psalm 107:1-9, 43. 
The Psalm reading is an excerpt from a long psalm that calls on many groups of people to give thanks and praise to God for deliverance.  It is “the redeemed of the Lord” who are called on to join the praise, and their various experiences will be held up as examples in the course of the full psalm. 
The first group whose experience is described are those who were lost, wandering and in danger of thirst and hunger, in the wilderness (verses 4-9).  This is a fitting response to the Hosea passage because it can be applied to Israel’s experience when brought out of Egypt
They cried to the Lord in their trouble,
      and he delivered them from their distress;
he led them by a straight way,
      until they reached an inhabited town. 
                        (verses 6-7, NRSV)
The wilderness generation qualified supremely as the “redeemed of the Lord”; from day one, they were journeying from a place of deliverance toward the place of God’s rest. 
Colossians 3:1-11. 
The writer of Colossians also speaks of a great reversal – one that has already happened.  It is the believer’s death:  “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (verse 3, NRSV). 
Those baptized into Jesus have died to the destructive and enslaving forces of the world and are freed to live empowered from above, in Christ – equal across all social and religious barriers.  The image of the heavenly Christ exercising rule over the earth, an image known to the baptized, defines the believer’s way of life.  That is the image that discredits the superstitions and demonic powers that surround the Lycus valley people in their daily lives. 
In our passage it is the things to avoid, the things that are excluded by the heavenly image of the Christ, that are mainly listed.  We have two lists of negative traits: (1) sexual immorality, etc., ending with greed, in verse 5, and (2) anger, malice, etc. in verse 8. 
It is recognized that avoiding these things requires some effort.  “Put to death whatever in you is earthly” (verse 5). 
The new life requires rigorous honesty with fellow believers in caring mutuality.  “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices, and have clothed yourselves with the new self” (verses 9-10). 
Baptism was the stripping off; one now lives in the new garments – those of the reborn (which are described more fully in 3:12-14, following our passage).  
Luke 12:13-21.  
The Epistle reading contained an incidental identification of greed with idolatry – “Put to death…greed (which is idolatry),” Colossians 3:5.  The Gospel concentrates even more on greed, suggesting also that love of possessions becomes idolatrous
The episode begins with a request from someone in the crowd asking Jesus to serve as arbiter in a dispute over an inheritance.  Jesus’ response is to decline becoming an arbitrator of the Mosaic law.  He declines getting into the business of the Pharisees, which would in later times produce such compilations of rabbinic law as the Mishnah and Tosefta.  Instead, Jesus tells a parable putting all devotion to material goods under an intense eschatological critique. 
The parable describes a man wealthy from his agri-business enterprises.  He is determined to keep investing and expanding, no doubt absorbing many smaller and marginal farm operations along the way.  At a critical juncture, he has a dialogue with his soul and decides to make the great break, to tear down the old infrastructure and replace it with new super-capacity facilities.  How very modern and progressive!  Think of the new jobs created for the displaced farmers! 
Jesus’ entire “journey” in Luke, however, is about living in a time of urgent judgment, when priorities must be radically altered.  This man’s preoccupation with capitalist expansion leads him into hubris, into forgetting that he stands on a daily basis as a humble mortal before the instant judgment of God. 
In today’s world he would have an excessive cholesterol count, be over-weight, and have high blood pressure.  We know what form the judgment of God takes in such cases.  Greed may make a capitalist economy heat up, but it leaves the barns of the soul empty before God. 

The journey to judgment that Jesus leads makes poverty the way to wealth-that-really-matters.  

Saturday, July 13, 2019

July 28, 2019 - 7th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                               [614]
Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Fathers and children may symbolize God’s disciplining and love, with prayers freeing the children from fears and want. 
Hosea 1:2-10.   
The Lectionary continues its selective survey of Israel’s prophetic books by turning to the book of Hosea
The books of Amos and Hosea differ significantly in style and basic theme:  Amos gives us the Justice of God determining Israel’s life; Hosea gives us the Love of God determining Israel’s life. 
Background.  Hosea was a contemporary of Amos (around 750 BCE), but, uniquely among the Biblical prophets, Hosea was a native of the northern kingdom of Israel.  His prophetic messages are passionate condemnations of Israel’s turning away from the Lord Yahweh.  Israelites were attributing the cyclical works of nature to the baals, Hosea insists, instead of to the one God in Israel’s life, Yahweh.  (Hosea 2:5, 8; 11:2; 13:1.) 
What is going on here, and had been going on before Hosea’s time, is a great demythologizing of the millennia-long essence of Canaanite religion. 
As we see Canaanite mythology in its Ugaritic epics (from the 14th century BCE), the cosmic world was shaped by the interplay of the gods Ba‘al (lord or master), Yamm (cosmic Sea), Mot (Death), and Anath (virgin-sister-consort who avenges Ba‘al’s death by slaughtering Mot).  In this mythic cycle Ba‘al fights intensely against the lord of chaos, Yamm, and having defeated him establishes a great temple for himself with the consent of the high god ’El.  The power of Death (Mot), however, overcomes Ba‘al, who dies as the season of drought and barrenness prevails in the world.  Anath pursues Mot, threshes him into small pieces (like grain) which are sown over the fields, and makes possible the gospel of the new season:  Ba‘al lives!  (See, among many discussions, John Day, “Baal (Deity),” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday 1992, Vol. I, pp. 545-49.) 
The daring thing about Hosea is the way the language of Canaan has been taken into the Israelite tradition.  The language of love and conflict between gods has become the language of love and betrayal between Yahweh and Yahweh’s people. 
Our reading.  In our passage, we have a report of Hosea being told by God to enact in the social life of his city a parable of God’s love and discipline.  Go find a woman who has the qualities and perhaps the established practice of a professional whore.  (See the details of such a life when Tamar temporarily adopts the life of a zōnāh in Genesis 38:12-23.)  Such a woman, by the nature of her social status, does not maintain a single relationship in her sexual activities.  She lives by the payments of many lovers.  Hosea is to take such a woman, marry her – thus setting up a single relationship for her – and have children by her. 
The real point of the enacted prophecy is not the woman; the point is the names given to the three children.  The names announce progressive devastation for the northern kingdom.  The first child, “Jezreel,” means defeat in war:  “I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (verse 5, NRSV).  The second child, “Lo-ruhamah” [not-compassioned], means lack of compassion in a time of distress (verse 6).  And the third child, “Lo-ammi” [not-my-people], means a complete denial of the covenant relationship, “for you are not my people and I am not your God” (verse 9).  The parable demonstrates that up to this point the love of God is only disappointed and defeated.  God’s partner is a whore, and the children’s names symbolize the alienation between them. 
However, as in the old Canaanite ethos, death and alienation are not the last word.  It is clear that some words of hope were inserted by later Judeans who preserved the Hosea tradition (so verse 7), but elsewhere in this book Hosea experiences God as disciplining, not totally destroying, Israel.  We will see this especially in next week’s reading, but here (verse 10), the transmitters of Hosea’s words were compelled to look beyond total alienation between God and Israel. The reversal will come.  “Not my people” will again be called “Children of the living God.” 
Psalm 85. 
The Psalm reading is a liturgy for those waiting for the great reversal – the reversal that Hosea’s followers added to his enacted prophecy (Hosea 1:10). 
The first word of the liturgy recalls the past reversals from God’s anger to God’s graciousness, when God “restored the fortunes of Jacob” (verses 1-3).  Thus there is precedent from the past for God’s gracious restoration of the people. 
The second word is a prayer in the present calling upon God to “Restore us again! … Will you be angry with us forever?”  (verses 4-7). 
Then we hear a speaker in the first person concentrating full attention on the divine word of salvation which is about to be uttered from the sanctuary (verses 8-9). 
Finally, the liturgy culminates in the glowing prospect of what can be expected when God does speak the word of salvation (verses 10-13). 
In this final exuberant dance, the covenant qualities are personified.  “Steadfast love” (hesed), “faithfulness” (’emeth), and “righteousness” (sedeq) interact like independent powers, meeting, kissing, growing from the ground, descending from heaven.  Their blessings are summarized, “the Lord will give what is good,” and all will know that God’s people are restored. 
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19). 
If Hosea shows the love of a supreme God who displaces all former local powers, the Epistle reading carries a similar message about the heavenly reign of the Risen Christ. 
The second big scholarly discussion about Colossians (after the “Christ hymn” in Chapter 1) is the “heresy” or false teaching that seems to be referred to in our reading. 
There is no clear description of the teaching and practice, so scholars have had to “reconstruct” it from the hints in Colossians 2.  This is a topic that has fascinated scholars, and there are many reconstructions, with similarities but differences in details.  Broadly, they disagree about whether the Colossian teaching was mainly Greek cosmic and mystery religion lore or more heavily Judean-style doctrines and practices.  Personally, I doubt that there was any “system” to the Colossian lore.  I think the allusions in the letter are to many different ideas, theories, ritual practices, etc., that never added up to any single consistent body of doctrine or practice.  (Some other scholars have recognized this.)  Thus, the following points. 
Colossians is not another letter to the Galatians.  There is no panic, no great urgency that the Colossians are in dire crisis, as there is in Galatians about the issue of circumcision of non-Judeans. 
The hints about the false teaching are a conglomeration:  The hearers are warned against “philosophy” and “empty deceit; “elemental spirits of the universe”; perhaps something about circumcision (verses 11-13); cosmic “rulers and authorities”; matters of food, drink, and festivals; self-abasement; worship of angels; visions (serially in verses 8-18, NRSV). 
Most of us have observed that any community of faith that has been around for some time attracts a fringe of “religious hobbyists” (my term).  These folks have some secret or little-known interpretation or ritual to share with those really “in the know.”  While they will talk to you endlessly, if you allow, they have no real substance; only repetitions of old ideas newly offered and inside practices they’re prepared to share. 
The Colossians were a settled Jesus community, probably in their second generation.  The great fire of the early commitment had become too familiar, and the enticements of new and novel religious curiosities were attracting many, perhaps especially the educated and the young.  (There is much emphasis on knowledge and understanding in this letter.)
These early Christians were tempted to include horoscopes, astrological readings, and various hallucinatory rituals in their religious life to enhance what Christ did for them.  The writer insists that the Christ who was the fullness of divine reality (verse 9), who took on the flesh of circumcision and death, this Christ who died and rose again, now reigns over all such superstitious powers. 
All the believer needs is the baptism that is a dying to the worldly powers and the rising to a new life in God’s power, free from all the demons and spirits of a misguided universe.  “He [Christ] disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in [his triumphal procession]” (verse 15). 
Luke 11:1-13. 
The Gospel reading offers the life of prayer as the answer to the ongoing needs of the Lord’s disciples.  The whole passage Luke 11:1-13 is about prayer, with the Lord’s Prayer, in Luke’s version, at its head. 
The whole is bracketed by expressions describing God’s fatherly character, the Father addressed in the model prayer (verse 2) and the human father who knows how to give good gifts to his children (verses 11-13; verse 11 reads literally, “what father among you…”).  Most of what is between the brackets is about persistence in asking the father for what is needed, especially bread or other food. 
The prayer taught to the disciples, then, asks
·        that this family head be honored and esteemed at his true worth by all others (hallowed be his name),
·        that his plan for everyone’s welfare may succeed (his kingdom come),
·        that his children, who accompany him on his campaign (daily bread = daily rations), may have food as needed,
·        that they be forgiven their misdemeanors, and
·        that the trials they encounter not be excessive. 
The following teaching about asking and receiving builds on examples of common human expectations.  The “friend” asked for bread in the middle of the night cannot be expected to respond simply out of friendship, but will respond to a neighbor in need.  (The previous chapter just told about the Good Samarian.)
Furthermore, doors were made not only to keep people out, but for knocking on.  Keep on knocking, is the wisdom here. 
And in the business of giving, trust the giver, perhaps a fatherly type, to know what to give.  It won’t be a snake instead of a fish.  This theme suggests that WE may not know what we most need, but can trust the fatherly giver to provide it, allowing us to then recognize what our need truly is. 

Finally, the supreme gift that the heavenly Father knows we need is the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 13).  That will be provided for those who continue the “journey” of Jesus right on to Jerusalem – and beyond.