Saturday, September 28, 2019

October 20, 2019 - 19th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                           [627]

Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; II Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8.  

Hearts inscribed with torah, the murmurings of unrelenting prayer – these are the marks of the faithful.  
Jeremiah 31:27-34. 
The prophetic readings of the past two months, taken from Jeremiah, reach a  climax in the prophecy of the new covenant.  
We have heard, 
  • the indictments of the sinful city and people,
  • the agonies over the devastation that is the punishment of the sin,
  • the counsel to accept exile as God’s new direction for a people of the Diaspora,
  • and a transaction symbolic of new life on the promised land – 
all these have been dramatically portrayed in Jeremiah’s words and actions.  What remains is the question of the humanity who will be included in the new form of God’s venture with a chosen people.  
Our passage says the people of the new time will be individually responsible and will have a compelling inward guidance to fulfill God’s will.  
But first, Jeremiah reminds us of the Federal deficit.  
The parents have eaten sour grapes, 
      and the children’s teeth are set on edge.  (Verse 29, NRSV.) 
This is an old proverb, which is also quoted and applied to the same situation by Ezekiel, who devotes a whole chapter to its interpretation for the exiles (Ezekiel 18).  
The previous generation has brought disastrous consequences upon their children and grandchildren.  This has been the way of the world, but in God’s eyes it will be so no longer.  Sin will not be inherited, its consequences will no longer be passed on to those who could not avoid it.  “All shall die for their own sins” (verse 30), not those of someone else.  
This doctrine can be sustained, however, only for a people who have known exile, a people whose former society has been dissolved.  
The second part of the passage promises a cure for the cause of the disaster, the disaster that led to the exile.  
The sinful people were indicted because “they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will [literally “their bad heart”], they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward” (Jeremiah 7:24).  They guided their lives by the stubbornness of their hearts.  The heart was the problem – the heart, the organ of personal motivation.  The heart would not obey the instruction of God.  
The new covenant passage (Jeremiah 31:31-34) says God will give each person a new heart, one with God’s instruction (torah) written upon it.  People will no longer need to teach each other to know God, for “they shall all know me [says the Lord], from the least of them to the greatest,” that is, everyone individually will have the knowledge to be responsible. 
My teacher in old days at Hebrew Union College felt that this passage expressed a divine determinism – God doing it entirely for each person rather than making each person responsible to choose God’s will – a view that would not have come from Jeremiah himself.  (Sheldon H. Blank, Jeremiah Man and Prophet, Hebrew Union College Press, 1961, pp. 208-213.)  
Prof. Blank expresses Judaism’s age-old conviction that the Torah is God’s gift that can be obeyed.  The passage as it stands expresses Jeremiah’s despair, after forty years of constant stubbornness, that this people could meet God’s requirements.  Later Christians would, of course, see this new covenant as a revelation that God’s Grace would initiate the process by which followers would find lives that would be acceptable to God.  
In any case, the issue of personal motivation to do God’s will loomed larger and larger for a people who had accepted exile and become the Diaspora.  
Psalm 119:97-103.  
A new way of responding to God’s will was created by the psalmists and sages who devoted their hearts to cherishing God’s torah, God’s instruction. 
The Psalm reading is one stanza from one of the most remarkable compositions in all Biblical literature.  The 119th psalm, all 176 verses of it, is a kind of on-going polyphonic fugue.  It is an alphabetic acrostic, each line of each eight-verse stanza beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet – from aleph to taw.  The twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each receiving eight lines of verse, produce the 176 verses of the psalm.  (Our reading is the Mem stanza, every line beginning with the Hebrew consonant corresponding to M in the Roman alphabet.)  
Each group of eight verses also presents its praise of and devotion to God’s instruction, torah, by using a set of synonyms for torah that are repeated throughout the psalm.  Each one of the twenty-two stanzas uses most of these words for God’s will or instruction – the terms (in NRSV translation) are law, commandment, decrees, precepts, word (dabar), ordinances, and words (’imrah, also translated promise, e.g., verse 38).  These seven are used, in this order, in our reading, verses 97 through 103.  Other stanzas include an eighth synonym, statutes.  
Whoever composed this psalm was saturated in these words.  They are combined and re-combined in cycles of devotion, declarations, and prayers.  The divine instruction that is pointed to by all these terms is written deeply on the mind, heart, and emotions of this speaker.  The circles of poets and sages who composed and relished this psalm and others like it – Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalms 111 and 112 – had truly made God’s law reign over their wills and their confessions.  These are the psalms of the “torah piety,” of the devotion that became virtually mystical about the revelation, mystery, and profundity of God’s gift of the law.  
There is no mention of Sinai, or Moses, or of prophetic reforms based on law.  There is only love and unqualified devotion to the instruction and wisdom God has given for the human heart.  
II Timothy 3:14-4:5.  
The Epistle reading is also profoundly committed to God’s revelation as a transforming power for God’s servants.  
The Apostle recalls that  Timothy has known from childhood “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation” (verse 15, NRSV).  These writings are, of course, the law, the prophets, and the psalms – the numerous scrolls that a well-educated Judean became accustomed to handling easily.  (Some “handling” was indeed required!  The Law, Prophets, and Writings, even in Hebrew, consisted of at least twenty-two separate scrolls, and even more in Greek translations.  There was no such thing as "the Bible.")  
Our passage continues with that other 3:16 text, so beloved by Bible Christians.  “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  
Again, this is said about the Judean holy writings, which Paul and Timothy saw as pointing to the whole saving appearance and work of Christ Jesus.  There were no Christian scriptures at this time; only Judean scriptures, and these it was that should instruct Jesus followers into righteousness and “every good work” (verse 17).  
Since Timothy knows and believes the scriptures, he is equipped for service to the Lord, and the Apostle delivers an ordination sermon to him (4:1-2).  He sees trials ahead that will lead people to fall away and to walk in the stubbornness of their own hearts and minds.  “…[T]he time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (verses 3-4, intimations of our own times?).  
The Apostle is warning Timothy of the opposition he will face, virtually as God warned Jeremiah at the early stage of the mission to which he was called (Jeremiah 1:17-19).  To face the challenge, Timothy is armed with the scriptures and the example of the Apostle who suffers in the service of the Lord Jesus (see 3:10-12, just before our reading).  
Luke 18:1-8. 
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells a parable of the judge and the widow.  
This judge certainly did not saturate himself in the instruction of the Lord, nor even burden himself with the opinions of men.  And yet this independent and thoroughly autonomous magistrate was confronted with a murmuring day and night, a pleading for justice from this unrelenting widow. 
The parallel to this widow’s activity is the person referred to in Psalm 1, who murmurs (the literal meaning of “meditates” in 1:3) day and night, constantly reciting God’s instruction back to God (i.e., repeating Psalm 1) – that instruction about the blessed way of the righteous and the way of the wicked who will get lost. 
Jesus’ instruction is about prayer, and the single, unqualified motif emphasized here is persistence.  Wear him down!  Make him do the right thing, not because he wants to do good, but to get rid of you!  Fill the magistrate’s surroundings with the buzz and business of righteous ones pleading the cases of the powerless, the needy, and the neglected.  
That’s how to pray, says Jesus – like the ḥasîdîm who never cease chanting torah so that one day God will finally relent and send the Messiah! 

Monday, September 23, 2019

October 13, 2019 - 18th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                             [626] 

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-12;  II Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19.
Exile (Diaspora) carries God’s blessing to the nations, but not all who are blessed give praise to God.  
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7.  
The reading from the prophet Jeremiah is an instruction to Judean exiles on how to live as the Diaspora.  
The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians involved several deportations.  The city was besieged for three months and then surrendered in 597.  The previous King Jehoiakim had just died, but the main branch of the ruling family, including new King Jehoiachin (18 years old) and his mother, and many elite and skilled people, totaling perhaps 10,000, were deported to Babylon at that time (II Kings 24:12-16). 
Another branch of the royal family was installed on the throne of the vassal kingdom, headed by King Zedekiah.  After nine years, Zedekiah also rebelled against Babylon, and held out in a bitter siege for eighteen months, ending in 586.  That led to the physical destruction of the city and another deportation of perhaps 3,000 people. 
There was yet another deportation of around 2,500 people five years later, after the Judean governor for Babylon had been assassinated.  (See Jeremiah 52:28-30, where the numbers are probably of able-bodied men, making the total number of persons over three times as high.) 
With the main line of the royal family, including the previously reigning king, and major leading families of Judah in Babylon, plans were developed there for an imminent recovery and restoration.  Prophets and fortune-tellers thrived among the exiles by fostering such hopes.  It is against such fomenters of false expectations that Jeremiah wrote his letter in chapter 29, from which our reading is an excerpt. 
Jeremiah has been assured that God has given up on the rotten figs still fermenting in Judah (see Jeremiah 24).  And just as certainly God has no plans for a quick return of the good figs now in exile.  Thus, Jeremiah instructs the people in Babylon to dig in for a long stay.  Build houses, plant long-term crops (the “gardens” presumably contain fruit trees, taking many years to be productive), and plan on multiple generations of children and grandchildren. 
Furthermore, they should not look only to their own welfare, but also to that of their host society.  They must not live in grudging resistance to their captors, but pray for them.  “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile…for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (verse 7, NRSV).  “Welfare” translates shālōm, and the verb “seek” (dārash) is a strong and active word.  They are instructed to actively advance whatever makes for good in their larger community. 
The ethics of the Diaspora were being initiated by God’s prophetic message. 
Psalm 66:1-12. 
The Psalm reading acquires a special power if we hear it as the faithful response of the people in exile to the prophet’s instruction. 
The psalm is a hymn of praise, but with strong emphasis on the universality of God’s power and marvelous deeds. 
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth… 
All the earth worships you; 
      they sing praises to you, 
      sing praises to your name (verses 1, 4, NRSV).  
The folks in exile have a special reason to praise this God; they were saved because of God’s power to turn the sea to dry land.  But all peoples are also called to bless “our God.”  And though the Israelites may be captives in a strange land, it is only a “testing” that God is putting them through.  God is refining them, making them pass through fire and through water. 
However, from these experiences of the elect people, even the mighty nations and peoples are to learn.  The God of this people sent them through trials and great distress, but also “has kept us among the living” and “brought us out to a spacious place” (verses 9 and 12).  The spacious place represents salvation and “welfare” for the disciplined people. 
Other peoples are called to bless such a God (verse 8), and the people in exile are prompted to see the prophet’s instructions for the Diaspora as the fulfillment of their greater mission. 
II Timothy 2:8-15. 
The Epistle reading is also a voice speaking from captivity. 
The Apostle is in chains for the sake of the gospel he spreads.  He is bound in captivity, but the word of salvation is not!  It thrives among the nations, calling forth the “elect,” that they might share in the salvation in Christ Jesus. 
This passage is loaded with comprehensive terms and declarations.  There is, for example, a succinct statement of the gospel, that Jesus was a descendant of David and that he was raised from the dead (verse 8; compare Romans 1:3-4).  Especially for Judean believers, these two points were the essence of the gospel. 
As the prophet (and the psalm) had told the suffering exiles that they were there to bless the host nations, so the Apostle sees his suffering as part of the message of salvation itself.  As James D. G. Dunn comments, “in Pauline theology suffering is not just a consequence of the gospel, but is itself part of the gospel – sharing in Christ’s sufferings as the way in which and the means by which the resurrection from the dead comes to its full realization…” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI [Abingdon Press, 2000], p. 843). 
Luke 17:11-19. 
The Journey.  The Gospel reading presents Jesus still on his journey to Jerusalem, but now out in territory “between Galilee and Samaria.”  That is a little like saying “in no man’s land,” because you can’t find it on the map.  There was no other territory between Galilee and Samaria; there was only a border, only a vague administrative line.  This may not be exile, but it is certainly unfamiliar terrain, traversed by pilgrims! 
The Lepers.  A band of people shows up, a group bound together by their social banishment because that society called them “lepers.”  These folks heard about Jesus passing through and gathered themselves near a village on the main road, as close as the restrictions on their contact with healthy people would allow.  There they call out for Jesus to have mercy on them, and he calls back that they should set out on their journey to the priests to present themselves as clean. 
As they trudge on their separate way toward Jerusalem, their skin conditions dramatically improve and they realize that they are cleansed.  (Presumably, if they had not believed that this would happen, they would not have set out on their trip.)  Later, one of the group of ten, the only Samaritan among them apparently, returns to Jesus and thanks him ecstatically, praising God for the cleansing, as was proper. 
Now, only after all this action has transpired, Jesus speaks. 
He speaks – but who is he talking to?  “Were not ten made clean?  But the other nine, where are they?”  This may be said in the hearing of the tenth leper, the Samaritan, but its thrust can hardly be aimed at him.  He is the only one not to be reprimanded! 
There is an audience in the background here that has not been named. 
One suspects it may be the same arrogant masters who were addressed in the previous episode (last Sunday’s Gospel text).  “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Ten persons had suffered and all ten had received the mercy of God and relief.  A witness of the universal God’s work was given among the peoples, but only one out of the saved raised the proper praise and thanksgiving to God.  This grateful Samaritan had gotten the message, and was proclaiming it gladly. 
For every ten who benefit from God’s grace, only one praises the Lord for all to hear. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

October 6, 2019 - 17th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                              [625]

Lamentations 1:1-6; Psalm 137; II Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10.  

The agony of God’s judgment is cruel, but the faithful learn humility in the Lord’s work.  
Lamentations 1:1-6. 
The prophecies we have heard in the last few weeks, announcing the doom of Judah and Jerusalem for their sins, were finally fulfilled. 
The city was destroyed and the leading population carried into exile to Babylon. 
Some people were left behind, however, some who cared desperately.  Their voice is heard in the reading from the Book of Lamentations.  Here are a couple of quotes about the religious significance of this book.  
Lamentations is a searing book of taut, charged poetry on the subject of unspeakable suffering.  The poems emerge from a deep wound, a whirlpool of pain, toward which the images, metaphors, and voices of the poetry can only point.  It is, in part, the rawness of the hurt expressed in the book that has gained Lamentations a secure, if marginal, place in the liturgies of Judaism and Christianity.  Its stinging cries for help, its voices begging God to see, its protests to God who hides behind a cloud – all create a space where communal and personal pain can be reexperienced, seen, and perhaps healed.  (Kathleen M. O’Connor, “The Book of Lamentations,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VI [Abingdon Press, 2001], p. 1013.)  
Lamentations is the eternal lament for all Jewish catastrophes, past, present, and future.  (Shaye J.D. Cohen, quoted in The Jewish Study Bible, 2004, p. 1587.)  
The Reading.  No matter how strongly emotional it is, Lamentations is carefully crafted poetry.  The first four chapters are alphabetic acrostics, the first word of each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, from ’aleph to taw (22 letters).  The rhythm also is distinctive.  In Hebrew it is a kind of drumbeat – three and two, three and two, three and two.  
Our reading has six stanzas, each consisting of three couplets (six lines in most modern translations).  Verse 1 illustrates the pattern:   
How deserted she sits, 
      the city once thronged with people! 
Once the greatest of nations, 
      she is now like a widow. 
Once the princess of states, 
      she is now [a slave].  
               (New Jerusalem Bible, which consistently gets English most like the 
                Hebrew poetry.  The bracket is my modification of the NJB.) 
The poet constantly employs personifications.  Zion” is the personified city.  She often plays a leading role in Jeremiah’s poetry (for example, Jeremiah 4:5-31).  She is the city; she does not move.  In her location she is prosperous or ravished, destroyed, without population.  Judah” (in verse 3) is the population of Zion.  Judah here is treated as a feminine, though elsewhere usually a male.  In any case, “Judah” is mobile and has now gone into exile, scattered “among the nations.”  
The tragic story of Zion is summarized in verse 5.  
Her foes now have the upper hand, 
      her enemies prosper, 
for Yahweh has made her suffer 
      for her many, many crimes; 
her children have gone away into captivity 
      driven in front of the oppressor.  (NJB.)
Psalm 137.  
(The Lectionary offers two readings here:  Lamentations 3:19-26 and Psalm 137.  I am held by the pathos of this memorable psalm.)  
The psalm is the tale of two cities:  Babylon and Jerusalem.  
Babylon is viewed here exclusively as the destroyer of Jerusalem, whether there was any divine justice in that destruction or not.  The psalm voices the pain and humiliation of those carried away to Babylon, including a burst of rage against their captors.  
Not many of the psalms are located as specifically in a time and place as is Psalm 137.  While Judeans were to continue to live in Babylon in large numbers for more than a thousand years, this psalm has overtones of a newly emergent situation.  Those who speak have just recently arrived; they and their new neighbors are still getting adjusted to the novel conditions.  
For there our captors asked us for songs, 
      and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, 
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ (verse 3, NRSV).  
This is the voice of citizens of Jerusalem recently deported to Babylon – just after 586 BCE.  
Though now in Babylon, the central thought of this lament is for Jerusalem.  The songs of Zion belong to Jerusalem – “How could we sing the Lord’s song / in a foreign land?” – and the singer’s passionate vow is that Jerusalem will never be forgotten.  
Here we see a historicization of the old Zion liturgical tradition.  In the old liturgies, visionaries saw times when the nations would come to esteem Zion as a great pilgrimage center for peoples who seek conflict-resolution and peace (Isaiah 2:2-4).  Now, by the wild irony of God’s judgment, citizens of Zion are taken to the nations.  
However, the world-wide importance of Zion continues!  As later prophets will proclaim, Jerusalem will no longer be only the capital of a small kingdom; it will be the chosen place of God’s name for those who dwell – and who will eventually prosper – in the Diaspora.  
In the conclusion of the psalm we have one of those readings in the Hebrew scriptures that is a mixture of profound pathos with savage revenge.  
After the touching lament, we hear the curse!  “Happy shall they be who take your little ones / and dash them against the rock!” (verse 9, NRSV).  This cannot be in our scriptures for us to emulate, for us to find an occasion when such a thing could be our prayer!  However, we do not have to look far in the current news to find evidence twenty-six hundred years later of just such genocidal hatred.  
These singers, far from Jerusalem but desperately lamenting its loss, vent a hatred for the imperial power of the moment – before they begin the hard work of settling in and praying for a nation where they will reside for a millennium (see Jeremiah 29:7!).  
II Timothy 1:1-14.  
In the reading from the Epistle, the Apostle prays for and fondly reminds Timothy of the continuity of their faith with previous generations.  Of himself the Apostle says that he worships God “with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did” (verse 3, NRSV; the Greek is literally “progenitors,” not “fathers”).  The Apostle sees his faith in continuity with at least his own family and probably with all the Israelite ancestors.  
As Timothy’s heritage of faith comes to mind, we get some direct information about Timothy’s family.  
His was a faith “that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice …” (verse 5).  Theirs was a “sincere” faith (more literally, “non-hypocritical,” also used in I Timothy 1:5).  Although three generations of believers are represented by Timothy, his mother, and his grandmother Lois, we may not be dealing with a long period of time.  Acts 16:1-3 tells how Paul recruited Timothy to be his assistant in the work of the gospel.  
Eunice, Timothy’s mother, was a Judean woman married to a Greek man, that is, a non-Judean.  There is no reference to Eunice’s father, Lois’s husband, so Lois was apparently a Judean widow whose daughter had married outside the faith.  When Paul and Barnabas came to their city Lystra (around the year 49 CE), Lois and Eunice, and the young man Timothy along with them, accepted the good news of God’s salvation through Jesus.  A year or so later (continuing the Acts story), Paul came back through town.  Timothy had become a devoted and well-known Jesus-follower in the churches of that region, and Paul recruited him for a life of Christian service with Paul in the Greek-speaking churches of Asia and Greece.  
There was one dramatic moment in that recruitment, however (still following the Acts story).  Timothy was technically a Judean, having a Judean mother, but he had not been circumcised, perhaps because of his Greek father.  Since Paul always started his mission activity by approaching Judeans, it was helpful to have Timothy fully accepted in Judean circles.  Therefore, Paul had Timothy circumcised, qualifying him as an observant Judean.  We do not hear of any family dynamics this may have produced, and, for all practical purposes, from that time on Paul was Timothy’s father, probably with his mother’s and grandmother’s blessing.  
Part of the Judean heritage to which Paul and Timothy were born was the memory of suffering for their faith, perhaps through the recitation of laments like Psalm 137.  Accordingly, Paul urges Timothy to recognize and accept such suffering as part of the charisma (the “gift of God,” verse 6) that he has received with his ordination.  He summons Timothy to “join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling…” (verses 8-9). 
Thus the vocation of Christian ministry began to evolve from its Judean ancestry.  
Luke 17:5-10.  
The Apostle talked to Timothy about Christian service, but in the Gospel reading Jesus talks about slaves (also translated “servants”) and their lord.  
The passage opens with a saying about the miraculous power of faith.  “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”  (Note the language of “apostles” rather than disciples, and “Lord” rather than Jesus.  We are in the ambiance of a structured worshipping community.)  The Lord’s reply is that real faith can perform magic, causing trees to transport themselves from land to sea. 
This seems like a pretty discouraging prospect, one not likely to be verified in the experience of most followers – especially if they are not apostles.  Does this not amount to saying that real faith is impossible?  (Perhaps that has a bearing on the rest of the passage!) 
To whom is the Lord speaking in verse 7?  “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field …”  
This does not sound like the modest Galileans who have abandoned most of their possessions and set out on a divine mission. 
The audience here are landowners and masters of slaves.  Jesus speaks about the kind of people for whom it would be ridiculous to think that they would invite field hands to sit down and be served before they have done their household chores.  These are masters who, it is understood, would never trouble themselves to say “Thank you!” to a serving person. 
The “you” of verses 7 through 9 are all the people whose bearing says to the world, “Don’t you know who I think I am?” 
But suddenly, the last verse (10) flips the pancake.  “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless [more literally, “useless”] slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”  Who is this?  What “you” is this?  The focus has returned to the faithful band, those who have abandoned all and are following their Lord with their whole beings. 
What has happened?  How did we get from the arrogant plantation owners to the wholly submissive followers? 
Surely between verses 9 and 10 there has been a miracle. 
The miracle of faith is precisely that arrogant masters are “uprooted” from their stubborn land and planted in a sea of faith, where only humble and utterly devoted service is possible for them.  They have been transformed from the ways of the world into the upside down service in the reign of God – at whatever cost in suffering along with their people and in whatever humiliation before the worldly scoffers. 

The miracle of faith transforms the vengeance of captives (with songs in Babylon) and the arrogance of slave-owning landlords into patient servants who find the kingdom in the diaspora and in a journey to Jerusalem!  

Saturday, September 7, 2019

September 29, 2019 - 16th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                                 [624]

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; I Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31.
And what of the future – land is bought during a siege, ungenerous wealth ends beyond a great abyss. 
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15. 
Here Jeremiah’s mission begins the gradual turn from judgment to hope. 
“Gradual” is the word, because Jeremiah did not offer any favorable prospects to the stubborn rebels in Jerusalem.  Seventy years must pass before any prospects of recovery can be looked for in Judah’s devastated land (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:4-7, and especially 29:10).  
Unlike our recent readings from Jeremiah, this passage does not offer impassioned visions and laments over the judgment and suffering of a wicked people and city.  This is a very deliberate and reasoned presentation of a highly improbable message.  Like the potter incident of chapter 18, this is prophecy by symbolic action, which the prophet experiences as guidance by God’s word.  
The narrative dwells on the details of this symbolic transaction.  You hear what is going to happen, then you hear it happen.  You hear about both copies of the purchase deed, and you get details such as the earthen jar in which the deed copies are to be stored.  You get the names and once even the grandfather’s name of the principal players of the episode.  This is being drawn out in detail as if it were the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  
All for a simple message:  “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (verse 15, NRSV).  
The importance of the message must be seen against the background of the occasion.  The city is under siege.  It has been in rebellion against the world’s main super-power for sometime, and will eventually hold out for a year and a half.  That was a very long time for a city to hold out – and very expensive in troops and resources tied up so long!  When the city does finally fall, how will the conqueror react?  
He will be ruthless, and everything will be devastated!  Every scrap of wealth will be taken away and all the people will die, be transported to distant lands, or left to wander in the land if they would have no commercial value as exiles.  
With this prospect obvious to every realistic observer, what is happening to real estate values, both here and in the suburbs?  What will the demand for land be in Anathoth (three miles north of Jerusalem) when Nebuchadnezzar has finished this campaign?  
That is the background of Jeremiah’s purchase of the family land in Anathoth.  When things look absolutely the worst for future prospects in this county, Jeremiah is directed by God to buy land.  
Land, however, for use in the distant future.  For the moment, the only hope lies with the Diaspora (see Chapter 29, which we will read in two weeks).  
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16. 
The Psalm reading is for those who survive the destruction of the city of refuge besieged by Nebuchadnezzar.  When there is no earthly city available for God’s faithful, they remain dependent on God.  Being without a holy sanctuary, they are not without God.  The Diaspora is where they now “live in the shelter of the Most High,” abide “in the shadow of the Almighty.”  
The first part of the psalm is assurance that there IS such shelter for the faithful one.  It is a promise, almost in spite of all odds.  The dangers of unprotected places in the world are drawn out.  Safety from the “fowler,” from epidemic in the land (pestilence); safety from terrors at night, from drive-by shootings in the daytime (verse 5), and from all the diseases that threaten by night or day.  
God’s protected one will be secure from these.  
These assurances are given to the individual.  Diaspora is a life condition imposed first on individuals – which makes their communing together so much more important than in their old civic society.  All the pronouns of Psalm 91 are singular.  “You (singular) who live… who abide (singular)…” (verse 1).  When the great city is gone, each soul is alone with God.  
As other testimonies will make clear, this will lead to community, a community of survivors, one that is defined and shaped by having passed through God’s judgment.  For such a community of souls who love and trust God, God speaks directly but individually the promises of saving and well-being given in verses 14-16.  
I Timothy 6:6-19.  
The Epistle reading, like so many other readings this season, places the gospel in opposition to seeking riches.  First, there IS “gain” for the believer, who attains at least a godly life and “contentment” (sufficiency for life’s needs, see II Corinthians 9:8, where the same word is used).  
It is the nature of life that we brought nothing into the world with us and will take nothing out with us.  And yet – the temptation is before us of wanting to become rich.  Thus, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (verse 10, NRSV), and even leads some to abandon their faith.  
But the Apostle makes an urgent appeal, in what may be liturgical or hymnic language, to avoid such lures to destruction (verses 11-12).  The believer is to imitate Jesus in the “good confession” he made before Pontius Pilate.  (The only reference to Pilate outside the Gospels and Acts.)  The “commandment” – all the instructions for the faithful – is to be kept until Jesus’ manifestation at the end time, to whom a doxology is chanted in verses 15-16.  
But the Apostle seems to recognize that there are some of the faithful who will be rich – and will not immediately lose their possessions.  Guidance for them is given in verses 17-19, consisting mostly of urging them to seek the riches of righteousness and generosity rather than of the world.  By so doing, they may yet “take hold of the life that is really life” (verse 19).  
Luke 16:19-31.  
In the Gospel, the issue of wealth meets us in the classic story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  (The text does not call this a parable, but interpreters invariably classify it as such.)  
What matters during their lives is the great disparity between the wealthy and the poverty-stricken.  The rich man is extremely rich, one who dressed exquisitely and dined sumptuously every day.  Lazarus (the only figure given a name in Jesus’ parables), lying right outside the entrance to the mansion (through some lapse in local vagrancy laws) was extremely poor, hoping for only some table crumbs.  Both the poor man and the rich man died and went to their rewards – and here is where the real story begins.  
The rich man burns in hell while the poor man luxuriates in banquet companionship with old patriarch Abraham.  (This is one of the clearest Biblical descriptions of this folklore view of the afterlife.)  The center of the episode (parable) is the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham. 
The rich man looks up and pleads with Abraham for a little relief from the fire of hell, but Abraham declares that there is an uncrossable abyss between heaven and hell.  (“You can’t get here from there!”)  The rich man had his rewards in the earthly life; now he pays the price.  
Abandoning hope for himself, the rich man has an altruistic urge and asks that Lazarus be sent to warn the rich man’s five brothers, who are still living it up in earthly plenty.  The reply is that they have Moses and the prophets, the law and the words of judgment and promise.  If living folks will not learn their responsibility from these, there is no hope for them – and even a dead man raised back to life will not convince them.  
(The Lazarus who is raised from the dead in the Gospel According to John, chapter 11, does not look like our poor man of Luke’s parable, but there also the scoffing opponents are not convinced by a resurrection from the dead.)  
The real abyss.  This story of the rich man and the poor man further confirms, in a more folksy way, the great abyss that this Gospel places between the rich and the saved (compare 6:20 and 24, the rich fool in 12:13-21, comments in 12:32-34, and “mammon” in 16:9-13).  This story insists that all have the scriptures to guide and warn them.  If you really heard the scriptures, you would find the extreme disparity between great wealth and great poverty unacceptable for the human community.  
The teaching here also insists that at some point it is too late.  The abyss, cutting off the chance to return to faithfulness to God, will come – leaving only the fires of hell in place of extreme wealth. 

So it was told, as Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem.