Thursday, February 10, 2022

February 20, 2022 - 7th Sunday after Epiphany

                                    Biblical Words                                   [758]

Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38.  

God will provide:  food in famine, justice for the righteous, a resurrection body, 
what we need to love our enemies.

It is rare to have a seventh Sunday after Epiphany.  It happens when Easter comes late in the calendar year (so Lent begins long after Epiphany). 

Genesis 45:3-11, 15. 

This reading is the climactic moment of revelation in the story of Joseph and his brothers. 

The scene is described as one of great emotion for Joseph.  He shares with his brothers the great secret of his identity – that he is the younger brother they sold into slavery years ago. 

As the news sinks in, Joseph goes into the theology of what has happened.  “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (verses 7-8, NRSV).  Among these gathered brothers there is only reason to rejoice in the outcome of things that began in malice and treachery. 

Joseph’s speech emphasizes that Israel should migrate down to Egypt.  The brothers should return to Canaan and arrange to bring Jacob (Israel) and all his remaining household down into Egypt to live through the famine in comfort and plenty.  There are still five years of famine to endure, and Joseph recognizes, and tells his brothers, that God sent him to Egypt, raised him to power in that land… 

all in order to provide for the survival of Jacob’s extended family through the hard times ahead. 

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40. 

This psalm treats a theme often found in the Hebrew scriptures.  

“The prosperity of the wicked was one of the enigmas of life which most sorely tried the faith of the godly Israelite.  No light had as yet been cast upon the problem by the revelation of a future state of rewards and punishments.”  (A.F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, “The Cambridge Bible”; Cambridge, 1902, p. 187.)  

There are three psalms, regarded by scholars as “wisdom” psalms, that labor hard over the observed fact that the wicked are not immediately punished for their ungodliness.  Arranged in decreasing order of their confidence in God’s providence,  they are Psalms 37, 73, and 49.  (I remember fondly a paper I wrote on these psalms for Professor Sheldon Blank of Hebrew Union College in 1960.) 

Psalm 37 has little doubt that, sooner or later, the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be vindicated for their faith in God’s justice.  (This is, of course, the doctrine of Job’s “friends” who insist that he must be a sinner since God has punished him so severely.  The book of Job does not resolve the issue.) 

Besides having a somewhat doctrinaire teaching, Psalm 37 has a somewhat pedantic (scribal) form:  it is an alphabetic acrostic psalm.  Most of the psalm consists of four-line units, relatively independent of each other.  Each unit begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Our reading includes the first six letters of the alphabet plus the last letter. 

The theme is clear:  “Don’t get upset over evildoers…” (verse 1, CEB), repeated in verses 7 and 8. 

You see the bad guys getting ahead – but be patient.  “Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there” (verse 10, NRSV).  In the long run, “the meek will inherit the land” (verse 11). 

So hang in there!  Eventually, God will provide. 

I Corinthians 15:35-38, [42-44,] 47-50. 

The sage who worried over the problem of the prosperous wicked did not know of the coming resurrection – when all accounts would be paid in full by the judgment of God.  The wicked would finally get their deserts – as would, of course, the righteous with blessings and honors. 

The earliest clear statement of this belief is Daniel 12:1-3. 

Among later Judeans, the Pharisees came to believe, a century or two before Jesus, in God’s justice through the resurrection of the individual.  The Sadducees continued the older belief and denied an individual resurrection.  See Luke 20:27-38. 

I Corinthians 15 – the longest chapter in Paul’s letters – is an elaboration of the Christian view of resurrection.  In the last two weeks we have heard about the first witnesses of the risen Christ and of the argument that Christ’s resurrection guarantees the resurrection of his followers. 

In today’s reading Paul turns to a major question people ask about this great mystery that looms ahead for them.  What kind of body will we have after resurrection? 

At first Paul addresses this in rather simple terms.  The dead (buried) body is a seed, and like a seed planted in the field the seed itself is very different from the grown plant.  A grain of wheat has no resemblance to the grown wheat plant.  Just so, the decayed human body will be replaced by a body that does not decay, that has a vivid life of its own. 

I strongly suggest you include verses 42-44 in your reading; it powerfully reinforces the point!  

Beyond your possible comprehension, God will provide a glorious body that retains your identity but is incorruptible, is imperishable!  

Don’t ask; God will provide.  “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (verse 50). 

“God gives [us] a body as he has chosen” (verse 38). 

Luke 6:27-38. 

Early Christians believed that Jesus delivered a major sermon he had preached (often) in Galilee.  They repeated variations of the sermon, probably many times.  We have received different versions of it as Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) and as Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” (Luke 6:20-49).  

As observed in last week’s reading, the Sermon began with the “Beatitudes,” as Moses had begun the recitation of the Law with the Ten Commandments. 

Probably the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ Galilee Sermon – as contrasted with Judean tradition – was its emphasis on “Love your enemies” (verse 27 here; in Matthew at 5:44).  Most of our reading is the statement and elaboration of this most challenging requirement of Jesus followers. 

The basic requirement is stated in 6:27 and 6:35 – the opening and closing brackets.  Between, we hear details of how that “loving” will be done: 

  • Do good to those who hate you.
  • Bless those who curse you.
  • Pray for those who abuse you. 
  • Turn the other cheek.
  • If they steal your overcoat, offer your jacket as well.
  • Give to all who beg. 

Then there is an argument that “you” should be distinctive among the population because you do not act as everyone else – selfishly.  You do not do good only to those who will do good to you; you do not lend only expecting to get full return.  You stand out among people at large because you act positively toward those who despise you:  you love your “enemies.” 

And in all this, you but imitate what God has already done:  “for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (verse 35).  God had provided the model for your truly godly way of life! 

As people said, this is what Jesus taught, in Galilee. 

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