Tag Archives: Timothy

Sunday, October 23rd

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Psalm 84:1-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people, you are always ready to hear our cries. Teach us to rely day and night on your care. Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all this suffering world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Last week the long-standing tradition of electing a homecoming King and Queen at Rumson-Fair Haven High School was cancelled. The reason? The tradition was being used by the student body for “mass bullying.” It appears that that the students were planning to elect a couple of their classmates whose selection would be so unlikely that it would elicit mocking when they were announced. This is bullying on a grand scale! I have never seen anything like it and I have seen a lot of bullying. As a matter of fact, I was on the receiving end of it throughout my childhood and during my middle school years.

Most of the bullies I encountered were not the popular kids-athletes, cheerleaders, etc. They were usually pretty far down on the food chain of that carnivorous jungle called middle school. Bullying was the means these kids used to lift themselves a shade above the bottom. If they couldn’t win respect, they would settle for fear. If they couldn’t make it into the circle of popularity, they could win some attention and recognition from that coveted inner circle by providing a little entertainment. And what is more entertaining than mocking and humiliating someone else? Most kids in my school would never force a kid to push a penny across the floor with his nose or play catch with another unfortunate using a balloon filled with urine. But they were delighted to watch someone else do the dirty work.

Our teachers and administrators were not blind to the problem of bullying. They tried to help. I was part of a counseling group, a small class made up of kids who were bullied. Mr. Carlson, the boy’s adviser, tried to build self-esteem in us, tried to help us think of ways to stand up for ourselves. Though well meaning, this counseling only reinforced our belief that there was something wrong with us, that there was something that made kids want to pick on us, that our being bullied was in some way our own fault. In reality, of course, it was not our fault. Being over-weight, having acne, wearing braces, or lacking athletic skill should not be looked upon as an invitation to aggression putting one on the defensive. Victims of bullying do not need coping skills. What we needed-what everyone needed to be a healthy community-was an overhaul of our school culture, a culture that tolerated and even applauded aggression against the vulnerable.

Jesus understood the need for such a cultural overhaul. Throughout the Gospel of Luke Jesus proclaims a “great reversal.” John spoke of the mountains being leveled and the valleys lifted up. Mary sang of a day when the mighty would be brought low and the poor exalted. At the conclusion of his parable about the tax collector and the Pharisee in this Sunday’s gospel lesson, Jesus repeats that refrain, warning us that all who exalt themselves will be humbled while those who humble themselves will be exalted. The Pharisee in this parable is a kind of spiritual bully. He lifted himself up at the expense of the hated tax collector. He felt he was righteous because he was “not like other people,” particularly, “this tax collector.” Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the social/political/religious ladder. And the one sure fire way to prove you are not at the bottom is to demonstrate that there is someone beneath you.

Racism is the ultimate and most ugly expression of bullying. The few hardcore racists I have met in life (thankfully, few) are generally folks for whom life has not gone particularly well. They have gone through bitter divorces, lost their jobs, and watched as the America they once knew disintegrated in front of them. Their “whiteness” was their only claim to superiority-the one fact they could point to in order to show that they were not at the absolute bottom. At least that’s how it was until African Americans began to appear in jobs that paid even higher than the ones they lost, started showing up on TV more frequently in lead roles and then, of all things, occupied the White House! These folks feel cheated, as though their last shred of dignity has been stripped away. They shout the “N” word without much provocation, blame African Americans for ruining America and find them somehow responsible for all their personal woes and unhappiness.

Don’t think that these miserable creatures are harmless. As I said, they are few, but unfortunately, those of us who tolerate them, encourage them and exploit their dissatisfaction for political gain are far, far too many. Left unchecked, racist bullying by fringe individuals infects larger populations. When it suddenly becomes OK to propagate racist propaganda, use racial epitaphs and to subtly employ mass media to reinforce racial stereotypes, you can be sure that racist violence will not be far behind. Like a weed, it only takes a little neglect for bullying to thrive and take over an entire culture. Rumson High School is living proof of that and, sadly, so is the spike in racist rhetoric spurred on by the current state of our political discourse.

Jesus knows that bullying-all kinds of bullying-is a systemic disease inherent in our hierarchical culture. For as long as we need to derive our sense of self and self-worth by the level assigned to us based on our earning potential, body type, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, we will always be looking down with contempt at those we deem below us and up with envy at those we think superior. Nothing short of the great reversal Jesus proclaims can free us from the hierarchical culture in which we have imprisoned ourselves and the systemic oppression infecting it.

On this link you will find a poem written by a teenager that will break your heart.

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

For my general comments on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, see my post of Sunday, August 14th. You might also want to check out the Summary Article by Terence E. Fretheim, professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota posted on enterthebible.org.

The lectionary has wisely omitted verses 11-18 as this section of prose seems to have been interpolated from another set of writings that pertain more to current political and military conditions than to the drought prompting Jeremiah’s message reflected in the balance of the lesson. Less than wisely, it has omitted verses 1-14 providing us with the lesson’s context.

The occasion for these words of the prophet Jeremiah appears to have been a catastrophic drought. Jeremiah 14:1. In verses 2-6, the prophet describes the effects of the drought on everyone from wealthy nobles down to the wild animals in the wilderness. Our lesson begins with a lament of the people in response to the calamity. The people confess their guilt, yet call upon God to act “for thy name’s sake.” Vs. 7. They argue that, sinful as Israel might be, Israel’s God is nevertheless faithful. That is the basis of their plea for help. God’s role as Israel’s savior is God’s very essence-at least insofar as God has ever made himself known. Vs. 8. It is therefore unseemly for God to act as a “stranger” toward Israel and as one unable or unwilling to save. Vss. 8-9.

God responds in verse 10. God has not abandoned Israel. To the contrary, God is visiting Israel with punishment for its inclination to “wander” from the terms of the covenant. While this response is probably not the one for which the people were hoping, it nevertheless makes clear that God has not given up or abandoned Israel. God’s judgment is given in hope of turning Israel from its wandering ways and back to covenant faithfulness. You wouldn’t bother disciplining a child upon whom you had given up. Thus, the proclamation of judgment is actually good news, though here as in many other instances, the good news has to be experienced as bad news before it can be heard as good.

In verses 19-22 the people offer a re-joinder lament assailing God with rhetorical questions: Has God utterly rejected Judah? Does God loath Zion? The failure of God to supply relief seems to indicate that this might well be so. Again, the people confess their wickedness and appeal to God’s faithfulness which, in their view, should not be diminished by their sin.

Verse 22 suggests an echo of the rivalry between YAHWEH the God of Israel and the Canaanite deity, Ba’al in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ba’al was a nature deity credited with bringing the spring rains. As Israel transitioned from a nomadic existence into an agricultural society, the temptation to worship Ba’al was strong. After all, religious ritual was inextricable from agricultural techniques in the ancient world. It was difficult to download the Canaanite agricultural app without infecting the covenant people with a lot of religious malware. Here the people confess that the God of Israel and not that of any other nation is the bringer of rain and the only God capable of ending the drought, a lesson learned two centuries under the ministry of Elijah at Mt. Carmel. I Kings 18:17-46.

Interestingly, the people get the last word in this dialogical prayer. We are left with a God who has said in no uncertain terms that judgment has been entered and the appropriate sentence passed. There is no avenue of appeal. Nevertheless, the people do appeal the judgment and continue to cry out for God’s mercy-not because they believe the verdict to be unfair or the punishment too harsh-but because they know that God is merciful. A death sentence for Israel would mean that God has given up on the ancient covenant with Israel. It is precisely because they know God is incapable of breaking faith with them that the people of Israel continue to believe that God will even now be merciful and bring them the relief they seek.

Psalm 84:1-7

This psalm is likely a song composed by or for Jews making pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem on high feast days similar to the “songs of ascent” found at Psalms 120-134. Weiser, Artur, The Psalms, (c. 1962 b S.C.M. Press, Ltd.) p. 565-566. The vivid description of the pilgrims’ travels through the wilderness on their approach to Mt. Zion suggests to me a post-exhilic time when many Jews continued to live in lands far removed from Palestine. Vs. 5-7. Though separated from the holy city by miles, foreign borders and dangerous terrain, still “the highways to Zion” are indelibly etched into the hearts of these Jews from distant lands. Vs. 5.

Particularly moving is the physicality of the psalmist’s expression of longing for the temple. S/he “faints,” his/her “heart and flesh sing for joy.” Vs. 1. The psalmist expresses envy for the lowly sparrow privileged to nest within the sanctuary and raise her young within sight of the very holy of holies. Vs. 3. How much more blessed are the priests, singers and temple officials whose lives are dedicated to temple worship and who dwell perpetually within the temple courts! Vs. 4.

The location of the valley of Baca referenced in verse 6 is unknown. Earlier versions render it “the valley of weeping” based on the Latin Vulgate. It has been argued in favor of this translation that the name is associated with the Hebrew word “bakah,” meaning “to weep.” Other commentators suggest that the word Baca is derived from a word meaning “balsam tree.” Rogerson, J.W. and McKay, J.W., Psalms 51-100, (c. 1977 by Cambridge University Press) p. 171. Evidently, the balsam tree grows in arid places where rain is infrequent or seasonal. In addition to the speculative nature of the grammatical connection, it does not appear that these trees were found in the geographical area of Palestine. Ibid. Nevertheless, the context tells us that the Baca Valley is obviously a place through which pilgrims passed on their way to Jerusalem. The rainy season frequently filled natural crevices in the Palestinian wilderness with water and gave life to otherwise dry stream beds. Such “pools” were a godsend for travelers and their animals.

“They go from strength to strength” (vs. 7) or, as the New English Bible translates it, “from the outer wall to inner.” If this latter translation is given credence, then the reference might be to the pilgrim’s passage through the fortifications of Jerusalem or through the successive courts of the temple. If the NRSV version is accepted, the reference might be to the strength drawn by the pilgrims from the refreshing pools of water referenced in verse 6 or merely from the growing anticipation of worship at the temple increasing with each step toward Jerusalem.

Sadly, the lectionary amputates the concluding strophes of this wonderful hymn that declares the blessedness of being in God’s presence at the temple for worship and living one’s life with a profound sense of that presence wherever one might be. As always, I encourage you to read Psalm 84 in its entirety.

For disciples of Jesus, the temple is Jesus himself. What, then, are the highways to our Zion? I would suggest that the scriptures are the means of approaching Jesus. We read them, we preach on them, but have the scriptures become engraved in our hearts? Do we long for the Lord’s Table and the communion of saints in the same way those ancient pilgrims longed for the temple of the Lord and braved difficult and dangerous journeys to get there?

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

For my views on authorship of this and the other two pastoral epistles (I Timothy and Titus), see my post on the lessons from Sunday, September 11th.

Probably in an effort to abbreviate the reading, the lectionary omits verses 9-15. That is unfortunate because we learn in verse 9 the chief reason for Paul’s writing this letter. Paul is urging Timothy to come to him. All his companions have left him during his time of imprisonment except Luke. Even commentators convinced that II Timothy was not in the main authored by Paul concede that these intensely personal verses with all of their vivid details have the ring of Pauline authenticity. Interestingly, Paul requests that Timothy bring with him a disciple named “Mark.” Was this the same person as “John Mark” mentioned in Acts 15:36-41? According to the Book of Acts, the mission partnership between Paul and Barnabas broke up due to a dispute over whether John Mark should accompany them on their next mission trip. Paul was adamantly opposed to bringing John Mark as he appears to have abandoned them during the prior journey. Did Paul have a change of heart toward Mark? Or did Mark distinguish himself in some way that caused Paul to see him in a different light? Or is the Mark of II Timothy an altogether different person? Paul also asks Timothy to bring with him “the cloak I left with Carpus at Troas” along with “the books and above all the parchments.” Again, it is difficult to believe that such mundane details are the product of any literary design.

“At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me.” Vs. 16. It is hard to know when this “defense” took place. Was it when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem? Acts 21:17-40. Or does this refer to a hearing in Rome at which Paul was condemned to death? It is difficult to determine the author’s chronology here, but Paul’s generous response to those who abandoned him reflects the same attitude expressed in Philippians toward those who exploited Paul’s imprisonment to further their own agendas. Philippians 1:15-18.

Paul concludes with a firm expression of his confident faith in God’s ability to rescue him from every evil and preserve him for God’s heavily kingdom. Vs. 18. This cannot be taken as assurance that Paul will come through his current imprisonment unscathed. To the contrary, Paul has already expressed his view that he was “on the point of being sacrificed” and that the time for his “departure” had come. Vs. 6. His hope of salvation lies in the resurrection, life that God will bestow upon him beyond his upcoming execution. This same life, says Paul, belongs to all “who have loved [Jesus’] appearing.” Vs. 8. Accordingly, life in Jesus is eternal not merely because it does not end with death, but because it is invested in those things which are eternal: Faith, hope and, the greatest of all, love. I Corinthians 13:13.

Luke 18:9-14

“God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers…” Thus far, the Pharisee’s prayer is not far different than what we find in the Psalms. For example, the psalmist prays in the 101st Psalm:

I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
anything that is base.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
Perverseness of heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil.
One who secretly slanders a neighbour
I will destroy.
A haughty look and an arrogant heart
I will not tolerate.

It is good to live righteously and to be thankful for the opportunity to be righteous. I am thankful that I don’t have a criminal record. Nevertheless, I am mindful of the fact that my blameless reputation (relatively speaking!) is due in no small part to the fact that I have never been tempted to rob or steal to keep my family from starving to death. I have never been tempted to employ violence to save my life. All of this is the result of having lived a blessed life surrounded by caring family, friends and church. Frankly, I cannot say what sort of person I would have become had I not lived in such a blessed state.

There is something very wrong, however, with the Pharisee’s prayer. Jesus tells us right off the bat that the Pharisee “prayed with himself.” Vs. 11. Whether he knew it or not, this man was addressing not God, but his own need for self-affirmation. His prayer has no thankfulness in it. Instead, there is smugness and self-satisfaction. He does not leave the temple justified because he did not seek to be so in the eyes of God. Rather, he sought justification by comparison with others. The only way he could raise himself up, was by bringing the tax collector down.

Human communities tend toward hierarchy. It is important that we all know our place. The place society assigns to us is generally a measure of our worth. We can all probably recall the seating arrangements in the high school lunch room. Tables ranged from the “cool table,” athletes, cheerleaders and the generally good looking, down to the “nerd table” where yours truly sat with the other kids who had bad acne, braces on their teeth, fat rather than muscle and a lack of athletic prowess. And, as I indicated above, there were bullies. As I recall, bullies typically did not come from the “cool” table. They were much closer to us nerds on the social hierarchy. They just had a harder time accepting it. So by terrifying, intimidating and bullying the rest of us, they felt they were lifting themselves a bit closer to the top of the social ladder. It was all about self-justification. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable was a spiritual bully attempting to exalt himself by denigrating the tax collector.

The language Jesus uses in introducing this parable is reflected in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: “Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that he has committed he shall die.” Ezekiel 33:13. See  Fitzmyer, J.A., The Gospel According to Luke, (c. 1985 by Doubleday) p. 1185 cited in Beale, G.K. and  Carson, D.A., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, (c. 2007 by G.K. Beal & D.A. Carson, pub. by Baker Publishing Group) p. 349. The point here is that good deeds today cannot be banked against iniquity the next. Each moment presents the choice between good and evil and true righteousness chooses the good consistently. So, too, fasting, prayer and tithing, commendable as these practices are, count for nothing when one neglects the great commandment to love God with all the heart and the neighbor as oneself.

The prayer posture of the tax collector, who would not even raise his head, echoes that of Ezra the scribe who, when he learned of the many mixed marriages between the returning Jewish exiles and foreign women, cried out, “O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to heaven.” Ezra 9:6. There is rich irony in that the notorious sinner prays in the manner of Ezra, second only to Moses in renown as a teacher and interpreter of the Torah!

The exaltation of the lowly and the humiliation of the proud and powerful is a recurring refrain throughout the gospel of Luke. It is sounded first in the song of Mary. Luke 1:51-53 and is repeated here to make clear the meaning of the parable. The great reversal is coming. Whether one welcomes this event as salvation or fears it as judgment depends on one’s posture toward Jesus and his proclamation of God’s impending reign. Of course, the same theme is repeated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well. See, e.g., Psalm 107:39-43.

Sunday, September 29th

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 6:1a, 4–7
Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6–19
Luke 16:19–31

Prayer of the Day: O God, rich in mercy, you look with compassion on this troubled world. Feed us with your grace, and grant us the treasure that comes only from you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

The gap in employment rates between America’s highest- and lowest-income families has stretched to its widest levels since officials began tracking the data a decade ago. Meanwhile, rates of unemployment for the lowest-income families — those earning less than $20,000 — have topped 21 percent, nearly matching the rate for all workers during the 1930s’ Great Depression. By contrast, households with income of more than $150,000 per year have an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, a level traditionally defined as full employment. Middle-income workers are increasingly pushed into lower-wage jobs. Many of them in turn are displacing lower-skilled, low-income workers, who become unemployed or are forced to work fewer hours. This according to an analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press.  See CBS Money Watch, September 16, 2012. Also this week The U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut spending on food stamps for the poor by $40 billion over 10 years. Thus, if you are poor, unemployed or both, your chances of getting ahead are poor and your chances of staying out of abject poverty just got worse.

What is happening in the United States is but a microcosm of a much wider and more dangerous gap that has been developing globally between the rich and the poor over the last century. Today over three billion people, almost half the world, live on less than $2.50 per day. Between 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. These statistics are taken from Global Issues, a website dedicated to providing information on social, political, economic and environmental issues affecting us all.

The Gospel of Luke is very much concerned with this gaping canyon between the rich and the poor. In the opening chapters Mary the mother of Jesus sings: “[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” Luke 1:52. In his “Sermon on the Plain” Jesus declares, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Luke 6:20-21. In the next breath he warns, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” Luke 6:24-25. God is preparing a great reversal of fortunes which should have come as no surprise to the rich man in this Sunday’s gospel. After all, had not Moses taught that the needs of the poor man must be met by his neighbor’s generosity? Deuteronomy 15:7-8. Had not the prophets repeatedly warned Israel that her neglect of the poor would bring the judgment of God upon her? Amos 8:4-10. Yet heedless of these dire warnings, the rich man went right on feasting until he found himself on the other side of that great income divide that his life of greed and callousness had helped to build. Too late he recognized the peril of the great divide to his own well being. Too late he realized that he was on the losing side of God’s history.

The parable paints a bleak picture and it is all the more troubling because the gap between rich and poor, with which Jesus was all too familiar, not only continues to exist but is growing by leaps and bounds each year. The only mitigation we get from this dark story is last week’s gospel lesson about the so-called “Dishonest Steward.” Here was a man Jesus called “shrewd” because he was a man of wealth who had the good sense to understand that his discharge from employment was not just a professional setback. It was the beginning of the “great reversal.” Rather than wasting his time trying to get back into the good graces of his former employer or hording what little wealth he had coming at the end of his final day at the office, he seizes the opportunity to build bridges between himself and the people he used to exploit. He understands, as the rich man in this week’s lesson does not, that he needs friends like Lazarus if he hopes to sit at the messianic banquet.

So as late as the hour is and as wide as the gap between rich and poor has become, there is still time. It is not too late to bridge this gap and Jesus would have us know that it can be done. We do not have to settle for a world in which the poor become ever more desperate and the rich become ever more fearful behind the bars of their gated communities. We can use wealth wisely to build bridges of friendship and compassion between ourselves and Lazarus; or we can use it to reinforce the walls and widen the gap that separates us. It’s that simple-or not.

To hear some politicians talk, you would think that any ounce of compassion you might have for the poor, any desire to see them cared for amounts to socialism or something worse. These days words like “socialism,” “communism” and “liberalism” get tossed around in pejorative ways that seem to lack any connection to what they mean. I cannot begin to sort all of that out. But let’s clarify a couple of points. First off, understand that when it comes to the earth and anything on it, there is no biblical notion of human ownership. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,” says the psalmist. Psalm 24:1. In the first chapter of Genesis God tells the human race to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1:28. In order to understand what that means, you need to keep reading into the second chapter of Genesis where the narrator tells us: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15. Human beings are God’s gardeners. As such, we don’t own the earth and we are no more free to do with it as we will than your landscaper is free to pave over your front lawn to build a tennis court for his own private use. Our job is to care for what God made. Our “ownership” of anything is in fact no more than “stewardship.” The owner is God and we must ever be mindful that we will one day be called to account for our stewardship of God’s wealth, however much or little has been placed in our hands.

Secondly, God is passionately concerned about the poor and their treatment is the single most important moral imperative in the Bible. To hear some preachers speak, you would think that sex is the only moral territory that is of concern to God. But the fact is, the preaching of the prophets is replete with warnings against mistreating the poor, the widow and the alien sojourner in the land. You can count on the fingers of one hand the times Jesus addresses sexual sins (including the times he had the perfect opportunity to do so but did not). I don’t have the time or the patience, however, to count up the times Jesus spoke out on behalf of the poor, healed their diseases, fed them when they were hungry and promised them a place at the messianic banquet.

Third, the proper use of wealth is to place it in the service of caring for the world God made and of meeting your neighbor’s needs. I don’t know whether in today’s odd nomenclature that amounts to socialism, communism or something else. But this is the use of wealth to which Jesus calls his disciples. As we learned from last week’s gospel, there is no better use of money than to bridge the gap between ourselves and our poorer sisters and brothers.

Amos 6:1a, 4–7

For some background on Amos the prophet, see my post for Sunday, September, 22nd. Amos is continuing his criticism of Israel’s commercial class here. Once again, I cannot understand why the common lectionary omits verses 2-3 of chapter 6. In them Amos invites his listeners to take a field trip to three cities, Calneh, Hamath and Gath. The location of Calneh is uncertain. Hamath was at the northernmost border of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It was under the control of Israel’s King Jeroboam II in Amos’ time, but it appears to have been subject to attack and conquest throughout the lengthy struggle between Israel and its arch enemy, Syria. We know that Gath was destroyed by Hazael, King of Syria a century before Amos in about 850 B.C.E. The point here seems to be that God knows how to punish nations for their wickedness. What happened to these cities can as easily happen to Israel. Indeed, the fact that Israel has been chosen as God’s covenant partner makes her subject to a higher standard of righteousness. Consequently, God’s judgment is all the more likely for Israel and will be all the more severe.

The prophet is unsparing in his criticism of Israel’s ruling class for its decadence, opulence and callous disregard for the wellbeing of the people of Israel. Interestingly, Zion is also mentioned here, unusual since the audience is from the Northern Kingdom of Israel rather than the Southern Kingdom of Judah whose capital is Jerusalem (Zion). Amos 6:1. Some scholars suggest that this might be the work of a subsequent editor seeking to make the prophet’s oracle relevant to Judah at a later time. Though possible, it is more likely that Amos himself included his homeland within the sweep of God’s judgment just as he did in chapter 2. Amos 2:4-5. The complete and unfeeling exploitation of the poor by the commercial class in Israel is sure to bring down God’s judgment. Amos warns that these “first” among the people of Israel will be the “first” to go into exile. Amos 6:7.

Psalm 146

This is a psalm of praise celebrating the sovereignty of Israel’s God. Like the remaining psalms in the Psalter (Psalm 147-Psalm 150) the hymn begins and ends with the exclamation, “hallelujah” which is Hebrew for “Praise Yahweh!” More than likely, this psalm comes rather late in Israel’s history. There is no mention of the line of David or any hint of the monarchy in Israel. After a half millennia of disappointing kings whose leadership ultimately led to the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the siege of Jerusalem and the loss of the promised land, Israel was in no mood to put her trust in yet another royal figure:

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Vss. 3-4. Instead, Israel is encouraged to put her trust in God. God is the one ruler who “sets the prisoners free.” Only “the Lord opens the eyes of the blind…lifts up those who are bowed down…” and “loves the righteous.”vss. 7-9. The only king worthy of our trust is the God of Israel.

The psalm concludes with the bold affirmation that the Lord will reign forever. The implication is that God has been reigning throughout history in spite of some severe setbacks for Israel and despite her precarious existence under foreign domination and occupation. This confidence is rooted in Israel’s past experience of God’s salvation for the poor and downtrodden in the Exodus, wilderness wanderings and the conquest of the land of Canaan. The return from Exile might also be in view here. But it must also be said that Israel’s faith is future oriented. There is reflected here a hope, expectation and longing for the “Day of the Lord” when perfect justice and righteousness will be established.

1 Timothy 6:6–19

My son-in-law, Caleb, refers to the lottery as “a tax on stupidity.” He is right. Who would buy stock in a company if the odds against growth were one in 175 million and the odds in favor of losing your principal investment were the same? You might just as well throw your money over the bridge. You would have to be insane to make such an investment, but millions of people do just that every time they purchase a lottery ticket. Most of us know this. So why are lottery tickets such hot items?

A lottery ticket is, as the advertisements correctly call it, “a ticket to a dream.” Somebody has to win. Why not me? And if by chance I won-just imagine! I have to confess that I have often been tempted to purchase a ticket in spite of my understanding of the odds against me. Winning would certainly solve a lot of my problems. I would love to pay off the debts I have left over from my children’s college. Of course, whenever you own a home there are deferred maintenance issues needing attention. Then again, why not just forget the maintenance and buy the house of my dreams? Naturally, I have friends and family under financial burdens whom I would be in a position to help (and I expect I would discover family I never knew I had!). And, Oh yes! The church: how could I forget? Beyond the loss of a dollar or two, is there any downside in buying this ticket to a dream?

I think Paul nails it when he tells us flat out: “those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” I Timothy 6:9. Why are we so eager to be rich? In my own case, the chief draw is autonomy. If I were independently wealthy, I would not be answerable to anyone. Nobody could tell me when I need to be at work. I would not be dependent upon any bank or mortgage company. I could live my life on my own terms. But wasn’t that precisely why Adam and Eve found the fruit on the tree of knowledge so very attractive? The serpent promised them that the fruit would make them “like God” and enable them to choose for themselves what is good; to live their lives on their own terms.

I have a feeling that the serpent is lurking very near the convenience stores where lottery tickets are sold whispering his same old lies. And they are lies. Truth is, money does not make me autonomous anymore than princes can offer me salvation. What money can do is make me forget how rich I really am. Yes, I am rich precisely because I am surrounded by loving people upon whom I can depend. My family is such a close and loving one because we have always had to depend upon each other and have therefore learned to care so deeply for each other. I am rich because I have received through the testimony of two millennia of saints a faith in a God whose love for me braved even the cross. Because life has taught me again and again that I am not autonomous, I have learned dependence upon and trust in this God who has never failed me. I have learned that true security comes from belonging to a community of mutually caring people living together as a single body-the Body of Christ. Giving up all of that is the true cost of a lottery ticket. Investing in one is therefore even more stupid than the math suggests.

For good reason, then, Paul advises Timothy to shun the quest for wealth and pursue instead “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” I Timothy 6:11. Again, these virtues are not developed in people who are autonomous or imagine themselves to be so. They are developed among people who know themselves to be dependent upon a gracious and compassionate God who shares his very self with them and invites them to do the same for each other.

Luke 16:19–31

A few things are worth noting right of the bat. First, note that Lazarus is the character in this story who is given a name. The rich man has no name. That already tells you something about where Jesus’ concern lies. The poor, starving masses have a name and a face. The rich man, for all his wealth and power, is nearly invisible. It is usually just the other way around, isn’t it? In our culture, the poor, the sick and the dying are kept mercifully out of our sight. The parable mirrors testimony to God’s compassionate care for the downtrodden reflected in last Sunday’s psalm:

Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 113:5-9. When the transcendent God stoops to look down upon the earth, he sees the poor, the needy and the childless-people that usually are invisible to us. God doesn’t seem much interested in what the kings, princes, presidents and prime ministers are up to.

Second, Jesus tells us nothing about the character of either of the two men in his parable. For all we know, the rich man might have been a regular worshiper at synagogue each Sabbath. He may have been a generous contributor to charity. He may have been a loving husband and a dedicated parent. We cannot assume that he was greedy, miserly or cold hearted. He may have passed by Lazarus without making eye contact, but honestly, who of us has not at some point in our lives done that very same thing on our way to the train or the bus in Times Square or some other place where the wretched of the earth come to beg? As for Lazarus, we know nothing of his character either. He might have been a good, honest and hardworking man just down on his luck. But he might also have been a scoundrel whose irresponsible lifestyle brought him to his sorry state. Jesus does not tell us one way or the other. It does not matter to Jesus and it should not matter to us. The Scriptures do not limit the command to care for the poor with any provisos such as that the poor be “deserving.”

Third, this is not a parable about God punishing rich people for failing to care for the poor. God is not even in this parable and God is not responsible for that gap between Hades where the rich man finds himself and the bosom of Abraham were Lazarus resides. The rich man built that gap all by himself. It grew wider every time the rich man drove up to his estate and turned his gaze away from Lazarus as his limo with the tinted glass pulled through the gate. The gap grew larger whenever the rich man switched TV channels to avoid the disturbing images of starving children on the news. The gap widened as the rich man invested ever more of his wealth into shoring up the security fence and the alarm system around his property. When the rich man arrives at the afterlife, he discovers that the gap between Lazarus and himself is still there. The only difference is that the great reversal has occurred. Lazarus is now the honored guest at the messianic banquet and the rich man is on the outside begging for scraps.

Now the sad thing about this parable is that there is no learning curve. The rich man is still under the illusion that he is somebody important. He thinks he can hobnob with Father Abraham and extract favors from him. He doesn’t even deign to speak directly to Lazarus. Instead, he asks Abraham to “send that boy there-what’s his name? Lazarus? (As though it matters!) Send that boy to fetch me a drink.” Abraham has to point out to the rich man that things have changed. The reversal has come, just as the prophets warned. But the rich man still doesn’t get it. He still thinks nothing has changed. He still thinks he is in a position to order Lazarus about like a servant, only now he wants Lazarus to warn his brothers to repent before they also come to his “place of torment.” Abraham replies that the rich man’s brothers have all the warning they need. They have Moses and the prophets. They need only listen. “No, father Abraham,” he protests. “But if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

It is hard to miss the irony here. Of course, we know that someone has come back from the dead, but the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. So what will it take to wake us up? What will it take to convince us that by ignoring the cries of the poor we are building our prison in Hades? God has sent his Son to wake us up from our deathly sleep and after we rejected even him, God raised him up and gave him back to us again. God continues to raise up Jesus for us. If that does not melt our hearts, what will?