Archive for the ‘Matthew 21’ Tag

Devotion for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah Wall, United Nations, New York, New York

Image in the Public Domain

Eschatological Ethics

NOVEMBER 27, 2022


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm 122 (LBW) or Psalm 50:1-15 (LW)

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:37-44 or Matthew 21:1-11


Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.

Protect us by your strength and

save us from the threatening dangers of our sins,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13


Stir up, we implore you, your power, O Lord, 

and come that by your protection

we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins

and be saved by your mighty deliverance;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 10


When I compose a post based on lectionary readings, I prefer to write about a theme or themes running through the assigned readings.  The readings for this Sunday fall on the axis of divine judgment and mercy, in balance.  Hellfire-and-damnation preachers err in one direction.  Those who focus so much on divine mercy that they downplay judgment err in the polar opposite direction.

Isaiah 2:2-4, nearly identical to Micah 4:1-4 (or the other way around), predicts what, in Christian terms, is the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  The soaring, positive imagery of Isaiah 2:2-4 precedes divine judgment on the impious and impenitent–those who revel in the perils of their sins.  There is no place for such people in the fully-realized Kingdom of God.

Psalm 50 focuses on divine judgment.  YHWH is just, keeping faith with the “devoted ones” who have kept the moral mandates of the Law of Moses.  YHWH is just, prioritizing these moral mandates over ritual practices.  Rituals still matter, of course; they are part of the Law of Moses, too.  Yet these rites are never properly talismans, regardless of what people may imagine vainly.  People will still reap what they have sown.

Psalm 122 is a hymn of a devout pilgrim who had recently returned from Jerusalem.  The text fits neatly with Isaiah 2:1-4.  Psalm 122 acknowledges the faithfulness of God and the reality of “thrones of judgment.”

Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 21:1-11, and Matthew 24:37-44, like Isaiah 2:1-4, exist within the expectation of the establishment or unveiling of the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  We read of Jesus acting out Second Zechariah’s prediction of the Messiah’s arrival at Jerusalem at the fulfillment of time (Zechariah 9:9-10) in Matthew 21:1-11.  Romans 13:1-14 and Matthew 24:37-44 remind us to straighten up and fly right, so to speak.

St. Paul the Apostle identified the resurrection of Jesus as the dawn of a new historical era.  Naturally, therefore, he taught that salvation had come nearer.  St. Paul also expected Jesus to return soon–nearly 2000 years ago from our perspective, O reader.  St. Paul’s inaccurate expectation has done nothing to minimize the importance of his ethical counsel.

Forbidden fruits frequently prove alluring, perhaps because they are forbidden.  Their appeal may wear off, however.  This is my experience.  That which really matters is consistent with mutuality, the Law of Moses, and the Golden Rule.  That which really matters builds up the common good.  This standard is about as tangible as any standard can be.

Let us be careful, O reader, not to read into Romans 13:14 that which is not there.  I recall Babette’s Feast (1987), a delightful movie set in a dour, Pietistic “Sad Dane” Lutheran settlement.  Most of the characters are unwilling even to enjoy their food, literally a “provision for the flesh.”  One can live honorably as in the day while enjoying the pleasures of life.

Advent is a bifurcated season.  It begins with mostly somber readings.  By the end of Advent, however, the readings are more upbeat.  Just as divine judgment and mercy exist in balance, so do the two halves of Advent.










Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA



Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Rising Star Delenn

Above:  Ambassador Delenn, from Rising Star, a 1997 Episode of Babylon 5 (1994-1998)

A screen capture I took via PowerDVD and a legal DVD

Faith Manages

DECEMBER 14, 15, and 16, 2023


The Collect:

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,

and open our ears to the words of your prophets,

that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19


The Assigned Readings:

Habakkuk 2:1-5 (Thursday)

Habakkuk 3:2-6 (Friday)

Habakkuk 3:13-19 (Saturday)

Psalm 126 (All Days)

Philippians 3:7-11 (Thursday)

Philippians 3:12-16 (Friday)

Mathew 21:28-32 (Saturday)


Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come in again with joy, shouldering their shears.

–Psalm 126:5-7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The readings for these three days combine to constitute a tapestry of hope, faith, violence, and judgment.

The lessons from Habakkuk complain to God about persistent injustice and report a divine reply that (A) God will settle scores one day, and (B) the righteous must remain faithful during trying times.  Some of the material is disturbing:

You tread the earth in rage,

You trample nations in fury.

You have come forth to deliver Your people,

To deliver Your anointed.

You will smash the roof of the villain’s house,

Raze it from foundation to top.

You will crack [his] skull with Your bludgeon;

Blown away will be his warriors,

Whose delight is to crush me suddenly,

To devour a poor man in an ambush.

–Habakkuk 3:12-14, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Happier is the end of the book:

Though the fig tree does not bud

And no yield is on the vine,

Though the olive crop has failed

And the fields produce no grain,

Though sheep have vanished from the fold

And no cattle are n the pen,

Yet will I rejoice in the LORD,

Exult in the God who delivers me.

My Lord GOD is my strength:

He makes my feet like the deer’s

And lets me stride upon the heights.

–Habakkuk 3:17-19, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

As I have written many times, I understand the reality that some oppressors will not cease oppressing until someone forces them to do so.  Thus a rescue mission becomes necessary.  This is good news for the oppressed and a catastrophe for the oppressors.  Yet the imagery of God cracking open skulls bothers me.

The note of judgment continues in Matthew 21:28-32, set in the context of the final days leading up to our Lord and Savior’s crucifixion.

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

–Matthew 21:31b-32, New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The bad news for chief priests and elders, beneficiaries of the Temple system, comes amid a series of controversies in the Gospel of Matthew.  The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45) follows on the heels of those harsh words, for example.

St. Paul the Apostle picks up the theme of remaining faithful during difficult times in Philippians.  His reference to the righteous living by faith echoes a line from Habakkuk–a nice touch, which the lectionary amplifies.  Faith, in the Pauline sense of that word, is inherently active, compelling one to do something.  In contrast, the definition of faith in the Letter of James is intellectual, hence that author’s insistence on pairing works with faith.  So no disagreement between Sts. Paul and James regarding faith and works exists.  Maintaining that active faith under great pressure is both difficult and crucial, as St. Paul knew well.

When times and circumstances challenge our trust in God, may we say with St. Paul:

But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison to the superior value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.   I have lost everything for him, but whatever I have lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found with him.

–Philippians 3:8-9a, Common English Bible (2008)

Faith (in the Pauline sense) functions in the absence of proof for or against a given proposition.  As Ambassador Delenn, a character from Babylon 5 (1994-1998), one of my favorite science fiction series, said,

Faith manages.

(Indeed, that was one of the major themes of the series.)  Faith keeps one on the proper path when, as Habakkuk wrote, the crops have failed and the livestock have vanished.  If we give up, we have decided to act in a way which will create a more negative future.  Yet if we persist, we act based on hope.  Such hope as overcome incredible odds many times, from ancient to contemporary times.  Many people have suffered and died so that members of subsequent generations can lead better lives.

Advent is a season of hope and violence.  Some of the violence is contemporary.  Other violence comes from the texts we read.  For example, St. Mary of Nazareth, the mother of our Lord and Savior, would have died by stoning if not for the graciousness of St. Joseph.  Faith manages during times of doubt, despair, and suspicion.  It persists during protracted periods of whisper campaigns and rumor-mongering, such as Jesus and his mother had to endure.

May we, by grace, have healthy faith from God in God, in whom both judgment and mercy exist.  And may we leave the judgment to God.










Third Week of Advent: Tuesday   8 comments

Above: Grapes (as in the father’s vineyard from the Gospel reading)

Hearing and Doing

DECEMBER 19, 2023


Zephaniah 3:1-13 (Revised English Bible):

Woe betide the tyrant city,

filthy and foul!

She heeded no warning voice,

took no rebuke to heart;

she did not put her trust in the LORD,

nor did she draw near to her God.

The leaders within her were roaring lions,

her rulers wolves of the plain

that left nothing over till morning.

Her prophets were reckless and perfidious;

her priests profaned the sanctuary

and did violence to the law.

But the LORD in her midst is just;

he does no wrong;

morning after morning he gives his judgment,

every day without fail;

yet the wrongdoer knows no shame.

I have wiped out this arrogant people;

their bastions are demolished.

I have destroyed their streets;

no one walks among them.

Their cities are laid waste,

abandoned and unpeopled.

I said,

Surely she will fear me;

and will take my instruction to heart,

all the commands I laid on her

that her dwelling-place might escape destruction.

But they hastened all the more

to perform their evil deeds.

Therefore wait for me, says the LORD,

wait for the day when I stand up to accuse you;

I have decided to gather nations

and assemble kingdoms,

in order to pour my wrath on them,

all my burning anger;

the whole earth will be consumed

by the fire of my jealousy.

Then I shall restore pure lips to all peoples,

that they may invoke the LORD by name

and serve him with one accord.

My worshipers, dispersed beyond the rivers of Cush,

will bring offerings to me.

On that day, Jerusalem,

you will not be put to shame for any of the deeds

by which you have rebelled against me,

because I shall rid you then

of your proud and arrogant citizens,

and never again will you flaunt your pride

on my holy mountain.

I shall leave a remnant in you,

lowly and poor people.

The survivors in Israel will find refuge in the LORD’s name.

They will do no wrong, nor speak lies;

no words of deceit will pass their lips;

they will feed and lie down

with no one to terrify them.

Psalm 34:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

I shall bless the LORD at all times;

his praise will be ever on my lips.

In the LORD I shall glory;

the humble will hear and be glad.

Glorify the LORD with me;

let us exult his name together.

I sought the LORD’s help; he answered me

and set me free from all my fears.

They who look to him are radiant with joy;

they will never be put out of countenance.

Here is the one who cried out in his affliction;

the LORD heard him and saved him from all his troubles.

The angel of the LORD is on guard

round those who fear him, and he rescues them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good.

Happy are those who find refuge in him!

Matthew 21:28-32 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus said,]

But what do you think about this?  There was a man who had two sons.  He went to the first, and said, ‘My son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  ‘I will, sir,’ the boy replied; but he did not go.  The father came to the second and said the same.  ‘I will not,’ he replied; but afterwards he changed his mind and went.  Which of the two did what the father wanted?

They [chief priests and elders of the nation] replied,

The second.

Then Jesus said,

Truly I tell you: tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For when John came to show you the right way to live, and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes did; and even when you had seen that, you did not change your minds and believe him.

The Collect:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


It is not enough to hear what God.  No, one must listen in that way which leads to action.

I suspect that much disobedience to God flows from misunderstanding, not purposeful evasion.  In the name of God people have embarked on Crusades, Inquisitions, and religious wars.  In the name of God people continue to slaughter others and/or lay heavy and needless burdens on their fellow human beings, not recognizing the equality which flows from the image of God each of us bears and from the Holy Spirit, which respects no human-defined boundaries.  Often many of we mere mortals accept as proper the reality in which we socialize.

Yet the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Actually, deeds reveal creeds.  Talk is cheap, but actions tell the truth.  So repentant tax collectors (Roman collaborators and tax thieves) and prostitutes were better off spiritually than certain members of the religious respectable class.

As the prophet Samuel said when he anointed the young David, God looks inward; people look at the outside.


Written on June 1, 2010

Third Week of Advent: Monday   10 comments

Above: A Catacombs Image of Jesus

The Authority of Jesus

DECEMBER 18, 2023


Numbers 24:1-7, 15-17a (Revised English Bible):

But now that Balaam knew that the LORD wished him to bless Israel, he did not go and resort to divination as before.  He turned towards the desert, and before his eyes he saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe; and, the spirit of God coming on him, he uttered his oracle:

The word of Balaam son of Beor,

the word of the man whose sight is clear,

the word of him who hears the words of God,

who with opened eyes sees in a trance

the vision from the Almighty;

Jacob, how fair are your tents,

Israel, your encampments,

like long palm groves,

like gardens by a river,

like aloe trees planted by the LORD,

like cedars beside the waters!

The water in his vessels shall overflow,

and his seed shall be like great waters,

so that his king may be taller than Agag,

and his kingdom lifted high….

Then he uttered his oracle:

The word of Balaam son of Beor,

the word of the man whose sight is clear,

the word of him who hears the words of God,

who shares the knowledge of the Most High,

who with opened eyes sees in a trance

the vision from the Almighty:

I see him, but now now;

I behold him, but not near:

a star will come forth out of Jacob,

a comet will arise from Israel….

Psalm 25:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

LORD my God, to you I lift up my heart.

In you I trust:  do not let me be put to shame,

do not let my enemies exult over me.

No one whose enemies exult over me.

No one whose hope is in you is put to shame;

but shame comes to all who break faith without cause.

Make your paths known to me, LORD;

teach me your ways.

Lead me by your faithfulness and teach me,

for you are God my saviour;

in you I put my hope all day long.

Remember, LORD, your tender care and love unfailing,

for they are from of old.

Do not remember the offences of my youth,

but remember me in your unfailing love,

in accordance with your goodness, LORD.

Matthew 21:23-27 (Revised English Bible):

He [Jesus] entered the temple, and, as he was teaching, the chief priests and elders of the nation came up to him and asked:

By what authority are you acting like this?  Who gave you this authority?

Jesus replied,

I also have a question for you.  If you answer it, I will tell you by what authority I act.  The baptism of John:  was it from God, or from men?

This set them arguing among themselves:

If we say, ‘From God,’ we will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the people’s reaction, for they all take John for a prophet.

So they answered,

We do not know.

And Jesus said,

Then I will not tell you either by what authority I act.

The Collect:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


There was no separation of religion and state in First Century C.E. Judea.  The Roman Empire occupied the Jewish homeland, and competing Jewish sects assumed positions relative to collaborating with the Imperium.  The Temple at Jerusalem was the seat of collaboration, and next door a Roman fortress towered over that complex.  The politics of architecture was impossible to miss.

So Jesus maneuvered a political minefield for years.  (His crucifixion occurred in this historical and social context.)   The Gospels record that religious authority figures asked Jesus questions designed to entrap him and thereby to get him in trouble with the common people or the Roman imperial government.  Yet Jesus, being intelligent and perceptive, understood these facts and answered artfully.  This day’s Gospel reading tells of such an occasion.

The authority of Jesus came from God, of course.  This authority is unassailable, a fact that has not prevented people from attacking it.  Yet the good news is this:  God has won.  God wins.  God will continue to win.

Thanks be to God!


Written on June 1, 2010