Weekly Lectionary Commentary Lent 3b

Exodus 20:1-17

The word ‘commandment’ has unfortunate connotations, and when ten commandments are stacked up in one liturgical reading people get nervous.  Nobody likes limitations.  Freedom is the highly vaunted human-right du jour; including freedom from oppressive deities.  No wonder the monument of the Ten Commandments was removed from Judge Roy Moores courtroom in Alabama as if it were a heavy millstone tied around our necks from a bygone era (did you know it weighed a burdensome 5,280 lbs?!).  Thomas Long (homelitics prof. @ Emory) comments, “In the popular consciousness, the Ten Commandments have somehow become burdens…most people cannot name all ten, but they are persuaded that at the center of each one is a finger-waving ‘Thou shalt not.’”  If this is the current disposition toward the famous word of the LORD from Mount Sinai how can we hope to preach gospel freedom from this text of restrictive commandments?

Thankfully, the lectionary had the foresight to include the important preamble to the Ten Commandments, which reminds us that the Israelite’s primary experience of God up to this point was of one who “brought [them] out of the the land of Egypt, and out of the house of slavery.”  The Israelites were living a theology of liberation (albeit, as it happened and happens, offering resistance at every turn).  Perhaps this is why the Ten Commandments say nothing at all about how the people are to structure their human government–there is no sanction of a monarchy, there is no demanded obedience to human leaders.  Instead, at the heart of the commandments, is the Shabbat (the ceasing) of all labor and forced work (note the reference to male and female slave), which is a law so important (linked here to God’s great act of creation) that it applies across the board to all and every (including the animals of the fields, and in Deuteronomy 5 the fields themselves!), and no ruling body (even a master) can offer veto.  We are reminded that freedom is not found in productivity and work, the attainment of wealth and glory, and the chaotic scramble to achieve beyond that of another.  The alternate vision offered by the Ten Commandments, that not found in Egypt, invites the Israelite people to develop a radical commitment to God, and compassion for their neighbor.  The invitation of the Ten Commandments is to find freedom in community by binding the community to the God of freedom.  Walter Brueggemann (O.T. prof. @ Columbia Theological Seminary) reminds us that the same God who powerfully declared “Let my people go…” followed with “…that they may serve me.”  The freedom found in serving God is a turning away from a life of oppression, and a life of oppressing.

We also note that the Ten Commandments themselves are full of imaginative space and fall far short of the needs of a constitution.  Their brevity ensures that the details of life in a God-fearing community be worked out by the careful discernment of community members in conversation with God’s ‘ten-words’ (the Decalogue).

Psalm 19

God speaks to his creation both in natural revelation (in what we see and know of God as a result of being a part of God’s creation) and special revelation (what God has revealed to us through the oral or written word).  Psalm 19 begins with natural revelation, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, ” and ends with special revelation, “The Law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.”  The move from natural revelation to special revelation is the path all of us take to come to know God more fully.  Psalm 19′s praise of special revelation (as perfect, sure, right, clear, and true) offers a fitting response to the Hebrew Bible lection.  Moreover the psalmist’s desire to be one who speaks acceptable words (vs. 14) indicates the trouble we should take over speaking our own words about God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

“The cross is foolishness”–that is the accusation Paul levies against the very gospel he preaches.  However, Paul is quick to point out that the “foolishness” of God is far wiser than human wisdom.  The cross is God’s way of humbling humanity in an attempt to save humanity.  Paul
writes, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”  Paul goes on to remind the Corinthian Christians that they were of humble origins themselves (i.e. they were not the social elite, or the academic elite) and therefore not a part of the world’s wisdom.  Thus when they boast they cannot boast in their own strength and wisdom but only in the strength and wisdom of God, which is the foolishness of the cross!

John 2:13-22

The disruption of the Temple by Jesus is one of a handful of stories found in all four gospel accounts.  John differs, however, from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) in the placement of the event.  In the synoptics the disruption of the temple immediately precedes (and leads to) the arrest of Jesus and his crucifixion.  In John’s gospel the disruption of the temple happens early on in the ministry of Jesus, shortly after Jesus calls his first disciples.

John was written after the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. (most scholars believe that all the gospels, with the possible exception of Mark, were written after the destruction of the temple).  The temple was both the pride and scourge of the Jews.  It was the fulcrum of their worship and a venerated sacred space.  However, it was also in part controlled by Rome who hand selected the high priest and who taxed the use of the temple.  The act of Jesus in driving out the money changers was a political act of civil disobedience.

It was also a theological act.  John argues that Jesus is the presence of God with the people.  Jesus is the temple which will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days (verse 19).  Long after the temple was destroyed Jesus would still be the presence of God with the people.  John begins his gospel with this important insight.  In a world no longer with a temple Jesus has become the point of contact with God.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the gift of God’s commandments.  The same Word that gave the commandments is present in the person of Jesus (the Word in flesh) and it is that Jesus that we proclaim as crucified and risen (a foolish proclamation to those that are perishing).  This Jesus who is with us always is the very presence of God in our midst.

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