All Will Be Thrown Down

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-25
Mark 13:1-8

By any measure, the Temple Jesus and his disciples visited on their Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an impressive structure. Commissioned around 20 BCE by Herod the Great, the Roman client King of Judea, “Herod’s Temple” was on one hand a conciliatory gesture toward the priestly class and leaders of the Temple who were deeply suspicious of the king (Herod had slaughtered a number of priests when he took power not that many years earlier), and on the other hand a narcissistic monument to Herod’s ambition to be regarded among the day’s great rulers, all of whom taxed their citizens mercilessly to fund extensive, self-aggrandizing building programs.

Herod’s reconstruction of the Second Temple employed more than one thousand priests, who worked as masons and carpenters, and although the Temple proper was rebuilt in less than two years, the surrounding buildings, courtyards, and walls were not completed until nearly eighty years later. It was a massive project, occupying the entire plateau atop the Temple Mount and reflecting in its design Herod’s affinity for Hellenism.

It must have come as something of a shock, then, when Jesus told the disciples who pointed out the monstrous stones from which the buildings were constructed, “See these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Read more

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Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 OR Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22 OR Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Maybe the most important counsel a commentator on this week’s lectionary texts can offer to whoever hopes to preach them is to keep reading (I’m sure there’s a proverb about this somewhere, but darned if I can come up with one). The lectionary I consulted began with the text from Job, followed by excerpts from the 34th Psalm, and the combination left me, quite honestly, flabbergasted.

I know it’s just a story, and one with parallels in ancient Near Eastern pagan myths at that. I also know that the ending (chapter 42) is not altogether in keeping with the richly nuanced theology of the rest of the text. But taken at face value, I find those last verses of Job just a bit troubling.

I want to say to God, “OK, lemme see if I got this right. After you give Job – who to say the least had seen more than his share of abject suffering – a thorough dressing down about your respective places in the cosmic scheme, he says, ‘O, wow! I had no idea. I shoulda just kept my mouth shut. Sorry, God.’

“And then, after he prays for the friends who had added so much insult to his injury, you give him ‘twice as much as he had before.’ That’s twice the livestock, twice the servants, twice the children, plus a bunch of money and jewelry. And he lives another one hundred and forty years to enjoy it, which ostensibly makes everything pretty much all right!

“Are you serious? What the heck am I supposed to do with that? Do you really expect me to preach it?” Read more


The LORD Will Make You (into) a House

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 7:1-14
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 50-56

This week’s First Testament text is a familiar one from 2 Samuel. David, having consolidated his reign and established momentary peace in Israel, wonders aloud to the prophet Nathan whether it is fitting for him to live comfortably in a well-built house while the Ark of the Covenant, the most conspicuous and immediate symbol of God’s presence with Israel, remains in a tent.

The subtext here is pretty obvious; David has in mind the construction of a temple that will be a proper dwelling place for God, and Nathan assures him – at least initially – that he should proceed. Nathan’s assurance, however, is short-lived. That evening God speaks to him, telling him to go to David and inform him that there is no need to build a temple, at least not now.

The explanation God offers, though terse, is theologically illuminating and indicative of things to come, not simply in this particular text, but in the subsequent history of God’s redemptive work. Read more


The Economy of God’s Redemption

Trinity Sunday
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

When I teach Christian Ethics, I try to compensate for my students’ general lack of theological literacy by taking them on a whirlwind tour of the biblical narrative. The main thing the Bible has to teach us, I often tell them, is who God is and what God is up to, with the latter showing us a lot about the former. What God is up to, I suggest, is some variation of the same thing he’s been up to since he approached Abram somewhere around 4,000 years ago: a work of healing, cosmic in its scope, in which (as some of the Ekklesia Project’s own literature points out), God’s called and gathered people are both recipients and partners.

This is the fundamental economy of God’s ongoing work to heal the brokenness of his beloved Creation. God calls regular folks, all of whom share in Creation’s brokenness, often profoundly so, and then empowers them, collectively and individually, to be embodied witnesses to God’s now-yet-coming reign. Read more


It Can’t Come Soon Enough

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

In the undergraduate Christian Ethics course I teach just about every semester, we are talking this week about a notion many of my students seem to regard as quaint, if not downright archaic, namely sin. Among the more important points I have tried to highlight is one well-worn in many strands of Christian tradition; sin is self-destructive, in that it separates us from our true ultimate end and therefore from the possibility of genuine flourishing as women and men made in the image and likeness of the Triune God. Insofar as it is self-destructive, moreover, sin is by and large its own punishment, for it entails forever restlessly seeking happiness in places it doesn’t exist, except as the palest simulacra, which are bound always to disappoint. Read more