Monday, February 21, 2022

Sunday 27 February 2022 - Ordinary 8 [final Sunday before Lent]

Theme(s): Teaching/Love for enemies/Mercy

Sentence: So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty. (Isaiah 55:11)


God our rock,
the solid ground of our being;
help us dig deeply into your rich soil,
graft us into Christ the good tree,
so that we bear the fruit that will last;
through Jesus who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Luke 6:39-49


Isaiah 55:10-13

Through these Ordinary Sundays the Old Testament reading connects to the Gospel reading. (Later this will only happen if we follow the "related" readings.)

In this passage Isaiah is focused on the tracking of God's "word" as it goes "out of [the Lord's] mouth" (11a) and what then happens to it. Through Isaiah the Lord says, "it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (11b).

That is, the Lord is intent on his word - what is being spoken through the prophet Isaiah - transforming the situation of Israel. That transformation is spoken of in lyrical terms in verses 12-13 - terms which relate to Israel's jubilant return from exile in Babylon (see also 40:3-5 and 48:20-22).

Jesus is also intent that his words - his teaching in the Sermon on the Plain - will not be in vain and urges his hearers to not only listen but also to act, for then the kingdom of God will expand on earth and the world will be changed from a place of lasting enmity and revenge into a place of peace and joy.

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

In the Revised Common Lectionary readings for each Sunday there is normally a connection between Psalm and Gospel. Here, after a lovely opening to the psalm - fit for any Sunday - we skip verses to go to the end of the psalm, verses 12-15 and find connections with the last part of the gospel reading.

In the last part of the gospel reading Jesus commends those who hear his words and act on them: they are like a man building a house on a strong foundation.

Here in verses 12-15 we read of "The righteous" who "flourish" like trees such as the palm and the cedar, "planted in the house of the Lord." No tree grows well unless it puts down strong and deep roots. The tree imagery here is equivalent to the building/foundation imagery in Luke 6:46-49.

Further, "the Lord is ... my rock" (verse 15).

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

So, Paul, having dealt with various Corinthian questions, concludes his chapter on the resurrection.
Change is coming. Expecting this will happen while some readers are still alive, he says that when the great end of time arrives - signalled by "the last trumpet" (52a; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16) - "we will not all die, but we will all be changed" (51). Those who have died will be "raised imperishable" (52b). This, of course, has been Paul's great theme in responding to Corinthian questions: what will happen we do not know but it will be wonderful and, here he says, it will be permanent.

In particular, the resurrection at the end of time will be the final victory - Jesus has won that victory (57) - over death. Isaiah 25:7-8 and Hosea 13:14 are combed and pieces from them combined to provide the declaration over the end of death in verses 54b-55. 

Verses 56-57 are then a summary commentary: in classic Pauline terms: death is linked to sin (sin is the sting which kills us), the power of sin is "the law" (see Romans 1-8) - paradoxically, the law of God given through Moses tells us what sin is and enhances the power of sin over us, a power which is victorious through death, except that - thanks be to God - victory (over sin and death) is given through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, verse 58, what are we then to do? Stand firm! Aiming for and achieving excellence in our work for the Lord "because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain" (because resurrection means all we do for God is rewarded by God).

Luke 6:39-49

Thus we come to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Plain. And the conclusion to the conclusion, the parable of warning, to build our lives on the words/teaching of Jesus, reminds us that this is Luke's version of Jesus' greatest (most memorable, most discussed, most handed on from one disciple to another disciple) sermon because Matthew has the same ending to his version of that greatest sermon.

In some ways comment is not needed on the conclusion to the sermon but it may guide us through the conclusion if we think of these verses as provoking Jesus' hearers to take utterly seriously what he says, to act on his words and not to walk away from them (as we so often do, after hearing a sermon), making noises about how "interesting" or "lovely" the message was. Jesus demands action - response, repentance, obedience, change. He was not then and does not now look for pleasant compliments for his sermonic efforts.

Verses 39-40: The second half of these two verses clarifies that Jesus is speaking to disciples (actual and "would bes"): a disciple of Jesus is a learner; unless the disciple learns the truth (i.e. what Jesus teaches) there is spiritual danger (he or she may lead another (less knowledgeable disciple) to fall, with them, into the pit); but a disciple - always in the humility that remembers the teacher is above not below the disciple - may become "fully qualified" and when this is so, will "be like the teacher." In this instance, this likeness is not "as great as Jesus" but "ready and able to disciple disciples and thus to fulfil the Great Commission, to "make disciple of all nations" (Matthew 28:19)".

Verses 41-42: we can spot a connection between the "blind" imagery in verse 39 and the speck/log diminishment of sight in these verses. (Such connections, many scholars think, aided the memory of disciples as they collected and then transmitted the teaching of Jesus by oral means, in the decades before the gospels were written. It was easier to remember longer chunks of material if they were connected by similar if not common imagery.) Here Jesus is addressing disciples - we tend to use the speck/log imagery to address people who generally find fault with others while not understanding their own failures. A feature of modern inclusive language aids the second and not the first understanding because in the NRSV "brother's eye" has become "neighbour's eye." What, then, is Jesus addressing? Likely he is guarding disciples against thinking that because they understand a little bit of Jesus' teaching they can start critiquing other disciples. If they do so, they run the risk of failing to recognise their own major faults, which they will have a better understanding of when they have more knowledge of the kingdom of God.

Verses 43-45: Jesus here speaks about a general human phenomenon, using readily understood imagery from nature: a good person has a good heart and a bad person has a bad heart. The sting in the tale for disciples is in the last part of verse 45: "for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks." Disciples need to have hearts filled with "good treasure" (first part of the verse) - the teaching of Jesus - if they are to overflow with goodness (and not, as in the previous verses, with hypocrisy).

Verses 46-49: Thus, as we come to this last passage in the sermon, we are prepared for yet one further way in which Jesus talks about discipleship and the importance of his teaching for disciples. The success, Jesus says, of a disciple's living well (succeeding, if we can so speak, at discipleship) depends not only on hearing what Jesus teaches but also on doing what Jesus teaches disciples to do. Discipleship is not "learning" but it is "putting learning into action." If listening does not lead to doing, then the (supposed) disciple is very foolish - like a man who builds his house on "ground without a foundation" (49).

What then do we need to do which Jesus has asked us to do but which we have not yet done?

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