Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Psalm 106 – “Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever” (106:1).
“Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness. Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power” (106:6-8).
For a while after this “they sang his praise. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel” (106:12-13).
They sinned against the Lord and his anointed ones. “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image” (106:19). God would have destroyed them had not Moses “stood in the breach before him” (106:23).
Over and over again, they “provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds” (106:29).
“Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity. Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (106:43-45).
“Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’” (106:47-48). Amen
Psalm 107 – “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!” (107:1-2).
“[H]e satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery” (107:9-10).
Those that rebel again Him, He will break, but he also saves. “Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them” (107:21)
“Some went off to sea in ships, plying the trade routes of the world.. They too observed the Lord’s power in action, his impressive works on the deepest seas. He spoke, and the winds rose, stirring up the waves” (107:23-25).
“He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor” (107:29-30).
“Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord” (107:43).
Matthew 21 – Jesus and his disciples come near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and the Mount of Olives. He sends two of his disciples into the village to get a donkey “and a colt with her” (21:2). They are to get them and to tell anyone who asks that the Lord needs them. This instruction is seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 that the king will come to them “triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey -- on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Matthew makes sure he mentions both donkey and colt unlike the other gospel writers; Matthew has a tendency to “double” when it comes to other stories of Jesus. In Matthew 8:28, he heals 2 men with demons, not just one as in Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:26 and in Matthew 20, he also recounts Jesus’ healing of two blind men, not just one as in Mark 10:46 and Luke 18:35 – not sure why he does this.
Matthew also changes the sense of the sentence in 21:3 where he addresses the question of what they’ll say if anyone asks them about taking the animals. Mark says that if someone asks them why they are taking the donkey, the disciples should reassure them and tell them the Lord will return it immediately (Mark 11:3). Matthew turns this question into a kind of mysterious assent once they say, “The Master needs them” (21:3). Luke leaves the confrontation out entirely.
Jesus enters the city greeted like a king (in 2 Kings 9 Jehu is greeted in the same fashion). Jesus finds the city in “turmoil” when he gets there. People ask who he is and the crowds say it is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth. Jesus goes to the Temple where he drives out all who are buying and selling (In Mark he goes there and just looks around). He accuses people of turning it into a den of thieves. The blind and lame come to him in the Temple, and he cures them. The chief priests and scribes are appalled at how people are addressing him. Then he goes to Bethany to spend the night.
In the morning he returns to the city and is hungry. He sees a fig tree by the road with nothing on it but leaves. He curses it and it withers. The disciples ask him how that happened. He makes it into a lesson about the power they may have too if they have faith. “[I]f you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done” (21:21).
When he goes into the Temple to teach this time, the chief priests and elders ask him by what authority he teaches and does these things. To confound them, knowing their fear of the people who have a high opinion of John the Baptist, he asks them where John’s authority came from. They claim not to know about John, so Jesus says he will not tell them by whose authority he ministers.
Then he tells them the parable of the man with two sons, one of whom defies his father when he asks him to do something but then obeys; and the other who outwardly complies but does not follow through and do what he said he was going to do. Which of the sons is doing his father’s will? They go with the one who gives the right response initially, but Jesus says no, the ones who actually DO the task are the ones who will be rewarded. It is not enough to “know” the father’s will or say you will do his will. The important thing is DOING the father’s will, and this the leaders are not doing.
Then he tells them the parable of the landowner who plants a vineyard and leases it out. The tenants continually abuse the agents of the absent owner. Finally he sends his son to collect his share thinking they will respect him. But they do not. They kill the son. Jesus tells them the owner will “put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time” (21:41). So Jesus wishes to penetrate the blindness of the Pharisees who threaten the life of the Son of God, owner of the vineyard of Israel. If they do not repent, the kingdom will be taken away and “given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (21:43). They know he is speaking about them and want to arrest him; the trouble is they fear the crowds who see Jesus as a prophet.
The readings are designed to inspire a respect in the reader for the narrative of God’s dealings with the world seen over the long-term. As Joseph’s traumatic destiny in his family was really part of God plan to preserve and care for his people and not simply the sordid tale of brotherly jealousy and treachery, so the persecution of the prophets, the sending of the son Jesus and his rejection by the tenants (the Jews) must be seen as part of a greater plan God has to extend his salvation to all men.