Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Psalm 93 – “The Lord is king! He is robed in majesty. Indeed, the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength. The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial. You yourself are from the everlasting past” (93:1-2).
There have been floods and raging of seas, but “the Lord above is mightier than these” (93:4).
“Your royal laws cannot be changed. Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever” (93:5).
Psalm 94 – “O Lord, the God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth! Arise, O judge of the earth. Give the proud what they deserve. How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?” (94:1-3).
They speak arrogantly and boast. They crush those “you claim as your own” (94:5). They kill the helpless and say, “’The Lord isn’t looking,’ . . . the God of Israel doesn’t care.’” (94:7)
But the “Lord will not reject his people; he will not abandon his special possession. Judgment will again be founded on justice, and those with virtuous hearts will pursue it” (94:14-15).
“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer” (94:19).
“But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide. God will turn the sins of evil people back on them. He will destroy them for their sins” (94:22-23).
Psalm 95 – “Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it” (85:1-5).
“Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!” (95:6-7).
“The Lord says, ‘Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness.” (95:8)
“For forty years I was angry with them, and I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’” (95:10).
Psalm 96 – “Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!” (96:1)
“Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary. O nations of the world, recognize the Lord; recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong” (96:6-7).
“The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. He will judge all peoples fairly. Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice. Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise. Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord, for he is coming! He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with his truth” (86:10-13).
Psalm 97 – “The Lord is king. Let the earth rejoice. Let the farthest coastlands be glad. Dark clouds surround him. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (97:1-2).
“His lightning flashes out across the world. The earth sees and trembles” (97:4).
“Those who worship idols are disgraced—all who brag about their worthless gods—for every god must bow to him . . . For you, O Lord, are supreme over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods” (97:7-9).
“Light shines on the godly, and joy on those whose hearts are right. May all who are godly rejoice in the Lord and praise his holy name!” (97:11-12)
Psalm 98 – “Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done wonderful deeds. His right hand has won a mighty victory; his holy arm has shown his saving power!” (98:1)
“Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King. Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise. Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the Lord. For the Lord is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with fairness” (98:6-9).
Psalm 99 – “The Lord is king. Let the nations tremble. He sits on his throne between the cherubim. Let the whole earth quake!” (99:1)
“Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established fairness. You have acted with justice and righteousness throughout Israel” (99:4).
Of Moses, Aaron and Samuel, “They cried to the Lord for help, and he answered them. He spoke to Israel from the pillar of cloud, and they followed the laws and decrees he gave them . . . You were a forgiving God to them, but you punished them when they went wrong” (99:6-8).
Psalm 100 – “Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation” (100:1-5)
Psalm 101 – “I will sing of your love and justice, Lord. I will praise you with songs. I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life in integrity in my own home” (101:1-2).
“I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride. I will search for faithful people to be my companions” (101:4-5).
Matthew 17 – The Transfiguration - Six days later, Jesus goes up a high mountain with Peter, James and John where he is “transfigured.” His face shines like the sun, his clothes become white. Moses and Elijah appear to talk with him. Peter offers to build three dwellings, one for each of them; but while he speaks a cloud overshadows them and a voice is heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (17:5) They fall to the ground and are overcome with fear. Jesus tells them to get up and not be afraid—he is alone again.
On the way down Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about the vision until after the “Son of Man has been raised from the dead (17:9). They want to know why the prophets (Malachi) said that Elijah must come before the Messiah (since they take what Jesus has said as an assurance that he is the Messiah and Elijah has not come). Jesus tells them that he has come; they just did not recognize him in the person of John. He was struck down just as Jesus will be made to suffer. Matthew’s account here is closer to Mark than to Luke. Luke says this happens eight days after the assurance that some would actually see the coming of God’s kingdom; there is no reference to these eight days in Matthew. Also Luke does not have the passage about Malachi’s prophecy and Jesus’ response that Elijah has come in the figure of John the Baptist.
Jesus encounters a man who kneels before him and tells him he has an epileptic son who has terrible seizures that his (Jesus’) disciples have not been able to cure the boy. Jesus calls them a “faithless and perverse generation” and seems eager to be done with his mission to them. Jesus rebukes the demon and the boy is cured. Jesus tells his disciples if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains (17:20).
Then Jesus predicts his passion again, distressing his disciples. All accounts have this second reminder of his passion following the transfiguration and cure of the epileptic boy.
They come to Capernaum. Those who collect the Temple tax come to Peter and ask him if Jesus pays this tax. Peter says yes. Later when he sees Jesus, Jesus raises the issue with him by asking him whether kings raise taxes from their own children or from others. Peter answers “from others.” Jesus says, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me” (17:27). Jesus here is using this story to claim sonship (and through his disciples’ love for him their brotherhood with him) to the temple’s owner—God. They should not have to pay the tax, but Jesus does it so as not to give offense.
Reflection: The story of the transfiguration is closely linked to what is written in Deuteronomy 18:15 “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen . . .I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him.” Jesus is that brother, that prophet. To him we must listen, and not only the words he spoke to his apostles but the words he speaks to us according to the promise given through Jeremiah: “Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbor to try to teach neighbor, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know Yahweh!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest . . .”(31:31).
The revelation of Jesus as this prophet comes in waves – first to Jesus at his baptism, then in this reading to his closest disciples and through their teaching to us. It is also tied in with the prophecy of Moses by the setting – on the mountain and by the fact that he is seen as radiating the light of God’s radiance as Moses did when he came down from the mountain.
Matthew 18 – The disciples come and ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven - they are SO COMPETITIVE as to status in Jesus' eyes. I see in this something the different Christian denominations might listen to. Jesus shows them a child and says unless they change and become like this child they will not even enter the kingdom of heaven. They must be humble. They must welcome people like that child in Jesus’ name. He teaches them too that they may not set up stumbling blocks to innocent believers. “Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks” (18:7). Don’t be the occasion of such stumbling blocks.
If your right hand “offends”[Today’s English Version says “makes you lose your faith”; New Living Translation reads “causes you to sin”], cut if off. It “is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than the have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire” (18:8).
Do not despise these “little ones for I tell you, in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father” (18:11).
If a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? The finding of one lost sheep causes him more pleasure than the having of ninety-nine who never have gone astray (19:12-14).
If a member of the church (some translations use “believer” or “brother”) sins against you, go and point out the fault when you are alone. Friends saw in these words an admonition against spreading rumors - talking about someone you have problems with behind their back. You can't rely on your own judgment alone especially in matters of faith. If you go to him and he listens, you have regained that one (like the lost sheep), but if he won’t listen take one or two others with you. If he still refuses to listen “to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (18:17).
And then we hear these words AGAIN what was said to Peter in 16:19: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (18:18). If two or three of you agree and ask the father, it will be given you. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (18:20).
Interesting – here again we see the same words Jesus’ spoke to Peter in 16:17-19. People [Church members together? Leaders? The chief leader?] are given an interesting power – the power to make moral decisions on earth that will be accepted by God in heaven. Now we know from that story that Jesus’ discernment of what his disciples should do and how they should convey his message can be sharply different. It takes Peter about five minutes to show that his vision of how things should be is sharply different from Jesus'. But here again, Jesus seems to stick to his original message, that we do have a power to decide, but maybe it should not be a power given to just one. In the second articulation of the power, in 18:18-19, Jesus seems to revise it a little and speaks of “two or three” deciding. As a Catholic, I wonder if this might be seen as bearing on the issue of papal infallibility – maybe it is a power that should be not solely held by the pope. I know this question and this thinking is not anything a Quaker might see as meaningful, but even within a Quaker context, it could be that it bears on the decision-making process. No decision should be made without some degree of consensus.
And the other thing my mind goes to when I consider these words is that maybe we are given here some latitude in deciding things like permitting "gay unions" even when it seems to run against the “traditional” judgment of believers in the past. If we faithful decide with some unanimity that this should be approved of in heaven.
Peter asks how many times he should be willing to forgive a member of the church who sins against him—seven times? Jesus says, “’No, not seven times, . . .but seventy times seven’” (18:22). Jesus compares the Kingdom of God with an earthly kingdom where the king deals with people who owe him money in a generous way: one man who owes the king 10,000 talents is brought to him, and when he tells the king he cannot pay and begs the king to be patient with him, the king forgives him the debt. But then this same man goes out and deals with a man who owes HIM money in a ruthless way – having him thrown into prison. When the king hears of this, he becomes furious and says “’You worthless slave! . . . I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you’” (18:33). Jesus says, “’That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother form your heart’” (18:35).