Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 13:1-5:

Luke BTCB

The question about evil and its causes—or about evil and its relation to justice—can of course be asked in many ways. The epitome in biblical literature for theodicy examined from the perspective of unjust suffering is surely the book of Job; looked at from the other end, as a question about why the practitioners of evil seem to prosper as their victims suffer, it takes theological form in Ps. 73.

Here it is the first perspective in which the question is raised, though the second hovers over it, since the Roman oppression was on everybody’s mind. In order to address the issue more fundamentally, Jesus adds to it the fate of some people killed in an accidental manner, perhaps through a flaw in engineering long unnoticed. Talbert suggests that the issue might well have been raised because some in the audience took absence of tragedy as a sign of God’s blessing, while thinking that “trouble is God’s punishment for sin”; the effect would be as much as to say, “Our lives are tranquil . . . why should we repent?” (2002: 145).

Whatever the motives of “some” in the crowd for turning to this subject, Jesus has an astringent answer: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no.” The idea of a necessary causal connection between personal sin and the experience of suffering is here dismissed in a word. But there is a more pressing, more universal question, and that is the question of the human sinfulness, from which no one is free, and its deeper consequences, from which no unredeemed person is exempt. Accordingly, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). In the context of Jesus’s immediately preceding eschatological remarks, this almost certainly means “perish eternally.”

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 15:1:

The whole question of faith and works has been hopelessly muddied by centuries of Protestant and Catholic polemic. Two points are worth keeping in mind, however.

First, in the main, the Reformers endorsed Abraham’s lament as spiritually legitimate. All the Reformation talk of forensic and imputed righteousness was meant to clarify the source of the possibility of good works, which comes from the grace of God alone. We do not give birth to the promise that creates an alternative to sin. The promise comes from God; it is imputed.

But the Reformers also agreed that we rightly expect God to make good on his promise of new life in Christ. On this point they were on common ground with their Catholic adversaries, who tended to think that the emphasis on grace alone had the effect of denying any actual human capacity for righteous deeds. In spite of polemical distortions that can lead us to think otherwise, according to both, if the promises of God are true, then faith must make a difference.

The second point is to remember that Genesis gives a great deal of space to the extraordinary delays and complications that emerge in God’s response to Abraham’s lament. Isaac is a long time coming, and the child disrupts Abraham’s household, bringing as much pain as joy. Thus, to return to the terms of James and the Reformation debates, we should not expect faith to produce good works immediately, and when faith does, we should not expect the righteous deeds of the true servants of Christ to be aglow with a pleasant, easy sanctity.

 

 

©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

This Just In: Justice Calling

Cover ArtJustice requires perseverance—a deep perseverance we can’t muster on our own. The needs in our world are staggering and even the most passion-driven reactions, strategies, and good intentions can falter. But we serve a God who never falters, a God who sees all the needs, hears all the cries, and gives strength—through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit—to his people.

The Justice Calling draws us into the whole story of Scripture, inviting us to know more intimately the God who loves justice and calls us to give our lives to seek the flourishing of others.

Weaving together a comprehensive biblical theology of justice, authors Hoang and Johnson build on the whole of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation as they explore stories of injustice around the globe today. They spur Christians to root their passion for justice in persevering hope, fueled by knowing the God of rescue and restoration. The book also includes invitations to practices that can further form readers into people who join God’s work of setting things right in the world.

 

 Bethany Hanke HoangBethany Hanke Hoang (MDiv, Princeton Theological Seminary) engages leaders around the world with the critical connection between justice and spiritual formation. She advises and regularly speaks on behalf of the Institute for Biblical Justice for International Justice Mission (IJM.org), a global organization that protects the poor from violence. Hoang was named among “50 Women to Watch” by Christianity Today and one of “20 Women to Watch” by Catalyst. She has also been profiled for her leadership in the justice movement by Outreach and Relevant and has published Deepening the Soul for Justice. Hoang lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Kristen Deede JohnsonKristen Deede Johnson (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is associate professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. She teaches and writes in the areas of theology, culture, formation, and political theory. Her previous publications include Theology, Political Theory, and Pluralism: Beyond Tolerance and Difference.

 

Praise for: The Justice Calling

“I can’t imagine a better biblical and theological introduction to the topic of justice, combined with pastoral wisdom and the urgency that comes from direct engagement with the brokenness of our world.”—Andy Crouch, executive editor, Christianity Today

“I suspect that The Justice Calling will become one of those books I turn to again and again.”—Lynne Hybels, advocate for global engagement, Willow Creek Community Church

“They explicitly address the need of those who struggle for justice, patience, lament, and hope. An important contribution.”—Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University

“I’m genuinely inspired by this book and pray that it will encourage, challenge, and inspire others not only to the work of justice but also to the God of justice.”—Eugene Cho, senior pastor, Quest Church

“One of the best biblical theologies on justice that I’ve ever read. As an advocate for justice and racial reconciliation, I highly recommend it!”—Brenda Salter McNeil, Seattle Pacific University

“As we face down the giants of injustice in the season ahead, this is a book I’d urge every follower of Jesus to dig into and carry close at hand.”—Gary A. Haugen, president and CEO, International Justice Mission; author of The Locust Effect

“With tender passion and immense wisdom, Bethany Hoang and Kristen Johnson invite us to see that the drama of the Bible is about growing goodness as a means to thwart what is unrighteous….This is a must-read, glorious book.”—Dan B. Allender, Seattle School of Theology and Psychology

“While the stories of pain and injustice will haunt you, this fresh exploration of God’s vision for our world will make you want to get up and do something—and invite others to join you.”—Kara Powell, Fuller Youth Institute

“Bethany and Kristen lead us through the metanarrative of Scripture in such a beautiful, justice-centered way that we cannot see justice as a tertiary topic anymore….Beautifully written, beautifully lived!”—Sara Groves, singer/songwriter and advocate for IJM

“Thank you, Bethany and Kristen, for this important work; it is powerful and convicting and will be a staple book for the church for many years to come.”—Gabe Lyons, author of Good Faith and founder of Q

“God calls us to show up and love with his love, and we can’t do that if we don’t know his word. This book takes us deep into God’s word as God takes us deep into his world.”—Christine Caine, founder of The A21 Campaign and Propel

“I am excited to see how this work will influence leaders as they face the biblical challenge to confront injustice head on at God’s invitation.”—Tyler Reagin, executive director, Catalyst

Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 4:1-13:

Luke BTCB

Scriptural narrative presents three direct temptations by Satan; these, in canonical order, are the temptation of Adam and Eve, the temptation of Job, and the temptation of Jesus here in Luke’s Gospel. Unsurprisingly, these three episodes have been connected by Christian exegetes down through the centuries in various ways, but especially by seeing the resistance of temptation by Jesus as a paradigmatic reversal of the yielding of Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden. That this connection is invited by Luke, arranging and concluding his genealogy of Jesus as he does with Jesus as “the son of Adam, the son of God” (3:38), has seemed to much of Christian tradition an obvious element of his narrative design.

Thus, Ambrose speaks for many: “There is here an Adam typology and a Genesis background to this story: as Adam is cast out of paradise into the wilderness, so Christ, the new Adam, goes into the wilderness on our behalf, then to come forth from that temptation to lead us back to paradise” (Exposition of Luke 4.7). Parallels with Job are a frequent theme in Protestant theologians and poets such as Henry Oxenden’s Jobus Triumphans (1656) and especially John Milton’s Paradise Regained (1671), where the “two Adams” theme nonetheless still predominates: Milton bases his companion to Paradise Lost on Luke’s rather than Matthew’s account with its different order of temptations (Matt. 4:1–11) because it suited what he called his own “grand design” to place the temptation of the tower last.

Milton, though influenced by Calvin, is in this preference for Luke’s account certainly following the more dominant typology (Paradise Regained 2.129–39). What seems to emerge in these Lukan passages is a strong reminder that in biblical narrative in general there is a cosmic agōn or struggle taking place for the human soul (Calvin 1972: 1.135).

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 9:28-36:

The echo of Jesus’s baptism (Luke 3:22) in the divine voice from the cloud is to Luke unmistakable: “This is my beloved Son [literally, “this is the Son of me, having been chosen”]. Hear him” (9:35). The reference to Jesus having been “chosen” (ho eklelegmenos) is found only in Luke (cf. Isa. 42:1). Mark 9:7 and Matt. 17:5 appear to echo the divine pronouncement at Jesus’s baptism more precisely.

The point in each case is clear: the Father’s distinctive identification with the Son. What Luke adds uniquely, Gentile though he was, is a characteristically Jewish way of hearing it, tying the identity of Jesus even more closely to the messianic prophecies now being fulfilled. Jesus is God’s distinctive, ultimate, authoritative Word; he is also the Suffering Servant, the true Israel, the Chosen. As the transfiguration ends, the three see Jesus “alone,” and this time, they apparently need no warning to “keep it close,” not to disclose “in those days any of those things they had seen” (Luke 9:36).

They had been standing on very holy ground, and they now understood the identity of Jesus in a far more profound way than ever before. As Calvin says, also framing his remarks with an eye to the Epistle to the Hebrews, “And this is why the Apostle says in Hebrews [1:1] ‘God, who at sundry times and diverse manners spake in time past through the prophets, hath in these last days spoken by his Son’” (1972: 2.201).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 4:14-30:

Luke BTCBJesus responds to the skepticism he knows is rising in their hearts with a “proverb” (Greek parabolē; the Hebrew equivalent, māšāl, can mean any figurative saying as well as “parable”). Jesus knows what they really want is for him to do in their own midst some of the miracles he has done up north in Capernaum (4:23). They want to see signs and wonders here and now, in their own village; they have little interest in the larger context. His response immediately points up two things that his audience in Nazareth, as elsewhere, does not like to hear: first, that Israel more often than not has rejected the prophets (4:24) and, second, that, as a result, wonders of the Lord were sometimes then performed by the prophets among the Gentiles instead, as witnessed by Elijah’s blessing of the widow of Zarephath (4:25; cf. 1 Kgs. 17:9–24).

Jesus is here reminding his hearers pointedly of the same thing John did in the previous chapter (Luke 3:8–9): if Israel thinks its special covenant relationship with God is all that matters, their disobedience notwithstanding, they have not been paying sufficient attention to either the Law or the Prophets. Cyril of Alexandria grasps the point firmly: by these two stories of Elijah and Elisha, he says, Jesus is referring to the “heathen who were about to accept him and be healed of their leprosy, by reason of Israel’s remaining impenitent” (1983: Homily 12). It seems more than probable that Luke, a Gentile himself, must have noticed these long-standing biblical patterns and pondered over their recurrent frequency in the teaching of Jesus and the ministry of the apostles.

We have to conclude from the suddenly impassioned and violent response of the crowd in the synagogue that, here as elsewhere, any suggestion that God would bypass the Jews and confer his blessing on the hated Gentiles has produced a hair-trigger animosity; Lightfoot’s general observations about this reflex suggest that the pattern of response to this message everywhere in the New Testament was well grounded in long-standing Jewish prejudice (1979: 3.59). The enraged crowd drags Jesus out and tries to shove him off a cliff, presumably so as then to stone him. But somehow, mysteriously, he escapes (4:29–30), for, as Bede says, reflecting Luke’s words, “the hour of his passion had not yet come” (quoted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea 3.1.163).

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.