21 The wise are known for their understanding,
and pleasant words are persuasive.
22 Discretion is a life-giving fountain to those who possess it,
but discipline is wasted on fools.
23 From a wise mind comes wise speech;
the words of the wise are persuasive.
24 Kind words are like honey—
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
25 There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.
26 It is good for workers to have an appetite;
an empty stomach drives them on.
27 Scoundrels create trouble;
their words are a destructive blaze.
28 A troublemaker plants seeds of strife;
gossip separates the best of friends.
29 Violent people mislead their companions,
leading them down a harmful path.
30 With narrowed eyes, people plot evil;
with a smirk, they plan their mischief.
31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained by living a godly life.
32 Better to be patient than powerful;
better to have self-control than to conquer a city.
33 We may throw the dice,
but the Lord determines how they fall.
On June 6, 1944, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, was the most powerful man on earth. Under his authority, the largest amphibious army ever assembled prepared to liberate the Nazi-dominated continent of Europe. How was Eisenhower able to lead such a vast army? Part of the answer can be linked to his remarkable skill in working with different kinds of people.
What many do not know, however, is that Ike hadn’t always gotten along with others. As a boy, he often got into fistfights at school. But fortunately he had a caring mother who instructed him in God’s Word. One time, when she was bandaging his hands after an angry outburst, she quoted Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Years later, Eisenhower wrote, “I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life.” Undoubtedly, by learning to control his anger, Eisenhower was able to work effectively with others.
Inevitably, each of us will at times be tempted to lash out in anger. Yet through God’s work in our lives we can learn to control our anger. What better way to influence people than through a gentle spirit.
The Story of Mary and Martha in this part of the Gospel has most commonly been used to compare models of active and passive spirituality. Both Martha and Mary were used as examples where Martha embodied the active and Mary, the passive.
However, this is not the intention of Saint Luke when he wrote this account in his gospel. The real problem between Martha and Mary was not the workload that Martha had in the kitchen. Martha was not upset because Mary did not help her with the preparation of the meal. The real problem was that Mary was behaving as if she were a man.
In traditional Jewish culture in Jesus’ day, homes were divided into male and female spaces. This corresponded to the male and female roles that were strictly demarcated and adhered to. Mary, in this occasion had crossed an invisible but very important boundary within the social context she was living in.
The public room was where the men would meet; the kitchen and other quarters unseen by outsiders, belonged to the women. Only outside, where the little children would play and in the married bedroom, would male and female mix. Therefore for a woman to settle down comfortably among the men was bordering on the scandalous. Only a shameless woman would have behaved in such a way. Mary should have gone back to the women’s quarters where she belonged. This had nothing to do with a matter of superiority or inferiority but was thought of as the appropriate division between the two halves of humanity.
Secondly, to sit at the feet of a teacher was the domain that belonged to men only. Just like when it was said of St. Paul who sat at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). When they did so, it was a matter of listening and learning, focusing on the teaching of a master.
To sit at the feet of a rabbi meant quite simply, to be their student. The only reason a person did so, was to be a rabbi themselves. The student was learning so that he could teach others also. Mary, in this case, had quietly taken her place as a would-be teacher and preacher of the Kingdom of God that Jesus was propagating.
It is at this stage that Jesus affirms Mary’s right to do so. Jesus’ affirmation of Mary’s right was not based on egalitarian ideology but on the overflowing love of God. Mary stands for all women who, when they hear Jesus speaking about the kingdom, know that God is calling them to listen carefully so that they can speak of it too.
Saint Luke has placed this story here to alert us to something special about Jesus’ work. Not only was he redrawing the boundaries of God’s people, but he was sending out a clear message about how the gospel would reach those outside the traditional borders within human societies.
The one thing I can take away from this story is that the gospel and the study of Scripture were never meant for a select few. God wanted all humanity to be aware of who He is and what He offers, whether male or female. In doing so, He is also offering the opportunity for all, irrespective of gender, race or social status to carry the good news to many who are still unaware.
The second thing, I would like to highlight is the wonderful privilege God has given to us who live in countries who has religious freedom and have access to God’s word. There are many who live in restrictive countries that forbid their citizens to have access to the Bible.
May this freedom we enjoy be used to study God’s written revelation to us, in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Saviour and our Redeemer, Amen.
I have often heard it being said that those who experience great disappointment, a family tragedy, or some great catastrophe are a result of God’s judgment. Most often this deeply personal reaction to pain and suffering takes the form of perceived divine punishment where statements like:
“I must have done something terribly wrong for God to punish me like this…but I can’t imagine what it was; this suffering is grossly unfair…especially with so many truly ‘bad’ people getting away with ‘murder’.”
…are commonly expressed.
We’ve all known people who maintain what some call an “Old Testament” perspective on evil and suffering: that sin results in God’s judgment, until the person repents and seeks forgiveness.
In all likelihood, these were same views among the people who came to Jesus in our gospel reading this morning. The Roman military governor Pontius Pilate had decided it was time to quash riots and protests against his rule. He wanted to send a clear message that he was not going to tolerate any challenge to his governance and had his soldiers attack the Galileans while they were offering animal sacrifices to God in the great temple of Jerusalem.
The common assumption was that the Galileans must have deserved such terrible deaths…or else God wouldn’t have allowed Pilate to punish them. But how did our Lord Jesus respond to this assumption?
“He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you…’” (vv. 2-3a)
What Jesus is trying to say is that we cannot conclude that every painful, tragic situation is the result of some sinful cause, or that this is the result of divine judgment and punishment. Jesus has made this point repeatedly throughout the gospels.
Now, let’s pause for a moment to assess what Jesus has said about suffering and God’s judgment: he affirmed that the slaughtered Galileans were not murdered because they were terrible sinners or that God wanted them destroyed.
Instead, it may be said that they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that what happened to them was not a matter of their sin, but the horrific result of Pilate’s actions. Many people have suffered and died in the history of humanity because of the actions of other evil people. Every society is far from being truly just and good….and people are inevitably victimized by the evil actions of others.
But then our Lord Jesus Christ takes his argument a step further. He knew that some of his listeners might very well concede that the death of the Galileans was the consequence of the actions of another person – in this case, namely Pontius Pilate.
But what about the tragedies, suffering, and deaths that are not caused by the actions of others? For example, the catastrophes that are the result of natural disasters like the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile?
Jesus himself mentions this by putting a question to those who were listening to him:
“Of those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam (a section of Jerusalem) fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you…” (Luke 13:4-5a)
He states that not even a natural accident or an “act of God” can be considered as God’s judgment and punishment upon sinners who are deemed more corrupt than those who escaped unscathed.
Natural disasters in our world are the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and of living in an imperfect world in which life is created, sometimes injured or destroyed and recreated.
No life is totally secure and immune from harmful forces whether human or natural….and certainly no life is immortal or eternal in this physical universe. Death may arrive for anyone as rapidly, as unexpectedly, and sometimes senselessly, as it did for the Galileans in the temple, or the 18 Israelites who died in the collapse of the tower in the city wall near the pool of Siloam.
The point that Jesus was making was that we should not be seeking blame or meaning out of these loss of lives but rather be aware and alert at all times and to be called out of this world at any time. We must never be confused that this is the result of God’s judgment or punishment by an angry, vengeful God.
The questions we should be asking ourselves are: Are we “rich toward God today?” Do we seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness in our lives? Do we place the love of God ahead of all else, and love others as we love ourselves? Twice in today’s gospel reading Jesus makes this point very clearly:
“But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!” (vv. 3b and 5b)
Remember God is not “out to get you,” to punish you, or to crush you; but because our lives could well be required of us any day and at any moment. It would real be a tragedy if you and I were not ready in terms of a right and loving relationship with God!
We need to examine ourselves and the way we live by what we truly believe. What do we mean when we declare Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior? Have we been faithful to our commitment to his Church and his mission? Each season of Lent we are called to soberly reflect on whether we are living our lives in a God honouring way.
And while we assess our existence, this passage echoes Jesus’ cry that the need is urgent! We cannot assume that we have, literally, “all the time in the world” to take Christ and Christianity seriously, and to belong wholeheartedly to the kingdom of God and its righteousness. On the contrary, the time is short. As the psalmist (90:12) put it so bluntly:
“So teach us to count our days – how few they are, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
In his customary and completely compelling way, Jesus concludes this passage from Luke with the parable of a fig tree:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put fertiliser on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (vv.6-9)
He is simply saying patience has its limits. Life is short, too often shorter than we assume…..and that for each year that we are able to exist, we are granted a graceful opportunity to live it for God………Amen.
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John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’
Ask a hundred people to identify their favourite Bible passage, and it’s likely not one of them will mention these verses we just heard from Mark’s Gospel:
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut if off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two hands and to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
What are we to do with these words from Jesus? We assume that he is not talking about literal amputation: plucking out eyes, cutting off hands and feet. We recognize that the language of the Bible is sometimes so vivid and concrete that it perplexes us. We think we know what Jesus is not recommending, but that by itself leaves us nowhere. In the course of these strange verses, what is it that Jesus calls on us to do?
To answer this question, we need to understand the context in which these teachings were given. One of the best ways is to view these verses from within the context of the Christian community. The story of the text begins with Jesus’ disciples’ concern over another person who was not with in their group but was casting demons out using Jesus’ name and authority. Jesus noted their concern but forbade them from stopping this person from doing what he was doing. He explained that those who do the same work as our Lord was also doing the work of God and was in support of Jesus.
These preceding verses emphasizes that God’s community and his work is not exclusive to any particular group. One of the things that the recent Christchurch earthquakes have brought about, is that Christians from different denominations have enjoyed closer fellowship with each other. This has led to a sharing of our resources and a coordinated effort in caring and bringing the good news to the wider community. Our common experience of suffering has brought us closer together in doing our utmost to reach and support others in our community.
It is in this context that Jesus speaks about how we care for and support one another within the family of God. The cutting off our hands, eyes or feet if they go off to do things that not only bring harm to ourselves but to our relationship with God and with others in our Christian community teaches us about our responsibilities and the care we must practice when relating with God and with each other.
We are called to be careful so that the way we live will not cause others within the Christian community to lose faith. We should not take each other for granted and are encouraged to be watchful over our actions. Therefore, Jesus uses strong words when he tells us to take drastic measures to cut away known actions that would bring God’s name to disrepute and affect the common faith and witness of the Christian community.
The imagery of ‘salt’ is used here in Jesus’ teaching (v.50). Often this imagery has been used to speak of the Christian’s ability to influence the world. Being salty people, add value to whatever and whomever we encounter in life. This is the nature of the Christian community. It is through this ability to influence that others will be helped and not hindered in finding faith in God.
In our epistle reading this morning, James gives careful instruction of the way the Christian community is to maintain their saltiness in the world. This begins from within the Christian community. The way we treat and care for each other is the means which we not only maintain our saltiness in the world, but also the way the wider community receives a witness of the gospel of Christ.
He begins with prayer as a regular community activity of the Christian church. He asks the question, “Are any of you suffering hardships?” – you should pray – is his immediate response. Sincere prayer is an expression of our care for others, especially when we do not have all the answers or the means to aid others in their hardship. Prayer calls us to turn to God acknowledging our finiteness and expressing our dependence on God’s wisdom and help.
Next he asks, “Are any of you happy? If you are, sing praises.” In other words, continue to express a positive worshipful spirit of gratefulness to God and in doing so we will nurture a positive attitude towards others.
Finally he asks, “Are any of you sick?”
Call on the leaders of the church to:
- Pray over the sickness
- Anoint with oil in the name of the Lord
I am aware that we are not all gifted with the power to heal, but may I suggest that we learn to get alongside the sick and in doing so, help lift their spirits and put them in a positive frame of mind. This assures them of God’s care of their treatment through the skilled hands of the medical profession. I recently visited a parishioner who was preparing to undergo surgery. Because this person was advanced in years she was very anxious whether the procedure would cause post-operative complications and affect her normal active lifestyle.
Little did I know that this was the case when I arrived at her home prior to surgery. So after listening to her concerns and realizing that this was bothering her, I offered to pray with her. It was a simple prayer asking for God’s peace to bring relieve to her anxiety. After the prayer she was visibly comforted and her worry was lifted. She thanked me and said that she could now face the procedure with an assurance that God will care for her. My prayer did not heal her but it did put her in a positive frame of mind to receive the healing of God through the hands of the surgeon. Visiting her after the operation, she was in good spirits and told me that everything went well surgically.
Next, James mentions the practice of confessing our sins to one another in the family of God. The confession of sins is a practice that we rarely see in church communities today. However, through the liturgy each Sunday, we confess our sins corporately. This corporate expression is an acknowledgement that we are a work in progress operating under God’s grace. This practice reminds us that we are never above the need of God’s mercy and secondly it helps us to be less prejudiced or judgmental towards others who struggle with wrongful behavior.
Although Christ has forgiven us once and for all, we recognize that we are still learning to be Christ’s disciples. This acknowledgement allows the nature of God’s Spirit called meekness to be nurtured in us. Through meekness, we learn not to be quick to judge others and secondly, we develop a spirit of generosity. The development of meekness often brings healing in our relationships.
Under such environment, the Christian community provides a place for restoration and recovery especially of those who may feel that they have no place in the church. This is because such people think that they are not good enough or will never be good enough to be part of God’s family.
Today as we reaffirm our baptismal commitment to Christ, let us be reminded of our Christian commitment to avoid anything that may bring disrepute to God’s name and cause harm to the faith of others.
We are reminded to maintain our “saltiness” by keeping a prayerful worshipful caring heart for one another. We are encouraged to nurture a spirit of meekness by acknowledging our finiteness and embracing a belief in God’s unconditional love for the world we live in.
On a Sunday morning in a certain city church, the Gospel lesson had been read and the minister was about to begin the sermon. Suddenly a stranger seated in the balcony stood up and interrupted the service. “I have a word from the Lord!” he shouted. Heads whipped around, and ushers bounded up the balcony stairs like gazelles. They managed to escort the man into the street before he could elaborate further on just what “word” he had been given.
Week after week, preachers in countless pulpits stand up and say, in effect, the same thing as the man in the balcony: “I have a word from the Lord!” But no alarms sound, no one is astonished and no apprehensive ushers race forward to muscle the preacher into the street. If a sudden unexpected shout erupts from the balcony, the place gets set on edge, but when a preacher starts into the Gospel word for the day, people crease their bulletins and settle in. No wonder some clergy, in hopes of putting a little electricity into the sermon event, have taken to wandering the aisles with handheld mikes.
It is somewhat reassuring to realize that the first Christian sermon ever preached did not register high on the Richter scale either. When the women came back from the cemetery on Easter morning, they brought with them word of an empty tomb and astonishing news: “He is not here but has risen!” All Christian preaching begins here, and all Christian sermons are reverberations of this Easter news, first announced by the women to the apostles. The response? The translations differ; you can take your pick. The words seemed to them like “an idle tale,” “empty talk,” “a silly story,” “a foolish yarn,” “utter nonsense,” “sheer humbug.”
Why? The women have come with a revolutionary announcement, “He is risen!” so why did the apostles dismiss the first news of Easter with a wave of the hand? Some have suggested that this initial Easter proclamation was poorly received because the messengers were women. “From women let not evidence be accepted,” reads the Mishna, “because of the levity and temerity of their sex.”
The gender of the speakers may be part of the reason for the apostles’ indifference, but not all of it. After all, the women were confirming a message that Jesus himself had already told the disciples. Before he entered Jerusalem, Jesus informed them that he would be killed but that on the third day he would rise. When the women came racing back with the news that these words had come to pass, the disciples should have been prepared, eager, receptive, believing. Instead they yawned, checked their watches and wondered when the sermon would end so that they could shuffle off to coffee hour.
Maybe the news of Easter was simply too overwhelming for them to believe. Thomas Long highlights the point I am making: Many years ago, a friend told me that his young son was a great fan of both Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers. The boy faithfully watched both of their television shows, and one day it was announced that Mister Rogers would be paying a visit to the Captain Kangaroo show. The boy was ecstatic. Both of his heroes, together on the same show! Every morning the boy would ask, “Is it today that Mister Rogers will be on Captain Kangaroo?” Finally the great day arrived, and the whole family gathered around the television. There they were, Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo together. The boy watched for a minute, but then, surprisingly, got up and wandered from the room.
Puzzled, his father followed him and asked, “What is it, son? Is anything wrong?”
“It’s too good,” the boy replied. “It’s just too good.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe the news of the empty tomb, the news of the resurrection, the news of Jesus’ victory over death is just too good to believe, too good to assimilate all at once.
One suspects, however, a deeper and more complex reason for writing off the women’s proclamation. Like the Emmaus Road travellers in the story that follows, the disciples are not merely bored, they are “slow of heart to believe. They are not just indifferent to the news of Easter; they are resistant. Perhaps a clue can be found in what the disciples are called in this story. Initially Luke tells us that the women told the news of resurrection to “the eleven,” but later he changes their title to “the apostles,” to those who are sent.
If the Jesus story ended on Friday, then the disciples can simply be “the eleven,” and after the appropriate rituals and a season of mourning, they can go back to life as it was. If the story ended on Friday, then they can be “the eleven,” alumni of Jesus’ school of religion, students of an inspiring though finally tragic teacher. In short, if the story ends on Friday, we can close out the Book of Luke.
But if the news of Sunday is true, they must become “apostles,” those sent to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. There will be arrests and shipwrecks and outpourings of the Spirit and persecutions and gentiles and stonings and miles of weary travel. If we believe the news of Sunday, then the scary truth is that the story is just beginning and we will need a Book of Acts with the apostles as its main actors.
Perhaps this Easter the preacher should climb not into the pulpit but into the balcony to say, “I have a word from the Lord!” Maybe this time it will be the congregation that heads into the street — sent with good news to the ends of the earth.
 Thomas G. Long teaches at Candler School of Theology. This article appeared in The Christian Century, April 2001, p. 11.
When I was travelling in India a few years ago, I slept in a comfortable hotel and the person at the reception knowing that I had to get a connecting flight to Bangalore early in the morning offered a wake-up call at a certain time. I took the offer because my trip from Singapore was tiring and I wanted to be sure that I did not miss my connecting flight. The next morning I received the wake-up call and was prepared for my onward journey.
We have all received wake-up calls either at home or while we were travelling. Sometimes they bring us out of a deep sleep. Often they disturb a peaceful dream. Whatever the case, a wake-up call is to alert us to something that is important or something that needs to be attended to.
St. Mark delivers a wake-up call at the beginning of the gospel. With the inclusion of a voice from heaven in verse eleven, Mark tells us exactly where to find God. The voice was for the benefit of the citizens of Jerusalem who had come out to the Jordan to hear John and receive a baptism for the repentance of sins. Both simple and sophisticated people were looking for God. All around us are people who are searching for meaning.
Especially in these days where we have been shaken about the certainty of the ground we are standing on, there are many searching for answers and the meaning of their circumstances.
Some are like those folks who journeyed out to the Jordan to encounter the prophet John and to find the presence of God. Even today, humanity continues to illustrate its’ inability to find God where God is to be found in the Christ.
For those of you who are unaware, we are in the part of the Church calendar called Epiphany. The term epiphany means “to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child. By so doing, these wise men “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King. [i]
Mark sounds the wake-up call and wants us to know that God has come in human flesh in the person of Jesus. The long-awaited Messiah has come to usher light into the darkness of the world. The heavens are opened and light dawns upon the Promised One who will bring salvation to the world.
[i] [In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings’ Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. In some eastern churches, Epiphany or the Theophany commemorates Jesus’ baptism, with the visit of the Magi linked to Christmas.]
God sent the Son … and God sent the Spirit of the Son. St Paul brings together Christmas and Pentecost — as unlikely a pair, to our culture-conditioned minds, as plum pudding and a May Bank Holiday. Son and Spirit remain inseparable. Ask Mary.
Paul is describing how slaves become God’s adopted children and heirs. Telling, as so often, a fresh variation on the story of the Exodus, he sees the law itself as the instrument of slavery. It locked up the Jews in condemnation; it locked out the Gentiles from membership. Is God then powerless to keep his promise to Abraham, the promise of a worldwide family?
No. The birth of the child, as with Abraham himself, signals God’s faithfulness, God’s grace breaking through human impossibility. Born of a woman, born under the law, the Messiah has come to the slave-market, and has purchased his people’s freedom. Christmas people are to think of themselves as Passover people, and then also as Pentecost people: what God did in the birth of the one child, God now does in the birth of dozens, thousands, tens of millions in whose hearts the Spirit is poured out, and on whose lips, is the new-born cry, `Abba, Father’. (`Abba’ isn’t just a child’s word, but here it is treated as the sure sign of new life.) Father, Son and Spirit: God’s inner life, shared with us all.
Come back to Bethlehem, therefore, and see what has come to pass. Only come now, with the angels singing,
And see not one babe in the manger, but more than anyone could count: children and heirs of the free love of God, Passover people, Pentecost people. Christmas is the of celebration because this new birth heralds all new birth. In this young son all God’s Exodus people are called to be sons and daughters, free heirs of God’s lavish grace, clothed (as Isaiah says) with the garments of salvation. If we are in danger of becoming blasé about Christmas, we may run the risk of becoming complacent also about the miracle of the Spirit’s work, perhaps for similar reasons. We know
story too well, and have stopped pondering it in our hearts.
Pondering’ is a powerful word in the original. It isn’t just puzzled musing or focused daydreaming. It speaks of bringing together, or even throwing together, a collection of people, ideas or objects, and seeing what happens. Like the sages and visionaries of old, Mary guarded great and terrible secrets in her heart, turning them this way and that, letting them knock sparks off each other. God and the farmhands. Angels and straw. Grace and blood. Journeys and lodgings and babies and prayers. In and through them all, for her and for us, there weaves the story of God’s unexpected love and power, setting the whole to a music at once strange, wild and redemptive, a Magnificat that now heralds each new birth, each Spirit-led baby-cry, each new personal Christmas.