A hundred years have passed, since Amos wrote his prophetic words; the passage we studied last week. Since then, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Babylonians. As you will see in today’s lesson, the people of Judah did not learn from Israel’s mistakes. Now, it’s their turn to pay the price.
- Our passage begins with “woe to the shepherds…” This is not a reference to those in the wool industry. The word “shepherd” is used by Jeremiah and Ezekiel (see especially Ezekiel 34) to refer to the leaders of Judah. We are talking about the religious and political leaders of Judah. God accuses them of scattering His “sheep”, his precious children. A quick glance to the previous chapter of Jeremiah paints the picture. The “shepherds” were only concerned with personal gain and their own comfort. There was no compassion or concern for those on the fringe—the foreigner, the widow, or the orphan. (v. 1)
- God says that since they have not attended to his flock, He will attend to the shepherds. It sounds like God is going to judge and punish them. In the end, they too are shipped off to Babylon. (v. 2)
- God says the He Himself will gather the scattered flock. I believe this to be a promise of their return to Judah after exile. The phrase “be fruitful and multiply” links his promise to the concluding verses of the creation account in Genesis 1. When they return, it will be like the Garden of Eden all over again! (v. 3)
- The remainder of the passage is a promise to raise up a new, competent leader for His flock. This messianic promise, for Christians, has come to mean Jesus. One of the symbols we use during Advent refers to the coming Jesus as the “Branch of Jesse”. (vv. 5-6)
Even today, people continue to feather their own nest, hoard their possessions, and ignore those in need. God made it clear many, many times that we should be attentive to the less fortunate around us. We deserve exile just as much as Israel and Judah did. Fortunately, the Messiah has come, and established the Kingdom of God, at least in part. We, collectively, are the Kingdom. We are to do his will, and care for the less fortunate around us. We do not always succeed in this mission. Sometimes, we behave exactly like Israel and Judah. Thanks be to God that because the Messiah died on the cross, when we hoard and ignore those in need we are forgiven.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The prophecies of Amos, Jeremiah, and the other prophets focus on neglecting the alien, the widow, and the orphan. Consider modernizing this list to include:
- The homeless
- The single parent
- The underemployed
- The illegal alien
- Hungry children
The early churches were an odd mix of converted Jews and formerly pagan Greeks and Romans. There must have been plenty of clashing of cultural customs and practices. But as brothers and sisters in Christ, they were expected to get along. Paul is writing here to the Gentiles.
- Paul reminds his readers that they were once aliens to the Lord God Yahweh; they were on the outside, looking in, with no hope of salvation. (vv. 11-12)
- But now, because of Jesus’ blood, we Gentiles (that’s also you and me) are “brought near”. We now belong. (v. 13)
- He says that Jesus has brought down the dividing wall that separated Jews and Gentiles. The wall that Paul is referring to is the Law of Moses. In verse 15a, he says that Jesus has abolished the law—they no longer apply. We now live in Christ, without the wall, in peace; there is no more hostility, only peace. We all have the same access to the Father. (vv. 14-18)
- So now, we Gentiles are no longer aliens, but citizens. Together, all Christians become God’s temple. Together, be become God’s dwelling place. (vv. 19-22)
I think that if Paul were writing this today, this letter would be addressed to the many denominations that exist in the world today. He would be telling us that we are all citizens in God’s kingdom purely because of the blood of his son. We should respect each other’s differences, and get along. In doing so, we become God’s holy temple.
MARK 6:30-34, 53-56
Two weeks ago, we read about Jesus sending out the twelve, two-by-two. Last week, we read about Herod Antipas receiving word of the miracles that were performed by these apostles, and how he thought it was John the Baptist brought back to life. Verses 30-34 describe the return of the twelve, as well as some other interesting facts.
In today’s selection, many verses are missing. Several stories are told in between the first and second parts. There is a good reason for this. Verses 53-56 share a common thread with 30-34, which we will discuss. But I encourage you to read the omitted verses, too, after completing this study.
- When the apostles returned from their mission, they told Jesus all about it. He must have seen the exhaustion in their faces, because he tells them they must get away to a deserted place. (vv. 30-31)
- So, they hopped into a boat, and headed off to a deserted place. Or so they thought. The Sea of Galilee is a relatively small lake, surrounded by hills. It’s easy for people on shore to see which way they’re headed. The people simply got up on a high hill, saw which way they were headed, and got their first! If you were in the boat, and the wind was not favorable, the best you could do in a boat back then was row. (The outboard motor would be invented many centuries in the future.) When they got ashore, they were greeted by swarms of people. At this point, I would be tired and irritable. I’ll be that many of the apostles felt that way, too. But look at verse 34. When Jesus went ashore and saw the crowd, “he had great compassion on them”. He loved them. He recognized that they were “sheep without a shepherd”. (Remember our passage from Jeremiah?) He taught them. (vv. 32-34)
- As I said before, our bible selection skips many good stories. They did this to focus on the rising fame of Jesus and his work.
- In the second portion of today’s gospel lesson, they’re crossing the lake again. By the time they land, Jesus is immediately recognized. The commotion starts up again. There is no rest for Jesus and his disciples. People are brought to be healed, and Jesus heals them. Even touching the fringe of his cloak does the trick! (vv. 53-56)
Fame is a tricky thing. We all know paparazzi stories. Princess Diana’s death is one example. Rock stars and movie stars seek fame, but they usually get much more than they bargained for. Rock musicians David Bowie and John Lennon wrote a song entitled “Fame”. Here are a few of the lines:
Fame—makes a man take things over
Fame—puts you where things are hollow
Fame—what you get is no tomorrow
Fame—what you need, you have to borrow
Well, at least it sounds good to music. But you get the idea. Fame can wear you down, and steal your soul, if you let it. But then, there’s Jesus. He sees past all the surface stuff, and has compassion for those in need around him. He is our good shepherd. He cares for us, his sheep. As Jesus’ disciples in this time and place, we are called to be like Jesus. We are called to be good shepherds, and care for those in need.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Where do you go to refresh your spiritual life? Jesus preferred the wilderness, or a deserted place. A friend of mine finds solace on the open ocean. Everyone needs this special place, and needs to use it. Even Jesus did it. It is a good thing.