What an amazing opportunity to be present for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation--Martin Luther's nailing of the ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg (Germany) church. There are very few 'ancient' events of which we know the exact date of their occurrence.
As is the struggle at almost every funeral, it is important to remember what the Lord has done through these 'lowly means' rather than what the person himself has 'accomplished'. That word 'accomplish' is connected to the words 'fulfill' and 'complete'. How could we ever do either of those actions by ourselves? In scripture they belong much more frequently to the Lord.
One of the traditional readings for Reformation Sunday is Revelation 14:6-7. At Luther's funeral, his pastor, Johannes Bugenhagen, referred to those verses in connection with Luther, saying that, without a doubt, he is that angel evangelizing that eternal gospel.
As when essentially any angel appears, the focus of the person to whom the angel appears is focusing on the angel and not on the message. The angel usually has to say something like, 'Do not be afraid.' Could you imagine if, at every Sunday morning service, the congregation would have to go through all of that because their messenger was an angel in similar appearance to those in the scriptures?
I came upon a quote by Pascal this week. 'Every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden is not true. And every religion which does not give a reason for it is not instructive (Pensees, p. 191).' I thought that was helpful--and a good opportunity to focus on the good news.
The book of Revelation is like drinking out of a fire hose. I could easily focus on the four groups of people who are receiving the message of the angel. (I will mention that I thought it interesting that they are described as 'sitting' in most manuscripts--usually a position of authority; the four groups are: 'nation, tribe, language, and people'.) I could also focus on the four things listed that God is said to have created--I think it is critical to mention that the writer includes the sea and the springs of water (see Gen 2:6--although the ESV translates it as a 'mist' going up from the land and watering the whole face of the ground, a footnote does give the option of a 'spring').
That this angel gives out an eternal gospel--that adjective appears in connection with that VERY special word at no other place in the scriptures. With an eternal gospel comes eternal comfort, eternal assurance, eternal gifts. An eternal gospel will never be silenced. Never.
With that in mind, 500 years is quite a short time.
One of the verses from the text for this Sunday, Matthew 22:15 is an extremely interesting one when compared to the other, similar gospel accounts. The verse reads in this way (in the ESV): 'Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk.'
The most similar verse in Mark (12:13) reads this way: 'And they [the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, cf. 11:27] sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.' And the most similar verse in Luke is 20:20: 'So they [the scribes and the chief priests] watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authorities.
There are many ways to trap animals. There are many ways to trap people. How did Jesus' enemies want to trap him? Any way they could!
In the same way that Jesus had a significant amount of authority on earth, the writers of the gospel accounts, each in their own way, point to that authority within each one's particular account. Matthew emphasizes Jesus' authority as a human being; Mark emphasizes Jesus' authority as a lion, 'the king of the jungle'; Luke emphasizes Jesus authority as an ox, a 'workhorse'. These connections have been emphasized for many centuries (and unfortunately have been overlooked in recent times).
The dictionary I was using (BDAG) made what I believe to be strong connections between the word used and the symbol of authority.
In Matthew they want to 'entangle' Jesus. This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament, and it appears in the Old Testament, in the Greek translation, in Ecclesiastes 9:12, describing a trap or snare. This kind of trap is based on intelligence. The person setting the trap sets out something he or she thinks is appropriate to catch the desired object.
In Mark they want to 'trap' Jesus. Again, this is the only time this word is used in the entire New Testament. It is used in a secular writing to describe a hostile force approaching someone in stealth and catching them off guard. This essentially contains the word 'surprise'. And all the members of the cat family are pretty good at this. And sometimes that is the best way to catch someone (who might be smarter than you).
In Luke they want to 'catch' Jesus. The most common use of the word 'catch' describes the action of grasping or taking hold of something. While it obviously can be used to describe catching something, it can also be used to describe the action of taking hold of something to make it one's own. This fits with Jesus being the obedient worker for his heavenly Father.
The great thing is that Jesus is eventually wanting to be caught, trapped, entangled--there, on the cross, he is for us. And his authority today still matters--especially those who consider themselves caught, trapped, etc.
This week I am not going to go any farther than the second word of the text (Matthew 22:1-14; the fifth word in Greek): 'again'. Jesus is going to tell another parable. But the word 'again' is fascinating and shows a great deal of variety between the first three gospel accounts--even though they are considered to be quite similar.
Matthew uses the word over a dozen times and frequently connects it to Jesus' speaking. Mark uses the word over two dozen times and usually connects it to certain actions. Luke uses the word only three times within the entire account--although it is the longest!
There was admittedly a lot of repetition in Jesus' life. He said similar things at different times. He gave that special Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 and then gave it some significant differences in Luke 11. People sometimes did not get what Jesus wanted them to get, and so some things have to happen a second time. When the text says that something happens AGAIN, it is probably important. (There is the old saying: 'Repetition is the mother of learning'.)
In Matthew we learn that Jesus and speaking go together. We hear that prophets are AGAIN sent to tell the people what God wants to say. Jesus repeats himself when something is important. Jesus' connection to the first living creature of God's throne, a man, is clearly made within this account (see Ezekiel 1 for a detailed description of that throne).
So what about the use of the word 'again' in Mark? The author uses it in a normal way, repeating certain actions, in Mark 2:1, 2:13, 3:1, 3:20, 4:1, 5:21, and 7:14. (But in 7:31 the word 'again' is used--but not usually translated--although the text never indicates that Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon previously. Around this part of Mark the style of the language changes, so it is probably best just to look at these initial uses.)
We have Jesus doing things over again in these first few chapters. He is repeating his actions. I would like to suggest a connection to the second living creature of God's throne, a lion. A lion is a very territorial animal; they sometimes stay in the same area for generations. The connection to actions rather than words also fits with this connection.
Perhaps you can tell where I am going with the infrequent use of the word in Luke. The third living creature is the ox, an animal used for plowing. And, ideally, the animal should go in a straight line. He should not go in circles. He should not have to plow the same ground over again. Jesus is heading, in a straight line as it were, for Jerusalem.
It is nice to see the intricate details of a text working together, yet showing a significant amount of variety. And God loves to repeat himself when it comes to showing his love.
For those reading this at a time other than October of 2017, the nation at this time is still reeling after the shooting in Las Vegas. Lots of attention has been given the event, the worst mass shooting (so far) in these modern United States.
And, perhaps, when you read this, a clear reason for the attack may have surfaced. But things like this, even though done by one person, could be considered a form of terrorism.
When I lived in Iowa, I remember hearing that terrorism could be considered something as simple as the action of a person throwing something out of their car window as they passed another person on a bicycle, done in order to scare the other person. That was called terrorism. It is something that simple.
At the heart of it, terrorism is a love for that feeling of power when someone else is made afraid. Some people would love more power. It is that simple.
And terrorism is certainly not a new thing. It seems that the wicked tenants in the parable for this Sunday are terrorists in a way (Matthew 21:33-46).
At first glance it seems like the tenants are acting like the vineyard is theirs. But when the son comes, it is obvious that they are not thinking that it is theirs. But they see, in their killing of the son, a chance to have the inheritance.
And it is stated as a very good chance. In Luke 20, they are no so confident. They say, 'Let us kill him that the inheritance MAY be ours.' In Mark 12, they are quite confident. They say, 'Let us kill him, and the inheritance WILL be ours.' In Matthew, the confidence is the same, but it is dependent upon their action: 'Let us kill him and have his inheritance.'
But before the action of killing the son, they were terrorists. They were killing, stoning, and beating the servants who were sent their way. It was a variety that showed their power.
Actions carry along with them, the chance to have some power. With power, there is usually the chance to create some terror. There is the chance to be in control of a situation. Some people strive for that.
God is used to people trying to be like him. That was the fault of Adam and Eve at the beginning.
The great part of that story was that he became like us. And then he died a terrible death outside the city walls. God let it all happen.
We should fear God, as the Small Catechism tells us. God could have been the ultimate terrorist. Instead he became the ultimate savior. We should fear AND LOVE God.