Month: November 2013

Theological Research from a distance: Resources for the coming liturgical year

Many of the links below lead to material that requires a Keller Library login.  If you are a General Theological Seminary Student, or if you enroll in Theological Research from a Distance

Christmas Lites, Thanksgiving and Lectionary Year A are just around the corner (and in that chronological order!) The Keller Library can’t help you cook a turkey or trim a tree (though we have a great collection of The visit of St. Nicholas, by Clement Clark Moore, and there is this ebook available: Preparing Sunday dinner: a collaborative approach to worship and preaching , if you find it helpful).
But we have a lot more to help you prepare for RCL Lectionary Year A.

The Gospel of Matthew is read on most Sundays in Year A. It is important to have a good commentary on the whole gospel to avoid allowing interpretation to degenerate into “sound bites.” Some of the leading commentaries, such as the Davies and Allison volume in the International Critical Commentary, Craig Keener’s The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, or Ulrich Luz’s volume in the Hermeneia series are not yet available as ebooks. Important books on paper should not be ignored. However there are a number of commentaries that are available from the Keller Library on ebook for those who are at a distance or interpreting the scripture while our library is closed. Craig Evans Matthew in the New Cambridge Bible Commentary series is one of the best new commentaries available in any format. It is thorough and detailed, with substantial sections giving explanations of historical background for the text. Another major commentary available on ebook is by David Turner in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.
There are briefer commentaries, like O. Wesley Allen’s in the Fortress biblical preaching commentaries.
Amy-Jill Levine has two very useful works that analyze Matthew from feminist perspectives: A Feminist Companion to Matthew, and the Matthew chapter in Women’s Bible Commentary. You can also find many perspectives on the Gospel of Matthew in the Keller Library’s catalog, including theologian Stanley Hauerwas, or a Jewish perspective, or Thomas Aquinas or St. Jerome in our ebook collection.

Of course there are other scriptures besides the gospels in Lectionary Year A. Romans is the most common source of the Epistle through Lent. We have ebooks on Romans by Luke Timothy Johnson, Karl Barth, Marvin Pate, Origen and Peter Abelard, among others. First Peter occurs frequently in the season after Easter. Commentaries on ebook by Duane Watson, Pheme Perkins, Reinhard Feldmeier, and others are in our collection. Check our catalog for ebooks on the various Old Testament books. In the spring, I will put out another post covering Year A after Pentecost, when there is focused attention on the Hebrew Scriptures in track 1.
Feasting on the Word is a commentary on the RCL with contributions from some of our Faculty. It is really worth using. For Year A Volume 2 and Volume 4 are available on ebook, the complete set is available on paper. I expect that there will be more lectionary commentaries available on ebook as time goes by: for instance we have years B and C for Fred Craddock’s Preaching through the Christian year.
Enjoy your holidays and your preparation for the new liturgical year!

Drew Kadel
I blog at drewkadel.wordpress.com

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“Whose Wife will the Woman Be?”

A Sermon at St. Paul’s, Ossining, NY November 10, 2013

Our Gospel lesson today isn’t really about marriage or about the resurrection, either. This story is set during the last week of Jesus’ ministry, after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (also known as Palm Sunday). Jesus is teaching in the temple and there is a series of scenes of controversy with different groups trying to catch Jesus out with awkward questions—just before today’s lesson is the story where they come up to Jesus and ask him, “Do we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Temple in Jerusalem

Temple in Jerusalem

So these Sadducees are trying to score points by putting forward this theological hard case. Levirate marriage, where a childless widow is required to marry her late husband’s brother, is culturally very distant from us today. I’m not aware of any Christian sect that has ever practiced it, and even among orthodox Jews, it is really only recognized through a ceremony to be exempted from it. Judging from the history of the Talmudic interpretation of this law, levirate marriage probably seldom occurred even in the time of Jesus and the Sadducees, though the Sadducees disappeared by the end of the first century and we know little about their actual practices. They were a sort of aristocratic, conservative group that only accepted the first five books of the Bible—they believed in the temple which they controlled, but not in the resurrection, which they didn’t. So they are using their understanding of the Bible and a ridiculous case to show up Jesus in a theological absurdity.
Some of you may notice that the question is posed as a property dispute: “Who will this woman belong to?” But Jesus doesn’t bite. He says, “In this age people marry and are given in marriage, but [in the resurrection] they are children of the resurrection and children of God.” Things are different, like the angels of God…this is where literal-minded people pick up the idea of going up to heaven and having wings and a harp and so on, but that is really not what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is not describing heaven here—in fact there is nothing in our experience that is “like” the resurrected life in God. People like to make God follow rules, and the rules somehow end up looking like the parts of culture that give advantages to the people who are asserting those rules. Good luck with that.
The freedom of God is to define life, and to define the life of the resurrection. In God’s freedom the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is always messing up things that way, especially our rules and our expectations. He brings new life, life that is not held within the boundaries of death or limited by the expectations that we have for ourselves or that we accept from those around us.
It is easy enough to see how limited the Sadducees in this story were—the rules that they based their question on were really obsolete, even at that time. And today, their question, to translate the Greek literally: “In the resurrection, to which of these men does the woman belong?”, implies a relation that at least some of us would not think of as heavenly, or even workable in our society. Like them, we want to know, and to have clear rules, but instead, Jesus brings us possibility. The prophet Haggai spoke to the people of Jerusalem in its desolation, after they returned from the exile in Babylon, to find the Temple destroyed: “Take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord of hosts…My spirit abides among you, do not fear.” The resurrection destroys both arrogance and demoralization and replaces both with hope and possibility. The life that is not stopped by death or even hindered by the horrors of the cross is the foundation of imagination and creativity. Each time that his opponents challenge Jesus, he responds in a way that points to generosity, courage, and selflessness—that is, toward an abundant life of freedom.
As our psalm for today says:
“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
In righteousness shall he judge the world, and the peoples with equity.”

Rich & Short

There are two things we know about Zacchaeus: he was rich and he was short.

Sycamore Tree in Palestine

Sycamore Tree in Palestine

He wasn’t just rich, he was a chief tax collector. There are quite a few references in the Gospels to tax collectors, but this is the only reference to a CHIEF tax collector. It’s like Zacchaeus was the regional manager of tax collectors. In those days, being a tax collector was a good way to make a lot of money, because it was a franchised operation, working for the occupying Roman government, but it was not a great way to make friends among the population, who had no fondness for taxes and really did not like people who made their money by collaborating with the Roman occupation. So with his money, Zacchaeus had a lot of privilege and with his position, he had protection, since the Romans would allow no one to mess with the way they governed. But Zacchaeus was also short. That is to say, very noticeably not tall. This is important, because even though it may not be a good thing, it often affects how people see a person, and the kind of respect they give him. Of course, it’s unfair, just as the extra privilege accorded to the rich and powerful is unfair in the other direction.

The image is that here comes this well-known healer and prophet, Jesus, walking down the main street of the town—“who knows, maybe he’s the messiah or something, maybe he’ll restore righteousness to Israel, maybe he’ll take the place of John the Baptist and start baptizing people in the Jordan (which wasn’t far away from that town of Jericho), maybe he’ll pick up where John left off when he was arrested, and show Herod and those Romans a thing or two…” The crowds were out, expecting something … and this short guy, this sinner Zacchaeus was there wanting to see him as well. But he was … not popular; a sinner; regional manager of the Tax Collecting Corporation … and besides he was short. So they turned their backs on him and closed ranks, and kept him from seeing the street. But, somehow, Zacchaeus really wanted to see this Jesus guy. Being resourceful and determined, Zacchaeus saw a sycamore tree down the road—the variety that grows in Palestine has big branches that spread out, starting pretty close to the ground—so he ran ahead and climbed up in the branches.

The crowd was expecting something special from Jesus, but they weren’t expecting what happened: “Zacchaeus come on down here! I have to stay at your house today!” Those were the words of the prophet Jesus, and Zacchaeus accepted them with joy; he scrambled down out of the tree and welcomed him. So they’re walking off toward Zacchaeus’ house and everybody has an opinion—it’s not just the Pharisees and other religious leaders this time. Everybody is saying that this Zacchaeus is obviously a sinner—look at all the money he makes, and besides, he’s short. Jesus, of course is a great disappointment, not living up to our expectations, hanging out with short people … I mean … obvious sinners. While people are grumbling, Zacchaeus stops and explains to Jesus how he lives: “Look, Lord, I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I may have defrauded someone, I make fourfold restitution.”

One of the problems with the lectionary is that sometimes parts of the Gospel story are skipped over. In my Greek New Testament, there is another story that runs parallel to this, the story of the rich ruler. The same basic story occurs in the Gospel of Mark, so it was read last year, and I preached on it  here at St. Paul’s and at Trinity just over a year ago. So it’s left out of this year’s cycle of readings. In that story a clearly devout and prominent man asks Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus lists off the essentials of the commandments, the man affirms that he has always followed those, and Jesus says, “just one more thing—sell what you have, give to the poor, and come follow me” … the man goes away sorrowful, for he was very rich. In the Gospel of Luke, these two stories are only separated by Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection and the healing of the blind beggar—one page in the Greek. Zacchaeus, who is also rich and powerful does not go away sorrowful, but welcomes Jesus with joy. Though no one notices or believes him, he dedicates himself and his property to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said: (to put it in very literal translation) “Today, therefore, it is necessary that I remain in your house” –it uses the same formula that he uses when he responds to Peter’s confessing that he is the messiah by saying “it is necessary that the Son of man undergo great suffering, and be rejected … and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Dwelling in the house of this notorious sinner brings in the Kingdom of God. (flip one more page and you are at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem). Zacchaeus is an ambiguous character with a complex life—not unlike many of us, I would wager—he has plenty of privilege, and yet he’s also marginalized and despised. He is in no more likely situation to respond to Jesus than the rich ruler, and he’s in no less difficult situation to take this man into his house than we are. Jesus sought out Zacchaeus and brought salvation to his house, just as he seeks us out, to bring his healing and his Gospel in this town.

Our newly adopted dog Louie, and me writing this sermon. Note Luke Timothy Johnson's commentary in my hand. The good biblical insights here are his, the rest are mine.

Our newly adopted dog Louie, and me writing this sermon. Note Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary in my hand. The good biblical insights here are his, the rest are mine.