Season of Creation 3, Year B, Sept 16, 2018

God led the Israelites out of slavery, provided manna for them in the wilderness, and at last brings them to the promised land. Now, it’s up to them, with the resources that God provides for them, to provide for themselves, but not to forget God’s generosity in the process. We, the wealthy of the world, when we have all we need and then some, may be tempted to do exactly what the passage in Deuteronomy warns against. “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth,” forgetting that God provided all we need to make our wealth possible, and that all we have ultimately belongs to God. Because we’re human, we will experience times when all is not well, when we lack what we need, when all seems lost. And then, as faithful Christians, we have patience and trust that God’s generosity will not fail. After three days in the desert, listening to Jesus, the crowds were famished. Jesus fed them, just as God had fed the Israelites in the wilderness. And then, he sends them away. But what they’ve been fed hopefully allows them to go back and use the resources they’ve been given more fruitfully and faithfully.

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

The word ‘Deuteronomy’ means ‘second law’; in this book Moses restates the essentials of the Law that God gave to Israel forty years before on Sinai, and he also reminds them of God’s blessings and exhorts them to remain faithful to Yahweh as they enter the Promised Land. He says, “You shall keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him” (8:6).

Moses is preparing the Israelites for the day when they will enter the Promised Land. They will need to remember that they did not enter that land on their own. It is Yahweh who is bringing them into that land. It is Yahweh who will help them to overcome the inhabitants of that land. It is Yahweh who will provide for their needs in that land.

Moses has some real concerns that the easy life of the Promised Land with its increase in prosperity will dull the edge of the people’s love for Yahweh, their dependence on him and their faith in him. These concerns come out loud and clear in today’s passage.

The passage is not just a record of events; it’s an interpretation of those events from the viewpoint of God’s work of molding and shaping and testing his people.

What was his purpose? It was ‘to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments’. He first ‘humbled’ them by allowing them to experience misfortune (see the early chapters of Exodus and the Book of Numbers, which have many stories of the people not having enough food and drink and then grumbling and blaming Moses for their difficulties). Gradually they learned to be utterly dependent on God for their daily provisions, and God cared for them by providing them with daily manna from heaven

What were they to learn?

1  First, they were intended to learn that spiritual hunger is just as intense and life-threatening as physical hunger. ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of YHWH’ (v.3).  Bless the Lord!

2. they are to interpret their experiences of the past forty years as the discipline of a wise parent. ‘Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so YHWH your God disciplines you’ (v.5).   Remember!

3. , they are intended to learn to ‘keep the commandments of YHWH your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him’ (v.6).  Fear of the Lord means having a proper view of God, the creator of all that exists, and of our own relationship with him.   – Awe and respect. Obey!

Note the emphasis on the activity of YHWH in this paragraph. It is not that Moses and Joshua are such superb military leaders and that the Israelites are better soldiers than the nations whose land they are about to dispossess. No, ‘YHWH your God is bringing you into a good land…You shall eat your fill and bless YHWH your God for the good land that he has given you’ (7, 10).

A major theme of Deuteronomy is that God’s covenantal gift of the land came with a warning: the Israelites were not to forget God’s commandments; if they did, they would lose the land

The land is described in mouth-watering detail for a people who have been wandering in an arid desert for the past forty years. In contrast to the dryness of the desert, this land is bountiful. “… the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with/lowing streams, ‘with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing. Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes”

Everything necessary for ‘shalom’ – peace, well-being, prosperity – will be found in abundance in this new land they are about to enter. The resources belong to God and come to us as his gift, to enjoy, to use wisely, and to share with those who are in need.

‘You shall eat your fill and bless YHWH your God for the good land that he has given you’ (v.10). Thankfulness is not a feeling; it is a decision, an attitude of mind that we cultivate. It is a habit that we grow.  We are totally dependent on God.

The danger is pride – that we are responsible for the surrounding wealth and not God.  Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” (17)

Also the need to preserve it is paramount. They couldn’t do well unless they maintained the land. The soil was thin and easily eroded. The rain was sparse and came in the winter, the wrong time of year. They were a partner with the Lord

Psalm 113

Today’s readings call us to use our resources—financial and otherwise—for justice and compassion. They reflect on the social consequences of turning away from God and the possibility that prayer and God-centered values can be a source of health in our personal and corporate lives. A transformed mind may lead over the long haul to transformed social systems.

This psalm is the first of the group known as the Egyptian “Hallel” (Psalms 113–118), from the shout of Hallelujah (“Praise the lord”) with which it begins. Psalm 113 links God’s greatness with God’s care for the poor and weak.   Almost like an antidote to the message in the reading from Amos, this psalm remembers that God is the one who lifts up the poor and the needy and that God will come to deliver them. God will raise up all those who have been trampled upon and have been under the weight of injustice.

A similar action is accorded the “childless woman” who is enthroned in her home as a mother.  We see the inequity of the Ancient Near Eastern society however.  The man (poor) is seated among the princes, and the woman (the barren one) is seated with her sons.

The “name of the lord” sums up all of the self-revelation of Yahweh. The “ash heap” (v. 7) is literally the rubbish heap, where the poor, the outcast and the diseased begged and scrabbled for scraps. Verses 7-8 are from Hannah’s song, found in 1 Samuel 2:8, as  they recall the lord’s care for the despised barren wife.

James 5:7-11

The book of James is a concise, how-to guide on being a Christian. James was the brother of Christ and the book was written about 49AD before the Jerusalem council of 50AD

The previous segment of James in Chapter 4 attacked luxury and what follows addresses the use of oaths. This passage is about patience with oneself and with others. It assumes that history will soon reach its climax with the coming of the Lord. Patience is not really defined but it is illustrated by the farmer and prophets.

The patience that James is proposing is the patience given by the Holy Spirit. It is patience that is deeply rooted in faith. It is working, laboring towards a goal when one is not always sure what the goal is, what it will look like, or even what it will mean for "me.”

The rich and powerful may seem to be on top at the moment, often oppressing the faithful poor, but believers must not think that this will always be so. James therefore calls on the faithful poor to wait patiently for the Lord to vindicate their plight, for the day is coming when the Lord God will set things right. So, be patient and confident in the Lord in the face of hardship, for his coming vindication is close at hand. James encourages his readers to be like the farmer who waits patiently for the seasonal rains. The rains can’t be hurried, but they will come and so the farmer must be prepared. James is not calling for stoicism in the face of hardship, but rather a positive reliance on God’s promise to set things right.

The patience in suffering is lived together as members of the community of faith watch over and care for one another. No words of slander, no grumbling, no back-stabbing, but always speaking and doing the good for the neighbor

v9. At first glance, it seems that this verse is an intrusion into James’ call for patience and confidence in the face of hardship. Yet, when hardship comes our way, it is very easy to turn on each other, and so James takes a moment to warn the Christian fellowship of this danger and of the reality that we too must soon face the coming Judge.

v10. James has called for a humble dependence upon God in the face of hardship, using as an example, the farmer. He now uses the example of the prophets who serve as models for the Christian life. The prophets very rarely saw the fulfillment of the Lord’s word and often faced suffering because of that word, yet they faced their situation with a confidence that we would do well to emulate. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, we should be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises", 6:12.

v11. James now concludes his exhortation by underlining the truth that spiritual blessings come to those who persevere in their faith; those who face hardship with a firm reliance upon the Lord will be blessed. "Take note", he says, "pay attention to this fact."

To illustrate the point James reminds his readers of Job. Of course, Job was not very patient with his friends, nor was he restrained in his complaining to the Lord, but his faith was firm to the end, and thus through his hardship he came to a deeper understanding of the Lord. This, of course, was the Lord’s intention ("the purpose of the Lord", RSV, better than the NIV "what the Lord finally brought about"). This should remind us that "the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men",

We have to hold up under such pressure and not join the blaming game. It is easy to be tipped off course by attacks. That can happen at an interpersonal level. It can happen in the church community; it can also apply in the wider community and in international affairs.

Mark 8-10

This is the feeding of the 4,000 omitted since we had the feeding of the 5,000 a few weeks back. People are being fed – the 5,000 (Jewish people) and the Feeding of the 4,000 (Gentiles).  

The feeding of the 5,000 took place near Bethsaida, close to the Sea of Galilee. As the people were Jewish so it a Jewish-based story. It happened near Passover time, there’s a veiled reference to the 23rd Psalm, and there were 12 baskets left over.

In contrast, the feeding of the 4,000 took place in the region of the Gerasenes, in the region around the Decapolis. Decapolis (10 cities) was primarily on the Golan Heights and on the east side of the Jordan River in the area that is now part of the Kingdom of Jordan. It was populated by Gentiles in the and was largely pagan in religious practice. Combined with the healing, It shows God’s ability to completely meet the needs of all the Earth.

This story, which appears only in Mark and Matthew,  (unlike the Feeding of the 5,000 reported in all Gospels) is also known as the miracle of the seven loaves and fishes, as the Gospel of Matthew refers to seven loaves and a few small fish used by Jesus to feed a multitude.  The number seven is symbolic of completeness (i.e. not just Jews but Gentiles too) and the number seven is evocative of the seven days of creation when God created al humanity.

The significance of these two miraculous feedings is clear: the Kingdom established by Jesus is catholic – that is to say, universal, international, for all peoples, for all nations.  God’s will is meant for all of use no matter where we are. In these miracles He feeds them with miraculous bread, in preparation for the day when they would be fed sacramentally by His very own Body and Blood in the Eucharist

According to the Gospels, a large crowd had gathered and was following Jesus It is noteworthy that Jesus fed the people through the agency of His disciples. He could have simply snapped His fingers and caused everyone present to have a meal, but He didn’t. Instead, He “gave them to his disciples to distribute and ; and they distributed them to the crowd.”( Mark 8:6) In this way, the disciples had to trust the Lord for everything they distributed. They could only give as they received. 

Since we receive abundantly, we should give abundantly.