Prayer Psalm: 25
Prayer Point: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” Are we ready to pray this? Are there areas of our lives that we will not lift up to God? Confess those parts of your life to God and pray for the faith to believe that “all the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.”
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62 Old Testament: Jeremiah 44:1-14, Sirach 4:20-5:7* New Testament: Revelation 7:1-8
*Sirach is a Jewish holy book written about 100 years before the coming of Christ. It is not considered to be Scripture by the Jewish faith nor our tradition, but the book is still worth reading. We offer Sirach in addition to the Old Testament readings.
The rift between Jews and Samaritans went back centuries when Israel was divided into two kingdoms, northern and southern. The Jews were descended from the Southern Kingdom whereas the Samaritans were the remnants of the Northern Kingdom. Very early on in the split, the Northern Kingdom built their own temples to discourage their people from traveling south to the temple in Jerusalem. (Note the reason the Samaritans rejected Jesus in verse 53 and John 4:19-20.) These temples were not authorized by God and were rightly rejected by the Jews. The problem was that their ‘rightness’ degenerated into national pride as they despised their cousins to the north regarding them as half-breeds and religious sellouts.
Does Jesus share his disciples’ desire to call down God’s judgment on the Samaritans? What does this tell us about Jesus’ attitudes towards sinners even if they are indeed worthy of God’s wrath?
In this passage (verses 57-62) we see three people asking if they could follow Jesus. Each person misses the mark and cannot follow. Why? What is it about Jesus that makes him so hard to follow? Compare the disciples’ attitude when they were called to these three individuals. What is different about their response? See Mark 1:15-20 and Mark 2:13-14.
Compare verse 62 to the story of Lot’s wife in Genesis 19:1-26.
The book of Revelation teaches us that we live in the best of times and the worst of times. It is the best of times because Christ our savior has laid down his life for us securing our forgiveness and has risen from the dead securing our future. God’s victory is assured, no matter what the world throws at us. It is the worst of times because we are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ. The enemy still has the power to strike, to make our lives miserable, but he lacks the power to kill our souls. God does not promise to shield us from suffering, he promises to shield us through our suffering.
God’s people, those who will be shielded through suffering are symbolized by the 144,000 described in verses 4-8. This includes people from Israel who remained faithful to God and those who were adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ.
What symbol does John use to describe God’s protection of his people, to shield them through suffering?
Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The imagery here also calls to mind the Exodus story when God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus chapters 11 and 12). In this story, God’s judgment was poured out on Egypt through the plagues, but God’s people, whose homes were marked (sealed) by the blood of the lamb were protected. We see the same thing happening in Revelation 7. The angels have been given power to harm the land, the sea, and the trees, but not before God’s people are sealed so that they will be saved through the judgment. Just as Egypt was judged and Israel saved through the judgment, so also will God’s people be saved when God brings judgment on the earth.
The remnant of Israel, those left behind after the destruction of Jerusalem, lacked the faith to remain in Israel and instead fled to, of all places, Egypt. But God continues to pursue his people into Egypt through his prophet Jeremiah.
What is God’s message to the remnant of Judah (Israel) living in Egypt? What have they failed to learn from the destruction of Jerusalem? What is the remnant doing instead of returning to God? Where have they put their faith? What will happen to them because of their lack of faith?
Sirach 4:20-5:7 Advice about Speech
[Verses in brackets are not found in the original Hebrew text.]
20 Watch for the opportune time, and beware of evil,
and do not be ashamed to be yourself.
21 For there is a shame that leads to sin,
and there is a shame that is glory and favor.
22 Do not show partiality, to your own harm,
of deference, to your downfall.
23 Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment,
and do not hide your wisdom.
24 For wisdom becomes known through speech,
and education through the words of the tongue.
25 Never speak against the truth,
but be ashamed of your ignorance.
26 Do not be ashamed to confess your sins,
and do not try to stop the current of a river.
27 Do not subject yourself to a fool,
or show partiality to a ruler.
28 Fight to the death for truth,
and the LORD God will fight for you.
29 Do not be reckless in your speech,
or sluggish and remiss in your deeds.
30 Do not be like a lion in your home,
or suspicious of your servants.
31 Do not let your had be stretched out to receive,
and closed when it is time to give.
1 Do not rely on your wealth,
or say, “I have enough.”
2 Do not follow your inclination and strength
in pursuing the desires of your heart.
3 Do not say, “Who can have power of me?”
for the LORD will punish you.
4 Do not say, “I sinned, yet what has happened to me?”
for the LORD is slow to anger.
5 Do not be so confident of forgiveness
that you add sin to sin.
6 Do not say, “His mercy is great,
he will forgive the multitude of my sins,”
for both mercy and wrath are with him,
and his anger will rest on sinners.
7 Do not delay to turn back to the LORD,
and do not postpone it from day to day;
for suddenly the wrath of the LORD will come upon you,
and at the time of punishment you will perish.
What is the good advice offered in verse 4:20? (“Do not be ashamed to be yourself.” (Sirach 420b NRSV))
In what opposite directions does shame lead? (“For there is a shame that leads to sin, and there is a shame that is glory and favor.” (Sirach 4:21 NRSV) It appears to me that “pride” is the shame which leads to sin. That being the case, it then follows that “humility” is the shame that is glory and favor. Pride will continue to kill the soul whereas humility will bring the favor of the LORD. “The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous. Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor.” (Proverbs 3:33-34 NRSV))
Verse 4:22 warns against showing partiality. From where does this admonition originate? (There is a law in Deuteronomy which warns against showing partiality. “You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” (Deuteronomy 16:19 NRSV) So as early as Moses this behavior of showing partiality had been discouraged (viewed as sin) and so it continued throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament.)
What is the subject of verses 4:23-25? (Speaking and speech. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7b NRSV) Sirach is telling us that one should speak at the proper moment and not to hide one’s wisdom.”. Of course speaking against the truth is lying and who could be proud of being ignorant?)
Why is everyone always uncomfortable with verse 4:26a? (Confessing sins has to, by its very nature, bring us to humility. No one likes to admit his (let’s call them) secret sins to another, I suspect for fear of rejection. Add to that the fact that that is a Catholic “thing”. As for “do not try to stop the current of a river” — apart from the obvious fact that it is humanly impossible — I don’t have any idea what this means. — j.t.)
Verse 4:28 is also the answer to the question about speaking against the truth (in verse 4:25).
What is the bonus of fighting to the death for truth? (“… and the LORD God will fight for you” Sirach 4:28b NRSV))
What New Testament book springs to mind when we talk about not being reckless in one’s speech? (The book of James in chapter 3 goes into some detail about the dangers of the tongue. James tells us that the tongue is untamable. How often have you wanted to grab back a few words once they were spoken — or as a politician might say, “misspoken”? This is universally good advice since James did not write his letter until after about 200 years had elapsed.)
How might Sirach 4:31 be rephrased? (“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35 NIV))
What is wrong with relying on your wealth (Sirach 5:1)? (To rely on one’s wealth means one is not relying on God. The LORD has always wanted us to depend on him to keep us. As far back a Gideon (in the book of Judges) the LORD thinned out all the “strength” of man so that the victory Gideon experienced could not be claimed by Gideon. (See chapter seven in Judges for just how the LORD limited the size of Gideon’s force against one many times larger than his own.) Try this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. … For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 (NIV))
Why would Sirach advise against following one’s inclination and strength in pursuing the desires of one’s heart? (Jeremiah is famous for saying: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) In Matthew Jesus put it this way: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV))
What is the substance of the remaining verses we’re looking at? (Sirach 5:3-7) (These verses address the sin of presumption — very much like taking God and his mercy for granted. We read continually throughout the bible that his mercy endures forever. While that is true, still no one wants to be taken for granted and presumption is a serious offense against God. “Do not delay to turn back to the LORD [read: repent], and do not postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the LORD will come upon you, and at the time of punishment you will perish.” (Sirach 5:7 NRSV))