Bible Study: Proper 8 (A) – 2011
June 26, 2011
Many contemporary Christians find this text to be very challenging, for it raises uncomfortable questions about the nature of God and how God interacts with us. Why would God test Abraham by ordering him to sacrifice his son Isaac? One explanation is that the authors of Genesis were attempting to clearly and definitively forbid human sacrifice, a practice that still survived in the earliest era of Israel’s history.
Other see this text as a statement that God does indeed test us to measure our faith. We have often heard our fellow Christians explain hardship in life by saying, “God is testing me.” But would a loving, merciful God actually do this? After all, we don’t expect adults in our lives who love and care for us to test us. If they did such a thing we would refer to it as “playing mind games” or something less charitable. No, adults don’t test each other and many people of mature faith wonder if God would do such a thing either.
Perhaps this passage and the idea of testing makes more sense if we admit that life can sometimes test us with adversity and God watches us to see how we will respond.
- Do you feel that God tests us in the spirit that God tested Abraham? Why or why not?
- What have been instances in your own experience of faith and life that have tested your character? Did you have a sense that God, and others, might be watching your response?
This psalm takes the form of an individual’s lament. The psalmist words of sorrow and hopelessness express the biblical notion of poverty, i.e. the reality that one has nowhere else to turn but God. The enemy of verse 4 might be an adversary or perhaps death itself. The psalmists often expressed their anxiety and dread with allusions to death and descent to the underworld. It seems almost as if the speaker in this psalm is trying to shame God into acting, as if to say, “You, God of justice, how long will you allow this injustice to prevail?” Nonetheless the psalmist is confident that God will transform a situation that appears to be hopeless through an act of mercy and salvation.
- What have been times in our experience of life and faith where God’s absence and silence is particularly felt? How do the psalmist’s attempts to elicit God’s action resonate with our own experiences of prayer when we are experiencing despair?
- How does the psalmist’s hope for salvation presage the New Testament’s message of resurrection? What are the common threads of this overarching narrative of God’s power to transform death into life?
Paul has just concluded a lengthy discourse concerning what Jesus has accomplished through his death and resurrection, and how we share in the effects of those events through our baptism. Above all, Paul is saying that we are no longer enslaved by the power of Sin (to distinguish this power from an individual action, we shall use the capital S). Paul understood Sin to be more than simply a wrong action. Rather, Sin was a cosmic power that ensnared everyone. But Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has freed us from the false value system of Sin. Paul attempts to explain this reality in today’s epistle through the analogy of slavery.
The question is, “Whom do we serve, Sin or God?” For Paul, the answer is clear, but he recognizes that sinful forces still have great influence over us, even though we are committed to living as Christians. God suffuses our lives with grace that makes living by the values and example of Jesus possible. The great challenge remains to admit those areas of our lives that still serve Sin, and accept God’s gift of grace.
- How/where/when have you experienced the enslaving power of Sin of which Paul speaks?
- How/where/when have you experienced God’s free gift of grace which empowers us to live lives free of Sin’s false values?
Do we recognize those people that Jesus sends into our lives to minister to us? Jewish law had a well-developed legal tradition regarding emissaries. One text said, “A man’s agent is like himself.” Jesus’ teaching here invests Christian ministers with a great deal of dignity and a sense that one’s ministerial commissioning originates with God. But this is of little use unless the minister is received with an open heart. Those whom Jesus sends will not always be recognizable though. Some will be prophets (people the world might think to be a bit eccentric or strange). Others will be righteous people (perhaps those who suffer for the faith and otherwise bear witness to their discipleship – people the world might view as foolishly and naively standing by their convictions.) Notice how Jesus refers to some of those who will be sent as “little ones” (v. 42.) Scholars suggest that in Matthew’s community these “little ones” might have represented the lowliest and simplest members. These are people that we might easily dismiss because we hastily assume they have nothing to teach or offer us. Jesus invites us to be open to his unexpected ways of working in our lives.
- Who have been among the “little ones” who have ministered to us in unexpected ways?
- Is Jesus calling you to be one of his emissaries? What are the signs of this call? To whom shall you minister?
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