Sunday's Scriptures in Context
Martin Luther described the Bible as the cradle that holds Christ. We read the whole of Scripture and find meaning through Christ.
The Book of Exodus
Exodus can be divided into thematic and literary sections. Many scholars consider Exodus to be the most important book in the Old Testament. It explains God's name of YHWH, which we pronounce Yahweh, and core ideas about God, especially that God hears, responds to and saves his people. Our God is not blind to our suffering nor deaf to our cries! In Exodus, we understand that all the major institutions and festivals of Judaism are expressions of liberation. Like all of the Penteteuch (the first five books of the Bible, attributed to Moses), Exodus is a composite of traditions by several different storytellers and authors. This was a common practice in ancient times: the redactor, or editor, did a wonderful job in putting the different sources together, but he (or she) didn't worry about overlapping storylines or conflicting details or differences in vocabulary and style.
The Book of 1 Corinthians
Paul's letters to the Corinthians, written between 53-55 C. E., give us a glimpse of what life was like in a 1st century Greco-Roman city and the challenges faced by the Christians there, some of whom were Jewish converts, others Gentiles who had formerly paid homage to many gods. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Asclepius, the god of healing, were favorites of the Corinthians, and Corinth was also a major center of Emperor worship. The city was ethnically diverse and very sophisticated, the home of a large theatre and a haven for philosophers. It was a place where a resourceful person, even a former slave, could get ahead. Just as it is in the large cities of our day, there was a sharp divide between rich and poor; so the Gospel, with its emphasis on justice and equality and the oneness of all believers in the crucified and risen God-man, regardless of status, must have seemed just as radical to the movers and shakers of Corinth as it does to our "it's all about me" society today. The Corinthian Christians were a contentious bunch. 1 Corinthians seems to be a call to unity and advice on issues that were causing division among them—they were in a mess. As the one who brought them to Christ, Paul is trying to bring them back to his teachings.
The Gospel according to St. Luke
The Gospel of Luke was probably written between 80 and 90 C.E. after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 C.E.). The books of Luke and Acts were written by the same person, possibly an educated Hellenic Jew, fluent in Greek with a fine literary style, who had become a follower of Christ. Scholars refer to the books as Luke/Acts and treat them as a double volume, meant to be read and studied together, because the story of Christ told in Luke then broadens into the story of the early Church in Acts. Luke's gospel ends with Jesus' ascension and the disciples in the Temple, waiting to begin their ministries; Acts begins with the ascension and the return of Jesus' Spirit, guiding the disciples to the successful completion of their mission. Luke shows how the beliefs and prophecies of the Jews had pointed to the coming of the Messiah. His leading characters, including a young woman named Mary, are all faithful Jews who know the promises of God and are ready when he returns to dwell with his people and usher in his Kingdom on earth; but the promise is not exclusively for them. The Jewish faith expected that when God's glory was revealed, all people would see it. That's Luke's point: the Messiah is good news for all people, Jew and Gentile alike, and all of creation. Harold W. Attridge, the Lilian Claus Professor of New Testament at Yale University Divinity School says, "Luke's Jesus is very much interested in instilling compassion and forgiveness in his followers.... Jesus is probably at his most powerful in the gospel of Luke, from a variety of perspectives, as prophet, as healer, as savior, as benefactor."
Ash Wednesday's Lessons in Context
The Book of Joel
The name "Joel" means "Yah (weh) is my God." The book seems to have been written after the exile, probably around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Joel may have been a temple prophet, although we don't really know. The signs in Joel echo the Exodus story. They also show that it is the LORD who is God and the LORD who is in control. Joel also promises an outpouring of the Spirit. God acts in the world for God's people. "God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in the steadfast love...." (2:13).
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
The Book of Matthew, written by an unknown Christian about 90 C.E., declares the advent of the Kingdom of God. (The author says, “Kingdom of heaven,” which may be because Jews did not use the name of God. Even today they will write G-d.) God has drawn near to dwell with God’s people, the church, breaking into the world in the person of Jesus, and in his authority to teach, to cast out demons, heal, and to forgive sins. (Matthew 1:23; 16:16; 28:20). The author tells the story of the life, ministry, and suffering and death of Jesus. Matthew is structured in three parts and includes five important speeches of Jesus: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29); The missionary discourse (9:35-10:42); The discourse in parables (13:1-52); The ecclesiological discourse (theological doctrine relating to the church) (17:24-18:35); The eschatological discourse (the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind; i.e., the end of ordinary reality and reunion with the Divine) (24:1-25:46). Matthew stresses forgiveness and the need to forgive.