Engaging the Word: Readings for 10/30/16 (The 24th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary. In this week’s readings, Habakkuk urges patience because justice will prevail in the end, Paul and his companions send greetings to the church in Thessalonica, and Jesus calls Zacchaeus to come down from the tree.

Habakkuk by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Habakkuk by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4: Not much is known about the prophet Habakkuk. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah, living in Judah c. 605 BC when violence and corruption were the norm. Habakkuk couldn’t figure out why God seemed indifferent to his suffering people, allowing the wicked to surround the righteous, and injustice to prevail. He cries out to God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?”

Although not in our assigned reading, God answers Habakkuk that justice is coming—the Babylonians (Chaldeans) are going to invade Judah. But this is even worse in Habakkuk’s view. He asks: how can the all-good God use vicious enemies to hurt his own people? “Why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?”

Our reading continues with Habakkuk standing at his watchpost waiting for God’s answer. The Lord does answer and tells Habakkuk to write down this vision in plain letters, so that even a runner can read it. God tells Habakkuk that he will deal with the wicked at the “appointed time….but the righteous live by their faith.”

The third and last chapter isn’t part of our lectionary, but it’s too good to miss. It’s Habakkuk’s prayer, a beautiful psalm of wholehearted praise and trust in God. Because it is to be sung with stringed instruments, some scholars think it’s possible Habakkuk was a Levite, attached to the temple. The prayer concludes:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
And makes me tread upon the heights.

Habakkuk teaches us that it’s important to be honest and transparent with God. Because of the dialogues and total engagement with God, Habakkuk’s faith grew resilient and strong; even in the midst of trouble, his joy overflowed.

Psalm 119:137-144: We have another selection from Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Psalter. It has been called a love song— a sustained and mature reflection on God’s law. When the psalmist reflects on God’s law, he doesn’t see it as a bunch of rules and regulations but as an invitation to be in relationship with God through trusting obedience. Our selection this week is the 18th stanza.

St. Paul by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12: Scholars seldom question the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians (which we will read next year), but they are divided over whether Paul wrote this letter or whether it was from one of his later followers. In any case, the Church has acknowledged it as the Word of God, and because we don’t know for sure, I’m considering Paul to be the author. In both letters, Paul is writing to offer praise, comfort, and encouragement to the Christian community in Thessalonica, which Paul founded in about 50 AD.

Paul opens with a greeting of grace and peace from himself, Silvanus, and Timothy. He thanks God for their growth in faith and their steadfastness despite the “persecutions and afflictions that you are enduring.” Paul and his companions will continue to pray that the Thessalonians will be worthy of God’s call, and that Jesus may be glorified.

Jesus calling Zacchaeus by William Hole, 1908. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus calling Zacchaeus by William Hole, 1908. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 19:1-10: Since the end of June, we have been traveling with Jesus as he works his way toward Jerusalem, where he will face suffering and death. In this week’s reading, Jesus entered Jericho, which is the last major city on the road to Jerusalem. Here’s the entire story:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Somehow Jesus knew that Zacchaeus was “ripe for the picking” from the sycamore tree. And the encounter changed Zacchaeus. How high will we climb to get a glimpse of Jesus? And when we do, how will we respond?

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