Exodus 17:1-7 • Ezekiel 18:1-32 • Psalm 25:1-9 • Philippians 2:1-13 • Matthew 21:23-32
The Israelites are in the midst of learning the life of deliverance and freedom. They are learning that is not really easier than living in slavery, it is just a different struggle (at least at this point). To complicate matters, they are also adjusting to God who they are actually just meeting. God is introducing himself to them in a very intentional way – through his grace. They complain and God, in his grace, meets the need behind their complaints. They complain about something else, and again, God meets the need behind their complaints with patience that flows from his grace. God knows this people and is aware that this is how they will learn. God is becoming known by revealing the driving force of his power, the grace that flows through the Love of God for this people.
In our Exodus 16 passage we looked at last week, God dealt with the complaint of hunger by promising to provide for them daily, and in that very graceful provision, the people would remember him. This week the people are thirsty, they need water so they complain. God gives water but does so in a spectacular way that can will be a memory for the people of a moment that God provided.
God’s power gets attention, and the memory of that power reminds them of God, but it is through the source of that power, God’s grace nature, that the people truly meet God.
The prophet Ezekiel was active around the same time as the prophet Jeremiah. That means that he too, was calling a people back to God and ultimately explaining to them what the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile were all about. This passage probably took place around the same time as the destruction so it was fresh on the listeners minds. Also, you may remember Jeremiah and Isaiah confronting the people about their own shallow and lukewarm religious practices – Ezekiel is talking on this same thread but addressing the faithlessness of the parents of these people. Just like the cycle of abuse that we still see take place in our day, Ezekiel is attributing this same reality to their religious practices – that a lukewarm parent will lead to a religiously lukewarm child who becomes a lukewarm adult. Ezekiel assures the people that they will not suffer for the sins of their parents, but then stresses that each person is responsible for their own actions and faith regardless of their parents. In explaining the ‘why’ of the horrible times he is still placing personal responsibility on each person.
Our Psalm for this week has an emphasis on forgiveness and leading. Possibly read verses 5-6 first and then go back an read all of the passage with you point of reference being these two verses – let it be an anchor that ties it together, and actually ties it with our other readings for this week.
While this is not the time on our calendars for our focus on Easter, nevertheless, we are now in the middle of Holy Week (at least in our Matthew readings). This actually might be a good thing as it can permit us to see some things that took place during the time we easily miss in the Easter season. For example, our passage for this week is one of those that leads us to ask a very important question – ‘Why Jesus?’
This story takes place after Jesus had triumphantly entered the Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds. It is also after the cleansing of the temple, so his presence is acutely known by the religious and political leaders.
It would not have been uncommon for many things, including many different teachers to be happening in all the corners and crevices of the temple square. Usually Rabbis would be in different locations around the temple square teaching their followers. This is what was taking place with Jesus, he had a group of followers, and periphery persons, listening to his teaching.
It is during this teaching that we see a transition take place. Up to this point, we have been accustomed to the religious leaders in the communities come to speak with, or confront Jesus, we have also seen the Pharisees seek him out for the same purpose – these leaders have very limited power to specifically do anything about this ‘Jesus Problem.’ Now Jesus is teaching and we see the head religious officials, the high priests and others who actually have power coming forth. They are Jews with the right religious genealogy, and they have power to act as the Roman government has put them into power. The religious leaders have two concerns on this day about Jesus.
First, a major aspect of keeping their power is by keeping control of the people. Jesus’ is an unknown to them, they are unsure of how his presence is going to play out while he is in Jerusalem. They are unsure the impact he will have on the crowd. They are deciding how best to deal with this potential crisis.
The second concern comes from their responsibility as religious leaders, they had a sincere desire to make sure that what was being taught was accurate. They were tasked with monitoring the teachers to make sure the people were not listening to heretical teachings.
So, they, leaders with man given authority, begin to ask Jesus, who has God given authority, where his authority comes from to teach the things he is teaching.
They are fearful of what Jesus will say, they are cautious about over stimulating the crowds, they are concerned about what the Roman officials are hearing, and they are concerned about doing what is right. It is a lose lose situation. It is the beginning of the week which will conclude at an empty grave.
Paul, in his writing to the church at Philippi, expresses his love and gratitude for this body of believers. In two weeks, as we hit chapter four, we will see that there is a conflict between two women in the church. This conflict is obviously on his mind even as he is writing chapter two. Philippi is a majority Roman city, it is also a very diverse city, and a diverse church, in almost every aspect. This diversity often leads to differences which Paul is addressing as he speaks of unity. He is telling the followers there to remember that God is in work in the lives of each of the believers and therefore, each member must have a care for each other.