Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 9, 2008

Here are the passages for November 9, 2008, the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
  • One of the down-sides to is that the site doesn't really know how to handle partial verses, such as that called for with verse 3a here. The letter "a" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the reading stops at the end of the first part of the verse, closing with "...and gave him many descendants."
  • I read this passage feeling a certain sense of foreboding. Joshua begins with a bit of a history lesson, telling the other Israelites about the gods their ancestors worshiped long ago. Then, he issues a challenge, to them: "if you can't serve the Lord, choose which god you will serve." When the Israelites give, essentially, the right response: "No, we know what the Lord has done for us. We'll serve the Lord," Joshua tells them "you're not going to be able to serve the Lord," and emphasizes the fact that they are witnesses to each other that they have made this commitment. Of course, most of us as Christians read passages like this with some knowledge of the rest of the history of God's people, but even if we didn't know what was to come, I can't help but read something like this and say "You fools! You're doomed, now!" Am I wrong for thinking this way? Like I said, they gave the right answer, didn't they?
Psalm 78:1-7

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
  • In verse 13, we learn that the teaching to follow is given so that the audience "will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope." Does that mean that Christians aren't supposed to grieve? Or how is our grieving supposed to be different from those others, assuming that ours is characterized by hope?
  • Verse 15 references "the Lord's word." What "word" is Paul writing about? Is he referencing something that we might find in Scripture? If so, where? If not, what else might he be writing about?
  • Verse 17 references something that some Christians refer to as part of the doctrine of "the Rapture." This is not an interpretation common among Presbyterians. How else might we interpret this passage?
Matthew 25:1-13
  • This parable clears tells followers of Jesus to "keep watch," but what are we watching for? How are we to prepare for what is coming? How should our lives be different as a result?
  • This parable is one of several teachings that seem to argue that some people are not "included." How should we respond to this teaching? Is this a call to greater evangelism? Can we do anything about these people at all? Is this parable one about salvation, or something else? (Indeed, if it is--to the degree that Presbyterians argue that salvation is based solely on God's election, without regard to any action we have taken, how are we even to "be wise" and "keep watch"?) Why is Jesus teaching us this parable?


Stushie said...

I read it that the parable is about the church - the maidens are followers of Christ, the bridegroom of the Church.

It means that 50% of our people are not ready for Christ's return. If we look at our membership on paper and then check our average Sunday attendance figures, that would be just about right.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

I'm not sure I'd be so quick to assume a 50% figure just because half of the people in the parable were "foolish," or to assume the regular attendance = "ready." In any event, let's go with that. If half of the people (or whatever number) in the church were "not ready for Christ's return," what does that mean for them? What are they "excluded" from? Certainly we're not saying that the "foolish" ones can't come back to worship with us on Sunday mornings if/when they realize that they've been missing out!

(I have my own answers, of course, but think it's important to push on these things a little. For example, back to the other questions from the post, if we are talking about inclusion/exclusion from salvation, can we say that it's the fault/wisdom of the maidens, yet retain our emphasis on God's election?)

Stushie said...

b-w, all the maidens have made a commitment to be with the bridegroom when he arrives - church membershiop vows - but only five remain faithful and are ready for that moment - 50% - and when the unpreapred five arrive with their lamps fully charged - faith restored when Christ returns - ie seeing is believing - they cannot get into the eternal kingdom.

Is that too blunt or too clear for some? Probably, but to which half would they then belong?

Mark Baker-Wright said...

I don't think you've actually addressed my actual questions (especially the election one). In any event, I definitely caution against assuming one-to-one correspondence between all elements of parables and the lessons the parables are intended to teach.

Stushie said...

I guess you would b-w, but it appears to me that Jesus did not. This is one of those absolutist parables that moderns don't like to address. If you've any complaints about the interpretation, then please take it to the author and ask Him why He would tell such a harsh story, where there are no second chances or do-overs.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

Complaints? I think you misread me rather badly. Just because I don't agree with your explanation, and indeed think there are some fair questions to ask that haven't been answered yet, doesn't mean I have any complaints with it, or that I don't want to deal with it.

And, please, let's not get into any "take it to the author" nonsense. You're claiming to speak for God (or Jesus) himself when you do that. All we, as humans, can ever have is our interpretation of what the Scripture says. That's not necessarily the same thing as God's intention for us.

In any event, I'd love to get some more dialogue, both from you and from some others, on this issue. I think there is much to be learned from this answer if we're willing to ask questions of the text itself, rather than simply settling for quick responses.

Sarahlynn said...

I have nothing substantive to add to this discussion, but want to let you know that I'm enjoying it very much. Thank you!

Stushie said...

I don't answer for Jesus. I just preach His words as He laid them out. It may not be academically popular, but it sure is prophetic for these times.

If you're looking for something from someone else, keep searching. I stand by the Word.

Sarahlynn said...

The thing is, Jesus preached in parables, which are not the same as commandments; they are stories that are read and interpreted differently by many.

I don't think the oil in this story is necessarily representative of - literally - oil. Nor do I think that it has to be representative of material things.

The oil could be spiritual readiness for the Kingdom of God.

"Hey, help us out, here! Loan us some of yours!" some of the people said.

"I can't," said the others. "You have to prepare yourselves; we can't do that for you."

But even so, is it a warning/lesson or a foretelling? I don't read this to mean that 50% of us will NOT be ready, but rather than we all NEED to be ready so that we're not caught off-guard, unprepared, and unready to follow like the "foolish" bridesmaids in the parable.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

Without getting back into the interpretive debate (although I still would like to see some kind of response to the questions I've raised in regard to how human wisdom/foolishness and election might co-exist), I have something else I'd like to share.

When I started this endeavor, I tried to be up-front about the fact that I can't possibly hope to raise all possible questions that a text might raise. Even so, I continue to be impressed at how the pastor of the church I attend looks at some of these passages in light of questions that hadn't even occurred to me when I was reading the passages on my own.

Case in point this week, re: this parable: "How do we deal with waiting for the fulfillment of a dream that continues to be delayed with no end in sight?"

Stushie said...

b-w, it is not a dream. It is a Divine promise. When it happens no one knows - 5 years, 5000 years or even 500,000 years from now - it is all up to God.

However, the moment after you and I die, we will experience it and be very conscious of it, with no second chances.

I'm 51, so if I live to 80, I've got 29 years to keep my faith burning. The slightest billionth of a millisecond after I die, Christ will have returned. I may have "slept" for five billion years, but the next conscious moment after death for me is the glory of eternity and the Second Coming.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

I was just quoting the question as it was used in the sermon. Suffice it to say, he wasn't using the word "dream" in the sense of "some imaginary thing that may or may not come to pass." Rather, he was using it as a bridge word with which to draw illustrations. I don't think he (or I) understand anything less than a "Divine Promise" to be at play here.

So, perhaps rewording a bit, the question should be "How do we deal with waiting for the fulfillment of a promise that continues to be delayed with no end in sight?"

I had another observation (had this on my own, but I was pleased that my pastor noted it, too), the "foolishness" of the one set of virgins is NOT in that they fell asleep from all of their waiting. Even the "wise" virgins did that! I could see where "keep watch" could, in another situation, be to tell us to be ever vigilant, never falling asleep. Thankfully, the parable doesn't tell us that.