ON Scripture

By Matthew L. Skinner

Charity doesn’t leave us unchanged, which is just one reason why it’s hard to make ourselves do it.

To be more specific: when we extend generosity and justice to others, it alters our relationship to them. Especially when those “others” are foreign to us. Hospitality has ways of making the people who receive it come inside and stick around, whether we really want them to or not.

We see this on display in Luke 4:22-30, which tells the second half of a story about Jesus’ statements to a group assembled in his hometown synagogue, in Nazareth.

By Barbara K Lundblad

This is a memorable week: on Monday the inauguration of President Obama on the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and on Tuesday the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. Some people will celebrate all three with thanksgiving. Others will find nothing to celebrate – especially the decision of January 22, 1973 that struck down state laws banning abortion.

The 40-Year Impact of Roe v. Wade on the United States

The Supreme Court handed down abortion’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade 40 years ago, sparking decades of political, cultural and religious divisions. In a 7–2 vote, the Supreme Court held that a set of Texas statutes criminalizing abortion in most instances violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy. About 60 percent of Americans say they would not like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn Roe v. Wade, compared to about 30 percent who would like to see the ruling overturned, according to a recent poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

By Reverend Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” John 2:10

Occupy the Dream

Spurred on by the Occupy Wall Street movement, African-American leaders have banded together to forge the Occupy the Dream movement to highlight the widening gap between the rich and poor. Economic injustice was a focus of Dr. Martin Luther King’s activism near the end of his life. Fifty years later, African-Americans and other minority groups are still disproportionately impoverished, says Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr.

By David A. Sánchez, Ph.D.

It is an odd juxtaposition, December 21, 2012 and January 21, 2013. The former date representing the “so-called” Mayan apocalypse where the usual suspects prepared for the end of the world – many of whom were Christians awaiting the second coming of Christ – and the latter date, which is the day President Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term.

In my estimation, this odd twenty-first century connection reflects the event known as the baptism of Jesus as described in Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22. Initially we see that there is an expectation elicited by the preaching prowess of John the Baptist. The unnamed “men” wonder in their hearts if “whether perhaps he was the Christ” (Luke 3:15 RSV). John, then goes on to describe what he understands to be Christ-like qualities when he proclaims, “[One] who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am unworthy to untie” (Luke 3:16).

Then, interestingly, God speaks. Now I have been studying the Bible as both a graduate student and academic for the last two decades and I can tell you this is a rare occurrence in the New Testament. I know that many are inclined to call the Bible the Word of God but the fact of the matter is, God says very little cover to cover. Therefore, I for one am going to have a good listen when God does utter a phrase or two in Scripture. So as the climatic baptism of Jesus occurs “and the Holy Spirit descend[s] upon him in bodily form,” (Luke 3:22) a voice from heaven tenderly proclaims: “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased,” (Luke 3:22) a touching paternal moment that requires no fanfare. This is my son.

How is that for a splash of cold water in your face at the messianic parade? From the lofty messianic expectations of John the Baptist and the throngs we get a flesh and blood son. For an incarnation Christian like myself, I could not think of a better Godly response. What I take from this baptismal encounter is God saying that our exalted, post-resurrection expectations need to first be tempered with the hard, cold reality of God taking on flesh. God became one of us. This is also a wonderful corrective to our creedal proclamations that hastily move Jesus from the “born of a virgin” statement to “crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried.” A creedal response no doubt influenced by the overtly kerygmatic Christianity of Saint Paul.

We may wonder though, what about the earthly Jesus who showed compassion to the sick, taught the Sermon on the Mount, had a tantrum on the Temple Mount, wept, trembled, and cried to his Father on the cross? What about that Jesus, the incarnate one? Furthermore, what does that have to do with the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 21, 2013?

I would suggest that like the baptismal section of Luke, we too expect messianic grandeur from our political leaders but get, as God so tenderly proclaimed, sons. Unfortunately, each president has been viewed (depending on which side of the aisle your loyalties fall) as a messianic corrective to the president that preceded him. Recent history will demonstrate that Carter was perceived as the corrective to Nixon and Ford, Reagan corrected Carter, and so forth. In the twenty first century George W. Bush was the elixir for Clinton who was then replaced by our latest political messiah and current President, Barack Obama. The point that I am trying to make is that part of our national consciousness is an embedded sense of presidential evolution that unconsciously infers that the next commander-in-chief must be more worthy, more righteous, more patriotic, and more American. But the fact of the matter is that we get sons, fully incarnate with strengths and weaknesses who need other imperfect elected officials – on both sides – to assist them in the governing the most complex nation in the world.

We don’t need messiahs; we need sons and daughters with all of their strengths and flaws to collectively and effectively govern our nation. The price of messianic voyeurism and expectation is too great and unrealistic. It also forces us into a narrow determinative box on just who is qualified to hold that messianic mantle. Can a Mormon (Mitt Romney), a Jew (Joseph Lieberman), or a Catholic (John F. Kennedy) fill that messianic role? What about a woman? What about a gay person? And what are we to make of a potential candidate conversant in Black liberation theology as was the case in 2008 with Barack Obama’s ecclesial association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright?

So as President Obama prepares to take the presidential oath of office again, I foreground and take the label of beloved son, husband, father, elected official, and human being – to heart. Wishing him well is to wish our nation well, and the same holds true when the balance of power shifts in the future. Maybe once we get over our presidential messianic expectations and learn to live the frailty of the human condition, we can begin to embrace that which we hold in common. Wanting something unique and grand, God gave us a son; a son fully divine and fully human, messianic in God’s way, not ours.

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ON Scripture is made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment

By Lisa Nichols Hickman

In As I Lay Dying, the main character Anse appears self-absorbed when at his wife’s death he says, “God’s will be done. . . . Now I can get them teeth.” His character will certainly not be remembered for altruism. But Anse will be remembered for the physical effects of poverty: feet marred by labor, a spine permanently bent, skin unable to sweat from sunstroke suffered tending the fields, and a mouth without teeth.

Sumter Faith Clinic: “The Lord Led Us”

In October 2011, nurse practitioners Mary Wysochansky and Anna Stinchcum founded and opened the Sumter Faith Clinic — a free clinic to treat the uninsured and underinsured in Americus, Ga., a community Wysochansky says has been particularly hard-hit by the economy.

By Jacob D. Myers

Few narratives in the Hebrew Bible are more foreign to us than this week’s lectionary.We do not give away our children. In a society determined by socio-economic forces utterly beyond the control of individual citizens (e.g., globalization) we do our best to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of change. But what happens when we lose our footing?

Contemporary life changes too fast for habits and routines to have any chance to settle into a pattern. Western individuals must navigate their way through the fears and anxieties that are endemic to such an existence. Such is the pace of change, that effective life-strategies today may be obsolete tomorrow. We will do everything in our power to hold back the floods that threaten to wash away that which we hold dear—especially our children.

ByMathew Skinner

Sometimes, the worse the tragedy, the more abhorrent the theology it elicits.

Still numb from the overwhelming evil perpetrated against helpless children and schoolteachers last Friday, now we have to read idiocy from James Dobson and others who declare the senseless carnage a sign of God’s judgment against America. His words are disgraceful. I find them exploitative and unchristian.

Certain Christians seem compelled to speak for God in disorienting moments like these, and the results are frequently terrible. The rest of the church has a responsibility to get angry and repudiate the statements.

In times like these, I find myself wanting to disavow anyone’s attempts to speak on God’s behalf.

By Carolyn J. Sharp

Recently I had the unsettling experience of receiving unsolicited financial advice from John the Baptist. Not directly, of course— his counsel was mediated through an ancient codex, the Gospel of Luke. Written in the latter part of the first century, this text has been lovingly interpreted by monks, artists, preachers, musicians, and biblical scholars from past eras to today. Luke is a rich source of traditions about Jesus of Nazareth, and given the Gospel’s clear links to the stirring stories in the Acts of the Apostles, the ancient theologian is rightly considered to have been a brilliant historiographer of early Christian traditions. But it must be conceded that, wise as the ancient author doubtless was, his gospel is not normally consulted for financial planning.

Faith on the Record – The Fiscal Cliff

Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, and Elizabeth Tenety, a religion editor at The Washington Post, discuss the Fiscal Cliff. The video is featured in the ON Scripture The Bible article, “On the Fiscal Cliff with John the Baptist: Luke 3:7-18.”

By Nyasha Junior

Who was Abraham Lincoln? You may get different answers depending on whom you ask. He is known as the Great Emancipator. He was a self-taught rural Kentuckyian. He was a husband and father. Also, he was a pragmatic politician. The new film, Lincoln, seeks to address this question by focusing on the political struggles for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the last few months before Lincoln’s death.

ON Scripture: Who Is the Messenger?

Nyasha Junior, assistant professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the Howard University School of Divinity, discusses the Biblical text Malachi 3:1-4, featured in the ON Scripture The Bible article, “Who Was He? Malachi 3:1-4.”

By Amy Erickson

Jeremiah’s promise of a future restoration for Israel and Judah centers on the image of a righteous branch. This image, while somewhat strange to our culture, carries along with it a rich and varied tradition, deeply rooted in the world and literature of the Old Testament. The tree of life in the Garden of Eden links trees with ideas of abundance, fertility, and renewal.

The Old Testament also uses arboreal imagery to talk about leaders, especially kings. In the famous passage from Isaiah 11:1, the king in the line of David is a “shoot” and “branch.” In this way, blessings from God reminiscent of Eden are delivered by way of a royal figure.