Bible Study: 24 Pentecost, Proper 26 (C)

November 3, 2013

Christine Havens, Seminary of the Southwest

“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.” (Luke 19:8-9)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

What do we do with the sense of loss with which Habakkuk begins his conversation with God: “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” Think of torah – the law – as a cord of words, a guideline, tying the people to YHWH throughout history. In witnessing a lack of righteousness and justice, Habakkuk’s complaint is that the people, and God, have let the cord slacken, resulting in a sense of displacement, for the prophet at least. He petitions the LORD, and then watches for an end to the turmoil through God’s direct and immediate action. God’s responds, however, with a call to action for Habakkuk and for the people: faithfulness. Christians often speak of faith as knowledge one holds, separating it from physical works; but the Hebrew word, emunah, implies a firmness of action (ancient-hebrew.org) toward torah, keeping one connected with that cord of words, with YHWH. God’s response is that God remains with the people, throughout history; the LORD will act, the people must also remain firm in the law.

How do we feel when God’s presence appears to be missing in our individual lives, in that of our community, our history? What is our response? Do we act with faithfulness?

Psalm 119:137-144

Scripture, especially the psalms, is participatory, as is learning and wisdom. Words are not simply lifeless objects on a page; rather, they are everyday reminders and celebrations of God’s word and teaching that encompasses torah. Psalm 119 serves as an excellent example for us. For the psalmist, God’s word must be embodied in one’s life: “Grant me understanding, that I may live” (verse 144).

Try reading these verses aloud in a variety of ways. Begin by reading them aloud to yourself alone, in a quiet, contemplative space. What do the psalmist’s words evoke for you? Discuss this with others.

Read the verses in a small group; each person takes a turn, reading one line each, repeating through the group, until all the lines have been spoken. Discuss the experience. Does this style of reading aloud change your understanding of the psalm? Why? What words stand out?

How do we, as Christians, participate in scripture?

How do Christians understand the psalmist’s words in verse 142: “your law is truth?”

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

As with other Pauline epistles, controversy reigns among scholars as to who is the real author of 2 Thessalonians – was it Paul himself or a disciple? Some commentators even use the word “forgery,” a harsh word. This argument can be extremely distracting. However, if we consider the apocalyptic and eschatological ideas espoused in this epistle, then whether Paul or a disciple wrote the letter can be problematic for some because the author presents us with a christology different from that of other epistles.

Today’s lesson omits verses 5-10, in which the author depicts the Lord Jesus “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vv.7b-8). This is a very different image than that of 1 Thessalonians 9: “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How do you interpret and reconcile the dissimilarities? Is it important to you whether Paul or a disciple wrote this epistle?

Today’s passage opens with a greeting from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to the “church of the Thessalonians” (v. 1) and continues with the author(s) giving thanks and praying for the brothers and sisters within the community. The Pauline epistles generally begin this way, so we might often take these lines for granted. We also may dismiss them to some degree because they are written by an apostle, in a pastoral setting. In our postmodern, technological culture, we may also find this opening quaint – we rarely write letters anymore, preferring Facebook, Twitter, email, and texting to communicate.

Is it important that we, as Christians, incorporate prayer and thanksgiving into our daily written communications? How might we be more intentional in participating with scripture in this way?

Luke 19:1-10

One of the themes at the heart of Luke is travel; the gospel depicts the journey motif in multiple ways, primarily through descriptions of Jesus’ and the disciples’ journey toward Jerusalem (Charles Talbert’s “Reading Luke,” Smyth & Helwys, 2013, p. 342). Jesus encounters many along the way; in today’s passage, it is Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector. A tax collector in Judea was viewed as a collaborator with the Romans, and so fellow Jews labeled Zacchaeus as “a sinner” (v. 7). Jesus’ interaction with him forms this short part of the narrative.

In their book “Christians Among the Virtues” (University of Notre Dam Press, 1997), Stanley Hauerwas and Charles Pinches contrast the idea of trips versus journeys in terms of the moral life (p. 18). “Trip” carries the connotation of short-term travel, something lightweight and transitory. A “journey,” however, is long-term travel, during which one makes progress toward one’s telos or “goal.” It is a matter of formation rather than transformation. Perhaps Zacchaeus, in running ahead to see Jesus and being willing to overcome the little obstacles in his way, has already traveled far in his formational journey. He is a sinner, but one who is unafraid to encounter Christ anyway.

Narratives themselves, such as the gospels, are journeys, too, inviting us in – narrative hospitality.

How does the story of Zacchaeus invite you into the story of Christ?

How do you interpret Jesus’ words: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is the Son of Abraham” (v. 9)?

Describe your own journey as a Christian.

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