Home > Reading > Daily Reading – February 23, 2021

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

– John 2:13-19

Most of us know the First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God … You shall have no other gods before me.” The commandment begins with an indicative and ends with an imperative. “I am the Lord your God,” is a statement of gracious fact. God doesn’t wait for us to be good enough before He is “our” God. Rather He comes to us in our sin with the promise that He is the Lord our God. Then He commands, “You shall have no other gods.”

Of course, that is exactly our greatest problem. We like to have other gods. This does not necessarily mean that we worship little statues set up in the family room, but it does mean that we have “things or people” that we idolize. Most especially, the three culprits we idolize are related to money, sex and power. The whole misbegotten history of man is the story of making an unholy trinity of these things.

When Jesus gets ticked off it’s important to pay attention. When He makes a whip and hits people with it and turns over tables and scatters money on the ground, He does so for a reason. The moneychangers and their religious cohorts were using the temple (using God!) as a means to an end — to make money. Money was idolized.

Let’s not be too hard on these religious entrepreneurs or seem overly shocked by such behavior. Money is a powerful force and few of us are ever free from its allure. Jesus called it “mammon” and some think that He is referencing a pagan god. A god who wants our devotion, our love, our obedience and our wallets. There’s only one way to make sure that we are free from the idol of mammon — give it away and be free.

Not all of us can or should give everything we own away so that we can live under a bridge in bliss. Having less money does not mean that we love money less. But all Christians are called to give sacrificially. This is the one way to say, “Money will not be my god!”

“You shall have no other gods.” Come to think of it, that’s not only a command, it’s also a promise. God will set us free from the gods who enslave us. Even His anger is good for us.

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, free us from our insecurity and fear of poverty. Enable us to give freely so that we, with empty hands, may receive from You, the God of all true riches, that which will endure forever through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lenten Response: Lent is a time for almsgiving. Where might God be asking you to give sacrificially?

Devotion written by the Rev. Dr. Eric Riesen

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr, 156 (February 23)

About the Commemoration

Polycarp, a principal connecting link between the apostolic age of the church and Christian life of the second century, was born about the year 70. Irenaeus, who had known him in his youth, says that Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Apostle and that “Apostle in Asia” appointed him bishop of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey). He was a close friend of Ignatius of Antioch (see October 17), and it was probably at Polycarp’s request that Ignatius wrote his famous epistles to various churches in Asia Minor and to Polycarp himself.

Only one work by Polycarp has survived, his Epistle to the Philippians, which many believe is actually composed of two letters, one written ca. 115 enclosing Ignatius s epistles and the other written about 135 to warn the Philippian church against the spreading Marcionite heresy, a dualistic faith that rejected the Old Testament and distorted orthodox doctrines. Polycarp’s Epistle was still read in the churches in the time of St. Jerome, but it was not included in the canon of the New Testament.

During much of his life, Polycarp was in many ways the leading figure of Christianity in Asia Minor, and he was referred to with great respect and affection by Irenaeus and Ignatius. As a very old man Polycarp went to Rome to discuss the problem of the dating of Easter, a vexing problem for the early church. After his return to Smyrna, he died a martyr’s death in 155 or 156 at the age of eighty-six. The commemoration of his death is the first saint’s day whose observance is attested in the history of the church; a reliable account of his martyrdom is given in the eyewitness report, the Martyrdom of Polycarp. The report testifies to the assembly of the faithful at the old bishop’s grave “as occasion allows” to celebrate “the day of his martyrdom as a birthday.” As early as the mid-second century, commemorations of martyrs at their graves on the anniversary of their deaths was a Christian practice.

After some Christians had been thrown to the lions. Polycarp was called before the proconsul, and, when he refused to give divine honors to the emperor and confessed himself a Christian, he was condemned to death. Since the games were over he could not be thrown to the lions, as he fully expected, but was instead burned alive. The Martyrdom of Polycarp places his death on February 23, and the Eastern Churches have commemorated him on this date. From the eighth century the Western Church observed his day on January 26, but the present Roman calendar (1969) moved his commemoration to February 23, and the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church and the Methodist For All the Saints followed that precedent.

Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.

See also: Polycarp


From The Martyrdom of Polycarp

There was a great commotion when it was learned that Polycarp had been arrested. Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked him if he were Polycarp. And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to deny the faith, saying, “Have respect to your age,” and such other things as, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; change your mind; say ‘Away with the atheists!'”

Polycarp looked with earnest face at the whole lawless crowd in the arena, and gesturing to them with his hand, groaning, and looking up to heaven, he said, “Away with the atheists!”

The proconsul was insistent and said, “Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.”

Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

The proconsul persisted. “Swear by the fortune of Caesar.” Polycarp answered, “If you vainly suppose that I shall swear by the fortune of Caesar, as you say, and pretend that you do not know who I am, listen carefully: I am a Christian. If you desire to learn the teaching of Christianity, appoint a day and give me a hearing.”

The proconsul said, “Try to persuade the people.”

But Polycarp said, “You, I should deem worthy of an account; for we have been taught to render fitting honor to rulers and authorities appointed by God so long as it does us no harm; but as for these, I do not consider them worthy that I should make a defense to them.”

The proconsul said, “I have wild beasts. I shall throw you to them, if you do not change your mind.”

Polycarp said, “Call them. Repentance from the better to the worse is not permitted us; but it is noble to change from what is evil to what is righteous.” Again the proconsul said to him, “If you do not fear the wild beasts, I shall have you consumed with fire, unless you change your mind.”

Polycarp replied, “The fire you threaten bums but an hour and is quenched after a short time; but what you do not know’ is the fire of the coming judgment and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the impious. Why do you delay? Come, do what you will.”

When he had said these things and more, he was inspired with courage and joy, and his face was full of grace, so that it did not fall with dismay at the things said of him, but quite the opposite. The proconsul was astonished, and he sent his own herald into the midst of the arena to proclaim three times, “Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian.”

Quickly then they surrounded him with the material for the pyre. When they were about to nail him also, he said, “Leave me as I am. For the One who gives me strength to endure the fire will enable me also to remain steadfast on the pyre, without the nails.”

So they did not nail him, but only tied him to the pyre.

He looked up to heaven and prayed, “Lord, almighty God,…I bless you for judging me worthy of this day and this hour, that in the company of martyrs I may share the cup of Christ….Let me be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice.”

When he had said the Amen and finished his prayer, those attending to the fire lighted it. When the flame leapt up, we who were permitted to see it saw a wonderful thing, and we have been spared in order to tell others what happened. The fire made a shape like a ship’s sail filled by the wind, and made a wall around the body of the martyr. He was in the midst, not as burning flesh, but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace. We smelled a sweet fragrance like the breath of incense or some other precious spice.

Finally, when the lawless officers saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go to him and stab him with a dagger. When he did this, a great quantity of blood came forth, so that the fire was quenched and the whole crowd marveled that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect.

Later we took up his bones, more precious than costly jewels and more valuable than gold, and laid them away in a suitable place. There the Lord will permit us, so far as possible, to gather together in joy and gladness to celebrate the day of his martyrdom as a birthday, in memory of those athletes who have gone before us, and to train and make ready those who are to come hereafter.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp, chaps. 9.2-12.1; 13.3-14.2; 15.1-16.1; 18.2-3, trans. PHP.


O God, the maker of heaven and earth, you gave your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

1970 Roman Missal, trans. LFF

Readings: Psalm 116:10-17 (before Ash Wed.); Psalm 34:1-8 (after Ash Wed.); Revelation 2:8-11; Matthew 20:20-23

Hymn of the Day:How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord” (H82 636, 637; LBW 507; LSB 728; ELW 796)

Prayers: For a life of devotion; For boldness to witness to the faith; For courage to follow Christ, even to death; For faithfulness to the apostolic tradition.

Preface: A Saint (3) (BCP); All Saints (LBW); Saints (ELW)

Color: Red

This daily prayer and Bible reading guide, Devoted to Prayer (based on Acts 2:42), was conceived and prepared by the Rev. Andrew S. Ames Fuller, director of communications for the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). After a challenging year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been provided with a unique opportunity to revitalize the ancient practice of daily prayer and Scripture reading in our homes. While the Reading the Word of God three-year lectionary provided a much-needed and refreshing calendar for our congregations to engage in Scripture reading, this calendar includes a missing component of daily devotion: prayer. This guide is to provide the average layperson and pastor with the simple tools for sorting through the busyness of their lives and reclaiming an act of daily discipleship with their Lord. The daily readings follow the Lutheran Book of Worship two-year daily lectionary, which reflect the church calendar closely. The commemorations are adapted from Philip H. Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals and Commemorations, a proposed common calendar of the saints that builds from the Lutheran Book of Worship, but includes saints from many of those churches in ecumenical conversation with the NALC. The introductory portion is adapted from Christ Church (Plano)’s Pray Daily. Our hope is that this calendar and guide will provide new life for congregations learning and re-learning to pray in the midst of a difficult and changing world.

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