Archive for November 2010

Week of Proper 6: Monday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Code of Hammurabi

A Different and Better Way Living in Love

JUNE 19, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (An American Translation):

(I have reformatted the text for clarity.)

As God’s fellow-worker, I appeal to you, too, not to accept the favor of God then waste it.  For he says,

I have listened to you at a welcome time,

And helped you on a day of deliverance!

Now the welcome time has come!

This is the day of deliverance!  I put no obstacles in anyone’s path, so that no fault may be found with my work.  On the contrary, as a servant of God, I try in every way to commend myself in them, through my great endurance in

  • troubles,
  • difficulties,
  • hardships,
  • beatings,
  • imprisonments,
  • riots,
  • labors,
  • sleepless nights,
  • and hunger,


  • my purity of life,
  • my knowledge,
  • my patience,
  • my kindness,
  • my holiness of spirit,
  • my genuine love,
  • the truth of my teaching,
  • and the power of God;

with the weapons of uprightness for the right hand and the left,

in honor or dishonor,

in praise or blame;

  • considered an imposter, when I am true,
  • obscure, when I am well known,
  • at the point of death, yet here I am alive,
  • punished, but not dead yet,
  • pained, when I always glad,
  • poor, when I make many others rich,
  • penniless, when I really own everything.

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

Matthew 5:38-42 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “You have heard that they were told, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you not to resist injury, but if anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him too; and if anyone wants to sue for your shirt, let him have your coat too.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  If anyone begs from you, give to him, and when anyone wants to borrow money from you, do not turn away.”


The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


And if people will fight, and they strike a pregnant woman, and her children go out, and there will not be an injury, he shall be penalized according to what the woman’s husband will impose on him, and he will give it by the judges.  And if there will be an injury, then you shall give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a hurt for a hurt.

And if a man will strike his slave’s eye or his maid’s eye and destroy it, he shall let him go, liberated, for his eye.  And if he will knock out his slave’s tooth or his maid’s tooth, he shall let him go liberated for his tooth.

–Exodus 21:22-27, Translated by Richard Elliott Friedman

(Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text, HarperCollins, 2001)

A common oversimplification of the presentation of God in the Hebrew Bible is that God is harsh there yet merciful in the New Testament.  Actually reading the Bible carefully should correct this understanding, although one cannot be sure of this at all times.  In fact, the God of the Hebrew Bible can be quite merciful and God can seem harsh in the New Testament.  Judgment and mercy coexist in both Testaments.

Consider the “an eye for an eye” rule, for example.  It is a variation on an older law code, the Code of Hammurabi.  Hammurabi was an 18th Century B.C.E. Mesopotamian king.     The following laws come from that code:

(196)  If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.

(197)  If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.

(198)  If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.

(199)  If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.

(200)  If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.

(201)  If he knock out the teeth of a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.

(202)  If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.

(203)  If a free-born man strike the body of another free-born man or equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina.

(204)  If a freed man strike the body of another freed man, he shall pay ten shekels in money.

(205)  If the slave of a freed man strike the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.

(206)  If during a quarrel one man strike another and wound him, then he shall swear, “I did not injure him wittingly,” and pay the physicians.

(207)  If the man die of his wound, he shall swear similarly, and if he (the deceased) was a free-born man, he shall pay half a mina in money.

(208)  If he was a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

(209)  If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.

(210)  If the woman die, his daughter shall be put to death.

(211)  If a woman of the free class lose her child by a blow, he shall pay five shekels in money.

(212)  If this woman die, he shall pay half a mina.

(213)  If he strike the maid-servant of a man, and she lose her child, he shall pay two shekels in money.

(214)  If this maid-servant die, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

(The full English translation is here:

Relative to the subsequent Law of Moses, the Code of Hammurabi was harsher and made distinctions in the favor the the powerful, wealthy, and male.  An injured servant was still a servant under the Code of Hammurabi, for example, but was free under the provisions of the Law of Moses.  The function of the “eye for an eye” provision in the Law of Moses was to restrict vengeance.  And, in practical reality, people settled on financial penalties for physical injuries anyway.

But Jesus taught with his words and his deeds that we ought not to seek retaliation.  “An eye for an eye and a tooth for the tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless.”  I have heard this sentence in various media, including an episode of Babylon 5.  How can we reconcile and forgive each other if we are plotting revenge?

I think of the examples of those who have practiced nonviolence as a strategy of social change.  Mohandas K. Gandhi said that those who beat people who refuse to strike back begin to question themselves after a few blows.  What kind of person continues striking someone who refuses to resist?  How long can one justify to oneself committing such violence?  If the other person would just hit back, the internal dialogue would be different.  I recall also the nonviolent tactics of United States civil rights activists in the 1960s.  Not to strike back required great moral courage and denied the perpetrators of violence any semblance of moral justification for their heinous actions.

Revenge on Germany after World War I helped pave the road to the rise of the Nazi Party to power and the subsequent World War II.  After World War II, the United States helped rebuild Germany and Japan, which have become allies.  We need to remember this simple lesson more often than we do when considering foreign policy.  The monsters we fight are often those we have created via our anger and retribution.

If anyone had reasons to be angry, it was Paul of Tarsus.  Consider what he suffered for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Reread the passage from 2 Corinthians.  Paul is far from resentful.  He does, in fact, demonstrate “genuine love.”  And, as he writes, we ought not accept then waste the favor of God.  He did not, as history tells us.

Psalm 98 tells us that God has won and shown his victory.  Paul writes that the day of deliverance and divine favor has come.  We ought not seek retribution on such a glorious day.  This is a difficult lesson, for the desire to avenge oneself or another person is natural.  I know this desire.  But there is a better way, and it is called love.  Let us leave such judgment to God, who is wiser than we can ever hope to be, and, in grace, seek to build a beloved community of humans, for the benefit of all and the glory of God.

The note for Matthew 5:39-42 in The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) contains the following:

A saint of the desert once found his hut being looted of its paltry possessions, and he knelt in the corner praying for the bandits.  When they left, the monk realized that they had not taken his walking stick.  This monk pursued them for many days until he was able to give them the stick as well.  Seeing his humility, the bandits returned everything to him and were converted to Jesus Christ.

The point is this:  Only good defeats evil and brings our enemies.  If we resist evil with evil, we compromise ourselves morally and become our own enemy.  By grace, may we live according to love.  May we not play God, who alone has the right to make certain judgments.



Proper 6, Year A   30 comments

Above:  Terebinth Trees (Such as Those at Mamre)

The Juxtaposition of Mercy and Judgment

The Sunday Closest to June 15

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 18, 2023



Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  He said,

My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.

So they said,

Do as you have said.

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said,

Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.

Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him,

Where is your wife Sarah?

And he said,

There, in the tent.

Then one said,

I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying,

After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?

The LORD said to Abraham,

Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I have indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?  At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.

But Sarah denied, saying,

I did not laugh;

for she was afraid.  He said,

Oh yes, you did laugh.

The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised.  Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Now Sarah said,

God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.

And she said,

Who would ever said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I call upon him.

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant,

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.



Exodus 19:2-8a (New Revised Standard Version):

They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.  Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying,

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.

So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him.  The people all answered,

Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.

Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.  Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.

Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness

and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this:  The LORD himself is God;

he himself has made us, and we are his;

we are the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and call upon his name.

4 For the LORD is good;

his mercy is everlasting;

and his faithfulness endures from age to age.


Romans 5:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23) (New Revised Standard Version):

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  These are names of the twelve apostles:  first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the Gentiles, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.   As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment, give without payment. (Take no gold, or silver, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.  Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.  Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.)

The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Nothing is too wonderful or difficult for God, who is faithful to promises, even though we are not always mindful of ours or or God.  Therein lies the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment.  This is my theme for this devotional writing.

Let us begin with the reading from Genesis.  Abraham welcomes three visitors and extends to them full hospitality, according to his culture.  The patriarch does not know that one of them is YHWH, who has come to make a shocking announcement.  Sarah is post-menepausal, or as the formal euphemism states, “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.”  Yet she will have a son, which is what she and her husband have wanted for years and thought impossible by now.  She laughs incredulously and silently to herself when she overhears the prophesy, but laughs with delight when she sees her newborn son.  She names him Yitzhak, or Isaac in English.  This names means, “He will laugh.”  And now others will laugh with Sarah.

Sometimes laughter of joy is appropriate after considering what God has done.  In the case of Sarah, God was merciful, and the laughter constituted high praise.  And although God refused to accept Sarah’s denial that she had laughed, God did not seem to hold either the initial laugh or her lie against her.  Really, who could blame Sarah?  Had anyone ever heard of such a thing as a woman of her years giving birth?

God was faithful in Genesis 18 and 21.  And, in Exodus 19, God (via Moses) challenged the Israelites to obey divine commandments.  They said they would, but their subsequent actions belied their words.  God did not destroy them (That was merciful.), but God did not permit them to enter Canaan.  (That was judgment.)  The next generation entered the Promised Land.  Read the accounts of the wanderings in the wilderness, if you have not done so already.  And if you have, you might want to read them again.  It is no wonder that Moses and God became angry with such behaviors as many Israelites exhibited.

Jesus and Paul remind us of suffering for the sake of righteousness.  The manners of their deaths give their words credibility:  The Roman Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Jesus.  And almost all of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs.  The incarnation of Jesus was itself an indication of great mercy, the message of which Paul took to the Gentile world.  Empires have executed messengers of the Kingdom of God, which had “come near” with Jesus, but the work of God is unstoppable.  Those who persecute such messengers will face judgment, but the faithful–those who endure–will live with God, regardless of what anyone does to their bodies.

I grew up in a Christian home.  This fact contributes greatly to the fact that I remain a Christian.  But other factors have contributed to this choice.  Among these factors is the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Read ancient comparative religion; few claims are original to Christianity.  Older religions featured a Son of God who died for the sins of the world, for example.  But these alleged Sons of God never walked the face of the earth; they were figments of imaginations.  Jesus was real, however.  He was, as I say, the genuine article.

God has come near.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  We have seen it in human flesh, in the form of Jesus.  And, in his own way, Abraham had an incarnational experience.  God seems to like us, sometimes despite ourselves.   Divine mercy does not preclude us suffering consequences of our actions, however.  But judgment does not necessarily connote divine hostility, for discipline is part of love.

Not only does God seem to like us, God loves us.  Should we not love God back?  Should we not laugh in delight for God has done, is doing, and will do out of love for us?


Week of Proper 5: Saturday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Salvador Dali’s Painting of the Crucifixion (1954)

God Permeates the Created Order

JUNE 17, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (An American Translation):

It is Christ’s love that controls me, for I have become convinced that as one has died for all, all have died, and he died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again.

So from that time on, I have estimated nobody at what he seemed to be outwardly; even though I once estimated Christ in that way, I no longer do so.  So if anyone is in union with Christ, he is a new being; the old state of things has passed away; there is a new state of things.  All this comes from God, who through Christ has reconciled me to himself, and has commissioned me to proclaim this reconciliation–how God through Christ reconciled the world to himself, refusing to count men’s offenses against them, and entrusted me with the message of reconciliation.

It is for Christ, therefore, that I am an envoy, seeing that God makes his appeal through me.  On Christ’s behalf I beg you to be reconciled to God.  He made him who knew nothing of sin to be sin, for our sake, so that through union with him we might become God’s uprightness.

Psalm 103:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

3 He forgives all your sins

and heals all your infirmities.

4 He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness.

5 He satisfies you with good things,

and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

6 The LORD executes righteousness

and judgment for all who are oppressed.

7 He made his ways known to Moses

and his works to the children of Israel.

8 The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 He will not always accuse us,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our sins from us.

Matthew 5:33-37 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Again, you have heard that the men of old were told, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but you must fulfill your oaths to the Lord.’  But I tell you not to swear at all, either by heaven, for it is God’s throne, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.  You must not swear by your own head, for you cannot make one single hair white or black.  But your way of speaking must be ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’  Anything that goes beyond that comes from the evil one.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

–The Presidential Oath of Office, verbatim form Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of the United States of America

Some Christian traditions (such as the Quakers) take Jesus’ prohibition against swearing oaths literally.  So the Presidential Oath of Office, as the Constitution establishes it, grants the President the option of either swearing or affirming.  And, not to get off topic for long, “so help me God” at the end of the oath is a tradition, not a formal part of said oath.  Furthermore, Amendment XX, Section 1 (1933) establishes that the President’s term of office begins at Noon (regardless of what is happening on the dais at that time or how the Chief Justice delivers the oath) on January 20, which is Inauguration Day.  The Constitution is a treasure trove of fun civics facts.

Now, for my main idea:  God permeates creation.  We cannot evade God.

Swearing by God indicated that a person intended to fulfill a promise.  Swearing such an oath made God a party to the vow, and this was a serious matter.  Yet some wanted to preserve the appearance of seriousness without its substance.  Swearing by one’s head, for example, meant nothing, and swearing by Jerusalem or the heavens seemed to invoke God but did not; it was an evasion.  All of this superficial swearing constituted playing games.  Jesus cut to the chase, again; he said to be honest, to say what one means, and to mean what one says.

This is a timeless and valuable lesson.

Behind it lies a profound truth:  God is in Jerusalem, and the heavens, and everywhere else.  God permeates everything in creation.  And compartmentalization is a fool’s errand.  Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that we must be reconciled to God and must live for Christ, who died for us.  So Christ is in everything for Paul.  We who claim to follow God must bless God with our attitudes, words, and deeds.

This is a difficult vocation, one possible to fulfill only by grace.  But God supplies that, fortunately.  The words of Psalm 139:6-11 fit this occasion:

6 Where can I go then from your Spirit?

where can I flee from your presence?

7 If I climb up to heaven, you are there;

if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

8 If I take the wings of the morning,

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

9 Even there your will lead me

and your right hand hold me fast.

10 If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,

and the light around me turn to night,”

11 Darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day;

darkness and light to you are both alike.

This indicates mercy, does it not?  We, then, ought not to play mind and word games with God.  Instead, we have an obligation to seek out God in ourselves, those around us, and in nature, and to treat ourselves, each other, and nature with all such respect.  These indicate reverence for God, whether or not we swear or affirm.


Week of Proper 5: Friday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Cross and Crown


JUNE 16, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (An American Translation):

But I have this treasure in a mere earthen jar, to show that its amazing power belongs to God and not to me.  I am hard pressed on every side, but never cut off; routed, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; never free from the danger of being put to death like Jesus, so that in my body the life of Jesus also may be seen.  For every day I live I am being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so taht the life of Jesus may be visible in my mortal nature.  So it is death that operates in my case, but life that operates in yours.  In the same spirit of faith as his who said,

I believed, and so I spoke,

I too believe, and so I speak, sure that he who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will raise me also like Jesus, and bring me side by side with you into his presence.  For it is all for your benefit, in order that as God’s favor reaches greater and greater numbers, it may result in more and more thanksgiving in praise of God.

Psalm 116:9-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

9 I believed, even when I said,

“I have been brought very low.”

In my distress I said, “No one can be trusted.”

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant;

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.


Matthew 5:27-32 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

You have heard that men were told, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman with desire has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  But if your right eye makes you fall, tear it out and throw it away, for you might better lose one part of your body than have it all thrown into the pit!  If your right hand makes you fall, cut it off and throw it away, for you might better lose one part of your body than have it all go down to the pit!

They were told, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife on any ground, except unfaithfulness, makes her commit adultery, and anyone who marries her after she is divorced commits adultery.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


For my analysis of the Mark reading parallel to this day’s reading from Matthew, visit, which is nearly identical to  For the sake of succintness, I will refrain from repeating most of it in this post.


The readings from 2 Corinthians and Psalms today speak of faith during difficulty.  Indeed, Paul and various psalmists endured much for God, remained faithful through it all, and left indicative writings we can read in translation today.  Paul lived well and safely before his conversion.  Afterward, however, he spent much time on the wrong side of the law and emeshed in controversies with various people.  He could not even write some of the epistles credited to him, for the shackles made that impossible.  Paul had to dicate them instead, and a scribe did the actual writing.  Furthermore, Paul died in 64 C.E., when an employee of the Roman Empire beheaded him.  He died as a criminal.  So did Jesus.  After-the-fact events lend credibility to Paul’s words about suffering for the sake of righteousness:

For every day I live I am being given up  for death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be visible in my mortal nature.

The scandal of the death of Jesus was that the Roman Empire executed him as a criminal, a threat to national security in modern terminology.  (“Threat to national security” allegedly justifies a mulitude of sins, does it not?)  Paul embraced this scandal, making it the centerpiece of his understanding of the gospel.  And the cross, a symbol of empire-sponsored terrorism, became in time the central symbol of Christianity.  Today people were small crosses on jewelry and sport tee-shirts emblazened with crosses.  I wonder if the power of the symbol has weakened when it has become so safe and casual, not that I hope for a martyr’s death or religious persecution.  My point is this:  the cross during the time of Jesus and Paul was like the electric chair or gas chamber today, only public.  It was actually more like the gallows of recent history.  It was neither safe nor casual.

Yet a symbol has only the meanings people assign to it.  A symbol of fear has become one of love and sacrifice.  A borrowed and briefly occupied tomb transformed the cross into a symbol of triumph over the powers of evil.

Love is at the center of the Matthew reading.  I have written in detail on the subject of what Jesus said about divorce already.  This topic has arisen in the Gospel of Mark, too, so, for full comments, I refer you, O reader to follow the links I have placed between the collect and the beginning of my comments.  I must repeat some content, however.

Mosaic law allowed a man to divorce his wife (but not she to divorce him) for undefined faults hinted at as being adultery.  What Moses hinted at Jesus made explicit in Matthew.  As I have written before and will certainly reiterate many more times, a clever legalist can find a way to hide behind the letter of the law, so as to disguise sin as righteousness.  Some men had divorced their wives for excuses as slight as poorly prepared meals.  Moses had required that wives receive written notice of divorce so they could remarry, but divorced women were at great risk of economic exploitation in such a highly patriarchal society long before the rise of feminism.  So Jesus said in essence that women are people to cherish, not objects to throw away on a whim.  That is a timeless lessson.

And we need to be intelligent enough and have such respect for our bodies to recognize the hyperbole in regard to plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand that causes us to sin.  Eyes and hands do not cause us to sin, and Jesus was not advocating mutilating and maiming ourselves; sin originates elsewhere.  The context of these hyperbolic statements indicates that they indicate assocation with sexual arousal and actions pursuant to it.  This is a struggle for many people.  We are wired for sex; without it, the species would cease to exist.  As I continue to ponder the textual context, I conclude that these statements from Matthew 5 are anti-exploitative sex.  Again I return to a previous sentiment:  Women are people to cherish, not objects to use casually.

Temptations are numerous and strong, as are the desires to choose an easier path when sufferings and other hardships for the sake of righteousness began then continue.  Fortunately, grace can empower us to endure, for the glory of God.  If we endure to the end of our journey and remain faithful, returning to God after we stray (as we will from time to time), we will honor God, who knows that we are “but dust.”  I have no patience with moral perfectionism, which is unrealistic, but neither do I excuse having no standards or regard for them.  The Didache, at the end of its discourse on moral living and sinful living, encourages Christians to observe all the elements of a moral life, if possible.  But, if this is not possible, the text says, keep as many as possible.  I propose that nobody can keep all such precepts, but that we need to observe as many as possible.  We need to live knowingly within grace, trusting God to help us do better.  And we can begin by not exploiting one another.


Week of Proper 5: Thursday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Title of the Didache (in Greek)

Love God and Do Whatever You Please

JUNE 15, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6 (An American Translation):

So since I have such a hope, I speak with great frankness, not like Moses, who used to wear a veil over his face, to keep the Israelites from gazing at the fading of the splendor from it.  Their minds were dulled.  For to this day, the same veil remains unlifted, when the read the old agreement, for only through union with Christ is it removed.  Why, to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil hangs over their minds, but

whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Now the Lord here means the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And all of us, reflecting the splendor of the Lord in our unveiled faces, are being changed into likeness of him, from one degree of splendor to another, for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

So since by the mercy of God I am engaged in this service, I never lose heart.  I disown disgraceful, underhanded ways.  I refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s message.  It is by the open statement of truth that I would commend myself to every human conscience in the sight of God.  If the meaning of my preaching of the good news is veiled at all, it is so only in the case of those who are on the way to destruction.  In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep the light of the good news of the glorious Christ, the likeness of God, from dawning upon them.  For it is not myself but Christ Jesus that I am proclaiming as Lord; I am only a slave of yours for Jesus’ sake.  For the God who said,

Let light shine out of darkness,

has shone in my heart, to give me the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, that is on the face of Christ.

Psalm 85:7-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Show us your mercy, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

8 I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people

and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near those who fear him,

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together;

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth,

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him,

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Matthew 5:20-26 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

For I tell you that unless your uprightness is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

You have heard that men of old were told ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders will have to answer to the court.’  But I tell you that any one who gets angry with his brother will have to answer to the court, and anyone who speaks abusively to his brother will have to answer to the great council, and anyone who says to his brother ‘You cursed fool!’ will have to answer for it in the fiery pit!  So when you are presenting your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother has any grievance against you, leave your gift right there before the altar and go and make up with your brother; then come back and present your gift.  Be quick and come to terms with your opponent while you are on the way to court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.  I tell you, you will never get out again until you have paid the last penny!


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

–St. Augustine of Hippo

(Thanks to for the whole quote.)

One of my favorite books is a slim paperback volume, Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers, which Penguin Books publishes.  Among the Second Century C.E. documents in modern English translation in that book is the Didache, or Teachings.  The first section of the Didache explains the Way of Life (practicing good morals) and the Way of Death (living in an immoral way).  This part of the document does contain negative statements, or commands not to commit X, Y, and Z.  Yet the first section of the Didache focuses on the positive, on what God wants people to do.  This is a healthy approach to the topic, for merely stating what not to do does not indicate what one ought to do.

Jesus expands the Law of Moses in the reading from Matthew.  Our Lord and Savior mentions the Mosaic punishment for murder, for example.  Then he says that one must do better than that; one must not live in anger, from which many murders spring.  Furthermore, one must not defame another person, either.  Imagine how much better life would be if more people lived in love, not anger, and did not defame anyone.  The world would be a better place.  It would be a positive place.

I have known people who have nursed grudges for years, if not decades.  This has seemed to give them a purpose in life, albeit a negative one.  And I have met others who seemed to be in perpetual complaint mode.  Whenever I was around them, they kvetched about one thing or another.  None of this demonstrates living in freedom in God.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that there is freedom in God.  There is liberty to act as one should, to live according to what the Didache labels the Way of Life.  To borrow a thought from St. Augustine of Hippo, one trained to love God will not offend God.  So one who loves God can focus on living according to the Shema and the Golden Rule, and not obsess over hundreds of Sabbath laws, for example.

The Law of God has two parts:  the letter and the spirit.  The letter of divine law varies according to historical, cultural, and economic circumstances.  Read Leviticus, if you dare.  The literal details of many of those laws do not apply to a North American in the early Twenty-First Century C.E.  Yet the spirit of the law transcends circumstances, and that is what we need to contemplate when deciding whether actions are proper or sinful.

So why do so many people find ways to turn attempts at following God into exercises in legalism and misery?  Consider honoring the Sabbath, for example.  Slaves did not get a day off, so having a day off was a sign of freedom.  Besides, we need a day off for other reasons; nobody is a perpetual motion machine.  So the Sabbath is something we ought to relish.  Yet Pharisees in Jesus’ time and many people before and since have made it an occasion not to seem happy or to commit any other deed from a long list.  New England Puritans, for example, outlawed humming or singing to oneself in public on Sunday.  And once, when “blue laws” were in effect in South Carolina, one could not buy a light bulb legally in the state.  The emphasis for many has been on the “Thou shalt not” rules, not the list of “Thou shalt” activities.  People needed an attitude more like that of the Didache.

I am convinced that these and other misguided exercises in legalism are well-intentioned efforts to live a holy life, but that they miss the point.  The point is that God liberates us to live a holy life; God does not constrain us into one.  So let us love God then do as we please, not offending our Beloved Lord and liberator.  Let us dance with God–maybe doing the tango or the lambada, rejoicing in the company of our Beloved.  I hear that God knows how to lead.




Below:  Tango Dancers

Week of Proper 5: Wednesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Moses Receiving Then Delivering the Law

Jesus Expands, Not Negates, the Law

JUNE 14, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 3:4-11 (An American Translation):

Such is the confidence that I have through Christ in my relations to God.  Not that I am of myself qualified to claim anything as originating with me.  My qualification is from God, and he has qualified me to serve him in the interests of a new agreement, not in writing, but of spirit.  For what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life.

But if the religion of death, carved in letters of stone, was ushered in with such splendor, so that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face on account of the brightness that was fading from it, why should not the religion of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?  If there was splendor in the religion of condemnation, the religion of uprightness must far surpass it in splendor.  For in comparison with its surpassing splendor, what was splendid has come to have no splendor at all.  For if what faded away came with splendor, how much more splendid what is permanent must be!

Psalm 99 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

let the people tremble;

he is enthroned upon the cherubim;

let the earth shake.

2 The LORD is great in Zion;

he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome;

he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

5 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and fall down before his footstool;

he is the Holy One.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,

and Samuel among those who call upon his Name,

they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;

they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 “O LORD our God, you answered them indeed;

you were a God who forgave them,

yet punished them for their evil deeds.”

9 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and worship him upon his holy hill;

for the LORD our God is the Holy One.

Matthew 5:17-19 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not suppose that I have come to do away with the Law or the Prophets.  I have not come to do away with them but to complete them.  For I tell you, as long as heaven and earth endure, not one dotting of an i or crossing of a t will be dropped from the Law until it is all observed.  Anyone, therefore, who weakens one of the slightest of these commands, and teaches others to do so, will be ranked lowest in the Kingdom of Heaven; but anyone who observes them and teaches others to do so will be ranked high in the Kingdom of Heaven.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Classical Christian teaching, at least from the times of St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine of Hippo, holds that Jesus, by his Incarnation, expanded, not replaced, the covenant embodied in the Law of Moses.  I find no fault and much merit in this point of view.

Greek word meanings matter.  Consider, then, the term “new agreement” from 2 Corinthians.  This is “new covenant” in other translations.  I focus on the word “new,” which, in this case, is kainos.  This word indicates both newness in chronology and in quality.  So, to combine elements of lections, Jesus fulfilled, or completed the Mosaic Law by expanding it from the legalistic strictures into which the religious establishment had placed it.  Our Lord and Savior violated many ritual laws, of course, but he honored the spirit of the Law, which is to love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  The Law, which was temporary but long-lived, pointed to Jesus, who endures.  So 2 Corinthians 3:4-11 does not indicate supercessionism.  Neither does Matthew 5:17-19.

The Apostle Paul was brilliant and his theology was profound.  There are two essential keys to much of this theology, however.  They are (1) grace and (2) Christ crucified.  Paul preached Christ crucified.  And grace permeates the Pauline epistles.  This unearned favor saves us from what we deserve.  Grace trumps legalistic purity codes.  Grace bestows life in God.

As I have written more than once in other blog posts, a clever legalist can find ways to manipulate a religious law code to made sin look like righteousness.  This version of alleged piety is self-serving, and Jesus condemend it in the canonical gospels.  But there is no law of God against loving one’s neighbor as oneself.  Obeying this rule makes minding a host of minute details unnecessary while it honors the spirit of much of God’s law.  Let us begin there.  Let us see the forest, not just the trees.

That will be surpassing splendor indeed.


Week of Proper 5: Tuesday, Year 1   8 comments

Above:  Corinth,  Greece

What Kind of Salt and Light Are We?

JUNE 13, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 1:18-22 (An American Translation):

As surely as God can be relied on, there has been no equivocation about our message to you.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed to you, Silvanus, Timothy, and I, you have not found wavering between “Yes” and “No.”  With him it has always been “Yes,” for to all the promises of God he supplies the “Yes” that confirms them.  That is why we utter the “Amen” through him, when we give glory to God.  But is God who guarantees us and you to Christ; he has anointed us and put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts, as his guarantee.

Psalm 119:129-136 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

129 Your decrees are wonderful;

therefore I obey them with all my heart.

130 When your word goes forth it gives light;

it gives understanding to the simple.

131 I open my mouth and pant;

I long for your commandments.

132 Turn to me in mercy,

as you always do to those who love your Name.

133 Steady my footsteps in your word;

let no iniquity have dominion over me.

134 Rescue me from those who oppress me,

and I will keep your commandments.

135 Let your countenance shine upon your servant

and teach me your statutes.

136 My eyes shed streams of tears,

because people do not keep your law.

Matthew 5:13-16 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued:]

You are the salt of the earth!  But if salt loses its strength, how can it be made salt again?  It is good for nothing but to be thrown away and trodden underfoot.  You are the light of the world!  A city that is built upon a hill cannot be hidden.  People do not light a lamp and put it under a peck-measure; they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.  Your light must burn in that way among men so that they will see the good you do, and praise your Father in heaven.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Christian congregation at Corinth contained some difficult personalities, to state the case mildly.  This remained true for some time after the apostle’s death, unfortunately.  For evidence of this, read St. Clement’s (first) Letter to the Corinthians, written around the year 100 C.E.  As a reading of the 2 Corinthians 1 makes clear, Paul had planned to pay a second visit to Corinth but had delayed it.  The tension in that church was so high that Paul, as he stated the matter, did not want to visit in grief.  In his absence, some Corinthians were saying that Paul was not reliable, not faithful to his promises.

This context is essential to understanding 2 Corinthians 1:18-22.  Paul was not vacillating (verse 17).  Furthermore, God is faithful, that is reliable.  Likewise, Paul’s word to the Corinthians has always been “Yes.”  And God’s answer in the context to all divine promises has always been “Yes.”  In fact, the answer has been “Yes” through Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, active among people, guarantees the trustworthiness of Paul’s message to the Corinthians.

Here we have a statement of a glorious truth:  that God is faithful, and that we see this reliability in human form, the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus is the Word of God, as the Gospel of John (written after the death of Paul) reminds us.  So God is far more reliable than we are.

This day’s reading from Matthew 5 contains familiar passages.  There is a potential danger in reading familiar texts.  One might nod one’s head and think, “Yes, I know this passage well.  Next!”  This is an excellent time to slow down and read the text with fresh eyes.  So consider the following information:

  • People used salt not only to make food taste better but to preserve food.
  • Salt was a valuable commodity.
  • Most Judean houses were dark, lacking many windows.  So a good source of light was essential.
  • Relighting such a lamp was not a simple task.  So, for the sake of safety, people covered a burning lamp when they left their house.

So, if we Christians are to be salt and light, we must do the following:

  • Emulate the example of Jesus
  • Have lived faith which is evident to all who are paying attention
  • Bring glory to God, not ourselves
  • Give positive flavor to the world, or at least our corner of it
  • Preserve goodness

And we cannot do this if we are spreading rumors and slanders, and questioning groundlessly the motivations of others.  Such activities do not quality as keeping God’s law.  No, the summary of the law of God is to love God with everything one has and is, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  There is regulation in divine law against such deeds.

There is an important lesson for Christian communities here.  Will we act out of love, or will we withdraw into pettiness and bitterness?  It is indeed a rare church that lacks any feature of the Corinthian congregation, but what is the personality of any given assembly?  Without naming any churches, I can rank churches I have known on this scale.  Perhaps you can, too.

And, as individuals, do we contribute to making our communities and neighborhoods better than we have found them?  If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

Think about this:  Jesus came, in part, to leave the world better than he found it.


Week of Proper 5: Monday, Year 1   9 comments

Above: The Decapitation of St. Paul (1887), by Enrique Simonet

Pay It Forward

JUNE 12, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 1:1-7 (An American Translation):

Paul, by God’s will an apostle of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is at Corinth, and all God’s people all over Greece; God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and give you peace.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, and the God always ready to comfort!  He comforts me in all my trouble, so that I can comfort people who are in any trouble with the comfort with which I myself am comforted by God.  For if I have a liberal share of Christ’s sufferings, through Christ I have a liberal share of comfort too.  If I am in trouble, it is to bring you comfort and salvation, and if I am comforted, it is for the sake of the comfort which you experience when you steadfastly endure such sufferings as I also have to bear.  My hopes for you are unshaken.  For I know that just as surely as you share my sufferings, just so surely you will share my comfort.

Psalm 34:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the LORD;

let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exult his Name together.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,

and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

7 The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him,

and he will deliver them.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him.

Matthew 5:1-12 (An American Translation):

When Jesus saw the crowds of people he went up on the mountain.  There he seated himself, and when his disciples had come up to him, he opened his lips to teach them.  And he said,

Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them!

Blessed are the mourners, for they will be consoled!

Blessed are the humble-minded, for they will possess the land!

Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for uprightness, for they will be satisfied!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy!

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called God’s sons!

Blessed are those who have endured the persecution for their uprightness, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them!

Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you, and falsely say everything bad of you, on my account.  Be glad and exult over it, for you will be richly rewarded in heaven, for that is the way they persecuted the prophets who went before you!


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Life contains many persistent questions.  Among them is this one:  Why do good people suffer?  The answer is simple and multifaceted:

  • A certain measure of suffering seems to be part and parcel of living.  Sometimes nobody is to blame.
  • Bad people, who might not know that they are bad, persecute those who are good.
  • Many people decide that inflicting a certain amount of suffering is acceptable, given the alternatives.
  • We humans tend to fear those we do not understand, and to hate and persecute those we fear.
  • We are interconnected, so the actions on one person affect others.  Sometimes innocent parties become caught up in the negative effects of the actions of others.
  • Sometimes we experience the negative consequences of our own actions.

Yet, as Paul, who knew much suffering for his work in the name of God wrote to the Corinthians, adverse circumstances led to him receiving comfort, which he was then able to extend to others, who could comfort others, et cetera.  I know this feeling, for I have suffered, although not for the sake of righteousness.  I was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But I received great comfort, and I feel the obligation to comfort others.  I know that I ought to pay it forward.  Perhaps you, O reader, have the same sense of obligation fueled by gratitude.

And we know, of course, where Paul’s sufferings led him.  The Romans decapitated him.  Until that point, however, the apostle comforted many people.  Fortunately, many of his words survive to this day, and they provide much comfort and inspiration.  His legacy continues via epistles and the fact that I, a Gentile, am a Christian.  His sufferings were not in vain.

On this day the Canadian Anglican lectionary shifts out of Mark and into Matthew, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount.  I chose to change the translation again, as I do periodically, and to switch to the The Complete Bible:  An American Translation (1939), which renders the Beatitudes nicely without clinging to overly traditional language.  Sometimes reading or hearing a passage in familiar language prevents one from really hearing its meanings.  And I hope that you, O reader, read the Beatitudes again and paid close attention to the words, instead of jumping ahead mentally with a “I’ve read this before” mentality.

You might have heard some or all of the following statements, or variations thereof:

  • Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they will not be disappointed.
  • Do unto others before they do unto you.
  • Nice guys finish last.

The Beatitudes contradict all of them.  Jesus was no stranger to suffering, of course.  So let nobody accuse him of being naive.  Rather, let us recognize without words and lives his moral genius and insight.  The Matthew version of the Beatitudes contains a vision of the world as it ought to be and of how the divine order works.  History tells me that too often human authority figures have labeled the way things are as the divinely appointed order.  Therefore questioning authority and trying to reform society became a sin, officially.  And, too often, Christian leaders have supported this position.  Consider pre-Enlightenment Europe, for example.  Those Enlightenment philosophers who rejected organized Christianity were not entirely wrong, for they looked around and saw bishops in the pockets of princes, kings, and emperors, and they recognized that such had been the case for a very long time.

But there is a distinction between Jesus and organized Christianity, at least some of the time.  We of the Church have misunderstood Jesus intentionally or accidentally, and that is to our great discredit.  We have misconstrued popularity as something to desire, but what did Jesus say?  We have condoned allegedly holy wars, but what did Jesus say?  We have been arrogant, but what did Jesus say?  Fortunately, not all of us have erred to this extent; we have always had our share of pure souls in our midst.  The likes of St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta have reminded us of where we ought to stand.

We ought to strive for a better world.  We have made this world what it is, so we can leave it better than we found it.  (That is an Enlightenment attitude.)  But only God can make the world what it ought to to be.  (Now I sound like Reinhold Niebuhr.)  And, by grace, we can comfort each other, which is one vocation God gives to us.

And, in Godly community, may we echo the psalm:

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are they who trust in him.



Proper 5, Year A   33 comments

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew (1621), by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Being Moral Consists of Far More Than Following a Checklist

The Sunday Closest to June 8

Second Sunday after Pentecost

JUNE 11, 2023



Genesis 12:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now the LORD said to Abram,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.  When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.  At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said,

To your offspring I will give this land.

So he build there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD.  And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Psalm 33:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and the lyre.

3 Sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his works are sure.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!


Hosea 5:15-6:6 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Yahweh speaking]

I will return again to my place

until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.

In their distress they will beg my favor.

Come, let us return to the LORD;

for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;

he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;

on the third day he will raise us up,

that we may live before him.

Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;

his appearing is as sure as the dawn;

he will come to us like the showers,

like the spring rains that water the earth.

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes away early.

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have killed them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Psalm 50:7-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he-goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.

13 Do you think that I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.


Romans 4:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)–in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said.  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old) or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Now the words, “it was reckoned to him” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.


Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 (New Revised Standard Version):

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him,

Follow me.

And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,

Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

But when he had heard this, he said,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying,

My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.

And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.  Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself,

If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said,

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.

And instantly the woman was made well.  When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said,

Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.

And they laughed at him.  But when the crowd had been put outside, he went up and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.  And the report of this spread throughout that district.

The Collect:

O God, from whom all good proceeds:  Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Second Reading reading for this Sunday ties into the Genesis option for the First Reading, and the Gospel Reading connects to the Hosea choice for the First Reading.  And everything links together into a wonderful and consistent package.  My summary of that package is this:  Being moral consists of far more than living according to a checklist of “You shall” and “You shall not” statements.  Rather, proper priorities form the seat of morality.  And what is more moral than showing mercy and trusting in God?

Let us begin with Jesus and work backward from there.  First, he ate with tax collectors and other notorious sinners.  This was a great scandal to those preoccupied with ritual purity.  Besides, a self-respecting person concerned about ritual purity took great care in choosing with whom he broke bread.  Tax collectors were not salaried people, so they collected the Roman imperial rate plus the money they used to support themselves.  They were tax thieves.  This was common knowledge, and they were despised, considered traitors to their own Jewish people.  And here was Jesus, eating with them!  In North America we have a cliche:  He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.  There was probably a similar saying in Aramaic.  But Jesus did not seek respectability according the such standards.  The other notorious sinners violated many parts of the Jewish law code, probably without remorse.  But the law was so complicated that only a small elite proportion of the population could obey the law in its entirety, as they interpreted it.  Yet these men, who lived according to the letter of the law, that is, a checklist, frequently violated the spirit of said law.  So even they broke the religious law.

You see, O reader, nobody could keep the law in its entirety, spirit and letter.  This, I think, is part of why Paul emphasized the role of faith.  As a former legalist, he understood this lesson well.  And Paul, by mentioning Abraham, a paragon of faith, made a chronology-based point that the great patriarch’s righteousness could not and did not rely on the law, for Abraham lived and died before the days of Moses.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus quoted Hosea, channeling Yahweh:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Note:  The difference in translation between Hosea and Matthew is easy to explain.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.)

Jesus showed mercy to his dinner guests, whose potential he recognized.  He knew what they were but focused on what they could become.  May we look upon others in the same way.

And Jesus showed mercy on his way to satisfy the request of a grieving father.  The woman with the hemorrhage was, by the Law of Moses, ritually impure.  She had been for years.  Imagine how desperate she must have been for healing and restoration to society, for she was marginalized and destitute.  Her plight was itself an indictment of the law.  Jesus had mercy on this woman who had nothing but faith and helped Jairus, who had only one alternative to faith.  That alternative was to bury his daughter.

As one reads the four canonical gospels closely, one notices that Jesus violated and countermanded aspects of the religious law, as the Pharisees practiced it.  He did not wash his hands ritually.  He gleaned food from fields on the Sabbath.  He did not maintain a morality checklist beyond loving God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  One rule, treating others as one wants others to treat one, covers much of morality in just a few words.

As a student of U.S. history and of religion, I know the well-plowed ground that is the sad tale of how many professing Christians in Antebellum America quoted the Bible to justify slavery.  (The best book to cover this material is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But….)  The pro-slavery case rested mostly on a a literal reading of selected passages of scripture, along with creative explanations about how keeping someone enslaved is consistent with the Golden Rule.  The anti-slavery case rested almost entirely on the Golden Rule.  And really, what else should it have needed?  The pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible was a highly selective checklist attempting to maintain the letter of the law; it was masterpiece of prooftexting.  But the anti-slavery case was gloriously simple, focusing on the spirit of the law.

I challenge you, O reader, as much as I challenge myself, to focus on the letter of the law and to let the details fall into the place.  This letter of the law is really quite simple:

  • Love and trust the Lord your God with everything you have and are.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Live mercifully.


Week of Proper 4: Saturday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  A Mite from the Reign of Alexander Jannaeus, Hasmonean Priest-King of Judea, 103-76 B.C.E.

In Praise of True Piety

JUNE 10, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20 (Revised English Bible):

After the wedding celebrations were over, Tobit sent for Tobias.

My son,

he said,

when you pay for the man who went with you, see that you give him something extra, over and above his wages.

So Tobias called him and said,

Half of all that you have brought with you is to be yours for your wages; take it, and may you fare well.

Then Raphael called them both aside and said to them:

Praise God, and in the presence of all living creatures thank you for the good he has done you, so that they may sing hymns of praise to his name.  Proclaim to all the world what God has done; pay him honour and give him willing thanks.  A king’s secret ought to be kept, but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.  Acknowledge them, therefore, and pay him honour.  Do good, and no evil will befall you.  Better prayer with sincerity, and almsgiving with righteousness, than wealth with wickedness.  Better give alms than hoard up gold.  Almsgiving preserves from death and wipes out every sin.  Givers of alms will enjoy long life; but sinners and wrongdoers are their own worst enemies.

I will tell you the whole truth, hiding nothing from you. I have already made it clear to you that while a king’s secret ought to be kept, the works of God should be glorified in public.  Now Tobit, when you and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought your prayers to be remembered in the glorious presence of the Lord.  So too when you buried the dead:  that day when without hesitation you got up from your meal to bury dead man, I was sent to test you.  At the same time God sent me cure both you and Sarah your daughter-in-law.  I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in attendance of the Lord and enter his glorious presence….And now praise the Lord, give thanks to God here on earth; I am about to ascend to him who sent me.  Write down everything that has happened to you.

Psalm 65:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

3 Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

4 Happy are they whom you choose

and draw to your courts to dwell there!

they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,

by the holiness of your temple.

Mark 12:38-44 (Revised English Bible):

There was a large crowd listening eagerly.  As he taught them, he said,

Beware of the scribes, who love to walk up and down in long robes and be greeted respectfully in the street, and to have the chief seats  in synagogues and places of honour at feasts.  Those who eat up the property of widows, while for appearance’s sake they say long prayers, will receive a sentence all the more severe.

As he was sitting opposite the temple treasury, he watched the people dropping their money into the chest.  Many rich people were putting in large amounts.  Presently there came a poor widow who dropped in two tiny coins, together worth a penny.  He called his disciples to him and said,

Truly I tell you:  this poor widow has given more than all those giving to the treasury; for the others who have given had more than enough, but she, with less than enough, has given all that she had to live on.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Bible does contradict itself.  For example, Tobit, Psalms, and Proverbs link piety and good fortune to each other, but Ecclesiastes is more realistic and Jesus and Paul recognize that suffering flows from righteousness much of the time.  Being a Christian, I side with Jesus.  This fact does not prevent me from enjoying the Book of Tobit, however, even if I reject the formulation that almsgiving atones for all sins.

I choose to focus on the positive instead.  The entire extended family of Tobit is now healed, thanks to divine actions.  And Raphael reveals his actual identity and returns to Heaven.  Before he departs, however, he utters timeless wisdom:

A king’s secret ought to be kept,

but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.

Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, tops off a series of conversations (mostly confrontations) by condemning scribes who display false piety in public for the sake of status.  They have honor because social rules say they do.  This honor is worthless in the eyes of God, Jesus says.  These honor seekers are really predators who “eat up the property of widows.”  This is an apt description of temple tithes imposed upon the poor.  Then Jesus observes wealthy people giving large amounts of money they would never miss and a widow depositing two mites, a much smaller sum.  Her offering impresses him the most.  She trusts God, and the others do not.

These offerings supported the Temple system, which of the Jesus of Mark opposed.  This point should be plain by now to anyone who has been reading this Gospel for twelve chapters.  The widow gave money because her society expected it of her and because this was the piety she had learned.  Her sincerity and trust impressed Jesus.  I read this story and come away with a second thought:  Why should anyone expect such a widow to support the corrupt Temple system?  She should have used the two mites for necessities.  God would not have held that decision against her, I think.

Besides, organized religion cannot contain all of true piety.  The widow already practiced this piety, for she trusted God to provide for her needs.  And she acknowledged it in public.  That impressed Jesus.

It is well and good to seek to understand the meaning of a Bible story first within the contexts of history, culture, and texts.  Indeed, we need to begin there.  Then we need to move to the next level, which is contemporary application.  So I leave you, O reader, with open-ended questions:

  • How much do you trust God?
  • Are you helping to support a modern counterpart to the corrupt Temple system of Jesus’ time?

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Amen.


Posted November 19, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2023, Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1, June 10

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