Proper 1, Year A   20 comments

Above:  A Street in Ancient Corinth

Summarizing the Law:  The Path of Life

The Sunday Closest to May 11

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Moses said,

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

OR

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 15:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

If you choose, you can keep the commandments,

and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.

He has placed before you fire and water;

stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.

Before each person are life and death,

and whichever one chooses will be given.

For great is the wisdom of the Lord;

he is mighty in power and sees everything;

his eyes are on those who fear him,

and he knows every human action.

He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,

and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

THEN

Psalm 119:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD!

2 Happy are they who observe his decrees

and seek him with all their hearts!

3 Who never do any wrong,

but always walk in his ways.

4 You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

5 Oh, that my ways were made so direct

that I might keep your statutes!

6 Then I should not be put to shame,

when I regard all your commandments.

7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,

when I have learned your righteous judgments.

8 I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

THEN

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.  Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.  For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?  For when one says,

I belong to Paul,

and another,

I belong to Apollos,

are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you have come to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.  For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

THEN

Matthew 5:21-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus continued,]

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the hell of fire.  So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Again, you have heard it said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or the earth, for it is his footstool.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

The Collect:

Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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These readings (especially Matthew) cover much territory.  One could choose just one of these lessons and write extensively about it.  But the combination of them is far richer than just one of them.

A clever legalist can find a way to obey the letter of the law while violating the spirit thereof.  For example, the Law of Moses permits a husband to divorce his wife for a good but poorly defined cause.  For her protection, however, the law requires him to give her a certificate of divorce so she can remarry.

But some husbands divorced their wives for trivial reasons, such as bad cooking, and rendered the women economically vulnerable.  So Jesus advocated protecting the rights of married women.

And, to use another example, some people made worthless oaths, therefore mocking the purpose of an oath.  So Jesus said to say what one means.

The basic message of the readings, especially from Matthew, is that how and what we think defines us.  We are what we think.  Jesus chose not to become focused on legal minutae; he cut to the chase.  So, as Jesus presented it, love defined the Kingdom of Heaven.  Love was (and is) antithetical to hostility, predation, exploitation, and obfuscation.

And love of Jesus was (and is) antithetical to out-of-hand factionalism.  Sometimes we mere mortals have difficulty seeing past the messenger of God to God.  An icon shows us God, but an idol takes the place of God.  Paul and Apollos never sought to become idols, but merely to function as messengers.  They tried, in the fullest sense of the word, to be icons of God.  Thus they expressed their understanding of what Ben Sira and the Deuteronomist said about the path of life and the path of death.

May we understand this, too.  Instead of losing ourselves purposefully or accidentally in religious minutae, may we grasp that we are what we think.  If we have proper priorities, many details will fall into place, and we will choose the path of spiritual life.  We will focus on Jesus, and not excessively on any human messenger of his, and we will not exploit or hate one another.  Love in God yields good works.

Which fruits do you bear?  And what motivates you?

KRT

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20 responses to “Proper 1, Year A

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