Week of Proper 4: Wednesday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Raphael the Archangel, According to Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

God Heals

JUNE 7, 2017

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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.

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Tobit 3:1-11, 15c-17 (Revised English Bible):

In deep distress I groaned and wept aloud, and as I groaned I prayed:

O Lord, you are just and all your ways are merciful and true; you are the Judge of the world.  Now bear me in mind, Lord, and look upon me.  Do not punish me for the sins and errors which I and my fathers have committed.  We have sinned against you and disobeyed your commandments, and you have given us up to the despoiler, to captivity and death, until we have become a proverb and a byword; we are taunted by all the nations among whom you have scattered us.  I acknowledge the justice of your many judgements, the due penalty for our sins, for we have not carried out your commandments or lived in true obedience before you.  And now deal with me as you will.  Command that my life be taken away from me so that I may be removed from the face of the earth and turned to dust.  I would rather be dead than alive, for I have had to listen to taunts I have not deserved and my grief is great.  Lord, command that I be released from this misery; let me go to the eternal resting-place.  Do not turn your  face from me, Lord; I had rather die than live in such  misery, listening to such taunts.

On the same day it happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel who lived at Ectabana in Media, also had to listen to taunts, from one of her father’s servant-girls.  Sarah had been given in marriage to seven husbands and, before the marriage could be duly consumated, each one of them had been killed by the evil demon Asmodaeus.  The servant said to her:

It is you who kill your husbands!  You have already been given in marriage to seven, and you have not borne the name of any of them.  Why punish us because they are dead?  Go and join your husbands.  I hope never to see son or daughter of yours!

Deeply distressed at that, she went in tears to the roof-chamber of her father’s house, meaning to hang herself.  But she had second thoughts and said to herself:

Perhaps they will taunt my father and say, ‘You had one dear daughter and she hanged herself because of her troubles,’ and so I shall bring my aged father sorrow to his grave.  No, I will not hang myself; it would be better to beg the Lord to let me die and not live on to hear such reproaches.

Thereupon she spread out her hands towards the window in prayer saying,

Praise be to you, merciful God, praise to your name for evermore; all creation praise you for ever!…Already seven husbands of mine have died; what have to live for any longer?  But if it is not your will, Lord, to let me die, have regard to me in your mercy and spare me those taunts.

At that very moment the prayers of both were heard in the glorious presence of God, and Raphael was sent to cure the two of them:  Tobit by removing the white patches from his eyes so that he might see God’s light again, and Sarah daughter of Raguel by giving her in marriage to Tobias son of Tobit and by setting her free from the evil demon Asmodaeus, for it was the destiny of Tobias and of no other suitor to possess her.  At the moment when Tobit went back into his house from the courtyard, Sarah came down from her father’s roof-chamber.

Psalm 25:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

my God, I put my trust in you;

let me not be humiliated,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2 Let none who look to you be put to shame;

let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3 Show me your ways, O LORD,

and teach me your paths.

4 Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

in you have I trusted all the day long.

5 Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,

for they are from everlasting.

6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;

remember me according to your love

and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

7 Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8 He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches his way to the lowly.

Mark 12:18-27 (Revised English Bible):

Next Sadducees, who maintain that there is no resurrection, came to him and asked:

Teacher, Moses laid it down for us that if there are brothers, and one dies leaving a wife but no child, then the next should marry the widow and provide an heir for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  The first took a wife and died without issue.  Then the second married her, and he too died without issue; so did the third; none of the seven left any issue.  Finally the woman died.  At the resurrection, when they rise from the dead, whose wife will she be, since all seven had married her?

Jesus said to them,

How far you are from the truth!  You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.  When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; they are like angels in heaven.

As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story of the burning bush, how God spoke to him and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but the God of the living.  You are very far from the truth.

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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.

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Voltaire wrote that, if God created human beings in his image, we have more than returned the favor.  Yes, we mere mortals carry inadequate God images in our imaginations, as J. B. Phillips argued in Your God is Too Small.   As Ron Popeil says, “But wait, there’s more.”  Our concepts of the afterlife are too small and limited, too.  They tend to reflect earthly conditions and circumstances.  Ancient Egyptians sought an idealized Egypt in their afterlife, and the popular image of Hell as a place of fire, smoke, and noxious fumes comes from the old Jerusalem garbage dump.  These are just two examples of a much greater possible number.

Likewise, many have hypothesized that human relationships carry over into the afterlife.  Notable among these are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with their concept of marriage continuing after death.  The Sadducees labored under no such idea, for they rejected the possibility of life after death.  So their question regarding the levirate marriage of one woman to seven brothers was insincere.  This story in Mark occurs in the context of attempts to entrap Jesus in his own words.  As in the cases of the other challenges, Jesus is the superior debater.

FYI:  Levirate marriage was a practice meant to continue the family name, keep property within the family, and protect a childless widow from homelessness and other unfortunate circumstances.  It comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and features prominently in Genesis 38.  (Genesis 38 contains a theological hot potato of a story, the moral  implications of which I leave for you, O reader, to ponder.  But I must move along now.)

Had these Sadducees asked a sincere question, they would have received a constructive answer from Jesus.  In the Bible, God says to those ask sincere questions than to those who presume to know the answers or to those who make insincere queries.  (Read the book for confirmation of this assertion.)  Speaking of sincerity, let us turn to Tobit and Sarah.

Both were in very bad situations, and both wanted to die. Tobit, blind, helpless, and living in exile, had just accused his wife of stealing livestock.  It was a false charge, and he realized this fact after Anna, his wife, denied the accusation and berated him.  But Tobit had more on his mind.  He was part of a despised and politically weak population dispersed throughout an occupying power.  He had heard the taunts for a long time.  It all seemed like too much to bear.

And Sarah had been married to seven men yet was still a virgin.  She had developed a reputation as having bad luck and perhaps being a murderer.  She lived in a patriarchal society which presumed that a woman was supposed to be a wife and a mother.  And the author of the text presumed that she was property, too.  Pay attention to the language:  The Revised English Bible says that Tobias was destined to “possess” her.  Likewise, the New Revised Standard Version says “have” and the New American Bible translates the verb as “claim.”  (Aside:  Sarah was a woman, not a piece of furniture.  But I cannot make the text fit early 21st Century gender concepts.)

Anyhow, the author of the Book of Tobit says that God heard the prayers of Tobit and Sarah, and sent the archangel Raphael to cure them both.  Raphael means “God heals.”  Much of the rest of the book is the account of how this healing took place.  Without giving away too many details, I can say that people were part of the process.

As I typed the reading from Tobit, the prayers for death struck a chord with me.  I have been in difficult situations in which I have prayed for death.   When death did not come, I cursed the mornings on which I awoke.  And God did cure me via direct action as well as by people.  Perhaps you, O reader, have been in a similar situation or know someone who has.  In my case, it did get better.

I wonder what the spiritual lives of the Sadducees could have been if they had been interested in sincerity, not in insincerity.  When one plays semantic and mind games with God, God wins.  And God wants sincerity and humility from us.  If we argue with God, fine; let us argue sincerely.  (Read the Book of Job.)  If we pray for death during difficult times, God hears us.  And I am convinced that the most merciful answer at that time is “No.”  That was the answer God gave me, and that was the answer in the narrative of the Book of Tobit.  In the cases of Tobit and Sarah, God had something wonderful in mind, and this involved them being alive.

As St. Patrick wrote:

Christ be with me,

Christ within me,

Christ behind me,

Christ before me,

Christ beside me,

Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ in quiet,

Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Amen.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/god-heals/

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Posted November 16, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2017, Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1, June

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