Proper 5, Year A   32 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

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

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!

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

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.

SECOND READING

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.

GOSPEL READING

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.

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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.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/being-moral-consists-of-far-more-than-following-a-checklist/

32 responses to “Proper 5, Year A

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