Week of Proper 5: Friday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Cross and Crown

Endurance

JUNE 16, 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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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.

Hallelujah!

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.

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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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For my analysis of the Mark reading parallel to this day’s reading from Matthew, visit https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/week-of-proper-2-friday-year-1/, which is nearly identical to http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/week-of-7-epiphany-friday-year-1/.  For the sake of succintness, I will refrain from repeating most of it in this post.

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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.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/endurance/

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