Proper 7, Year A   24 comments

Above: The Scapegoat, by William Holman Hunt (1954)

No More Scapegoating

The Sunday Closest to June 22

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 25, 2017

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 21:8-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham,

Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.

The matter was very distressing to Abraham, on account of his son.  But God said to Abraham,

Do not be distressed because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah does to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.  As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away.  And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.  Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said,

Do not let me look on the death of the child.

And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.  And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her,

What troubles you, Hagar?  Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.  She sent, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got him a wife from the land of Egypt.

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bow down your ear, O LORD, and answer me,

for I am poor and in misery.

2 Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful;

save your servant who puts his trust in you.

3 Be merciful to me, O LORD, for you are my God;

I call upon you all the day long.

4 Gladden the soul of your servant,

for to you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

5 For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving,

and great is your love toward all who call upon you.

6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer,

and attend to the voice of my supplications.

7 In the time of trouble I will call upon you,

for you will answer me.

8 Among the gods there is none like you, O LORD,

nor anything like your works.

9 All nations you have made will come and worship you, O LORD,

and glorify your Name.

10 For you are great;

you do wondrous things;

and you alone are God.

16 Turn to me and have mercy upon me;

give your strength to your servant;

and save the child of your handmaid.

17 Show me a sign of your favor,

so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed;

because you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Jeremiah 20:7-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, you have enticed me,

and I was enticed;

you have overpowered me,

and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all day long;

everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I must cry out,

I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the LORD has become for me

a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him,

or speak any more in his name,”

then within me there is something like a burning fire

shut up in my bones;

I am weary with holding it in,

and I cannot.

For I hear many whispering:

“Terror is all around!

Denounce him!  Let us denounce him!”

All my close friends

are watching for me to stumble.

“Perhaps he can be enticed,

and we can prevail against him,

and take our revenge on him.”

But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior;

therefore my persecutors will stumble,

and they will not prevail.

They will be greatly shamed,

for they will not succeed.

Their eternal dishonor

will never be forgotten.

O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous,

you see the heart and the mind;

let me see your retribution upon them,

for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the LORD;

praise the LORD!

For he has delivered the life of the needy

from the hands of evildoers.

Psalm 69:8-11 (12-17), 18-20 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach,

and shame has covered my face.

9 I have become a stranger to my own kindred,

an alien to my mother’s children.

10 Zeal for your house has eaten me up;

the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.

11 I humbled myself with fasting,

but that was turned to my reproach.

12 I put on sack-cloth also,

and became a byward among them.

13 Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,

and the drunkards make songs about me.

14 But as for me, this is my prayer to you,

at the time you have set, O LORD;

15 “In your great mercy, O God,

answer me with your unfailing help.

16 Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;

let me be rescued from those who hate me

and out of the deep waters.

17 Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,

neither let the deep pit swallow me up;

do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.

18 Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind;

in your great compassion, turn to me.”

SECOND READING

Romans 6:1b-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin go on living in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.   We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 10:24-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus said,] “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.  Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,

and a daughter against her mother,

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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Problems are real.  When faced with the necessity of facing a difficult or awkward situation  honestly and resolving a it, one might do so, or one might find a scapegoat instead.  Often we humans scapegoat.  This day’s readings concern scapegoating.

Abraham and Sarah had known for years that he would have many descendants.  First, however, he needed one.  So they decided to act, and Sarah granted her permission for Abraham to sire his heir via Hagar, her Egyptian slave.  Ishmael was the result.  His existence became awkward after the birth of Isaac.

Whatever else the Bible is, it is honest about the faults of figures the reader is supposed to admire.  Abraham, for example, comes across as a really bad father.  In Genesis 21 he consents to the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael.  And he tries to kill Isaac in the next chapter.  That story disturbs me deeply, but I get ahead of myself; that tale will wait until Proper 8, Year A.

Note, anyway, the sympathetic tone in the text with regard for the plight of Hagar and her son.  These two were not responsible for what was happening, yet they bore the brunt of the circumstances of Sarah’s jealousy.  This jealousy created a new problem in time, for ethnic tensions arose from it.  Jewish tradition links Ishmael to the origin of Arab bedouin tribes, and the Koran states that Muhammad is descended from Abraham’s firstborn son.  People still use the tale of Ishmael and Isaac to justify hatred.

The prophet Jeremiah spent years speaking unpopular truths and behaving bizarrely.  He ate a scroll, walked around naked, and said that the Kingdom of Judah was doomed.  The latter point was fairly obvious by his time, for the Chaldean (a.k.a. Babylonian) Empire menaced the kingdom.  Furthermore, the two Kings of Judah were puppets of foreigners–one of Egypt and the other of Babylonia.  Jeremiah faced scorn and persecution for his efforts.  This day’s reading from the book bearing his name (The actual author of the book was the scribe Baruch.) contains one of the prophet’s understandable complaints to God.  Jeremiah had become a scapegoat.  What he said would happen did occur, of course, so scapegoating him did not resolve the national crisis.

Jesus was a scapegoat, too.  As some religious authorities said, they preferred to sacrifice him to the Roman Empire than for the imperium to kill many people.  Both happened, of course, just about a generation apart.  As the reading from Matthew acknowledges, the mere existence of Jesus was divisive.  And it still is, especially in families where someone has converted to Christianity and religious law and/or cultural custom requires the convert’s death on the charge of apostasy.  But, as Paul wrote far better than I can, the death of Jesus bestows spiritual life in God.  So, as Jesus said, one should not fear those who can kill only the body.  No, spiritual death is what one ought to fear and avoid.

God cares for us.  God cared for Hagar and Ishmael, for Jeremiah, and for Jesus and Paul.  All of them suffered, but God was with them through it all and provided for them.  And God cares for us, too.  Will we reciprocate and trust God to provide for us, or will we seek convenient, easy solutions, which will only complicate the issue?  Will we listen to God and to God’s prophets, or will we engage in scapegoating?

The death and resurrection of Jesus were profound events packed with meanings.  Among them is this:  Scapegoating is destructive and ineffective.  Why do we continue to scapegoat?  I think the answer is that we like the seemingly easy way out.  May God have mercy on us.

KRT

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24 responses to “Proper 7, Year A

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