Week of Proper 7: Tuesday, Year 1   8 comments

Above: Golden Rule, by Norman Rockwell (1961)

Images of this painting are plentiful online, but I took it from http://gardenofpraise.com/art12.htm.

The Golden Rule

JUNE 27, 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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Genesis 13:2, 5-18 (An American Translation):

Abram was now very rich in cattle, silver, and gold.

Lot, who accompanied Abram, also had flocks and herds, as well as tents.  The land could not support them both; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together.  Trouble arose accordingly between the herdsmen of Abram’s stock and those of Lot’s.  (The Canaanites and the Perizzites were living in the land at that time.)

There simply must be no quarrel between you and me,

Abram said to Lot,

nor between your herdsmen and mine; for we are kinsmen.  The whole land is open to you, is it not?  Please part from me then.  If you go to the left, I will go the right; or if you go to the right, I will go to the left.

Then Lot looked out, and saw that the whole basin of the Jordan was well watered everywhere (this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the LORD’s own garden, like the land of Egypt in the vicinity of Zoar.  So lot chose the whole Jordan basin.  Lot set off eastward, and thus they parted from each other.  Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Basin, extending his tents as far as Sodom.  (Now the men of Sodom were wicked, being great sinners against the LORD.)

After Lot had parted from him, the LORD said to Abram,

Raise your eyes now, and look out from the place where you are, north, south, east, and west; for all the land that you see, I am going to give to you and your descendants for all time.  I am going to make your descendants like the dust of the earth, so that it will be as possible to count the dust of the earth as to count your descendants.  Go and travel the length and breadth of the land; for I am giving it to you.

So Abram moved his tent, and went to live beside the terebinth of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Psalm 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;

he does no evil to his friend;

he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

4 In his sight the wicked is rejected,

but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong

and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain,

nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

7 Whoever does these things

shall never be overthrown.

Matthew 7:6, 12-14 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not give what is sacred to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces….Therefore you must always treat other people as you would like them to have them treat you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Go in at the narrow gate.  For the road that leads to destruction is broad and spacious, and there are many who go in by it.  But the gate is narrow the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that find it.

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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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Many readers of the Bible (especially novices to the sacred anthology) become bogged down in the Hebrew Scriptures.  My experience was different, for my first real reading of of any part of the Old Testament was the Joseph epic from Genesis.  There are so many wonderful and epic stories in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Among these is the Abraham epic, through which the Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following guides a reader.  Since our previous lection, famine has forced Abram (later to renamed Abraham) and his family into fertile Egypt.  No sooner had they gone to collect on a divine promise than circumstances had forced them to delay claiming it.  Abram was concerned that royal officials might kill him and claim his lovely wife, Sarai (later to be renamed Sarah), so he claimed that she was actually his sister.  (This was partially true, for she was his half-sister.  But a half-truth is still a half-truth.) Most English versions of the Bible use a euphemism for what happened next, for they claim that the Pharaoh took Sarai into his palace, his house, or his household.  Kenneth N. Taylor’s The Living Bible, which cuts through euphemisms like a knife through butter, gets to the point:

…and she was taken into the harem.  (12:15)

In exchange, the Pharaoh bestows upon Abram much livestock, silver, and gold.

Let us pause here.  There are Bible stories and portions thereof that one does not find discussed often (or at all) in children’s Bible story books and in juvenile Sunday School classes.  I understand why, for the Bible does not carry a “G” rating.  But we are adults here, and we should be able to discuss the R-rated portions of the Bible intelligently and maturely.  This portion of the story of Abram and Sarai has an unsavory taste about it.  He benefited financially (as did she in the medium term and the long term, despite immediate risks) from her compromising situation.

This is an early example of Abram not trusting God to fulfill divine promises.  It is not the most notable one.  Even Abram, a great man of faith, was imperfect.  And God still protected and blessed him.  We can take comfort from that.

Genesis 12 tells us that God caused “great plagues” to befall the Phaoronic household, so the Egyptian monarch deported Abram, Sarai, and company–along with the livestock, silver, and gold.  They returned (in Genesis 13) to Bethel, where there was too little space for Abram, his nephew Lot, and their livestock and herdsmen.  So Abram and Lot parted company and relocated, so that each would have sufficient space and harmony might be preserved.   Then God reiterated the divine promise to Abram.

Genesis 13 contains foreboding foreshadowing regarding Lot, but I will not discuss it here and now.  I intend to follow the events of the Abraham epic in sequentially in this lectionary series.

Now I turn toward the excerpt from Matthew.

Matthew 7:6 is a difficult saying.  Swine were unclean beasts, and dogs were wild scavengers, not beloved pets.  So who among the humans were supposed to be the swine and dogs?

Reading in textual context is especially useful here.  Matthew 7:6 follows 7:1-5, the “do not judge” teaching.  Jesus reminds us that the standard we apply to others will apply to us, as well, and that we ought to notice and deal with our own faults before focusing on those of others.  Then we have this admonition not to throw pearls before swine and to give dogs what is sacred.

I have consulted various books with regard to this verse.  The best interpretation comes from W. Clyde Tilley in The Surpassing Righteousness:  Evangelism and Ethics in the Sermon on the Mount (Smyth & Helwys, 1992).  Tilley writes:

We cannot simply assume that all the beneficiaries of our good deeds, all of the hearers of our treasured teachings, will receive them with equal gratitude.  We cannot even assume that they will be received at all….Now we are being reminded in this case that one’s own perception can be so distorted that the sharing of the sharing of true values with that person can may be hopeless for him and harmful to ourselves….Maybe the only certainty we can have here is that such persistent and final rejecters do exist, even if we must ever defer to God for the final judgment about who these are.  (pages 149-150)

This interpretation is consistent with 7:13-14, the teaching about the narrow gate and the wide road.

In the middle of all this we have 7:12, the Golden Rule.  God is the final judge, and we are not to judge others.  We are called to love one another and ourselves actively, treating others at all times in ways we would want them to treat us.  I recall the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3b-9, 18-23):  many seeds will come to naught.  But we have to try, do we not?

And, by the way, would not the world be a vastly better place if many more people went about practicing the Golden Rule?  Try it on a smaller scale; practice the Golden Rule among all those with whom you come into contact.  Witness the results, in full knowledge that, in a “do unto others before they do unto you” world, you might experience what state intelligence agents call blowback, or unintended negative consequences.  But God is the final judge about who is worthy.  Let us not play God.

Chiefly, may we trust God.  Abram trusted God some of the time, as do we.  Decisions he made when he did not trust God had bad consequences–sometimes for himself and other times for others.  And, as we attempt to live according to the Golden Rule, may we trust that God is just, that our judgment and knowledge are limited, and that loving God and respecting human dignity are always good standards of ethical behavior.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-golden-rule/

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