Week of Proper 8: Monday, Year 1   10 comments

Above: Abraham and the Three Angels (1865), by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Honesty, Mercy, and Judgment

JULY 3, 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 18:16-33 (An American Translation):

Setting out from there, the men directed their steps toward Sodom, while Abraham went with them to see them off.  Then the LORD thought,

Shall I hide what I am about to do from Abraham, seeing that Abraham is bound to become a great a powerful nation, and through him all the nations of the earth will invoke blessings on one another?  No, I will make it known to him, in order that he may give instructions to his sons and his family after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is good and right, so that the LORD may fulfill for Abraham what he promised them.

So the LORD said,

Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is very grace, I must go down and see whether or not their conduct entirely answers to the outcry against them that has reached me; I would know.

So the men departed from there, and went off to Sodom, while the LORD remained standing before Abraham.  Abraham then went up to him, and said,

Wilt thou really sweep away good along with bad?  Suppose there are fifty good men in the city, wilt thou really sweep it away, and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty good men that are in it?  Far be it from thee to do such a thing as this, to make the good perish along with the bad, so that good and bad fare alike!  Far be it from thee!  Shall not the judge of the whole earth himself act justly?

So the LORD said,

If I find in Sodom fifty good men, within the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.

Abraham rejoined,

Here I am venturing to speak to the LORD, and I mere dust ashes!  Suppose there are five short of the fifty good men; wouldst thou destroy the whole city by reason of the five?

He replied,

I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there.

Once more he said to him,

Suppose only forty are to be found there?

He replied,

I will not do it for the sake of the forty.

Then he said,

Pray, let not my Lord be angry if I should say:  suppose only thirty are to be found there?

He said,

I will not do it, if I find thirty there.

He said,

Here I am venturing to speak to the LORD; suppose only twenty are to be found there?

He said,

I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.

Then he said,

Pray, let not my Lord be angry if I should speak just once more; suppose only ten are to be found there?

He said,

I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.

As soon as he finished speaking to Abraham, the LORD went away, while Abraham returned home.

Psalm 103:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

3 He forgives all your sins

and heals all your infirmities;

4 He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

5 He satisfies you with good things,

and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

6 The LORD executes righteousness

and judgment for all who are oppressed.

7 He made his ways known to Moses

and all his works to the children of Israel.

8 The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 He will not always accuse us,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

Matthew 8:18-22 (An American Translation):

Then Jesus, seeing a crowd about him, gave orders to cross over to the other side.  And a scribe came up and said to him,

Master, I will follow you wherever you are going!

And Jesus said to him,

Foxes have holes and wild birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head!

And another of his disciples said to him,

Let me first go, sir, and bury my father.

But Jesus said to him,

Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead!

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; 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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Divine judgment and mercy are intertwined, and an honest response to God is essential for a healthy relationship with God.  This is my theme for this post.

There is an oft-repeated stereotype about God, as depicted in the Old Testament:  This is a vengeful, angry deity.  A stereotype is, by definition, an overgeneralization.  A certain statement is true sometimes, perhaps much of the time, but not all of the time.  So God does destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 (the next chapter) but not before Abraham, who has come to realize to whom he is speaking (El Shaddai), and convinces God not to destroy Sodom if twenty righteous men live there.  So actions have consequences, but grace is still present.

In the Gospel of Matthew, with Jesus have finished healing several people, our Lord and Savior is preparing to get away from the crowd.  A scribe addresses him respectfully, saying “Master, I will follow you wherever you are going!”  Jesus replies honestly that he has “nowhere to lay his head.”  The cost of discipleship can be high, and Jesus is honest about this fact.  A second man says that he must bury his father, in accordance with an obligation sacred in Judaism.  Jesus rebuffs him.  What are we supposed to make of this?

Commentaries disagree.  Was the man sincere or not?  Had his father just died or was the man saying that he would follow Jesus in a few years, after his father had died and he had buried him?  Or did the man have to bury his father or just see to it that someone buried his father?  I posit that the text is vague on all these points.  Nevertheless, I propose that it is wise to interpret this exchange in the context of Matthew 10:37-39:

No one who loves father or mother more than me is worthy of me, and no one who will not take up his cross and follow me is worthy of me.  Whoever gains his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it.

How is that for honesty?

Without pretending to have God in a box I can understand completely (for nobody does), I propose that honesty is the best policy with God.  May we approach the throne of grace with our intercessions, concerns, doubts, fears, and thanksgivings.  Consider the Book of Job; God speaks to only one character, Job, who is the only person who asks God questions.  Earlier in Genesis 18, Sarah denies having laughed, and God says matter-of-factly that yes, she did.  Yet she still becomes a mother.  If we cannot be ourselves with God, with whom can be genuine?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/honesty-mercy-and-judgment/

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