Week of Proper 12: Monday, Year 1   7 comments

Above: Moses, by Rembrandt van Rijn (1659)

Image in the Public Domain

Divine Judgment, Patience, and Extravagance

JULY 29, 2019

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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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Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Moses turned and went down from the mountain.  And the two tablets of witness were in his hand, tablets written from their two sides:  from this side and from this side they were written.  And the tablets:  they were God’s doing.  And the writing:  it was God’s writing, inscribed on the tablets.

And Joshua heard the sound of the people in its shouting, and he said to Moses,

A sound of war is in the camp.

Above:  Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Nicolas Poussin (1633-1634)

Image in the Public Domain

And he said,

It’s not a sound of singing of victory, and it’s not a sound of singing of defeat.  It’s just the sound of singing I hear!

And it was when he came close to the camp, and he saw the calf and dancing: and Moses’ anger flared, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them below the mountain.  And he took the calf that they had made, and he burned it in fire and ground it until it was thin, and he scattered it on the face of the water, and he made the children of Israel drink!

And Moses said to Aaron,

What did this people do to you, that you’ve brought a big sin on it?!

And Aaron said,

Let my lord’s anger not flare.  You know the people, that it’s in a bad state.  And they said to me, “Make gods for us who will go in front of us, because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt; we don’t know what has become of him”  And I said to them, “Whoever has gold:  take it off.”  And they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out!”

And it was on the next day, and Moses said to the people,

You’ve committed a big sin.  And now I’ll go up to YHWH.  Perhaps I may make atonement for your sin.

And Moses went back to YHWH and said,

Please, this people has committed a big sin and made gods of gold for themselves.  And now, if you will bear their sin–and if not, wipe me out with your scroll that you’ve written.

And YHWH said to Moses,

The one who has sinned against me, I’ll wipe him out from my scroll.  And now, go.  Lead the people to where I spoke to you.  Here, my angel will go ahead of you.  And, in the day that I will take account, I’ll account their sin to them.

Psalm 106:19-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

19 Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb

and worshiped a molten image;

20 And so they exchanged their Glory

for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

21 They forgot God their Savior,

who had done great things in Egypt,

22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,

and fearful things at the Red Sea.

23 So he would not have destroyed them,

had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,

to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 13:31-35 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he put another parable before them,

The kingdom of Heaven is like a tiny grain of mustard-seed which a man took and sowed in his field.   As a seed it is the smallest of them all, but it grows to be the biggest of all plants.  It becomes a tree, big enough for birds to come and nest in its branches.

This is another of the parables he told them:

The kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, taken by a woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole had risen.

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables, and he did not speak to them at all without using parables–to fulfil the prophecy:

I will open my mouth in parables;

I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.

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The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; 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 Hebrews committed idolatry for centuries.  Prophets railed against this practice; their testimonies reside in the pages of the Bible.  The sin was not worshiping other gods instead of YHWH; the sin was to worship other gods along side YHWH.  Recall one of the Ten Commandments:  Have no other gods before the face of YHWH.

The reading from Exodus is set after those whom God had freed from Egyptian slavery had dedicated themselves to God and Moses had received many commandments, including the Ten Commandments.  But old habits of thinking persist easily and die hard.  Hence there were an attempted coup d’etat of Moses by Aaron and the adoration of the golden calf.  Moses was angry, as was God.  Moses, by reducing the golden calf to golden dust, sprinkling the dust into water flowing from a mountain spring, and making the people drink it, both punished the idolaters and reminded them of YHWH, the source of the water in the desert.

Moses argued with God, interceding on behalf of the people.  He survived without the promise of judgment because his loyalties were with God.  So one can argue with God faithfully and not sin.  I like this vision of God, who is in clearly in charge, who does not brook idolatry, but who permits an honest argument.  This reflects great mercy.

Traditional Jewish theology understood yeast to be a sign of corruption.  Consider the following texts, if you will:

  1. Exodus 12:15-20; 23:18; 34:25
  2. Leviticus 2:11; 6:10

So using yeast as a positive image for the Kingdom of God was unexpected; it attracted attention.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has already spoken of a very large weed, the mustard plant, in positive terms and used it an analogy for the Kingdom of God.  This yeast is quite productive, producing enough to feed 100-150 people.  The Kingdom will spread around the world, much like those pesky mustard plants.  Human agency cannot prevent any of this.

So divine grace is extravagant.  The Kingdom will go where it will.  And, although people sin, God is patient.  This fact, however, does not indicate a lack of judgment and punishment.  Judgment and mercy sit alongside each other.  May we rejoice in divine mercy, but not try God’s patience.  Instead, may we cooperate with God–and even argue faithfully with God from time to time.  Above all, may we be faithful.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/divine-judgment-patience-and-extravagance/

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