Week of Proper 12: Tuesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Moses

Image in the Public Domain

Judgment and Mercy

AUGUST 1, 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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Exodus 33:7-11; 34:5-10, 27-28 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Moses would take the tent and pitch it outside of the camp, going far from the camp, and he called it the Tent of Meeting.  And it would be:  everyone seeking YHWH would to out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside of the camp.  And it would be, when Moses would go out to the Tent, all the people would get up, and they would stand up, each one at the entrance of the tent, and they would look after Moses until he came to the Tent.  And it would be, when Moses came to the Tent, the column of cloud would come down, and it would stand at the entrance of the Tent, and He would speak with Moses.  And all the people would see the column of cloud standing at the entrance of the Tent, and all the people would get up and bow, each at the entrance of his tent.  And YHWH would speak to Moses face-to-face, the way a man speaks to his fellow man.  And he would come back to the camp.  And his attendant, Joshua, son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from inside the Tent.

And YHWH came down in a cloud and stood before him there, and he invoked the name YHWH.  And YHWH passed in front of him and called,

YHWH, YHWH, merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and faithfulness, keeping kindness for thousands, bearing crime and offense and sin; though not making one innocent; reckoning fathers’ crimes on children and on children’s cildren, on third generations and on fourth generations.

And Moses hurried and knelt on the ground and bowed, and he said,

If I’ve found favor in your eyes, my Lord, may my Lord go among us, because it is a stiff-necked people, and forgive our crime and our sin, and make us your legacy.

And He said,

Here, I am making a covenant.  Before all your people I’ll do wonders that haven’t been created in all the earth and among all the nations; and all the people whom you’re among will see YHWH’s deeds, because that which I’m doing with you is awesome….

And YHWH said to Moses,

Write these words to yourself, because I’ve made a covenant with you and with Israel based on these words.

And he was there with YHWH forty days and forty nights.  He did not eat bread, and he did not drink water.  And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Psalm 103:5-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

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 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.

11 For as the heavens are as high above the earth,

so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our sins from us.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

Matthew 13:36-43 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Later, he left the crowds and went indoors, where his disciples came and said,

Please explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.

Jesus replied,

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the whole world.  The good seed?  That is the sons of the kingdom, while the weeds are sons of the evil one of this world.  The enemy who sowed them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of this world.  The reapers are angels.

Just as weeds are gathered up and burned in the fire so will it happen at the end of the world.  The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will uproot from the kingdom everything that is spoiling it, and all those who live in defiance of its laws, and will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be tears and bitter regret.  Then the good will shine out like the sun in their Father’s kingdom.  The man who has ears should use them!

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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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Sometimes I feel like a broken record, or at least Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls; I keep repeating myself.  I have an excellent reason for my repetition:  the texts keep saying the same things over and over again.  So here I am, again, writing that divine judgment and mercy are intertwined.

One point does bear elaboration before I proceed.  Consider Exodus 34:6-7, which speak of the passing down of sins through the generations.  Richard Elliott Friedman makes the following comment about it on page 291 of his Commentary on the Torah:

…Third, psychologically one can observe traits persevering through that many [four] generations.  I have personally observed ongoing dynamics within my family through four generations.   This does not mean that an individual’s bad deed will be duplicated by his or her children and grandchildren.  But it may recognize that such deeds have consequences, for better or worse (pride and embarrassment, stigmas, reactions, conscious or unconscious imitation), that persist through generations.

Consequences constitute the crux of the issue.  Deeds have consequences, and often divine punishment is merely permitting consequences to play out.  Much of the time this for disciplinary reasons, so that we will learn our lessons.  Responsible parents do not always shield their children from the consequences of bad actions.  This is for the good of the children.  Since the parental role (often paternal, but sometimes maternal, too) is one Biblical writers applied to God, this analogy works well.  Furthermore, forgiveness of sin does not erase the consequences of it.  Roman Catholic theology reflects a deep understanding of this fact, hence the teaching on Purgatory, which many people misunderstand.

The God of the Old Testament is merely a vengeful deity, contrary to the oft-repeated stereotype.  There is much mercy there, too, as the excerpts from Genesis indicate.  This is God, who loves the Israelites enough to liberate them.  They can never pay him back, but they can worship only him, demonstrate gratitude for provisions, and obey some commandments.  Is this too much to ask?  No!  But do they do that much?  No!  Why should God not be angry and disappointed?  But does God give up on them?  No!

This is God, who speaks to Moses personally in the leader’s own tent for a few chapters in Exodus (until Chapter 40).  But God continues to speak to Moses, who is faithful, and who even argues with him from time to time.  This is God, who demonstrates caring and much involvement with the Israelites, although mostly by dealing with Moses, who functions as an intermediary.

Yet, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 13:36-43, there is still judgment for unrepentant.  And it will be terrifying.

My note of caution is to repent not out of fear of damnation, but out of love, respect, and awe for God and divine mercy.  A relationship built on terror of Hell is one with a father figure whom one thinks might be abusive.  That is a dysfunctional spiritual relationship.  No, may we love God, who loves us.  And may we bear fruits consistent with righteousness.  This is possible, by grace.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/judgment-and-mercy/

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