Week of Proper 13: Wednesday, Year 1   16 comments

Above:  The Sinai Peninsula (Gemini 11, 1966)

Image in the Public Domain

Consequences of a Slave Mentality

AUGUST 7, 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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Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-35 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Send men and let them scout the land of Canaan that I’m giving to the children of Israel.  You shall send one man for each tribe of his fathers, every one of them a chieftain.

And they came back from scouting the land at the end of forty days.  And they went and came to Moses and to Aaron and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, to the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and all the congregation and showed them the land’s fruit.

And they told him and said,

We came to the land where you sent us, and also it’s flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  Nonetheless:  the people who live in the land are strong.  And the cities are fortified, very big.  And also we saw the offering of the giants there.  Amalek lives in the land of the Negeb, and the Hittite and the Jebusite and the Amorite live in the mountains, and the Canaanite lives by the sea and along the Jordan.

And Caleb quieted the people toward Moses and said,

Let’s go up, and we’ll take possession of it, because we’ll be able to handle it.

And the men who went up to him said,

We won’t be able to go up against the people, because they’re stronger than we are.

And they brought out a report of the land that they had scouted to the children of Israel, saying,

The land through which we passed to scout it:  it’s a land that eats those who live in it, and all the people whom we saw in it were people of size! And we saw the Nephilim there, sons of giants ffrom the Nephilim, and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.

And all the congregation raised and let out their voices!  And the people wept that night.

And YHWH spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,

How much farther for this bad congregation, that they’re complaining against me?  I’ve heard the complaints of the children of Israel that they’re making against me.  Say to them:  As I live–word of YHWH–what you have spoken in my ears, that is what I’ll do for you!  In this wilderness your carcasses will fall; and all of you who were counted, for all your number, from twenty years old and up, who complained against me, I swear that you won’t come to the land that I raised my hand to have you reside there–except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.  And your infants, whom you said would become a spoil:  I’ll bring them, and they will know the land that you rejected!  And you:  your carcasses will fall in this wilderness.  And your children will be roving the wilderness forty years, and they’ll bear your whoring until the end of your carcasses in the wilderness.  For the number of days that you scouted the land, forty days, you shall bear your crimes a day for each year, forty years, and you shall know my frustratration!  I, YHWH, have spoken:  If I shall not do this to all the bad congregation who are gathered against me:  in this wilderness they shall end, and they shall die there!

Psalm 106:6-14, 21-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

6 We have sinned as our forefathers did;

we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

7 In Egypt they did not consider your marvelous works,

not remember the abundance of your love;

they defied the Most High at the Red Sea.

8 But he saved them for his Name’s sake,

to make his power known.

9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up,

and he led them through the deep as through a desert.

10 He saved them from the hand of those who hated them

and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

11 The waters covered their oppressors;

not one on them was left.

12 Then they believed his words

and sang him songs of praise.

13 But they soon forgot his deeds

and did not wait for his counsel.

14 A craving seized them in the wilderness,

and they put God to the test in the desert.

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 have destroyed them,

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

to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 15:21-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

Jesus then left that place and retired into the Tyre and Sidon district.  There a Canaanite woman from those parts came to him crying at the top of her voice,

Lord, son of David, have pity on me!  My daughter is in a terrible state–a devil has got into her!

Jesus made no answer, and the disciples came up to him and said, “Do not send her away–she’s still following us and calling out.”

“I was only sent, ” replied Jesus, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Then the woman came and knelt at his feet.

Lord, help me,

she said.

It is not right, you know,

Jesus replied,

to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

The woman replied,

Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs live on the scraps that fall from their master’s table!

Jesus returned,

You certainly don’t lack faith; it shall be as you wish.

And at that moment her daughter was healed.

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The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; 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 wish that biblical authors had noted the tone of voice in which a person, such as Jesus, spoke, when writing about certain incidents.  The story of the conversation between Jesus and the Gentile woman is such a case.  But some details in the account provide fascinating clues.

Most importantly, Jesus was in the district of Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile central.  And he went there voluntarily.  If he had a serious attitude problem regarding Gentiles, he would not have gone there voluntarily.  It is also vital to note that he granted the woman’s request to heal her daughter, even after his comment about throwing table scraps to dogs, who were allegedly impure and unclean animals, not beloved furry family members, as many North Americans think of domesticated canines.  But the woman expected our Lord’s mercy and made her case for it to his face.  She had faith and was persistent in it, and she went away satisfied.  She passed the test.

The Gentile woman did not have a slave mentality.  But the generation of Israelites that escaped from Egypt did.

Professor Richard Elliott Friedman makes the case for the existence of this slave mentality in his Commentary on the Torah.  Time after time the children of Israel had waxed nostalgic about Egyptian table scraps and complained about how God provided for them in the wilderness.  Mentally, they were still in Egypt, where they depended upon their overlords.  But YHWH offered them something far better–freedom.  Alas, they were not ready for it.  They were afraid of so much, mostly that they would die in the desert.  So they reacted fearfully.  Those actions had consequences, including their death in the wilderness.  Those who lacked a slave mentality were destined to reach the promised land.

This is what is really going on the the reading from Numbers.  The origin of the Nephilim is an interesting intellectual and mythological knot to attempt to untie, but it serves no useful devotional purpose for me today.  The Nephilim scared many Israelites; that is the important detail about them today.  The lack of faith and prevalence of fear in this matter constituted the last straw for YHWH in Numbers 14.  That is vital in this account.

At this time my mind turns to James 4:1-6.  It reads:

What causes fighting and quarrels among you?  Is not their origin the appetites that war in your bodies?  You want what you cannot have, so you murder; you are envious, and cannot attain your ambition, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not get what you want, because you do not pray for it.  Or, if you do, your requests are not granted, because you pray from wrong motives, in order to squander what you get on your pleasures.  Unfaithful creatures!  Surely you know that love of the world means enmity to God?  Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.  Or do you suppose that scripture has no point when it says that the spirit which God implanted in us is filled with envious longings?  But the grace he gives is stronger; thus scripture says, ‘God opposes the arrogant and gives grace to the humble.'”  (Revised English Bible, 1989)

Humility, contrary to a widespread misunderstanding, is not beating one’s breast and considering oneself a worthless excuse for a human being.  That is low self-esteem.  No, being humble is having a realistic self-image in relation to God.  So a healthy ego–one neither too small nor raging out of control–is part and parcel of humility.  We humans bear the image of God, and therefore have inherent dignity others are obligated to recognize and respect.  The Gentile woman knew that she and her daughter had inherent human dignity Jesus was obliged to recognize and respect.  She insisted on this, and Jesus granted her request.  She asked–properly–for a just cause, and she received what she requested.  She was humble.

On the other hand, those Israelites with a slave mentality were not humble.  And neither did they expect the best, which they did not receive.  It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They were responsible for what happened to them.

Which story more nearly describes you?  If the answer to that question is damning, you can rewrite the rest of your narrative.  The children of Israel had many such opportunities, and they wasted them.  Learn from these ancient accounts.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/consequences-of-a-slave-mentality/

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16 responses to “Week of Proper 13: Wednesday, Year 1

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