Week of Proper 13: Thursday, Year 1   19 comments

Above: Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebbel (1630)

Image in the Public Domain

Of Faith and Rocks

AUGUST 10, 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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Numbers 20:1-13 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And the children of Israel, all the congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh.  And Miriam died there and was buried there.  And there was no water for the congregation, and they assembled against Moses and against Aaron.  And the people quarreled with Moses, and they said, saying,

If only we had expired in front of YHWH!  And why have you brought YHWH’s community to this wilderness to die there, we and our cattle?  And why did you bring us up from Egypt to bring us to this bad place?  It’s not a place of seed and fig and vine and pomegranate, and there’s no water to drink!

And Moses and Aaron came in front of the community to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they fell on their faces.  And YHWH’s glory appeared to them.  And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron, your brother.  And you shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give its water.  So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give a drink to the congregation and their cattle.

And Moses took the staff in front of YHWH as He commanded him.  And Moses and Aaron assembled the community opposite the rock.  And he said to them, “Listen, rebels, shall we bring water out of this rock for you?”  And Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock with his rock twice.  And much water came out!  And the congregation and their cattle drank.

And YHWH said to Moses and Aaron,

Because you did not trust in me, to make me holy before the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this community to the land that I have given them!

They are the waters of Meribah, over which the children of Israel quarreled with YHWH, and He was made holy among them.

Psalm 95:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving

and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

3 For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the caverns of the earth,

and the heights of the hills are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands have molded the dry land.

6 Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee,

and kneel before the LORD our Maker.

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

8 Harden not your hearts,

as your forebears did in the wilderness,

at Meribah, and on that day at Massah,

when they tempted me.

9 They put me to the test,

though they had seen my works.

Matthew 16:13-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

When Jesus reached the Caesarea-Philippi district he asked his disciples a question.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?

They told him,

Well, some say John the Baptist.  Some say Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

He said to them,

But what about you?  Who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered,

You?  You are Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Jesus said,

Simon, son of Jonah, you a fortunate man indeed!  For it was not your own nature but my Heavenly Father who revealed this truth to you!  Now I tell you that you are Peter the rock, and it is on this rock that I am going to found my Church, and the powers of death will never have the power to destroy it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in Heaven and whatever you permit on earth will be what is permitted in Heaven!

Then he impressed on his disciples that they should not tell anyone that he was Christ.

From that time onwards Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem, and endure much suffering from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and finally be killed; and be raised to life again on the third day.

Then Peter took him on one side and started to remonstrate with him over this.

God bless you, Master!  Nothing like this must happen to you!

Then Jesus turned round and said to Peter,

Out of my way, Satan!…you stand right in my path, Peter, when you think the thoughts of man and not those of God.

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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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Israelite grumbling continues, even after the episode from Numbers 13, which I covered in the previous day’s devotion.  Already God has informed the people that most of them will die before Canaan.  If they were humble before God, they would have moved toward repentance.  Rather, we have this incident, with more grumbling.  It is the same song, only another verse.  This took a toll on Moses.  (How could it not?)

God promised to provide water for the people and their cattle, and did so.  There is water in many desert rocks, so Moses received instructions to gather the people and cattle before a very big rock, stand with Aaron in front of them, hold Aaron’s staff, and speak to the rock.  Moses did all of this except speak to it.  He struck it instead.  Regardless of his motivation, he had called attention to himself and away from God.  The people and cattle drank water while Moses and Aaron learned that, for their lack of faith, which is to say, trust in God, they would not enter Canaan.  Perhaps Aaron’s sin leading to the penalty was not related to Moses striking the rock with his staff.  I propose that Aaron’s cumulative faithlessness caught up with him.  More than once he had plotted against Moses over the years.  And Aaron was deeply involved in the infamous Golden Calf incident.

So God was angry, announcing penalties for sin, but God had not forsaken either Moses, Aaron, or any of the Israelites.  All had the promised water to drink, but they still had to pay the price for failing to trust God.  So, once again, divine judgment and mercy intermingled.

Another kind of rock figures prominently in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  Simon Peter becomes the first Apostle to confess Jesus as the living Son of God.  This is a momentous event in Christian history; there is even a feast day (The Confession of St. Peter the Apostle, January 18) for it.  Yet Peter’s understanding was partial.  Out of good intentions, he protested against the coming torture, execution, and resurrection of Jesus.  As we say in the U.S. South, I say of Peter, “God bless him.”

“You are Peter,” Jesus says to him, “and upon this rock I will build my Church.”  What is “this rock”?  I have read what various commentators have said about this and pondered the germane ecclesiastical traditions.  William Barclay, the great Scottish Presbyterian Bible scholar, proposes the best answer.  The foundational rock of the Church is God, and Peter is the first stone.  In the Greek, Jesus says, “You are Petros, and upon this petra I will will build my Church.”  A petra is a rock mass, so Barclay’s interpretation makes sense.  Many stones have joined the rock mass sense then, and continue to do so.

Peter wavered after this incident.  He denied Jesus publicly three times shortly before the crucifixion.  And he hid shortly after his leader’s execution.  Yet he became a bold leader in the Acts of the Apostles, and, according to tradition, died of crucifixion.  Peter insisted that he was unworthy to die as Jesus had, so he was crucified upside-down.

Thus the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-26 take on added meaning:

If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all rights to himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his real life?  What could a man offer to buy back that life once he has lost it?  (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

Our “real life,” as J. B. Phillips translates the text, is in God.  More traditional renderings include “soul,” but “real life” gets to the point nicely.  Our real life is in God.  Do we realize this fact?  This is the God in whom we can trust, that is, have faith.  This is the God in whom judgment and mercy co-mingle.  This is the God in who was patient with Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, and Simon Peter.  This is the God who recognized the great potential within Simon Peter and never gave up on the impetuous Apostle.  This is the God who gives us water and manna in our spiritual deserts.  This is the God who is the rock upon which we are stones in the rock mass.

More Than Words, Revised Edition, is a 1958 Christian Education resource The Episcopal Church published for “Church School Teachers and for Students in Junior High School Classes.”  I quote part of the entry for “A Saint,” from page 167:

But the saints were not heroes all their lives.  When they started they were just like you and me.  James and John had fiery tempers.  Peter cursed and swore.  Matthew bled the people for money.  Peter disowned Jesus three times.  Yet Jesus made them into saints.  He can also do it with us.

How so we start?  By letting our Lord love us and forgive us.  If we start again, we must let Him forgive us again, even if He has to do it a million times.  For the joy of being forgiven is our first taste of heaven.

How we respond to God matters.  Will we be grateful?  Will we trust?  Will we accept forgiveness?  Will we accept transformation?  Or will we persist in slave mentalities, expecting nothing while grumbling?  The choice is ours to make.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/of-faith-and-rocks/

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19 responses to “Week of Proper 13: Thursday, Year 1

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